Democrats blast FBI director after probe revelation

Published: Monday, March 20, 2017 @ 5:33 PM
Updated: Monday, March 20, 2017 @ 5:32 PM


            Democrats blast FBI director after probe revelation

FBI Director James Comey's testimony Monday that the bureau has been quietly investigating possible links between associates of President Donald Trump and Russian officials since the summer enraged Democrats who already blame him for rattling the 2016 campaign's closing days.

For the first time, Comey confirmed that the FBI had opened a probe into the Trump campaign in July, the same month he called an unusual news conference to announce the agency had finished its investigation into whether Hillary Clinton mishandled classified information — and three months before he scrambled the White House race a second time by announcing that the Clinton probe was continuing just days before the election.

The revelation drew the ire of Clinton supporters who called out an apparent double-standard and a breach of bureau norms that caused their nominee's surprising defeat.

Clinton's former press secretary, Brian Fallon, bitterly noted that "Comey at least waited until after the election to confirm there was an investigation related to Trump's campaign."

"In Hillary Clinton's case, the FBI confirmed the fact of an investigation into her emails during the heart of the campaign, creating a damaging cloud even though the probe never produced charges of any kind," Fallon said in an email Monday. "It is fair to ask why Jim Comey confirmed one investigation prior to the election, but not the other."

The FBI and Justice Department do not ordinarily discuss open investigations. But Comey said Monday that he has been authorized to do so, given the extreme public interest in the Trump-Russia case.

"As you know, our practice is not to confirm the existence of ongoing investigations, especially those investigations that involve classified matters, but in unusual circumstances where it is in the public interest, it may be appropriate to do so as Justice Department policies recognize. This is one of those circumstances," Comey told the House intelligence committee.

Comey's televised news conference in July to discuss the results of the bureau's investigation into Hillary Clinton's email use came only after the FBI was recommending that it be closed without criminal charges. It was a rare display of openness; normally the FBI would privately relay that information to Justice Department prosecutors. Comey said intense public interest in the case warranted the rare candor.

Later, Comey testified about the case before Congress, promising to come forward if investigators uncovered new information that caused them to reopen their probe into Clinton's emails. Given that testimony under oath, Comey said he felt obligated to tell Congress just weeks before the election that new emails had prompted investigators to take another look at whether classified information had been mishandled.

Comey sent the October 28 letter to Congress over the warnings of Justice Department officials that doing so would be inconsistent with department policy meant to avoid the appearance of prosecutorial interference or meddling in elections.

Investigators found emails on the laptop of Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin. In a second letter dated November 5, Comey said the new material did not change the FBI's decision to not recommend charges against Clinton — but Democrats believe that re-airing the scandal days before most voters went to the polling booths hurt their candidate.

"Doing some jobs right requires being in the news every day, becoming a household name, enraging everyone," tweeted longtime Clinton aide Philippe Reines on Monday. "FBI Director isn't one of them."

The congressional hearings were the most extensive public accounting of a matter that has dogged the Trump administration for its first two month. The president has repeatedly denied any ties to Russia though several aides have come under scrutiny and his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, resigned after initially lying about his contacts with a Russian ambassador.

Comey said Monday that Russia "hates" Clinton and wanted her to lose the election; he added that officials believe both political parties were hacked in 2016, but only Democratic emails were released.

Stephen Gillers, a professor at New York University School of Law who specializes in legal ethics, said Comey would have been justified in simply announcing that the bureau's Clinton email probe was closed, rather than going further to criticize her sloppy work habits. But he should not have spoken publicly about either case.

"He should not have talked about Hillary and he should not have talked about the Russia connection. He has no public persona," Gillers said. "It's just not a cop's job to do that. A prosecutor might in very rare circumstances comment about certain aspects of an ongoing investigation, but he's not a prosecutor."

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Lemire reported from New York.

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Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire and Gurman at http://twitter.com/@sgurman

Infowars' Alex Jones apologizes for spreading fake 'Pizzagate' story

Published: Sunday, March 26, 2017 @ 2:23 AM

Infowars' Alex Jones apologizes for spreading fake 'Pizzagate' story

Alex Jones on Friday apologized to the owner of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria for spreading the fake story last year that linked the restaurant to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and human trafficking.

Jones, as the Austin, Texas-based host of Infowars.com, has a long history of pushing wild and false conspiracy theories, such as claiming that the U.S. government perpetrated the 9/11 attacks or the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, was a hoax.

But in a rare backtracking mea culpa, Jones apologized for his role in promoting the baseless “Pizzagate” story that went viral among right-wing bloggers and media sites during the 2016 presidential campaign.

>> Watch the clip here

The gist of the fake story accused Hillary Clinton and her presidential campaign chairman, John Podesta, of running a child sex abuse ring through the Comet Ping Pong restaurant owned by James Alefantis. Podesta’s comments about the pizzeria — made in Democratic Party emails exposed by WikiLeaks — became fodder for fake news web portals as well as popular user-generated content sites like Reddit and 4chan.

Jones, in a statement he read aloud for his online audience, tried to put some distance between himself and the fake story and blamed “scores of media outlets,” “third-party accounts of alleged activities” and “accounts of (Infowars) reporters who are no longer with us” for the “incorrect narrative” he discussed several times on his program.

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“In our commentary about what had become known as Pizzagate, I made comments about Mr. Alefantis that in hindsight I regret, and for which I apologize to him,” Jones said.

In language that was clearly sculpted by a legal mind hoping to avoid possible litigation, Jones added: “To my knowledge today, neither Mr. Alefantis nor his restaurant Comet Ping Pong, were involved in any human trafficking as was part of the theories about Pizzagate.”

For many people, the Pizzagate conspiracy theory became part of the mainstream political discussion only in December, after 28-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch of North Carolina reportedly brought a gun into a Comet Ping Pong packed with customers, and pointed it at an employee in hopes of finding proof of “Pizzagate.”

Welch surrendered to police when he found no evidence that children were being harbored there, D.C. police said at the time. He pleaded guilty to weapons and assault charges Friday, CNN reported.

Miffed neighbors say Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner have 'ruined the neighborhood'

Published: Sunday, March 26, 2017 @ 1:36 AM

Neighbors of first daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, held a meeting last week to complain that the new arrivals in D.C. weren’t doing their part to make things livable for others in the neighborhood.

Even though former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama live a short distance away, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also lives nearby, neighbors recently complained about the Trump and Kushner household at a recent meeting. Among those reportedly in attendance was Fox News anchor Chris Wallace.

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Problems ranging from lack of parking near their home and improper trash removal have neighbors up in arms.

“They’ve completely ruined the neighborhood,” one neighbor told The Associated Press. Another noted that some of the ire may be due to the couple’s politics. 

Trump has been made aware of the issues, although she didn’t directly reference them in a statement to the AP.

“We love the neighborhood, and our family has received an incredibly gracious welcome from our neighbors," she said in the statement.

Gym owner Anne Mulhman requested a private meeting with Trump after she discovered she had attended one of her SolidCore workout classes. Muhlman wrote a note to other members saying that Trump's father was “threatening the rights of many of my beloved clients and coaches.” She later apologized for her comments.

Paul Manafort's Russia ties: 5 things to know

Published: Wednesday, March 22, 2017 @ 10:48 AM

Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, secretly worked a decade ago to help Russian President Vladmir Putin at the behest of a Russian billionaire, The Associated Press reported Friday.

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The Trump administration and Manafort himself have denied that he previously worked for Russian interests, but documents and interviews obtained by the AP appeared to contradict that claim.

Manafort, a lobbyist and political consultant, worked for the Trump campaign from March to August 2016. He resigned after an AP report revealed he had coordinated a covert Washington lobbying operation on behalf of Ukraine’s ruling pro-Russia political party until 2014.

Here are five things to know about the latest allegations:
  1. In a confidential strategy plan obtained by the AP, Manafort pitched a plan to Russian aluminum magnate and close Putin ally Oleg Deripaska aimed at influencing “politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government.”
    The plan existed as early as June 2005, the wire service reported.
    "We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success," Manafort wrote in the 2005 memo obtained by the AP. Manafort wrote that the effort "will be offering a great service that can refocus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government."
  2. Manafort signed a $10 million annual contract with Deripaska in 2006, but it was unclear how much work he did under that contact, according to the AP.
    A person familiar with the work that Manafort did for Deripaska told the AP that the two maintained a business relationship until at least 2009.
    A spokesman for Deripaska declined to answer questions from the AP.
  3. Manafort denied that his work for Deripaska was “inappropriate or nefarious” in a statement released to the AP.
    “I worked with Oleg Deripaska almost a decade ago, representing him on business and personal matters in countries where he had investments,” Manafort told the wire service. “My work for Mr. Deripaska did not involve representing Russia’s political interests.” 
  4. The report comes as the Trump administration deals with increased scrutiny of its ties with Russia. At a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Monday, FBI director James Comey confirmed that authorities are investigating whether Trump associates and Russian officials worked together to influence the November presidential election in Trump’s favor.
    “The FBI, as part of our counterintelligence effort, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 president election,” Comey said, according to The New York Times.
    Comey declined to say whether Manafort was a target of the investigation.
  5. The situation could prove criminal if authorities determine that Manafort violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The act requires lobbyists who work in the U.S. on behalf of foreign governments and leaders to report to the Justice Department about their actions.
    Manafort did not disclose his pro-Putin work to the Justice Department, according to the AP.
    Failure to register as a foreign agent is a felony that carries a sentence of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

American spring breakers chant 'Build that wall' while vacationing in Mexico

Published: Tuesday, March 21, 2017 @ 11:34 AM

A Mexican newspaper blasted a group of young Americans visiting Cancun on spring break after witnesses said they broke into chants of “Build that wall” earlier this month and refused to stop, despite complaints.

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In an editorial published Friday, The Yucatan Times said the incident was not isolated but was part of a growing number of complaints about “offensive, rude and haughty” spring break tourists who flock to Mexico for vacation.

Newlyweds Suly and Anaximandro Amable took to social media on March 6 after they said they attended a show on the “Pirate Ship” out of Puerto Juarez as part of their honeymoon, according to The Yucatan Times and social media posts.

Suly Amable wrote on Facebook that she and her husband were getting off the boat after the show when they heard the chants.

"In the face of such stupidity, one doesn't know how to immediately react," she wrote. "We were stunned. The whole thing seemed implausible."

Anaximandro Amable said the group who broke into the chant might have been intoxicated when they “began to sing the infamous ‘Build that wall’ chant louder and louder.”

“I have always been tolerant of the countries of the world and I have wanted to believe that human stupidity and ignorance … is characteristic of a small group of people,” Anaximandro Amable wrote. “But there are things with which one cannot be tolerant, such as discourse that incites hatred.”

The Yucatan Times reported that several Mexican tourists on the ship became annoyed and uncomfortable as the chants went on, but the Americans refused to stop chanting.

President Donald Trump has vowed to build a wall on the border between the United States and Mexico.

“I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me,” Trump said in June 2015 while announcing his presidential run. "I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall.”