Following advice, potential FBI chiefs steer clear of job under Trump

FILE PHOTO: People protest against President Donald Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey, on Trump's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, California, U.S. May 12, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Julia Edwards Ainsley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration’s search for a new FBI director hit roadblocks on Tuesday when two high-profile potential candidates, a moderate judge and a conservative senator, signaled they did not want the job.

Advisers to Judge Merrick Garland and U.S. Senator John Cornyn of Texas told Reuters they discouraged them from leading the Federal Bureau of Investigation, cautioning that they would be leaving important, secure jobs for one fraught with politics and controversy.

The advisers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the new FBI director would have little job security and heightened scrutiny by political observers following President Donald Trump’s abrupt firing of James Comey on May 9.

Garland and Cornyn distancing themselves from the selection process just three days before Trump has said he may make a decision, points to the difficulties the White House has in filling the FBI post amid turmoil in the administration.

Trump’s firing of Comey, the man in charge of an investigation into possible collusion between 2016 election campaign associates and the Russian government, outraged many lawmakers, including some Republicans.

Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, “loves his job and is not interested in leaving the judiciary,” said one source familiar with the judge’s thinking.

Cornyn said in a statement that he had informed the White House that “the best way I can serve is continuing to fight for a conservative agenda in the U.S. Senate.”

White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters on Tuesday that an announcement on FBI director was still possible before Trump leaves on his first foreign trip on Friday. He said the U.S. Department of Justice was still interviewing candidates.

Several Republican senators had promoted Garland even though they had refused to give him a hearing when Republican Trump’s predecessor President Barack Obama, a Democrat, nominated Garland last year for a then-vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. The Republicans’ reasoning appeared to be that Garland would be accepted by Democrats and help restore faith in the FBI as a nonpartisan agency.

In an interview on Bloomberg Television, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell referred to Garland, a former federal prosecutor, as “an apolitical professional.”

A second Garland acquaintance who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Garland sought advice from those who told him he would be leaving his life-long position on the federal bench to take a job that could be terminated by Trump overnight.

A Republican Senate aide said Cornyn’s staff also worried that the third-term Texas Senator could cut his- and their own- careers short by going to the FBI.

An adviser to another candidate on the White House short-list, former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, 75, said Kelly is also being persuaded to step out of the running.

Kelly has not said that he would not consider the job, but so far he has not been interviewed.

Republican Representative Trey Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor whose name had been floated, said on Monday he was not interested in the director position.

The difficulty in filling key administration jobs is not just limited to the FBI director post.

Trump’s habits of contradicting his top aides, demanding personal loyalty and punishing officials who contradict him in public has discouraged a number of experienced people from pursuing jobs, said three people who declined to discuss possible positions with administration officials.

“It’s becoming increasingly difficult to attract good people to work in this administration,” said one senior official. “In other cases, veteran people with expertise are leaving or seeking posts overseas and away from this White House.”

(Reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley, additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley, Mark Hosenball, Richard Cowan and Steve Holland; editing by Grant McCool)

Trump, in tweets, defends his sharing of information with Russians

FILE PHOTO: A combination of file photos showing Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attending a news conference in Moscow, Russia, November 18, 2015, and U.S. President Donald Trump posing for a photo in New York City, U.S., May 17, 2016. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev/Lucas Jackson/File Photos

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday defended his decision to disclose information to Russian officials during a White House meeting last week, saying he had an “absolute right” to share “facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety.”

The president took to Twitter to counter a torrent of criticism, including from his fellow Republicans, after reports that he had revealed highly classified information about a planned Islamic State operation.

Two U.S. officials said Trump shared the intelligence, supplied by a U.S. ally in the fight against the militant group, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak during a meeting last Wednesday.

The disclosures late on Monday roiled the administration as it struggled to move past the backlash over Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating the president’s ties to Russia.

The turmoil overshadowed Republican legislative priorities such as healthcare and tax reform and laid bare sharp divisions between the White House and U.S. intelligence agencies, which concluded late last year that Russia had tried to influence the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor.

Russia has denied such meddling, and Trump bristles at any suggestion he owed his Nov. 8 victory to Moscow.

“As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety,” Trump said on Twitter. “Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”

Trump weighed in personally the morning after his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, issued statements saying no sources, methods or military operations were discussed at the Russian meeting.

McMaster said the story, initially reported by the Washington Post, was false.

The U.S. officials told Reuters that while the president has the authority to disclose even the most highly classified information at will, in this case he did so without consulting the ally that provided it, which threatens to jeopardize a long-standing intelligence-sharing agreement.

Bob Corker, the Republican head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the allegations “very, very troubling.”

“Obviously, they’re in a downward spiral right now,” he said on Monday, “and they’ve got to come to grips with all that’s happening.”

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Doina Chiacu, Patricia Zengerle, Jeff Mason, Mark Hosenball; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Lisa Von Ahn)

Protesters call for investigation following FBI director firing

Protesters gather to rally against U.S. President Donald Trump's firing of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey, outside the White House in Washington, U.S. May 10, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Chris Kenning and Ian Simpson

CHICAGO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A day after President Donald Trump’s stunning dismissal of FBI Director James Comey, protesters gathered in Washington, Chicago and other cities to urge an independent investigation of alleged collusion between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign.

Waving signs and chanting outside the White House and at Senate constituency offices in other states, demonstrators said Trump’s move had compromised the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s probe.

“I still don’t have any love for Comey,” said Cody Davis, 29, among a small group of protesters near Chicago’s 96-story Trump International Hotel and Tower. “I’m not here to defend him. You could easily argue he lost the election for Hillary.”

Comey has been criticized by Democrats for his handling of an investigation surrounding 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.

“The reason I’m here today is not that he was fired but because it was so clearly because Trump was afraid of something,” Davis said.

White House officials have denied any political motivation behind the firing and Trump said Comey had not been doing a good job and had lost the confidence of everyone in Washington.

Critics at various protests compared the Comey dismissal to the “Saturday Night Massacre” of 1973, in which President Richard Nixon fired an independent special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal.

MoveOn.Org and a coalition of liberal groups hastily organized protests at senators’ offices in more than a dozen states including New York, Kentucky, Arizona, California and Florida.

“Donald Trump just fired the one man in America who was leading the most thorough and long-lasting investigation of Donald Trump,” Jo Comerford, campaign director for MoveOn.org, said in a statement.

The issue also was discussed at town hall meetings being held by members of Congress across the country.

For some Trump supporters the controversy was overblown.

Denny Herman of Wamego, Kansas, said Comey deserved to be fired and the Russia investigation would not turn up wrongdoing. He said there was no need for a special prosecutor.

“It’s just liberal crap,” he said while relaxing at a bar. “We got bigger fish to fry.”

But in downtown Chicago, several dozen people banged pots and pans, waved signs reading “You can’t fire the truth” and chanted “Investigate Now!”

Several hundred people also gathered outside the White House and called for a special prosecutor.

“I feel like what happened yesterday was truly shocking, and the Republicans won’t stand up and do what they should without somebody pressing them,” said demonstrator Kelli Rowedder, a 34-year-old teacher from Washington.

(Additional reporting by Karen Dillon in Wamego, Kan. and Kathy Lynn Gray in New Albany, Ohio; Editing by Bill Trott)

Defending firing of FBI director, Trump derides Democratic critics

This picture shows a copy of the letter by President Trump firing Director of the FBI James Comey at the White House. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump defended his firing of FBI Director James Comey on Wednesday, fighting a storm of criticism that the ouster was aimed at blunting an agency probe into his presidential campaign’s possible collusion with Russia to sway the 2016 election.

The Republican president’s abrupt move on Tuesday stunned Washington and was swiftly condemned by Democrats and by some in his own party.

In a series of posts on Twitter on Wednesday morning, Trump sought to explain his move, and lambasted his critics.

“Comey lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike. When things calm down, they will be thanking me,” he said.

The Trump administration said on Tuesday Comey’s firing was over his handling of an election-year FBI probe into then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state.

Though many Democrats have criticized Comey’s management of that investigation, they said they were troubled by the timing of his dismissal, given that Trump could have acted soon after taking office on Jan. 20 and that he has repeatedly criticized the FBI and congressional probes into alleged Russian involvement in the election.

Asked if Trump had fired Comey over his handling of the Russia investigation, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said no.

“Frankly, if that’s going to continue, it’s going to continue whether Jim Comey is there or not,” she told MSNBC in an interview.

Some Democrats compared the move to the “Saturday Night Massacre” of 1973, in which President Richard Nixon ordered the firing of an independent special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal that eventually led Nixon to resign.

Democrats amplified their calls on Wednesday for an independent investigation into Moscow’s role in the 2016 election.

‘CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS’

“What we have now is really a looming constitutional crisis that is deadly serious,” Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal told CNN.

In one tweet on Wednesday, Trump referred to previous Democratic criticism of Comey over the Clinton probe. “The Democrats have said some of the worst things about James Comey, including the fact that he should be fired, but now they play so sad!” he said.

The president also personally attacked Blumenthal, referring to him as “Richie,” calling his comments on the Comey firing “a joke” and alluding to a years-old controversy over the senator’s military service during the Vietnam War era.

Some Republicans have also said they were troubled by the timing of Comey’s firing, including Senator Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. That is one of several congressional panels investigating Russian interference during the election and possible collusion by Trump campaign staff.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in a January report that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered an effort to disrupt the 2016 election that included hacking into Democratic Party emails and leaking them, with the aim of helping Trump.

Russia has repeatedly denied any such meddling and the Trump administration denies allegations of collusion with Russia.

LAVROV VISIT

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is visiting Washington this week for high-level meetings, including one with Trump at the White House later on Wednesday in what will be the highest-level contact between Trump and the Russian government since he became president.

The two were scheduled to meet at 10:30 a.m. ET (1430 GMT), the White House said.

Asked by reporters at the U.S. State Department before a meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson if Comey’s firing would cast a shadow over the talks, Lavrov responded in a sarcastic tone: “Was he fired? You’re kidding. You’re kidding.”

The Kremlin said it hoped Comey’s firing would not affect Moscow’s ties with Washington, saying it believed his dismissal had nothing to do with Russia.

Legal experts said Trump’s dismissal of Comey does not mean the FBI’s Russia investigation will be disrupted or end, since career FBI staffers can continue the probe even as the search for a new director begins.

CNN reported on Tuesday night that federal prosecutors had issued grand jury subpoenas to former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, seeking business records, as part of the probe into Russian interference in the election.

Comey’s deputy, Andrew McCabe, took over as acting FBI director while the White House searches for a new permanent director.

“James Comey will be replaced by someone who will do a far better job, bringing back the spirit and prestige of the FBI,” Trump tweeted.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, David Alexander, Arshad Mohammed; Writing by Will Dunham and Susan Heavey; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Dollar slips, yen gains, after Trump fires FBI chief

Dollar banknotes are seen in this picture illustration taken April 28, 2017. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

By Jemima Kelly

LONDON (Reuters) – The dollar fell and the perceived safe-haven yen gained on Wednesday, after U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey in a move that shocked Washington and dampened some of this week’s strong risk appetite.

Rekindled fears that North Korea could be gearing up for another weapons test also underpinned the yen, which had sunk to an eight-week low the previous day as investors’ appetite for riskier currencies increased on the back of a weekend French election result that eased euro break-up fears.

The dollar, which had strengthened to as much as 114.325 yen on Tuesday <JPY=>, slipped back to 113.87 yen.

Trump said he had sacked FBI Director James Comey – who had been leading an investigation into the Trump 2016 presidential campaign’s possible collusion with Russia to influence the election outcome – over his handling of an email scandal involving presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

But the move ignited a political firestorm, raising suspicions among Democrats and others that the White House was trying to blunt the FBI probe involving Russia.

The dollar slipped 0.2 percent against a broad index <.DXY>.

“There’s not much risk sentiment – that’s to some extent the main driver today, mainly with respect to geopolitical questions,” said Credit Agricole currency strategist Valentin Marinov in London.

Comments from European Central Bank President Mario Draghi failed to have any clear impact on the euro, which was flat at $1.0878 <EUR=>. Draghi said it was too early for the ECB to declare victory in its quest to boost euro zone inflation.

“Draghi is repeating the same message that he made at the last ECB press conference – there are no big surprises. He’s defending the ECB’s dovish policy stance,” said Marinov.

The euro had risen to a six-month high above $1.10 on Monday, after Emmanuel Macron defeated the anti-EU Marine Le Pen in France’s presidential run-off, as worries over European political risk faded and focus returned to central bank policy.

The Swiss franc, another safe-haven currency, fell to its lowest in seven months on Tuesday and stayed close to that at 1.09575 francs per euro, flat on the day <EURCHF=>.

Commerzbank currency strategist Esther Reichelt, in Frankfurt, though, said risk appetite could only drive the currency market so far before new drivers were needed.

“Dollar strength could materialize more, given the more benevolent risk environment, but that can only move the market for so long – you always need new impetus,” she said.

U.S. political uncertainty has tended to weigh on the dollar in recent months, on the view that a divided Congress could derail Trump’s promised tax reform and stimulus programme.

(Reporting by Jemima Kelly, editing by Larry King)

FBI warns of surge in wire-transfer fraud via spoofed emails

A computer keyboard is seen in this picture illustration taken in Bordeaux, Southwestern France, August 22, 2016. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

By Alastair Sharp

(Reuters) – Attempts at cyber wire fraud globally, via emails purporting to be from trusted business associates, surged in the last seven months of 2016, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a warning to businesses.

Fraudsters sought to steal $5.3 billion through schemes known as business email compromise from October 2013 through December, the FBI said in a report released Thursday by its Internet Crime Complaint Center.(http://bit.ly/2qAEVBE)

The figure is up sharply from the FBI’s previous report which said thieves attempted to steal $3.1 billion from October 2013 through May 2016, according to a survey of cases from law enforcement agencies around the world.

The number of business-email compromise cases, in which cyber criminals request wire transfers in emails that look like they are from senior corporate executives or business suppliers who regularly request payments, almost doubled from May to December of last year, rising to 40,203 from 22,143, the FBI said.

The survey does not track how much money was actually lost to criminals.

Robert Holmes, who studies business email compromise for security firm Proofpoint Inc <PFPT.O>, estimated the incidents collated by the FBI represent just 20 percent of the total, and that total actual losses could be as much as double the figures reported by the FBI.

The losses are growing as scammers become more sophisticated, delving deeper into corporate finance departments to find susceptible targets, he said.

“This is not a volume play; it’s a carefully researched play,” he said.

The United States is by far the biggest target market, though fraudsters have started to expand in other developed countries, including Australia, Britain, France and Germany, Holmes said.

The FBI has said that about one in four U.S. victims respond by wiring money to fraudsters. In some of those cases, authorities have been able to identify the crimes in time to help victims recover the funds from banks before the criminals pulled them out of the system.

The U.S. Department of Justice said in March that it had charged a Lithuanian man with orchestrating a fraudulent email scheme that had tricked agents and employees of two U.S.-based internet companies into wiring more than $100 million to overseas bank accounts.

Fraudsters have also used spoofed emails to trick corporate workers into releasing sensitive data, including wage and tax reports, according to the advisory.

(Reporting by Alastair Sharp in Toronto; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Lisa Shumaker)

Three killed in Fresno, California, shooting spree, suspect arrested

A road is blocked by police tape after a multiple victim shooting incident in downtown Fresno, California, U.S. April 18, 2017. Fresno County Sheriff/Handout via REUTERS

By Dan Whitcomb

(Reuters) – A gunman with an apparent dislike of white people and government killed three people in downtown Fresno, California, on Tuesday, before he was taken into custody while shouting “Allahu Akhbar,” police said.

The suspect, identified as 39-year-old Kori Ali Muhammad, was also wanted in connection with the fatal shooting last week of an unarmed security guard at a Motel 6 in Fresno, Police Chief Jerry Dyer told reporters at a press conference.

Dyer said Muhammad fired at least 16 rounds in less than a minute at four downtown Fresno locations at about 10:45 a.m. local time before he was spotted running through the streets by a police officer.

“Immediately upon the individual seeing the officer he literally dove onto the ground and was taken into custody and as he was taken into custody he yelled out ‘Allahu Akhbar,'” Dyer said. The term means “God is great” in Arabic.

“He does not like white people,” Dyer said, citing the black suspect’s statements after being arrested and his Facebook postings. At least two of his victims were white.

Dyer said his department had contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation over the incident.

The Fresno Bee newspaper reported that the gunman opened fire with a large-caliber handgun while cursing shortly before 11 a.m. near a Catholic Charities building.

Fresno is an agricultural hub in California’s central valley, about 170 miles southeast of San Francisco.

County government buildings were placed on lockdown and residents were urged to shelter in place, according to the newspaper.

Local television images showed what appeared to be a body covered in a yellow tarp in a street near where police tape marked off several crime scenes.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb and Steve Gorman; Editing by Richard Chang)

Two Florida men plead guilty to planning to help Islamic State

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Reuters) – Two Florida men have pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State by planning to travel to Syria to join the militant group, the U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday.

Both men are U.S. citizens and live in Palm Beach County.

Dayne Antani Christian, 32, and Darren Arness Jackson, 51, each pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to provide material support to Islamic State. Jackson made his plea on Tuesday and Christian pleaded last week, each to U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenberg.

Each man faces a maximum of 20 years in prison if convicted on the conspiracy charges. Christian also pleaded guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm, and faces up to 10 yeas in prison if convicted for that charge.

The two men, along with co-defendant Gregory Hubbard, 53, were arrested by the FBI, after Jackson last July drove Hubbard and an FBI confidential informant to Miami International Airport for a flight to Germany.

Court records show that prosecutors claim that Hubbard bought a ticket for Berlin and planned to travel by train to Turkey and then cross into Syria to join Islamic State.

A July 2016 indictment returned by a grand jury charged all three men with conspiring and attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.

That indictment says that at least as far back as July 2015 and continuing until their arrests, Christian and Jackson told Hubbard and the FBI confidential informant about supporting Islamic State and of a desire to travel to Syria for that purpose, the Justice Department’s press statement issued on Tuesday shows.

The same indictment says Christian and Jackson provided firearms and training in a remote area of Palm Beach County so that Hubbard and the FBI source could learn to shoot.

All three have been detained since their arrests. Hubbard is scheduled for trial on Oct. 30.

Forces backed by the United States, Turkey and Russia are advancing on Islamic State’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa. Iraqi government forces also retook several Iraqi cities last year and the eastern part of the city of Mosul.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Scott Malone and James Dalgleish)