Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Is the FBI Hiding Information on Trump's Possible Ties to Russia?

On Friday FBI Director James Comey took it upon himself to release a letter fanning new flames into the Republican witch hunt over Hillary Clinton's e-mails.  In doing so, Comey seemingly violated federal law as well as long standing policies and procedures.  In fact, Richard Painter, the chief White House Ethics Lawyer in the Bush Administration from 2005-2007, was so outraged that he filed a Complaint against Comey with the Office Of Special Counsel and the Office of Government Ethics. In particular, Painter explains why Comey’s inexplicable actions this week may warrant prosecution for abuse of power under the Hatch Act.  Senate Minority Leader, Harry Reid has echoed Painter's concerns.   More significantly, Reid also made clear that the FBI has been sitting on information that suggests that Donald Trump may be involved in solicitations from Vladimir Putin and the Russian Government.  The Washington Post has details on both of Reid's statements.  Adding concern to Reid's statements is an article in Mother Jones that indicated that the FBI has credible evidence on a possible Russian intelligence attempt to develop a secret relationship with Trump and/or cultivate him as an asset.  Despite the seriousness of these allegations, Comey has remained utterly silent.   Sloppy usage of e-mail warrants an announcement to the public in Comey's world view, possible covert operations by Trump and/or his advisers doesn't.  Here are highlights from the Washington Post (some from Mother Jones will follow):
In a letter to FBI Director James B. Comey on Sunday night, outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) says Comey may have broken the law.
And that's not even the most brazen claim in the letter — not by a long shot.
In the course of arguing that Comey's disclosure that the FBI is looking into new Hillary Clinton investigation emails may have violated the Hatch Act, Reid slips in an extremely bold claim about the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government — a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every opportunity. The public has a right to know this information. I wrote to you months ago calling for this information to be released to the public. There is no danger to American interests from releasing it. And yet, you continue to resist calls to inform the public of this critical information.
Reid is saying that he has been told the FBI has evidence of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. And he's not just saying this information came from mysterious and unnamed national security officials; he's saying Comey himself has left him with this impression.

Yes, Reid can be a loose canon on occasion.  But this time, he may be directly on target.  Here are highlights from Mother Jones that look very damning to Trump, some of his inner circle, and, of course, Comey:
Reid's missive set off a burst of speculation on Twitter and elsewhere. What was he referring to regarding the Republican presidential nominee? At the end of August, Reid had written to Comey and demanded an investigation of the "connections between the Russian government and Donald Trump's presidential campaign," and in that letter he indirectly referred to Carter Page, an American businessman cited by Trump as one of his foreign policy advisers, who had financial ties to Russia and had recently visited Moscow. Last month, Yahoo News reported that US intelligence officials were probing the links between Page and senior Russian officials. 

On Monday, NBC News reported that the FBI has mounted a preliminary inquiry into the foreign business ties of Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chief. But Reid's recent note hinted at more than the Page or Manafort affairs. And a former senior intelligence officer for a Western country who specialized in Russian counterintelligence tells Mother Jonesthat in recent months he provided the bureau with memos, based on his recent interactions with Russian sources, contending the Russian government has for years tried to co-opt and assist Trump—and that the FBI requested more information from him.
An FBI spokeswoman says, "Normally, we don't talk about whether we are investigating anything." But a senior US government official not involved in this case but familiar with the former spy tells Mother Jones that he has been a credible source with a proven record of providing reliable, sensitive, and important information to the US government.
In June, the former Western intelligence officer—who spent almost two decades on Russian intelligence matters and who now works with a US firm that gathers information on Russia for corporate clients—was assigned the task of researching Trump's dealings in Russia and elsewhere, according to the former spy and his associates in this American firm. This was for an opposition research project originally financed by a Republican client critical of the celebrity mogul.
[W]hen he dug into Trump, he notes, he came across troubling information indicating connections between Trump and the Russian government. According to his sources, he says, "there was an established exchange of information between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin of mutual benefit."
This was, the former spy remarks, "an extraordinary situation." He regularly consults with US government agencies on Russian matters, and near the start of July on his own initiative—without the permission of the US company that hired him—he sent a report he had written for that firm to a contact at the FBI, according to the former intelligence officer and his American associates, who asked not to be identified. (He declines to identify the FBI contact.) The former spy says he concluded that the information he had collected on Trump was "sufficiently serious" to share with the FBI.
Mother Jones has reviewed that report and other memos this former spy wrote. The first memo, based on the former intelligence officer's conversations with Russian sources, noted, "Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years. Aim, endorsed by PUTIN, has been to encourage splits and divisions in western alliance." It maintained that Trump "and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals." It claimed that Russian intelligence had "compromised" Trump during his visits to Moscow and could "blackmail him."
[I]n August, they say, the FBI asked him for all information in his possession and for him to explain how the material had been gathered and to identify his sources. The former spy forwarded to the bureau several memos—some of which referred to members of Trump's inner circle. After that point, he continued to share information with the FBI. "It's quite clear there was or is a pretty substantial inquiry going on," he says.
"This is something of huge significance, way above party politics," the former intelligence officer comments. "I think [Trump's] own party should be aware of this stuff as well."
According to several national security experts, there is widespread concern in the US intelligence community that Russian intelligence, via hacks, is aiming to undermine the presidential election—to embarrass the United States and delegitimize its democratic elections. And the hacks appear to have been designed to benefit Trump. 
In the letter Reid sent to Comey on Sunday, he pointed out that months ago he had asked the FBI director to release information on Trump's possible Russia ties. Since then, according to a Reid spokesman, Reid has been briefed several times. The spokesman adds, "He is confident that he knows enough to be extremely alarmed."
I suspect that some of my Republican friends supporting Trump will merely scoff, but perhaps they should invest in a Rosetta Stone language course and brush up on Russian. Some of these same people scoffed when I predicted in 2003 that the Iraq War would be a disaster and unleash unanticipated consequences - consequences we are still plagued by today.  Should Trump win the White House, I predict that America will experience an unmitigated disaster. 

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