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DOJ gives Congress new classified documents on Russia probe

The Free Press WV

The Justice Department says it has given House Republicans new classified information related to the Russia investigation after lawmakers had threatened to hold officials in contempt of Congress or even impeach them.

A spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan said Saturday that the department has partially complied with subpoenas from the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees after officials turned over more than a thousand new documents this week. House Republicans had given the Justice Department and FBI a Friday deadline for all documents, most of which are related to the origins of the FBI’s Russia investigation and the handling of its probe into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s emails. Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said the department asked for more time and they will get it — for now.

“Our efforts have resulted in the committees finally getting access to information that was sought months ago, but some important requests remain to be completed,” Strong said in a statement Saturday. “Additional time has been requested for the outstanding items, and based on our understanding of the process we believe that request is reasonable. We expect the department to meet its full obligations to the two committees.”

The efforts by the Justice Department over the last week to deliver documents to the House Republicans appear to have at least temporarily diffused a monthslong standoff with Congress. Democrats have criticized the multiple document requests, charging that they are intended to discredit the department and distract from or even undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russia ties and whether there was obstruction of justice.

In a letter sent to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., late Friday, the Justice Department said it had that day provided a classified letter to his panel regarding whether the FBI used “confidential human sources” before it officially began its Russia investigation in 2016. Bolstered by President Donald Trump, Nunes has been pressing the department on an informant who spoke to members of Trump’s campaign as the FBI began to explore the campaign’s ties to Russia. Trump has called the matter “spygate,” though multiple Republicans who have been briefed on the informant have downplayed its significance.

In the letter, the Justice Department’s acting assistant director of congressional affairs, Jill Tyson, said Nunes had also asked for transcripts of conversations between confidential human sources and Trump campaign officials. She said the department had referred that request to National Intelligence Director Dan Coats.

Tyson’s letter said the department had also given Nunes materials related to the department’s guidelines under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Republicans have for months questioned whether the department abused that act when prosecutors and agents in 2016 applied for and received a secret warrant to monitor the communications of Trump campaign associate Carter Page.

The department is also working to provide outstanding documents related to former British spy Christopher Steele, Tyson said, and the dossier he compiled of anti-Trump research during the presidential campaign. Trump and congressional Republicans have charged that the research in the dossier, paid for by Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee, was used inappropriately to obtain the warrant on Page.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has backed the document requests, and he led a meeting last week with committee chairmen and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to try to resolve the issue. In a television interview two days after that meeting, on June 17, Nunes said if they don’t get the documents by this week, “there’s going to be hell to pay” and indicated the House could act on contempt or even impeachment. A spokesman for Nunes did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.

Tyson also wrote House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., and House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who have requested more than a million documents as part of multiple investigations into the FBI and Justice Department’s handling of the Russia and Clinton probes. Tyson said the department has already provided more than 800,000 documents for review and “the FBI produced over 1,400 pages of responsive materials” on Friday, among other documents already sent to the panel.

The letter says FBI is also working to address a request about “proposed, recommended or actual” surveillance on the Clinton Foundation. Tyson said the department was responding in a separate, classified letter, and that the request had proven “difficult to address.” She said the department hoped to talk to lawmakers further about it.

In the letters, Tyson said the department had built “new tools” to search top secret documents and had diverted resources from other congressional requests.

First lady visits migrant children at Texas detention center

The Free Press WV

Melania Trump made an unannounced visit to a Texas facility Thursday, talking with children and staff as she got a first-hand look at some of the migrant children sent there by the U.S. government after their families entered the country illegally.

The first lady’s stop at Upbring New Hope Children’s Center came the morning after President Donald Trump signed an executive order halting the practice of separating these families. The visit to the one-story red brick building, which houses 55 children between the ages of 12 and 17, was intended to lend support to those children who remain separated from their parents, said Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s spokeswoman.

“She wanted to see everything for herself,” Grisham said.

Third-graders at the facility welcomed the first lady with a large paper American flag they’d signed taped to a wall. With the words, “Welcome! First Lady” written in black marker across the red and white bars, Mrs. Trump also signed the flag, which the children gave to her. Next to the flag on the classroom walls: A drawing of a flowering plant, a butterfly, a hummingbird and a heart, with the words, “New Hope, We Love You All, Staff” written in cursive.

Melania Trump is visiting two Texas facilities housing some of the more than 2,300 migrant children sent by the U.S. government after their families entered the country illegally. (June 21)

Visiting another classroom, Mrs. Trump asked children where they were from, if they were friends and how long they’d been at the center where staff said children typically spend between 42 and 45 days. The children responded, sometimes in English, other times in Spanish, many of them wearing gray T-shirts with the red, white and blue words “We Are One.” She told children to “be kind and nice to each other” as she left for another classroom.

The first lady thanked the staff for their “heroic work” and asked them to reunite the children with their families as quickly as possible. In a makeshift conference room, Mrs. Trump met with staff from New Hope, HHS and border patrol, asking several questions about the children’s welfare and asking that the children be reunited with their families “as quickly as possible.”

New Hope staff reassured Mrs. Trump, who was accompanied by Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar, that the children are assessed for physical and mental health issues when they enter the facility and are often distraught. They attend school five days a week and have a variety of activities.

“We just have a tremendous passion for working with these children,” said program director Roy De La Cerda. “We see them as our own.”

President Trump had come under pressure to stop the practice of separating families, including from GOP allies and the first lady herself, following a public outcry sparked by widespread images of children held in fence-like structures. Plans for a visit to a second facility where children housed in cages were seen by The Associated Press last week were canceled because of flooding.

The trip was intended to lend support to some of the more than 2,300 children who remain separated from their parents, Grisham said. In addition to the meetings with staff and children, Mrs. Trump also was briefed on the children’s medical care by nursing staff.

The president had insisted incorrectly that his administration had no choice but to separate families apprehended at the border because children cannot go to jail with adults who are being criminally prosecuted for crossing the border illegally. Trump had said only Congress could fix the problem and he specifically pointed a finger at Democrats.

He reversed course Wednesday by signing the order ending separations and keeping families together when they are in custody, at least for the next few weeks. The administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy of criminally prosecuting illegal border-crossers, which has led to the removal of some 2,300 children from their parents since May, remains.

When asked Thursday if the first lady supports the policy, Grisham said, “She supports that the law should be followed.”

The trip came together within the past 48 hours, Grisham said.

“She told her staff she wanted to go and we made that happen,” she said.

President Trump spilled the beans about his wife’s trip to the border before it was announced, telling reporters during a Cabinet meeting: “My wife, our first lady, is down now at the border because it really bothered her to be looking at this and seeing it, as it bothered me, as it bothered everybody at this table. We’re all bothered by it.”

Grisham said that the first lady had the full backing of her husband.

“She told him ‘I am headed down to Texas’ and he was supportive.”

Mrs. Trump, whose focus as first lady is on child well-being, appears to have been among those pushing her husband to act.

Grisham released a statement last weekend saying the first lady “hates” to see children separated from their families and “believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.”

Hours before Trump used his executive order to halt family separations, a White House official let it be known that Mrs. Trump had been voicing her opinion to the president for some time, including that he needed to help families stay together. The official refused to be identified discussing Trump’s private conversations with his wife.

Trump acknowledged Wednesday that the mother of his 12-year-old son, Barron, had been prodding him.

“My wife feels very strongly about it,” he told reporters after he signed the order.

The pair of statements from the first lady amounted to an unusual public intervention by Mrs. Trump into a policy debate. Her four former living predecessors, seemingly encouraged after Laura Bush authored a scathing opinion piece, followed with sharper commentary of their own condemning the family separations as shameful.

The last-minute trip to Texas marks the first public action by Mrs. Trump since she announced in May an initiative named “Be Best” to focus on the overall well-being of children and help teach them kindness. She had been expected to travel to promote the campaign but was sidelined a week after the announcement following surgery to treat a benign kidney condition.

Methodists, prosecutors scold Sessions over border policy

The Free Press WV

More than 600 members of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ church have denounced him over the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy that has led to children being separated from their parents at the border.

Members of the United Methodist Church from across the country signed a letter Monday accusing Sessions of child abuse, immorality and racial discrimination. They also chided Sessions for using biblical scripture to defend the policy, saying it runs counter to the church’s doctrine.

Sessions also was blasted in a separate letter signed by 75 former U.S. attorneys from both parties, who want Sessions to end the family separation policy at the border. Their letter, published Monday on Medium, said the policy results in families and children being greeted “with unexpected cruelty at the doorstep of the United States.”

“Traumatizing children by separating them from their parents as a deterrent for adult conduct is, in our view, sufficient reason to halt your policy,” they wrote, adding that the legal work required to prosecute misdemeanor illegal entry cases takes away from more significant offenses like terror-related plots, corruption and human and drug trafficking.

“As former U.S. attorneys, we know that none of these consequences — nor the policy itself — is required by law. Rather, its implementation and its execution are taking place solely at your direction, and the unfolding tragedy falls squarely on your shoulders.”

The hundreds of United Methodist Church pastors and parishioners said holding thousands of young children in mass incarceration facilities and directing staff members to take children from their parents violates the Methodists’ Book of Discipline.

Addressing “church friends” in a speech last week, Sessions said: “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent, fair application of the law is in itself a good and moral thing, and that protects the weak and protects the lawful.”

The Rev. David Wright, who spearheaded the complaint against Sessions, told USA Today that he hoped Methodist pastors could get Sessions to see the harm he is doing to immigrant children and persuade him to change his mind.

“My ideal outcome is that his pastors in church leadership who know him will speak with him,” he said, “and that in those conversations he will be challenged to think through the level of harm he is causing and have a change of heart — which is about as Methodist as you can get.”

Trump 2020 Teams With Key Players in Facebook Scandal: AP

The Free Press WV

A company run by former officials at Cambridge Analytica, the political consulting firm brought down by a scandal over how it obtained Facebook users’ private data, has quietly been working for President Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election effort, the AP has learned. The AP confirmed that at least four former Cambridge Analytica employees are affiliated with Data Propria, a new company specializing in voter and consumer targeting work similar to Cambridge Analytica’s efforts before its collapse. The company’s former head of product, Matt Oczkowski, leads the new firm, which also includes Cambridge Analytica’s former chief data scientist. Oczkowski denied a link to the Trump campaign, but acknowledged that his new firm has agreed to do 2018 campaign work for the Republican National Committee.

Oczkowski led the Cambridge Analytica data team which worked on Trump’s successful 2016 campaign. The AP learned of Data Propria’s role in Trump’s re-election effort as a result of conversations held with political contacts and prospective clients in recent weeks by Oczkowski. In one such conversation, which took place in a public place and was overheard by two AP reporters, Oczkowski said he and Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, were “doing the president’s work for 2020.“ In addition, a person familiar with Data Propria’s Washington efforts, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect business relationships, confirmed to the AP that Trump-related 2020 work already had begun at the firm along the lines of Cambridge Analytica’s 2016 work.

First lady urged Trump to keep families together

The Free Press WV

The Latest on President Donald Trump and immigration (all times local):

1:30 p.m.

First Lady Melania Trump “has been making her opinion known” to her husband that he needs to do all he can to keep families of migrants together.

A White House official says the First Lady has been encouraging President Donald Trump “for some time now,” to “do all he could to help families stay together, whether it was by working with Congress or anything he could do on his own.”

Trump said Wednesday he would sign an executive order to end family separation at the border, reversing his insistence this week that Congress had to act to solve the growing crisis.

___

1:00 p.m.

American Airlines says it asked the Trump administration not to put migrant children who have been separated from their parents on its flights.

In a statement Wednesday, American said it doesn’t know whether any migrant children have been on its flights and doesn’t want to profit from the current immigration policy of separating families.

American and other airlines have contracts to provide travel services to the U.S. government. American says, however, that the government doesn’t provide information about the passengers or their reason for travel.

In recent days several flight attendants have gone on social media to report seeing groups of children on their flights whom they believed to be children separated from their migrant families.

___

12:55 p.m.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders says he’ll believe that President Trump is actually reversing his family-separation policy only after he sees the details.

The former Democratic presidential candidate told the Associated Press on Wednesday that people would have to be “very naive to believe just what (Trump) says.” Sanders said that’s because the Republican president and his lieutenants “lie all the time.”

He noted that Trump has repeatedly blamed Democrats for the policy of separating children from their parents if they’re caught trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. Yet Trump’s Wednesday promise to sign an executive order keeping families together proves he had the power all along to resolve the issue himself.

Sanders said: “I’m glad to hear the news, but again, just because he says something doesn’t mean to say it’s going to be the case. We have to see the details.”

___

12 p.m.

President Donald Trump says he’ll be signing something “in a little while” to address the spike in the number of migrant children being separated from their families at the border.

Trump said during a White House meeting with members of Congress that, “We want to keep families together.”

The comments come amid news that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has been working on executive action that would end the separation process.

Trump also told reporters that he plans to cancel the annual congressional picnic, saying: “It doesn’t feel right to have a picnic for Congress.”

He added that: “We want to solve this immigration problem.”

___

11:45 a.m.

British Prime Minister Theresa May says the United States is wrong to separate migrant children from their parents, but has rejected calls to cancel President Donald Trump’s visit to Britain next month.

May said Wednesday that images of children in cages were “deeply disturbing. This is wrong. This is not something that we agree with.”

Opposition lawmakers rebuked May for not criticizing the Trump administration in stronger terms.

Trump is due to meet May and Queen Elizabeth II during a visit to Britain on July 13.

May said Britain and the United States had a “special, long and enduring relationship,” and she had “a range of issues” to discuss with Trump.

She said the close U.K.-U.S. bond meant “when we disagree with what they are doing, we say so.”

___

11:15 a.m.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is drafting an executive action for President Donald Trump that would direct DHS to keep families apprehended at the border together during detention.

That’s according to two people familiar with her thinking who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the effort before its official announcement.

It’s unclear whether the president is supportive of the measure.

But Nielsen is on her way to the White House to discuss the issue with the president’s team, according to one of the people.

The person says the secretary believes there is little certainty that Congress will act to fix the separation issue and is trying to find a solution. The order would ask the Department of Defense to help house the detained families.

New York Attorney General: Trump Foundation Is a Sham

The Free Press WV

New York’s new attorney general came down hard on President Trump, the foundation that bears his name, and his three eldest children on Thursday. Barbara Underwood sued all of the above, alleging that the Donald J. Trump Foundation hasn’t functioned as the charity it was set up to be, reports Bloomberg. Instead, Donald Trump used it over and over again improperly for his own business and political ventures, says Underwood, adding that Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Eric Trump didn’t fulfill their roles as board members in stopping him. President Trump quickly refuted the allegations and vowed not to settle the case. Details and developments:

  • Out of charities? Underwood not only wants to shut down the 31-year-old foundation, she wants to bar Donald Trump from leading another New York charity for 10 years and his children from serving on any nonprofit boards for a year. She’s also demanding that Donald Trump pay $2.8 million in penalties and restitution, and that the foundation’s $1 million in assets be doled out to other charities, reports the Washington Post.
  • Trump’s response: Trump took to Twitter soon after the news broke. “The sleazy New York Democrats, and their now disgraced (and run out of town) A.G. Eric Schneiderman, are doing everything they can to sue me on a foundation that took in $18,800,000 and gave out to charity more money than it took in, $19,200,000,“ he wrote. “I won’t settle this case!“ In another tweet, he says Schneiderman, who recently resigned over allegations of physical abuse, “never had the guts to bring this ridiculous case,“ but now his “disciples” have.
  • ‘Self-dealing’: “As our investigation reveals, the Trump Foundation was little more than a checkbook for payments from Mr. Trump or his businesses to nonprofits, regardless of their purpose or legality,“ says Underwood in a statement. The lawsuit, meanwhile, charges the foundation with “improper and extensive political activity, repeated and willful self-dealing transactions, and failure to follow basic fiduciary obligations or to implement even elementary corporate formalities required by law.”
  • Bigger trouble? Underwood sent letters of referral to the IRS and the FEC, alleging that the charity essentially served as an arm of the Trump campaign despite explicit rules forbidding it, reports the New York Times. Schneiderman launched his investigation in October 2016 after a Washington Post investigation about potential violations. The Times has a separate explainer on the whole situation.
  • A non-campaign example: In 2007, Trump settled a dispute with the city of Palm Beach, Florida, over code issues at his Mar-a-Lago resort. The resort was supposed to give $100,000 to a charity, but instead the money came from the Trump foundation, according to the lawsuit. (See it in full HERE.)
  • I’m on the board? The Washington Post highlights an exchange during the deposition of Trump Organization employee Allen Weisselberg, listed as the foundation’s treasurer. Asked what policy the foundation had for determining the proper use of money, he answered, “There’s no policy, just so you understand.“ When the interviewer asked him if he knew he’d been a board member for years, he answered, “I did not.“ Underwood alleged the board hadn’t met since 1999, reports Politico.

Creator of the Trump-Kim ‘Movie Trailer’ Steps Forward

“Woke up to 100’s of e-mails and calls from all over the world. ... Crazzzzy day.“ Such was the experience Tuesday of Mark Castaldo, the man who founded California-based Destiny Pictures Productions. Behind the flurry of interest was the four-minute “movie trailer” that President Trump played for Kim Jong Un (watch it HERE); it’s credited to a company of that name. Except Castaldo had nothing to do with it. It was apparently an aspirational name dreamed up by the actual makers of the video: the National Security Council, reports the Guardian. A rep for the NSC did confirm the video originated with the NSC but wouldn’t comment on the choice of wording. A former NSC rep tells the paper, “From my understanding, they were just using ‘Destiny Pictures’ as a play on words. It just so happens there’s a studio by that name in California.“

Trump himself addressed the video Tuesday and played it for reporters, noting it was brought to Singapore on an iPad. “I showed it to them today. .... Toward the end of the meeting. I think he loved it. ... I thought they were fascinated by it. I thought it was well done. I showed it to you because that is the future.“ Writing for Forbes, Michael Shellenberger saw value in the video, writing, “As cheesy as the video is, it’s precisely the vision of a high-energy planet that poor nations generally, and North Korea particularly, need right now.“ The New York Times rounded up plenty of feedback good (a “clever move”) and bad (“I was gobsmacked”) HERE, but it also went a step further. Its Opinions video team created a spoof of Trump’s video that it calls a “more honest makeover”; watch it HERE.

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