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.

RELATED: James Comey’s testimony, the latest

RELATED: 10 highlights from the hearing

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.

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.

Trump quickly finds voice on Twitter after returning from foreign trip

Published: Sunday, May 28, 2017 @ 8:34 PM
Updated: Sunday, May 28, 2017 @ 8:36 PM

Back after a nine day overseas trip, President Donald Trump returned to a familiar plan of operations on Sunday, as he used Twitter to jab at his critics and the news media, vowing to push ahead on his legislative agenda in the Congress, and making clear he wants a crack down on leaks from the U.S. Government.

“Just returned from Europe. Trip was a great success for America. Hard work but big results!” the President said early on Sunday morning.

Here are some things to look for with Mr. Trump back at the White House:

1. The President isn’t going silent on Twitter. Despite some news reports while he was gone that aides have tried to limit Mr. Trump’s time on social media, @realDonaldTrump was doing more than just highlighting White House talking points, as he issued a series of tweets on Sunday morning and later in the evening that plowed familiar ground. The Twitter barrage started softly – “Big win in Montana for Republicans!” the President tweeted about Thursday’s special election victory for the GOP – but then the President revved his engines. “Fake News is the enemy,” Mr. Trump said, as he took aim at the news media.

2. Will the President be firing White House leakers? Another story that broke while Mr. Trump was gone was one that said three leakers inside the White House had been identified, and that the President would be getting rid of them once he returned to the U.S. No names were revealed, but it has resulted in plenty of rumors across the political spectrum, especially more from conservative figures on social media, who publicly pointed the finger at aides whom they argued are not reliably supportive of the President. While those stories have circulated, Mr. Trump floated a different possibility – that maybe there aren’t leaks after all.

3. Don’t forget the Trump Agenda in Congress. The President on Sunday pressed two of his biggest agenda items, tax cuts and overhaul of the Obama health law. One interesting note was that Mr. Trump seemed to argue for more spending in a GOP health plan that is now before the Senate. “I suggest that we add more dollars to Healthcare and make it the best anywhere,” the President tweeted. “ObamaCare is dead – the Republicans will do much better!” For now, Senators still haven’t forged a deal that can get a majority – that will be their focus when they return to work on June 5. Asking the Republicans to spend more government money on health care does not seem to be a GOP priority, as Mr. Trump tweeted.

4. The President presses for tax reform. In his Sunday tweets, Mr. Trump also used the bully pulpit to call for action in the Congress on tax cuts and tax reform. While both the House and Senate have held some introductory hearings, no real details have been handed out – other than one page of bullet points from the White House. While the President says it is “ahead of schedule,” Congress cannot act on a tax package until lawmakers finish action on health care overhaul. Despite his tweet, Mr. Trump’s tax plan has a lot of details that are TBD – and it’s not even clear that Congress can act on tax reform this year.

5. Is the White House readying a “War Room” While the President jabbed at the press over leaks, he didn’t give any hints on whether there would a shakeup in his own communications team, which has been reported by a number of news organizations, saying the White House is ready to set up a rapid response team to deal with stories about the Russia investigation, and other matters for top staffers. The Russia story didn’t go away with Mr. Trump in Europe, and it won’t be easy to sidestep once he is back at the White House.

6. Will Spicer be out? Or just to the side? While the President was overseas, there were reports that Mr. Trump was ready to make major changes in how the communications team deals with the press. The White House has denied that Press Secretary Sean Spicer will be pushed out, but his job security has been the subject of roller coaster rumors for the past four months; we could see more of Sarah Sanders at briefings. There have also been rumblings about making major changes in the White House briefings, maybe even doing away with the televised daily briefing. That would certainly make some news.

Few public answers to puzzle in Congressional IT investigation

Published: Saturday, May 27, 2017 @ 8:00 AM
Updated: Saturday, May 27, 2017 @ 8:00 AM

An inquiry into possible wrongdoing by IT staffers employed by a number of Democrats in Congress has garnered more attention in recent days, after a prominent lawmaker gave a public tongue lashing to the Capitol Hill police chief, vowing “consequences” over his refusal to return computer equipment that is evidently part of the ongoing investigation.

At issue is a probe into a possible security breach involving Imran Awan, who has worked for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and other Democratic lawmakers, as a shared information technology worker.

Little has been made public by Capitol Police on what exactly is being investigated; news reports in recent months have linked Awan, several of his relatives, and his wife to some type of Capitol Hill investigation that could involve stolen property and more.

The new scrutiny came after a budget hearing on May 18 with U.S. Capitol Police Chief Matthew Verderosa; the hearing before a House Appropriations subcommittee had escaped notice, until reports earlier this week by the Daily Caller, noting the sharp words that Wasserman Schultz had for Verderosa.

At the end of her Q&A with the police chief, Wasserman Schultz asks what happens when police find lost items.

“I’d like to know how Capitol Police handle equipment that belongs to a member, or a staffer, that’s been lost within the Capitol complex, and found or recovered by one of your officers,” Wasserman Schultz begins.

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The bottom line from the chief was simple – until an investigation is completed, “I can’t return the equipment,” which is reportedly a laptop from Wasserman Schultz’s office.

That answer did not satisfy the Florida Democrat.

“I think you’re violating the rules when you conduct your business that way,” Wasserman Schultz said bluntly, as she told the chief that he should “expect that there will be consequences.”

In the wake of that somewhat jarring verbal exchange, a reporter on Thursday asked House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi about the Awan investigation.

“I’m really not familiar with what you’re talking about,” Pelosi said.

“We’ve been busy with a lot of other things,” Pelosi added.

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U.S. Capitol Police have released little information about what this probe involves, and who exactly is being investigated.

According to U.S. House spending records, Imran Awan was a shared employee for thirteen different House members in 2016, earning in the third quarter anywhere from as little as $300 from a pair of Democrats to $6,624.99 from another.

Wasserman Schultz paid Awan $5,000.01 for work between July 1 and September 30, 2016.

Awan’s wife, Hina Alvi, worked for seven Democrats, plus the House Democratic Caucus, earning close to $44,000 in the third quarter of 2016.

Records also show two relatives of Awan’s on the Congressional payroll: Abid Awan worked for eight different House Democrats, while Jamal Awan worked for eight others – all as ‘shared’ employees.

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Kasich touts book, weighs in on Trump, Nixon, faith, media

Published: Friday, May 26, 2017 @ 4:02 PM
Updated: Friday, May 26, 2017 @ 4:03 PM

Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks at Forum Club of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, Florida on Friday, May 26, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Ohio Gov. John Kasich weighed in on his former Republican presidential nomination rival Donald Trump at a Forum Club of the Palm Beaches lunch on Friday — but he spent more time talking about a pair of encounters he had with former President Richard Nixon.

Kasich spoke to a sellout crowd of about 700 at the Kravis Center to promote his new book Two Paths: America Divided or United. He said America is divided because conservatives and liberals tend to read, watch and listen only to media sources that confirm their points of view.

» John Kasich: ‘I have no clue what I’m doing in 2020’

“Turn off the cable television and go back to bowling,” advised Kasich, who used to host a show on Fox News Network.

He also said people can “live life bigger than themselves” by reconnecting to their faith.

“The beautiful thing about faith (is)…in the next hour we have a chance to do better. And I think we need to come together as a nation again and love our neighbor and spend 10 minutes out of every day reading something that we don’t agree with. It begins to open our minds to other people.”

Kasich told the story, included in his book, of how his persistence as an Ohio State University freshman in 1970 led to him getting a meeting with Nixon in the Oval Office.

Promised five minutes with the president, Kasich said the meeting ended up lasting longer.

» FLASHBACK: After Paris attacks, John Kasich hits U.S. ‘unwillingness to lead’

“The good news is as an 18-year-old I spent 20 minutes in the Oval Office with the president of the United States,” Kasich said. “The bad news is I spent 18 years in Congress and if you add up all the time I spent in the Oval Office, I peaked out at 18.”

Kasich called the Nixon anecdote “a good story for young people because it means dream big. For all of us, dream big, keep asking, just keep doing what you want to do until somebody tells you it’s impossible and then don’t believe that.”

Kasich was asked about Trump during a question-and-answer session. He noted that he didn’t endorse Trump in 2016 or attend the Republican National Convention, even though it was in Kasich’s home state.

“I didn’t do that because I was mad about something,” Kasich said of his refusal to back his party’s nominee.

“It’s just that I’m not going to support people who are putting people down or being negative or not bringing us together. Now that he’s president, of course I root for him as much as I can, just like I rooted for the pilot on the airplane that brought me to Florida. I want them to be successful.”

» RELATED: Kasich gives Trump an ‘incomplete’ grade

As the question segment was winding down, Forum Club President Michelle McGovern told Kasich, “We have at least five people who want to know about your conversation with Nixon.”

So Kasich told the audience about a second conversation he had with Nixon in 1987. Kasich was a House member then and both his parents had just been killed by a drunk driver.

When he told Nixon about losing his parents, Kasich said, “His reaction was amazing. It was like he had been shot. It hit him like a ton of bricks.

“I said, ‘My sister is really struggling. Could you send her a note?’ And he wrote her a handwritten two-page letter that will be put in the Nixon Library at some point. It was just so amazing. And that’s a side of him that we don’t hear about.”

Kasich wasn’t asked about whether he’ll run for president again in 2020 — a possibility he hasn’t definitively ruled out. He said he’s relieved sometimes that he didn’t win in 2016.

“I’m a happy guy,” Kasich said. “I wake up in the mornings sometimes and say ‘Lord, thank you for never letting me have that job.’”

Ohio congressman leading effort to keep Republicans in power in House

Published: Sunday, May 28, 2017 @ 8:00 AM
Updated: Friday, May 26, 2017 @ 1:35 PM


            US Capitol

On Wednesday afternoon, Columbus-area Rep. Steve Stivers, the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, predicted the GOP candidate in an unexpectedly tight special election in Montana would eke out a win.

A few hours later, that GOP candidate, Greg Gianforte, reportedly body–slammed a reporter minutes before what was to be the last campaign rally before Election Day. Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault.

RELATED: Greg Gianforte wins special election in Montana

Stivers, who didn’t hear about the incident until 8 p.m. that night, sent out a statement the next day saying that Gianforte’s behavior “was totally out of character, but we all make mistakes. I believe he should apologize to the reporter.”

Late Thursday, he called, saying he didn’t want his statement to seem as if he was “making light” or “minimizing” Gianforte’s behavior in any way. “It was a mistake in judgment,” he said of Gianforte.

The two hadn’t spoken as of early Thursday night. “He needs to do the right thing,” Stivers said of Gianforte, who apologized as part of his victory speech later that night.

Stivers, an Upper Arlington Republican, knew that his job protecting the GOP majority would be tough. But there’s no way he could’ve known he was signing up for this.

RELATED: Health care bill remains linchpin for Trump agenda in Congress

Stivers faces the perils of history:

* Midterm elections during a president’s first term have historically been lousy for the House majority party.

* The party has struggled to unite on issues such as health care.

* And Democrats, galvanized by President Donald Trump, have shown up to protest at town hall meetings of congressmen, often boisterously.

Still, insists Stivers, 52: “I knew what I signed up for.”

Perpetually upbeat and quick with a joke, Stivers insists that despite the circumstances, “I believe in our members. I believe in what we’re doing. I think they have America’s best interests at heart and I think they’re trying to do the right things.”

Start with the history: the president’s party has lost seats in the House in 18 out of 21 midterms since the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. In 2018, Democrats will need to net 24 seats in order to win the House majority.

Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics said in this environment, limiting Democratic gains could be a win, he said.

“I’d say holding the Democrats to a single–digit gain of seats would be a very successful midterm for Stivers and the NRCC given historical trends, Trump’s rocky start, and early indications of significant Democratic enthusiasm,” he said.

Working for the team

Stivers said most of the work his new role presents is work he does when he’s already in D.C. for legislative business. He only campaigned for a House candidate once since assuming his role – and that was when he went to Georgia for one day. He said he’s also had nine telephone town halls this year, trying to do them every few weeks. He prefers those to live town halls, in part because they can be done while he’s in D.C., in part because it allows him to reach out to thousands of voters in one call and in part because he is loath to attend an event where he believes some come just raise a ruckus.

“There are some people who want to go to a town hall because they really want have live conversation with me, but there are other people who want to have a live town hall because they want to cause a problem, and those people disrupt the actual process for constituents having a real dialogue,” he said. “I’m not for that.”

He acknowledges Democrats are energized. But the GOP base is too, he says.

“While their base is excited enough to make (the campaigns) close, our base is excited enough to come out and win,” he said.

The first bellwethers are the special elections: Trump tapped several House Republicans to fill cabinet positions, and Stivers has worked to recruit good candidates to fill those open seats. Special elections are also set in Georgia and South Carolina.

Any loss, at this point, could be considered foreshadowing of what might happen next year.

But Stivers insists special elections are special for more than just the timing. They’re often unpredictable and the results are often an anomaly more than a trend.

“I think people read too much into special elections,” he said, Wednesday, before the scuffle in Montana. “That said, I plan on winning them all.”

Even if Stivers has a poor cycle, it may not mark the end for the four–term Republican, said Kondik, who noted that former Rep. Chris Van Hollen oversaw the DCCC when it got routed in 2010, but he bounced back to win a Senate race in 2016 and is chairing the DSCC this cycle.

But Stivers’ intentions are clear.

“I want to hold the majority,” Stivers insists. “I don’t play to lose and I want to hold the majority… if we can deliver on the promises we have made I believe we can pick up seats.”

PARTY IN POWER

The party in power lost seats in 18 of the last 21 midterm elections stretching back to Franklin Roosevelt.

2010: Barack Obama’s first midterm: Democrats lost 63 seats

1994: Bill Clinton’s first midterm: Democrats lost 52 seats.

2002: George W. Bush’s first midterm: Republicans gained eight seats.

1990: George H.W. Bush’s midterm: Republicans lost eight seats.

1982: Ronald Reagan’s first midterm: Republicans lost 26 seats.

Source: The American Presidency Project, University of California at Santa Barbara