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Nicole Lafond

Nicole Lafond is a news writer for TPM based in New York City. She is also currently earning a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and previously worked as an education reporter at The News-Gazette in Champaign, Ill. Follow her on Twitter @Nicole_Lafond.

Articles by Nichole

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) said Tuesday that the missing text messages between two FBI officials is just further evidence of “corruption” within the FBI and claimed without evidence that top-level agency officials held “secret society” meetings off-site after the election.

“What this is all about is further evidence of corruption,” he told Fox News Tuesday. “It’s more than bias, but corruption at the highest levels of the FBI and that secret society, we have an informant that is talking about a group that were holding secret meetings off-site. There is so much smoke here, there is so much suspicion.”

Johnson also made similar baseless claims about the Department of Justice: “There are similar individuals highly biased, political operatives burrowed into the Department of Justice as well,” he said.

Johnson is just one of many Republican lawmakers claiming anti-Trump bias within the FBI.

Over the weekend, the FBI was expected to release a new round of text messages between former agent Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page, but announced that due to “misconfiguration issues” the five months worth of texts had been lost, according to Politico and multiple other news outlets. The FBI later said the texts were missing due to a Samsung phone glitch, which the President later referenced in a tweet Tuesday evening.

Johnson said he was “suspicious” of the missing texts and he wants to “get to the bottom of it.”

“So many experts in IT, they say those messages are somewhere and need to be retrieved,” he said. “The timing is suspicious.”

In a second interview with Fox News Wednesday, Johnson would not confirm how many FBI officials were involved in the supposed “secret society,” but said it was “more than just Strzok and Page” who were involved.

There were indications there were a number of high level FBI officials holding secret meetings off-site,” he said. 

The Justice Department is investigating 50,000 text messages exchanged between Strzok and Page during the 2016 presidential election. There are 50,000 texts messages total, not 50,000 missing, as Trump has said twice.

According to transcripts of the texts released by the Justice Department, the pair referred to Trump as an “idiot” and used language that indicated they supported former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her presidential bid. The texts also appear to show the two knew Clinton would not be charged before the investigation in her use of private email servers during her time as secretary of state was complete.

Trump and other Republicans are using the texts to hold a candle to their accusations of bias within the FBI, a phenomenon the President has been fueling since he fired former FBI Director James Comey last spring.

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Calling Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) decision to compromise with Republicans and reopen the government Monday a “humiliating defeat,” President Donald Trump said late Tuesday that “Cryin’” Schumer knows “if there is no Wall, there is no DACA.”

“We must have safety and security, together with a strong Military, for our great people!” he tweeted Tuesday night.

On Tuesday afternoon, Schumer told reporters that he was rescinding his side of the deal he made with Trump last week, when he offered $25 billion for Trump’s border wall in exchange for some of the Democrats’ demands for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Schumer had made the deal as part of a last-ditch effort to keep the government open on Friday.

Schumer retraced his steps Tuesday after receiving widespread criticism from his party’s liberal base, who complained Democrats were too quick to cave on their demands for DACA recipients in order to reopen the government.

On Monday Congress approved a three-week spending plan. Some Democrats agreed to vote for the bill after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) vowed to try to reach a deal on immigration, as well as key budget issues, by Feb. 8.

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The ranking Democratic member on the House Judiciary Committee is asking the committee’s chairman to turn over Rep. Devin Nunes’ (R-CA) staff’s classified memo to the Department of Justice, the FBI and the rest of the House Judiciary Committee.

In a letter to Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) called the memo “profoundly misleading” and a “conspiracy theory.” He claimed the document is causing “too many of our colleagues” to construct “their own version of history.”

The memo in question was authored by Nunes’ staffers, and it reportedly contains classified information about the conduct of senior Department of Justice and FBI officials, that allegedly proves Republicans’ claims of the Justice Department’s bias against President Donald Trump.

Nadler said it was “profoundly unfair” that the memo hasn’t been given to the FBI or the Justice Department and said it was the Judiciary Committee’s responsibility to help those agencies “formulate a meaningful response” to the accusations in the memo.

On Tuesday, California Democrats Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Adam Schiff wrote a letter to Facebook and Twitter officials asking them to probe whether a hashtag promoting the release of the classified memo — “#ReleaseTheMemo” — was propagated by Russian bots.

Read Nadler’s letter below:

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California Democrats Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Adam Schiff are asking Twitter and Facebook to probe whether a hashtag promoting the release of a classified memo compiled by Republicans was propagated by Russian bots.

In a letter sent to the two companies’ CEOs Tuesday, Schiff and Feinstein asked the social media giants for “urgent assistance” in “our efforts to counter Russia’s continuing efforts to manipulate public opinion.”

The memo in question was authored by Rep. Devin Nunes’ (R-CA) staffers. It reportedly contains classified information about the conduct of senior Department of Justice and FBI officials that allegedly proves Republicans’ claims of the Justice Department’s bias against President Donald Trump. The memo was made available to the entire House of Representatives on Thursday, which prompted calls on social media for the memo to be made public, including a Twitter hashtag “#ReleaseTheMemo.” The memo reportedly has not been shared with the Justice Department, Politico and the Daily Beast reported. 

Citing reports from multiple news outlets, Schiff and Feinstein said that by Friday the hashtag “was ‘the top trending hashtag among Twitter accounts believed to be operated by Kremlin-linked groups’” and was being used “‘100 times more than any other hashtag’ by accounts linked to Russian influence campaigns,” the pair said in the letter.

They asked Facebook and Twitter to determine by Jan. 26 how many Russian influence accounts were linked to social media posts calling for the release of the memo; “the frequency and volume of their postings on this topic;” and how many non-bot Twitter and Facebook users had been exposed to posts calling for the memo’s release.

Read the letter below:

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller questioned Attorney General Jeff Sessions for several hours last week, making Sessions the first known member of President Donald Trump’s cabinet to be interviewed in Mueller’s Russia probe, The New York Times first reported Tuesday.

A Department of Justice spokesperson confirmed the interview took place in response to the Times’ questions about the probe. Sessions’s attorney Chuck Cooper attended the interview with him, according to the Times.

NBC, ABC and CNN have all confirmed that the interview took place. The White House told CNN that it was cooperating with Mueller’s probe.

In March, Sessions recused himself from the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and that’s also looking at whether Trump or his campaign officials colluded with the foreign power to win the election. Former FBI Director Mueller was then appointed to take over the probe.

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President Donald Trump is joining the chorus of Republicans outraged by news that the FBI is missing five months worth of text messages between two FBI staffers whom GOP lawmakers have accused of having an anti-Trump bias.

In a tweet on Tuesday morning, Trump called the news “one of the biggest stories in a long time” and suggested there could be as many as 50,000 texts that haven’t been reviewed by authorities.

“Wow!” he said.

Over the weekend, the FBI was expected to release a new round of text messages between former agent Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page, but announced that due to “misconfiguration issues” the texts had been lost, according to Politico and multiple other news outlets. The announcement sparked outrage among Republican lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee, who released a statement calling the loss of the messages “concerning” and said it caused them to “further question the credibility and objectivity of certain officials at the FBI,” Reps. Devin Nunes (R-CA), Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said in a joint statement shared with Politico.

The three are also at the forefront of the debate over whether a classified memo they compiled about the conduct of Department of Justice and FBI officials should be made public.

The President’s tweets follow news from the DOJ Monday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions plans to examine the records to see if any of the texts can be recovered.

The text messages exchanged between Strzok and Page during the 2016 presidential election refer to President Trump as an “idiot” and indicate the two supported former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her presidential bid. The department’s Inspector General is currently probing the two officials’ potential bias and the work they did for the Russia investigation. That investigation isn’t expected to wrap up until April.

Trump and other Republicans are using the texts to hold a candle to their accusations of bias within the FBI, a phenomenon the President has been fueling since he fired former FBI Director James Comey last spring.

Read the latest editor’s brief (Prime access) on this story »

 

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been pressuring FBI Director Christopher Wray to get rid of his deputy director Andrew McCabe, according to new reporting from Axios.

Sessions has reportedly been pushing Wray to make personnel changes since December, pressure that comes at President Donald Trump’s public urging, according to Axios. Wray — whom Trump appointed in June to replace former Director James Comey after he fired him — threatened to resign if McCabe were fired.

Wray told Sessions he was frustrated by the pressure from the Department of Justice and the Trump administration, prompting Sessions to speak with White House lawyer Donald McGahn, who advised him to back off, according to The Washington Post. The White House wanted to avoid media uproar over a second FBI director’s departure, so McCabe remains in his post, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions who spoke with Axios.

In public and private, Wray has indicated that he wouldn’t curb to pressure to make personnel changes within his department unless he thinks they’re warranted, according to the Post.

In a statement from White House spokesman Raj Shah shared with Axios and the Post, the White House claimed Trump has “enormous respect” for the FBI, but reiterated that Trump “believes politically motivated senior leaders, including former Director Comey and others he empowered, have tainted the agency’s reputation for unbiased pursuit of justice.”

Trump’s vexation with McCabe became public in July when he tweeted questioning why Sessions hadn’t replaced McCabe as the acting FBI director. In that tweet, he falsely claimed that Hillary Clinton gave McCabe’s wife, Jill McCabe, “big dollars” for a Virginia state senate seat race in 2015.

According to The New York Times, McCabe may be eyeing an early 2018 retirement after his pension becomes eligible.

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Just hours after President Donald Trump signed Congress’ funding bill to reopen the government for three weeks, the President praised his party for getting Democrats to “cave on Shutdown.”

Trump then vowed to find a way for a “big win for everyone” on DACA, the military and border security, all the key issues at play that led to Friday’s midnight shutdown.

“See you at the negotiating table!” he tweeted late Monday evening.

He also used the government reopening as a chance to call out a specific reporter — “Crazy Jim Acosta of Fake News CNN” — to praise himself and his party for ending the shutdown. He quoted CNN’s chief White House correspondent’s tweet, in which Acosta quoted people from the “Trump world and WH sources” and thanked “Jim” for his “honesty.”

Trump’s tweets come amid criticism that the President was largely on the sidelines all weekend while Democrats and Republican battled it out in Congress. The New York Times reported that Trump did speak with some Republican leaders over the phone to strategize a breakthrough, but, according to The Washington Post, the rest of negotiations with Congress were conducted by his advisers.

According to the Times’ and the Post’s reporting, Trump spent most of the weekend watching cable news coverage of the shutdown and having his aides go on television to cast the blame on Democrats.

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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Monday said he has “consistently opposed shutdowns,” despite effectively forcing the 2013 governmental shutdown to occur over his efforts to defund Obamacare.

Shouting down reporters questions on Monday, Cruz called their inquiries about his role in the 2013 shutdown “incorrect” and told reporters they “don’t have any facts.”

I have consistently opposed shutdowns,” he said. “In 2013 I said we shouldn’t shut the government down. I went to the floor asking unanimous consent to reopen the government.”

When he was challenged by reporters who said he “stood in the way” and caused the governmental shutdown over his crusade to defund the Affordable Care Act, he said the media “love” to blame shutdowns on Republicans.

“It’s a wonderful media narrative,” he said. “Only one thing actually causes a shutdown. When you have senators who vote to deny cloture on a funding bill. And when that bill comes up, you have a vote. A yes means fund the government. A no means don’t fund the government. In 2013 virtually every single Republican voted to fund the government, including me multiple times, and virtually every — in fact, every single Democrat, I believe, in 2013, voted to shut the government down.”

He said the “same thing” was true of this shutdown and blamed Democrats for opposing a continuing resolution that the House passed Friday that would’ve funded the government for 30 days.

Cruz’s critique of the Democrats — for holding out on funding the government over issues related to CHIP and the legal status of some 700,000 undocumented immigrants — falls in line with attacks he received in 2013 from Democrats and Republicans alike.

In August 2013, he launched a campaign calling on Republicans to oppose any government funding bill that included funding for Obamacare. When it came down to the 11th-hour vote to fund the government that October, Senate Democrats rejected each of the Republican-controlled House’s bills that sought to dismantle Obamacare, prompting a 16-day shutdown. 

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White House Director of Legislative Affairs March Short said Monday that he is “optimistic” about the progress Congress and President Donald Trump are making regarding the legal status of some undocumented immigrants, despite reports that Trump’s own aides have stonewalled those negotiations.

“I’m perhaps too optimistic, but I feel like there’s been significant progress,” he said on CNN’s “New Day” Monday, discussing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration program, one of several key issues keeping Congress from coming to a budget agreement that would reopen the federal government.

“I think Democrats have moved significantly toward our position of the physical barriers that we’re asking for,” he continued. “Democrats have asked us to say, look, as opposed to the 690,000 that have work permits in the DACA program, would you be willing to consider that beyond because their position is some who were either afraid to come out of the dark and to register or what not, and we said ‘yes, we’d be willing to do that.’”

Short’s comments come as lawmakers await a consistent message on DACA from the White House. On Friday, just hours before the government shut down, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) met with Trump, and the pair agreed on an asking price for a border wall in exchange for restoring protections for DACA recipients.

However, a new report from The New York Times Sunday revealed that key Trump aides, Chief of Staff John Kelly and senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, have stonewalled immigration negotiations between Trump and lawmakers.

Trump has reportedly privately told Democratic lawmakers that he wants to come up a plan to protect DACA recipients, but his plans have been overridden by Miller and Kelly. The pair have reportedly refused to budge on compromises until they include hardline policies on issues like merit-based immigration, sanctuary cities and the border wall.

The two are also reportedly behind the White House’s push for ending block chain immigration and the lottery system. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said Sunday that immigration negations would go nowhere while Miller was in charge of discussion for the White House.

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