TrumpWatch, Day 197: Sessions Tries the “Leakers” Diversion


Sessions’ proclamation comes day after revelation of grand jury for Trump-Russia inquiry

Developments on Day 197 of the Trump Administration:

See also Trump’s Hard-Right Allies Try to Oust McMaster as National Security Advisor
Podcast: The Trump-Russia Grand Jury

Sessions Threatens Leakers and Journalists

Trying to take attention from the Trump-Russia investigation — and to secure his position within the Administration — Attorney General Jeff Sessions issues a loud declaration that he will track down “leakers”.

Sessions also threatened journalists, although he stopped short of saying that they will be prosecuted.

The Attorney General appeared on Friday after weeks of public humiliation by Donald Trump for being “very weak” and “beleaguered”. Trump has been angered that Sessions recused himself from the Trump-Russia investigation in early March, amid his meetings in 2016 with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak and failure to disclose them at his confirmation hearings. The President was held back by aides from firing Sessions, amid a likely rebellion by conservatives defending the former US Senator from Alabama.

A day after confirmation that a grand jury has been empanelled for weeks to hear evidence gathered by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Sessions announced that the Justice Department is pursuing about three times as many leak investigations as those open at the end of the Obama era. He vowed that the Justice Department would not hesitate to bring criminal charges against people who had leaked classified information, and said the FBI had created a new counterintelligence unit for the cases.

“I strongly agree with the president and condemn in the strongest terms the staggering number of leaks undermining the ability of our government to protect this country,” he said.

Sessions then turned to the media, saying he had opened a review of Justice Department rules over subpoenas by investigators: “We respect the important role that the press plays and will give them respect, but it is not unlimited. They cannot place lives at risk with impunity.”

Speaking to reporters in a later briefing, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would not answer whether the administration would prosecute reporters, saying he would not “comment on hypotheticals”. He said it was not clear what, if anything, would be changed about the Justice Department rules.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats also spoke of the grave danger of leaks, saying they were at an unprecedented level. Neither he nor Sessions offered an example of where US national security had been threatened by a disclosure.

Donald Trump and top advisors have railed since the end of 2016 about leaks casting the Administration in a bad light, including those about the extent of the Trump-Russia inquiry.

In February, Trump said at a news conference that he had told Sessions to investigate leaks. A month later, the White House summoned the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, to hand over information about supposed leaks that had “unmasked” the identities of US officials on sensitive topics — an effort to divert the committee hearings that failed when Nunes had to recuse himself.

During his public castigation of Sessions, Trump declared on Twitter:

The Obama Administration stepped up prosecutions of alleged leaks, with about nine or 10 cases, more than all previous administrations combined. However, after protests in Congress and the news media over aggressive tactics, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. tightened limits on when the government is allowed to subpoena telephone companies for logs of journalists’ phone calls.

FBI Officials Likely to Be Questioned

Ten former and current FBI officials — and possibly more — are likely to be questioned as part of the investigation into whether Donald Trump committed obstruction of justice, according to “two government investigators with first-hand knowledge of the matter”.

The sources also said Comey’s notes on his conversations with Trump between January and May could also be used as evidence.

Comey has said that Trump asked him for personal loyalty in January and then asked in March that the investigation of Michael Flynn, dismissed the previous day, be halted. Trump acknowledged in May that he fired Comey because of the inquiry.

“Two senior federal law enforcement officials” said Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe told several of the highest-ranking FBI officials in May that they should consider themselves possible witnesses in any investigation into possible obstruction of justice.

Mueller Asks White House for Flynn Records

Soon after Sessions’ appearance, “people close to the investigation” by Special Counsel Robert Mueller said the White House has been asked for documents related to former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

The sources also said that Mueller’s team and have questioned witnesses about whether Flynn was secretly paid by the Turkish Government during the Trump campaign.

The request is the first known instance of a Special Counsel request for White House records. Despite the empanelling of a grand jury by Mueller, a formal subpoena was not issued.

Flynn’s company, the Flynn Intel Group, was paid $530,000 by Turkish-American businessman Ekim Alptekin. Working with Dmitri “David” Zaikin — a Soviet-born former executive in Russian energy and mining companies who also has dealt with the Kremlin — Alptekin has pursued lobbying efforts in Washington since at least 2015.

Flynn had to leave as National Security Advisor in mid-February, after only 24 days in the post, because of his December 2016 conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak and his subsequent misleading answers to the FBI about the contacts.

McMaster: Rice Did Nothing Wrong With “Unmasking” Requests in Intelligence

National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster rebuffs Donald Trump — and stirs the anger of hard-right activists — by concluding that Obama-era predecessor Susan Rice did nothing wrong by requesting the unmasking of names in intelligence reports, including those of Trump campaign associates linked to Russia.

Trump and others in the White House have accused Rice of possibly breaking the law by asking government analysts to reveal the names. But McMaster agreed with Rice that the National Security Advisor acted within her authority.

In late April, McMaster sent an official letter giving Rice unfettered and continuing access to classified information and waiving her “need-to-know” requirement on anything that she viewed or received during her tenure.

The undated and unclassified letter from McMaster was sent in the mail to Rice’s home. Trump was not aware of the letter or McMaster’s decision, according to “two senior White House officials and an intelligence official”.

Devin Nunes, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee until his recusal this spring, colluded with White House officials in March to try and divert the Trump-Russia inquiry by focusing on “unmasking”.

Secret Service Moves Command Post After Trump Organization Demands More Money

The Secret Service vacates its command post in Trump Tower after a dispute with the Trump Organization over the lease.

The post was moved to a trailer on a New York City sidewalk in early July. The Secret Service had been one floor below Trump’s personal apartment.

“After much consideration, it was mutually determined that it would be more cost effective and logistically practical for the Secret Service to lease space elsewhere,” Trump Organization spokeswoman Amanda Miller said in an e-mail.

“Two people familiar with the matter” said the dispute arose over the price, among other lease conditions.

Trump has not visited Trump Tower since his inauguration in January, and his wife Melania and youngest son Barron moved into the White House in June. However, the Secret Service still guards the building.

The government also leases space in Trump Tower for a military office that provides support for the White House and handles the nuclear “football”. The office is leased for $130,000 a month from businessman Joel Anderson, rather than the Trump Organization.

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