Takeaways from the first hearing in Congress on election meddling by Russia

Published: Monday, March 20, 2017 @ 3:45 PM
Updated: Monday, March 20, 2017 @ 3:45 PM

The House Intelligence Committee held the first public hearing on questions involving actions taken by Russia to interfere with the 2016 elections in the United States, as both parties used starkly different strategies as they asked questions of the heads of the FBI and National Security Agency about that probe.

Here are some of the highlights:

1. FBI confirms Trump-Russia investigation for the first time. Many had long assumed that the FBI was investigating meddling by Russia in the 2016 U.S. elections, but today was the first time that it had been publicly announced by the FBI Director. “Our practice is not to confirm the existence of ongoing investigations,” Comey said. But the FBI Director said that he had been authorized by the Justice Department to confirm that the U.S. does have a counter intelligence probe of Russia. And that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and the Russian Government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts,” Comey added.

2. FBI and NSA reject Trump “wiretap” tweets. Adding their voices to those of top members in both parties on the House and Senate Intelligence committees, both FBI Director Comey and Admiral Mike Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency, said that they had found no evidence to support the March 4 tweets of President Trump, which charged that he had been subjected to wiretaps by President Obama. “I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI,” Director Comey told lawmakers. There was no ambiguity involved.

3. The White House doesn’t back down on Trump “wiretap” tweets. Just a few hours after the FBI Director bluntly said there was no evidence to back up Mr. Trump’s charge that he was wiretapped during the Obama Administration, the Trump White House refused to back down from the charge. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said there was still time for more information to come out from the investigations of the House and Senate Intelligence committees, so there was no reason to say the President had been wrong in making that claim.

4. Republicans focus not on Russia but on leaks. Republicans used most of their time in this first public hearing to zero in on who leaked information about top Trump aide Michael Flynn, and his conversations with the Russian Ambassador to the United States. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) pressed the heads of the NSA and FBI repeatedly on who knew about incidental collection of Flynn’s phone calls, and who might have leaked them, naming a number of Obama Administration officials as possible suspects. The White House then used that hearing exchange to seemingly make the case that former President Obama might even have been the source of the information. It was another new theory from the White House – that did not seem to have any evidence behind it.

5. One Republican drills down into Russia efforts. While many of her colleagues focused on leaks, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) – who did not support President Trump during the election campaign – pushed for examples from the FBI and NSA on what the Russians actually did to upset the U.S. elections, and how it was different from the past. “We never saw in previous Presidential elections information being published on such a massive scale that had been illegally removed,” said the NSA chief. FBI Director Comey said it was almost like the Russians didn’t care if their actions were uncovered. “They were unusually loud,” Comey said, labeling the Russian intrusions, “very noisy.”

6. Comey admits the FBI kept Congress in the dark. In his testimony, FBI Director Comey said the counter intelligence investigation into Russian election meddling began back in July, but that Congressional leaders were not told of it before the elections – or even immediately after Election Day. “Why was the decision made not to brief senior Congressional leadership until recently,” asked Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY). “Why was that decision made to wait months?” Comey said it was because of the “sensitivity of the matter.” Asked who made that decision, Comey indicated it would have been made by the head of the FBI Counter Intelligence division.

7. Republicans grumble about Comey’s “no comments.” Members of both parties tried repeatedly to get Comey to respond to hypothetical questions that might shed some light on the investigation, but didn’t get far. “I’m not going to answer,” Comey said. “I’m not going to comment,” he said when asked about a number of different people that Democrats wanted to talk about. Rebuffed a number of times in a quest for information, Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) bluntly told the FBI chief that his reluctance to discuss the probe was only helping Moscow, by putting a cloud over U.S. democracy.

8. Democrats use the hearing to lay out broader questions. While Democrats did go after the Russia-meddling matter with much more direct gusto, they also had clearly decided to use this hearing to put a number of matters on the table, to make sure they were aired to a broader audience. For example, the top Democrat on the panel, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), used a chunk of his opening statement to refer to matters in the ‘Steele Dossier,” which emerged just before the election, a document that some had said was all false. But the fact that it received more attention today made others wonder whether parts of it had been verified along the way.

9. Not just the Trump tweets, but the British Intel story as well. Not only did today’s witnesses completely reject President Trump’s assertion that he was wiretapped in 2016, but the head of the National Security Agency also ridiculed the story – promoted last week by the White House – that British Intelligence had been used by the Obama Administration to wrongly monitor Trump Tower as well. Asked directly if the NSA had asked the British GCHQ to monitor Trump, Admiral Mike Rogers did not mince words. “No sir,” Rogers said. “Nor would I.” Rogers went on to say that agreed with other assessments that such a plan would be “ridiculous.”

10. Another finger pointed at Wikileaks. While U.S. Intelligence has never publicly spelled out why it feels that Wikileaks is directly connected to Russia, there was no doubt left today that the FBI Director and others fully believe there is a link. Asked how leaked emails and more were delivered to Wikileaks, FBI Director Comey said there was an intermediary, a “cut-out” as he described it, to send information to the website, which many U.S. officials believe is nothing more than a front for Russian Intelligence. Still, others will rightfully point out that no direct links have been shown – but there is a lot of smoke.

Was Howard Stern right about Trump's presidency?

Published: Saturday, April 29, 2017 @ 9:47 AM

Donald Trump, Melania Trump, Beth Ostrosky and Howard Stern (Photo by James Devaney/WireImage)
James Devaney/WireImage

Radio shock jock Howard Stern is never one to be shy about his opinions. Stern made a prediction about the Trump presidency in February that appears to be coming true, according to CNN.

During his Feb. 1 broadcast, Stern said that being president would be a nightmare for Trump, as he won't be beloved and it's not a winning situation compared to the way the business mogul is used to living. Stern concluded that being president would be detrimental to Trump's mental health.

>> Read more trending news 

Fast forward to this week, when President Trump revealed in a Reuters interview about his first 100 days that, “I thought it would be easier. I thought it was more of a … I’m a details-oriented person. I think you’d say that, but I do miss my old life. I like to work so that’s not a problem but this is actually more work.” Trump also reflected on his previous career as a businessman: “I love my previous life. I had so many things going. This is more work than in my previous life.” 

Stern considers Trump a friend, even though he voted for Clinton. Trump has been on Stern's radio show multiple times and he attended Stern's 2008 wedding, according to CNN. 

Marchers use Trump's 100th day to protest climate policies

Published: Saturday, April 29, 2017 @ 1:50 PM
Updated: Saturday, April 29, 2017 @ 1:26 PM

Thousands of people across the U.S. are marking President Donald Trump's hundredth day in office by marching in protest of his environmental policies.

In Washington, D.C., large crowds on Saturday were making their way down Pennsylvania Avenue, where they planned to encircle the White House. Organizers say about 300 other protest marches are expected around the country.

NOW WATCH: The people’s climate march is about more than just environment

Participants in the Peoples Climate March say they're objecting to Trump's rollback of restrictions on mining, oil drilling and greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired power plants, among other things.

In Augusta, Maine, protesters outside the statehouse said they wanted to draw attention to the damage climate change can cause marginalized communities. A demonstration stretched for several blocks in downtown Tampa, Florida, where marchers said they were concerned about the threat rising seas pose to the city.

How will Trump spend his 100th day in office?

Published: Saturday, April 29, 2017 @ 8:22 AM
Updated: Saturday, April 29, 2017 @ 2:27 AM

President Donald Trump is marking his 100th day in office by talking tough on trade.

RELATED: Trump to hold campaign rally in Pennsylvania to mark 100th day in office

The White House says the president will sign an executive order Saturday that will direct his Commerce Department and the U.S. trade representative to perform a comprehensive study of the nation's trade agreements. The aim is to determine whether America is being treated fairly by its trading partners and the 164-nation World Trade Organization.

The venue for the signing of the executive order is a shovel factory in Pennsylvania's Cumberland County. In the evening, the president will appear at a rally in Harrisburg to cap the occasion of his first 100 days in office.

Trump marks 100th day in office with Pennsylvania campaign rally

Published: Saturday, April 29, 2017 @ 7:30 AM
Updated: Saturday, April 29, 2017 @ 7:30 AM

President Donald Trump will use his 100th day in office to make a return to the campaign trail, holding an evening rally in the Pennsylvania state capital of Harrisburg, taking his message of change back to the familiar crowds of the 2016 race for the White House.

While Mr. Trump has been happy to highlight his accomplishments of his first 100 days – he has also mixed that 100 day review with jabs at the news media, saying the measurement for a new President is a “false standard.”

“We’re moving awfully well, getting a lot of things done,” the President told the press after signing an executive order on offshore oil and gas exploration on Friday.

“I don’t think there’s ever been anything like this,” Mr. Trump added.

In a speech on Friday in Atlanta at a gathering of the National Rifle Association, the President visited familiar campaign themes, replaying the events of Election Night, and jabbing at Democrats at every opportunity.

“Only one candidate in the General Election came to speak to you, and that candidate is now the President of the United States, standing before you again,” the President said, eagerly reminding the crowd that few people gave him a chance to win last year.

“And remember they said, “There is no path to 270.” For months I was hearing that,” Mr. Trump added, as he vowed to protect the Second Amendment during his time in office.

The President’s choice to go to Harrisburg – the state capital – is an interesting one, as Dauphin County was one of only 11 counties to vote for Hillary Clinton in November, going 49 to 46 percent for the Democrats.

Mr. Trump won the Keystone State by just 44,000 votes, as his wins in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin were a linchpin for his overall victory.

“It was a great evening, one that a lot people will never forget,” Mr. Trump said Friday. “Not going to forget that evening.”

The President’s decision to hold a Saturday evening rally in Pennsylvania is also notable for what he will leave behind in Washington, D.C. – the White House Correspondent’s Dinner – which Mr. Trump and his top aides decided not to attend.