The growing controversy over Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections continued to envelop the Trump Administration on Friday, as the White House refused to say if it tried to secretly give intelligence reports to the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, while a Senate panel delved into the Russian campaign of fake news and disinformation that officials say is now aimed squarely at American allies in Europe as well.
Here some snapshots of where things stand:
1. Lawyer for Michael Flynn says his client wants to talk. It wasn’t a direct request for immunity, but it sure read like one, as the lawyer for former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn said his client, “has a story to tell.” But attorney Robert Kelner made clear there would have to be something in return: “No reasonable person, who has the benefit of advice from counsel, would submit to questioning in such a highly politicized, witch hunt environment without assurances against unfair prosecution.” Many were quick to point out a quote from Flynn during the heat of the 2016 campaign, as he argued that staffers linked to Hillary Clinton who were given immunity from prosecution in the probe of her email server indicated wrongdoing. “When you are given immunity that means you probably committed a crime,” Flynn said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Here is the letter from his lawyer:
2. White House may have provided documents to Nunes. A week ago, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer scoffed at reporters who suggested that the White House had secretly provided intelligence documents to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, saying, “it doesn’t pass the smell test.” Well, news reports that broke on Thursday directly pointed the finger at Trump appointees to the National Security Council as the ones who gave Nunes documents that supposedly indicated “incidental collection” by U.S. Intelligence on the Trump Transition or Trump associates – though reports now indicate it may have only been wiretaps of foreigners talking about the Trump Transition, and not actually a wiretap of foreign targets speaking to anyone from Trump World.
3. Nunes whistleblower story takes on water. Originally, Rep. Nunes had indicated that a whistleblower was involved in providing him with secret intelligence reports, which might indicate that Obama Administration officials were wrongly circulating information about the Trump team. Last week, Nunes said that’s why he went to get the information on incidental collection on White House grounds, from someone he described as an “intelligence official.” But news reports don’t seem to bear that out, with at least two people possibly involved from the National Security Council. Without admitting anything like that had happened, the White House said it was making available documents uncovered by the NSC for top lawmakers in the Congress to review – which seemed like they might just be the documents that Nunes had secretly reviewed last week. Asked about the revelations, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) – the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee – said he didn’t understand the “cloak and dagger” that Nunes might have engaged in. It still wasn’t clear whether names of Trump officials had been “unmasked” in those documents or not – but that’s something to watch, no matter what Nunes may or may have not said.
4. Evelyn Farkas. Evelyn Farkas. Evelyn Farkas. If you don’t listen to talk radio, you might have no idea who Evelyn Farkas is, or why she might be important. Farkas was a Pentagon official during the Obama Administration, who left in October of 2015. Almost a month ago, she was on MSNBC talking about the issue of Russian meddling, and whether there were ties to the Trump campaign, or associates of the President. For supporters of the President, Farkas is admitting that there was rampant spying on Trump associates, and the U.S. Intelligence was doing all it could to find any evidence of collusion with Russia. “SMOKING GUN” said some like talk show host Mark Levin. But when you listen to the tape, it’s more of an outsider – who had been out of her post for more than a year – urging her former colleagues to make sure any evidence – if there was any – wasn’t lost. “I didn’t give anybody anything except advice,” Farkas said Thursday. That didn’t stop supporters of Trump from trumpeting her words.
5. White House wants press to focus on leaks, unmasking. Still trying to steer the conversation away from the Russia investigation, the White House has continued this week to make the case that the Obama Administration, and U.S. Intelligence, were wrongly spreading intelligence gathered before and after the 2016 elections about Donald Trump and his aides. Information discovered in “the ordinary course of business” about unmasking of names of Americans and more is now what’s being offered for review by top lawmakers in the Congress – many think this is the same information that was viewed last week by Rep. Nunes. “I’ve commented on this both yesterday and today, that your obsession with who talked to whom and when is not the answer here,” said spokesman Sean Spicer, when asked who gave material to Nunes. “It should be the substance.” Also note in this White House letter, a reference to Evelyn Farkas, as noted above.
6. Senate Intelligence > House Intelligence. It wasn’t too hard to figure out that the probe into Russian meddling was working better in the Senate than in the House this week. While the House investigation was stalled this week, Senators on Thursday convened an open hearing and heard from a variety of experts about Russian efforts to interfere in elections not only in the U.S., but in Europe as well. The words of one counter-terrorism expert stood out from the rest at this hearing, as Clint Watts (ex-FBI) gave a rather direct answer about why Moscow succeeded in using social media and the internet to push fake news and disinformation, what’s referred to as “active measures.” “Part of the reason that active measures have worked in this U.S. election is because the Commander-in-Chief (Trump) has used active measures at times against his opponents.” It made a lot of people sit up and take notice.
7. Rubio says Russia still after his Presidential staff. During the hearing, Watts said it was his judgment that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) – and other candidates for President – were all targeted by the Russians at various times. Rubio downplayed that, but did acknowledge a broad hacking effort directed at his former staff members for his Presidential bid. The Florida Republican said one attack happened last July as he announced he would run for re-election to the Senate, and it happened again on Wednesday of this week. “Aren’t we in the midst of a blitzkrieg, for lack of a better term, of informational warfare, conducted by Russian trolls, under the command of Vladimir Putin, designed to sow instability, pit us against each other as Americans?”
8. Yes, that is the FBI Director’s Twitter account. Earlier this month, FBI Director James Comey indicated that he paid attention to things on Twitter, but no one really knew of an account that he had. Well, some sleuthing seemingly tracked him down. You don’t have to root for either party to enjoy this story.