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  • Watchdog caught in political crossfire on his Russia report

    WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department’s internal watchdog was caught in a political tug of war Wednesday as Republican and Democratic senators used his report on the origins of the Russia investigation involving Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign to support their views that it was a legitimate probe or a badly bungled farce.

    Inspector General Michael Horowitz testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about his findings that while the FBI had a legitimate basis to launch the investigation and was not motivated by political bias in doing so, there were major flaws in how that investigation was conducted.

    The hearing was the latest reflection of Washington’s intense politicization. Senators from both parties praised a detailed, nuanced report by a widely respected, nonpartisan investigator, while pressing him to call attention to findings that back their positions.

    Horowitz himself tried to strike a balance. He insisted that the FBI should not feel comforted by his findings and pointed out the absence of evidence for some of the most sensational claims by Trump and his supporters: that the investigation into ties between his presidential campaign and Russia had been opened for political reasons, that agents had infiltrated his election bid or that former President Barack Obama had directed a wiretap of the Republican candidate.

    Still, his opening statement was overwhelmingly critical of the investigation, and he returned time and again throughout the hearing to serious problems that he said underscored the need for policy changes at the FBI.

    Among them, he said, were flaws and omissions in how the FBI prepared its applications for court approval to eavesdrop on a former Trump campaign aide, as he rebuked officials for failing to update judges as they learned new information that undercut some of their original assertions.

    “It doesn’t vindicate anybody at the FBI who touched (the applications), including leadership,” Horowitz said. That was a rejection of the views of former FBI Director James Comey, who had claimed vindication for the bureau based on Horowitz’s conclusions.

    Republicans and Democrats pressed Horowitz on whether he believed the FBI had acted with partisan bias. His response was hedged: He said the multitude of errors during the surveillance warrant process, which included the altering of an email by an FBI lawyer, was so “inexplicable” and yielded no obvious explanations that he could not be confident about the intention.

    Even so, Horowitz also repeatedly noted under questioning from Democrats that he had not found that the FBI had targeted Trump for investigation for political reasons. The investigation was opened for a proper cause, he said, after the FBI received information that a Trump campaign aide had been told that Russia had information that could hurt the presidential campaign of Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

    “It finds that it was a properly predicated investigation based on the rules on the FBI,” Horowitz said of his report.

    Trump and his supporters are counting on different conclusions from a separate investigation led by John Durham, a prosecutor selected by Attorney General William Barr to investigate the early days of the Russia investigation. Durham issued a statement disputing some of Horowitz’s conclusions. But Horowitz said they had a relatively technical disagreement — that the evidence was sufficient to open a preliminary investigation but not a full one. The latter gives the FBI more intrusive tools for an investigation.

    Horowitz’s report identified significant problems with applications to receive and renew warrants to eavesdrop on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page in 2016 and 2017. Investigators were concerned about Page’s ties to Russia, but never accused him of wrongdoing.

    Horowitz told senators that the FBI failed to follow its own standards for accuracy and completeness when it sought a warrant from the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor Page’s communications.

    “We are deeply concerned that so many basic and fundamental errors were made by three separate, handpicked investigative teams, on one of the most sensitive FBI investigations, after the matter had been briefed to the highest levels within the FBI,” Horowitz said.

    The report detailed 17 errors and omissions during those wiretap applications, including failing to tell the court when questions were raised about the reliability of some of the information that it had presented to receive the warrants.

    Those problems were especially alarming because the warrant to monitor Page “related so closely to an ongoing presidential campaign” and “even though those involved with the investigation knew that their actions were likely to be subjected to close scrutiny.”

    Horowitz’s findings that the FBI was justified in launching the investigation has been criticized by Barr, a vocal Trump defender. On Tuesday, Barr said the Russia investigation was based on a “bogus narrative,” and he declined to rule out that agents may have acted in bad faith.


  • Secretary of State Pompeo addresses NAS Pensacola shooting

    WASHINGTON, D.C. (CBS) — Secretary of State Pompeo addressed the Pensacola shooting that took place earlier in the week and offered his condolences to those involved in the shooting.

    He also condemned the attack on the Baghram air base in Afghanistan that killed more than two dozen civilians injured five coalition groups and  people and said, “The attack severely damaged the hospital that was being rebuilt for the Afghan people – this is precisely the kind of activity that we are working to reduce.”

    “I want to acknowledge the Navy Personnel that were shot down last week in Pensacola and I extend my personal condolences to families and the communities around Pensacola,” said Pompeo, “I want to condemn this morning’s coordinated terrorist attack near Baghram air force base in the strongest possible terms. more than four dozen civilians were killed and initial reports show that there were five coalition troops that show that were injured in the attacks as well. The attack severely damaged the hospital that was being rebuilt for the Afghan people – this is precisely the kind of activity that we are working to reduce.”


  • Judiciary panel takes first steps toward impeachment vote

    WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Judiciary Committee took the first steps Wednesday evening toward voting on articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, beginning a marathon two-day session to consider the historic charges.

    The Judiciary meeting is to mark up, or amend, the two articles of impeachment that Democrats introduced Tuesday. Those articles charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress related to his dealings with Ukraine.

    The articles aren’t expected to be changed, though, as Democrats are unlikely to accept any amendments proposed by Republicans unified against Trump’s impeachment.

    Democrats have already agreed to the language, which span only nine pages and say that Trump acted “corruptly” and “betrayed the nation” when he asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and the 2016 U.S. election. Hamstrung in the minority, Republicans wouldn’t have the votes to make changes without support from at least some Democrats.

    The Wednesday evening session of the 41-member panel is expected to last several hours, with opening statements from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Votes won’t come until Thursday, when the committee will consider amendments and likely hold a final vote to send the articles to the House floor.

    House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler opened the prime-time hearing to make a final argument for impeachment and to urge his Republican colleagues to reconsider. He said the committee should consider whether the evidence shows that Trump committed these acts, if they rise to the level of impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors and what the consequences are if they fail to act.

    “When his time has passed, when his grip on our politics is gone, when our country returns, as surely it will, to calmer times and stronger leadership, history will look back on our actions here today,” Nadler said. “How would you be remembered?”

    Republicans are also messaging to the American people — and to Trump himself — as they argue that the articles show Democrats are out to get the president. Most Republicans contend, as Trump does, that he has done nothing wrong, and all of them are expected to vote against the articles.

    The top Republican on the panel, Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, argued that Democrats are impeaching the president because they think they can’t beat him in the 2020 election.

    Democrats think the only thing they need is a “32-second commercial saying we impeached him,” Collins said.

    “That’s the wrong reason to impeach somebody, and the American people are seeing through this,” Collins said. “But at the end of the day, my heart breaks for a committee that has trashed this institution.”

    On Wednesday, Republicans are expected to offer an array of amendments and make procedural motions, even if they know none of them will pass. The Judiciary panel is made up of some of the most partisan members on both sides, and Republicans will launch animated arguments in Trump’s defense.

    Earlier Wednesday, Collins said the GOP would offer amendments but said they’d mainly be about allowing more time to debate.

    “Remember you can’t fix bad,” Collins said. “These are bad, you’re not going to fix it.”

    In the formal articles announced Tuesday, the Democrats said Trump enlisted a foreign power in “corrupting” the U.S. election process and endangered national security by asking Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, including Biden, while withholding U.S. military aid as leverage. That benefited Russia over the U.S. as America’s ally fought Russian aggression, the Democrats said.

    Trump then obstructed Congress by ordering current and former officials to defy House subpoenas for testimony and by blocking access to documents, the charges say.

    Trump tweeted that to impeach a president “who has done NOTHING wrong, is sheer Political Madness.”

    The House is expected to vote on the articles next week, in the days before Christmas. That would send them to the Senate for a 2020 trial.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that he would be “totally surprised″ if there were the necessary 67 votes in the chamber to convict Trump, and signaled options for a swift trial. He said no decision had been made about whether to call witnesses.


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