Russian spies tried to recruit the GOP congressman who House GOP leaders 'joked' was on Putin's payroll
Late Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that back in June 2016, House Republicans were discussing the hack of the Democratic National Committee (WikiLeaks had not yet begun to publish the stolen emails), and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy suggested that "the Russians hacked the DNC and got the opp [opposition] research that they had on Trump," and when House Speaker Paul Ryan asked who they "delivered" that information to, McCarthy replied: "There's two people, I think, Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump. Swear to God."
After the House GOP leaders denied that the conversation ever took place, The Washington Post said there was audio of the conversation, and McCarthy called the comments a "bad attempt at a joke," pointing to laughter in the room. But it turns out that Russian spies actually did try to recruit Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), one of Moscow's staunchest defenders and President Trump's loyalist allies in Washington, The New York Times reported Friday.
In a secure room, with Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) present, FBI agents told Rohrabacher in 2012 that Russian agents were trying to recruit him as an "agent of influence," someone Moscow could use to steer policy, wittingly or not, former officials tell the Times, adding that the FBI did not think Rohrabacher was actively working with or accepting money from Russia. Rohrabacher said the FBI agents specifically warned him that a Russian Foreign Ministry official he met with in Moscow "had something to do with some kind of Russian intelligence" and "looked at me as someone who could be influenced." Ruppersberger recalls: "Mike and I reminded Dana that Russia is our adversary."
The meeting shows that "the FBI has taken seriously the possibility that Russian spies would target American politicians," The New York Times says. But while the FBI is trying to figure out any connections between Moscow and Trump's inner circle, House Republican leaders are poring over the Washington Post article to figure out who leaked their private conversation, worried that there are more leaks to come, reports Jonathan Swan at Axios. "The most widespread theory in House leadership is that the secret recorder and the leaker was Evan McMullin, who as a former leadership aide participated in the June 15 conversation and confirmed the private conversation to The Washington Post." There's no evidence that McMullin, who ran as an independent conservative presidential candidate in 2016, is the leaker. Peter Weber
If forecasters are correct and there are warmer-than-average waters in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea and weak El Nino conditions this summer, the 2017 hurricane season could be an active one.
"There's a potential for a lot of Atlantic storm activity this year," acting National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Ben Friedman told The Associated Press Thursday. The NOAA's forecast calls for 11 to 17 named storms and five to nine hurricanes, with two to four expected to be major; the long-term season averages 12 named storms and six hurricanes, with three major ones. Tropical storms are classified as having sustained winds of at least 39 mph, while hurricanes have sustained winds of at least 74 mph. The Atlantic storm seasons lasts six months, and will officially start on June 1.
Friedman told AP a new weather satellite that will move into a permanent position over the East Coast later this year will give forecasters a better view of the continental U.S. and tropical waters where hurricanes form. They will be able to watch storms as they develop and "see lightning in the clouds like we've never seen before," Friedman said. Catherine Garcia
After the FBI rejected a request by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, for documents having to do with former FBI Director James Comey and his dealings with the White House, Chaffetz is giving the bureau a new deadline to get him the material.
"Congress does not conduct criminal or counterintelligence investigations; rather Congress' power of inquiry is rooted in part in its duty to oversee the executive branch's faithful enforcement of the laws that Congress enacted," Chaffetz wrote in a letter to acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe. "In this case, the focus of the committee's investigation is the independence of the FBI, including conversations between the president and Comey and the process by which Comey was removed from his role as director." Chaffetz and the committee's top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, asked for the records last week, setting a May 24 deadline.
That deadline came and went, and on Thursday, the assistant director for the FBI's Office of Congressional Affairs, Gregory Brower, wrote Chaffetz saying they would not be handing the documents over due to the appointment last week of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel. In his letter to McCabe, Chaffetz said that the appointment of a special counsel does not interfere with congressional investigations into Russia meddling in the 2016 presidential election, The Hill reports. In this second request, Chaffetz is asking for "documents that are outside the scope of the Special Counsel's investigation," going back to Sept. 4, 2013. Catherine Garcia
President Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner is under scrutiny by the FBI in the Russia investigation, several U.S. officials told NBC News and other media outlets.
Officials said it is believed he has information that could be helpful in the inquiry, but that doesn't mean he is suspected of any crimes and is in a different category than Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager, and Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser, who are considered subjects of the investigation.
In 2016, Kushner met at least once with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. and a Russian banker named Sergey Gorkov who has been under U.S. sanctions since 2014. It's unclear if Kushner has received any requests from federal investigators for documents, and his lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, told NBC News he "previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry." The probe into whether Trump associates colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 presidential election is now being led by a special counsel, former FBI Director Robert Mueller. Catherine Garcia
British police are once again sharing intelligence information with the United States, following a suspension announced Thursday morning in the wake of several leaks about the Manchester bombing by U.S. officials to the media.
Sensitive details that were revealed to reporters include the name of the suspected bomber and the type of backpack he carried; British officials had wanted to keep the bomber's identity a secret for at least 36 hours as to not tip off any accomplices. Prime Minister Theresa May said Thursday she would "make clear to President Trump that intelligence shared between our security agencies must remain secure," and on Thursday night, Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations in the Metropolitan Police Service Mark Rowley said that after receiving "fresh assurances" from the U.S., the two countries were once against sharing material. Catherine Garcia
President Trump on Thursday attended a meeting with European Union leaders in Brussels, where he apparently decided to air his grievances over Germany's trade surplus with the U.S. "The Germans are evil, very evil," Trump reportedly complained in the meeting, attendees told German newspaper Der Spiegel. "Look at the millions of cars they sell in the U.S. We'll stop that."
Der Spiegel reported that EU Commission leader Jean-Claude Juncker disagreed with Trump, defending the merits of free trade for the global economy. New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman notes that depending on the translation, Trump may have been calling the Germans merely "very bad" and not "very evil."
European Council President Donald Tusk acknowledged earlier Thursday that there had been some notable differences of opinion between EU leadership and the U.S. government, including on matters of climate politics, trade, and most openly, Russian relations. "I am not 100 percent sure that we can say today ... that we have a common position, common opinion, about Russia," Tusk said.
Just getting Trump to actually attend the meeting with the EU was considered a success, however. Trump did not extend an invitation for EU leaders to visit the White House. Shivani Ishwar
President Trump famously loves bullet points, graphs, and maps, so naturally when German Chancellor Angela Merkel came to warn Trump about his new buddy, Russian President Vladimir Putin, in March, she came armed, Politico reports:
Merkel brought a 1980s map of the former Soviet Union and noted the way its borders stretched for hundreds of miles to the west of Russia's current boundary, according to a source who was briefed on the meeting. The German leader's point was that Putin laments the Soviet Union's demise and, left unchecked, would happily restore its former borders. Merkel left Washington unconvinced that Trump had gotten the message, the source said. (A White House official said a top Merkel aide showed such a map to national security adviser H.R. McMaster, though neither the official nor a spokesman for the German embassy would provide details on Merkel's private meeting with Trump.) [Politico]
During Trump's visit to the European Union and NATO headquarters Thursday, senior officials added that the question of America's policy toward Russia was, "of course, the elephant in the room," given Trump's vague and shifting statements on the matter. Jeva Lange
On Thursday, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia upheld a nationwide block of President Trump's ban on travel from six majority Muslim countries. "The ruling is the most bruising the White House has suffered in its attempts to defend the ban, as it was rendered by 13 judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit — which deemed the case important enough to skip the usual three-judge process that the vast majority of cases go through," The Huffington Post writes.
"Surely the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment yet stands as an untiring sentinel for the protection of one of our most cherished founding principles — that government shall not establish any religious orthodoxy or favor or disfavor one religion over another," Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote, adding that the president's power to deny entry to aliens is "not absolute" and "cannot go unchecked."
— Zoe Tillman (@ZoeTillman) May 25, 2017
Trump can now appeal to the Supreme Court, a move he has promised he would pursue if necessary. Jeva Lange