FBI Director continues testimony in closed-door session on Thursday.
Developments on Day 104 of the Trump Administration:
FBI’s Comey: Trump-Russia Inquiry Continues Amid Moscow’s “Greatest Threat of Any Nation”
FBI Director James Comey reconfirms the agency’s investigation into contacts between Donald Trump’s associates and Russian officials, calling Russia the “greatest threat of any nation” through influence operations such as their intervention in the 2016 US Presidential election.
Comey appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee in public session on Wednesday. While most of the session was devoted to his controversial announcement in late October, days before the election, that the FBI was re-opening an inquiry into Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mail — a statement that many, including Clinton, believe influenced the outcome — the Director was also blunt in addressing the Trump-Russia issue.
Responding to a question by Senator Lindsey Graham about Russia’s threat to future US elections, Comey responded, “In my view, [Russia is] the greatest threat of any nation on earth given their intention and their capability.”
The FBI director said that Moscow had gone further in other countries, trying to alter vote tallies, and that the US should expect Russia to attempt the same in future American elections.
Comey said at the opening hearing of the House Intelligence Committee on March 20 that the FBI is investigating possible “coordination” between the Trump team and Russia.
Those proceedings were then suspended by committee chairman Devin Nunes, as he consulted the White House over the next steps. However, with Nunes’ subsequent recusal from the hearings, they resume on Thursday with closed-session testimony from Comey and National Security Agency head Mike Rogers.
The FBI opened its Trump-Russia inquiry last July and obtained a warrant from the top-secret FISA Court in October to monitor Russian officials, some of whom were recorded in conversations with Trump’s associates and staff. But Comey did not reveal that inquiry, as he disclosed the renewed investigation of Clinton’s e-mail.
He told the hearing yesterday, “It makes me mildly nauseous to think we might have had some impact on the election. But honestly it wouldn’t change the decision.”
That was insufficient for leading Democrats. “It’s still very unclear — and I hope, Director, that you will clear this up — why the FBI’s treatment of these two investigations was so dramatically different,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein.
Comey replied he treated both cases consistently and that the biggest difference was that one investigation — that of Clinton — was over or nearly over, and the other was just beginning.
Trump Vows to Broker Israel-Palestine Peace — But How?
Donald Trump vows to do “whatever is necessary” to broker peace between Israel and Palestine, but gives no indication of how he will pursue the process.
Trump hosted Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, on Wednesday and said, “I will do whatever is necessary….I would love to be a mediator or an arbitrator or a facilitator, and we will get this done.”
Publicly Trump repeated the invocation for Abbas to do more to stop “incitement to violence” against Israelis. The White House said he privately urged the Palestinian leader to halt payments to families of Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons.
Trump stopped short of recommitting Washington to a two-state solution, a long-standing foundation of US policy. In February, as he hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the US President said he would leave it up to the parties to decide on a one-state or two-state approach.
In contrast, Abbas reasserted the objective of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and the 1967 borders between Israel and Palestinian territory.
Trump has named his son-in-law Jared Kushner to handle the Israel-Palestine issue. In March, Jason Greenblatt, the chief legal officer to the Trump Foundation, met Netanyahu and Abbas.
The US President played down questions about the lack of a defined US approach, saying that while he was ready to try to reach the “toughest deal”, it was “maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years”.
That echoed Trump’s statement from the weekend, “There is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians – none whatsoever.”
Tillerson Promotes “America First” Foreign Policy, Drops Human Rights
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson outlines an “America First” foreign policy which drops the US commitment to human rights.
In his first address to State Department employees, Tillerson said US foreign policy priorities had become “a little bit out of balance”, with a focus on trade and other activity with emerging economies.
“These are really important relationships to us, and they’re really important alliances, but we’ve got to bring them back into balance,” he said.
Tillerson justified the relegation of human rights with the explanation, “If we condition too heavily that others must adopt this value that we’ve come to over a long history of our own, it really creates obstacles to our ability to advance our national security interests, our economic interests.”
In recent weeks, Donald Trump has signalled the abandonment of human rights as a central tenet of foreign policy with his warm embrace of leaders such as Abdel Fattah El-Sisi of Egypt and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines.
Speaking for about 40 minutes, Tillerson did not address the Administration’s proposed 28% budget cut for the State Department and foreign aid programs, including sharp reductions in areas such as the UN, climate change, and cultural exchange.
The Secretary of State also did not refer to the large number of vacancies in the Department, with the Administration failing to fill senior positions. Instead, he invited State Department and US Agency for International Development employees to participate in an online survey to help identify “efficiency improvements,” in line with a March directive from Trump to “reorganize governmental functions and eliminate unnecessary agencies”.
A “veteran official” questioned Tillerson’s use of the “America First” slogan, used in the 1930s by isolationists, “The fact that they still use ‘America First’ shows they know nothing about history, and what’s worse is they don’t care. It’s offensive.”
Another official criticized Tillerson for not talking in detail about the budget cuts, and for not taking questions from employees.
“They wanted to make this look like he was talking to us, but it was more about the appearance than any substance,” said the official.
3 Women Face Prison for Disrupting Sessions’ Confirmation, 1 for Laughing Too Loudly
Three women from the activist group Code Pink are convicted on disruption charges after protesting during Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Senate confirmation hearing in January.
One of the women, Desiree Fairooz, was found guilty of “disorderly or disruptive” conduct after laughing at Senator Richard Shelby’s claim that Sessions had a well-documented record of “treating all Americans equally under the law”.
Federal prosecutors said Fairooz’s laughing turned heads and diverted attention from the hearing. They accused her of provoking further disturbance when she protested her ejection.
The other two women, Tighe Barry and Lenny Bianchi, were found guilty on “parading or demonstrating” charges after dressing in Ku Klux Klan robes for the hearing.
The three women face up to 12 months in prison each.