The Latest: Manafort says he had 'no role' in DNC hack

Published: Monday, March 20, 2017 @ 7:20 AM
Updated: Monday, March 20, 2017 @ 7:18 AM


            The Latest: Manafort says he had 'no role' in DNC hack

The Latest on a congressional inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election (all times local):

5 p.m.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is defending himself against suggestions he played a role in Russia's efforts to interfere with the U.S. presidential campaign.

Manafort says in a statement that he had "no role or involvement" in the cyber hack of the Democratic National Committee and disclosure of stolen emails. He says he's never spoken to any Russian officials or others who claimed to be involved in the attack.

Manafort says there is "constant scrutiny and innuendo" but "no facts" backing up allegations. He says he's disappointed anyone would legitimize attempts to discredit him and President Donald Trump's election.

Manafort resigned from Trump's campaign amid revelations his firm had lobbied for a pro-Russian party in Ukraine. His name came up repeatedly during a House intelligence committee hearing Monday.

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3:05 p.m.

President Donald Trump is keeping tabs on the congressional hearing on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. He's tweeting that the FBI and National Security Agency are telling Congress that Russia did not influence the electoral process.

That put FBI Director James Comey in the unusual situation of having to respond to presidential tweets in the middle of his testimony.

Trump's tweet seemed to differ with what Comey said. He told members of the House intelligence committee that the FBI has offered no opinion, and has no view and no information, on the potential impact on the election because that's not something the FBI looked at.

Comey did say earlier in the hearing, however, that there is no evidence that Russian meddling resulted in changes of any vote tallies.

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2:25 p.m.

The White House is distancing itself from two former senior members of Donald Trump's team, amid an FBI investigation into possible connections between Trump "associates" and Russia.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Monday referred to Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, as a "volunteer of the campaign." And he said Paul Manafort, who ran Trump's campaign leading up to the Republican National Convention, "played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time."

Flynn resigned from the White House last month after he was found to have misled senior members of the administration about his contacts with Russia's top diplomat to the U.S.

Manafort resigned from Trump's campaign last summer following allegations of contacts with Russian intelligence officials.

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1:35 p.m.

Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi says an independent investigative commission should be created to look into possible links and coordination between associates of President Donald Trump and Russian officials seeking to undermine Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

Pelosi's comments came after FBI Director James Comey confirmed in congressional testimony that the agency has been investigating the matter since last July. He also told the panel that he has no evidence that former President Obama ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower.

California Democrat Pelosi said that "the American people deserve answers."

She said that the possibility of Trump officials and Russian officials conspiring to influence the election "represents a grave threat to our national security and our democracy."

Pelosi says Trump should apologize over his extraordinary wiretapping claim.

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1 p.m.

President Donald Trump is highlighting FBI Director James' Comey's refusal to say whether he briefed President Barack Obama on a Trump adviser's contacts with Russia.

Trump tweeted a video clip of Comey being asked if he informed Obama about calls made by Michael Flynn, who was fired as White House national security adviser. Comey says he won't discuss that case or any other discussions he had with Obama.

The tweet appears to suggest that the Obama administration was behind leaks about Flynn's contacts with Sergey Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to the U.S. Flynn was fired after news reports revealed that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials about his discussions with the envoy.

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11:25 a.m.

Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, is denying that the British intelligence community was ever asked to conduct electronic surveillance on President Donald Trump at the behest of former President Barack Obama.

Earlier this month, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer referred to unsubstantiated allegations made by a Fox News analyst that GCHQ, the British electronic intelligence agency, had helped Obama wiretap Trump. The British intelligence agency flatly denied it happened.

The ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, asked Rogers if he thought it was "utterly ridiculous" that anyone in the U.S. would ask British spies to do surveillance on a presidential candidate. Rogers said it was and added that he had seen nothing at the NSA that would indicate that happened.

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11:25 a.m.

The Senate's top Democrat says that President Donald Trump "severely damaged his credibility" with Twitter postings claiming that former President Barack Obama ordered wiretaps of him.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer issued the statement after FBI Director James Comey told a House panel that there was no information that supports Trump's allegation.

Schumer said Trump "needs to retract his claim immediately."

He added that Trump "should admit he was wrong, stop the outlandish tweets."

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11:10 a.m.

FBI Director James Comey says the FBI and Justice Department have no information to substantiate President Donald Trump's claims that former President Barack Obama wiretapped him before the election.

Comey says no individual can order surveillance of an American. He says courts grant this permission after a rigorous application process.

Comey was testifying before the House intelligence committee. Comey said the Justice Department also asked him to share with the committee that the answer also applies to the Justice Department and its various components. The Justice Department oversees the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.

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10:48 a.m.

FBI Director James Comey and Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, say they have no evidence or intelligence that Russian cyber actors changed vote tallies in key states during last year's presidential election.

Testifying at a highly politically charged congressional hearing in the House, both said they had no evidence that any vote tallies were changed in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina or Ohio.

The House intelligence committee is holding a hearing on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

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10:45 a.m.

National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers says the intelligence community stands behind its January assessment that it is highly confident Russia interfered in the 2016 election with the goal of electing Donald Trump.

In a Monday morning tweet, Trump blamed Democrats for the investigation into his contacts and said the House intelligence committee should be focus on investigating leaks.

Rogers said that his agency is working to provide Congress the material it needs to investigate the intelligence agencies' findings.

Rogers was testifying before the House intelligence committee alongside FBI Director James Comey.

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10:35 a.m.

FBI Director James Comey is publicly confirming for the first time that the FBI is investigating Russia's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, including any potential coordination between Trump campaign associates and Russia's government.

Comey is testifying before Congress. He says he's authorized by the Justice Department to make the disclosure. Typically, the FBI does not discuss or even confirm the existence of ongoing investigations.

Comey says the probe is part of the FBI's counter-intelligence mission. He says the investigation includes the nature of any links between individuals associated with Trump's campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between Russia's efforts and the campaign.

Comey says the investigation will also look at whether crimes were committed. He says he can't provide details about the investigation.

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10:25 a.m.

The top Democrat on the House intelligence committee says he hopes FBI Director James Comey will put questions about whether Trump Tower was wiretapped by President Barack Obama "permanently to rest."

Rep. Adam Schiff is speaking at the start of the committee's hearing on Russia's interference in the presidential election. Comey is testifying at the hearing, along with National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers.

Schiff says Democrats on the committee will be focused in part on whether Americans helped Russia with its hacking of Democratic groups and individuals.

Trump has said he has no knowledge of his associates coordinating with Russia during the election. He's refused to back down from his assertion that Obama wiretapped his New York City skyscraper during the campaign, despite there being no evidence.

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10:10 a.m.

The chairman of the House intelligence committee says there was no physical wiretap on Trump Tower, but it's possible that "other surveillance activities" were used against President Donald Trump and his associates.

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., is speaking at the opening of the committee's first public hearing on Russia's interference in the 2016 election. He says the committee has seen no evidence to date that officials from any campaign conspired with Russian agents, but will continue to investigate that question.

He also says the committee will investigate who has been leaking classified information about investigations into Russia's interference.

Nunes says he hopes the committee's hearings will result in a "definitive report" on Russia's involvement in the presidential election.

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7 a.m.

President Donald Trump is accusing Democrats of fabricating allegations about Russia and creating more "fake news."

His tweets came just hours before a congressional hearing on Russia. The House Intelligence Committee will hear from FBI Director James Comey on whether U.S. officials believe Russia tried to bolster Trump's chances in the election and if there were any connections between Moscow and Trump's campaign aides.

Trump tweeted Monday: "The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign. Big advantage in Electoral College & lost!"

A separate tweet referenced James Clapper, the director of national intelligence under President Barack Obama, who has said that Trump's allegation that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower is false. "James Clapper and others stated there is no evidence Potus colluded with Russia. This story is FAKE NEWS and everyone knows it."

Trump also tweeted that the "real story" is the leaking of classified information.

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3:30 a.m.

A congressional inquiry into Russian interference in the presidential election that has so far unfolded behind closed doors moves into the open with a public hearing featuring FBI Director James Comey.

A hearing Monday before one of several congressional panels probing allegations of Russian meddling, the House Intelligence Committee, could allow for the greatest public accounting to date of investigations that have shadowed the Trump administration in its first two months.

Comey has been invited to testify, along with the director of the National Security Agency, Michael Rogers.

The committee is investigating, among other things, Russian hacking that intelligence officials have said was meant to influence the election. Also of interest to the committee are any connections between Russia and associates of President Donald Trump.

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.

>> Read more trending news

“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.

>> Read more trending news

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.

>> Read more trending news

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.”