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Alice Ollstein

Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.

Articles by Alice

Former CIA Director John Brennan told the House Intelligence Committee Tuesday morning that President Donald Trump violated protocol when he reportedly shared highly classified Israeli intelligence with Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting in early May.

Aside from reports that the U.S. was not authorized to share the intelligence at all—information about an ISIS plot involving explosives concealed in laptops—Brennan says the manner Trump did so was a breach of procedure.

“Such intelligence, classified intelligence is not shared with visiting foreign ministers or local ambassadors, it’s shared through intelligence channels because it needs to be handled the right way and needs to make sure it’s not exposed,” he said. “He didn’t do that, again if the press charges are accurate.”

“Secondly,” Brennan continued, “before sharing any classified intelligence with foreign partners, it needs to go back to the originating agency to make sure that the language in it is not—even just providing the substance—going to reveal sources or methods and compromise the future collection capability. It appears as though, at least from the press reports, that neither did it go in the proper channels nor did the originating agency have the opportunity to clear language for it. That is a problem.”

In testimony Tuesday morning before the House Intelligence Committee, former CIA Director John Brennan gave the most straightforward explanation to date as to why U.S. intelligence agencies embarked last summer on a now-sprawling investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and potential coordination between Russian officials and individuals connected to the Trump campaign.

In a cold, high-ceilinged, wood-paneled hearing room underneath the U.S. Capitol, Brennan repeated Tuesday what he and many other intelligence leaders have said before, that “Russia brazenly interfered in the 2016 election process.” While he said he does not know whether any Americans engaged in “actively conspiring” with Russia, he cited evidence of contacts between Russian officials and people associated with the Trump campaign troubling enough to warrant a serious investigation.

“I was concerned because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals,” he said. “And it raised questions in my mind again whether or not the Russians were able to gain the cooperation of those individuals.”

That cooperation, he noted, could have happened even without the knowledge of the U.S. participants. “Frequently, individuals who go along the treasonous path do not even realize they’re along that path until it gets to be a bit too late,” he said.

Asked if the individuals he was referring to were official members of the Trump campaign or merely people loosely associated with the president, Brennan declined to identify them, citing the classified nature of the intelligence in question.

Though Brennan did not mention any names in particular, recent reports about two individuals in Trump’s inner circle fit the pattern he described. Russian officials have bragged in recent weeks about their attempts to cultivate both Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn and campaign adviser Carter Page and use them to influence Trump. 

Brennan reiterated under questioning that interactions between political campaigns and foreign governments are not in and of themselves suspicious, but the fact that these contacts happened at the very time the CIA was learning about Russian attempts to hack and influence the 2016 election raised his suspicions and motivated him to push for a full investigation.

“I don’t have sufficient information to make a determination whether or not such cooperation or complicity or collusion was taking place,” he said. “But I know that there was a basis to have individuals pull those threads.”

Under questioning from Rep. Thomas Rooney (R-FL), Brennan said that he left office with “unresolved questions” about whether Russia had worked with any “U.S. persons” involved in the 2016 campaign to influence the outcome.

Based on what he knows about Russia from decades of work as an intelligence officer, Brennan said: “They try to suborn individuals and try to get individuals, including U.S. individuals, to act on their behalf—wittingly or unwittingly,” he said. “I was worried about the number of contacts that the Russians had with U.S. persons. Therefore, by the time I left office on January 20th, I had unresolved questions in my mind, as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons involved in the campaign or not to work on their behalf again either in a witting or unwitting fashion.”

Amid an avalanche of daily revelations about the investigation into links between Donald Trump’s inner circle and Russia, the House Intelligence Committee will hear testimony on Tuesday from former CIA Director John Brennan. The lawmakers plan to question Brennan about “Russian active measures during the 2016 election campaign” designed to aid Trump and damage the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.

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When the Justice Department announced Wednesday evening that it was appointing former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign, both Republicans and Democrats cheered the news.

But less than 24 hours later, after a classified briefing from the man who appointed Mueller—Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein—many senators were angry, frustrated, and fearful that both they and the American public will remain in the dark as the federal investigation unfolds.

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Tierney Sneed contributed reporting.

An avalanche of developments fell this week onto the congressional committees digging into the connections between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

In the span of just 24 hours, lawmakers learned that the Justice Department appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to take over the Russia investigation; that the Trump campaign knew even before inauguration day that then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was under federal investigation; that Trump contacted Flynn in April, against his lawyers’ warning, to tell him to “stay strong”; and that ousted FBI Director James Comey had not yet responded to several requests for him to testify on Capitol Hill.

With a new twist in the saga nearly every hour, the senators tasked with investigating the Trump-Russia connection are scrambling to determine how they can get to the bottom of a host of unanswered questions without stepping on the toes of the FBI’s work in the same area.

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Donald Trump’s lawyers have repeatedly warned him not to contact his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who resigned in February after revelations that he lied about conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States, and who remains under investigation by congressional committees, the FBI, and a federal grand jury. The attorneys reportedly expressed fears that any contact with Flynn could look like witness tampering or coordination.

It appears the President did not heed their advice.

Yahoo News reported Thursday that Flynn announced at a dinner in late April: “I just got a message from the president to stay strong.” It is not yet known if the message was a phone call, e-mail, text message or other form of communication.

The revelation comes just days after the New York Times revealed that Trump asked then-FBI Director James Comey to drop his investigation of Flynn, and emerging reports that Flynn intervened to stop a military operation against ISIS without revealing that he was on the payroll of the Turkish government, who opposed the strike. Other reports revealed that Flynn failed to properly register as a foreign agent, and failed to report more than a million dollars in income from Russian and Turkish sources.

Just over a week ago, the public learned from ousted Acting Attorney General Sally Yates that she tried to warn the Trump administration that Flynn was vulnerable to blackmail by the Russia government, warnings that fell on deaf ears. Reports Thursday alleged that the Trump’s transition team—led by Vice President Mike Pence—was already aware that Flynn was under federal investigation when they brought him on board as White House national security adviser.

For now, Flynn is indeed staying strong.

His lawyers informed the Senate Intelligence Committee that he will refuse to honor their subpoena for his documents.

He has reportedly portrayed the investigations as a conspiracy against him by former Hillary Clinton aides as retribution for him leading a chant of “Lock her up” at the Republican National Convention. He previously announced he would be happy to testify before Congress in exchange for legal immunity, an offer that was swiftly rejected.

Reuters reported Thursday morning that Trump’s campaign had at least 18 calls, e-mails, and text message exchanges with Russian officials and people connected to the Kremlin during the final months of the 2016 campaign—contacts they did not previously disclose.

Six of those conversations—which are now under scrutiny from the FBI and the four congressional committees investigating the Trump-Russia morass—were reportedly with Sergei Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States.

Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn resigned in February after it came to light that he had lied about a December meeting with Kislyak in which he discussed lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia. Flynn’s records of this meeting have since been subpoenaed by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

These newly revealed conversations happened between April and November of 2016, at the same time the world was learning of Russian efforts to intervene in the U.S. election on Donald Trump’s behalf. The unnamed U.S. government officials who described these contacts to Reuters said, however, that they saw no evidence of wrongdoing or collusion.

 

Fox News reported Thursday morning that its founder, Roger Ailes, has died at the age of 77.

Ailes, who worked on the campaigns of Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, became the founding chief executive of Fox News in 1996. He built the scrappy cable company into a ratings powerhouse, permanently changing the media landscape with a mix of right-wing commentary and hard news.

Ailes was ousted last summer from the company he helped build following accusations of serial sexual harassment and retaliation against female employees who rebuffed his advances—a pattern that allegedly lasted for decades. After more than 25 women accused him, he left with a severance package of tens of millions of dollars. An ongoing federal investigation into Fox News revealed that Ailes surveilled both his own employees and outside journalists who reported critically on his leadership.

Ailes then spent a few months as an adviser for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, before the men had a falling out in the final weeks of the race.

Ailes family has not yet provided details of the cause of death. His widow, Elizabeth Ailes, released the following statement: “Roger was a loving husband to me, to his son Zachary, and a loyal friend to many. He was also a patriot, profoundly grateful to live in a country that gave him so much opportunity to work hard, to rise—and to give back.”

Republicans on Capitol Hill are still reeling from the waves of scandals that have hit Washington in quick succession over the last few days: President Donald Trump’s sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey, the admission he did so to in order put the kibosh on the bureau’s investigation of his own campaign, reports that Trump pressured Comey in a private meeting to drop that investigation, and news that Trump revealed highly classified Israeli intelligence to the Russians.

Any one of those revelations on its own could drive a wedge between a President and his own party in Congress. In combination, they threaten to derail Trump’s presidency entirely.

While the latest Comey allegations have forced reluctant Republican leaders to initiate some oversight of Trump, and at least two GOP lawmakers have raised the possibility of impeachment, most members are standing by their man. Here are the some of the arguments GOP members made to reporters as to why Trump’s pressure on Comey to let Flynn off the hook does not constitute an obstruction of justice.

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Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) has been one of the loudest critics of President Donald Trump as scandal after scandal has hit the administration over its first few months.

He had already been one of just a tiny handful of GOP lawmakers backing Democrats’ call for an independent commission to investigate Trump, and he went a step further on Wednesday.

Asked if the new revelations that President Trump pressured then-FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation of national security advisor Mike Flynn’s communications with the Russian government could be grounds for impeachment, Amash told reporters: “If the allegations are true, yes. But everybody in this country gets a fair trial, including the president.”

Asked who he trusts more if the matter comes down to a dispute between Comey’s memos versus Trump’s account of their conversations, Amash said: “I think it’s pretty clear I have more confidence in Director Comey.”

Amash’s comments came on the heels of Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) raising the possibility of impeaching Trump in an interview Tuesday night on CNN.

“Any effort to stop the federal government from conducting an investigation, any effort to dissuade federal agents from pursuing an investigation is very serious and could be construed as obstruction of justice,” he said. “We’ve seen that these obstruction of justice cases, when they deal with presidents, can get ugly very fast.”

“Obstruction in the case of Nixon and in the case of Clinton in the late 90s has been considered an impeachable offense,” he added.

The first version of this reported cited Amash as the first sitting Republican to float impeachment. Curbelo was in fact the first. We regret the error. 

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