U.S. gives detailed look at Russia’s alleged election hacking

By Tami Abdollah

WASHINGTON — The U.S. has released its most detailed report yet on accusations that Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election by hacking American political sites and email accounts.

The 13-page joint analysis by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI is the first such report ever to attribute malicious cyber activity to a particular country or actors.

It was also the first time the U.S. has officially and specifically tied intrusions into the Democratic National Committee to hackers with the Russian civilian and military intelligence services, the FSB and GRU, expanding on an Oct. 7 accusation by the Obama administration.

The report said the intelligence services were involved in “an ongoing campaign of cyber-enabled operations directed at the U.S. government and its citizens.” It added, “In some cases, (the Russian intelligence services’) actors masqueraded as third parties, hiding behind false online personas designed to cause the victim to misattribute the source of the attack.”

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Over the summer stolen emails from Democrats were posted by an online persona known as Guccifer 2.0, believed by U.S. officials to be linked to Russia. Outrage over documents that appeared to show favoritism for Hillary Clinton forced the DNC’s chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, to resign.

The U.S. released the technical report Thursday as President Barack Obama sanctioned the GRU and the FSB, the GRU’s leadership and companies which the U.S. said support the GRU.

The sanctions were the administration’s first use of a 2015 executive order for combatting cyberattacks against critical infrastructure and commercial espionage. Because election systems aren’t considered critical infrastructure, Obama amended the order Thursday to allow for sanctions on entities “interfering with or undermining election processes or institutions.”

The retaliation against Russia, just weeks before President-elect Donald Trump takes office, culminated months of political handwringing about how and whether to respond to Moscow’s alleged meddling. U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia’s goal was to help Trump win — an assessment Trump has dismissed as ridiculous. Trump said Thursday the U.S. should move on, but that he would meet with the intelligence community’s leaders next week for an update on the situation.

Also Read: Putin says Russia won’t expel U.S. diplomats in hacking flap

The report did not go far beyond confirming details already disclosed by cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, which was hired to investigate the DNC hacks.

It described the intelligence services’ use of “spearphishing” — fake emails intended to trick victims into typing in their user names and passwords. At least one person opened attachments with malicious software. The report noted that actors “likely associated” with Russian intelligence services are continuing to engage in spearphishing campaigns, including one launched just days after the U.S. election.

The DNC was infiltrated by the FSB in summer 2015 and again by the GRU in spring 2016 using spearphishing emails that often appeared to come from legitimate or official organizations, the report said.

Russian officials have denied any involvement in hacking U.S. political sites and emails.

The report provided clues, or pieces of code left behind by hackers, cybersecurity workers in the private sector could look for to identify compromised systems and prevent more intrusions. The Department of Homeland Security said it has already included this information within its own cyber threat information-sharing program, which automatically flags threats in real time for participating companies and agencies.

Releasing such a report was a political twist on the administration’s strategy of “name and shame,” in place since 2012 and used to bring indictments against Chinese military hackers for economic espionage and Iranian hackers for an attack on banks and a small dam in New York. It was also a far more detailed and sophisticated telling of Russia’s hacking, with technical indicators of compromise, compared to the spare technical details released after the Obama administration publicly blamed North Korea for a cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment.

U.S. officials also provided antivirus vendors with two malicious software samples used by Russian intelligence services.




Mayor of Gurabo Arrested for Public Corruption

U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

SAN JUAN – Víctor M. Ortiz Díaz, aka “Manolito,” mayor of the municipality of Gurabo, was arrested by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents on charges of extortion and soliciting a bribe, Rosa Emilia Rodríguez, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, announced Wednesday.  

For these charges, the mayor, whose resignation was requested by Governor-elect Ricardo Rosselló, could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, Rodríguez said.

The district attorney explained that in or about October 2012, the Municipality of Gurabo owed Company A payments for eight outstanding invoices for work performed in the municipality.  Person A, co-owner of Company A, met with mayor Ortíz-Díaz to discuss the outstanding debt.  The mayor solicited $125,000 from Person A to invest in a telecommunication antennas project.

According to the indictment, Because Company A didn’t have the money to pay the $125,000, the mayor told Person A that he would have the municipality make a payment to the company. With this money, Company A could be able to cover the “loan” to Ortiz Díaz, as well as pay other debts it owed its suppliers.

On Oct. 19, 2012, Person A issued three post-dated Company A checks payable to three different individuals, who were employees of Miguel Merced. Merced was orchestrating the telecommunications investment scheme in which Ortiz Díaz invested three checks totaling $125,000. On that same date, the Municipality of Gurabo issued two checks totaling $196,643.26 payable to Company A for contracting work performed.         

Unbeknownst to him, Ortiz Díaz used the money he extorted from Person A in what turned out to be a Ponzi scheme run by Merced, who is now serving a six-year prison sentence.

“Defendant Ortiz-Díaz extorted Person A, to invest in a Ponzi scheme, which resulted in losses to many victims,” Rodríguez said. “Although he presented himself as a victim in federal court, it was the citizens of Gurabo who were the victims of his corrupt acts, as it was their money he squandered.”

Douglas A. Leff, special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Juan division

Douglas A. Leff, special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Juan division

“It is always a sad day when someone who enjoys the trust of the people abuses that trust,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Douglas Leff. “It should be clear by now that those officials who have served the public dishonestly will eventually have justice delivered to their doorstep. The FBI will continue to work with its partners at the U.S. Attorney’s Office to ensure that the citizens of Puerto Rico receive the fair and honest government to which they are entitled.”

“Yes, there are many more corruption cases coming,” Rodríguez said, stressing that what raised flags in the case was not that he was a mayor but a public official violating the law.

On the reasons for arresting the mayor a month after the elections, the federal official insisted that cases are revealed when ready. However, she explained that they were “careful” to not to act in a way that would affect the thinking of voters before an electoral event.

Rodríguez said the mayor didn’t resist arrest, adding that Ortiz Díaz had pretended to be a victim in court, but also acknowledged he had invested money in Merced’s company not knowing it was a scheme.

“The fruit of hard work can be seen,” said Zulma Rosario, director of the Government Ethics Office, which has been collaborating with federal agencies on corruption cases.

The mayor’s bail and conditions have yet to be divulged.

The case was investigated by the FBI and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Olga B. Castellón-Miranda.




Feds ‘looking for irregularities’ at Sports & Recreation Department

SAN JUAN – Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) spokesman Carlos Osorio has confirmed a search carried out Tuesday morning at the Department of Recreation and Sports’ (DRD) headquarters in Santurce.

“It’s an ongoing investigation that brought us here to the point we are in this investigation…. We are here with the assistance of the Office of the Inspector General and the Department of Education,” Osorio said in a NotiUno radio interview.

An FBI truck is seen outside Toa Baja's government center building on Nov. 22, 2016. (CB photo:Juan Rodriguez Torres).JPG

(CB photo:Juan Rodriguez Torres)

When asked if the investigation was into the misuse of federal funds, the official said, “We are looking for irregularities. We are here to see what what we find tells us.”

Osorio said he wasn’t aware if the agency’s secretary, Ramón Orta, was present; however, the head of the agency told another radio station, WKAQ, that he was on his way to the agency, that they are cooperating with the federal authorities and don’t know what the investigation is about.

The FBI spokesman said that more than 50 agents were at the Sports & Recreation building as part of the search warrant.




Víctor Suárez shaken by FBI raid on personal property

By Limarys Suárez and Cindy Burgos

SAN JUAN – Visibly affected and teary-eyed, Secretary of State Víctor Suárez expressed Thursday his indignation following the sudden arrest of his 16-year-old son in his own home as part of a raid carried out by FBI agents.

“During the morning today, between 5:30 a.m. and 6 a.m., the residence where my children live with their mother was raided by FBI agents. The story they tell me–to give you an idea, my son just turned 16 in September and my daughter is 14; she’ll be 15 in December–they tell me the agents arrived, knock loudly on the door, when the door opens they show their mother a search and seizure order, handcuff their mother, go to my son’s room, take him out of the room, handcuff him and take them down. My daughter was getting ready in the bathroom and when she went downstairs she was more calm, things were more calm and they didn’t handcuff her,” Suárez said in a press conference at the State Department.

Puerto Rico Secretary of State Víctor Suárez (CB photo/Limarys Suárez )

Puerto Rico Secretary of State Víctor Suárez (CB photo/Limarys Suárez )

Suárez further said the federal agents took his children and ex wife out of the house and to the street, and began to search for electronic equipment; they took pictures of the residence, interviewed the three, and asked for the passwords of their respective personal electronic devices.

“They didn’t seize [electronic devices]. Based on the information they told me, they didn’t find anything. When I arrived, there were some agents inside and others outside; they told me they were conducting an investigation on identity theft and cyber crimes. At that moment the mother of my children tells me they had handcuffed my son and I asked the agents why they had to handcuff a 16-year-old boy, and they told me it was part of the process, to calm down and that he wasn’t handcuffed anymore,” he said.

The secretary of state added that the FBI agents allowed him to witness their son’s interview, and finally told him that what they had determined is that the house’s internet router was open, making it easy for anyone to access the signal.

“They told me the router was open. Apparently, there were some cybercrimes carried out and they recommend the kids’ mother to change the router for a modern one that comes with a password and to use a username and password,” the public official said.

Suárez expressed feeling affected over the incident and urged the press to be prudent when reporting because there are two minors involved.

“I know the right you have to inform, but I ask you to do it with responsibility, and the federal authorities to conduct the investigation until the last consequences and clarify the result of the investigation. Divulge it. My kids are the children of a public figure and that has an impact on them and magnifies what is happening. My son is 16 and my daughter is 14 with a future ahead,” he stressed.

The secretary of state said the way the FBI carried out the raid “isn’t the way” it should have been carried out, and said he found out about it when he arrived to pick up his daughter to take her to school, as he does every day.

“That isn’t the way to act, and unfortunately it’s an experience they won’t be able to forget for the rest of their lives. The kids decided to go to school but that doesn’t mean they aren’t affected. I haven’t decided about the next step,” he said regarding the possibility of suing the FBI.

Meanwhile, he commented that an apology from federal authorities “doesn’t amend the damage.”

“I believe the federal authorities should look at those processes, and beyond that apology what I ask for them is to clarify this investigation, point out who is responsible and make it public. As you know, this appears in the news, then it isn’t clarified and [my children] remain scarred forever. I am furious, I am affected and I can’t hide it,” he affirmed.

The FBI interviewed Suárez’s son in his underwear.

“My children were nervous. My son was interviewed in boxers, without a shirt, and in order to get dressed with the uniform to go to school he had to get dressed in front of an FBI agent. My daughter was dressed, nervous and worried. The boy, after the process, cried when he was on his way to school,” Suárez added.

García Padilla Reacts

Meanwhile, Gov. Alejandro García Padilla expressed confidence in the secretary of State’s integrity, affirming in a written statement that “Víctor is sure the investigation won’t reveal any finding linking the minors to any crime, and I am sure the results of this investigation will confirm, once more, the integrity that characterizes him as a public official. Víctor and his family have my full support and absolute trust.”




FBI Chief: No Charges for Clinton after New Emails Reviewed

Part of a Nov. 6, 2016, letter from FBI director James Comey to Congress is photographed in Washington, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016. Comey tells Congress that a review of new Hillary Clinton emails has "not changed our conclusions" from earlier this year that she should not face charges. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)

Part of a Nov. 6, 2016, letter from FBI director James Comey to Congress is photographed in Washington, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)

WASHINGTON – FBI Director James Comey told Congress in a letter sent Sunday that a review of newly discovered Hillary Clinton emails has “not changed our conclusions” from earlier this year that she should not face charges.

Sent just two days before Election Day, the letter appeared to resolve any lingering ambiguity over the prospect that the Democratic presidential nominee could yet face a criminal indictment over her use of a private email sever as secretary of state.

“Based on our review, we have not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July with respect to Secretary Clinton,” Comey wrote to congressional leaders, less than two weeks after first telling them about a cache of newly found emails that investigators thought might be pertinent to their investigation.

But the letter left unresolved other questions, including the content and number of new emails, and how many of the messages investigators reviewed were duplicates of emails they had already seen.

“The growing number of unanswered questions demand explanations,” Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.

A senior law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal decision-making, said the letter was intended to reflect a conclusion to the email review and not merely a status update.

The letter also drew fresh criticism from lawmakers who said the new email review, announced in a vague letter to Congress on Oct. 28, shouldn’t have been made public so close to the election and created unnecessary suspicion.

“Today’s letter makes Director Comey’s actions nine days ago even more troubling. There’s no doubt that it created a false impression about the nature of the agency’s inquiry,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said Clinton was being protected by a “rigged system” and pronounced her “guilty,” notwithstanding the FBI’s conclusion.

The FBI had been under pressure to reveal additional details about its new email review following Comey’s abrupt disclosure on Oct. 28 that the bureau had discovered emails that were potentially relevant to the Clinton investigation.

The emails were found on the computer of Anthony Weiner, the disgraced congressman and estranged husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin. Weiner is under investigation by federal authorities for online communications he had with a 15-year-old girl.

Upon discovering emails thought to be potentially pertinent to the Clinton email investigation, Comey advised Congress that investigators would review the messages to see whether they were classified. The FBI subsequently obtained a warrant to begin the process of going through the emails.

That disclosure, made over the objections of the Justice Department, roiled the presidential race in its final days and revived an issue that the Clinton campaign thought had ended over the summer when the investigation closed without charges.

In July, the FBI chief chastised Clinton for her use of a private mail server but said the bureau would not recommend criminal charges against the Democratic presidential nominee or her aides. The Justice Department accepted that recommendation.

In his letter to Congress on Sunday, Comey said the FBI had reviewed all new emails to and from Clinton and that nothing had changed its July conclusion. But the letter did not address how the messages wound up on Weiner’s computer and what, if anything, the announcement means for Abedin.

Abedin’s attorney, Karen Dunn, has said Abedin learned from media reports about the possibility that her emails had been found on a laptop belonging to Weiner.

Comey has already said that investigators found classified emails on Clinton’s server, and that although Clinton and her aides had been “extremely careless” in their handling of classified information, there was no evidence that anyone had willfully broken the law.

The new email review did not automatically increase the chances that anyone was in renewed danger of criminal prosecution, even if additional classified messages were found.

“We were always confident nothing would cause the July decision to be revisited. Now Director Comey has confirmed it,” Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon said Sunday on Twitter.




Fox apologizes for inaccurate Hillary Clinton report

FOX News town hall host Bret Baier talks to the crowd before the town hall with Democratic presidential candidates, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, and Hillary Clinton  at the Gem Theatre, Monday, March 7, 2016, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

FOX News town hall host Bret Baier talks to the crowd before the town hall with Democratic presidential candidates, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, and Hillary Clinton at the Gem Theatre, Monday, March 7, 2016, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

NEW YORK – Fox News Channel apologized Friday for an inaccurate report this week that Hillary Clinton would likely be indicted as a result of an investigation by the FBI into the Clinton Foundation.

Fox’s Bret Baier, who initially reported on the case Wednesday, said Friday that “it was a mistake, and for that I’m sorry.”

Clinton’s critics have accused her family of giving donors special access to the State Department when Clinton was secretary of state.

The Associated Press reported this week that FBI agents seeking an investigation into the foundation talked to Justice Department lawyers last winter about allegations they wanted to pursue, but prosecutors were wary about the strength of the information they presented. It’s unclear whether FBI agents are still looking into the foundation.

Fox’s report, less than a week before Election Day, was a potential bombshell – if it held up.

Baier began walking back his report the next day, saying that his phrasing had been inartful. “Well, that wasn’t just inartful, it was a mistake,” he said Friday.

“Indictment obviously is a very loaded word … especially in this atmosphere, and no one knows if there would or would not be an indictment no matter how strong investigators feel their evidence is,” he said. Baier hasn’t identified the sources for his original report.

Baier also said in his original report that his sources believed with “a 99 percent accuracy” that Clinton’s email server had been hacked by at least five foreign intelligence agencies.

He said Friday that he had one source for that information, and that while others believe that is probable, “there are still no digital fingerprints of a breach no matter what the working assumption is within the bureau.”

“On a topic this explosive every word matters, no matter how well-sourced,” Baier said.

The meeting in February about the Clinton Foundation came after the book “Clinton Cash” by Republican political consultant Peter Schweizer was published, alleging that foreign governments donating to the foundation received favors at the State Department while Clinton was secretary. The State Department hasn’t found any ethics violations involving the foundation while Clinton was there.




Comey considered a ‘bad choice’ for FBI post by Clinton aide

FBI Director James Comey appears at a House Intelligence Committee hearing on world wide threats on Capitol Hill Feb. 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

FBI Director James Comey appears at a House Intelligence Committee hearing on world wide threats on Capitol Hill Feb. 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON- A senior aide to Hillary Clinton privately dismissed FBI Director James Comey as “a bad choice” in October 2015, according to newly released emails from WikiLeaks. The blunt assessment foreshadowed the dramatic tension that has escalated between Comey and the Democratic presidential candidate in the final days before the election.

Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri forwarded to colleagues a news article in which the FBI director suggested that crime could be rising because police officers were becoming less aggressive as a result of the “Ferguson effect,” anti-police sentiment following unrest earlier that year in Ferguson, Missouri. Comey was widely criticized over the remarks.

Palmieri wrote, “Get a big fat ‘I told you so’ on Comey being a bad choice.” She sent the email to Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, and to the private email address of someone who appeared to be White House spokesman Eric Schultz. Neither responded, and Palmieri did not appear to write further about the subject. Palmieri was the White House director of communications when Comey was appointed FBI director by President Barack Obama in September 2013.

The disclosure came days after Comey notified Congress that during an investigation of Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s now-separated husband, former Rep. Anthony Weiner, FBI agents found indications that a laptop used by Weiner contained some emails related to the FBI’s earlier probe of Clinton’s private computer server and emails. The disclosure roiled the presidential campaign, and last week Palmieri openly criticized Comey about the notification.

“By taking this highly unusual, unprecedented action this close to the election, he put himself in the middle of the campaign,” Palmieri said of Comey.

Comey had announced in July that he was recommending against criminal charges in the investigation of Clinton’s use of her private server, but the FBI director also delivered blistering criticism that Clinton and her colleagues at the State Department were “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”

The Palmieri email was among more than 2,000 new messages published Thursday by WikiLeaks. The emails were hacked from Podesta’s private account.

The U.S. government has said the Russian government was responsible, although WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said earlier in the day that no government or any other state parties had given the stolen emails to WikiLeaks. He offered no evidence to support his denials, and the wording of his statement did not rule out the possibility that the emails were obtained by a state actor and then provided to another party who then passed them to WikiLeaks.

In another hacked email published Thursday, Palmieri told Podesta and longtime Clinton adviser Neera Tanden in June 2011 that it was time to “bust in that house and get Huma the hell out of there.”

Palmieri was not explicit in the reference but it appears to have been prompted by the sexting scandal involving Weiner that forced him to resign from his New York congressional seat. Palmieri sent the email, which she titled “time to get in the hazmat suits,” the day before Weiner stepped down after admitting he had sent a sexually suggestive picture of himself to a 21-year-old woman over Twitter.

A January 2016 email to Podesta included a message describing a pitch for a music television show involving former president Bill Clinton’s brother, Roger.

“Think American Idol meets country music. A panel of judges will pick from the nation’s best undercover stars. Starring Roger Clinton,” said the message, forwarded to a Bill Clinton aide. The idea circulated to Hillary Clinton’s campaign aides, who refrained from commenting.

Another email revealed that appearing on the season opener of “Saturday Night Live” took precedence over delivering the keynote dinner address for the annual gala of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT rights group – at least in the minds of Clinton’s campaign aides.

Lining up an appearance on “SNL” was the Clinton campaign’s top effort for the fall 2015 television season. The campaign’s deputy communications director, Kristina Schake, called a “surprise guest spot” on the comedy series’ Oct. 3 show the “top ask” among television venues.

“Talked to the producers,” Schake wrote in an email dated Aug. 6, 2015. “They will write a skit for her and want to confirm asap. Would need to skip the HRC Gala in DC that night, but this opportunity seems more important given the impact it would have.”

As it turned out, Clinton managed to deliver a keynote address for the HRC gathering after all – during its Saturday breakfast in Washington. Vice President Joe Biden was the dinner’s keynote speaker.

Clinton traveled to New York to appear on “SNL” as hoped, playing a bartender named Val who commiserates with Kate McKinnon’s Clinton.

Other TV shows the campaign sought for Clinton appearances, according to the email: “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” ”The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” ”Live with Kelly and Michael,” Charlie Rose’s talk show and “CBS This Morning.”




AP sources: FBI agents sought Clinton Foundation probe

U.S. Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks at the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Phoenix Awards Dinner, at the Washington Convention Center, Spetember 17, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

(Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

WASHINGTON – FBI agents seeking an investigation into the Clinton Foundation made a presentation to Justice Department lawyers about the allegations they wanted to pursue, but public corruption prosecutors did not want to partner with them based on concerns about the strength of the information they received, two people familiar with the matter said Thursday.

The meeting at the Justice Department took place in February and reflected the conflicting views of prosecutors and investigators, according to two individuals who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations within the government.

Though agents believed they had grounds to investigate the foundation, Justice Department lawyers were far more skeptical. During the February meeting, the lawyers did not direct the FBI to stop looking into the matter, but public-corruption prosecutors in Washington expressed disinterest in working with the FBI on a Clinton Foundation-related investigation based on the information that was presented to them at the briefing, the people said.

It’s unclear whether FBI agents have continued to look into the Clinton Foundation, a nonprofit corporation that raises funds from private, corporate and some government donors for international projects to reduce poverty, improve health and other global needs. Critics have also accused the Clinton family of using the foundation to enrich themselves and give donors special access to the State Department when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.

But the Justice Department’s public integrity section has not changed its stance on the matter since the briefing earlier this year, according to one of the people who spoke to AP.

The FBI reportedly also has looked into aides of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, including business ties in Ukraine of Paul Manafort, who resigned in August as Trump’s campaign chairman following revelations that his firm had orchestrated a secret Ukrainian lobbying campaign in Washington. The New York Times reported this week that the FBI had examined possible connections between the Trump campaign and the Russians, but had found nothing direct.

The February meeting about the Clinton Foundation followed the publication of “Clinton Cash,” a book by Republican political consultant Peter Schweizer that alleges foreign governments that donated to the foundation received favors at the State Department during Clinton’s time as secretary. The State Department has not found any ethics violations related to the foundation while she ran the department, and Clinton campaign aides have cast Schweizer as a Republican operative working to defeat her.

It couldn’t immediately be learned what specific allegations had attracted the attention of the FBI.

Longstanding Justice Department protocol discourages investigative actions in the run-up to an election that could be seen as affecting the electoral process. That’s why Justice Department officials disagreed with the decision by FBI Director James Comey to alert Congress last week to the discovery of new emails that he said might be connected to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. That investigation ended in July without charges.

The latest emails were discovered during the FBI’s sexting investigation of former Rep. Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Huma Abedin, a close Hillary Clinton aide. The FBI has obtained a warrant to begin the process of going through the newly found emails to see whether they were classified.

Comey has said he felt obligated to notify Congress in order to keep the public informed and because he had previously told lawmakers that the investigation had been completed.

An FBI spokeswoman declined to discuss the Clinton Foundation discussions or any possible Trump-related investigation.

 




Hacked emails show Clinton campaign communicated with State

In this Sept. 26, 2016 file photo, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton listens to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during the U.S. presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.  Clinton privately said the U.S. would "ring China with missile defense" if the Chinese government failed to curb North Korea's nuclear program, a potential hint at how the former secretary of state would act if elected president. Clinton's remarks were revealed by WikiLeaks in a hack of the Clinton campaign chairman's personal account. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

WASHINGTON – A State Department official appeared to coordinate with Hillary Clinton’s nascent presidential campaign hours before the former secretary of state’s exclusive use of private emails was first detailed in a news account last year, newly released hacked emails show.

Emails from the files of Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta show that the department official provided Clinton aides with the agency’s official response to a New York Times reporter in advance of the newspaper’s March 2015 report that Clinton had used a private email account to conduct all of her work-related business as secretary.

The stolen emails were released Wednesday by WikiLeaks, part of a massive trove of emails released by the document-leaking group on a daily basis since last month. WikiLeaks has indicated it intends to leak emails stolen from Podesta’s account every day through the election.

In a March 1, 2015 email, State Department press aide Lauren Hickey told Clinton’s spokesman Nick Merrill and two other advisers that then-State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki had “just cleared” a reply to the Times. Hickey provided the agency’s response to the Clinton aides and also appeared to agree to a change requested by the campaign, saying: “Yes on your point re records – done below.” It is not clear what specific change was requested and made.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday that the department would not comment on alleged leaked documents. But he said the department’s effort to “provide accurate information to the media” about Clinton’s tenure at the agency has “at times required communicating with her representatives to ensure accuracy.”

The Clinton campaign has repeatedly warned that WikiLeaks has exploited emails stolen by hackers who may be working for the Russian government.

The Podesta emails follow a string of notable illicit caches released during the 2016 election campaign, including thousands of messages stolen from the Democratic National Committee and former Secretary of State Colin Powell. The FBI has opened a criminal investigation into the DNC thefts, but U.S. intelligence agencies are firmly pointing to the Russian government.

In a hacked email chain from March 17, 2015, Clinton’s campaign advisers discussed how to respond to a request by a Times reporter for comment on an upcoming story about how top State Department aides used private email accounts to communicate with Clinton.

Clinton aide Philippe Reines wrote: “There’s a lot to respond to here, but first and foremost the premise is wrong. There is nothing wrong with anyone having personal email addresses or her emailing someone’s private account or vice versa. Maybe she was wishing (longtime aide) Jake (Sullivan) a happy birthday. Or I was sending her a note about her mom. … We’re allowed to have personal lives.”

Campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri wrote: “Strikes me as a big problem that the NYT is having selected emails leaked to them and I think we should do a call to discuss the proper way to handle.” The email exchange occurred about a month before Clinton officially launched her presidential bid in a video released in April 2015.

In an August 2015 email exchange, Clinton aide Huma Abedin points out that Clinton wasn’t prepared for all of the questions surrounding the use of her private email and asks for a longer list of questions and answers “so at least it’s out there and maybe she won’t have to do it verbally again?”

Separately, assistant attorney general Peter Kadzik wrote to Podesta in May 2015 to offer a “heads up” that a Justice Department official would be testifying before the House Judiciary Committee and would likely “get questions on State Department emails.” Podesta forwarded the message to top campaign staff, writing: “Additional chances for mischief.”

Kadzik, head of Justice’s office of legislative affairs, wrote to Congress this week assuring lawmakers that the department will “dedicate all necessary resources and take appropriate steps as expeditiously as possible” as it renews its investigation into newly discovered emails that may be related to the dormant inquiry into Clinton’s email practices.




Defending Clinton, Obama Draws Contrast With FBI’s Comey

President Barack Obama boards Air Force One, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Obama is heading back to North Carolina to help turn out the vote for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton with a rally in Chapel Hill. It's the first of two visits Obama has planned this week to North Carolina. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Barack Obama boards Air Force One, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama staunchly defended Hillary Clinton’s use of private email as an “honest mistake,” suggesting Wednesday that voters should discount innuendo-filled revelations that the FBI is looking into more emails just ahead of Election Day.

Obama walked a careful line in his first public comments about FBI Director James Comey’s decision to publicly disclose the emails’ existence, which has roiled the campaign. Though he did not explicitly criticize Comey, Obama outlined a standard for how investigations should be conducted that contrasted sharply with the approach Comey has pursued.

“I do think that there is a norm that when there are investigations, we don’t operate on innuendo, we don’t operate on incomplete information, we don’t operate on leaks,” Obama said in an interview with online news outlet NowThis. “We operate based on concrete decisions that are made.”

Comey notified Congress in a brief and ambiguous letter last week that the FBI was examining whether newly uncovered emails might pertain to a dormant FBI probe into Clinton’s email practices. Comey’s letter shed no light on whether investigators were likely to actually turn up anything of note.

Meanwhile, a series of leaks by FBI and Justice Department officials about how the emails came to light have further muddied the waters for voters, who must decide whether to let the revelations affect their choice for president.

The White House insisted that Obama comments shouldn’t be construed as pertaining to Clinton’s case, even though they came in response to a direct question about Comey and the Clinton emails. White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Obama was merely pointing out that if facts are released before an investigation is completed, “that could lead to public speculation or innuendo.”

“The president believes that – generally speaking – that doesn’t serve our interests,” Schultz said.

Obama, in the interview, emphasized that he’s trying to avoid looking like he’s meddling in an independent process. At the same time, he pointed to the FBI’s earlier investigation of Clinton, which concluded she shouldn’t be charged with a crime, as evidence that the issue was much ado about nothing.

“Hillary Clinton, having been in the arena for 30 years, oftentimes gets knocked around, and people say crazy stuff about her, and when she makes a mistake – an honest mistake – it ends up being blown up as if it’s just some crazy thing,” Obama said.

How to handle the uproar over Comey and the emails has become a delicate balancing act for the White House. The principle of judicial independence dictates that the president shouldn’t risk the perception of influencing investigations by commenting about whether they are appropriate or how they are conducted.

On the other hand, White House aides and other Democrats are concerned that Clinton could be unfairly disadvantaged by the disclosure that the FBI is looking into her emails again, even it if ultimately amounts to nothing.

In the closing days of the race, there also has been speculation and contradictory reports about whether the FBI is investigating Donald Trump’s possible connections with Russia.