Donald Trump has described as "fake news" allegations published in some media that his election team colluded with Russia - and that Russia held compromising material about his private life. The BBC's Paul Wood saw the allegations before the election, and reports on the fallout now they have come to light.
The significance of these allegations is that, if true, the president-elect of the United States would be vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians.
I understand the CIA believes it is credible that the Kremlin has such kompromat - or compromising material - on the next US commander in chief. At the same time a joint taskforce, which includes the CIA and the FBI, has been investigating allegations that the Russians may have sent money to Mr Trump's organisation or his election campaign.
Claims about a Russian blackmail tape were made in one of a series of reports written by a former British intelligence agent, understood to be Christopher Steele.
As a member of MI6, he had been posted to the UK's embassy in Moscow and now runs a consultancy giving advice on doing business in Russia. He spoke to a number of his old contacts in the FSB, the successor to the KGB, paying some of them for information.
They told him that Mr Trump had been filmed with a group of prostitutes in the presidential suite of Moscow's Ritz-Carlton hotel. I know this because the Washington political research company that commissioned his report showed it to me during the final week of the election campaign.
The BBC decided not to use it then, for the very good reason that without seeing the tape - if it exists - we could not know if the claims were true. The detail of the allegations were certainly lurid. The entire series of reports has now been posted by BuzzFeed.
Mr Trump's supporters say this is a politically motivated attack.
The president-elect himself, outraged, tweeted this morning: "Are we living in Nazi Germany?"
Later, at his much-awaited news conference, he was unrestrained.
"A thing like that should have never been written," he said, "and certainly should never have been released."
He said the memo was written by "sick people [who] put that crap together".
The opposition research firm that commissioned the report had worked first for an anti-Trump superpac - political action committee - during the Republican primaries.
Then during the general election, it was funded by an anonymous Democratic Party supporter. But these are not political hacks - their usual line of work is country analysis and commercial risk assessment, similar to the former MI6 agent's consultancy. He, apparently, gave his dossier to the FBI against the firm's advice.
How did Trump 'compromise' claims come to light?
Image copyright Reuters Image caption Mr Trump was in Moscow in 2013 for the Miss Universe pageant (pictured)
And the former MI6 agent is not the only source for the claim about Russian kompromat on the president-elect. Back in August, a retired spy told me he had been informed of its existence by "the head of an East European intelligence agency".
Later, I used an intermediary to pass some questions to active duty CIA officers dealing with the case file - they would not speak to me directly. I got a message back that there was "more than one tape", "audio and video", on "more than one date", in "more than one place" - in the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow and also in St Petersburg - and that the material was "of a sexual nature".
'Be very careful'
The claims of Russian kompromat on Mr Trump were "credible", the CIA believed. That is why - according to the New York Times and Washington Post - these claims ended up on President Barack Obama's desk last week, a briefing document also given to Congressional leaders and to Mr Trump himself.
Mr Trump did visit Moscow in November 2013, the date the main tape is supposed to have been made. There is TV footage of him at the Miss Universe contest. Any visitor to a grand hotel in Moscow would be wise to assume that their room comes equipped with hidden cameras and microphones as well as a mini-bar.
At his news conference, Mr Trump said he warned his staff when they travelled: "Be very careful, because in your hotel rooms and no matter where you go you're going to probably have cameras." So the Russian security services have made obtaining kompromat an art form.
Anthony Zurcher: Theatre of the absurd
Image copyright AP Image caption Even President Vladimir Putin says there is "kompromat" on him - though perhaps he is joking
One Russian specialist told me that Vladimir Putin himself sometimes says there is kompromat on him - though perhaps he is joking. The specialist went on to tell me that FSB officers are prone to boasting about having tapes on public figures, and to be careful of any statements they might make.
A former CIA officer told me he had spoken by phone to a serving FSB officer who talked about the tapes. He concluded: "It's hokey as hell."
Mr Trump and his supporters are right to point out that these are unsubstantiated allegations.
But it is not just sex, it is money too. The former MI6 agent's report detailed alleged attempts by the Kremlin to offer Mr Trump lucrative "sweetheart deals" in Russia that would buy his loyalty.
Mr Trump turned these down, and indeed has done little real business in Russia. But a joint intelligence and law enforcement taskforce has been looking at allegations that the Kremlin paid money to his campaign through his associates.
On 15 October, the US secret intelligence court issued a warrant to investigate two Russian banks. This news was given to me by several sources and corroborated by someone I will identify only as a senior member of the US intelligence community. He would never volunteer anything - giving up classified information would be illegal - but he would confirm or deny what I had heard from other sources.
"I'm going to write a story that says…" I would say. "I don't have a problem with that," he would reply, if my information was accurate. He confirmed the sequence of events below.
Last April, the CIA director was shown intelligence that worried him. It was - allegedly - a tape recording of a conversation about money from the Kremlin going into the US presidential campaign.
It was passed to the US by an intelligence agency of one of the Baltic States. The CIA cannot act domestically against American citizens so a joint counter-intelligence taskforce was created.
The taskforce included six agencies or departments of government. Dealing with the domestic, US, side of the inquiry, were the FBI, the Department of the Treasury, and the Department of Justice. For the foreign and intelligence aspects of the investigation, there were another three agencies: the CIA, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Security Agency, responsible for electronic spying.
Lawyers from the National Security Division in the Department of Justice then drew up an application. They took it to the secret US court that deals with intelligence, the Fisa court, named after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. They wanted permission to intercept the electronic records from two Russian banks.
Their first application, in June, was rejected outright by the judge. They returned with a more narrowly drawn order in July and were rejected again. Finally, before a new judge, the order was granted, on 15 October, three weeks before election day.
Full coverage: Trump takes office
Image copyright AP Image caption Harry Reid, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, pictured, accused the FBI of holding back information
Neither Mr Trump nor his associates are named in the Fisa order, which would only cover foreign citizens or foreign entities - in this case the Russian banks. But ultimately, the investigation is looking for transfers of money from Russia to the United States, each one, if proved, a felony offence.
A lawyer- outside the Department of Justice but familiar with the case - told me that three of Mr Trump's associates were the subject of the inquiry. "But it's clear this is about Trump," he said.
I spoke to all three of those identified by this source. All of them emphatically denied any wrongdoing. "Hogwash," said one. "Bullshit," said another. Of the two Russian banks, one denied any wrongdoing, while the other did not respond to a request for comment.
The investigation was active going into the election. During that period, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, Harry Reid, wrote to the director of the FBI, accusing him of holding back "explosive information" about Mr Trump.
Mr Reid sent his letter after getting an intelligence briefing, along with other senior figures in Congress. Only eight people were present: the chairs and ranking minority members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, and the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties in Congress, the "gang of eight" as they are sometimes called. Normally, senior staff attend "gang of eight" intelligence briefings, but not this time. The Congressional leaders were not even allowed to take notes.
In the letter to the FBI director, James Comey, Mr Reid said: "In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and co-ordination between Donald Trump, his top advisers, and the Russian government - a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Mr Trump praises at every opportunity.
"The public has a right to know this information. I wrote to you months ago calling for this information to be released to the public. There is no danger to American interests from releasing it. And yet, you continue to resist calls to inform the public of this critical information."
The CIA, FBI, Justice and Treasury all refused to comment when I approached them after hearing about the Fisa warrant.
It is not clear what will happen to the inter-agency investigation under President Trump - or even if the taskforce is continuing its work now. The Russians have denied any attempt to influence the president-elect - with either money or a blackmail tape.
Image copyright Reuters Image caption Hillary Clinton referred to Mr Trump as Mr Putin's "puppet" during the debates
If a tape exists, the Russians would hardly give it up, though some hope to encourage a disloyal FSB officer who might want to make some serious money. Before the election, Larry Flynt, publisher of the pornographic magazine Hustler, put up a million dollars for incriminating tape of Mr Trump. Penthouse has now followed with its own offer of a million dollars for the Ritz-Carlton tape (if it exists).
It is an extraordinary situation, 10 days before Mr Trump is sworn into office, but it was foreshadowed during the campaign.
During the final presidential debate, Hillary Clinton called Donald Trump a "puppet" of Russia's leader, Vladimir Putin. "No puppet. No puppet," Mr Trump interjected, talking over Mrs Clinton. "You're the puppet. No, you're the puppet."
In a New York Times op-ed in August, the former director of the CIA, Michael Morell, wrote: "In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr Putin had recruited Mr Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation."
Agent; puppet - both terms imply some measure of influence or control by Moscow.
Michael Hayden, former head of both the CIA and the NSA, simply called Mr Trump a "polezni durak" - a useful fool.
The background to those statements was information held - at the time - within the intelligence community. Now all Americans have heard the claims. Little more than a week before his inauguration, they will have to decide if their president-elect really was being blackmailed by Moscow.
Clarification: 11 January - This article was amended to make clear that the opposition research firm which commissioned the report had first worked for an anti-Trump political action committee.
11. Who might the 3 under investigation be? Candidate #1 would be Roger Stone, Trump's informal political advisor:
New York Times
: Trump Ally Roger Stone Under Investigation For Possible Russia Ties January 19, 2017 10:59 PM EST
››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF
The New York Times is reporting that American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are investigating “intercepted communications” that potentially show ties between longtime Donald Trump ally Roger Stone and Russian officials.
The report confirming the ongoing investigation comes after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian government meddled in the 2016 election by hacking the Democratic National Committee, as well as reports that the FBI and five other intelligence agencies have been investigating whether money from the Kremlin covertly aided Trump’s presidential run.
In July, reports surfaced that Trump’s foreign policy advisor on Russia and Europe, Carter Page, made almost his entire fortune off of investments in Russia. Soon after, NBC News reported on alleged payments to Donald Trump’s then-campaign manager Paul Manafort from former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from 2007-2012. Roger Stone, a racist, sexist conspiracy theorist -- who has previously claimed that there’s “greater freedom of the press” and expression in Russia than in the U.S. -- has now also been implicated as another one of Trump’s associates currently under investigation. Media Matters first exposed Stone in August 2016, after he claimed to be in contact with Julian Assange regarding an "October Surprise." In early October, Stone reassured anxious Alex Jones listeners that the "motherload" was coming.
The report, which will appear in the January 20 edition of The New York Times, confirms that intelligence agencies are investigating “intercepted communications and financial transactions” between Russian officials and Trump allies Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, and Carter Page. The report notes that the “continuing counterintelligence means that Mr. Trump will take the oath of office on Friday with his associates under investigation and after the intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian government had worked to help elect him.” From The New York Times:
American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation into possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, current and former senior American officials said.
The continuing counterintelligence investigation means that Mr. Trump will take the oath of office on Friday with his associates under investigation and after the intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian government had worked to help elect him. As president, Mr. Trump will oversee those agencies and have the authority to redirect or stop at least some of these efforts.
The counterintelligence investigation centers at least in part on the business dealings that some of the president-elect’s past and present advisers have had with Russia. Mr. Manafort has done business in Ukraine and Russia. Some of his contacts there were under surveillance by the National Security Agency for suspected links to Russia’s Federal Security Service, one of the officials said.
The F.B.I. investigation into Mr. Manafort began last spring, and was an outgrowth of a criminal investigation into his work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine and for the country’s former president, Viktor F. Yanukovych. In August, The Times reported that Mr. Manafort’s name had surfaced in a secret ledger that showed he had been paid millions in undisclosed cash payments.
The Associated Press has reported that his work for Ukraine included a secret lobbying effort in Washington aimed at influencing American news organizations and government officials.
Mr. Stone, a longtime friend of Mr. Trump’s, said in a speech in Florida last summer that he had communicated with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group that published the hacked Democratic emails. During the speech, Mr. Stone predicted further leaks of documents, a prediction that came true within weeks.
In a brief interview on Thursday, Mr. Stone said he had never visited Russia and had no Russian clients. He said that he had worked in Ukraine for a pro-Western party, but that any assertion that he had ties to Russian intelligence was “nonsense” and “totally false.”
12. My 2nd candidate: Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer, who helped generate a pro-Russian peace plan for Ukraine.
A Back-Channel Plan for Ukraine and Russia, Courtesy of Trump Associates
By MEGAN TWOHEY and SCOTT SHANE
FEB. 19, 2017
President Trump on his way to Charleston, S.C., on Friday. Although he has expressed hope that the United States and Russia can work together, it is unclear if the White House will take a privately submitted peace proposal for Ukraine seriously. Credit Al Drago/The New York Times
A week before Michael T. Flynn resigned as national security adviser, a sealed proposal was hand-delivered to his office, outlining a way for President Trump to lift sanctions against Russia.
Mr. Flynn is gone, having been caught lying about his own discussion of sanctions with the Russian ambassador. But the proposal, a peace plan for Ukraine and Russia, remains, along with those pushing it: Michael D. Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer, who delivered the document; Felix H. Sater, a business associate who helped Mr. Trump scout deals in Russia; and a Ukrainian lawmaker trying to rise in a political opposition movement shaped in part by Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort.
At a time when Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia, and the people connected to him, are under heightened scrutiny — with investigations by American intelligence agencies, the F.B.I. and Congress — some of his associates remain willing and eager to wade into Russia-related efforts behind the scenes.
Mr. Trump has confounded Democrats and Republicans alike with his repeated praise for the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, and his desire to forge an American-Russian alliance. While there is nothing illegal about such unofficial efforts, a proposal that seems to tip toward Russian interests may set off alarms.
Donald Trump’s Connections in Ukraine
Andrii V. Artemenko
Ukrainian politician with a peace plan for Ukraine and a file alleging that its president is corrupt.
Felix H. Sater
Russian-American businessman with longstanding ties to the Trump Organization.
Michael D. Cohen
Mr. Trump’s personal attorney, under scrutiny from F.B.I. over links with Russia.
Former Trump campaign chairman with pro-Russian political ties in Ukraine, now under investigation by the F.B.I.
The amateur diplomats say their goal is simply to help settle a grueling, three-year conflict that has cost 10,000 lives. “Who doesn’t want to help bring about peace?” Mr. Cohen asked.
Continue reading the main story
But the proposal contains more than just a peace plan. Andrii V. Artemenko, the Ukrainian lawmaker, who sees himself as a Trump-style leader of a future Ukraine, claims to have evidence — “names of companies, wire transfers” — showing corruption by the Ukrainian president, Petro O. Poroshenko, that could help oust him. And Mr. Artemenko said he had received encouragement for his plans from top aides to Mr. Putin.
“A lot of people will call me a Russian agent, a U.S. agent, a C.I.A. agent,” Mr. Artemenko said. “But how can you find a good solution between our countries if we do not talk?”
Mr. Cohen and Mr. Sater said they had not spoken to Mr. Trump about the proposal, and have no experience in foreign policy. Mr. Cohen is one of several Trump associates under scrutiny in an F.B.I. counterintelligence examination of links with Russia, according to law enforcement officials; he has denied any illicit connections.
The two others involved in the effort have somewhat questionable pasts: Mr. Sater, 50, a Russian-American, pleaded guilty to a role in a stock manipulation scheme decades ago that involved the Mafia. Mr. Artemenko spent two and a half years in jail in Kiev in the early 2000s on embezzlement charges, later dropped, which he said had been politically motivated.
While it is unclear if the White House will take the proposal seriously, the diplomatic freelancing has infuriated Ukrainian officials. Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, Valeriy Chaly, said Mr. Artemenko “is not entitled to present any alternative peace plans on behalf of Ukraine to any foreign government, including the U.S. administration.”
At a security conference in Munich on Friday, Mr. Poroshenko warned the West against “appeasement” of Russia, and some American experts say offering Russia any alternative to a two-year-old international agreement on Ukraine would be a mistake. The Trump administration has sent mixed signals about the conflict in Ukraine.
But given Mr. Trump’s praise for Mr. Putin, John Herbst, a former American ambassador to Ukraine, said he feared the new president might be too eager to mend relations with Russia at Ukraine’s expense — potentially with a plan like Mr. Artemenko’s.
It was late January when the three men associated with the proposed plan converged on the Loews Regency, a luxury hotel on Park Avenue in Manhattan where business deals are made in a lobby furnished with leather couches, over martinis at the restaurant bar and in private conference rooms on upper floors.
Mr. Cohen, 50, lives two blocks up the street, in Trump Park Avenue. A lawyer who joined the Trump Organization in 2007 as special counsel, he has worked on many deals, including a Trump-branded tower in the republic of Georgia and a short-lived mixed martial arts venture starring a Russian fighter. He is considered a loyal lieutenant whom Mr. Trump trusts to fix difficult problems.
Andrii V. Artemenko, a Ukrainian lawmaker, at the Women’s March in Washington last month. He said his peace proposal had received encouragement from top aides to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin.
The F.B.I. is reviewing an unverified dossier, compiled by a former British intelligence agent and funded by Mr. Trump’s political opponents, that claims Mr. Cohen met with a Russian representative in Prague during the presidential campaign to discuss Russia’s hacking of Democratic targets. But the Russian official named in the report told The New York Times that he had never met Mr. Cohen. Mr. Cohen insists that he has never visited Prague and that the dossier’s assertions are fabrications. (Mr. Manafort is also under investigation by the F.B.I. for his connections to Russia and Ukraine.)
Mr. Cohen has a personal connection to Ukraine: He is married to a Ukrainian woman and once worked with relatives there to establish an ethanol business.
Mr. Artemenko, tall and burly, arrived at the Manhattan hotel between visits to Washington. (His wife, he said, met the first lady, Melania Trump, years ago during their modeling careers, but he did not try to meet Mr. Trump.) He had attended the inauguration and visited Congress, posting on Facebook his admiration for Mr. Trump and talking up his peace plan in meetings with American lawmakers.
He entered Parliament in 2014, the year that the former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych fled to Moscow amid protests over his economic alignment with Russia and corruption. Mr. Manafort, who had been instrumental in getting Mr. Yanukovych elected, helped shape a political bloc that sprang up to oppose the new president, Mr. Poroshenko, a wealthy businessman who has taken a far tougher stance toward Russia and accused Mr. Putin of wanting to absorb Ukraine into a new Russian Empire. Mr. Artemenko, 48, emerged from the opposition that Mr. Manafort nurtured. (The two men have never met, Mr. Artemenko said.)
Before entering politics, Mr. Artemenko had business ventures in the Middle East and real estate deals in the Miami area, and had worked as an agent representing top Ukrainian athletes. Some colleagues in Parliament describe him as corrupt, untrustworthy or simply insignificant, but he appears to have amassed considerable wealth.
Mr. Sater, a longtime business associate of Mr. Trump’s with connections in Russia, was willing to help Mr. Artemenko’s proposal reach the White House.
Mr. Trump has sought to distance himself from Mr. Sater in recent years. If Mr. Sater “were sitting in the room right now,” Mr. Trump said in a 2013 deposition, “I really wouldn’t know what he looked like.”
But Mr. Sater worked on real estate development deals with the Trump Organization on and off for at least a decade, even after his role in the stock manipulation scheme came to light.
Mr. Sater, who was born in the Soviet Union and grew up in New York, served as an executive at a firm called Bayrock Group, two floors below the Trump Organization in Trump Tower, and was later a senior adviser to Mr. Trump.
He said he had been working on a plan for a Trump Tower in Moscow with a Russian real estate developer as recently as the fall of 2015, one that he said had come to a halt because of Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign. (Mr. Cohen said the Trump Organization had received a letter of intent for a project in Moscow from a Russian real estate developer at that time but determined that the project was not feasible.)
Michael D. Cohen, second from left, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, with Michael T. Flynn, left, and former Gov. Rick Perry of Texas at Trump Tower in December. Mr. Cohen delivered the peace plan to Mr. Flynn a week before Mr. Flynn resigned as national security adviser. Credit Sam Hodgson for The New York Times
Mr. Artemenko said a mutual friend had put him in touch with Mr. Sater. Helping to advance the proposal, Mr. Sater said, made sense.
“I want to stop a war, number one,” he said. “Number two, I absolutely believe that the U.S. and Russia need to be allies, not enemies. If I could achieve both in one stroke, it would be a home run.”
After speaking with Mr. Sater and Mr. Artemenko in person, Mr. Cohen said he would deliver the plan to the White House.
Mr. Cohen said he did not know who in the Russian government had offered encouragement on it, as Mr. Artemenko claims, but he understood there was a promise of proof of corruption by the Ukrainian president.
“Fraud is never good, right?” Mr. Cohen said.
He said Mr. Sater had given him the written proposal in a sealed envelope. When Mr. Cohen met with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office in early February, he said, he left the proposal in Mr. Flynn’s office.
Mr. Cohen said he was waiting for a response when Mr. Flynn was forced from his post. Now Mr. Cohen, Mr. Sater and Mr. Artemenko are hoping a new national security adviser will take up their cause. On Friday the president wrote on Twitter that he had four new candidates for the job.
Correction: February 19, 2017
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article gave an incorrect middle initial for Paul Manafort. It is J., not D.
Megan Twohey reported from New York, and Scott Shane from Washington. Michael Schwirtz contributed reporting from Kiev, Ukraine.
13. 3rd on my list: General Mike Flynn, who unwisely took money from the Russian government in 2015.
Michael Flynn Resigns as National Security Adviser
Michael T. Flynn, the national security adviser, resigned on Monday night after it was revealed that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other top White House officials about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States.
Mr. Flynn, who served in the job for less than a month, said he had given “incomplete information” regarding a telephone call he had with the ambassador in late December about American sanctions against Russia, weeks before President Trump’s inauguration. Mr. Flynn previously had denied that he had any substantive conversations with Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak, and Mr. Pence repeated that claim in television interviews as recently as this month.
But on Monday, a former administration official said the Justice Department warned the White House last month that Mr. Flynn had not been fully forthright about his conversations with the ambassador. As a result, the Justice Department feared that Mr. Flynn could be vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow.
In his resignation letter, which the White House emailed to reporters, Mr. Flynn said he had held numerous calls with foreign officials during the transition. “Unfortunately, because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the vice president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador,” he wrote. “I have sincerely apologized to the president and the vice president, and they have accepted my apology.”
“I am tendering my resignation, honored to have served our nation and the American people in such a distinguished way,” Mr. Flynn wrote.
Leonid Slutsky, the Foreign Relations Committee chairman in the Russian State Duma, said Tuesday that he sees the accusations surrounding Michael T. Flynn’s resignation as an attack on Russia and that relations with the United States continue to be on thin ice.
By ELSA BUTLER on Publish Date February 14, 2017. Photo by Hilary Swift for The New York Times.
The White House said in the statement that it was replacing Mr. Flynn with retired Lt. Gen. Joseph K. Kellogg Jr. of the Army, a Vietnam War veteran, as acting national security adviser.
The events that led to Michael T. Flynn’s abrupt resignation as national security adviser stretch back to before President Trump’s inauguration.
By SHANE O’NEILL, NIRAJ CHOKSHI and A.J. CHAVAR on Publish Date February 14, 2017. Photo by Kevin D. Liles for The New York Times. Watch in Times Video »
Mr. Flynn was an early and ardent supporter of Mr. Trump’s candidacy, and in his resignation he sought to praise the president. “In just three weeks,” Mr. Flynn said, the new president “has reoriented American foreign policy in fundamental ways to restore America’s leadership position in the world.”
But in doing so, he inadvertently illustrated the brevity of his tumultuous run at the National Security Council, and the chaos that has gripped the White House in the first weeks of the Trump administration — and created a sense of uncertainty around the world.
Earlier Monday, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, told reporters that “the president is evaluating the situation” about Mr. Flynn’s future. By Monday evening, Mr. Flynn’s fortunes were rapidly shifting — his resignation came roughly seven hours after Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to the president, said on MSNBC that Mr. Trump had “full confidence” in the retired general.
And when he did step down, it happened so quickly that his resignation does not appear to have been communicated to National Security Council staff members, two of whom said they learned about it from news reports.
Officials said Mr. Pence had told others in the White House that he believed Mr. Flynn lied to him by saying he had not discussed the topic of sanctions on a call with the Russian ambassador in late December. Even the mere discussion of policy — and the apparent attempt to assuage the concerns of an American adversary before Mr. Trump took office — represented a remarkable breach of protocol.
The F.B.I. had been examining Mr. Flynn’s phone calls as he came under growing questions about his interactions with Russian officials and his management of the National Security Council. The blackmail risk envisioned by the Justice Department would have stemmed directly from Mr. Flynn’s attempt to cover his tracks with his bosses. The Russians knew what had been said on the call; thus, if they wanted Mr. Flynn to do something, they could have threatened to expose the lie if he refused.
The Justice Department’s warning to the White House was first reported on Monday night by The Washington Post.
Michael Flynn’s Resignation Letter
Michael T. Flynn, under scrutiny for his communication with Russia, resigned as President Trump's national security adviser late Monday.
FEB. 13, 2017Related Article
In addition, the Army has been investigating whether Mr. Flynn received money from the Russian government during a trip he took to Moscow in 2015, according to two defense officials. Such a payment might violate the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits former military officers from receiving money from a foreign government without consent from Congress. The defense officials said there was no record that Mr. Flynn, a retired three-star Army general, filed the required paperwork for the trip.
Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement late Monday that Mr. Flynn’s resignation would not close the question of his contact with Russian officials.
“General Flynn’s decision to step down as national security adviser was all but ordained the day he misled the country about his secret talks with the Russian ambassador,” said Mr. Schiff, noting that the matter is still under investigation by the House committee.
Two other Democratic lawmakers — Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan and Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland — called for an immediate briefing by the Justice Department and the F.B.I. over the “alarming new disclosures” that Mr. Flynn was a blackmail risk. “We need to know who else within the White House is a current and ongoing risk to our national security,” they said in a statement.
Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California and the chairman of the House intelligence committee, was supportive of Mr. Flynn until the end. “Washington, D.C., can be a rough town for honorable people, and Flynn — who has always been a soldier, not a politician — deserves America’s gratitude and respect,” Mr. Nunes said in a statement.
The White House had examined a transcript of a wiretapped conversation that Mr. Flynn had with Mr. Kislyak in December, according to administration officials. Mr. Flynn originally told Mr. Pence and others that the call was limited to small talk and holiday pleasantries.
But the conversation, according to officials who saw the transcript of the wiretap, also included a discussion about sanctions imposed on Russia after intelligence agencies determined that President Vladimir V. Putin’s government tried to interfere with the 2016 election on Mr. Trump’s behalf. Still, current and former administration officials familiar with the call said the transcript was ambiguous enough that Mr. Trump could have justified either firing or retaining Mr. Flynn.
Mr. Trump, however, had become increasingly concerned about the continued fallout over Mr. Flynn’s behavior, according to people familiar with his thinking, and told aides that the media storm around Mr. Flynn would damage the president’s image on national security issues.
Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, asked for Mr. Flynn’s resignation — a move that he has been pushing for since Friday, when it became clear that the national security adviser had misled Mr. Pence.
Around 8:20 p.m. Monday, a sullen Mr. Flynn was seen in the Oval Office, just as preparations were being made for the swearing-in of newly confirmed Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. Soon after, Mr. Flynn’s resignation letter started making the rounds.
Administration officials said it was unlikely that Mr. Kellogg would be asked to stay on as Mr. Flynn’s permanent replacement. Mr. Flynn brought Mr. Kellogg into the Trump campaign, according to a former campaign adviser, and the two have remained close. K. T. McFarland, the deputy national security adviser who also was brought on by Mr. Flynn, is expected to leave that role, a senior official said.
One person close to the administration, who was not authorized to discuss the personnel moves and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that retired Vice Admiral Robert S. Harward is the leading candidate to replace Mr. Flynn, although Mr. Kellogg and David H. Petraeus are being discussed. It was not clear whether Mr. Petraeus is still expected to appear at the White House this week, as initially discussed by advisers to the president.
Mr. Flynn’s concealment of the call’s content, combined with questions about his management of his agency and reports of a demoralized staff, put him in a precarious position less than a month into Mr. Trump’s presidency.
Few members of Mr. Trump’s team were more skeptical of Mr. Flynn than the vice president, numerous administration officials said. Mr. Pence, who used the false information provided by Mr. Flynn to defend him in a series of television appearances, was incensed at Mr. Flynn’s lack of contrition for repeatedly embarrassing him by withholding the information, according to three administration officials familiar with the situation.
Mr. Flynn and Mr. Pence spoke twice in the past few days about the matter, but administration officials said that rather than fully apologize and accept responsibility, the national security adviser blamed his faulty memory — which irked the typically slow-to-anger Mr. Pence.
The slight was compounded by an episode late last year when Mr. Pence went on television to deny that Mr. Flynn’s son, who had posted conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton on social media, had been given a security clearance by the transition team. The younger Mr. Flynn had, indeed, been given such a clearance, even though his father had told Mr. Pence’s team that he had not.
Officials said classified information did not appear to have been discussed during the conversation between Mr. Flynn and the ambassador, which would have been a crime. The call was captured on a routine wiretap of diplomats’ calls, the officials said.
But current Trump administration officials and former Obama administration officials said that Mr. Flynn did appear to be reassuring the ambassador that Mr. Trump would adopt a more accommodating tone on Russia once in office.
Former and current administration officials said that Mr. Flynn urged Russia not to retaliate against any sanctions because an overreaction would make any future cooperation more complicated. He never explicitly promised sanctions relief, one former official said, but he appeared to leave the impression that it would be possible.
During his 2015 trip to Moscow, Mr. Flynn was paid to attend the anniversary celebration of Russia Today, a television network controlled by the Kremlin. At the banquet, he sat next to Mr. Putin.
Mr. Flynn had notified the Defense Intelligence Agency, which he once led, that he was taking the trip. He received a security briefing from agency officials before he left, which is customary for former top agency officials when they travel overseas.
Still, some senior agency officials were surprised when footage of the banquet appeared on RT, and believed that Mr. Flynn should have been more forthcoming with the agency about the nature of his trip to Russia.
Correction: February 13, 2017
An earlier version of this article misstated the day on which the White House sent out a series of conflicting signals about Michael T. Flynn, the national security adviser. It was Monday, not Tuesday. Also, because of an editing error, an earlier version quoted three posts from an unverified Twitter account purporting to be Mr. Flynn’s, responding to the resignation.
Reporting was contributed by Mark Mazzetti, Eric Schmitt, Michael S. Schmidt and Max Fisher.
14. All 3 had some connection or another w/Russia, so a request for a national security wiretap on them is a plausible possibility.
15. As a result, Trump’s calls w/his pol advisor, lawyer, & Natsec advisor would be monitored. That's many calls covering a lot of ground!
16. Yet Clapper's denial stands, b/c Trump's phone wasn't explicitly targeted. He was just a dolphin "accidentally" caught in a tuna net.
17. You bright bulbs'll stand your ground on the technical claim that Trump’s phone wasn’t tapped, but politically it's a losing argument.
18. And you'll also say, "A cardinal rule of the Obama admin” was to leave FISA requests to the DOJ:
19. Leave them to Loretta Lynch, you say? Someone about as divorced from politics as this video would suggest: http://po.st/tZj74h .
WND Exclusive Loretta Lynch: Need more marching, blood, death on streets Senate Dems post her impassioned plea on Facebook page as 'words of inspiration' Published: 1 day ago
Lynch said her conversation with Bill Clinton did not touch on the FBI’s investigation into his wife’s private email setup at State.
Lesser known about Lynch’s history is that she was the prosecutor assigned to the biggest bank scandal in history – the probe of HSBC’s involvement in money laundering for terrorists and drug cartels lodged in 2012 and a scandal revealed first in WND, long before she was nominated for the post of attorney general.
While large fines were levied against the biggest bank in the world, no officials were charged or prosecuted by Lynch. While the subject was raised in Senate confirmation hearings, 10 Republicans approved her nomination — Kelly Ayotte, Ron Johnson, Mark Kirk, Rob Portman, Thad Cochran, Susan Collins, Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham, Orrin Hatch and Mitch McConnell.
When WND revealed the evidence provided by a whistleblower inside the giant global bank, HSBC used its immense power to persuade bandwidth providers to take WND offline – a situation that was remediated within hours.
Read more at http://mobile.wnd.co...yS42TEhJXiTg.99
20. Come on. It's easy to imagine Obama winking & nodding to Lynch, or sending a trusted friend to whisper a few thoughts in her ear.
21. “You have no evidence to back up that scurrilous claim!” you will scream.
22. To which I must confess, you’re absolutely right. I don’t. I’m totally speculating. Point to you!
23. And while I’m in retreat, let me also concede that Lynch’s meeting w/Bill Clinton was accidental & innocuous.
Bill Clinton meeting causes headaches for Hillary
By Eli Watkins, CNN
Updated 9:26 PM ET, Thu June 30, 2016
Loretta Lynch has private meeting with Bill Clinton 02:53
(CNN)A meeting this week between Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former President Bill Clinton is creating headaches for Hillary Clinton's campaign.
Lynch and Bill Clinton met privately in Phoenix Monday after the two realized they were on the same tarmac, an aide to the former president said. The encounter took place ahead of the public release Tuesday morning of the House Benghazi Committee's report on the 2012 attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya.
The meeting is raising questions about whether the independence of the Justice Department, which is conducting an investigation of Hillary Clinton's private email server, might have been compromised.
Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump said Thursday the meeting was "terrible."
"It was really a sneak," Trump told conservative talk show host Mike Gallagher
. "You see a thing like this and, even in terms of judgment, how bad of judgment is it for him or for her to do this? Who would do this?"
Trump continued his criticism during an interview with New Hampshire-based CNN affiliate WBIN-TV Thursday night, calling the meeting "shocking" and "very disappointing."
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, said the incident is why a "Special Counsel" should take over the email investigation
"This incident does nothing to instill confidence in the American people that her department can fully and fairly conduct this investigation, and that's why a Special Counsel is needed now more than ever," Cornyn said in a statement.
And Judicial Watch, a conservative legal watchdog group that has sued for access to records pertaining to Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while leading the State Department, is asking for the Justice Department's inspector general to investigate the meeting.
"Attorney General Lynch's meeting with President Clinton creates the appearance of a violation of law, ethical standards and good judgment," the group said in a statement. "Attorney General Lynch's decision to breach the well-defined ethical standards of the Department of Justice and the American legal profession is an outrageous abuse of the public's trust. Her conduct and statements undermine confidence in her ability to objectively investigate and prosecute possible violations of law associated with President Clinton and Secretary Clinton."
Even some Democrats say the optics don't look good.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, said he believes Lynch will remain objective in her role but would have advised against the meeting, which he says sends the wrong signal even if it was "a brief, casual, social meeting with the former president."
"I think she should have said, 'Look, I recognize you have a long record of leadership on fighting crime but this is not the time for us to have that conversation. After the election is over, I'd welcome your advice,'" Coons told CNN's Alisyn Camerota Thursday on "New Day."
Clinton's campaign hasn't commented on the meeting.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest reiterated Thursday President Barack Obama's commitment to avoiding "political interference" in Department of Justice investigations after the airport meeting.
Referring back to Lynch's comments about the meeting, Earnest said Lynch understands investigations should be "conducted free of political influence and consistent with the facts."
He said Obama has also made clear he expects the Department of Justice investigation into Clinton's emails to proceed without political interference.
The huddle could feed into one of the biggest hurdles facing Clinton's campaign: that she's untrustworthy. Clinton herself acknowledged that challenge in unusually direct terms this week.
"I personally know I have work to do on this front," she said in Chicago Monday.
According to a law enforcement official familiar with the matter, the former president saw Lynch's plane on the tarmac and walked onto her aircraft. Lynch's FBI security detail did not stop Clinton and he proceeded to initiate an extended conversation that included discussion of grandchildren. Lynch was surprised to see Clinton walking onto her plane, the official said, and no Justice Department business was discussed.
Speaking at a news conference in Phoenix on Tuesday, Lynch confirmed the meeting and denied the two spoke about any matter pending before the Justice Department or the Benghazi probe. She also said the former president "did not raise anything" about an ongoing case or anything of that nature.
"I did see President Clinton at the Phoenix airport as he was leaving and spoke to myself and my husband on the plane," Lynch said according to CNN affiliate KNXV/ABC15
. "Our conversation was a great deal about grandchildren, it was primarily social about our travels and he mentioned golf he played in Phoenix."
The former president's aide said nothing beyond Lynch's characterization of the account was discussed, and that Clinton "always" extends this courtesy when he is around cabinet secretaries, members of Congress and other dignitaries, pointing to the former president's unplanned meeting with Sen. Ted Cruz at an Alabama airport in May.
Asked in Los Angeles on Wednesday whether the meeting risked the department's impartiality in its investigation, Lynch said the email probe is "being handled by career investigators and career agents who always follow the facts and the law."
Top Democrats on Capitol Hill defended Lynch Thursday.
"All I can say is Loretta Lynch is one of the most outstanding human beings I've ever known," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, told reporters. "Her ethics is above reproach."
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, called Lynch an "honorable person."
"She has said nothing was discussed related to the investigation so you have two choices: To say this didn't matter or she's lying," Schumer said. "I think it didn't matter. I don't think she's lying."
Of Hillary Clinton, Reid said: "I think she's pretty damn good."
CNN's Kevin Liptak, Ted Barrett and Evan Perez contributed to this story
24. But Trump still wins before the court of public opinion, b/c you just admitted 3 key things:
25. (A) That Loretta Lynch got the NSA to tap hours and hours of Trump’s calls.
26. ( That she did so just 3 weeks before the election! And © That her “natsec investigation” turned up zero, zilch, nada & niente
27. But meanwhile, it "accidentally" generated copious leaks fueling the sinister accusation that Trump is Putin’s Manchurian candidate.
28. I predict that if a Lynch “investigation” anything like this scenario did in fact occur, fair-minded people will side with Trump.
29. Rachel Maddow will love your arguments, but they will only convince registered Dems, and not even all of them.
30. This scenario is speculative. We don't know the facts. They might yet prove you right. But the ground you're on is weaker than you know.