FBI official feared Russia probe would end after Comey fired
By ERIC TUCKER
Friday, February 15
WASHINGTON (AP) — Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said in an interview that aired Thursday that he moved quickly after his boss was fired to protect an investigation into President Donald Trump’s potential ties to Russia and prevent it from being shut down in case he, too, was dismissed.
Concerned when Trump fired FBI Director James Comey not long after taking office, McCabe also said Justice Department officials had discussed bringing the Cabinet together to consider using the Constitution’s 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office, according to CBS News, which conducted the interview and will air it in full Sunday on “60 Minutes.”
CBS described McCabe’s comments on the 25th Amendment in a news story about its interview but did not release excerpts from that part.
The Justice Department did not deny those discussions took place but said in a statement that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein does not believe there is a basis for invoking the 25th Amendment, which enables Cabinet members to seek a president’s ouster if they believe he or she is unfit for office.
McCabe’s interview comes ahead of the release next week of his memoir, “The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump.”
The book and the publicity around it are likely to refocus attention on the tumultuous eight-day period between Trump’s firing of Comey and Rosenstein’s appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The situation strained relations between FBI and Justice Department leaders, with McCabe — who was elevated to acting FBI director upon Comey’s firing — becoming suspicious of Rosenstein, and Rosenstein removing McCabe from the Russia investigation.
McCabe, a frequent target of Trump’s ire, was fired from the FBI last year after the Justice Department inspector general concluded he had lied during an internal investigation into a news media disclosure. The allegations, which McCabe has denied, have been referred for investigation to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington.
Trump responded on Twitter to news reports of the new interview, saying: “Disgraced FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe pretends to be a ‘poor little Angel’ when in fact he was a big part of the Crooked Hillary Scandal & the Russia Hoax – a puppet for Leakin’ James Comey. I.G. report on McCabe was devastating.”
The White House said in a statement that McCabe had been fired in “disgrace from the FBI because he lied to investigators on multiple occasions, including under oath” and that he had no credibility.
Asked in the CBS interview when he had opened a counterintelligence investigation into Trump’s connections to Russia, and a criminal investigation into whether the president had sought to obstruct justice, McCabe said he acted almost immediately after Comey’s firing and after discussing the firing with Trump himself.
Alarmed that Trump “might have won the White House with the aid of the government of Russia,” he assembled his investigators the following day to discuss the investigations surrounding Trump and how to keep them moving forward in the event he was fired or reassigned.
“I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground, in an indelible fashion,” McCabe said. “That were I removed quickly, or reassigned or fired, that the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace.”
McCabe added, “I wanted to make sure that our case was on solid ground and if somebody came in behind me and closed it and tried to walk away from it, they would not be able to do that without creating a record of why they made that decision.”
In a book excerpt obtained by The Atlantic, McCabe said the meeting with investigators was one in a series he held about protecting and preserving the probes.
He asked the team to say where they were on investigations that already were open into Trump associates — which, at the time, included former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn and campaign chairman Paul Manafort — and whether there was a need to open additional cases.
McCabe recounts in his book how his meeting with Russia-team investigators one day after Comey’s firing was interrupted by a phone call from Trump, who gloated about his decision to dismiss the FBI director.
“I received hundreds of messages from FBI people_how happy they are that I fired him. There are people saying things on the media, have you seen that? What’s it like there in the building?” McCabe quotes the president as saying.
McCabe writes that he didn’t tell the president how sad FBI employees were, saying instead that people were surprised but trying to get back to work.
According to the CBS report, McCabe confirmed meetings at the Justice Department in the days after Comey was fired in which officials discussed potentially invoking the 25th Amendment to seek the president’s removal.
CBS said McCabe also confirmed a report first published by The New York Times that Rosenstein had suggested wearing a wire to record conversations with the president.
McCabe told CBS that he took the comment seriously. The Justice Department has previously issued a statement from another official in the room who said he interpreted Rosenstein’s remark as sarcastic.
The Justice Department issued a new statement Thursday asserting that Rosenstein “never authorized any recording that Mr. McCabe references.”
“As the Deputy Attorney General previously has stated, based on his personal dealings with the President, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment, nor was (Rosenstein) in a position to consider invoking the 25th Amendment,” the statement says.
It also notes that Rosenstein removed McCabe from the chain of command and instead appointed Mueller as special counsel.
William Barr sworn in for 2nd stint as US attorney general
By MARY CLARE JALONICK
Friday, February 15
WASHINGTON (AP) — William Barr was sworn in Thursday for his second stint as the nation’s attorney general, taking the helm of the Justice Department as special counsel Robert Mueller investigates Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Earlier Thursday, the Senate voted 54-45 to confirm the veteran government official, mostly along party lines. Barr, who also served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 during President George H.W. Bush’s administration, succeeds Jeff Sessions. President Donald Trump pushed Sessions out of office last year after railing against his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
As the country’s chief law enforcement officer, Barr will oversee the remaining work in Mueller’s investigation into potential coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign and decide how much Congress and the public know about its conclusion. He’ll also take over a department that Trump has publicly assailed, often questioning the integrity and loyalty of those who work there.
Democrats, who largely voted against Barr, said they were concerned about his noncommittal stance on making Mueller’s report public. Barr promised to be as transparent as possible but said he takes seriously the Justice Department regulations that dictate Mueller’s report should be treated as confidential.
Barr’s opponents also pointed to a memo he wrote to Justice officials before his nomination that criticized Mueller’s investigation for the way it was presumably looking into whether Trump had obstructed justice. Barr wrote that Trump could not have obstructed justice by firing former FBI Director James Comey since it was an action the president was constitutionally entitled to take.
That view has alarmed Democrats, especially since the obstruction inquiry has been central to Mueller’s investigation.
“Mr. Barr’s views about the power of the president are especially troubling in light of his refusal to commit to making the special counsel’s findings and the report publicly available,” said California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary panel. Feinstein said the attorney general should be “objective” and “clearly committed to protecting the interest of the people, the country and the Constitution.”
Barr will be tasked with restoring some stability after almost two years of open tension between Trump and Justice officials. Trump lashed out at Sessions repeatedly before he finally pushed him out in November, and he has also publicly criticized Mueller and his staff, calling the probe a “witch hunt” and suggesting they are out to get him for political reasons. The criticism extended to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller as special counsel. Rosenstein is expected to leave the department shortly after Barr takes office.
Trump has directed some of his strongest vitriol at department officials who were part of the decisions to start investigating his campaign’s Russia ties in 2016 and to clear Democrat Hillary Clinton in an unrelated email probe that same year. Trump has repeatedly suggested that the agents and officials, many of whom have since left, were conspiring against him. In an interview aired Thursday, fired former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe told CBS’ “60 Minutes” that Justice Department officials discussed bringing the Cabinet together to consider using the Constitution’s 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office after Comey’s firing.
Trump responded to the McCabe interview with a tweet: “Disgraced FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe pretends to be a ‘poor little Angel’ when in fact he was a big part of the Crooked Hillary Scandal & the Russia Hoax – a puppet for Leakin’ James Comey. I.G. report on McCabe was devastating.”
In his hearing last month, Barr vowed that he would not “be bullied,” said Mueller’s investigation is not a witch hunt and agreed that Sessions was right to recuse himself from the probe. Barr said he was a friend of Mueller’s and repeatedly sought to assuage concerns that he might disturb or upend the investigation as it reaches its final stages.
When Trump nominated Barr, he called him “a terrific man” and “one of the most respected jurists in the country.”
“I think he will serve with great distinction,” Trump said.
Since Sessions departed last year, the position has been temporarily filled by Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who has come under fire from Democrats for his past criticism of the Mueller probe. Whitaker said last month that he believed Mueller’s investigation was nearly complete — a departure for the Justice Department, which rarely comments on the state of the investigation.
Three Democrats — Sens. Doug Jones of Alabama, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — joined Republicans in voting to confirm Barr. GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was the only Republican who voted no. He cited concerns about Barr’s views on surveillance, among other issues.
Judge finds Manafort lied to investigators in Russia probe
By CHAD DAY
Thursday, February 14
WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort intentionally lied to investigators and a federal grand jury in the special counsel’s Russia probe, a judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s decision was another loss for Manafort, a once-wealthy political consultant who rose to lead Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and now faces years in prison in two criminal cases brought in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
The four-page ruling hurts Manafort’s chance of receiving a reduced sentence, though Jackson said she would decide the exact impact during his sentencing next month. It also resolves a dispute that had provided new insight into how Mueller views Manafort’s actions as part of the broader probe of Russian election interference and any possible coordination with Trump associates.
Prosecutors have made clear that they remain deeply interested in Manafort’s interactions with a man the FBI says has ties to Russian intelligence. But it’s unclear exactly what has drawn their attention and whether it relates to election interference because much of the dispute has played out in secret court hearings and blacked out court filings.
In her ruling Wednesday, Jackson provided few new details as she found there was sufficient evidence to say Manafort broke the terms of his plea agreement by lying about three of five matters that prosecutors had singled out. The ruling was largely a rejection of Manafort’s attorneys’ argument that he hadn’t intentionally misled investigators but rather forgot some details until his memory was refreshed.
The judge found that Manafort did mislead the FBI, prosecutors and a federal grand jury about his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, the co-defendant who the FBI says has ties to Russian intelligence. Prosecutors had accused Manafort of lying about several discussions the two men had including about a possible peace plan to resolve the Russia-Ukraine conflict in Crimea.
During a sealed hearing last week, Mueller prosecutor Andrew Weissmann said one of the discussions— an Aug. 2, 2016, meeting at the Grand Havana Room club and cigar bar in New York— went to the “larger view of what we think is going on” and what “we think the motive here is.”
“This goes, I think, very much to the heart of what the Special Counsel’s Office is investigating,” Weissmann said, according to a redacted transcript of the hearing. He added: “That meeting and what happened at that meeting is of significance to the special counsel.”
The meeting occurred while Manafort was still in a high-ranking role in the Trump campaign. Rick Gates, Manafort’s longtime deputy and also a Trump campaign aide, attended. And prosecutors say the three men left separately so as not to draw attention to their meeting.
Weissmann said investigators were also interested in several other meetings between Kilimnik and Manafort including when Kilimnik traveled to Washington for Trump’s inauguration in January 2017. And Manafort’s attorneys accidentally revealed weeks ago that prosecutors believe Manafort shared polling data with Kilimnik during the 2016 presidential campaign.
On Wednesday, Jackson found that in addition to his interactions with Kilimnik, there was sufficient evidence that Manafort had lied about a payment to a law firm representing him and about an undisclosed Justice Department investigation.
But she found there wasn’t enough evidence to back up two other allegations. The judge said prosecutors failed to show Manafort intentionally lied about Kilimnik’s role in witness tampering or about Manafort’s contacts with the Trump administration in 2017 and 2018.
Kilimnik, who lives in Russia, was charged alongside Manafort with conspiracy and obstruction of justice. He has yet to appear in a U.S. court to face the charges.
Manafort’s sentencing is set for March 13. He faces up to five years in prison on two felony charges stemming from illegal lobbying he performed on behalf of Ukrainian political interests.
Separately, he faces the possibility of a decade in prison in a federal case in Virginia where he was convicted last year of tax and bank fraud crimes. Sentencing in that case was delayed pending Jackson’s ruling in the plea-deal dispute.
Read the order: http://apne.ws/NFRmWXy
Border security brawl seems near a serene resolution
By ALAN FRAM, ANDREW TAYLOR AND JILL COLVIN
Thursday, February 14
WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress is set to resolve its clattering brawl with President Donald Trump in uncommonly bipartisan fashion as lawmakers prepare to pass a border security compromise providing a mere sliver of the billions he’s demanded for a wall with Mexico and averting a rekindled government shutdown this weekend.
With Trump’s halfhearted signature widely expected but hardly guaranteed, congressional leaders planned votes Thursday on the sweeping package. Passage first by the Republican-led Senate, then the Democratic-controlled House, was virtually certain, with sizable numbers of both parties’ members set to vote “yes.” Bargainers formally completed the accord moments before midnight Wednesday.
“I’m sure it’s going to pass. I don’t know of any drama,” said House Democrats’ chief vote-counter, Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C.
Trump’s assent would end a raucous legislative saga that commenced before Christmas and was ending, almost fittingly, on Valentine’s Day. The low point was the historically long 35-day partial federal shutdown, which Trump sparked and was in full force when Democrats took control of the House, compelling him to share power for the first time.
Trump yielded Jan. 25 after public opinion turned against him and congressional Republicans. He’d won not a nickel of the $5.7 billion he’d demanded for his wall but had caused missed paychecks for legions of federal workers and federal contractors and lost services for countless others. It was a political fiasco for Trump and an early triumph for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
The fight left both parties dead set against another shutdown. That sentiment weakened Trump’s hand and fueled the bipartisan deal, a pact that contrasts with the parties’ still-raging differences over health care, taxes and investigations of the president.
The product of nearly three weeks of talks, the agreement provides almost $1.4 billion for new barriers along the boundary. That’s less than the $1.6 billion for border security in a bipartisan Senate bill that Trump spurned months ago, and enough for building just 55 miles of barricades, not the 200-plus miles he’d sought.
Notably, the word “wall” — which fueled many a chant at Trump campaign events and rallies as president — does not appear once in the 1,768 pages of legislation and explanatory materials. “Barriers” and “fencing” are the nouns of choice.
The compromise would also gradually pressure Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to gradually detain fewer unauthorized immigrants. To the dismay of Democrats, it would still leave an agency many of them consider abusive holding thousands more immigrants than it did last year.
The measure contains money for improved surveillance equipment, more customs agents and humanitarian aid for detained immigrants. The overall bill also provides $330 billion to finance dozens of federal agencies for the rest of the year.
Trump has talked for weeks about augmenting the agreement by taking executive action to divert money from other programs for wall construction, without congressional sign-off. He might declare a national emergency, which has drawn opposition from both parties, or invoke other authorities to tap funds targeted for military construction, disaster relief and counterdrug efforts.
Those moves could prompt congressional resistance or lawsuits, but would help assuage supporters dismayed that the president is yielding.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who leads the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, told reporters “it would be political suicide” if Trump signs the agreement and did nothing else to find added money.
The measure was expected to be carried by pragmatists from both parties. Many of Congress’ most liberal members were expected to oppose it, unwilling to yield an inch to Trump’s anti-immigrant policies, while staunch conservatives preferred a bill that would go further.
“I made a promise to my community that I wouldn’t fund ICE,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., a freshman who’s become a face of her party’s left wing and a leading proponent of eliminating the agency.
Though Trump lost the highest-profile issue at stake, he all but declared victory Wednesday.
At the White House, he contended that a wall “is being built as we speak.” Work on a small stretch of barriers is due to start this month in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley under legislation Congress approved last year.
Swallowing the deal would mark a major concession by Trump, who has spent months calling the situation at the southern border a national security crisis.
In private conversations, Trump has called the congressional bargainers poor negotiators, said a person familiar with the conversations who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly. Trump has also made clear that he wanted more money for the wall and has expressed concern the plan is being framed as a defeat for him in the media.
Trump has repeatedly vowed Mexico would pay for the wall, a suggestion that country has spurned. His descriptions of the wall’s size have fluctuated, at times saying it would cover 1,000 of the 2,000-mile boundary. Previous administrations constructed over 650 miles of barriers.
Facing opposition from Trump, Democrats lost their bid to include language giving federal contractors back pay for wages lost during the last shutdown. Federal workers have been paid for time they were furloughed or worked without paychecks.
Also omitted was an extension of the Violence Against Women Act. Democrats say this will give them a chance later this year to add protections for transgender people to that law.
Associated Press writer Catherine Lucey contributed to this report.