Controversial Republican memo to be released quickly: White House official

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly listens as U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress inside the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 30, 2018.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House plans to release a classified House Intelligence Committee memo that Republicans say shows anti-Trump bias by the FBI and the Justice Department, U.S. President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, said on Wednesday.

“It will be released here pretty quick, I think, and then the whole world can see it,” Kelly said in an interview on Fox News Radio, adding he had seen the four-page document and that White House lawyers were reviewing it.

Kelly’s comments follow Trump’s response to a Republican lawmaker after his State of the Union speech on Tuesday that suggested there was a “100 percent chance” the memo would be made public.

Justice Department officials have warned that releasing the memo would be reckless. On Monday, department officials advised Kelly against releasing the memo on the grounds it could jeopardize classified information, the Washington Post reported.

FBI Director Christopher Wray has told the White House the memo contains inaccurate information and offers a false picture, according to Bloomberg News.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told CNN on Wednesday the memo was still being reviewed and “there’s always a chance” that it would not be released.

The memo has become a lightning rod in a bitter partisan fight over the FBI amid ongoing investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and any possible collusion by Trump’s campaign, something both Russia and Trump have denied.

Republicans, who blocked an effort to release a counterpoint memo by Democrats on the panel, have said it shows anti-Trump bias by the FBI and the Justice Department in seeking a warrant to conduct an intelligence eavesdropping operation.

Democrats have said the memo selectively uses highly classified materials in a misleading effort to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the Justice Department’s Russia probe, and Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who hired him.

The House panel this week voted along partisan lines to release the memo. Trump has until the weekend to decide whether to make it public.

“The priority here is not our national security, it’s not the country, it’s not the interest of justice. It’s just the naked, personal interest of the president,” U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, the panel’s top Democrat, said at an event hosted by the Axios news outlet.

Sanders told CNN Trump had not seen the memo before his address on Tuesday night or immediately afterwards.

The document was commissioned by Representative Devin Nunes, the House committee’s Republican chairman who had recused himself from the panel’s Russia probe.

Sanders said she did not know if Nunes had worked with anyone at the White House on it: “I’m not aware of any conversations or coordination with Congressman Nunes.”

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Katanga Johnson and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Andrew Hay and Bernadette Baum)

House panel votes to release Republican memo alleging anti-Trump bias

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) arrives for closed meeting of the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 16, 2018.

By Patricia Zengerle and John Walcott

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines on Monday to release a classified memo that Republicans say shows anti-Trump bias by the FBI and the Justice Department in seeking a warrant to conduct an intelligence eavesdropping operation.

In approving the release under a rule never before invoked, the Republican majority ignored a warning from Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd that making the document public would be “extraordinarily reckless” without submitting it to a security review.

The move added new fuel to bitter partisan wrangling over investigations by congressional committees and Special Counsel Robert Mueller into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Calling it a “sad day” for the intelligence committee, top Democratic Representative Adam Schiff said the panel also voted against releasing a Democratic memo that countered the Republican report and rejected his call for a briefing by Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray.

“Today this committee voted to put the president’s personal interest, perhaps their own political interests, above the national interest,” Schiff said.

The memo was commissioned by Representative Devin Nunes, the committee’s Republican chairman. A Nunes spokesman did not immediately respond for a request for a statement.

The Department of Justice declined comment.

Two sources familiar with the memo said it accuses the FBI and the Justice Department of abusing their authority in asking a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge to approve a request to extend an eavesdropping operation on Carter Page, an adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign.

The memo charges that the FBI and the Justice Department based the request on a dossier compiled by a former British spy hired to dig up negative information on Trump by a research firm partially financed by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, the sources said.

The dossier, however, was only part of the material on which the request was based, and any portion of the dossier used as evidence first would have been independently confirmed by U.S. or allied intelligence or law enforcement agencies, one of the sources said.

“There is no way any court would approve a warrant – any warrant, let alone one for surveillance on an American citizen – based on uncorroborated information,” said this source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The second source, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the memo accuses Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Andrew McCabe, who on Monday announced his resignation as deputy FBI director, of allowing pro-Democratic sentiments to color Mueller’s investigation.

The New York Times first reported the contents of the memo.

Democrats have criticized the document as “highly misleading,” based on a selective use of highly classified materials and intended to discredit Mueller, who was appointed by Rosenstein.

Russia denies interfering in the 2016 election, and Trump repeatedly has denied there was any collusion.

The House vote gave Trump up to five days to decide whether to release the classified document under a rule that has never before been used.

But Hogan Gidley, the White House deputy press secretary, told CNN that the vote has no bearing for Trump because if he takes no action, the memo will become public.

Representative Mike Conaway, a senior committee Republican, said Republicans voted against releasing the Democrats’ memo because the House of Representatives had not had a chance to read it. He said the committee agreed to let House members read it and would consider making it public after that.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Jonathan Landay and Eric Beech; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Lisa Shumaker)

Senator says Federal Bureau of Investigation lost crucial texts tied to Clinton probe

Former U.S. Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks during the LA Promise Fund's Girls Build Leadership summit in Los Angeles, California, U.S., December 15,

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Bureau of Investigation has lost about five months worth of text messages between two staffers who worked on probes into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails and possible collusion between Russia and President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, according to a Republican lawmaker.

Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee, revealed in a Jan. 20 letter that the FBI’s technical system failed to preserve texts that were exchanged between Lisa Page, a lawyer, and Peter Strzok, an agent, between mid-December 2016 through mid-May of 2017.

A spokesman for the FBI and a spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to comment.

Congressional Republicans have been focusing on Strzok and Page in recent weeks after learning the two had exchanged anti-Trump text messages on their work-issued cell phones.

Republicans have said the texts, which referred to Trump as an “idiot” and a “loathsome human,” raised concerns the FBI is biased against Trump and may have given Clinton favorable treatment after deciding not to recommend criminal charges in connection with the probe into her use of a private email system while she was secretary of state.

Strzok and Page were involved in that investigation and also were briefly assigned to work with Special Counsel Robert Mueller on the Russia investigation.

After Mueller learned about the texts, Strzok was re-assigned to a different post. Page’s 45-day detail on Mueller’s team ended in July.

In his letter, Johnson said he learned of the software problem from the FBI on Jan. 19, after it gave 384 texts to the committee, one of several in Congress that recently launched inquiries into how the FBI handled the Clinton investigation.

“The loss of records from this period is concerning because it is apparent from other records that Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page communicated frequently about the investigation,” Johnson wrote.

He cited examples, including an exchange between Strzok and Page that took place in May 2016, after it became apparent that Trump would likely be the Republican presidential candidate.

“Now the pressure really starts to finish [midyear exam],” Strzok wrote, in what Johnson’s letter says is a reference to the Clinton investigation.

“It sure does,” Page responded.

In his letter, Johnson asked the FBI to follow up with more details about the scope of the lost records, and to tell the committee whether it has conducted searches of their non-government issued devices.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Paul Simao)

Attorney General Sessions sets up Hezbollah investigation team

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions listens as U.S. President Donald Trump holds a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 10, 2018.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department has set up a team to investigate individuals and organizations providing support to Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Islamist group in Lebanon that the U.S. has branded a terrorist organization, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Thursday.

Republicans have criticized former President Barack Obama following a December Politico report that the Obama administration hindered a Drug Enforcement Administration program targeting Hezbollah’s trafficking operations during its negotiation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Republican President Donald Trump says Obama gave away too much to Iran to secure the agreement, which gives Iran relief from sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

Sessions said the Justice Department will assemble leading investigators and prosecutors for the Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team to ensure all investigations under the DEA program, called Project Cassandra, will be completed.

“The Justice Department will leave no stone unturned in order to eliminate threats to our citizens from terrorist organizations and to stem the tide of the devastating drug crisis,” Sessions said.

(Reporting by Blake Brittain; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Bernadette Baum)

Justice Dept. launches new Clinton Foundation probe: The Hill

: A Clinton Foundation souvenir is seen for sale at the Clinton Museum Store in Little Rock, Arkansas, United States April 27, 2015.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department has begun an investigation into whether the Clinton Foundation conducted “pay-to-play” politics or other illegal activities during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, The Hill reported on Thursday, citing law enforcement officials and a witness.

The newspaper said FBI agents from Little Rock, Arkansas, where the foundation began, had taken the lead in the investigation and interviewed at least one witness in the past month. Law enforcement officials told The Hill that additional activities were expected in coming weeks.

In response to a request for confirmation, a Justice Department spokeswoman said the agency did not comment on ongoing investigations.

There was no immediate response to a request for comment by officials at the Clinton Foundation. The organization previously said there was never any trade in policy decisions for contributions.

Democrats have accused Republicans of launching a spurious investigation of Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, to divert attention from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between President Donald Trump’s election campaign and Russia.

The Hill reported that the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the probe was examining whether the Clintons promised or performed any policy favors in return for contributions to their charitable efforts or whether donors promised to make donations in hopes of government outcomes.

The probe may also examine whether any tax-exempt assets were converted for personal or political use and whether the foundation complied with tax laws, the newspaper cited the officials as saying.

A witness recently interviewed by the FBI told The Hill the agents’ questions focused on government decisions and discussions of donations to Clinton entities during the time Hillary Clinton led President Barack Obama’s State Department.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked Justice Department prosecutors to decide if a special counsel should be appointed to investigate certain Republican concerns, including alleged wrongdoing by the Clinton Foundation and the sale of a uranium company to Russia, according to media reports in November.

(Reporting by Eric Walsh; Editing by Peter Cooney)

U.S. Justice Department considers possible ‘bump stocks’ ban

U.S. Justice Department considers possible 'bump stocks' ban

By Sarah N. Lynch and Eric Walsh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday that it is considering a possible ban on certain bump stocks, the attachments that make semiautomatic rifles fire faster and were used in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history in Las Vegas in October.

The Las Vegas gunman’s use of bump stock to allow his weapons to fire like fully automatic machine guns, killing 58 people and wounding hundreds, has led to rare bipartisan agreement in Congress on the need to review whether they should be banned.

“Possessing firearm parts that are used exclusively in converting a weapon into a machine gun is illegal, except for certain limited circumstances,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) said in a joint statement. “Today we begin the process of determining whether or not bump stocks are covered by this prohibition.”

Authorities said Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock’s ability to fire hundreds of rounds per minute over a 10-minute period from his 32nd-floor hotel suite was a major factor in the high casualty count. Paddock, 64, killed himself before police stormed his hotel suite.

Previously, Democratic U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced a bill that would outlaw bump stocks, while several Republicans who have typically opposed gun restrictions signaled a willingness to explore the issue.

As part of the ATF’s review into bump stocks, it plans to publish a notice that will eventually appear in the Federal Register seeking public comment.

The legal analysis will revolve around the definition of the term “machinegun” and whether bump stocks fall in that definition.

The acting director of the ATF, Thomas Brandon, is scheduled to testify on Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he is expected to field questions on bump stocks.

In addition, the hearing will also explore issues related to the government’s database used to conduct background checks on gun buyers, after a man who killed 26 people in a Texas church was left out of the database despite his criminal record.

Last month, Sessions ordered the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the ATF to conduct a review of the gun owner background check database, known as the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, to ensure criminals are prevented from buying guns.

(Reporting by Eric Walsh and Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Grant McCool)

U.S. police deaths on duty spiked in 2016: FBI

New York Police officers take part in a procession carrying the body of Sergeant Paul Tuozzolo, who was fatally shot in a shootout, at the Jacobi Medical Center in the neighborhood of Bronx in New York, U.S. November 4, 2016. REUTERS

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Sixty-six police officers were killed on the job by felons in 2016, up about 61 percent from 41 deaths a year ago, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation said on Monday.

The number was the second highest since 2011, when 72 officers were killed by felons, according to the FBI report.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a statement called the numbers “shocking” and “unacceptable,” and said the Justice Department would work toward reducing violent crime.

The findings bolster the so-called Blue Lives Matter movement, which advocates tougher hate-crime sentences for the murder of police officers. It was launched in response to Black Lives Matter, a campaign against police brutality toward black men, and gained momentum last year after police officers were killed in both Dallas and Baton Rouge.

Forty-one officers killed last year were employed by city police departments, and 30 officers were located in the U.S. South, the annual data show.

The most common circumstances involved ambushes, followed by responses to disturbance calls.

Accidental deaths of police officers in 2016 rose to 52 from 45 in 2015, mostly involving vehicles, the data show.

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump issued an executive order directing the Justice Department to develop strategies to better protect law enforcement officials and pursue legislation to increase penalties against those who kill or injure officers in the line of duty.

 

 

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Richard Chang)

 

Violent crime in U.S. rose in 2016 vs. 2015: Justice Department

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Violent crime rose 4.1 percent nationwide in 2016 compared to the 2015 estimates, the U.S. Justice Department said on Monday.

Violent crime, which the report defines as non-negligent killings, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, had steadily dropped since 2006, but had increased slightly in 2015, according to the annual report by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“The report … reaffirms that the worrying violent crime increase that began in 2015 after many years of decline was not an isolated incident,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

The report said an estimated 1.2 million violent crimes took place across the country in 2016, an increase of 4.1 percent over the 2015 estimate.

In cities with populations larger than 100,000, the violent crime rate in 2016 was up 3.4 percent compared to the estimate from 2015.

President Donald Trump, who took office in January, has said he would do more to fight criminal gangs and would send in federal help to stem violent crime in Chicago.

The Justice Department has reversed or distanced itself from many of the Obama administration’s policies, including consent decrees to reform police departments and limits on transferring certain types of military gear to local law enforcement agencies.

 

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Bill Trott)

 

As shootings soar, Chicago police use technology to predict crime

A Chicago police officer attends a news conference announcing the department's plan to hire nearly 1,000 new police officers in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. on September 21, 2016.

By Timothy Mclaughlin

CHICAGO (Reuters) – In a control room at a police headquarters on Chicago’s South Side, officers scan digital maps on big screens to see where a computer algorithm predicts crime will happen next.

Thrust into a national debate over violent crime and the use of force by officers, police in the third-largest U.S. city are using technology to try to rein in a surging murder rate.

And while commanders recognize the new tools can only ever be part of the solution, the number of shootings in the 7th District from January through July fell 39 percent compared with the same period last year. The number of murders dropped by 33 percent to 34. Citywide, the number of murders is up 3 percent at 402.

Three other districts where the technology is fully operational have also seen between 15 percent and 29 percent fewer shootings, and 9 percent to 18 percent fewer homicides, according to the department’s data.

“The community is starting to see real change in regards to violence,” said Kenneth Johnson, the 7th District commander.

Cities like Philadelphia, San Francisco, Milwaukee, Denver, Tacoma, Washington, and Lincoln, Nebraska have tested the same or similar technologies.

The techniques being used in Chicago’s 7th District’s control room, one of six such centers opened since January as part of a roughly $6 million experiment, are aimed at complimenting traditional police work and are part of a broader effort to overhaul the force of some 12,500 officers.”We are not saying we can predict where the next shooting is going to occur,” said Jonathan Lewin, chief of the Chicago Police Department’s Bureau of Technical Services. “These are just tools. They are not going to replace (officers).”

The department’s efforts come after a Justice Department investigation published in January found officers engaged in racial discrimination and routinely violated residents’ civil rights.

That probe followed street protests triggered by the late 2015 release of a video showing a white police officer fatally shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald a year earlier.

Some critics of the department fear the technology could prove a distraction from confronting what they say are the underlying issues driving violence in the city of 2.7 million.

“Real answers are hard,” said Andrew Ferguson, a law professor at the University of the District of Columbia who has written a book on police technology. “They involve better education, better economic opportunity, dealing with poverty and mental illness.”

 

‘KILLING FIELDS’

Chicago’s recent rash of shootings – 101 people were shot over the Independence Day weekend alone – prompted President Donald Trump to bemoan the response of city leaders to the bloodshed, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to describe some of its areas as “killing fields.”

One of the technologies being used in the 7th District is HunchLab, a predictive policing program made by Philadelphia-based company Azavea. It combines crime data with factors including the location of local businesses, the weather and socioeconomic information to forecast where crime might occur. The results help officers decide how to deploy resources.

Another is the Strategic Subject’s List, a database of individuals likely to be involved in shootings that was developed by the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Police are tight-lipped about how it is compiled, saying only that the algorithm looks at eight factors including gang affiliation and prior drug arrests to assign people a number between 0 and 500. A higher number reflects higher risk.

They are also using the gunfire detection system made by ShotSpotter Inc which uses sensors to locate the source of gunshots. Police officials declined, however, to say how many such devices were installed in the 7th District.

“We can’t give away the kitchen sink and tell them all of our secrets,” district commander Johnson said.

 

(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin; Editing by Ben Klayman and Lisa Shumaker)

 

U.S. Justice Department orders tougher criminal punishments

FILE PHOTO: Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivers remarks at the Ethics and Compliance Initiative annual conference in Washington, U.S., April 24, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration called for tougher charges and longer prison time for criminals in a move to return to strict enforcement of mandatory minimum-sentencing rules, according to a memo the U.S. Department of Justice released on Friday.

In a two-page memo to federal prosecutors, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed course from the previous Obama administration and told the nation’s 94 U.S. attorneys to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense.”

The move is in line with tough campaign rhetoric against criminals by U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican who had also pledged to support police and law enforcement.

“It ensures that the Department enforces the law fairly and consistently, advances public safety and promotes respect for our legal system,” Sessions said in the memo dated on Wednesday.

Sessions will make additional comments on the changes later on Friday, the Justice Department said in a separate statement.

Under former president Barack Obama, a Democrat, the Justice Department had sought to reduce mandatory sentencing to reduce jail time for low-level drug crimes and ease overcrowding at U.S. prisons.

Obama’s then-attorney general Eric Holder had advised prosecutors to avoid pursuing the toughest charges in certain cases, such as more minor drug offenses, that would have triggered mandatory sentencing under laws passed in the 1980s and 1990s.

In recent years, however, there has been growing bipartisan interest among some in Congress, the U.S. states and the courts to reevaluate lengthy prison terms.

Sessions’ memo rescinds the Obama-era policy, saying prosecutors must now disclose all information about a case to the courts and follow current sentencing rules. It also requires prosecutors seeking a different sentence to get approval and make a case in writing.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will oversee the new policy’s implementation and issue any additional guidance or clarifications, Sessions wrote.

(Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)