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Administration Releases Wiretap Documents on Ex-Trump Adviser

The Trump administration on Saturday released a set of documents once deemed top secret relating to the wiretapping of a onetime adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

The New York Times reported that the documents involving former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page were released to the Times and several other media organizations that had filed Freedom of Information Act lawsuits to obtain them. The FBI later posted the documents to its FOIA website online.

The materials include an October 2016 application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to wiretap Page as well as several renewal applications, the Times reported. It is highly unusual for documents related to FISA wiretap applications to be released.

While the documents were heavily redacted in places, the Times reported that visible portions of the documents show the FBI telling the intelligence court that Page “has been collaborating and conspiring with the Russian government.” The agency also told the court “the FBI believes Page has been the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian government.”

Page has denied being a Russian agent.

After a redaction, the Times reported that the application to wiretap Page included a partial sentence: “… undermine and influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election in violation of U.S. criminal law.”

The surveillance of Page became a contentious matter between Republican and Democratic lawmakers earlier this year.

Republicans alleged the FBI had abused its surveillance powers and improperly obtained the warrant, a charge that Democrats rebutted as both sides characterized the documents in different ways. The documents, meanwhile, remained out of public view.

House Democrats were quick to say that the documents bolstered their arguments.

“For more than a year, House Republicans have bullied the Department of Justice and FBI to release highly sensitive documents to derail the Special Counsel’s and other legitimate national security investigations and cover for the President,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “For the sake of our national security and our democracy, these vital investigations must be allowed to continue unhindered by Republican interference. The GOP must cease their attacks on our law enforcement and intelligence communities, and finally decide where their loyalty lies.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who is the ranking member of the House intelligence committee, said the documents underscore the “legitimate concern” the FBI had about Page’s activities. 

Yet Schiff said the materials shouldn’t have been released during an ongoing investigation because of national security. He blamed Trump for making public House Republicans’ initial memo about the FISA applications, a move by Trump that the congressman called “nakedly political and self-interested, and designed to to (sic) interfere with the Special Counsel’s investigation.”

 

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Kavanaugh: Court’s Watergate Tapes Ruling May Have Been Wrong

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh suggested several years ago that the unanimous high court ruling in 1974 that forced President Richard Nixon to turn over the Watergate tapes, leading to the end of his presidency, may have been wrongly decided.

Kavanaugh was taking part in a roundtable discussion with other lawyers when he said at three different points that the decision in U.S. v. Nixon, which marked limits on a president’s ability to withhold information needed for a criminal prosecution, may have come out the wrong way.

A 1999 magazine article about the roundtable was part of thousands of pages of documents that Kavanaugh has provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of the confirmation process. The committee released the documents Saturday.

Robust executive authority

Kavanaugh’s belief in robust executive authority is front and center in his nomination by President Donald Trump to replace the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. The issue could assume even greater importance if special counsel Robert Mueller seeks to force Trump to testify in the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“But maybe Nixon was wrongly decided — heresy though it is to say so. Nixon took away the power of the president to control information in the executive branch by holding that the courts had power and jurisdiction to order the president to disclose information in response to a subpoena sought by a subordinate executive branch official. That was a huge step with implications to this day that most people do not appreciate sufficiently. … Maybe the tension of the time led to an erroneous decision,” Kavanaugh said in a transcript of the discussion that was published in the January-February 1999 issue of the Washington Lawyer.

At another point in the discussion, Kavanaugh said the court might have been wise to stay out of the tapes dispute. 

“Should U.S. v. Nixon be overruled on the ground that the case was a nonjusticiable intrabranch dispute? Maybe so,” he said.

Kavanaugh was among six lawyers who took part in the discussion in the aftermath of independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s investigation that led to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Kavanaugh had been a member of Starr’s team.

The discussion was focused on the privacy of discussions between government lawyers and their clients.

More recent assessment

Philip Lacovara, who argued the Watergate tapes case against Nixon and moderated the discussion, said Kavanaugh has long believed in a strong presidency. 

“That was Brett staking out what has been his basic jurisprudential approach since law school,” Lacovara said in a telephone interview Saturday.

Still, Lacovara said, “it was surprising even as of 1999 that the unanimous decision in the Nixon tapes case might have been wrongly decided.”

Kavanaugh allies pointed to a recent, more favorable assessment of the Nixon case.

“Whether it was Marbury, or Youngstown, or Brown, or Nixon, some of the greatest moments in American judicial history have been when judges stood up to the other branches, were not cowed, and enforced the law. That takes backbone, or what some call judicial engagement,” Kavanaugh wrote in a 2016 law review article in which he referred to several landmark Supreme Court cases.

Stack of paperwork

The 1999 article was among a pile of material released in response to the committee’s questionnaire. Kavanaugh was asked to provide information about his career as an attorney and jurist, his service in the executive branch, education, society memberships and more.

It’s an opening look at a long paper trail that lawmakers will consider as they decide whether to confirm him. The high court appointment could shift the court rightward for years to come.

A longtime figure in the Washington establishment, Kavanaugh acknowledged in the questionnaire that he had joined clubs that he said once had discriminatory membership policies.

“Years before I became a member of the Congressional Country Club and the Chevy Chase Club, it is my understanding that those clubs, like most similar clubs around the country, may have excluded members on discriminatory bases that should not have been acceptable to people then and would not be acceptable now,” he wrote.

Asked to list the 10 most significant cases for which he sat as a judge, Kavanaugh cited nine in which “the position expressed in my opinion (either for the court or in a separate writing) was later adopted by the Supreme Court.”

The 10th regarded a man fired by mortgage giant Fannie Mae after he filed a discrimination complaint that alleged a company executive had created a hostile work environment by calling the worker “the n-word.” Kavanaugh said he included it “because of what it says about anti-discrimination law and American history.”

Kavanaugh said an appeals court panel on which he sat reversed a lower court’s ruling in favor of Fannie Mae. He said he joined the majority opinion in 2013 and wrote a separate concurrence “to explain that calling someone the n-word, even once, creates a hostile work environment.”

In the questionnaire, Kavanaugh cited his opinion in that case: “No other word in the English language so powerfully or instantly calls to mind our country’s long and brutal struggle to overcome racism and discrimination against African-Americans.’” But it was one of the relatively few discrimination cases in which Kavanaugh sided with a complaining employee.

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the committee chairman, said the questionnaire was “the broadest and most comprehensive” ever sent by the committee and he welcomed “Judge Kavanaugh’s diligent and timely response.”

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AP Fact Check: Trump’s Week of Claims on Russia, NATO

It was a week of bewilderment over what President Donald Trump really thinks about Russian interference in the U.S. election and what he and Russia’s Vladimir Putin told each other in their private meeting. The confusion was fed by Trump’s vacillating statements about the summit.

On other fronts, Trump inaccurately claimed Queen Elizabeth II bestowed upon him an honor that she had never before granted during her reign and, when the president was back in the U.S., he gave a faulty account of improvements in health care for veterans.

A week in review:

TRUMP: “The Summit with Russia was a great success, except with the real enemy of the people, the Fake News Media. I look forward to our second meeting so that we can start implementing some of the many things discussed, including stopping terrorism, security for Israel, nuclear … proliferation, cyber attacks, trade, Ukraine, Middle East peace, North Korea and more. There are many answers, some easy and some hard, to these problems … but they can ALL be solved!” — tweets Thursday.

THE FACTS: Trump implies that he reached broad agreements with Putin during the Helsinki meeting that the two countries “can start implementing” with a second meeting. If he did, his own White House and State Department seem not to know about it.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders mentioned humanitarian aid for Syria, Iran, Israel, arms control, Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its meddling in 2016 U.S. election as having been discussed. When pressed for details on any planned action, she could not provide any.

“This is the beginning of the dialogue with Russia and our administration and theirs and we’re going to continue working through those things,” Sanders told reporters Wednesday.

The State Department offered its own take on the Helsinki meeting, saying no agreements were reached and that there were just general proposals on matters mainly related to economic and strategic cooperation.

TRUMP, addressing whether Russia was interfering in the 2016 election: “The whole concept of that came up perhaps a little bit before, but it came out as a reason why the Democrats lost an election — which, frankly, they should have been able to win, because the Electoral College is much more advantageous for Democrats, as you know, than it is to Republicans. We won the Electoral College by a lot — 306 to 223, I believe.” — remarks Monday.

THE FACTS: Trump makes the misguided assertion, again, that Democrats have an “advantage” in the Electoral College. Its unique system of electing presidents is actually a big reason why Trump won the presidency. Four candidates in history have won a majority of the popular vote only to be denied the presidency by the Electoral College. All were Democrats.

In the 2016 election, Democrat Hillary Clinton received nearly 2.9 million more votes than Trump after racking up more lopsided victories in big states such as New York and California, according to election data compiled by The Associated Press. But she lost the presidency because of Trump’s winning margin in the Electoral College, which came after he narrowly won less populous Midwestern states, including Michigan and Wisconsin.

Unlike the popular vote, Electoral College votes are set equal to the number of U.S. representatives in each state plus its two senators. That means more weight is given to a single vote in a small state than the vote of someone in a large state.

Trump also misstates the Electoral College vote. The official count was 304 to 227, according to an AP tally of the electoral votes in every state.

TRUMP: “I want to have choice, just like we have now with the veterans, all approved, which nobody thought would be possible. The vets now, instead of standing on line for two weeks or one week or three months, they can go out and see a doctor, and we pay for it, and it turns out to be much less expensive. And they are loving it.” — remarks Wednesday at Cabinet meeting.

THE FACTS: The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Choice program for veterans that Trump refers to is not “all approved.” Nor are veterans necessarily loving the private-sector health care program, as measured by the average amount of time veterans must wait for a medical appointment with a private doctor. Trump’s suggestion that veterans are getting immediate care because of Choice does not reflect the reality.

Trump did sign into law last month a bill that would ease restrictions on private care. But its success in significantly reducing wait times depends in large part on an overhaul of VA’s electronic medical records to allow for a seamless sharing of records with private physicians. That overhaul will take at least 10 years to be complete.

Under the newly expanded Choice program that will take at least a year to implement, veterans will still have to meet certain criteria before they can see a private physician. Those criteria will be set in part by proposed federal regulations that will be subject to public review.

Currently, only veterans who endure waits of at least 30 days for an appointment at a VA facility are eligible to receive care from private doctors at government expense. A recent Government Accountability Report found that despite the Choice program’s guarantee of providing an appointment within 30 days, veterans waited an average of 51 days to 64 days.

TRUMP: “We met with the Queen, who is absolutely a terrific person, where she reviewed her Honor Guard for the first time in 70 years, they tell me. We walked in front of the Honor Guard, and that was very inspiring to see and be with her.” — remarks Tuesday during a meeting with members of Congress.

THE FACTS: No, Queen Elizabeth II did not review her Honor Guard for the first time in 70 years when Trump visited last week. She’s only been on the throne for 66 years.

The queen regularly inspects her Honor Guard as part of royal duties, often during visits from foreign officials. That included when President Barack Obama visited in 2011.

TRUMP, when asked Wednesday during a Cabinet meeting if Russia was still targeting U.S. elections: “No.”

THE FACTS: Trump’s apparent response that Russia does not pose a risk to future U.S. elections contradicted the warning from his director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, days earlier on the threat of Russian interference in the 2018 elections. Coats compared the cyberthreat today to the way U.S. officials described before 9/11 the risk of a terrorist attack as indicated from intelligence channels: “Blinking red,” with warning signs of an imminent attack.

Sanders said later Wednesday that Trump actually was saying “no” to answering additional questions — even though he subsequently went on to address Russia.

TRUMP, on his intelligence officials on Monday: “They said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this — I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

TRUMP, reading from a statement, on his intelligence officials on Tuesday: “I accept our intelligence community conclusion that Russia meddling … took place” and the “sentence should have been ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’ ”

TRUMP, when asked by CBS on Wednesday if he agreed that Russia meddled in the 2016 election: “I have said that numerous times before, and I would say that is true, yeah.”

THE FACTS: Was Trump’s comment Monday a misunderstanding set off by his saying “would” instead of “wouldn’t”? Or was his rare admission of a mistake rooted in the ferocity of the stateside response by those — Republicans among them — who said he’d undermined U.S. intelligence services by seeming to side with Putin?

Whichever the case, Trump at various points in his Monday news conference made clear that he found Putin’s position on the matter compelling.

“I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” Trump said at the joint news conference. He made the untenable assertion Monday that “I have confidence in both parties” — his intelligence officials, who say Moscow interfered, and Putin, who says it didn’t.

Trump has been a nearly solitary figure in his administration in holding on to doubts about whether Russians tried to sway the election. Trump’s top national security officials, Democrats and most Republicans in Congress say U.S. intelligence agencies got it right in finding that Russians secretly tried to sway the election. The special counsel’s continuing Russia investigation has laid out a detailed trail of attempts and successes by Russians to steal Democratic Party and Clinton campaign communications and to leak embarrassing emails and documents.

Putin denied anew that the Russian government interfered, but he acknowledged Monday that he favored Trump in 2016. “Yes, I wanted him to win because he spoke of normalization of Russian-U.S. ties.”

PUTIN, referring Monday to Bill Browder, a prominent Putin critic and investor charged with financial crimes in Russia: “Business associates of Mr. Browder have earned over $1.5 billion in Russia. They never paid any taxes, neither in Russia nor in the United States, and yet the money escaped the country. They were transferred to the United States. They sent a huge amount of money, $400 million, as a contribution to the campaign of Hillary Clinton.”

THE FACTS: The notion of a $400 million donation to the Democrat’s campaign is a stratospheric exaggeration. On Tuesday, the Russian general prosecutor’s office said, to little fanfare, that Putin misspoke and meant $400,000.

The Clinton campaign committee raised less than $564 million. With supportive political action committees added to the equation, Clinton’s effort drew $795 million in donations. Putin’s initial figure suggested a huge chunk of her money came from a small cabal of financiers.

The reality is much less dramatic.

Browder’s New York financial partners, Ziff Brothers Investments, donated only $1.75 million in the 2016 campaign, spreading it among candidates for many offices in both parties and favoring Republicans in congressional races. The watchdog site opensecrets.org shows it giving only $17,700 for Clinton’s election and less than $300,000 to the Democratic National Committee, as well as smaller amounts to other entities.

Donations to Clinton came from diverse sources: the financial industry, education interests, Hollywood, unions, the health and pharmaceutical sectors, and many more.

TRUMP, on increased military spending by NATO countries: “I had a great meeting with NATO. They have paid $33 Billion more and will pay hundreds of Billions of Dollars more in the future, only because of me. NATO was weak, but now it is strong again (bad for Russia).” — tweet Tuesday.

THE FACTS: No, increased military spending by NATO members is not “only because” of him. The broader move toward rising spending by NATO countries began under Obama.

NATO members agreed in 2014 to stop cutting their military budgets and set a goal of moving “toward” spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product on their own defense by 2024. Most NATO members are spending less than 2 percent, though more are moving in that direction. The issue is not one of payments to NATO, as Trump repeatedly puts it, but how much members spend on their own armed forces.

After being prodded by Trump to give him credit, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg indicated that Trump’s big demands had some effect on the military spending. He estimated European allies and Canada would add $266 billion to their military spending by 2024 and said of Trump, “This is really adding some extra momentum.” By one NATO estimate, alliance members apart from the U.S. collectively increased their military budgets by $33 billion last year.

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Democratic Socialism Rising in the Age of Trump

A week ago, Maine Democrat Zak Ringelstein wasn’t quite ready to consider himself a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, even if he appreciated the organization’s values and endorsement in his bid to become a U.S. senator.

Three days later, he told The Associated Press it was time to join up. He’s now the only major-party Senate candidate in the nation to be a dues-paying democratic socialist.

Ringelstein’s leap is the latest evidence of a nationwide surge in the strength and popularity of an organization that, until recently, operated on the fringes of the liberal movement’s farthest left flank. As Donald Trump’s presidency stretches into its second year, democratic socialism has become a significant force in Democratic politics. Its rise comes as Democrats debate whether moving too far left will turn off voters.

“I stand with the democratic socialists, and I have decided to become a dues-paying member,” Ringelstein told AP. “It’s time to do what’s right, even if it’s not easy.”

There are 42 people running for offices at the federal, state and local levels this year with the formal endorsement of the Democratic Socialists of America, the organization says. They span 20 states, including Florida, Hawaii, Kansas and Michigan.

The most ambitious Democrats in Washington have been reluctant to embrace the label, even as they embrace the policies defining modern-day democratic socialism: Medicare for all, a $15 minimum wage, free college tuition and the abolition of the federal department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Congress’ only self-identified democratic socialist, campaigned Friday with the movement’s newest star, New York City congressional candidate Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old former bartender who defeated one of the most powerful House Democrats last month.

Her victory fed a flame that was already beginning to burn brighter. The DSA’s paid membership has hovered around 6,000 in the years before Trump’s election, said Allie Cohn, a member of the group’s national political team.

Last week, its paid membership hit 45,000 nationwide.

There is little distinction made between the terms “democratic socialism” and “socialism” in the group’s literature. While Ringelstein and other DSA-backed candidates promote a “big-tent” philosophy, the group’s constitution describes its members as socialists who “reject an economic order based on private profit” and “share a vision of a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism, racial equality and non-oppressive relationships.”

Members during public meetings often refer to each other “comrades,” wear clothing featuring socialist symbols like the rose and promote authors such as Karl Marx.

The common association with the failed Soviet Union has made it difficult for sympathetic liberals to explain their connection.

“I don’t like the term socialist, because people do associate that with bad things in history,” said Kansas congressional candidate James Thompson, who is endorsed by the DSA and campaigned alongside Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, but is not a dues-paying democratic socialist. “There’s definitely a lot of their policies that closely align with mine.”

Thompson, an Army veteran turned civil rights attorney, is running again after narrowly losing a special election last year to fill the seat vacated by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Even in deep-red Kansas, he embraces policies like “Medicare for all” and is openly critical of capitalism.

In Hawaii, 29-year-old state Rep. Kaniela Ing isn’t shy about promoting his status as a democratic socialist in his bid for Congress. He said he was encouraged to run for higher office by the same activist who recruited Ocasio-Cortez.

“We figured just lean in hard,” Ing told the AP of the democratic socialist label. He acknowledged some baby boomers may be scared away, but said the policies democratic socialists promote — like free health care and economic equality — aren’t extreme.

Republicans, meanwhile, are encouraged by the rise of democratic socialism — for a far different reason. They have seized on what they view as a leftward lurch by Democrats they predict will alienate voters this fall and in the 2020 presidential race.

The Republican National Committee eagerly notes that Sanders’ plan to provide free government-sponsored health care for all Americans had no co-sponsors in 2013. Today, more than one-third of Senate Democrats and two-thirds of House Democrats have signed onto the proposal, which by one estimate could cost taxpayers as much as $32 trillion.

The co-sponsors include some 2020 presidential prospects, such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and California Sen. Kamala Harris.

Those senators aren’t calling themselves democratic socialists but also not disassociating themselves from the movement’s priorities.

Most support the push to abolish ICE, which enforces immigration laws and led the Trump administration’s recent push to separate immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Of the group, only Booker hasn’t called for ICE to be abolished, replaced or rebuilt. Yet Booker’s office notes that he’s among the few senators backing a plan to guarantee government-backed jobs to unemployed adults in high-unemployment communities across America.

“Embracing socialist policies like government-run health care, a guaranteed jobs program and open borders will only make Democrats more out of touch,” RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel said.

Despite Ocasio-Cortez’s recent success, most DSA-endorsed candidates have struggled.

Gayle McLaughlin finished eighth in last month’s Democratic primary to become California’s lieutenant governor, earning just 4 percent of the vote. All three endorsed candidates for Maryland’s Montgomery County Council lost last month as well. And Ryan Fenwick was blown out by 58 points in his run to become mayor of Louisville, Kentucky.

Ringelstein, a 32-year-old political neophyte, is expected to struggle in his campaign to unseat Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats. He is refusing to accept donations from lobbyists or corporate political action committees, which has made fundraising a grind. At the end of June, King’s campaign reported $2.4 million cash on hand while Ringelstein had just $23,000.

He has tapped into the party’s national progressive movement and the southern Maine chapter of the DSA for the kind of grassroots support that fueled Ocasio-Cortez’s victory. As he has done almost every month this year, Ringelstein attended the group’s monthly meeting at Portland’s city hall last Monday.

More than 60 people packed into the room. The group’s chairman, 25-year-old union organizer Meg Reilly, wore a T-shirt featuring three roses.

She cheered the “comrades” softball team’s recent season before moving to an agenda that touched on climate change legislation, a book share program “to further your socialist education,” and an exchange program that lets community members swap favors such as jewelry repair, pet sitting or cooking.

Near the end of the two-hour gathering, Ringelstein thanked the group for “standing shoulder to shoulder with us throughout this entire campaign.”

“We could win a U.S. Senate seat!” he said. “I want to say that over and over. We could win a U.S. Senate seat! So, let’s do this.”

 

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Trump Claims ex-Lawyer’s Phone-taping Is ‘Perhaps Illegal’

President Donald Trump said Saturday that his personal lawyer’s taping of their private phone conversations is “totally unheard of & perhaps illegal.”

Trump was responding to the revelation that former attorney Michael Cohen, weeks before the 2016 election, secretly recorded their discussion of a potential payment for a former Playboy model’s account of having an affair with Trump. He tweeted: “The good news is that your favorite President did nothing wrong!”

The recording was part of a large collection of documents and electronic records seized by federal authorities from the longtime Trump fixer earlier this year.

Cohen had made a practice of recording telephone conversations, unbeknownst to those he was speaking with. New York state law allows for recordings of conversations with only the consent of one party; other jurisdictions require all parties to agree to a recording. It was not immediately clear where Trump and Cohen were located at the time of the call.

Cohen’s recording adds to questions about whether Trump tried to quash damaging stories before the election. Trump’s campaign had said it knew nothing about any payment to ex-centerfold Karen McDougal. It could also further entangle the president in a criminal investigation that for months has targeted Cohen.

The erstwhile Trump loyalist has hired a new attorney, Clinton White House veteran Lanny Davis, and disassociated himself from the president as both remain under investigation. Cohen has not been charged with a crime.

Current Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said the payment was never made and the brief recording shows Trump did nothing wrong.

“The transaction that Michael is talking about on the tape never took place, but what’s important is: If it did take place, the president said it has to be done correctly and it has to be done by check” to keep a proper record of it, Giuliani said.

Davis said “any attempt at spin cannot change what is on the tape.”

“When the recording is heard, it will not hurt Mr. Cohen,” Davis said in a statement.

The recording was first reported Friday by The New York Times.

The FBI raided Cohen’s office, home and hotel room in April, searching in part for information about payments to McDougal and porn actress Stormy Daniels, who received a $130,000 payment from Cohen before the election to keep quiet about a sexual relationship she says she had with Trump. The FBI investigation is separate from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of election interference in 2016 and potential obstruction of justice by those in the president’s orbit.

Referring to that raid, Trump called it “inconceivable that the government would break into a lawyer’s office (early in the morning).” In past comments Trump has also referred to the court-ordered seizure as a “break-in,” though Cohen has been more sanguine, saying the FBI agents were courteous and respectful.

A self-described fixer for Trump for more than a decade, Cohen said last year he would “take a bullet” for Trump. But he told ABC News in an interview broadcast this month that he now puts “family and country first” and won’t let anyone paint him as “a villain of this story.” On Twitter, he scrubbed mentions and photos of Trump from a profile that previously identified him as “Personal attorney to President Donald J. Trump.”

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Facebook Suspends Another Analytics Firm

Facebook says it has suspended working with Boston-based analytics firm Crimson Hexagon until it can determine how the firm collects and shares Facebook and Instagram user data.

Facebook announced the suspension Friday.

The Wall Street Journal was the first to report the suspension and said that one of Crimson Hexagon’s clients is a Russian nonprofit with ties to the Kremlin.

Facebook said that Crimson Hexagon is cooperating with the investigation and there is no evidence that Crimson Hexagon obtained Facebook or Instagram information inappropriately.

“We don’t allow developers to build surveillance tools using information from Facebook or Instagram,” Facebook said in a statement Friday. “We take these allegations seriously and have suspended these apps while we investigate.”

Chris Bingham, Crimson Hexagon’s, chief technology officer, said in a blog Friday his company “only collects publicly available social media data that anyone can access.”

He added, “Government entities that leverage the Crimson Hexagon platform do so for the same reasons as many of our other nongovernment customers: a broad-based and aggregate understanding of the public’s perception, preferences and sentiment about matters of concern to them.”

Earlier this year, it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica inappropriately obtained user data from millions of Facebook users.

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Lawmakers Develop Strategy to Stop Foreign Meddling in 2018 Midterm Election

The midterm elections in the United States are less than four months away. Officials are putting into place a number of measures to prevent a repeat of the kind of Russian interference that U.S. intelligence discovered in the 2016 elections. That includes a new announcement that notifies the public about foreign breaches. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti reports from the White House.

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US Senators Drop Efforts to Cripple China’s ZTE

U.S. Republican lawmakers have dropped their efforts to reimpose a crippling ban on exports to the Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE. 

The move Friday gives a victory to U.S. President Donald Trump who has championed for ZTE to stay in business. 

Republican senators Friday dropped legislation that would block ZTE from buying component parts from the United States. Senators had included the legislation in a defense spending bill passed last month, but a House version of the defense bill did not include the same provision.

Lawmakers say senators decided to leave the provision out of the final compromise bill, which is expected to come to a vote in the House and Senate in the coming days.

Lawmakers from both parties have been critical of President Trump over his decision to lift a ban on U.S. companies selling to ZTE.

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer blasted Friday’s developments.

“By stripping the Senate’s tough ZTE sanctions provision from the defense bill, President Trump and the congressional Republicans who acted at his behest  have once again made President Xi and the Chinese Government the big winners,” he said in a statement.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio called dropping the provision “bad news” in a tweet Friday.ZTE is accused of selling sensitive technologies to Iran and North Korea, despite a U.S. trade embargo.

In April, the U.S. Commerce Department barred ZTE from importing American components for its telecommunications products for the next seven years, practically putting the company out of business. 

However, Trump later announced a deal with ZTE in which the Chinese company would pay a $1 billion fine for its trade violations, as well as replace its entire management and board by the middle of July.

The Commerce Department announced last week that it has formally lifted the ban on ZTE after the Chinese company complied with all terms of the settlement. 

Most of the world first heard of the dispute over ZTE in May after one of Trump’s tweets.

 

 

 

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Democrats Want to Compel Interpreter to Testify About Helsinki Summit

U.S. Democratic lawmakers are trying to compel a government interpreter to testify about what was discussed during President Donald Trump’s one-on-one meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, but legal analysts say that is not likely to happen — unless the president allows it.

Trump and Putin met privately for more than two hours at Monday’s Helsinki summit. Only interpreters were present for the meeting, and details of what was discussed remain unknown to anyone else.

Democrats want to compel the U.S. government interpreter, Marina Gross, to testify before lawmakers, while Republicans are blocking the move.

The call for Gross to testify raises questions concerning legality, executive privilege and the ethical code for interpreters who pride themselves on their discretion and confidentiality.

“There is no precedent for issuing a subpoena for the translator,” scholar William Pomeranz told VOA.

Pomeranz, deputy director of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, said he did not expect the translator to be questioned by Congress, “especially because the intent of the [Trump-Putin] meeting was to be an off-the-record conversation.”

Subpoena request

Democrats say that they are concerned about what Trump may have said to Putin and that the circumstances of the summit are exceptional. They cite the fact that the Trump’s administration is already being investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller over Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, and say the circumstances justify subpoenaing Trump’s interpreter.

The White House has been engulfed in controversy since the Helsinki summit, when Trump cast doubt on U.S. intelligence findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Trump has since walked back his comments, saying he does believe U.S. intelligence conclusions.

Pomeranz said the summit “is still clouded in mystery in terms of what were the concrete results.”

He said, “President Putin has suggested there were certain agreements that emerged from the summit. Yet, the State Department and President Trump have not articulated them.”

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff of California, formally requested Thursday that the committee issue a subpoena for Gross to testify, but he was overruled by Republicans who hold the majority in the House.

Democratic Representative Bill Pascrell Jr. of New Jersey also raised concerns about whether Trump could have used the summit to pursue his worldwide business interests.

“Given this history, the American people deserve to know if Trump used his position or this meeting with Putin to continue to pursue his own financial interests,” he wrote in a letter requesting that the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hear public testimony from Gross.

Executive privilege

Conservatives in the House are arguing that executive privilege shields a president’s interpreter from reporting to Congress, and many if not most legal scholars seem to agree.

While Congress has an oversight role over the executive branch, conservative lawmakers say that presidents should be able to meet with world leaders and speak candidly without interference from lawmakers.

They also warn that subpoenaing Gross would create a dangerous precedent that could hurt the state of U.S. diplomacy as well as future presidents of either party.

Legal scholars who expressed opinions said it’s likely that only Trump could permit Gross to tell anyone about what she heard. The White House has not said whether Trump has asked her to do that.

Interpreters’ code of ethics

The move by Democrats to compel Gross to testify also raised questions about the right of interpreters to adhere to their code of ethics, which bounds them to strict secrecy.

Interpreters say they view their ethics code of confidentiality similar to the lawyer-client privilege or the duty of priests not to disclose what penitents tell them during confession.

Interpreters also say that it can sometimes be difficult to recall the big picture of a conversation they have listened to after relying on short-term memory to interpret.

Pomeranz said the role of the translator is “focused simply on making the statements, not necessarily of the content of the discussions.”

“To be a simultaneous translator is a very difficult job and it doesn’t necessary mean you are in the position to remember the specific details of the conversation,” he said.

Gross is an employee of the State Department and has served as an interpreter to high-level U.S. government officials before. She was the interpreter for Laura Bush at the Russian resort of Sochi in 2008 and interpreted for former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Moscow in 2017.

VOA’s Sarah Williams and Pete Cobus contributed.to this report.

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Pompeo: US Won’t Send Any Americans to Russia for Questioning

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the United States will not send Americans to Russia for questioning. Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to let U.S. investigators question officials in Moscow about Russia’s interference in U.S. 2016 elections if Russian investigators are allowed to question American officials. U.S. President Donald Trump called Putin’s proposal an “incredible offer.” But in an interview with VOA on Thursday, Pompeo rejected the idea. Zlatica Hoke reports.

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