FILE PHOTO: NFL Football – Super Bowl LIII – New England Patriots v Los Angeles Rams – Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. – February 3, 2019. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft celebrates with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl LIII. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo
April 12, 2019
(Reuters) – A lawyer for New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft on Friday asked a Florida judge not to make public a video that led to the billionaire being charged in a prostitution sting at a massage parlor, calling the evidence “basically pornography.”
Media companies including ABC and ESPN clashed with Kraft’s defenders, saying the judge would violate Florida’s public records laws by suppressing the video of Kraft receiving sexual services at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Florida.
The owner of one of the National Football League’s most successful franchises and winner of this year’s Super Bowl was one of hundreds of people charged in February after an investigation unveiled widespread trafficking of young women at Florida day spas and massage parlors.
The 77-year-old billionaire businessman has pleaded not guilty to two misdemeanor charges of soliciting sex and requested a jury trial in March.
William Burck, Kraft’s attorney, argued in Palm Beach County Court that surveillance footage from the spa should not be released to the media because it would violate Kraft’s privacy rights, compromise his right to a fair trial, and interfere in an active criminal investigation.
“It’s basically pornography,” Burck told Judge Leonard Hanser. “There’s no interest in actually seeing the video unless you have a prurient interest in seeing the video.”
Kraft’s attorneys filed a motion to suppress the video in March, further suggesting that police did not have a valid search warrant to collect the video as evidence.
Dana McElroy, an attorney representing the media outlets, argued that sealing the video would violate the state’s public records law.
Kraft apologized for his actions in a written statement issued last month.
(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Berkrot)
Political consultant W. Samuel Patten, who pleaded guilty to illegally steering foreign money to President Trump’s inaugural committee, was sentenced to probation by a federal judge Friday, avoiding any jail time.
The investigation into Patten was a spin off of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson said she considered Patten’s cooperation with the Mueller investigation in handing down a lenient sentence. In addition to the three-year probation, Jackson also sentenced Patten to 500 hours of community service and a $5,000 fine. The sentence is so far the most lenient sentence handed down to a guilty plea resulting from the Trump-Russia probe.
“I fully recognize the seriousness of my conduct and the crimes that I committed,” Patten said to Jackson just before the sentencing. “I behaved as though the law didn’t apply to me and that was wrong.”
Patten, 47, who worked closely with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, was charged last year by federal authorities with failing to register as a foreign agent when he steered $50,000 from a pro-Russian Ukrainian politician to Trump’s inauguration. The complaint filed against Patten alleged that he worked as an unregistered agent from 2014-2018, violating the Foreign Agent Registration Act.
“None of them were minor and all of them were absolutely intentional,” Jackson said of the violations. “This isn’t a mere technicality and it wasn’t an oversight. You hid and misrepresented the true nature of the work on behalf of the Ukrainian party. I’m probably most troubled by that because it goes beyond the failure to register.”
The maximum sentence for his charge is five years in federal prison.
LONDON (AP) — What is expected to be an epic legal and political battle over whether to extradite Julian Assange to the U.S. began to take shape, with Britain’s opposition Labour Party urging the government Friday not to hand the WikiLeaks founder over to the Americans.
Party leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeted that the U.S. is prosecuting Assange because he exposed “evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Diane Abbott, Labour’s spokeswoman for domestic affairs, said the case is about the “embarrassment of the things he’s revealed about the American military and security services.”
On Thursday, British authorities dragged the 47-year-old Australian native from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he had taken refuge for nearly seven years, and U.S. authorities announced charges against him of conspiring to break into a Pentagon computer.
The politicization of the case reflects the clashing views of Assange as either a heroic whistleblower standing up to the mighty United States or a willing stooge who helped the Russians boost Donald Trump’s presidential campaign by publishing emails that embarrassed his rival, Hillary Clinton.
The battle to fend off extradition could take years and involve several layers of appeal. Assange could also face a second extradition request if Sweden decides to pursue a rape case against him that was dropped in 2017, when he was holed up in the embassy, beyond the reach of the law.
His arrest became possible after Ecuador revoked his political asylum, complaining among other things that he was a messy and disruptive houseguest.
If found guilty of the U.S. charges, Assange could get five years in prison. His next court appearance was set for May 2 via a prison video link.
Extradition lawyer Ben Keith said the court will not assess the evidence against Assange to determine his guilt or innocence but will scrutinize whether the offense he is accused of in the U.S. would be a crime in Britain.
“The most likely outcome is that he will be extracted to the United States,” he said.
Britain is bound by law not to extradite a suspect to a country where he or she could face execution for the crime, but that’s not the case here.
Ecuador’s president, Lenin Moreno, stressed when he revoked Assange’s asylum that he had received assurances from Britain that Assange would not be exposed to capital punishment.
If Sweden also makes an extradition request, it would be up to Britain’s Home Secretary to determine which would take priority. Typically the first request made — in this case, the U.S. one — would be acted on first, but officials have some leeway, Keith said.
If Assange loses in extradition court, he could appeal several times and ultimately try to have his case heard at the European Court of Human Rights.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said the UK government should not extradite Julian Assange to the US, where he faces a computer hacking charge.
The Wikileaks co-founder was arrested for a separate charge at Ecuador’s London embassy on Thursday, where he had been granted asylum since 2012.
Mr Corbyn said Assange should not be extradited “for exposing evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan”.
Meanwhile, Ecuador’s leader expressed anger at how Assange had behaved.
Australian-born Assange, 47, sought refuge in the Knightsbridge embassy seven years ago, to avoid extradition to Sweden over a sexual assault case that has since been dropped. But Ecuador abruptly withdrew its asylum and invited the police to arrest Assange on Thursday.
After his dramatic arrest, he was taken to Westminster Magistrates’ Court and found guilty of a British charge of breaching bail. He spent Thursday night in custody and is facing up to 12 months in prison for that conviction.
The Met said it cost an estimated £13.2m to police Ecuador’s London embassy between June 2012 and October 2015, when the force withdrew the physical presence of officers.
The Swedish authorities are now considering whether to reopen an investigation into the allegations of sexual assault, which Assange denies.
The US government has also charged him with allegations of conspiracy to break into a computer, relating to a massive leak of classified US government documents. The UK will decide whether to extradite Assange, and if he was convicted, he could face up to five years in jail.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “this is all about Wikileaks and all of that embarrassing information about the activities of the American military and security services that was made public”.
But she said Assange should also face the criminal justice system if the Swedish government charged him.
Swedish prosecutors dropped a rape investigation into Assange into 2017 because they were unable to formally notify him of the allegations – a necessary step in proceeding with the case – while he remained in the Ecuadorian embassy.
Assange battle ‘now political’
In a tweet, Mr Corbyn shared a video said to be of Pentagon footage – which had been released by Wikileaks – of a 2007 air strike which implicated US military in the killing of civilians and two journalists.
The BBC’s diplomatic correspondent James Landale said backing Assange is not without political risk and will not find universal favour among Labour MPs – but Mr Corbyn’s intervention “means the battle over Assange’s future will now be as much political as it is legal”.
The editor of Wikileaks, Kristinn Hrafnsson, has expressed fears that the US could file more serious charges against Assange, and that if he was convicted he could be behind bars for “decades”.
Mr Hrafnsson added that Assange had been thrown “overboard” by Ecuador – and the country was “horrible” to treat him like that.
‘He was a problem’
Meanwhile in Ecuador, President Lenin Moreno criticised Assange, claiming that after spending seven years in the country’s embassy he had dismissed Ecuador by describing it as an insignificant country.
“We had treated him as a guest,” he said. “But not anymore.”
Ecuador’s ambassador to the UK, Jaime Marchan, also previously said Assange had been “continually a problem” while he was living in the embassy.
Meanwhile, a man who is alleged to have links with Assange has been arrested while trying to leave Ecuador, the country’s officials said.
The man – who has been identified by supporters as a Swedish software developer called Ola Bini – had been trying to board a flight to Japan.
Assange is due to face a hearing over his possible extradition to the US on 2 May.
During a briefing at the White House following Assange’s arrest, US President Donald Trump was asked by reporters if he stood by remarks that he made during his election campaign when he said he loved Wikileaks.
“I know nothing about Wikileaks,” said Mr Trump. “It’s not my thing.”
He added: “I’ve been seeing what happened with Assange and that will be a determination, I would imagine, mostly by the attorney general, who’s doing an excellent job.”
Assange’s lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, said they would be fighting the extradition request. She said it set a “dangerous precedent” where any journalist could face US charges for “publishing truthful information about the United States”.
She said she had visited Assange in the police cells where he thanked supporters and said: “I told you so.”
Assange had predicted that he would face extradition to the US if he left the embassy.
Meanwhile, Australia said it had received a request for consular assistance after Assange was taken from the embassy.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Assange will not get “special treatment” and will have to “make his way through whatever comes his way in terms of the justice system”.
The arrest was welcomed by the government on Thursday. Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons: “This goes to show that in the UK, no-one is above the law.”
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the arrest was the result of “years of careful diplomacy” and that it was “not acceptable” for someone to “escape facing justice”.
Assange set up Wikileaks in 2006 with the aim of obtaining and publishing confidential documents and images.
The organisation hit the headlines four years later when it released footage of US soldiers killing civilians from a helicopter in Iraq.
Former US intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning was arrested in 2010 for disclosing more than 700,000 confidential documents, videos and diplomatic cables to the anti-secrecy website. She said she only did so to spark debates about foreign policy, but US officials said the leak put lives at risk.
She was found guilty by a court martial in 2013 of charges including espionage. However, her jail sentence was later commuted.
Manning was recently jailed for refusing to testify before an investigation into Wikileaks’ role in revealing the secret files.
Some of President Donald Trump’s top national security advisers have discussed whether the military could be used to build tent city detention camps for migrants, NBC News is reporting.
The network news, attributing its information to three unnamed officials, said the discussion took place at the White House Tuesday night.
The discussion also dealt with whether the military could actually be used to run the camps once the migrants are housed there. But the NBC News sources say that was unlikely since the law prohibits the military from interacting with migrants.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who attended the meeting, was open to sending more troops to the border provided their duties were within the law, the officials told NBC News.
Right now, troops are currently at the southern border and are mainly used for reinforcing fencing with barbed wire, according to the network news.
During the meeting, other potential new projects were discussed, including assessing land for construction of new tent cities in El Paso and Donna, Texas. The military would also be used for assessments before the construction of a processing center in El Paso.
Meanwhile, a border patrol official told NBC News that the military allows for faster construction than private contractors, who can slow down the process. “The importance of (the Department of Defense) is that they are able to mobilize quickly because we face an immediate crisis now,” said the border patrol official.
Outrage by liberals and Democrats over Attorney General William Barr noting that “spying did occur” on the 2016 Trump campaign is a sorry example of moving the goal posts. Last year, the active debate was not over whether spying occurred — which it did by a reasonable use of the word — but whether it was justified. Barr was careful not to weigh in on that debate. Yet Democrats, spurred on by their liberal base and supported by the media, have been out to portray Barr’s statement as some sort of shocking betrayal of his role as the nation’s top law enforcement officer.
“Perpetuating conspiracy theories is beneath the office of the Attorney General,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., fumed in calling for Barr to retract his statement. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Barr’s statement, “strikes another destructive blow to our democratic institutions.”
Yet last year, it wasn’t being disputed that among other things, that the FBI conducted surveillance of Carter Page, a former Trump campaign official, that included wiretapping after obtaining a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant. In a 2018 memo by none other than Schiff, minority Democrats on the intelligence committee argued, “DOJ and FBI would have been remiss in their duty to protect the country had they not sought a FISA warrant and repeated renewals to conduct temporary surveillance of Carter Page, someone the FBI assessed to be an agent of the Russian government.”
At the time, Republicans had been arguing that the FBI launched the investigation into Russian interference on the basis of a dossier that was based on research funded by the DNC and Clinton campaign. Democrats were arguing that “Christopher Steele’s raw intelligence reporting did not inform the FBI’s decision to initiate its counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016.” Instead, they argued that it began with information the FBI received that Russians were wooing a different Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos.
Outside Congress, the debate also focused on whether there was “probable cause” for the FISA warrant, which those pushing back against Trump and Republicans argued that there was.
“Commentators like National Review’s Andrew McCarthy try to discredit the Mueller investigation by sliming the process to spy on a former Trump advisor,” argued an op-ed from the liberal Brennan Center for Justice. “Here’s why they’re wrong.”
So, the issue they were taking with conservative McCarthy was that he was attacking “the process” that was used “to spy on a former Trump advisor” — rather than arguing about whether the spying occurred.
Indeed, the article itself is a case that the FISA warrant was totally justified.
“Now that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) application for an order to surveil former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page has been released in heavily redacted form, the attacks on the FBI’s application have been predictably loud yet incorrect,” the op-ed read. “They miss the critical question related to such an application: Was there probable cause to believe that Page was an agent of a foreign power?”
So, the “critical question” concerned not whether there was surveillance, but whether there was probable cause, to which the Brennan Center argued, “the unredacted portions easily meet this probable cause standard and support the FISA court’s multiple orders.”
The surveillance and wiretapping was thus indisputable, as was the fact that it allowed investigators to go back to when Page did work on the Trump campaign. It also doesn’t even get into the fact that, according to the New York Times, “Agents involved in the Russia investigation asked [Stefan] Halper, an American academic who teaches in Britain, to gather information on Mr. Page and George Papadopoulos, another Trump campaign foreign policy adviser.”
This is all perfectly consistent with what Barr said.
“I think spying did occur. But the question is whether it was predicated — adequately predicated,” Barr testified before Congress. “I’m not suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated, but I need to explore that. I think it’s my obligation. Congress is usually very concerned about intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies staying in their proper lane.”
The only part he’s stating unequivocally is that there was spying. He is not making a claim that the FISA warrant was illegally obtained on the basis of a Clinton-funded discredited dossier. He just said it was worthy of looking into to make sure the process was proper.
So then the only real argument is if Barr was wrong to use the word “spying” rather than saying “surveillance did occur” or “wiretapping did occur.”
But, even if people want to litigate this issue, it should be seen as a reasonable use of the word. My colleague Byron York noted several examples of the New York Times describing wiretapping as spying.
After the House voted to reauthorize FISA last year, the Brennan Center issued a press release headlined, “U.S. House Votes to Authorize Warrantless Domestic Spying on Americans.” The bill, it warned, would “endorse warrantless searches of millions of Americans’ online and phone communications.” The release quoted co-director of the Brennan Center, Elizabeth Goitein, as saying, “The House just voted to turn the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act into a tool for domestic spying on Americans.”
This isn’t to say it’s hypocritical, as in this case, the discussion was about allowing warrantless access, whereas in the previous case, the argument was that there was probable cause for a warrant. But again, a debate over whether a warrant is justified on the basis of probable cause is different than whether the underlying government activity can be described as spying. It’s reasonable to argue that yes it can.
The Supreme Court said Friday it will allow Alabama to follow through with the execution of Christopher Lee Price, a death row inmate convicted of a sword-and-dagger slaying of a pastor in 1991, overriding a federal judge’s halt of the execution.
The 5-4 ruling, however, came just nearly two hours after Price’s death warrant was set to expire, 12 a.m. Friday. Even though the execution was approved by the nation’s highest court, the state of Alabama must now reapply to state courts for a new execution date, a process likely to draw out Price’s execution for several more weeks.
Price, 46, had appealed to federal courts over Alabama’s use of lethal injection, saying he asked the state to use nitrogen gas. The inmate claims that lethal injection could potentially be excruciatingly painful if botched. Both a district judge and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay on his execution so that the courts could fully consider Price’s demands.
Arguments over Price’s death sentence, the fourth death penalty case this year before the Supreme Court, has only highlighted the divide among the Justices on the issue since Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the court consolidated the conservative majority. In all cases, the conservative-leaning justices have favored stopping death row inmates from using legal maneuvers and appeals to delay their death. The liberal-leaning justices have shown a preference to defer to lower courts.
Justice Stephen Breyer wrote a scathing dissent against the ruling, arguing that the courts have a fundamental responsibility to err on the side of caution, particularly in sensitive cases such as the death penalty.
“Should anyone doubt that death sentences in the United States can be carried out in an arbitrary way, let that person review the following circumstances as they have been presented to our Court this evening,” Breyer wrote in the dissent released at 3 a.m. Friday.
“To proceed in this matter in the middle of the night without giving all Members of this Court the opportunity for discussion tomorrow morning, is I believe, unfortunate,” he said.”Alabama will soon subject Price to a death that he alleges will cause him severe pain and needless suffering.”
The majority, however, argued that Price and his legal team waited too long to file the appeal.
“He then waited until February 2019 to file this action and submitted additional evidence today, a few hours before his scheduled execution time,” the majority argued, concurring with the determination of Alabama state officials.
The state of Alabama allowed the use of nitrogen gas as an alternative to lethal injection in its executions in 2018. As stipulated in the law, death row inmates have a 30-day window to petition for the use of nitrogen. State officials argue that Price missed the window when he petitioned for the use of nitrogen.
Bill Priestap, left, with Michael Horowitz, DoJ inspector general.
By Eric Felten, RealClearInvestigations
April 12, 2019
Attorney General William Barr shocked official Washington Wednesday by saying what previously couldn’t be said: That the counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign in 2016 involved “spying.”
The spying, which Barr vowed to investigate, is not the only significant possible violation of investigative rules and ethics committed by agents, lawyers, managers, and officials at the FBI and the Department of Justice. A catalogue of those abuses can be found in recently released testimony that Edward William Priestap provided to Congress in a closed-door interview last summer. From the end of 2015 to the end of 2018 Bill Priestap was assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, which meant he oversaw the FBI’s global counterintelligence efforts.
In that role, he managed both of the bureau’s most politically sensitive investigations: the inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information and the probe into whether Donald Trump or his campaign conspired with Russia to steal the 2016 presidential election. His testimony provides rare insight into the attitudes and thoughts of officials who launched the Russia probe and the probe of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose final report is expected to be released very soon.
More important, his testimony contains extensive indications of wrongdoing, including that the FBI and DoJ targeted Trump and did so with information it made no effort to verify. It paints a portrait of the Obama-era bureau as one that was unconcerned with political interference in investigations and was willing to enlist the help of close foreign allies to bring down its target. And, perhaps presaging a defense to Barr’s claim that American officials had spied on the Trump campaign, it showcases the euphemisms that can be used to disguise “spying.”
Filling In the Blanks
Priestap’s testimony took place on June 5, 2018, in Room 2226 of the Rayburn House Office Building. The questioning, by congressmen and House committee staff, focused on whether the FBI had applied the same rigor to the Clinton investigation that it had to the Trump probe.
The transcript the public can read today contains not only those questions and Priestap’s responses, but also the tell-tale redactions of anxious bureaucrats. One thing that is very clear is that the Sharpie brigades at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice really, really didn’t want anyone to know where Bill Priestap was a week into May 2016.
Rep. Jim Jordan: Where in the world was Bill Priestap?
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Not long into the questioning that Tuesday morning last summer, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) asked, “Do you ever travel oversees?”
“Yes,” said Priestap.
“As little as possible.”
The seeming comedy routine notwithstanding, Jordan later asked how many times in his 2½ years running the counter-intelligence shop Priestap had traveled abroad.
“I want to say three times,” he said.
“And can you tell me where you went?” Jordan asked.
“The ones I’m remembering are the [REDACTED].”
Jordan drilled in: “All three times to [REDACTED]?
Priestap said the trips he remembered “off the top of my head were all [REDACTED].”
Jordan asked whether Priestap remembered when he went to this place. Priestap said “No.”
Jordan was back at it in later rounds of questioning, asking whether Priestap had traveled to a given location at a given time in 2016. Over and again, censors from the FBI and DoJ have redacted the location and the time.
What could this exotic destination be? How is the timing of Priestap’s trip there a matter of national security? What secrets were the redactors trying to protect?
Peter Strzok: “Bill” was in London.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Turns out the Sharpie brigades weren’t nearly as thorough as they thought. A long-available transcript of text messages between FBI agent Strzok and lawyer Page – the paramours who worked on both the Clinton and Trump investigations – provide the answer. It’s right there on the page detailing texts between Strzok and Page on May 4, 2016. At around 9:31 that Wednesday evening, Strzok writes to say he is worried about getting a memo into shape that is expected that night or the next morning. He feels pressured even though “I don’t know that Bill will read it before he gets back from London next week.” Go to a text from the next Monday morning, May 9, and Strzok is wondering who will be receiving the daily report on the Clinton investigation, what “with Bill out.”
So there we have it. Bill Priestap was in London on or around May 9. Which strongly suggests that all three of the international trips taken by him during his tenure as FBI counterintelligence chief were to London.
Still, there is a reason the censors had out their Sharpies. It has to do with another question Jordan asked Priestap: “Okay. So what were you doing in [REDACTED] in the [REDACTED] of 2016?”
“So,” Priestap replied, “I went to meet with a foreign partner, foreign government partner.” In other words, almost certainly British intelligence. Not exposing our British partners has been the Justice Department’s justification for locking up secrets about the beginnings of the Trump investigation. The redactions try and fail to hide that Priestap met repeatedly with his British counterparts in 2016.
Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos was also in London. So was the FBI, around the same time.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File
Students of the Russia-collusion saga will recall that some of the earliest and most significant events cited as leading to the FBI’s investigation of Team Trump took place in a certain REDACTED country during a REDACTED season in 2016. It was over breakfast on April 26 in London that the mysterious Maltese professor, Joseph Mifsud, told young Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Five days later, on May 1, Papadopoulos had drinks with Australian diplomat Alexander Downer in a London bar where he shared this piece of gossip/intel. And, of course, London is home to the author of the anti-Trump “dossier,” Christopher Steele.
According to the official story laid out in the New York Times, Australian officials did not pass on this new information for two months. And while Steele was retained by the opposition research firm Fusion GPS in the spring to dig up dirt on Trump for the Clinton campaign, the official story is that he did not start working with U.S. officials until the summer.
And so it is more than passingly curious that Priestap kept going to London when these significant events were occurring. Jordan asked Priestap about his second trip there: “What did it have to do with?”
Priestap demurred: “I’m not at liberty to discuss that today.”
After some dodging and weaving, Jordan came back to the question, but this time with an uncomfortable specificity: “Was your second trip then concerning the Trump-Russia investigation?” he asked.
“Sir, again, I’m just not at liberty to go into the purpose of my second trip.”
Priestap could have answered “no” without perjuring himself, he could have quickly put this matter to bed. His “I’m not at liberty” answers strongly suggest that the Trump-Russia investigation was exactly what his second trip to London was about.
Attorney General Barr’s statement that “spying did occur” on the Trump campaign makes another part of Priestap’s testimony – about why an FBI asset in London named Stefan Halper reached out to Papadopoulos and to another Trump foreign policy adviser, Carter Page — even more significant.
Stefan Halper: also in London.
Weeks before Priestap’s testimony was taken last summer, the efforts of Halper, an American scholar who works in Britain, had been exposed. Republicans had been spluttering with outrage that the FBI would deploy a spy against an American presidential campaign. Democrats had been countering that while the bureau used informants, only the ignorant and uninitiated would call them spies.
Democratic staff counsel Valerie Shen tried to use her questioning of Priestap to put the spying issue to bed. “Does the FBI use spies?” she asked the assistant director for counterintelligence (who would be in a position to know).
“What do you mean?” Priestap responded. “I guess, what is your definition of a spy?”
“Good question,” said Shen. “What is your definition of a spy?”
Before Priestap answered, his lawyer, Mitch Ettinger, intervened. “Just one second,” he said. Then Ettinger – who was one of President Bill Clinton’s attorneys during the Paula Jones/Monica Lewinsky scandal – conferred with his client.
Back on the record, Priestap presented what smacks of pre-approved testimony: “I’ve not heard of nor have I referred to FBI personnel or the people we engage with as – meaning who are working in assistance to us – as spies. We do evidence and intelligence collection in furtherance of our investigations.”
Shen was happy with the answer, and so she asked Priestap to confirm it: “So in your experience the FBI doesn’t use the term ‘spy’ in any of its investigative techniques?” Priestap assured her the word is never spoken by law-enforcement professionals – except, he said (wandering dangerously off-script), when referring to “foreign spies.”
“But in terms of one of its own techniques,” Shen said, determined to get Priestap back on track, “the FBI does not refer to one of its own techniques as spying?”
“That is correct, yes.”
“With that definition in mind, would the FBI internally ever describe themselves as spying on American citizens?”
So there we have it with all the decisive logic of a Socratic dialogue: The FBI could not possibly have spied on the Trump campaign because bureau lingo includes neither the noun “spy” nor the verb “to spy.” Whatever informants may have been employed, whatever tools of surveillance may have been utilized, the FBI did not spy on the Trump campaign – didn’t spy by definition, as the bureau doesn’t use the term (except, of course, to describe the very same activities when undertaken by foreigners).
What’s telling about this line of questioning is that it inadvertently confirms Republican suspicions — and Attorney General Barr’s assertion. If House Democrats believed there had been no spying on the Trump campaign, they could have asked Priestap whether the FBI ever spies on Americans, given the common meaning of the verb “to spy.” They could have flat-out asked whether the FBI had spied on Trump World. Instead, Democratic counsel asked whether, given the FBI’s definition of spying, the bureau would “internally ever describe themselves as spying on American citizens.” It would seem that Democrats were every bit as convinced as Republicans that the FBI spied on Trump’s people.
Interpreting ‘Political Interference’
Democratic lawyer Shen also seemed to be engaged in damage control when she asked Priestap whether “political interference in the Department of Justice or FBI investigation [is] ever proper?”
Surprisingly, Priestap said it was: “In my opinion, I can imagine situations where it would be proper.” He explained that the political appointees in an administration might determine “that the national security interests of the country outweigh the law enforcement/prosecutive interest of the FBI and Department of Justice.”
Shen then appeared to push him to clean up his answer, suggesting that what Priestap was describing wasn’t “a political determination” but “a policy interpretation balancing national security and law enforcement.”
“Yeah. I guess,” Priestap said. “And maybe I misunderstood your question.” Then what does he do but repeat his belief that political appointees — and “by political, I could imagine, for example, the National Security Council” — might act on the notion that national security outweighs other considerations.”
“Right. Yeah. Right,” Shen said. “Let me rephrase.” She explained she wasn’t asking about decisions political officials make, but rather, decisions officials make for political reasons. Then came the rephrased question: “Is interference in a Department of Justice or FBI investigation ever proper when motivated by purely political considerations?” [Emphasis added]
“Not in my opinion,” responded Priestap.
What Shen was laboring to establish was that the only sort of investigative behavior that could be called political interference was when someone at DoJ or FBI acted out of “purely political considerations.” That’s a standard that leaves plenty of room for politics.
But does it leave room enough for the “dossier”? The political abuse foremost in Republican minds was, and remains, that collection of howlers and hearsay allegedly compiled by Christopher Steele, who was sold to the public as a high-minded former British spy instead of a man being paid by the Clinton campaign to dirty up Trump. Steele’s efforts were lapped up by the FBI and DoJ even though the lawmen knew Steele was peddling political work-product — opposition research paid for by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Carter Page: Was he the real quarry, or was Donald Trump?
In particular, Republicans have charged that Steele’s dossier was presented to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court without full disclosure of its partisan origins, thus perpetrating a fraud on the FISA court. The accusation was formalized in May 2018, when Republicans demanded the appointment of a second special counsel because, they claimed, “the FBI and DOJ used politically biased, unverified sources to obtain warrants issued by the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review (FISA Court) that aided in the surveillance of U.S. citizens, including Carter Page.”
Shen, the House Oversight Committee minority counsel, brushed that accusation aside with what appeared to be an unambiguous and definitive question: “Mr. Priestap,” she asked, “are you aware of any instances of the FBI and DOJ ever using politically biased, unverified sources in order to obtain a FISA warrant?”
Priestap gave the most unambiguous and definitive of answers: “No.” One might be tempted to think that was an endorsement of the dossier, a confirmation that the FISA warrant applications were largely based on information that was neither politically biased nor unverified. But that would be taking the question and the answer on face value, when something rather less straightforward was going on.
Shen followed with another broad, all-encompassing question about the propriety of the FBI and DoJ’s behavior: “Are you aware,” she asked Priestap, “of any instances where the FBI or DOJ did not present what constituted credible and sufficient evidence to justify a FISA warrant?”
Priestap’s response is a textbook case of circular logic: “If it’s not justified, the court doesn’t approve it. So, like, if we’re not meeting the standard required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the requests are turned down.”
“So, in other words,” said the Democratic counsel, “by definition, if you presented information and a FISA court approved it, that would constitute credible sufficient information?”
“In my opinion,” said Priestap, “yes.”
Sit back and savor that exchange for a moment. One of the most senior officials in the Federal Bureau of Investigation – an organization that regularly refers for prosecution people who don’t tell the full truth – champions this peculiar standard of credibility: If you can snooker a FISA court judge, the information used to traduce the court is rendered by definition “credible sufficient information.” What is the condition of the FBI if its leaders think whatever you can get past a judge is good enough?
This strange concept of legal alchemy aside, the question remains whether the dossier was used merely as a vehicle to get information on Carter Page, or whether the real quarry was Donald Trump himself. As before, Shen was unintentionally helpful at winkling inadvertent truths out of her cooperative witness. It started with the softest of softballs: “Are you aware of any FBI investigations motivated by political bias?”
“I am not.”
“Are you aware of any Justice Department investigations motivated by political bias?”
And a little later: “Are you aware of any actions ever taken to damage the Trump campaign at the highest levels of the Department of Justice or the FBI?”
And there Shen might have left it, having elicited basic denials that the FBI and Justice had abused their power. But then she pushed her luck, asking a question that wasn’t worded quite carefully enough: “Are you aware of any actions ever taken to personally target Donald Trump at the highest levels of the Department of Justice or the FBI?”
Priestap must have pulled quite the face because Shen immediately declared, “I’ll rephrase.” Here’s how she tried it the second time: “Are you aware of any actions ever taken against Donald Trump at the highest levels of the Department of Justice or the FBI?”
Before Priestap can answer, his lawyer, Mitch Ettinger, interjected: “I think you need to rephrase your question.”
At which point Shen’s Democratic colleague Janet Kim jumped in to help: “Are you aware of any actions ever taken against Donald Trump at the highest levels of the Department of Justice or the FBI for the purpose of politically undercutting him?”
At last, Priestap was able to say, “No.”
That long road to “no” strong suggests that the highest levels of Justice and the FBI personally targeted Trump and took action against him. The only caveat is that Priestap believes none of that targeted action was done to undercut Trump politically. That may be so (however much the savvy observer may think otherwise). But it doesn’t blunt the main takeaway — that the bureau and DoJ targeted Trump.
So what did we learn from Bill Priestap’s compendious and revealing testimony?
- We learned that the FBI and Justice targeted and took action against Trump.
- We learned that the FBI, according to Priestap, is incapable of securing a FISA warrant with information that isn’t credible, although the judge’s approval of the warrant means by definition that the information is credible.
- We learned that the FBI believes political interference in an investigation can be proper as long as the bureau isn’t acting purely politically.
- We learned that the FBI did send at least one asset to do to the Trump campaign an activity that even the bureau would call “spying” — if it were done by foreign operatives.
- We learned that the origins of the Trump-Russia tale will never be fully understood until the part played by British intelligence is made clear.
That’s an awful lot to take away from one largely neglected transcript. But it suggests just how much remains unknown about the Trump-Russia investigation while providing a glimpse at the people that want to keep it that way.
Source: Real Clear Politics
Democratic presidential candidate, Julián Castro, said all those running for president should be required to release their tax returns.
Castro, the former Housing and Urban Development secretary made his comments on Thursday during a CNN town hall. A video excerpt was posted on the CNN Twitter account.
“I support making it a requirement by statute — Congress passing a law that requires people who are running for president to submit 10 years of their tax returns,” he said.
Castro, who said he would release 10 years of his tax returns in the next few weeks, blasted President Donald Trump’s refusal to release his own.
“It is astonishing that this president still has not released his taxes…” Castro said. “It’s clear that he has something to hide, I don’t.”
“If you have nothing to hide than there could be no problem”
His comments come as Democrats continued to pressure Trump to provide his tax returns.