Comey: no evidence supporting Trump’s wiretap accusations

FBI Director James Comey has just appeared before the House Intelligence Committee.

On Donald Trump’s tweeted accusations that then-President Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower during the presidential election campaign:

“I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI”.

He also said that that the Justice Department had also looked for evidence to support Trump’s  allegation and couldn’t find any.

And the Director of the National Security Agency Mike Rogers strongly denied allegations repeated by the Trump administration that he’d asked GCHQ to spy on Mr Trump.

Comey declined to say whether the FBI was investigating the potential leak of classified information related to now resigned National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, but said that such a leak would be taken very seriously.

Comey  confirmed that the FBI was investigating if Russia had meddled in the presidential election, including investigating possible links between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

The official presidential Twitter account responded:

BBC Live: FBI: No evidence Obama wiretapped Trump

Summary

  1. FBI director Comey confirms investigation into alleged Russian meddling in US election and any Trump links
  2. The law enforcement chief says there is no evidence to support Trump’s claim that Obama wiretapped Trump
  3. The Trump administration says ‘nothing has changed’ and ‘there is NO EVIDENCE of Trump-Russia collusion’
  4. The NSA’s head strongly denies Trump administration claims that he asked Britain’s GCHQ to spy on Trump
  5. Democrats and Republicans, meanwhile, trade barbs at Senate hearing on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch

FBI Director James Comey confirmed that the FBI was investigating any possible co-ordination between the Trump campaign and Russia’s alleged efforts to influence the election outcome.

US intelligence chiefs have previously said only that they believed Russia aimed to favour Donald Trump’s candidacy.

Comey also said neither the FBI nor the Department of Justice had evidence to support Trump’s claims that his predecessor Barack Obama wiretapped his phones ahead of the election.

And the Director of the National Security Agency Mike Rogers strongly denied allegations repeated by the Trump administration that he’d asked GCHQ to spy on Mr Trump.

Rogers said that would violate both US law and international spy agreements.

Chris Wallace at Fox News:

Wallace said it was “pretty startling” to hear the FBI director confirm that the Trump campaign – including President Trump – is under FBI investigation.

He added that Comey also said that the FBI has “no information” to support Trump’s claims that he was wiretapped by the Obama administration during the presidential campaign.

“It’s been a bad day for the Trump White House,” Wallace said.

Russia, FBI and hacked elections

Two articles of inter from last week on the US election – one saying that the consensus view of the CIA was that “Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected”, and the other a detailed analysis of ’10 crucial decisions’ that affected the presidential election.

Washington Post: Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House

The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter.

Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances.

“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators. “That’s the consensus view.”

During the campaign Trump said a number of times that a rigged election was a serious concern, but he doesn’t seem to think this is a big deal – see Trump: Claim of Russia Meddling “Ridiculous,” Dems Making Excuses.

(With Kim Dotcom claiming that WikiLeaks may target next year’s New Zealand election this should be of some concern here).

Looking back through the presidential campaign Glenn Thrush at Politico: 10 Crucial Decisions That Reshaped AmericaNothing about the most dramatic campaign in memory was a foregone conclusion. The inside story of the pivotal choices that got us to President Trump.

It should be remembered that the election was eventually decided by I think about 50,000 votes in three states, so it was very close.

When deciding whether to contest the presidency Trump rated his chances at 10%.

This is a detailed analysis that’s worth reading if you are interested in what lead up to the result that shocked the world. The ten ‘crucial decisions’:

1. Hillary Clinton copies the Obama playbook. December 12, 2013.

But, in the end, Brooklyn simply failed to predict the tidal wave that swamped Clinton—a pro-Trump uprising in rural and exurban white America that wasn’t reflected in the polls—and his candidate failed to generate enough enthusiasm to compensate with big turnouts in Detroit, Milwaukee and the Philadelphia suburbs.

Either way, there was something missing that technocrats couldn’t fix: The candidate herself was deeply unappealing to the most fired-up, unpredictable and angry segment of the electorate—middle-income whites in the Middle West—and she couldn’t inspire Obama-like passion among her own supporters to compensate for the surge.

2016 wasn’t 2012 because Obama wasn’t the nominee.

2. Jeb Bush decides to run for president. December 16, 2014.

There wouldn’t have been a President Donald Trump without Jeb Bush. A rebel needs a crown to crush, and the wolfish insurgent found his perfect prey in this third Bush to attempt to claim the White House, a princeling of a family that by 2015 had come to represent everything angry GOP voters hated about their own party.

3. Donald Trump taps Corey Lewandowski as his campaign manager. January 7, 2015.

It was probably the single most important decision Trump made early in his campaign for the presidency and, true to form, the candidate made it without much consultation or due diligence, and without quite knowing what he was getting into.

“What do you think of my chances?” Trump asked Lewandowski as soon as he sat down in Trump’s office, according to a person familiar with the interaction.

“Five percent,” Lewandowski replied.

Trump countered with his own assessment: 10 percent.

“Let me propose a deal,” Trump then joked. “Let’s settle on 7½.”

4. Bernie Sanders doesn’t attack Clinton on her “damn” emails. October 13, 2015.

The second problem was more durable, utterly avoidable, entirely self-inflicted and ultimately damning: Clinton’s enemies were starting to weaponize the murky tale of her private email server, an issue that would do her permanent political damage, sap public trust and, eventually, hand Trump a winning issue. “It’s a cancer,” a longtime Clinton insider told meas her campaign was ramping up. “She’s her own worst enemy,” another said.

Lucky for Clinton that Sanders wasn’t her worst enemy. Sanders, an (uncommonly) principled politician who was as intent on running the campaign he wanted as in winning, attacked Clinton on the issues he felt were the most important. Under pressure, he would eventually bash Clinton on her refusal to release the text of her Wall Street speeches, her cozy relationship with fat cat donors, her late-in-the-day conversion to an opponent of trade deals. But that was only in later debates, and only after Clinton and her team had savaged Sanders on his gun control record.

Most of all, he flummoxed his own advisers by steadfastly refusing to attack Clinton on the issue that would hurt her most: the emails.

5. CNN shows Trump’s empty podium for 30 minutes. March 3, 2016.

This was symbolic of how obsessed media became with Trump coverage – in this case remarkable focussing on his absence rather than his presence.

But if Trump’s time was, literally, money for the networks, the cable-Trump marriage was also unprecedented in a way that threw the political coverage dangerously out of balance.

The absurdity of the situation was laid bare on March 3, 2016, when CNN, Fox and MSNBC prepared to air what was billed as Trump’s much-anticipated rebuttal to Mitt Romney’s claim that the GOP front-runner was a “phony” and a “fraud.” Trump was supposed to start talking at 1:30 p.m., but he was strategically, playfully late.

The live shot of a flag-backed podium in Maine sat empty for five, 10, 15, eventually 30 minutes of Donald-free empty space that illustrated the vacuity of the celebrity-driven frenzy that defined Trump’s early campaign. CNN officials dismissed the incident, arguing that the image was just that—a static picture—that provided a backdrop for a stream of talking-head banter, much of it critical of Trump.

For Trump, the point was clear: He was so much more important than any of his rivals that even his absence was more newsworthy than their presence, and the networks did nothing to dispel that view, airing his speeches in their entirety when no other candidate or even President Obama was afforded that privilege.

6. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio play patty-cake with Trump at the debates. August 6, 2015.

The only two candidates who ever really had a real chance to stop him—golden boy hawk Marco Rubio of Florida and Tea Party icon Ted Cruz of Texas—made the calculation that ignoring Trump, and letting him run amok in the early debates, was their best chance at self-preservation.

The decision by the two young senators—they are both just 45 years old today—may well go down as one of the most consequential wimp-outs in recent politics.

But it seemed to make perfect sense in the summer of 2015, when Rubio’s Capitol Hill-based circle and Cruz’s Houston-based operation simultaneously decided on a hands-off-Donald approach.

7. Trump insults the parents of a dead war hero. July 28, 2016.

The final night of the convention was supposed to be Clinton’s big night, and many of the reporters who crammed into the press section in the early evening of July 28 were busily pre-writing their big Hillary speech stories when Khizr Khan and his wife, Ghazala, walked onto the stage.

“Donald Trump: You’re asking Americans to trust you with their future. Let me ask you: Have you even read the United States Constitution?” said Khizr Khan, whose son, a Muslim-American Army captain, had died protecting his fellow soldiers from a suicide bombing in Iraq in 2004.

Khan spoke, in a quavering monotone, about the injustice of Trump’s proposed Muslim immigration ban. By the time he pulled out a tiny dog-eared copy of the Constitution from his suit jacket pocket, the audience was on its feet, and reporters on press row were plucking out their ear buds to hear what he was saying. “I will gladly lend you my copy,” Khan told Trump, as his wife silently stood next to him, fighting back tears.

It was a critical moment in the election, or so it seemed at the time—“an appeal from a regular person for Trump to show some human decency,” in the words of former Jeb Bush adviser Tim Miller, “which he never does.”

Privately, Trump fumed about the Khan speech—he hated to absorb any insult without responding—even as the people around him, including Manafort, encouraged him to let it go. But there was, as always, no controlling Trump.

This is a concern about Trump as president, especially internationally. Some think that Trump a ‘telling it like it is’ tough guy stance will allow the US to dominate countries like China, others dread what it could precipitate.

The public hated it. A Fox News poll taken in the first week of August signaled to GOP leaders (wrongly, as it turned out) that Trump was cooked and could never recover: He dropped from running neck-and-neck with Clinton to 10 points down over the course of two weeks. “I thought that was it,” said one former Trump aide.

“If he loses,” Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, told me at the time, “his attack on Khans was the turning point.”

But here’s the thing: At that very moment, Mook’s own internal data was showing that Trump’s negative message overall—his “diagnosis of the problem” as Brooklyn called it—was resonating.

Clinton’s team laughed off Trump’s nomination speech. Yet her pollster John Anzalone and his team were stunned to find out that dial groups of swing state voters monitored during the speech “spiked” the darker the GOP nominee got.

8. Clinton decides to take a summer break. August 1, 2016.

Trump wasn’t dead. And the polls clearly showed that whatever he said or did, he still commanded between 36 and 43 percent of the national vote. The partisan divide was simply that stark, the animosity toward Clinton that real.

But it was a genuine boot-on-neck moment for Clinton’s Brooklyn operation.

Too bad it was the height of summer, and the Clintons had made plans they refused to change with their rich friends. So, the race almost, seemingly in the bag, Clinton came off the road, for a work-and-play semi-hiatus to regroup for the big fall push that saw her take four consecutive weekends off the trail, post-convention.

So at this moment of Trump’s maximum vulnerability, Clinton was work-vacationing with the likes of Jon Bon Jovi, Paul McCartney and Jimmy Buffett in the manses of Long Island, Beverly Hills, Martha’s Vineyard and Silicon Valley.

But Trump, surprisingly resilient and coachable when he needed to be, was to make masterful use of Clinton’s absence.

9. Trump goes scorched earth after Access Hollywood tape. October 7, 2016.

One month before Election Day, Donald Trump was hit by a bombshell that would have spelled instant electoral death for anybody without his chutzpah (or even a human-apportioned sense of shame).

On a Friday morning four weeks before the voting, the Washington Postobtained a hot-mic tape from a 2005 appearance on Access Hollywood in which Trump described in gross detail an incident in which he had sexually assaulted a woman who resisted his romantic entreaties.

The fallout was swift, damaging and seemingly campaign-killing.

The candidate’s daughter Ivanka, two people close to the family said, was mortified, and urged him to apologize immediately.

Trump’s natural instinct—stoked by Bannon’s attack-when-attacked attitude—was to give as little ground as possible.

One longtime adviser to Trump described the strategy this way: He couldn’t do anything about the tape—it was out there for everybody to hear—but he could stick with “his core brand” by reinforcing his refusal to play by the usual rules of politics.

Trump came out of it seen as he wanted to be: a defiant candidate who flouted rules of “political correctness” and whose in-your-face candor consistently registered in polls as the perceived attribute voters liked most about him. And anyways, it was a classic Trump move: When you’re caught doing something indefensible don’t even try to defend it—attack.

Trump, a guy who couldn’t seem to shut up, urged his surrogates to “go dark,” according to a former aide.

Trump’s numbers collapsed again, but Bannon never doubted that his pal could pull it out and urged Trump to indulge his most brazen showman’s impulses by turning damning on-tape proof that he was a sexual harasser into a populist crusade against the “rigged system.

10. Jim Comey sends a letter to Congress. October 28, 2016.

Clinton wanted to run her campaign her own way. To the frustration of her staff, that often entailed less retail campaigning: She insisted more often than not on flying back to her house in Chappaqua on most days, and held her debate prep sessions at a nearby conference center instead of doing them on-the-fly in battleground states, so she could combine cramming and campaigning.

That hesitation about “the campaigning part” was why, despite their confidence Clinton would pull out a win, many in her camp came to see the campaign as a high-stakes game of musical chairs: The candidate who had the worst final news cycle would probably lose.

It was Clinton.

On a sleepy Friday afternoon 10 days before the election, FBI Director James Comey sent a letter informing Congress that he had obtained a big new batch of emails pertaining to Clinton’s email server. It was a revelation widely (and inaccurately) cast as his decision to “reopen” the case, after having announced in early July that Clinton had been cleared of wrongdoing but had been reckless in setting up her private email server.

Top officials for both campaigns said the revelation—which turned out to be an inconsequential cache of previously parsed emails kept on the laptop of Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s estranged husband, Anthony Weiner—was a game-changer in a race in which Clinton had little margin for error.

A campaign that was notable for Trump doing everything not by the book which kept shocking many, and for Clinton’s flawed candidacy and flawed campaign, two of the biggest deciding factors turned out to be Russian and FBI involvement.

It’s nothing new that Russia and the US interfere in elections of other countries but the extent Russia has allegedly done this in the US to this degree is unprecedented.

The way hacked emails have been used should be a concern around the world.

It’s not new – hacked emails and other communications featured in Nicky Hager’s ‘Dirty Politics’ book launched early in New Zealand’s 2014 general election, as it turned out unsuccessfully. But I suspect that how that was done will have been noted and learned from.

WikiLeaks tried a different approach in the US election, drip feeding emails over a period of time. This certainly had an impact.

Ultimately FBI head James Comey’s interference probably swung the election in Trump’s favour at a crucial time, but that situation was set up and enabled by the hacking and the drip feeding.

Democracy is at real risk of being trashed by hacking.

Clinton blames both Comey letters

Hillary Clinton has blamed her loss in the presidential election to both James Comey letters.

Fox News: Clinton tells fundraisers FBI Comey letter sank presidential bid

Hillary Clinton has offered a couple of private but candid explanations about why she lost her White House bid, telling high-dollar fundraisers Saturday that FBI announcements about a second probe into her emails from her time as secretary of state were too damaging.

Clinton said, “Our analysis is that Comey’s letter raised doubts that were groundless and baseless…” and “stopped our momentum”.

From what I remember Clinton was already dropping back in the polls when Comey’s first letter hit the campaign, but the polls dropped quite a bit more afterwards as well.

Clinton suggested her campaign’s internal poll numbers plunged after the letter but nevertheless rebounded, a person on the Saturday call told Politico.

However, she said the second Comey letter, three days before Election Day, saying that she had essentially been cleared in the unrelated case, awakened Trump voters.  

So she says that while the second letter cleared her it motivated ‘Trump voters’ – but there appears to have been a lot of anti-Clinton voting as well.

It’s impossible to tell how much the election was affected by the Comey letters. It is likely to have been significant, but hard to tell whether it made the difference.

Clinton’s past email problems, Benghazi, her links to her husband and to the current Obama administration, and her bland campaign will also have been major factors.

But regardless of causes, which will have been many and complex, the simple fact is that Clinton lost and Trump won.

Election over, move on.

 

What now for Comey and the FBI?

It could be difficult times ahead for the FBI and director James Comey.

They have to learn to deal with the incoming Trump administration.

It’s impossible to say how much Comey’s campaign bombshell impacted on the election, but given that after his first letter Hillary Clinton dropped 3% in the polls, halving her lead, it must have made a difference. And probably the difference.

Clinton lost a number of states by a close margin, and these made the difference between winning and losing the presidency.

Comey and the FBI will be blamed, probably deservedly. This is unprecedented.

Will Comey try to serve out his ten year term? He was appointed by Obama in 2013.

He must be seriously compromised by his actions.

And he may be under pressure from the incoming administration. Trump praised him when he did what Trump approved of, but blasted him before and afterwards. Tricky situation now.

Any FBI decisions involving politicians could be very awkward for Comey. Partisan pressure may be extreme.

Comey has a heavy burden to carry. He may choose to leave the FBI behind him. The United States probably needs this to be able to move on.

FBI email surprise #2

FIB head James Comey sprung another surprise on the US election, saying that after checking emails they wouldn’t change their earlier stance that they would take no action against Hillary Clinton.

“Based on our review, we have not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July,” Comey in the new letter to congressional committee chairmen.

Comey’s letter was the culmination of a fast-paced review of the newly discovered email, law enforcement sources said Sunday.
We went through this as fast as we could,” a senior law enforcement official told CNN, with another law enforcement official saying investigators worked “around the clock” to review the large volume of emails.
The FBI found the new emails as part of its separate investigation into a sexting incident by Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
The thousands of new emails were mostly personal and duplicates of what had already been seen, law enforcement officials said in explaining how the conclusion was reached so quickly. The laptop which was found was about a decade old with lots of personal content on it not relevant to the investigation, according to one source.
The probe is considered over with regard to Clinton.

http://edition.cnn.com/2016/11/06/politics/comey-tells-congress-fbi-has-not-changed-conclusions/index.html

The Clinton camp is praising Comey now, and Trump is back to saying the election is rigged.

About 20 million votes have been cast since the first announcement. It’s difficult to know how much the swings will affect the final result, but with Clinton still ahead by 2-3% in most polls this will help give her a final nudge.

Newsweek has details – HERE’S WHAT THE FBI FOUND IN THE EMAILS ON ANTHONY WEINER’S LAPTOP (nothing incriminating Clinton).

It’s too late for this to show up in polls before the election so the result of the mess will have to wait until results start to become known on Wednesday (New Zealand time).

 

Destruction of a democratic republic

Is the US democratic republic in a process of self destruction, or is it just in an awful mess that is somehow recoverable?

The Democrats allowed Hillary Clinton and her cabal to pursue her ambitions despite serious flaws and risks.

The deeply divided Republicans enabled Donald Trump to become their candidate, who has dragged the campaign down to new lows.

And the FBI directory has kicked over the rubble.

Charles Lane at Washington Post: Here’s how you destroy a democratic republic

With the 58th presidential election under the U.S. Constitution now less than a week away, it is clear that the 228-year-old document is not achieving one of its central purposes.

James Madison intended it to curb “factious spirit” — what we call “partisanship” — which he correctly identified as the bane of popular governments, both those that had existed before 1788 and the ones in the 13 newly independent American states.

Yet today’s Republicans and Democrats are so divided that they no longer seem like citizens of the same nation or acknowledge even the same factual reality.

Among the many manifestations of out-of-control factious spirit, none is more dismaying than the obeisance Republicans have paid their party’s patently unfit presidential candidate, Donald Trump, out of a combination of opportunism, blind factional loyalty and hatred of his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

None is more dangerous, though, than the potential partisan politicization of federal law enforcement, especially its investigative arm, the FBI.

If you really wanted to destroy a democratic republic, the surest way would be to turn its prosecutors, investigators and intelligence-gatherers into the instruments — actual or perceived — of a political party.

Whatever the result next week, the United States of America will be in a fractured, fractious state.

If Trump wins, Democrats would consider it an FBI-engineered victory.

If Clinton wins, she would face the awkward predicament of working on anti-terrorism and other vital efforts with an FBI director still pursuing a Republican-encouraged investigation of her emails.

It’s harsh piling too much blame on Comey, much of the damage had already been done by both candidates and both parties.

The US is unlikely to be a happy place. Is their democratic republic irreparably damaged?

It is likely to take a far better leader than either Clinton or Trump to patch up the damage.

What Comey’s letter said

A letter from FBI director James Comey ignited a new fire storm in the US presidential campaign, but it actually said very little, especially about Hillary Clinton.

From ThinkProgress: What the FBI Director’s letter about the Clinton emails really says

comeylettter

The relevant paragraph in this brief letter is the middle one, where Comey writes that the FBI “has learned of the existence” of emails that it previously did not review. In response to this new information, the FBI will now “allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information.”

The FBI, in other words, is not reexamining its previous findings. It is not questioning its previous legal conclusion that “no reasonable prosecutor” could determine that charges are warranted. Based on the letter, it appears that the FBI will simply provide the same scrutiny to these newly uncovered emails as it previously applied to the emails it already reviewed when it determined that criminal charges are not warranted.

It would be remarkable if the US presidential election swung on this letter.

It would appear that at the very least it has handed an enhanced weapon to Donald Trump’s campaign.