AP sources: Former spy said Russia had ‘Trump over a barrel’
By ERIC TUCKER and CHAD DAY
Saturday, September 1
WASHINGTON (AP) — A senior Justice Department lawyer says a former British spy told him at a breakfast meeting two years ago that Russian intelligence believed it had Donald Trump “over a barrel,” according to multiple people familiar with the encounter.
The lawyer, Bruce Ohr, also says he learned that a Trump campaign aide had met with higher-level Russian officials than the aide had acknowledged, the people said.
The previously unreported details of the July 30, 2016, breakfast with Christopher Steele, which Ohr described to lawmakers this week in a private interview, reveal an exchange of potentially explosive information about Trump between two men the president has relentlessly sought to discredit.
They add to the public understanding of those pivotal summer months as the FBI and intelligence community scrambled to untangle possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. And they reflect the concern of Steele, a longtime FBI informant whose Democratic-funded research into Trump ties to Russia was compiled into a dossier, that the Republican presidential candidate was possibly compromised and his urgent efforts to convey that anxiety to contacts at the FBI and Justice Department.
The people who discussed Ohr’s interview were not authorized to publicly discuss details of the closed session and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Among the things Ohr said he learned from Steele during the breakfast was that an unnamed former Russian intelligence official had communicated that Russian intelligence believed “they had Trump over a barrel,” according to people familiar with the meeting.
It was not clear from Ohr’s interview whether Steele was directly told that or had picked that up through his contacts, but the broader sentiment is echoed in Steele’s dossier.
Steele and Ohr, at the time of the election a senior official in the deputy attorney general’s office, had first met a decade earlier and bonded over a shared interest in international organized crime. They met several times during the presidential campaign, a relationship that has exposed both men and federal law enforcement more generally to partisan criticism, including from Trump.
Republicans contend the FBI relied excessively on the dossier during its investigation and to obtain a secret wiretap application on Trump campaign aide Carter Page. They also say Ohr went outside his job description and chain of command by meeting with Steele, including after his termination as a FBI source, and then relaying information to the FBI.
Trump this month proposed stripping Ohr, who until this year had been largely anonymous during his decades-long Justice Department career, of his security clearance and has asked “how the hell” he remains employed. He has called the Russia investigation a “witch hunt” and denied any collusion between his campaign and Moscow.
The president and some of his supporters in Congress have also accused the FBI of launching the entire Russia counterintelligence investigation based on the dossier. But memos authored by Republicans and Democrats and declassified this year show the probe was triggered by information the U.S. government earlier received about the Russian contacts of then-Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos.
The FBI’s investigation was already under way by the time it received Steele’s dossier. The investigation’s lead agent, Peter Strzok, told lawmakers last month that “it was not Mr. Ohr who provided the initial documents that I became aware of in mid-September.”
Ohr described his relationship with Steele during a House interview Tuesday.
One of the meetings he recounted was a Washington breakfast attended by Steele, a Steele associate and Ohr. Ohr’s wife, Nellie, who worked for Fusion GPS, the political research firm that hired Steele, attended at least part of it.
Beside the “over a barrel” remark, Ohr also told Congress that Steele told him that Page, a Trump campaign aide who traveled to Moscow that same month and whose ties to Russia attracted FBI scrutiny, had met with more-senior Russian officials than he had acknowledged.
The breakfast took place amid ongoing FBI concerns about Russian election interference and possible communication with Trump associates.
By that point, Russian hackers had penetrated Democratic email accounts, including that of the Clinton campaign chairman, and Papadopoulos, the Trump campaign associate, was said to have learned that Russians had “dirt” on Democrat Hillary Clinton in the form of emails, court papers say.
That revelation prompted the FBI to open the counterintelligence investigation on July 31, 2016, one day after the breakfast but based on entirely different information.
Ohr told lawmakers he could not vouch for the accuracy of Steele’s information but has said he considered him a reliable FBI informant who delivered credible and actionable intelligence, including about corruption at FIFA, soccer’s global governing body.
In the interview, Ohr acknowledged that he had not told superiors in his office, including Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, about his meetings with Steele because he considered the information inflammatory raw source material.
He also provided new details about the department’s move to reassign him once his Steele ties were brought to light.
Ohr said he met in late 2017 with two senior Justice Department officials, Scott Schools and James Crowell, who told him they were unhappy he had not proactively disclosed his meetings with Steele. They said he was being stripped of his associate deputy attorney post as part of an internal reorganization that would have occurred anyway, people familiar with Ohr’s account say.
He met again soon after with one of the officials, who told him Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein didn’t believe he could remain in his current position as director of a law enforcement grant-distribution initiative known as the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces program because the position entailed White House meetings and interactions.
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined comment.
Trump says North Carolina redistricting ruling ‘unfair’
By ZEKE MILLER and DARLENE SUPERVILLE
Sunday, September 2
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — President Donald Trump says the prospect of North Carolina drawing new congressional districts just weeks before the November midterm elections is “unfair.”
A panel of federal judges this week struck down the state’s congressional map, saying Republican state legislators went too far in using political data to preserve GOP-held seats. The judges raised the possibility of drawing new districts by mid-September so they can be used in the Nov. 6 elections, or at least before the new Congress is seated in January.
Republicans are objecting to the plan, which comes as the party — and Trump — fight to defend the GOP House majority.
Trump addressed the redistricting issue during a fundraising appearance Friday in Charlotte for a pair of GOP congressional candidates.
“I think it’s unfair with this whole redistricting thing they’re doing in North Carolina. How unfair is that?” he said.
“It’s very unfair. You have an election in a little more than 60 days and they change the district on you? And you’ve already won primaries. How does that work? The court system, OK. How does that work?” Trump said. “You’ve all gone through primaries or most of you have. It’s been districted for many years and now you have to redraw lines to have a new district even though you won a primary in another district?”
Trump added: “I don’t know. There has to be something going on there.”
Before arriving at the country club fundraiser for GOP House candidates Rep. Ted Budd and Mark Harris, Trump held a separate event where he signed an executive order directing the Labor and Treasury departments to help small businesses band together to offer retirement plans to their workers.
Trump asked the departments to take steps to eliminate regulatory hurdles that he said keep small businesses from sharing costs so they can offer what are called association retirement plans. He said administrative costs and other barriers discourage small businesses from making retirement plans available to their employees.
“They’ll be banding together. They’ll have such strength,” Trump said. “They’ll be able to negotiate incredible deals.”
Most Americans use plans offered by their employers to save for retirement. But about one-third of all private-sector workers, and just under a quarter of all full-time workers in the private sector, lack access to workplace retirement plans, James Sherk, assistant to the president for domestic policy, said Thursday.
The problem is more acute among businesses that employ fewer than 500 people.
About half of workers at these businesses don’t have access retirement plans, Sherk said. He referenced surveys in which more than one-third of small- and medium-sized business that don’t offer retirement plans cited high costs as the main reason.
The fundraiser also benefited the state Republican Party and the National Republican Congressional Committee. The NRCC said the event was expected to draw 300 people and raise $750,000.
Superville contributed from Washington.
Attorney General DeWine Seeks Reimbursement From Used Car Seller Over Title Problems
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine
August 31, 2018
(DELAWARE, Ohio)—Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine today announced a consumer protection lawsuit against the operators of a used car dealership accused of failing to deliver vehicle titles to central Ohio consumers.
The lawsuit accuses Tommy’s Auto & Performance LLC, its owner, and its general manager of violating Ohio consumer protection laws.
According to the lawsuit, the dealership last operated at 4 E. High St. in Ashley, Ohio.
More than a dozen consumers filed complaints against the dealership, with most saying they never received the title to a vehicle they bought from Tommy’s Auto & Performance. The Ohio Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Section worked to resolve the complaints, in some cases making payments from the Title Defect Recision Fund — a program that helps used car buyers resolve certain title problems.
The Attorney General’s lawsuit, filed in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, seeks to recover more than $47,000 that was paid from the fund in the case. It also seeks reimbursement for affected consumers and an order to prohibit the dealership’s owner, Thomas A. Divito, and the general manager, Donald A. Woda, from committing further violations. (Woda previously was sued by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office for failing to deliver vehicle titles while operating another dealership, Woda Automotive.)
Consumers who suspect an unfair or deceptive sales practice should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org or 800-282-0515.
ODNR Partners with NWTF to Provide Hunting Opportunity to High School Students
Aug. 31, 2018
COLUMBUS, OH – A group of 10 young adult hunters experienced the thrill of turkey hunting during the spring’s Ohio Partnership Hunt, which was put on by the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) in cooperation with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). The ODNR divisions of Forestry and Wildlife partnered with Ohio’s NWTF State Chapter and passionate volunteers to provide this opportunity for young people to hunt wild turkey.
All 10 hunters were winners of the Dr. James Earl Kennamer Academic Scholarship, which is open to graduating high school seniors who are memberships of NWTF and plan on pursuing higher education. The annual hunt rewards the scholarship recipients with a unique hunting opportunity in addition to the financial assistance they each receive to help in the pursuit of a college degree.
The young hunters included: MaeKayle Robinson, Coshocton; Danielle George, Milford Center; Matthew Goddard, Urbana; Wyatt Grimm, Okeana; Adam Crock, Zanesville; J. D. Stickley, Urbana; Josie Pucel, Windsor; Griffin Howell, Warren; Joyce Barr, Cadiz; and Rachel Hampp, Zanesville.
Numerous volunteers assisted with the hunt, and 20 mentors donated their time and expertise for the event. Each of the scholarship winners was provided with all the gear they needed for the hunt – camouflage clothing, decoys, calls, a shotgun, and a guide and mentor.
Matt Goddard, a scholarship recipient from Urbana, called the hunt “one of the best and most unique experiences” of his high school career.
“Being welcomed and having the opportunity to talk and even hunt with so many kind, skilled people was a great time I won’t soon forget,” Goddard said.
The Ohio Partnership Hunt is centered on rewarding the conservation-minded youth of Ohio, and hopes to encourage more participation in hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation among young people. To learn more about the hunt and scholarship opportunities, visit nwtf.org.
ODNR ensures a balance between wise use and protection of our natural resources for the benefit of all. Visit the ODNR website at ohiodnr.gov.
The time is now for IRS reform
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and former Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb.
Mon, 27 Aug 2018
Central to Americans’ confidence in our government is their confidence in our tax-collection system. Unfortunately, the Internal Revenue Service has not always earned that trust, undermining this system of voluntary compliance and taxpayer engagement. Fortunately, this has been a bipartisan issue in the past, and we believe a bipartisan proposal exists to once again solve the problem and make the agency more responsive and accountable to taxpayers.
Based on recent testimony before a congressional committee, IRS technology is outdated and the Taxpayer Advocate estimates that only 29 percent of the telephone calls to the IRS are answered.
About 20 years ago the IRS had similar difficulties. Calls went unanswered by the thousands, and calls that were answered often were incorrect or unhelpful.
Due to a lack of leadership and strategic direction, the billions of dollars that Congress poured into the IRS computer systems were largely wasted.
The American public had lost faith in the IRS, and sweeping changes were needed to get it back on track. As a result, Congress created the National Commission on Restructuring the IRS.
We co-chaired that IRS commission, and we convened some of the best and brightest minds across industries and political parties to work with us on restructuring the IRS to better serve taxpayers. We published our findings and recommendations in a comprehensive report, which served as the basis for the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998, the first major overhaul the agency had undergone in 40 years.
The law created dozens of new taxpayer rights, including the right to an independent appeal of an IRS decision. It restructured how the IRS was governed, by establishing an independent IRS Oversight Board to add needed experience, expertise and continuity to review and approve the agency’s budget requests and strategic direction. It also refocused the IRS’s long-term customer service and IT modernization strategies to better serve the basic needs of taxpayers.
For a number of years following those reforms, there were substantial improvements at the IRS. The percentage of taxpayer calls that it answered was up from 52 percent in 1997 to 83 percent in 2007, according to the IRS. That same year, the IRS hit another goal by reaching a rate of 80 percent of taxpayers filing electronically. Customer opinion surveys showed that the IRS had moved from the bottom to the middle ranks of government agencies. The general consensus was that the 1998 IRS reform law was a success.
Unfortunately, that period of sustained improvement at the IRS has unraveled in recent years. For example, according to the Taxpayer Advocate, the percentage of calls that the IRS answered bottomed out at a staggeringly low 15 percent in 2015. In addition, nearly 40 percent of taxpayers that called the IRS in 2017 felt they were not able to resolve their issues with just one call.
Moreover, despite the efforts 20 years ago to include an independent appeal of a decision, appeals have declined because the IRS has chosen to settle more cases in tax court — at a higher cost to taxpayers. Finally, while the 1998 law intended the IRS Oversight Board to help set long-term strategic goals for the IRS, the goals stopped being met, and by the end of 2015, the board had failed to maintain enough members and has been shut down.
The IRS is failing to effectively serve the American people, and it is time to overhaul the agency again. We applaud the efforts of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., as well as the House for the solutions they have offered over the past couple of years to advance IRS reform.
Much as we did 20 years ago, we believe more substantial reforms are needed, and we believe any solution should empower taxpayers of all types and income levels.
We support legislation called the Protecting Taxpayers Act that will do this by focusing on strengthening protections for taxpayers, ensuring an effective taxpayer appeals process, revitalizing the Oversight Board and IRS strategic direction on customer service and IT, improving IRS taxpayer service training and helping low-income taxpayers interact with the IRS. This is a bipartisan proposal that will enact commonsense reforms to help the IRS better serve American taxpayers and achieve its critical mission.
As Congress moves forward with new rounds of IRS reforms, it is important to reflect on what we learned 20 years ago and apply those lessons to help the IRS once again become a more responsive, effective agency that truly serves the people’s interests. It’s time to go through another IRS reform process to help restore taxpayers’ faith in America’s tax collector.
— By Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and former Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb. Sen. Portman chaired a recent Senate Finance Subcommittee on Taxation and IRS Oversight hearing.