CNN reported Monday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions did in fact receive guidance from the FBI instructing him not to disclose contacts with foreign officials if they occurred as part of his activities as a senator. A spokesperson for Sessions had made that claim in May after the attorney general faced fierce criticism for not listing conversations he had with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, but Monday's report is the first indication by the FBI that it gave such instruction.
The email, sent in March and obtained by CNN, shows an unnamed FBI agent telling an aide to Sessions that he could leave foreign contacts made as a senator off of his security clearance application. Sessions' spokesperson said earlier this year that he had been "instructed not to list meetings with foreign dignitaries and their staff connected with his Senate activities."
During his confirmation hearings in January, Sessions told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he was not aware of any contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, stating unambiguously, "I did not have communications with the Russians." That claim was called into dispute in March when The Washington Post reported that Sessions had met with Kislyak in September 2016. A spokesperson for Sessions said that "there was absolutely nothing misleading about [Sessions'] answer" because he had met with Kislyak as part of his duties as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and the hearing question had specifically concerned acts undertaken as a surrogate for the Trump campaign.
While the newly released email does give Sessions cover regarding his foreign contacts disclosures, it does not clarify why Sessions does not remember talking to Kislyak at all, nor his presence at a meeting where a Trump campaign aide suggested setting up a meeting with Russian government officials, as he has claimed. Kelly O'Meara Morales
Cambridge Analytica reached out to WikiLeaks' Julian Assange about Hillary Clinton's leaked emails in early June 2016, as the company was in contract talks with the Trump campaign, The Wall Street Journal reports. In July 2016, WikiLeaks began posting thousands of Clinton- and DNC-related emails.
The Wall Street Journal reports that while Federal Elections Commission records show that Cambridge Analytica was not paid by the Trump campaign until July 29, the company had already sent a small team to work with Trump's digital operations staff in the first week of June. The contract between Cambridge Analytica and the Trump campaign was signed on June 23.
A Washington Post article published two weeks before Trump's surprise victory last November claimed that within Trump Tower, Cambridge Analytica was "embraced as a vital part of its plan" for a comeback victory. Cambridge Analytica is partially owned by Republican mega-donor Steve Mercer and his daughter Rebekah Mercer. Breitbart News boss and former White House official Stephen Bannon previously sat on Cambridge Analytica's board of directors. Kelly O'Meara Morales
Amid scrutiny over personal email use, Kushner reportedly re-routed accounts to the Trump Organization
Internet registration records show that shortly after Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump's private internet domain became public, with the news that they had corresponded with White House colleagues using personal email accounts, those accounts were re-routed to computers run by the Trump Organization, USA Today reports.
In late September, after Special Counsel Robert Mueller requested the White House send over records for the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, it came out that President Trump's son-in-law and daughter, both senior advisers, used private email to conduct work business. The email accounts were re-routed a few days later. A spokesman for the couple told USA Today their accounts never passed through or resided in the Trump Organization's email server, and for security reasons, they used a "filtering system" to block viruses and malware.
USA Today says mail exchange records from March show the domain, which Kushner set up in December, directed emails to a system run by Microsoft, and updated records from the end of September show they now go to two mail servers used by the Trump Organization. Cybersecurity experts and lawyers are questioning why they did this, and if any employees of the Trump Organization might now have access to emails about official White House matters. This "certainly creates the appearance of potential impropriety," former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti told USA Today. The Trump Organization did not respond to requests for comment. Catherine Garcia
Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have a third email account on their private domain that is now being reviewed by White House officials, three people with knowledge of the matter told Politico Monday.
It was reported in September that President Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law and senior adviser Kushner set up personal email accounts on their domain and used them to conduct government business. This third email account was used to send and receive travel documents, internal schedules, and official White House materials, Politico reports. Many of the emails were sent by Trump to her assistant, Bridges Lamar, and household staff had access to the account, Politico says. A majority of the emails sent to this account were from official White House email addresses.
Kushner set the domain up in December, and since January, hundreds of emails have been sent from White House email addresses to the accounts on the private Kushner domain, the sources told Politico. Kushner's attorney has said his client used his account to exchange fewer than 100 emails with his White House coworkers, and all of the messages were then forwarded to his White House email to comply with government record-keeping requirements. Catherine Garcia
President Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, possibly attempted to leverage his proximity to the Republican candidate to "curry favor with a Russian oligarch close to Russian President Vladimir Putin," The Atlantic writes based on emails turned over to investigators.
Manafort was reportedly $16 million in debt to companies connected to Russian interests in Ukraine, although it is unclear if he owed money directly to Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska, the oligarch in question. Despite his financial troubles, Manafort worked for the Trump presidential campaign for free. "In the email exchange that took place two weeks after starting on the campaign, Manafort seemed primarily concerned with the Russian oligarch's approval for his work with Trump — and asked for confirmation that Deripaska was indeed paying attention," The Atlantic writes.
Deripaska and Manafort did not meet in 2016, as far as documents show. Manafort did correspond at length with Konstantin Kilimnik, who had worked with him in the Ukrainian capital, about the oligarch "OVD."
In the email exchange that took place two weeks after starting on the campaign, Manafort seemed primarily concerned with the Russian oligarch's approval for his work with Trump — and asked for confirmation that Deripaska was indeed paying attention.
"Yes, I have been sending everything to Victor, who has been forwarding the coverage directly to OVD," Kilimnik responded in April, referring again to Deripaska. ("Victor" is a Deripaska aide, the source close to Manafort confirmed.) "Frankly, the coverage has been much better than Trump's," Kilimnik wrote. "In any case it will hugely enhance your reputation no matter what happens." [The Atlantic]
Kilimnik has denied that discussions with Manafort went beyond the topics of "current news" and "unpaid bills" — and they were "in no way related to politics or the presidential campaign in the U.S.," he told The Washington Post. Read the full report at The Atlantic. Jeva Lange
At least six of President Trump's top advisers — including former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and ex-chief strategist Stephen Bannon — used private email accounts on occassion to talk about White House matters, several current and former officials told The New York Times on Monday.
On Sunday, a lawyer for Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner confirmed that Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, created a domain in December called IJKFamily.com for their personal email, and "fewer than 100 emails from January through August were either sent to or returned by Mr. Kushner to colleagues in the White House" from his account. Officials told the Times that in addition to Priebus, Bannon, Kushner, and Ivanka Trump — who reportedly used private emails to conduct business when she was both an unpaid adviser and later a formal adviser — chief economic adviser Gary Cohn and senior adviser Stephen Miller also sent or received "at least a few emails on personal accounts." It isn't known if any of the emails contained confidential information, or how many emails were sent and received from the private accounts.
For oversight reasons, government officials are supposed to use their work emails to conduct business, and if they do use private email accounts, they must forward any work-related emails to their government accounts for preservation purposes. During the campaign, Trump spent much of his time blasting Hillary Clinton for using a private email account during her tenure as secretary of state, leading his supporters at rallies in cries of "Lock her up!" Catherine Garcia
GOP operative Peter Smith reportedly reached out to several questionable characters in his independent quest to find the emails he believed had been stolen from Hillary Clinton's private email server, including Russian hackers and alt-right activists, Politico reports. Although Smith died in May at the age of 81, his search for Clinton's emails remains of serious interest in the investigation into whether Russia worked with U.S. agents to swing the election in favor of President Trump.
Former Breitbart reporter Charles Johnson, who was banned from Twitter for threatening a Black Lives Matter activist, and Johnson's former business partner, Pax Dickinson, aided Smith in his hunt. "[Smith] wanted me to introduce him to [Stephen] Bannon, to a few others, and I sort of demurred on some of that," Johnson told Politico. "I didn't think his operation was as sophisticated as it needed to be and I thought it was good to keep the campaign as insulated as possible."
But Johnson didn't write Smith off, either:
"The magnitude of what he was trying to do was kind of impressive," Johnson said. "He had people running around Europe, had people talking to Guccifer." (U.S. intelligence agencies have linked the materials provided by "Guccifer 2.0" — an alias that has taken credit for hacking the Democratic National Committee and communicated with Republican operatives, including Trump confidant Roger Stone — to Russian government hackers.) [Politico]
Smith's efforts were ultimately unfruitful but "paint a picture of a determined but ill-equipped activist casting about far and wide in a frantic but ultimately futile quest to get ahold of Clinton's deleted emails and publish them ahead of Election Day," Politico adds. Read the full story here. Jeva Lange
When it comes to Hillary Clinton's loss, there is plenty of blame to go around. Some observers have a new target, though, that takes some of the heat off FBI Director James Comey: his boss, Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
The Washington Post reports that Lynch could have demanded Comey not send his fateful letter to Congress that informed the lawmakers — and the nation — of a renewed look into Clinton's emails after messages were discovered on a laptop belonging to former Rep. Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin. "If [Lynch] thought [the letter] violated department policy or was otherwise a bad idea, she could have ordered him not to send the letter," said Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith. "It was an astonishing failure of leadership and eschewal of responsibility, especially if Lynch really thought what Comey did was wrong."
Justice officials reportedly concluded that neither Lynch nor her deputy should tell Comey to withhold the letter, in part because they weren't sure how Comey would react and also because they were concerned about the optics of a potential leak. "Lynch and her advisers were nervous about how it would look if people found out that she, a Democratic presidential appointee, told Comey to keep secret from Congress a new development in the Clinton investigation," The Washington Post writes. "Instead, they tried to convince Comey that he had never promised to update Congress at every turn. He had merely said he would 'look at' any new information in the case."
It didn't work. But while Comey came to bear the brunt of the blame of Clinton supporters — as well as of Clinton herself — Lynch has mostly made it out unscathed. Read more about her decision not to intervene at The Washington Post. Jeva Lange