Republican Lawmakers Grill Comey on Leadership of Russia Probe

Republican lawmakers on Wednesday confronted former FBI Director James Comey about his oversight of the Trump-Russia investigation during a politically charged hearing that focused attention on problems with the probe that have become a rallying cry for President Donald Trump’s supporters.Comey, making his first appearance before Congress since a harshly critical inspector general report on the investigation, acknowledged under questioning that the FBI’s process for conducting surveillance on a former Trump campaign adviser was “sloppy” and “embarrassing.” He said he would not have certified the surveillance had he known then what he knows now about applications the FBI submitted in 2016 and 2017 to eavesdrop on the aide, Carter Page.The questioning of Comey, conducted with the election just weeks away, underscores the extent to which the FBI’s investigation four years ago into potential coordination between Trump’s campaign and Russia remains front and center in the minds of Republican lawmakers, who see an opening to rally support for the president and cast him as the victim of biased law enforcement. The hearing was part of a review of the Russia probe by the GOP-led Senate Judiciary Committee.Just a part of investigationThough Comey acknowledged the FBI’s shortcomings in the surveillance of Page, he also described that aspect of the probe as a “slice” of the broader Russia investigation, which he defended as legitimate and valid.But those answers, including Comey’s repeated assertions that he had been unaware at the time of the extent of problems, frustrated Republicans who point to the surveillance flaws to try to discredit the overall Russia investigation.Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., asks questions to former FBI Director James Comey, during an oversight hearing to examine the Crossfire Hurricane Investigation, Sept. 30, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington.A Justice Department inspector general report identified errors and omissions in each of the four applications that the FBI submitted to obtain warrants to surveil Page, who was never charged with any wrongdoing. The FBI relied in part on Democratic-funded research in applying for those warrants. The inspector general report and documents released in recent months have raised questions about the reliability of that research.The FBI relied on that documentation “over and over and over” again, even though it was “fundamentally unsound,” said the Judiciary Committee chairman, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.’That’s the way it goes'”What do we do? We just say, ‘Well, that was bad, that’s the way it goes’? Does anybody get fired? Does anybody go to jail?” Graham said. “To my Democratic friends, if it happened to us, it can happen to you.”Comey was fired by Trump in May 2017 but has remained a prominent and complicated character for Republicans and Democrats alike. Republicans have joined Trump in heaping scorn on Comey, but Democrats have not embraced him either, angered by his public statements made during the Hillary Clinton email case that they believe contributed to her loss.Democrats lamented the backward-looking nature of Wednesday’s hearing, saying the FBI had good reason to investigate contacts between Trump associates and Russia and that the committee’s time could be better spent on other matters.Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 30, 2020, to examine the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation.”Most people think we should be talking about other things, except maybe President Trump,” said Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.Comey defended the investigation, which was opened after a campaign adviser boasted that he had heard Russia had damaging information about Clinton. The probe examined multiple contacts between Russians and Trump associates during the 2016 campaign. Comey noted that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation resulted in criminal charges against dozens of people.”In the main, it was done by the book. It was appropriate, and it was essential that it be done,” Comey said.He later added: “The overall investigation was very important. The Page slice of it? Far less, given the scope.”But Comey, the latest high-profile former official from the FBI or Justice Department to testify in Graham’s investigation, acknowledged “embarrassing” problems in the handling of surveillance applications. He said had he known then about the problems, he would not have certified the surveillance “without a much fuller discussion” within the FBI.”I’m not looking to shirk responsibility,” Comey said. “The director is responsible.”Legitimate probeA Justice Department inspector general report did not find evidence of partisan bias and concluded the investigation was opened for a legitimate reason. But Republican lawmakers have seized on the critical aspects of the watchdog report to cast broader doubt on the Russia investigation. They have also released documents they say support the conclusion that the probe was flawed.On Tuesday, Graham revealed that he had received declassified information on the probe from national intelligence Director John Ratcliffe, a Trump loyalist, even though Ratcliffe has said he does not know if it is true.In a letter to Graham made public Tuesday, Ratcliffe said that in late July 2016, U.S. intelligence agencies obtained “insight” into Russian spycraft alleging that Clinton had “approved a campaign plan to stir up a scandal against” Trump.But Ratcliffe added that American intelligence agencies do “not know the accuracy of this allegation or the extent to which the Russian intelligence analysis may reflect exaggeration or fabrication.”Comey brushed aside questions about that document, saying, “I don’t understand Mr. Ratcliffe’s letter well enough to comment on it. It’s confusing.”The Senate panel has already heard from Rod Rosenstein and Sally Yates, both former deputy attorneys general, and has scheduled testimony from ex-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
 

your ad here

read more

Notorious Hate Group Proud Boys Celebrates Trump’s Debate Comments

The Proud Boys are fired up.The notorious hate group has been celebrating since President Donald Trump refused to directly disavow them and other white supremacists during Tuesday night’s presidential debate in Cleveland, Ohio.Trump, who has been criticized for never explicitly denouncing right-wing extremism, was asked by debate moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News if he would condemn white supremacy.“Who would you like me to condemn?” Trump asked before Democratic challenger Joe Biden mentioned the Proud Boys, a pro-Trump right-wing group. “The Proud Boys? Stand back and stand by,” Trump responded cryptically.“But I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what,” Trump continued. ”Somebody’s gotta do something about antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem, this is a left-wing problem.”Prominent leaders of the Proud Boys, who frequently appear at Trump rallies, took that as a ringing endorsement of their fight against anti-fascist activists known as antifa.On Instagram, Enrique Tarrio, a well-known Proud Boys leader, wrote that he was “excited about the mention on the debate stage.”“Him telling the ProudBoys to stand back and standby is what we have ALWAYS done,” Tarrio wrote.Joe Biggs, another Proud Boys organizer, went further.”Trump basically said to go [expletive] them up!” Biggs wrote.  “This makes me so happy.”Members of the Proud Boys cheer on stage as they and other right-wing demonstrators rally, Sept. 26, 2020, in Portland, Ore.Apparent shiftIn the wake of widespread criticism of his refusal to denounce white supremacy, Trump on Wednesday appeared to shift his stance.”I don’t know who the Proud Boys are,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “Whoever they are, they need to stand down.”Asked if he denounced white supremacy, Trump said, “I’ve always denounced any form, any form of any of that you have to denounce.”Among Proud Boys, the apparent reversal in Trump’s position was anticipated and is unlikely to diminish their enthusiasm.”Don’t be surprised if he makes a statement on us in the upcoming days to appease the masses,” Biggs wrote Tuesday night. “But he knows we are the good guys.”Biden was highly critical of Trump’s debate performance. Asked by a reporter in Ohio whether he had any advice for the Proud Boys, the former vice president responded, “Cease and desist.”The controversy comes as Trump continues to blame the violence at racial justice protests around the country almost exclusively on antifa, contradicting his own FBI director’s assessment that violent white supremacy remains the biggest domestic national security threat.Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, said far-right white supremacists are thrilled with what they see as Trump’s endorsement of the Proud Boys — who are making money off Trump’s comment by selling T-shirts.“And all the talk in those sectors is about how great this is, how they’re ready to support the president,” Beirich said. “President Trump basically gave the Proud Boys a new slogan.”Members of the Proud Boys and other right-wing demonstrators rally, Sept. 26, 2020, in Portland, Ore.Who are the Proud Boys?The Proud Boys describe themselves as a drinking club of “Western chauvinists.” But extremism watchdogs say that’s just a guise for what is at its core a misogynistic, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant group. Although the group has never advocated a white ethnostate championed by white nationalists, its bigotry is just as extreme, Beirich said.”The organization itself says it stands for Western chauvinism, sometimes Western civilization, which are code words for the white supremacist movement,” Beirich said.In an FILE – Members of a group wearing shirts with the logo of the far-right Proud Boys group argue with counterprotesters during a small protest against Washington state’s stay-at-home orders, May 1, 2020, in downtown Seattle.InterminglingJason Kessler, a former member of Proud Boys, was the main organizer of the 2017 far-right “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The rally, which brought together neo-Nazis, anti-government militiamen and members of the Klan, ended in the death of a counterprotester. Conversely, in recent years, far-right nationalist groups have attended rallies organized by Proud Boys.“We believe that there are streams of white supremacy and white nationalism that run deep through what they do,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.Last year, a Connecticut police officer was forced to retire after the Lawyers Committee exposed him as a Proud Boys member, Clarke said.While Proud Boys publicly disavow violence, their members have engaged in violent acts over the years.FBI Director Christopher Wray testified on Capitol Hill last week that white supremacists and anti-government extremists have been responsible for most of the recent deadly attacks by extremist groups within the United States.Last year, two Proud Boys were convicted of assault and riot charges in connection with beating up antifa activists in New York City in 2018.This year, members of the Proud Boys have taken part in violent clashes between right-wing and left-wing activists in Portland, Oregon, and several other cities. On August 22, Proud Boys fought with left-wing counterprotesters in Portland, engaging in multiple acts of violence, according to ADL.
 

your ad here

read more

Hundreds in US Charged in $6B Medical Fraud Schemes

The U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday announced charges against 345 people for committing over $6 billion in medical fraud. Those charged include more than 100 doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who filed fraudulent claims to federal health care programs and private insurers, according to the Justice Department. The bulk of the fraud — $4.5 billion — was connected to telemedicine, which has surged during the pandemic. For example, the Cleveland Clinic went from averaging 5,000 telemedicine visits a month before the pandemic to 200,000 visits just in April, the Associated Press reported. “Telemedicine can foster efficient, high-quality care when practiced appropriately and lawfully. Unfortunately, bad actors attempt to abuse telemedicine services and leverage aggressive marketing techniques to mislead beneficiaries about their health care needs and bill the government for illegitimate services,” U.S. Health and Human Services Deputy Inspector General Gary Cantrell said in a statement. “Unfortunately, audacious schemes such as these are prevalent and often harmful.”  FILE – The U.S. Department of Justice headquarters building is seen in Washington, July 13, 2018.According to the Justice Department, some telemedicine company executives allegedly paid doctors and nurse practitioners to order unnecessary medical equipment, medical tests and pain medications without interacting with a patient or with only a brief telephone conversation with a patient they had never seen.  “Durable medical equipment companies, genetic testing laboratories, and pharmacies then purchased those orders in exchange for illegal kickbacks and bribes and submitted false and fraudulent claims to Medicare and other government insurers,” according to a statement from the Justice Department. In addition to telemedicine fraud, other defendants were charged with more than $845 million worth of fraud related to substance abuse facilities, and more than $806 million was connected to other health care fraud, including the illegal distribution of opioids. “This nationwide enforcement operation is historic in both its size and scope, alleging billions of dollars in health care fraud across the country,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt said in a statement. “These cases hold accountable those medical professionals and others who have exploited health care benefit programs and patients for personal gain.” 
 

your ad here

read more

Zimbabwe Officials Blame Bacterial Disease for Elephant Deaths

Zimbabwe parks authority officials say they suspect a bacterial disease called hemorrhagic septicemia is behind the recent deaths of at least 34 elephants in the northwestern part of the country.The elephant deaths, which began in late August, come soon after hundreds of elephants died in neighboring Botswana in mysterious circumstances. Authorities subsequently blamed the deaths on toxins produced by another type of bacterium.FILE – A combination photo shows dead elephants in Okavango Delta, Botswana, May-June, 2020. (Photographs obtained by Reuters)Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority Director-General Fulton Mangwanya said Tuesday they have discovered 34 dead elephants, but suspect more may be found.  The elephants were found lying on their stomachs, suggesting a sudden death.Mangwanya said the dead elephants were discovered in an area between the Hwange National Park and Victoria Falls in west-central Zimbabwe, suggesting to him the outbreak has been isolated.Mangwanya said postmortems on some of the elephants showed inflamed livers and other organs. Samples have been sent to the UK and South Africa to confirm the type of disease.Experts say that Zimbabwe’s current elephant population could be close to 90,000.Elephants in Botswana and parts of Zimbabwe are at historically high levels — roughly half of the continent’s 400,000 elephants, according to estimates — but elsewhere on the continent, especially in forested areas, many populations are severely depleted, researchers say. 
 

your ad here

read more

US Debate Commission Promises More ‘Structure’ for Next Trump-Biden Encounters

The independent U.S. presidential election debate agency said Wednesday that it would move soon to tighten the format of the encounters after critics panned Tuesday’s first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden as the worst in American political history.The two candidates frequently interrupted each other or talked at the same time, with debate moderator Chris Wallace, a Fox News journalist, rebuking Trump for failing to adhere to the rules of the debate to allow both candidates to finish answering questions unimpeded.The Commission on Presidential Debates said the debate debacle showed the need for “additional structure” to the format “to ensure a more orderly discussion.”The commission commended Wallace for his “professionalism” for his handling of the chaotic affair on a debate stage at a university in the Midwestern city of Cleveland, Ohio. But the agency said it would soon impose new restrictions before the second and third Trump-Biden debates set for October 15 and 22.Some critics of the first Trump-Biden encounter suggested cutting off the microphone of either Trump or Biden when the other was speaking.Both claim successBoth Trump and Biden claimed they were successful in Tuesday’s encounter and then headed back out on to the campaign trail Wednesday, with the November 3 election now less than five weeks away.“I thought the debate last night was great. We’ve gotten tremendous reviews on it,” Trump told reporters as he departed for Minnesota. “I thought it was a great evening. It was an exciting evening.”Trump was headed to Minnesota, a Midwestern battleground state that he narrowly lost in 2016 but hopes to recapture against Biden. Polls show the president trailing in the state and throughout the country. Trump was to attend a campaign fundraising event at a private home near Minneapolis, the state’s biggest city, then head to Duluth, the westernmost Great Lakes shipping port in the U.S., for a rally with supporters.   U.S. President Donald Trump disembarks Air Force One upon arriving at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, after returning from the first presidential debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in Cleveland, Ohio, Sept. 30, 2020.Biden started a campaign train trip through parts of Pennsylvania and Ohio, two political battleground states that Trump won four years ago against Democrat Hillary Clinton but where polls show Biden has pulled ahead of the president. Biden is especially attempting to recapture blue-collar workers in the two states that historically have voted for Democrats but turned to Trump in 2016. Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at Amtrak’s Alliance Train Station, in Alliance, Ohio, Sept. 30, 2020.After pillorying each other in Tuesday’s debate as unfit to lead the country for the next four years, the two candidates resumed their attacks Wednesday on Twitter.  Trump claimed, “Nobody wants Sleepy Joe as a leader, including the Radical Left (which he lost last night!).” The president said Biden “disrespected” Bernie Sanders by “effectively calling him a loser!” Sanders, the Vermont senator who is the leader of the Democrats’ progressive wing, was the last remaining Democratic contender opposing Biden for the party’s presidential nomination before conceding the race to him earlier this year. Nobody wants Sleepy Joe as a leader, including the Radical Left (which he lost last night!). He disrespected Bernie, effectively calling him a loser!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) Debate moderator and Fox News anchor Chris Wallace directs the first 2020 presidential campaign debate between U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, in Cleveland, Ohio, Sept. 29, 2020.More than an hour into the debate, moderator Chris Wallace, a Fox News journalist, rebuked the president for not adhering to the debate rules agreed to ahead of time by the two campaigns that each candidate would allow the other to finish answering questions unimpeded. Trump and Biden are set to debate each other twice more in the coming weeks, on October 15 and 22, after next week’s debate between their respective vice-presidential running mates, Vice President Mike Pence and California Senator Kamala Harris. It is not immediately clear what could prevent another verbal free-for-all encounter between Trump and Biden, short of moderators cutting off the microphones to let Trump and Biden answer questions without the other interrupting.  University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato posted a blunt message on his Twitter account:  “CANCEL THE REMAINING PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES.”CANCEL THE REMAINING PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES. It is impossible to have an orderly, productive exchange with Donald Trump. Stop pretending otherwise. The front page of French weekly newspaper Le Point displays a photo of President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden with a headline reading “America on a volcano, (and Us too)” in Paris, Sept. 30, 2020.Veteran Washington Post political analyst Dan Balz said, “Judging the debate by traditional standards gives the evening more credit than it deserves. For most people, this was unwatchable, a grab-the-remote, change-the-channel moment in a forum that in past election years has served the country well. What two more debates like this will accomplish is hard to imagine, other than to heighten tensions in a country already on edge.”  Markus Feldenkirchen of the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel posted on Twitter, saying, “The debate was a joke, a low point, a shame for the country. Roaring, insults, two over-70s who interrupt each other like 5-year-olds — and a moderator who loses all control. The trigger, of course: Trump’s uncouth, undignified behavior.” 
 

your ad here

read more

German Chancellor Imposes New COVID-19 Restrictions

After consulting with Germany’s 16 regional governors, German Chancellor Angela Merkel Wednesday announced new restrictions on the size of gatherings to prevent the country’s coronavirus infection figures from accelerating.At a Berlin news briefing following her virtual meeting with the governors, Merkel said she wants to act regionally and address the virus where it is surging rather than shut down the whole country, which she said should be avoided at all costs.  “In order to achieve this, we must have minimum standards for certain frequencies of infections,” said Merkel.The German chancellor said in places where there are more than 35 new infections per 100,000 residents recorded in a week, the number of people attending gatherings at public or rented facilities should be limited to 50 and no more than 25 should attend events in private homes.She said that where infections hit at least 50 per 100,000 residents, those figures should be cut to 25 and 10 respectively.Merkel said she expects the rate of infection to rise as the change in weather means more people will spend time inside in the coming months. She said the number of daily infections could rise to 19,200 in three months if the rate of infection continues as it has over the past three months.  “This underlines the urgency for us to act,” said Merkel.The chancellor also discouraged travel to high risk areas in Europe in the coming months, saying staying in Germany was a good option. She said low risk European nations such as Italy might be a good option, noting the number of COVID-19 cases are very low there now and “they are acting very carefully.”Johns Hopkins University reports Germany has over 289,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and just over 9,450 deaths.

your ad here

read more