January 16, 2020

Federal prosecutors in Washington recently began investigating the 2017 leak of classified information to reporters at The New York Times and The Washington Post, and appear to be focusing on whether former FBI Director James Comey was involved, people with knowledge of the matter told the Times.

The Post and Times articles both mentioned a Russian government document that was obtained by Dutch intelligence officials and passed along to the FBI. The existence of the document and its collection method were both highly classified secrets. The document, which appeared to be part of a Russian disinformation campaign, played a role in Comey's decision to announce in July 2016 that the FBI did not plan on recommending Hillary Clinton face charges for her use of a private email server while secretary of state.

Typically, leaks of classified information are investigated as soon as they appear in the media, not several years later. It's unclear if there is a grand jury, the number of witnesses interviewed, or what prompted the investigation, although the timing raises the question of whether it is motivated by politics, the Times notes. Federal prosecutors in New York already investigated Comey after he asked his personal lawyer and friend Daniel Richman to give a Times reporter contents of the memo he wrote about his interactions with Trump. It was retroactively determined that the memo contained classified information, but prosecutors declined to charge Comey with a crime. Catherine Garcia

January 6, 2020

Vice President Mike Pence plans on explaining the government's policy on Iran during a speech next Monday in Washington, a White House official told Reuters.

Tensions are high between the United States and Iran, following the death of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani last week. Soleimani was killed in an airstrike in Baghdad authorized by President Trump.

Pence will address the crowd at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies' National Security Summit, and will focus on the differences between the Iranian people and their government, the official told Reuters. Catherine Garcia

December 18, 2019

The White House is considering asking three of President Trump's most ardent supporters in the House — Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), and Mike Johnson (R-La.) — to join the defense team for his Senate trial, CNN reports.

The trio met with White House Counsel Pat Cipollone on Tuesday, a person familiar with the matter said. CNN reports the White House is also mulling asking a fourth Trump defender, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), to join the team.

One strategy under consideration is asking the men to provide a minority response to the House managers' report. Catherine Garcia

November 25, 2019

President Trump is hoping that three men he recently granted clemency to will join him on the campaign trail in 2020, The Daily Beast reports.

On Nov. 15, Trump cleared three servicemen who were accused or convicted of war crimes — Clint Lorance, Mathew Golsteyn, and Edward Gallagher. Two people with knowledge of the matter said Trump has been telling people close to him that he would love for the men to participate in his re-election campaign, either attending rallies or speaking at next summer's Republican convention.

In 2010, Lorance, a former army lieutenant, ordered soldiers to fire on three unarmed Afghan men riding a motorcycle; two died. He was found guilty of second-degree murder in 2013, and sentenced to 19 years in prison. Lorance was released from a military prison after Trump's pardon. Golsteyn, a former Green Beret major, was set to go on trial for the murder of an unarmed Afghan man, who was believed to be a Taliban bomb maker. He pleaded not guilty earlier this year.

Gallagher, a Navy SEAL, was accused of murdering a teenage Islamic State fighter in 2017. He was acquitted this summer, but was found guilty of posing for a photo with the corpse. Gallagher was demoted in rank, but Trump reversed the decision. Several senior Pentagon officials opposed Trump's decision to grant clemency to the three men, The Daily Beast reports, and the Navy planned on having a review board decide whether Gallagher should lose his Trident pin.

Trump tweeted that this panel shouldn't convene, but Navy Secretary Richard Spencer disagreed. On Sunday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper claimed that Spencer tried to set up a secret deal with White House officials, which would allow Gallagher to retire with his full rank and pension, and this led to Esper asking for Spencer's resignation. Several people told The Daily Beast Spencer holds the opposite position, and they don't think Esper's account is true. Catherine Garcia

November 24, 2019

In response to the House impeachment inquiry against President Trump, the White House Counsel's Office started a review of his decision to freeze military aid to Ukraine, and discovered hundreds of documents showing efforts after the fact to justify the move, three people familiar with the matter told The Washington Post.

Congress approved nearly $400 million in security aid for Ukraine, but Trump ordered a hold on it in mid-July. The impeachment inquiry is focusing on whether Trump held the aid, which Ukraine needed to fight off Russian military aggression, in exchange for Ukraine launching investigations into his political rivals.

Two officials told the Post that Trump decided to put a hold on the aid without considering the legal justification. In early August, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney asked acting White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Russell Vought via email for the legal rationale for freezing the aid, the Post reports. Over email, Vought and his staffers argued that it was legal, while State Department and National Security Council officials disagreed.

Mulvaney sent the email a few days after the White House Counsel's Office learned that an anonymous CIA official had complained about Trump's July 25 call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, when he asked him to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, as well as an unfounded theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election.

Just one person from the OMB has testified as part of the impeachment inquiry, career official Mark Sandy. People familiar with his deposition said he told lawmakers the delay in aid was highly unusual, and he had never before seen political appointees in the OMB become involved in reviewing an aid package. Read more about the review — and why White House lawyers are concerned some documents could embarrass Trump — at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

November 18, 2019

Two prison guards assigned to watch accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein on the night he took his own life are expected to be charged with falsifying prison records, a person with knowledge of the matter told The Daily Beast on Monday.

Epstein was arrested on July 6 and held in New York City's Metropolitan Correctional Center while awaiting trial on charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy. Epstein was in a special unit, and while he was no longer on suicide watch, guards were supposed to check on him every 30 minutes. On Aug. 10, he was found hanging from a bed sheet in his cell, and the New York City medical examiner confirmed that his death was a suicide.

Federal investigators have been trying to determine how Epstein was able to take his own life, and there have been multiple reports that the unnamed guards fell asleep on the job and altered records to cover their tracks. The charges against the guards could be filed as soon as Tuesday, The Daily Beast reports. Catherine Garcia

November 12, 2019

President Trump is angry at Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community's inspector general, due to his handling of the Ukraine whistleblower complaint, and has repeatedly brought up firing him, four people with knowledge of the matter told The New York Times.

The whistleblower flagged a July 25 phone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his political rivals. The complaint was filed in August, and after Atkinson found it to be credible, he forwarded the report to Joseph Maguire, the government's top intelligence official. Under the law, Maguire was required to turn the complaint over to Congress, but he did not provide it right away.

Atkinson told lawmakers about the complaint, and amid pressure from Democrats, Maguire finally gave it to Congress. Maguire said the Justice Department told him Atkinson didn't have authority to deliver the complaint because Trump is not a member of the intelligence community. Trump appointed Atkinson in 2017, and now he thinks he is disloyal and conspiring with Democrats, the Times reports.

Recently, Trump has mentioned several times to aides that he wants to fire Atkinson, but two people familiar with the matter told the Times they believe he is just venting, not seriously contemplating getting rid of him. Inspectors general can be fired by the president, but only if they are deemed incompetent or there's a case of misconduct. Catherine Garcia

November 12, 2019

After attending a private dinner last year with President Trump, Lev Parnas told associates that he personally discussed Ukraine with Trump, people familiar with the matter told The Washington Post.

This is the first indication that Parnas and his business partner, Igor Fruman, directly interacted with Trump about Ukraine, the Post notes. During the April 2018 dinner at Trump's Washington hotel, held for major donors to a pro-Trump super PAC, Parnas told Trump that he believed then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was hostile to the president and his interests, the Post reports. Parnas told associates that immediately, Trump suggested Yovanovitch should be fired.

Parnas and Fruman later began working with Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to dig up on dirt on Democrats in Ukraine, and a former senior administration official told the Post that Giuliani regularly shared with Trump information he received from the pair. Trump has said he does not know Parnas or Fruman, and it's "possible I have a picture with them because I have a picture with everybody," but the official told the Post: "It's just not true that he had no idea who these guys were. He knew Lev particularly."

Trump's July discussion with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky about investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son is what launched the House impeachment inquiry. Last month, Parnas and Fruman were arrested and charged with funneling foreign money into U.S. campaigns. For more on the Parnas-Trump connection and Giuliani's role in the whole matter, visit The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

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