Wednesday, June 07, 2017

NSA Director: I Was Never Directed By White House to Do Anything Inappropriate

By  Cortney O'Brien

NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) was very direct in his questioning for NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats at Wednesday’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.
The hearing was scheduled under the impression it would focus on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, yet lawmakers took advantage of another chance to grill the intelligence officials about the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election.
Adm. Rogers testified that he was never directed by the White House to do any thing illegal, immoral, unethical or inappropriate. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats made the same assertions to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Did President Trump ever ask Rogers to try to “downplay” the Russia investigation? Warner wondered.
The NSA director refused to relay any details about his private conversations with the president, but he could for certain offer the following assurance about his three years as NSA director.
Warner was disappointed by Rogers’ lackluster answer, and proceeded to ask Coats the same thing. He, too, was not very forthcoming. Yet, he also told the panel that he has “never” felt pressured by the Trump administration to interfere in an investigation.

FBI Director Andrew McCabe and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein are also being grilled by the Senate Intelligence panel, the latter of whom said he will absolutely not answer questions about the Russia probe.

Confirmed: Unmasking American Citizens For Political Purposes Is a Crime
By Katie Pavlich
 Former Obama National Security Advisor Susan Rice
During an exchange with Republican Senator John Cornyn in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein confirmed that unmasking American citizens for political reasons is in fact a crime.

"If someone is to use the unmasking process for a political purpose, is that potentially a crime?," Cornyn asked.
"Yes sir," Rosenstein answered.
Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe agreed, adding that leaking the name of an unmasked individual is also a crime.
"For somebody to leak the name of an American citizen that is unmasked in the course of incidental collection, to leak that classified information, is that also potentially a crime," Cornyn asked.
"Yes, I think that's the most significant point, Senator. I think it's important for people to understand unmasking is done in a course of ordinary legitimate intelligence gathering to understand the intelligence significance of the communication. Leaking is a completely different matter," McCabe said.
"Leaking is a crime, disclosing information to someone without a legitimate purpose, need to know that information, that will be prosecuted in appropriate circumstances, and there have been cases where we've been able to determine that's a willful violation of federal law, a disclosure not authorized."
"Prosecutions have been brought and will be brought," he continued.
Questions surrounding unmasking come after allegations former Obama National Security Advisor Susan Rice, former UN Ambassador Samantha Power and former CIA Director John Brennan unmasked a number of Trump campaign officials for political reasons last year.
After outright denying ever engaging in unmasking during her time in the White House, Rice changed her story and argued during an interview with MSNBC that she unmasked individuals for the sake of national security.
"We only do it to protect the American people and to do our jobs." Rice said, adding Obama officials never used intelligence to spy on Trump officials for political purposes. "I leaked nothing to nobody and never have and never would."
A number of former intelligence officials have said the type of unmasking seen with Trump campaign officials is out of the ordinary,"not routine" and looks to be political. Former CIA Analyst Fred Fleitz wrote a skeptical op-ed strongly questioning Rice's explanation.
Rice confirmed that she requested the demasking of Americans while she was National Security Adviser. While Rice would not deny that she asked that names of Trump officials be demasked, she insisted the Obama administration did not spy on Mr. Trump or his staff for political purposes. She also offered some questionable explanations for the demasking process.
As a former CIA analyst who has handled requests for demasking the names of American citizens for a U.S. policymaker, I thought Rice’s claims in her interview did not add up.
The names of U.S. citizens “incidentally” mentioned in NSA reports are masked to preserve their identities because America’s intelligence agencies are barred from spying on American citizens except in extraordinary circumstances with court approval.
Rice correctly said in her interview that policymakers sometimes request to know the identities of Americans from NSA reports to understand these reports in certain circumstances. She also tried to dismiss this controversy by claiming NSA demasking requests are routine.
They actually are not routine and taken very seriously by NSA.


Comey did tell Trump he was not under investigation in January, Comey says
By Teresa Welsh, Katie Irby
Former FBI Director James Comey did offer President Donald Trump assurance he was not personally being investigated by the department, according to Comey’s prepared testimony for a Thursday hearing in the Senate Intelligence Committee. 
Comey said he offered the assurance to then-president-elect Trump on Jan. 6 in a briefing in Trump Tower. Before that meeting, he spoke with the FBI’s leadership team about whether he should tell Trump the agency was not investigating him.
“That was true; we did not have an open counter-intelligence case on him. We agreed I should do so if circumstances warranted,” Comey said. “During our one-on-one meeting at Trump Tower, based on President-Elect Trump’s reaction to the briefing and without him directly asking the question, I offered that assurance.”
 To read more, click here.
Comey's Opening Remarks Released Ahead of Thursday Testimony
By Katie Pavlich
The Senate Intelligence Committee has released former FBI Director James Comey's opening statement for Thursday's much anticipated hearing on Capitol Hill.
According to the prepared remarks, Comey will testify that President Trump asked him to drop the FBI's investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, but did not ask the same for the larger Russia investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin during the 2016 presidential election.
During a February 14, 2017 Oval Office meeting with leading officials from the intelligence community, Homeland Security and the Justice Department, Comey was asked to stay behind for a private discussion with the president (bolding of italicized testimony below is mine). After the meeting, he asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to make sure the President could no longer contact him directly.
The President signaled the end of the briefing by thanking the group and telling them all that he wanted to speak to me alone. I stayed in my chair.  As the participants started to leave the Oval Office, the Attorney General lingered by my chair, but the President thanked him and said he wanted to speak only with me.  The last person to leave was Jared Kushner, who also stood by my chair and exchanged pleasantries with me.  The President then excused him, saying he wanted to speak with me.
When the door by the grandfather clock closed, and we were alone, the President began by saying, “I want to talk about Mike Flynn.”  Flynn had resigned the previous day.
The President began by saying Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong in speaking with the Russians, but he had to let him go because he had misled the Vice President.  He added that he had other concerns about Flynn, which he did not then specify. The President then made a long series of comments about the problem with leaks of classified information–a concern I shared and still share.
After he had spoken for a few minutes about leaks, Reince Priebus leaned in through the door by the grandfather clock and I could see a group of people waiting behind him. The President waved at him to close the door, saying he would be done shortly.
The door closed.
The President then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, “He is a good guy and has been through a lot.”  He repeated that Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. He then said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.  He is a good guy.  I hope you can let this go.”  I replied only that “he is a good guy.” (In fact, I had a positive experience dealing with Mike Flynn when he was a colleague as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency at the beginning of my term at FBI.) I did not say I would “let this go.”
I immediately prepared an unclassified memo of the conversation about Flynn and discussed the matter with FBI senior leadership.  I had understood the President to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December.  I did not understand the President to be talking about the broader investigation into Russia or possible links to his campaign.  I could be wrong, but I took him to be focusing on what had just happened with Flynn’s departure and the controversy around his account of his phone calls.  Regardless, it was very concerning, given the FBI’s role as an independent investigative agency.
Further, Comey will testify he was concerned about the President crossing a line of independence with the FBI by repeatedly asking him whether or not he wanted to keep his job. From his statement:
The President and I had dinner on Friday, January 27 at 6:30 pm in the Green Room at the White House.  He had called me at lunchtime that day and invited me to dinner that night, saying he was going to invite my whole family, but decided to have just me this time, with the whole family coming the next time.  It was unclear from the conversation who else would be at the dinner, although I assumed there would be others.  It turned out to be just the two of us, seated at a small oval table in the  center of the Green Room.
The President began by asking me whether I wanted to stay on as FBI Director, which I found strange because he had already told me twice in earlier conversations that he hoped I would stay, and I had assured him that I intended to.
He said that lots of people wanted my job and, given the abuse I had taken during the previous year, he would understand if I wanted to walk away. My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship. That concerned me greatly, given the FBI’s traditionally independent status in the executive branch.
I replied that I loved my work and intended to stay and serve out my ten-year term as Director.
And then, because the set-up made me uneasy, I added that I was not “reliable” in the way politicians use that word, but he could always count on me to tell him the truth.  I added that I was not on anybody’s side politically and could not be counted on in the traditional political sense, a stance I said was in his best interest as the President.  A few moments later, the President said, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence.  The conversation then moved on, but he returned to the subject near the end of our dinner.