Trump Administration Leaves 50,000 Haitians in Legal Limbo

Haitian police lower the national flag in front of the badly damaged presidential palace in 2011.

About 50,000 Haitians living in the United States will remain in limbo for another six months. The Trump administration has reportedly granted a temporary extension of these Haitians’ legal status, leaving them at risk of being forced to leave the country—or remain illegally—at the start of next year.

Multiple reports on Monday indicate that the Department of Homeland Security will extend Temporary Protected Status for Haitian nationals for six months. Haitians were granted the special status in 2010, after an earthquake leveled buildings, displaced millions, and killed an estimated 300,000 people. As Mother Jonespreviously reported, TPS is granted to people from countries experiencing humanitarian crises:

First introduced in 1990, the TPS program provides humanitarian relief to nationals of countries coping with a severe conflict or natural disaster. By providing recipients with legal status and work authorization, TPS designations—typically granted in six- to 18-month cycles that can be renewed indefinitely—have become a crucial means of aiding people who face unsafe conditions should they be sent back to their home country.

The extension was first reported on Monday by the Washington Postand confirmed by the Miami Herald, which wrote that Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) received a call from DHS with news of the decision. DHS not not respond to Mother Jones‘ request for comment.

With the extension, Haiti’s TPS designation will continue past its current July expiration date, to January 22, 2018. The six-month extension aligns with the recommendation of James McCament, acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, who wrote a memo to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly in April suggesting that Haiti’s TPS designation be extended to the beginning of 2018 and then allowed to expire. Immigration advocates had strongly encouraged DHS to extend the designation for a full 18 months, arguing that Haiti needed more time to recover before thousands of people could return to the country safely.

Prior to the decision, some 50,000 Haitians living and working in the United States were at risk of being deported back to Haiti, which is dealing with a multitude of conflicts—or staying in the United States and becoming undocumented. The latest extension means that Haitians with TPS can breathe for now but will face the same suspense in November, when DHS must again decide whether to extend their TPS or allow it to expire.

Immigration advocates had mixed reactions to the news. “The fear was that we may not even get six months,” says Nana Brantuo, policy manager for the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, one of the groups that has called for an extension of Haiti’s TPS designation. But she adds, “The 18-month extension is what we need. Otherwise we’re going to have thousands of people who are unauthorized in fear of being deported.”

Michael Flynn Is Pleading the Fifth

Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn will invoke the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination on Monday and refuse to comply with a congressional subpoena, according to the Associated Press. The Senate intelligence committee had asked Flynn for documents in his possession that might relate to the committee’s investigation into Russia’s interference with the 2016 election.

It’s not a surprising move—Flynn was not expected to turn over the documents without immunity, “because he would be waiving some of his constitutional protections by doing so,” according to the AP. Last week, Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the intelligence committee, prematurely said Flynn would not cooperate.

It’s unclear how Republicans will respond to Flynn’s decision. The intelligence committee could ask Congress to vote on whether to hold Flynn in contempt—an option that would force Flynn to face possible fines or jail time if he continued to withhold the documents.“I’m not going to go into what we might or might not do,” Burr said last week when asked what the committee would do next if Flynn refused to cooperate with the investigation. “We’ve got a full basket of things that we’re willing to test.”

Meanwhile, Democrats on the House’s oversight committee are increasing pressure on Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) to subpoena the White House for documents on how the White House vetted Flynn, which the committee asked for two months ago. “The White House is obstructing our investigation on the Oversight Committee, covering up for General Flynn, and refusing to produce a single document that Chairman Chaffetz and I asked for in a bipartisan letter two months ago,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (R-Md.), ranking member of the committee, said in a statement over the weekend. “I have prepared a subpoena that the Chairman could sign today.” Cummings says if Chaffetz doesn’t want to issue the subpoena himself, he should allow committee members to take a vote on it.

Chaffetz isn’t always so shy about using the power to subpoena—he asked for the FBI’s full investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails and just last week demanded that the FBI hand over the Comey memos, which detail President Donald Trump’s attempts to curb the federal investigation into Flynn, according to an explosive report last week from the New York Times.

Supreme Court Strikes Down North Carolina's Racial Gerrymander

The Supreme Court on Monday struck down North Carolina’s congressional map, finding that the Republican legislature unconstitutionally used race in drawing district lines that reduced the voting power of minorities.

In the 5-3 decision, with ultra-conservative Justice Clarence Thomas joining the four liberal justices in the majority, the court ruled that North Carolina unconstitutionally packed African American voters into two districts, in violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. Justice Neil Gorsuch, who joined the court in April, did not participate in the ruling.

“This decision by Justice [Elena] Kagan is a major victory for voting rights plaintiffs, who have succeeded in turning the racial gerrymandering cause of action into an effective tool to go after partisan gerrymanders in Southern states,” election law expert Rick Hasen wrote on his blog Monday morning. “That Justice Kagan got Justice Thomas not only to vote this way but to sign onto the opinion (giving it precedential value) is a really big deal.”

The Republican majority in North Carolina’s legislature drew the contested congressional district map in 2011. It added more African Americans to two districts that already had significant black populations and had consistently elected the representatives—all Democrats—favored by most black voters since the 1990s. Voters in those districts sued, claiming the lawmakers had intentionally reduced African American voting power elsewhere in the state. States are generally not allowed to use race as the predominant factor in drawing district lines.

To justify their changes to one of those districts, the 1st Congressional District (CD1), Republican lawmakers claimed they were complying with the mandate of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA), which states that minority voters must be able to elect representatives of their choosing. In a brief to the Supreme Court, the legal team defending the Republican map argued that past voting behavior in CD1 could not predict future voting, particularly since the 2011 map added nearly 100,000 people to the district. A federal district court disagreed in February 2016 and ruled the use of race in drawing CD1 unconstitutional.

A map of CD1 shows the lengths Republicans went to in order to fill it with as many African Americans as possible. A brief from the lawyers for the citizens fighting the map describes the district as “a behemoth sprawling from the rural Coastal Plain to the City of Durham, extending tendrils to sweep in pockets of African-American voters.”

Kagan’s majority opinion found that the state unconstitutionally used race in drawing the map for CD1. “Although States enjoy leeway to take race-based actions reasonably judged necessary under a proper interpretation of the VRA, that latitude cannot rescue District 1,” she wrote. “Neither will we approve a racial gerrymander whose necessity is supported by no evidence and whose raison d’être is a legal mistake.”

Specifically, the Supreme Court found that the state’s argument that the VRA could be used to pack black voters into a district was not supported by the law. “[W]e further uphold the District Court’s decision that §2 of the VRA gave North Carolina no good reason to reshuffle voters because of their race,” the opinion states.

The 12th Congressional District (CD12) is even more curiously constructed. It is 120 miles long but only 20 miles across at its widest point—making it so thin as to be barely perceptible on a map. CD12 has long been serpentine, but the new map exacerbated its strange shape. It doesn’t contain any whole counties or cities, but rather portions of six counties and 13 towns and cities. The Republican legislature explained its shape by saying it was based on partisan, not racial, concerns. The goal was to make it even more overwhelmingly Democratic in order to help Republicans win surrounding districts—a tactic that is presumably legal because states are allowed to consider partisanship when drawing districts. But in its February 2016 ruling, the federal district court found that race was the predominant consideration in drawing CD12 as well.

The Supreme Court deferred to the district court’s decision on CD12. “[W]e uphold the District Court’s finding of racial predominance respecting District 12,” Kagan wrote. “The evidence offered at trial, including live witness testimony subject to credibility determinations, adequately supports the conclusion that race, not politics, accounted for the district’s reconfiguration.”

Despite the Supreme Court’s decision, the 2011 map has served Republicans well in North Carolina even as it has made its way through state and federal court. In 2012 and 2014, when the statewide vote was closely divided, Republicans won 10 of the state’s 13 House seats. In 2016, with a slightly tweaked map, Republicans kept that 10-3 advantage, even as Donald Trump barely won the state and a Democrat, Rory Cooper, won the governorship.

“You'll Be Hanging From A Tree.”

Before Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) began his town hall Saturday morning, he instructed his aides to play a tape. It was, he explained, a voicemail he had received earlier in the week, shortly after he had delivered a speech on the House floor to become the first member of Congress to call for President Donald Trump to be impeached.

“Hey, Al Green, I’ve got an impeachment for ya—it’s gonna be yours,” said a man’s voice. “Actually we’re gonna give you a short trial before we hang your nigger ass.”

[embedded content]

A murmur went up in the audience of 80 or so Houston-area constituents who had packed into a church hall in the city’s southwest corner. Green played another voicemail, which warned, “try it, and we’ll rinse out you fucking niggers, you’ll be hanging from a tree.”

When it was over, Green got to his point. “Friends, I want to assure you that no amounts of threats or intimidation will stop what I have started, I promise you—we are going to continue with this,” he said. “We are gonna move forward, we will not turn around.”

Green, a seven-term congressman and member of the Congressional Black Caucus, made his call for impeachment after Trump tweeted warning former FBI director James Comey not to leak details of their conversations with the press. Green told the audience he believes that Trump’s actions amounted to an admission of obstruction of justice, and the tweet constituted intimidation. It is imperative, he said, that the House move to indict Trump; nothing less than the rule of law is at stake.

Those who asked questions largely agreed with Green’s argument, but constituents seemed uncertain about the future. One man wondered if it was worth going through the impeachment process if the result was President Mike Pence. Another asked about impeaching Pence, too. A woman in the back wanted to know if there was any possibility of the president’s cabinet declaring him unfit. Unsurprisingly, given the president’s low approval in the district (just 18 percent of voters in the district voted for Green’s Republican opponent last fall), only one questioner voiced any real opposition to what Green had done, asking why he had said nothing about “the lawlessness of the [Obama] administration.”

Green himself suggested the process might plod along from here. He hadn’t introduced an official impeachment resolution yet and was planning more town halls on the subject. “I haven’t asked leadership for a response,” he told me, insisting that impeachment needed to come “from the bottom up, not the top down.” By the same token, no one in in the leadership had told him to pipe down, he said, although he allowed that there were “surely members who were thinking it.”

When a nine-year-old girl asked “why does it take so long to impeach Trump?” Green said that it “may never happen”—but it was worth giving the system time to function as it should. He has done a flurry of interviews over the last few days (there were NBC News cameras in the back of the room while he spoke) but is treading lightly when it comes to his fellow colleagues. Green told me he was not planning to lobby fellow members to get behind an impeachment measure—”people have to be guided by their conscience.” (He did hope, though, that they would listen to public opinion—at the event he asked residents to go to ImpeachTrumpNow.com to register their support.)

For now the road to impeachment is lonely, and perhaps very long. “I am a voice in the wilderness,” he said, “but history will vindicate me.”

Russians Bragged That They Could Use Michael Flynn to Influence Trump, CNN Reports

Russian officials believed that Michael Flynn was an ally whom they could use to influence President Donald Trump, CNN reported Friday night. The  network cites “multiple government officials” who were aware of conversations within the Russian government that were intercepted during the 2016 campaign.

“This was a five-alarm fire from early on,” one former Obama administration official said, “the way the Russians were talking about him.” Another former administration official said Flynn was viewed as a potential national security problem.

The conversations picked up by US intelligence officials indicated the Russians regarded Flynn as an ally, sources said. That relationship developed throughout 2016, months before Flynn was caught on an intercepted call in December speaking with Russia’s ambassador in Washington, Sergey Kislyak. That call, and Flynn’s changing story about it, ultimately led to his firing as Trump’s first national security adviser.

Flynn resigned from the position of National Security Adviser in February, 18 days after then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates warned the White House that Flynn had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his contact with the Russian ambassador and, as a result, could be a target of blackmail. 

The White House Is Weighing A Plan To Weaken The Special Prosecutor's Investigation Into Trump's Russia Scandal

By Julia Edwards Ainsley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration is exploring whether it can use an obscure ethics rule to undermine the special counsel investigation into ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russia, two people familiar with White House thinking said on Friday.

Trump has said that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s hiring of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead the investigation “hurts our country terribly.”

Within hours of Mueller’s appointment on Wednesday, the White House began reviewing the Code of Federal Regulations, which restricts newly hired government lawyers from investigating their prior law firm’s clients for one year after their hiring, the sources said.

An executive order signed by Trump in January extended that period to two years.

Mueller’s former law firm, WilmerHale, represents Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who met with a Russian bank executive in December, and the president’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who is a subject of a federal investigation.

Legal experts said the ethics rule can be waived by the Justice Department, which appointed Mueller. He did not represent Kushner or Manafort directly at his former law firm.

If the department did not grant a waiver, Mueller would be barred from investigating Kushner or Manafort, and this could  greatly diminish the scope of the probe, experts said.

The Justice Department is already reviewing Mueller’s background as well as any potential conflicts of interest, said department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores.

Even if the Justice Department granted a waiver, the White House would consider using the ethics rule to create doubt about Mueller’s ability to do his job fairly, the sources said. Administration legal advisers have been asked to determine if there is a basis for this.

Under this strategy, the sources said the administration would raise the issue in press conferences and public statements.

Moreover, the White House has not ruled out the possibility of using the rule to challenge Mueller’s findings in court, should the investigation lead to prosecution.

FOCUS ON CASTING A CLOUD OVER MUELLER

But the administration is now mainly focused on placing a cloud over his reputation for independence, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.     

Kathleen Clark, a professor of legal ethics at Washington University School of Law, said the Justice Department can grant a waiver if concerns about bias are minimal.

She said subjects of the investigation could later argue that its results cannot be trusted, but she believes the argument would not stand up in court.  

The White House did not respond to a request for comment on whether it is reviewing the ethics rule in order to undermine Mueller’s credibility.

Mueller’s former colleagues at WilmerHale, James Quarles and Aaron Zebley, are expected to join his investigation, according to a spokeswoman for the law firm. Neither Quarles nor Zebley represented Kushner or Manafort.

Mueller will now lead the ongoing Federal Bureau of Investigation probe into Trump’s associates and senior Russian officials.

Unlike Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel appointed by a three-judge panel to investigate Bill and Hillary Clinton’s real estate holdings in the 1990s, Mueller depends on the Justice Department for funding and he reports to Rosenstein, who was appointed by Trump.

When he announced Mueller’s appointment this week, Rosenstein said Mueller will have “all appropriate resources to conduct a thorough and complete investigation.”

 (Reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley, additional reporting by Gina Chon in Washington and Jan Wolfe in New York; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Cynthia Osterman)

It's Not Just You: This Week Was Bonkers. Here Are All the Big Trump Scoops.

What a week for investigative journalism. Since President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, the intrigue around possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia has swelled, culminating in the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the matter. But it’s a series of bombshell scoops that have made the biggest splash day after day—exposing details of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s shady connections with Turkey, Trump’s possible interference into the FBI’s investigation of the 2016 campaign, the president’s suggestion that the FBI throw journalists in jail, and a whole lot more.

Trump has not been happy about this. “Look at the way I’ve been treated lately—especially by the media,” the president said Wednesday. “No politician in history—and I say this with great surety—has been treated worse or more unfairly.” And of course, in typical Trump fashion, he’s been tweeting about it, too.

Here’s an overview of some of the great journalism that’s been getting under Trump’s skin this week:

“Trump Revealed Highly Classified Information to Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador”
The Washington Post dropped the first bomb with a report that the president shared highly classified information with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador, a move intelligence experts worry will discourage a key ally from sharing more information with the United States. The ally in question—later revealed, in another scoop, to be Israel—has insight into the inner workings of the Islamic State and did not give the United States permission to share the information. Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies,” a US official with knowledge of the matter told the Post.

“Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him to End Flynn Investigation” “I hope you can let this go,” Trump told Comey in an effort to get him to drop the investigation into Flynn. That’s according to a New York Times report based on a memo Comey wrote shortly after that meeting in February. An associate of the former FBI director also said Trump told Comey he should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information.

“Trump Team Knew Flynn Was Under Investigation Before He Came to White House”
Flynn secretly worked as lobbyist for the Turkish government during the Trump campaign and was under investigation by the Department of Justice. This week, the New York Times reported that the Trump team actually knew this before Flynn started working in the White House and offered him the job of national security adviser anyway.

“Flynn Stopped Military Plan Turkey Opposed—After Being Paid as Its Agent”
After being paid more than $ 500,000 to represent the interests of Turkey, Flynn moved to halt a military operation opposed by Turkey, according to McClatchy. The Obama administration’s plan to retake the Islamic State’s de-facto capital of Raqqa had been in the works for seven months and involved action strongly opposed by Turkey: cooperating with and arming Kurdish forces, who are considered one of the United States’ most effective allies in combating ISIS.

“As Investigators Circled Flynn, He Got a Message From Trump: Stay Strong”
On the same day in April that House Oversight Committee leaders announced that Flynn may have broken the law for not disclosing a $ 34,000 payment from RT, a television network intelligence officials describe as a Russian propaganda outlet, Trump sent the former national security adviser a message to “stay strong,” according to Yahoo News. The continued contact between the two men after Flynn was fired raises additional concerns about the president’s reported request to Comey to drop the FBI’s investigation into Flynn.

“Trump Campaign Had At Least 18 Undisclosed Contacts With Russians”
During the last seven months of the 2016 campaign, Trump’s team had at least 18 contacts with Russia officials and other people with ties to the Kremlin that were not previously disclosed, according to Reuters. Those contacts are being reviewed by the FBI and congressional probes into whether Trump’s team colluded with Russia. Reuters’ sources say the communications reviewed so far don’t show any evidence of wrongdoing. Six of the 18 contacts involved Russia ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Trump advisers, including Flynn.

House Majority Leader to Colleagues in 2016: ‘I Think Putin Pays’ Trump”
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told top Republicans that he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin “pays” Trump, in a private conversation last year, according to the Washington Post. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) then jumped in to end that discussion and urge the group to keep it private, as captured in a recording of the conversation verified by the paper. “No leaks, alright?” Ryan said. “This is how we know we’re a real family here.” A spokesman for Ryan first claimed the exchange never took place and then called it “an attempt at humor.”

“Russia Probe Reaches Current White House Official, People Familiar With the Case Say”
To cap off the week, the New York Times and Washington Post dropped two Friday-afternoon bombshells. The Post reported that the law enforcement investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election has now identified a current senior White House official as a person of interest. The report does not name the official but says it is someone close to the president.

“Trump Told Russians That Firing ‘Nut Job’ Comey Eased Pressure From Investigation”
And at virtually the same time, the Times dropped another juicy inside account of a White House meeting. Speaking to the Russian ambassador and foreign minister shortly after firing Comey, Trump reportedly said, “I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” Not if journalists have anything to say about it.

Joe Lieberman's Benghazi Connection

As President Donald Trump escaped Washington on Friday for his first overseas trip, the White House announced that he wasn’t yet ready to reveal his pick to replace James Comey, the FBI director he brazenly fired the previous week. But one name on his list appeared to be ahead of the others: former Sen. Joe Lieberman, the onetime Democrat who was Vice President Al Gore’s running mate in the 2000 presidential campaign.

Lieberman may not be an odd choice for Trump. He finished up his Senate career as an independent. Perhaps more important, since leaving the Senate in 2013, Lieberman has been a senior counsel at the Kasowitz Benson Torres law firm, which has defended Trump in numerous disputes over the years. But as a member of that law firm, Lieberman also had the unusual job of promoting and representing a Libyan businessman and politician who tried to court an alleged terrorist accused of leading the 2012 attack on the Benghazi compound that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

In Lieberman’s final days as a senator, a reporter asked him if he would become a lobbyist. “No, I’m not going to do that,” he replied. But in November 2013, as Politico reported at the time, his law firm signed up as a foreign agent for Basit Igtet, a Libyan businessman and activist who was considering running forprime minister in Libya. Igtet made his money through assorted ventures in Switzerland, where his family had sought exile. He married Sara Bronfman, the daughter of Edgar Bronfman, who had been the billionaire chairman of Seagram and the president of the World Jewish Congress. The foreign agent registration form filed at the Justice Department noted that Lieberman would be part of the team handling this $ 100,000 project that would provide “government relations services” to Igtet.

A Benghazi native, Igtet was a long-shot candidatefor prime minister. As Forbes noted, “Igtet believes he’s got the technocratic prowess to transform his country of six million people from the brink of civil war into the crown jewel of northern Africa. But skeptics say his status as a longtime expatriate and his lack of national security experience leave him ill-prepared to grasp control of deteriorating relations among warring rebel factions, police and the army.” And having a Jewish wife was probably not an asset.

As part of his campaign, Igtet emphasized his connections to the United States, pointing out his wife was involved with the US-Libya Chamber of Commerce and boasting that he personally knew Secretary of State John Kerry and Sen. John McCain. But Foreign Policyreported in early 2014 that as part of his campaign, he also sought out a terrorist suspect wanted by the United States for orchestrating the attack on the Benghazi facility:

Igtet not only has built ties with America’s friends, he’s also met with its enemies. He sat down last year with Ahmed Abu Khattala, the Benghazi militant charged by the Justice Department for his involvement in the 2012 attack on the American mission in Benghazi that killed US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. The State Department declared Abu Khattala a specially designated global terrorist in January.

Igtet says he told Abu Khattala that he is opposed to Libyans “being kidnapped or transferred somewhere else”—a reference to the U.S. policy of rendition, which Libyans saw firsthand last year when US commandos snatched al Qaeda suspect Abu Anas al-Libi off a Tripoli street and eventually brought him to New York to stand trial. Abu Khattala fears this could be his own fate.

“We are Libyans, this is our country and if someone has done something wrong here, they have to be judged in this country,” said Igtet. “Abu Khattala told me he is sure of his innocence. He said he has no problem to go to the court in Benghazi and face these issues there.”

Khattala never made it to a Benghazi court. In June 2014, he was captured by US special forces in a villa south of Benghazi, interrogated on a Navy ship for 13 days, and brought to the United States. US prosecutors have accused him of being a ringleader of the Benghazi assault. He has denied the charge. His trial is scheduled to begin in September.

Contacted by Mother Jones, Lieberman’s office said he was not available for comment.

When Khattala was nabbed, he was one of the FBI’s most-wanted terrorists, and bureau agents participated in the mission that grabbed him. Yet months earlier, Lieberman was working for a Libyan who had reached out to Khattala. Now, Lieberman may be Trump’s choice for FBI chief. If Lieberman does end up in the job, it will certainly be a first: an FBI director who once was a foreign agent for an overseas politician who cozied up to an alleged terrorist accused of killing Americans.

Will Republicans and conservatives care about this Benghazi connection?

Trump Told Russians That Comey Was a “Nut Job,” as FBI Investigation Inches Closer to the White House

Donald Trump meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, next to Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak at the White House, May 10, 2017.

Two bombshell reports on Friday afternoon shed more light on President Donald Trump’s rationale for firing FBI Director James Comey and showed just how close the FBI’s Russia investigation is getting to Trump’s inner circle.

The day after he fired Comey, Trump met with top Russian diplomats in the Oval Office. There, the New York Timesrevealed Friday afternoon, he badmouthed Comey and seemed to imply that his firing was prompted by the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. “I just fired the head of the FBI,” Trump said, according to the Times. “He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer did not dispute this account.

Moments later, the Washington Postreported that a current White House official in Trump’s inner circle is now under scrutiny in the Russia investigation:

The law enforcement investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign has identified a current White House official as a significant person of interest, showing that the probe is reaching into the highest levels of government, according to people familiar with the matter.

The senior White House adviser under scrutiny by investigators is someone close to the president, according to these people, who would not further identify the official.

The White House did not dispute this report either. Both reports came out shortly after Trump departed for his first overseas trip as president.

Deputy AG Confirms That Decision to Fire Comey Came From Trump, Not Him

President Donald Trump wanted to fire FBI Director James Comey long before Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wrote a memo in support of his ouster, Rosenstein told senators on Thursday. The White House put Rosenstein at the center of the growing storm last week when it claimed his memo was the catalyst for the firing.But according to Rosenstein, while he supported Comey’s firing, his memo on Comey neither instigated his removal nor was meant to justify it.

Rosenstein’s side of the story—bits of it, at least—came out Thursday afternoon after he briefed the Senate on Comey’s firing, when senators summarized his testimony to reporters. On Friday, the Justice Department released some of Rosenstein’s remarks delivered to the senators. Those remarks verify some pieces of the emerging story around the firing and contradict the White House’s initial narrative.

According to Rosenstein, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was interested in removing Comey even before he assumed that role. “In one of my first meetings with then-Senator Jeff Sessions last winter, we discussed the need for new leadership at the FBI,” Rosenstein told senators. One of Sessions’ main problems with Comey, Rosenstein’s remarks suggest, was that Comey was too independent of top Justice Department officials. “Among the concerns that I recall were to restore the credibility of the FBI, respect the established authority of the Department of Justice, limit public statements, and eliminate leaks,” he said.

Rosenstein went on to confirm that he heard about Comey’s impending removal on May 8, the day before it happened, and that Trump “sought my advice and input.” In response, Rosenstein drafted his memo that criticized Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email use. He sent that memo to Sessions the next afternoon—just a few hours before Comey’s firing was made public that evening. Trump has at various times since May 9 pinned the dismissal on Rosenstein and contradicted that line by saying was planning to fire Comey regardless of Rosenstein’s memo. But Rosenstein makes clear that the decision came from Trump, not him. “My memorandum is not a statement of reasons to justify for-cause termination,” he told senators. But he agreed with the decision, saying, “I thought it was appropriate to seek a new leader.”

Rosenstein also denied press reports that Comey had requested more resources for the investigation into Russian interference in the election prior to his firing. “I am not aware of any such request,” he told senators. “Moreover, I consulted my staff and Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and none of them recalls such a request.”

Despite these revelations, Democratic senators left the briefing Thursday feeling that many of their questions about Comey’s dismissal had gone unanswered.

Here are the now-public portions of Rosenstein’s remarks:

BRIEFING FOR MEMBERS OF THE UNITED STATES SENATE and HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL ROD J. ROSENSTEIN

WASHINGTON, DC

MAY 18th and 19th, 2017

            Good afternoon.  I welcome the opportunity to discuss my role in the removal of FBI Director James Comey, although I know you understand that I will not discuss the special counsel’s ongoing investigation. Most importantly, I want to emphasize my unshakeable commitment to protecting the integrity of every federal criminal investigation. There never has been, and never will be, any political interference in any matter under my supervision in the United States Department of Justice.    

* * *

            Before I discuss the events of the past two weeks, I want to provide some background about my previous relationship with former Director Comey. I have known Jim Comey since approximately 2002. In 2005, when Mr. Comey was Deputy Attorney General, he participated in selecting me to serve as a U.S. Attorney. As a federal prosecutor, he was a role model. His speeches about leadership and public service inspired me.

            On July 5, 2016, Director Comey held his press conference concerning the federal grand jury investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails. At the start of the press conference, the Director stated that he had “not coordinated or reviewed this statement in any way with the Department of Justice…. They do not know what I am about to say.”

            Director Comey went on to declare that he would publicly disclose “what we did; what we found; and what we are recommending to the Department of Justice.” He proceeded to disclose details about the evidence; assert that the American people “deserve” to know details; declare that no “reasonable” prosecutor would file charges; and criticize Secretary Clinton.

            I thought the July 5 press conference was profoundly wrong and unfair both to the Department of Justice and Secretary Clinton. It explicitly usurped the role of the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General and the entire Department of Justice; it violated deeply engrained rules and traditions; and it guaranteed that some people would accuse the FBI of interfering in the election.

            There are lawful and appropriate mechanisms to deal with unusual circumstances in which public confidence in the rule of law may be jeopardized. Such mechanisms preserve the traditional balance of power between investigators and prosecutors, and protect the rights of citizens.

            Director Comey attended the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office training seminar on October 27, 2016, and gave a detailed explanation of his reasons for making public statements about the conclusion of the Secretary Clinton email investigation. I strongly disagreed with his analysis, but I believe that he made his decisions in good faith.

            The next day, October 28, Mr. Comey sent his letter to the Congress announcing that the FBI was reopening the Clinton email investigation. He subsequently has said that he believed he was obligated to send the letter. I completely disagree. He again usurped the authority of the Department of Justice, by sending the letter over the objection of the Department of Justice; flouted rules and deeply engrained traditions; and guaranteed that some people would accuse the FBI of interfering in the election.

            Before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 3, 2017, Director Comey testified under oath about his public statements concerning the Secretary Clinton email investigation. I strongly disagreed with his explanations, particularly his assertion that maintaining confidentiality about criminal investigations constitutes concealment. Nonetheless, I respected him personally.

            Former Department of Justice officials from both political parties have criticized Director Comey’s decisions.  It was not just an isolated mistake; the series of public statements about the email investigation, in my opinion, departed from the proper role of the FBI Director and damaged public confidence in the Bureau and the Department.

            In one of my first meetings with then-Senator Jeff Sessions last winter, we discussed the need for new leadership at the FBI. Among the concerns that I recall were to restore the credibility of the FBI, respect the established authority of the Department of Justice, limit public statements and eliminate leaks.

            On May 8, I learned that President Trump intended to remove Director Comey and sought my advice and input. Notwithstanding my personal affection for Director Comey, I thought it was appropriate to seek a new leader.

            I wrote a brief memorandum to the Attorney General summarizing my longstanding concerns about Director Comey’s public statements concerning the Secretary Clinton email investigation.

            I chose the issues to include in my memorandum.

            Before finalizing the memorandum on May 9, I asked a senior career attorney on my staff to review it. That attorney is an ethics expert who has worked in the Office of the Deputy Attorney General during multiple administrations. He was familiar with the issues. I informed the senior attorney that the President was going to remove Director Comey, that I was writing a memorandum to the Attorney General summarizing my own concerns, and that I wanted to confirm that everything in my memorandum was accurate. He concurred with the points raised in my memorandum. I also asked several other career Department attorneys to review the memorandum and provide edits. 

            My memorandum is not a legal brief; these are not issues of law.

            My memorandum is not a finding of official misconduct; the Inspector General will render his judgment about that issue in due course.

            My memorandum is not a statement of reasons to justify a for-cause termination.

            My memorandum is not a survey of FBI morale or performance.

            My memorandum is not a press release.

            It is a candid internal memorandum about the FBI Director’s public statements concerning a high-profile criminal investigation.

            I sent my signed memorandum to the Attorney General after noon on Tuesday, May 9.

            I wrote it. I believe it. I stand by it. 

* * *

            Finally, I want to address the media claims that the FBI asked for additional resources for the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. I am not aware of any such request. Moreover, I consulted my staff and Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and none of them recalls such a request.