Clinton Campaign and Democratic Party Helped Pay for Russia Dossier – New York Times

WASHINGTON — The presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee paid for research that was included in a dossier made public in January that contained salacious claims about connections between Donald J. Trump, his associates and Russia.

A spokesperson for a law firm said on Tuesday that it had hired Washington-based researchers last year to gather damaging information about Mr. Trump on numerous subjects — including possible ties to Russia — on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the D.N.C.

The revelation, which emerged from a letter filed in court on Tuesday, is likely to fuel new partisan attacks over federal and congressional investigations into Russia’s attempts to disrupt last year’s election and whether any of Mr. Trump’s associates assisted in the effort.

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The podcast that makes sense of the most delirious stretch of the 2016 campaign.

The president and his allies have argued for months that the investigations are politically motivated. They have challenged the information contained in the dossier, which was compiled by a former British spy who had been contracted by the Washington research firm Fusion GPS.

The letter that was filed in court said that Fusion GPS began working for the law firm, Perkins Coie, in April 2016. Written by the firm’s managing partner Matthew J. Gehringer, the letter said that Fusion GPS had already been conducting the research “for one or more other clients during the Republican primary contest.”

Perkins Coie was paid $12.4 million to represent the Clinton campaign and the D.N.C. during the 2016 campaign, accoring to filings. The role of the Clinton campaign and the national party in funding the research for the dossier was first reported on Tuesday by The Washington Post.

At the time that Democrats began paying for the research, Mr. Trump was in the process of clinching the Republican presidential nomination, and Ms. Clinton’s allies were scrambling to figure out how to run against a candidate who had already weathered attacks from Republican rivals about his shifting policy positions, his character and his business record.

Fusion GPS hired Christopher Steele, a respected former British spy with extensive experience in Russia, to conduct research into any possible connections between Mr. Trump, his businesses, campaign team and Russia.

Mr. Steele produced a series of memos that alleged a broad conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to influence the 2016 election on behalf of Mr. Trump. The memos also contained unsubstantiated accounts of encounters between Mr. Trump and Russian prostitutes, and real estate deals that were intended as bribes.

The contents of the memos circulated in Washington in late 2016, and were briefed to Mr. Trump by senior American intelligence officials during the presidential transition. The memos, which became known as the “Steele Dossier,” were made public by Buzzfeed — sparking an ongoing debate about their accuracy and about who funded the research.

Fusion GPS was started by three former Wall Street Journal employees. The firm worked directly with Perkins Coie and its lead election lawyer, Marc Elias, according to the law firm spokesperson, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information about confidential business relationships. The law firm’s payments to Fusion GPS for the Russia research ended just before Election Day, the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said that neither the Clinton campaign, nor the D.N.C., was aware that Fusion GPS had been hired to conduct the research.

Earlier this year, Mr. Elias had denied that he had possessed the dossier before the election.

Anita Dunn, a veteran Democratic operative working with Perkins Coie, said on Tuesday that Mr. Elias “was certainly familiar with some of, but not all, of the information” in the dossier. But, she said “he didn’t have and hadn’t seen the full document, nor was he involved in pitching it to reporters.” And Mr. Elias “was not at liberty to confirm Perkins Coie as the client at that point,” Ms. Dunn said.

Brian Fallon, who served as a spokesman for the Clinton campaign, on Tuesday wrote on Twitter that he did not know that Mr. Steele had been working on behalf of the Clinton campaign before the election.

“If I had, I would have volunteered to go to Europe and try to help him,” Mr. Fallon wrote.

A lawyer and spokeswoman for Fusion GPS did not respond to requests for comment.

A spokeswoman for the D.N.C. sought to distance the national party from the work, noting that the party’s chairman, Tom Perez, was elected only after last year’s election. He and his leadership team “were not involved in any decision-making regarding Fusion GPS, nor were they aware that Perkins Coie was working with the organization,” said Xochitl Hinojosa, the D.N.C. spokeswoman.

The work by Fusion GPS on the dossier has come under scrutiny from congressional investigators, who have questioned one of its founders and subpoenaed its banking records to try to determine who funded the research.

Fusion GPS is fighting the subpoena in federal court, and Mr. Gehringer’s letter was produced in connection with that legal case.

In the letter, Mr. Gehringer praised Fusion GPS for its “efforts to fulfill your obligation to maintain client confidentiality. In the circumstances, however, we believe it is appropriate to release Fusion GPS from this obligation as it relates to the identity of Perkins Coie.”

Mr. Gehringer added that, “given the interest in this issue, we believe it would be appropriate for all parties who hired Fusion GPS in connection with the 2016 presidential campaign to release Fusion GPS from this obligation as well.”

Maggie Haberman contributed reporting.

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House Republicans launch new probes into Obama-era Uranium One deal, FBI handling of Clinton case – Fox News

Former Clinton communications director speaks out about the revelation.

House Republicans on Tuesday launched new probes into several Obama-era controversies, covering both the Justice Department’s 2016 handling of the Clinton email case and the administration’s 2010 approval for the sale of a mining company that gave the Russians partial control over American uranium reserves.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., announced his committee and the House Oversight Committee will investigate the so-called Uranium One deal.

“We’re not going to jump to any conclusions, but we’re going to try and get the facts,” Nunes said.

Separately, the House oversight and judiciary committees announced a joint investigation into the Justice Department and FBI’s handling of the Clinton email probe.  

“Decisions made by the Department of Justice in 2016 have led to a host of outstanding questions that must be answered,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said in a statement. 

TABLES TURNED AS DEMS FACE RUSSIA CONTROVERSIES?

Both controversies have returned to the headlines in recent weeks. The uranium deal, which was covered extensively in 2015, concerns the 2010 approval of the sale of Canadian mining company Uranium One to Russia’s Rosatom nuclear company. The U.S. was involved because the sale gave the Russians control of part of the uranium supply in the U.S. 

The Hill reported, however, that the FBI had evidence as early as 2009 that Russian operatives used bribes, kickbacks and other dirty tactics to expand Moscow’s atomic energy footprint in the U.S., related to a subsidiary of the same Russia firm. Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill quickly started asking questions about how the deal was approved the following year by an inter-agency committee.

Nunes said Tuesday the main question for Hill investigators will be whether there was an FBI probe at the time and “if so, why was Congress not informed of this matter.”

“It’s important that we find out why that deal went through,” Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said.

Devin Nunes, presidente de la Comisión de Inteligencia de la Cámara de Representantes, dice a reporteros que realizará una audiencia abierta el 20 de marzo para investigar la presunta interferencia rusa en la elección presidencial de 2016, el martes 7 de marzo de 2017, en el Capitolio, en Washington. (AP Foto/J. Scott Applewhite)

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., has announced a new congressional probe of the 2010 Uranium One deal.

 (AP)

Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., threatened to use subpoena power to get access to a former FBI informant in the case who apparently has not yet been released from a nondisclosure agreement.

While scrutinizing the 2010 approval, Republican lawmakers have also revived questions that first surfaced in 2015 about payments to both Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation from “interested parties.”

Addressing the matter Monday on C-SPAN, Hillary Clinton said “it’s the same baloney they’ve been peddling for years, and there’s been no credible evidence by anyone. In fact, it’s been debunked repeatedly and will continue to be debunked.”

The 2016 Democratic presidential nominee said these issues are just part of the “distraction and diversion” from the investigation into Russian meddling and possible coordination with Trump associates in last year’s election.

“The closer the investigation about real Russian ties between Trump associates and real Russians … the more they want to just throw mud on the wall,” Clinton said.  

As for the separate probe of the handling of the Clinton email case, Goodlatte and Gowdy said the investigation would cover:

  • The FBI’s decision to publicly announce the Clinton email investigation but not announce the probe of Trump campaign associates
  • The decision to notify Congress that the bureau was revisiting the email probe in the fall of 2016
  • The decision to “appropriate full decision making in respect to charging or not charging Secretary Clinton to the FBI rather than the DOJ”
  • The FBI’s “timeline in respect to charging decisions”

Goodlatte and Gowdy said: “The Committees will review these decisions and others to better understand the reasoning behind how certain conclusions were drawn.”

The circumstances surrounding former FBI Director James Comey’s public decision not to pursue charges against Clinton have come under renewed scrutiny in recent months, following allegations that Comey drafted an “exoneration statement” for Clinton months before she and other key witnesses were interviewed.

The FBI last week released emails appearing to prove that Comey began drafting a memo regarding his July 2016 statement as early as May. The contents of the emails were largely unclear as nearly all of it was redacted. The now-public records show the email titled “Midyear Exam — UNCLASSIFIED” was sent by Comey on May 2, 2016, to Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, general counsel James Baker and chief of staff and senior counselor James Rybicki.

On May 16, a response email from Rybicki, said, “Please send me any comments on this statement so we may roll into a master doc for discussion with the Director at a future date. Thanks, Jim.”

The existence of the documents was first brought to light by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also a member of the committee, after they reviewed transcripts of interviews with top Comey aides who alluded to the email’s existence.

The issue has raised questions about Comey’s past explanations for his decision to go public in the case.

In a June hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey was asked whether his decision to announce the results of the investigation was influenced by then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s infamous meeting days earlier on an Arizona tarmac with former President Bill Clinton.

“Yes, in an ultimately conclusive way, that was the thing that capped it for me – that I had to do something separately to protect the credibility of the investigation,” Comey said.

At a House Judiciary Committee hearing in September 2016, Comey also testified that he made the decision not to recommend criminal charges “after” the FBI interviewed Clinton.

The potential conflicts revived interests among Clinton’s critics in revisiting aspects of the case. Last month, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee formally renewed their call for a second special counsel to probe 2016 controversies involving Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration.

Fox News’ Judson Berger, Chad Pergram and Catherine Herridge contributed to this report. 

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Trump arrives on Capitol Hill as Corker slams him for ‘untruths,’ ‘debasing’ the country – Washington Post

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) accused President Trump of “debasing” the country with his “untruths,” “name-calling” and “attempted bullying,” escalating his criticism of the president and further fueling their feud just as Trump arrived on Capitol Hill to meet with GOP senators about tax legislation.

“For young people to be watching, not only here in our country, but around the world, someone of this mentality as president of the United States is something that is I think debasing to our country,” said Corker, who spent the morning lambasting Trump in media interviews.

“You would think he would aspire to be the president of the United States and act like a president of the United States. But that’s just not going to be the case, apparently,” Corker said.

Trump returned fire, insulting “liddle” Corker on Twitter ahead of his visit to the Senate to address Republicans at their weekly policy luncheon. The gathering was billed as a chance for Trump to discuss the GOP’s effort to cut taxes, but his back-and-forth with Corker and his penchant for veering from one subject to another could lead to an unpredictable afternoon.

The feud lays bare the rising tensions between Trump and congressional Republicans and increases the uncertainty surrounding the GOP’s effort to advance tax cuts, its last-ditch attempt at a major policy accomplishment this year.

Trump has sharply criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for failing to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Republican senators have also thrown some rhetorical elbows at the president, with McConnell saying that Trump’s limited experience in politics gave him “excessive expectations” about how quickly landmark legislation can pass.

Earlier Tuesday, Corker stood by his previous description of the White House as an “adult day-care center” and his comment that Trump’s volatility could set the United States on a “path to World War III.” He also urged Trump to stop interfering in the debate over tax legislation.

Asked whether he regrets supporting Trump, Corker told CNN he would not do it again.

“The president has great difficulty with the truth on many issues,” he said. “He’s proven himself unable to rise to the occasion.”

Hours earlier, Trump had attacked Corker on Twitter for helping former president Barack Obama “give us the bad Iran Deal.” Trump also said Corker changed his plans to run for reelection in 2018 after he declined to endorse him.

In reality, Corker organized opposition to the Iran deal and voted against it. The senator and his top aide have said Trump offered his support for Corker’s reelection, and that after Corker announced that he would retire after next year, Trump called asking him to reconsider and to run again.

“Same untruths from an utterly untruthful president,” Corker tweeted Tuesday. He added the hashtag #AlertTheDaycareStaff, repeating an earlier description of Trump’s White House.

Wall Street is on the verge of its first major win in Trump’s Washington

Republican lawmakers had high expectations for Trump’s visit to Capitol Hill.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said he was “glad” Trump was coming and argued the White House’s dispute with Corker will not hinder Republicans’ rewrite of the tax code.

“Put this Twitter dispute aside . . . All this stuff you see on a daily basis, Twitter this and Twitter that, forget about it,” Ryan told reporters at a news conference Tuesday.

Trump has promised changes to the tax code will not affect tax-deferred retirement plans, the mortgage interest deduction or the deduction for charitable contributions. Republicans like Corker say these promises raise expectations prematurely while making it more difficult for lawmakers to make up the revenue that will be lost to tax cuts.

[The great dealmaker? Lawmakers say Trump is untrustworthy negotiator.]

When Trump addresses the GOP luncheon, “it’s important for him to convey to us the things that he thinks are priorities, and not only with respect to the tax bill, but some of the other things that we are currently working on,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the third-ranking Republican senator.

“I want him to tell us to do our job,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), a Trump ally who, like the president, has openly voiced his frustration that a handful of Republican senators sank the repeal-and-replace effort. He expected the president would argue that the tax- reform push is “bigger than tax,” in that it marked a chance for Republicans to prove they can govern, among other things.

Republicans continue to wrestle with health-care reform, particularly since Trump decided to end federal subsidies to offset lower-income Americans’ coverage costs. In response, a bipartisan coalition of senators offered a compromise bill authorizing those funds in exchange for giving states broader leeway in regulating coverage under the ACA.

Trump, who phoned Democratic and Republican lawmakers this month to push them to make a deal, has sent mixed signals on the plan, seeming to support it before backing away.

White House officials are now urging Senate Republicans to move the bill to the right by including provisions offering retroactive relief from the ACA’s insurance mandates for individuals and certain employers, according to people briefed on the talks.

“The White House has the ball right now,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), the Republican who took the lead on negotiating the bipartisan package. “They’ve made some suggestions publicly about what they’d like to see in the bill. I’m for all of those things. The question is whether they can persuade Democratic senators to agree to that.”

But Alexander, who said the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office could release an analysis of the plan as early as Tuesday, wasn’t expecting to hear Trump sketch out his latest thinking on the framework during lunch. “I’d like for the president to focus on tax reform,” he said.

Others were more eager for Trump to discuss health care.

“I’d like to hear him reinforce the movement to get something done,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who supports the deal Alexander reached with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

Looming over the luncheon were the mutual hostilities between Trump and Republican senators.

[McConnell says Trump needs to provide clarity on health care]

Until Tuesday morning, both sides had appeared determined to move past their differences and project more harmony. Trump and McConnell sat down for lunch at the White House last Monday and came out for a 40-minute joint news conference afterward.

Republicans are trying to forge ahead in their effort to rewrite the tax code by the end of the year. They took an initial step toward passing a tax bill last week, when the Senate passed a budget resolution allowing them to pursue the plan without Democratic votes.

The GOP didn’t need Democratic votes to undo the ACA, but that effort still failed because of disagreements among Republican senators. Brewing disputes over tax policy threaten to disrupt if not defeat the tax endeavor in a similar way.

Passing a bill could rest on more unpredictable GOP senators, such as Susan Collins (Maine), one of three Republicans who voted against the ACA repeal bill in July.

“I’m hoping to hear more about his plans on tax reform, with more detail in it,” she said of Trump’s visit.

Read more at PowerPost

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Democrats should not make Niger ‘Trump’s Benghazi.’ Here’s why. – CNN

Wilson is the Florida congresswoman who first made public the details of Trump’s apparent mess of a phone call to the widow of slain Sgt. La David Johnson. But the controversy over their exchange is quickly receding into a much broader question — whether the administration has been fully forthcoming about the circumstances surrounding the attack that killed Johnson and three other members of his team.
On Capitol Hill, Democrats are agitating for an open inquest, and some Republicans, like Sen. John McCain, have made plain their frustration with the White House. Each day that passes without a clear explanation feeds into a growing outrage and calls for Congress to intervene with its own investigation. By further invoking Benghazi, though, Democratic officials and their liberal allies risk a critical miscalculation.
The irony should be clear enough. For years, Democrats worked to make sure that “Benghazi,” in the context of the political culture, became a shorthand for cynical partisan overreach. And they mostly succeeded. The conspiracies attached to it, peddled largely by the far-out right, inspired one of Twitter’s longest running absurdist jokes. It has become synonymous with the era’s toxic tribal politics.
For Democrats to now slap that poisonous brand on their own efforts would seem, to put it mildly, bewildering and unwise.
Still, the immediate appeal might be too strong. Even as the mystery blanketing the deadly attack remains unresolved, despite a trickle of new details on Monday, there is a growing sense among liberals that Niger is the GOP’s just deserts; that a tit-for-tat response to their long string of often cynical allegations about Benghazi would be well within bounds. That a protracted public inquiry might stall the Trump agenda and sow further doubt over the administration’s competence and compassion would, in this estimation, be foolish to pass up.
Trump disputes military widow's account of condolence callTrump disputes military widow's account of condolence call
But those impulses — already on display online and in a long (and confounding) segment on MSNBC — are ultimately short-sighted and, if indeed pursued beyond the bounds of sincere concern, risk damaging Democrats more than congressional Republicans or Trump.
The deadly ambush in Niger, reportedly carried out by ISIS-alighed fighters, keeps some close parallels with the September 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya. Four killed. Confusion over who was where, precisely, and why.
As in Niger, the attack on Americans in Benghazi came at a time of acute partisan rancor. Former President Barack Obama was two months away from re-election when Ambassador Chris Stevens and his colleagues were killed. The Trump administration, meanwhile, is a long way from 2020, but exists in a constant state of political angst.
Obama officials stumbled (see: Susan Rice on the Sunday after) over their initial public response to Benghazi. Trump and his top aides took a different route with Niger, going silent for almost two weeks — before the President’s condolence call fiasco kicked off. But in both cases, when top officials spoke, they immediately made matters worse. All the while, questions over the circumstances surrounding the respective attacks mushroomed. Armchair investigators, with conspiracy theorists close at hand, jumped headlong into the void created by the absence of clear, satisfying answers.
Benghazi panel caps 2-year probe: No bombshell, faults administrationBenghazi panel caps 2-year probe: No bombshell, faults administration
Five years ago, Republicans seized the Benghazi story in part because it prominently featured a secretary of state who, almost immediately upon leaving office, became the Democratic presidential frontrunner for 2016. There’s a good argument the persistent crush of questions and the optics — Clinton answering under oath, again and again — hurt her candidacy. But those Republicans were operating in a different political universe.
To start, they already controlled Congress and could order up hearings and high-profile testimony at their leisure. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s bid for the speakership was dealt a grave blow when he gave up the game in the fall of 2015, but his description of the GOP plan was mostly met with a knowing shrug.
“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?” McCarthy said during an interview with Fox News. “But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s un-trustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened, had we not fought and made that happen.”
Brazen, yes. A game-changer? No. McCarthy wasn’t saying anything anyone who was paying attention didn’t already know. Republicans clearly came through it no worse off, but the definition of “Benghazi” in the vernacular was changing.
Over time, and with a kick from McCarthy, it became less evocative of those who perished there, or why. It also drifted further from the GOP’s initial intended purpose, to put a spotlight on alleged Clintonian mendacity. Today, “Benghazi” represents something distinct, especially for Democrats — the weaponization of Capitol Hill’s powers of institutional oversight. The party makes a claim for that chalice at their own risk.
And this speaks to a more elemental danger.
In the Trump era, Democrats, for all their internecine policy battles, have uniformly sought to position themselves as a moral, honest alternative to the President and his allies. And even with the political center shrinking to a narrow band of the electorate, a party like the Democrats, so widely out of power, should be holding tight to its most basic stated principles.
Or they could embrace what they so recently claimed to detest. Politics is a savage sport, and parties are not rewarded for good behavior alone. They are, however, and especially when trying to rebuild their brands, often punished for betraying their ambitions.
So when the question pops again — “Is Niger Trump’s Benghazi?” — and it inevitably will, Democrats should very carefully consider their answer.

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Rubio: Corker will be on board for tax reform – CNBC

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., on Monday said he expects his fellow Republicans, including deficit hawks like Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., to ultimately support the tax reform bill later this year.

Appearing on CNBC’s Squawk Box, Rubio was asked to respond in real time as President Donald Trump used Twitter to attack Corker and accuse the retiring senator of “fighting tax cuts.” Trump also predicted that Corker would lose an election for dog catcher, were he to run.

“I think [Corker] will be” on board for a final vote, Rubio said. “All that other stuff is interesting to cover, but it has nothing to do with the reason why we’re doing this,” he said. “So let’s stay focused on the taxes, and we’ll leave the drama to other people.”

As the deadline nears for producing a tax reform bill, Republicans are struggling to find enough new sources of revenue in the tax code to offset part of the nearly $4 billion cost of massive tax cuts for corporations and individuals. Their efforts have been hampered by a series of promises the president has made publicly, including vows not to touch popular programs and deductions.

Corker has emerged in recent weeks as one of the more vocal opponents of creating massive new deficits on the scale that some analysts are predicting.

“It’s easy to talk about cutting people’s rates and doing the things that benefit people,” Corker said on Tuesday morning on ABC. “But if you start taking things off the table before you get started, you make that very difficult. And what I hope is going to happen is the president will leave this effort to the tax writing committees.”

Moments later, the president lashed out.

Trump tweet 1

Trump tweet 2

A few hours after his tweets, Trump was scheduled to attend the weekly lunch Tuesday with Republican senators.

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Did Myeshia Johnson Accuse Rep. Frederica Wilson of Using Her Husband ‘As a Political Platform’? – Snopes.com

CLAIM

Gold Star widow Myeshia Johnson criticized Rep. Frederica Wilson on Facebook for misrepresenting the content of a condolence call from President Donald Trump.

RATING

FALSE

ORIGIN

Conservative social media users circulated an image of a purported Facebook post from 17 October 2017 which they said showed Gold Star widow Myeshia Johnson accusing Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Florida) of exploiting a presidential condolence call over the death of her husband, U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson, for political gain:

The picture allegedly depicts a post from Myeshia Johnson’s Facebook page dated “17 October 2017 at 3:27 p.m.” saying:

I want to set the record straight! I’m getting sick and tired of this so called politician using my husband as a political platform. Even buy [sic] her own words she did not hear all of the conversation she only heard part of it. This is what actually was said. “They know the risk, they know what they sign up for but they still volunteer to put their lives on the line for their fellow Americans. We owe them a debt that can never be repaid”

A phone call from President Donald Trump to Johnson is at the center of what has become a public dispute between Johnson and the Trump administration. But the validity of the screenshot is doubtful.

While the date of the post corresponds with that of the 17 October 2017 condolence call, the time listed is actually more than an hour before the reported time of President Trump’s phone call, which was 4:45 p.m. Eastern time.

Also, the picture shows a Facebook profile bearing a square profile picture. But the social media site implemented an update in August 2017 that changed the shape of users’ profile pictures in the Facebook newsfeed from square to round, as seen in this example from the Snopes.com Facebook page (top left):

La David Johnson was killed while serving in Niger on 4 October 2017, in what has been described as an ambush by Islamic insurgents. Three other U.S. service members, Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, were also killed in the attack, as were four Nigerien troops.

Rep. Wilson said she was riding with the Army sergeant’s widow and members of her family to receive his body when the President called, telling CNN host Don Lemon that night:

I heard what [Trump] said because the phone was on speaker. Basically he said, “Well, I guess he knew what he signed up for, but I guess it still hurt.” That’s what he said.

Wilson accused Trump of being insensitive not only to La David Johnson’s family but “to the family of every soldier that has paid the ultimate price for our freedom.”

The sergeant’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, has corroborated Wilson’s account of the phone call, saying that “President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband.”

President Trump responded by denying what Rep. Wilson had claimed:

I didn’t say what that congresswoman said. Didn’t say it all. She knows it. I had a very nice conversation with the woman, with the wife who was — sounded like a lovely woman. Did not say what the congresswoman said, and most people aren’t too surprised to hear that.

On 23 October 2017, Myeshia Johnson told ABC News that Wilson was “100 percent” in her description of the phone call. She said:

The President said that he knew what he signed up for, but it hurts anyway. And it made me cry cause I was very angry at the tone of his voice and how he said he couldn’t remember my husband’s name. The only way he remembered my husband’s name is because he told me he had my husband’s report in front of him and that’s when he actually said La David. I heard him stumblin’ on, trying to remember my husband’s name and that’s what hurt me the most, because if my husband is out here fighting for our country and he risked his life for our country why can’t you remember his name.

But while President Trump suggested he had proof to support his account of events, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that the call had not been not recorded. Instead, Sanders said, Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly and other White House staff members were near President Trump when he phone Myeshia Johnson and heard what he said.

For his part, Kelly called Wilson an “empty barrel” and accused her of taking credit in 2015 for the funding of a Federal Bureau of Investigation field office in Miami, a claim that was debunked by footage of Wilson’s remarks that was posted online on 20 October 2017.

Despite Sanders’ statement that the president’s conversation with Myeshia Johnson was not recorded, Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law and host of a Facebook broadcast devoted to what his administration calls “real news,” asserted on 20 October 2017 that she had read a transcript of the call which confirmed Trump spoke the words in question, albeit with additional context:

[Trump] said, “Your husband went into battle, you know, knowing that he could be injured, knowing that he could be killed, and he still did it because he loved this country, and he did it for the American people.”

Wilson came under additional criticism after she responded to Kelly’s allegations by exclaiming that “You mean to tell me that I’ve become so important that the White House is following me and my words? This is amazing. That’s amazing. I’ll have to tell my kids that I’m a rockstar now.”

Two days earlier, Rep. Wilson had issued a statement reading:

Despite President Trump’s suggestion that I have recanted my statement or misstated what he said, I stand firmly by my original account of his conversation with Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson. Moreover, this account has been confirmed by family members who also witnessed Mr. Trump’s incredible lack of compassion and sensitivity.

The Johnson family and the families of the three other soldiers who tragically lost their lives in the Niger ambush are experiencing what I am certain must feel like an unbearable loss. Rather than engage in a petty war of words with Mr. Trump, it is so much more important to embrace and support the families and honor these fallen heroes.

We reached out to Rep. Wilson for comment but have not yet received a response.

Update [23 October 2017]: Updated with statement from Myeshia Johnson interview with ABC News backing up Wilson’s account.

Got a tip or a rumor? Contact us here.

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Sources:

Sabovic, Sanela et al.   “Trump to Widow of Sgt. La David Johnson: ‘He Knew What He Signed Up For.’”
    WPLG-TV.   17 October 2017.

Wilson, Frederica S.   “Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson Stands by Account of President Trump’s Condolence Call to the Widow of Sgt. La David Johnson.”
    18 October 2017.

Kelly, Heather.   “Facebook’s Adding Text Bubbles and Round Profiles.”
    CNN.   15 August 2017.

Sabovic, Sanela.   “Remains of US Army Sgt. La David Johnson return to Miami.”
    WPLG-TV.   17 October 2017.

CNN.   “Congresswoman Describes Trump’s Call to Widow.”
    17 October 2017.

Gearan, Anne and Kristine Phillips.   “Fallen Soldier’s Mother: ‘Trump Did Disrespect My Son.’”
    The Washington Post.   18 October 2017.

de Moraes, Lisa.   “White House: No Recording Of Donald Trump’s Phone Call to Widow of Soldier Killed in ISIS Ambush.”
    Deadline.   18 October 2017.

Barszewski, Larry.   “Frederica Wilson 2015 Video Shows White House Chief of Staff John Kelly Got It Wrong.”
    The Sun-Sentinel. nbsp; 20 October 2017.

Holly, Jessica.   “Congresswoman Reacts to White House Statement on Call to Army’s Family.”
    WSVN-TV.   19 October 2017.

Searcey, Dionnne et al.   “Conflicting Accounts in Niger Ambush Are Subject of Pentagon Investigation.”
    The New York Times.   20 October 2017.

Slattery, Denis.   “Lara Trump Says She ‘Read Exactly What’ President Said to Fallen Soldier’s Widow Even Though There’s No Transcript.”
    [New York] Daily News.   20 October 2017.

Nestel, M.L. “‘I Was Very Angry’ at Trump, Says Myeshia Johnson, Widow of Fallen Soldier.”
ABC News. 23 October 2017.

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Weinstein scandal puts nondisclosure agreements in the spotlight – Los Angeles Times

Harvey Weinstein. Bill O’Reilly. Roger Ailes. Bill Cosby. The Catholic church.

All were able to skirt years and sometimes decades of allegations of sexual harassment or assault through the use of settlements or contracts that included nondisclosure agreements: legal provisions that swear employees or alleged victims to secrecy.

Those cases — and especially the unfolding Weinstein scandal — have sparked criticism that the agreements allow powerful companies and individuals to stave off scrutiny and continue abusive practices. Now, there is a move afoot to place clear restrictions on their use.

Last week, a group of Weinstein Co. employees, in a letter published by the New Yorker last week, sought to be released from their signed nondisclosure agreements, or NDAs.

“We ask that the company let us out of our NDAs immediately — and do the same for all former Weinstein Company employees — so we may speak openly, and get to the origins of what happened here, and how,” the unnamed employees wrote.

These confidentiality agreements have become a ubiquitous legal tool for purposes both controversial and benign, such as protecting trade secrets or confidential financial information.

Nondisclosure clauses in employment contracts and severance agreements prevent employees or former employees from badmouthing their bosses. Generally, as part of a private settlement, one party agrees to drop potential or unresolved legal action in exchange for a payment — and their silence.

The latest high-profile instance of such an agreement surfaced late last week when it was reported that in January, former Fox News anchor O’Reilly paid $32 million in a confidential settlement over a threatened sexual harassment lawsuit.

Cathy Shulman, an Oscar-winning filmmaker who is president of the Women in Film advocacy group, said such deals are part of a “silencing culture” in Hollywood.

“If a person complains about their work culture, what they usually hear is: ‘It’s time to move you to another workforce. Let’s settle this out,’” Shulman said. “They are asked to make a deal with the devil. They are asked to sign and shut up. And then you plan your exit, I’ve done it myself.”

But in some cases, signing these secret agreements can benefit an individual victim, even if it allows bad behavior to continue, said Gloria Allred, the high-profile L.A. attorney whose firm has negotiated confidential settlements — and who is representing some of Weinstein’s accusers.

“If she resolves it in a way that’s positive for her and that she feels good about, then that’s what’s most important,” said Allred, who has a reputation for litigating in the press when she feels it’s in her clients’ interest. “And yes, it may mean that others may not know. But should it be mandated that no settlement should be confidential? We don’t think it’s a good idea.”

Without confidentiality agreements, many companies and high-profile individuals will choose not to settle and instead take their chances in court, which is not right for every victim, she said.

“The alternative is facing years of litigation and the risks inherent to that and the expense inherent to that,” she said. “That’s going to be hard on our clients.”

In fact, there are already limits on confidentiality agreements, though individuals who sign them may not be aware — a fact that can make NDAs more effective in practice than they might be in theory.

Wayne Outten, a New York employment lawyer and co-founder of the nonprofit Workplace Fairness, said all such agreements, whether in a severance contract or a private settlement, allow victims to report harassment, discrimination and criminal activity to authorities.

“No matter what somebody has signed, they’re free to go to the government,” Outten said. “It’s a matter of public policy.”

For instance, employees can report alleged harassment to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, crime victims can file reports with the police and corporate whistleblowers can contact the Securities and Exchange Commission.

What’s more, under California law, confidentiality agreements are not enforceable if they are attached to civil settlements involving some potential crimes, including felony sexual assault and child sex abuse.

In such a case, if a victim broke the confidentiality agreement, a court could reject a breach of contract lawsuit. There’s no law forbidding confidential settlements in matters that don’t rise to the level of a felony, though there may be a push in Sacramento next year to bar such settlements in harassment cases too following the Weinstein scandal.

Still, regardless of various exceptions and even in cases where an agreement might be invalidated by a court, people who sign nondisclosure agreements tend to abide by them.

“An attorney can say a confidentiality agreement is not enforceable, but a victim might say, ‘I don’t care, I’m not saying anything,’” said Assemblyman Mark Stone (D-Scotts Valley), who authored a 2016 law that added child sex abuse to the list of potential crimes where a confidential civil settlement is not allowed.

Attorneys say many individuals who sign them believe an NDA applies more broadly than it truly does.

“I’ve seen plenty of confidentiality agreements that don’t mention any exceptions whatsoever, whether ones that are agreed to or that the law recognizes,” said Sherman Oaks litigator David Krause-Leemon. “I don’t know if the intent is to create a perception that there are no exceptions, but from a defense point of view you’d be better off if the plaintiff had that perception.”

That can make someone hesitant to speak even when they’re allowed to.

Los Angeles consumer attorney Brian Kabateck said he’s sometimes had trouble getting people who have signed NDAs to testify in court — something such agreements generally must allow.

“They’ll avoid service of the subpoena. They’re terrified,” he said, and with good reason. Breaking a nondisclosure agreement can be expensive.

The agreements often spell out the financial consequences of a breach, and the recipient of the settlement could have to pay damages that exceed the amount received initially.

Still, it’s rare for companies to take action when nondisclosure agreements are broken, in part because it would look bad, said Helene Wasserman, a partner at Littler Mendelson, a law firm that specializes in representing companies in employment matters.

“I’ve never had a client say, ‘We know this person breached confidentiality, let’s go after them,’” she said. “I can’t imagine many companies would want that kind of publicity. And those are the cases that would get publicity.”

While such cases are rare, they’re not unheard of.

In one high-profile case, Bill Cosby last year sued one of his accusers for breach of contract, saying she had violated a decade-old nondisclosure agreement by agreeing to be interviewed by local prosecutors in Pennsylvania.

Andrea Constand had sued Cosby in 2005, accusing him of drugging and sexually assaulting her. The two reached a settlement, complete with a confidentiality agreement, the following year. In 2015, after numerous women came forward to accuse Cosby, investigators with the Montgomery County district attorney’s office re-interviewed Constand.

Cosby’s lawyers argued that Constand “had no legal obligation to cooperate with investigators” because she is a Canadian citizen and that her cooperation amounted to a breach of the confidentiality agreement.

A federal judge threw out that claim, saying a confidentiality agreement that forbids speaking to law enforcement is not enforceable.

But Kabatek said that the fact that Constand was even threatened with a breach of contract suit illustrates why some victims — even when protected by the law — are unwilling to step forward.

“It has a chilling effect,” he said.

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Christie denies saying failure on opioids would be ‘debilitating’ for Trump – Politico

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is pictured. | AP

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie strongly denied former congressmen Patrick Kennedy’s version of events on Twitter, saying Trump was committed to addressing the drug crisis.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Monday denied that he had told a former congressman that a failure to deliver on remedying the opioid crisis would deal a “debilitating blow” to Donald Trump’s presidency, refuting the ex-lawmaker’s statements in a Washington Post report.

“The comments attributed to me today in WaPo by Congressman Kennedy are false. I speak for myself on this issue,” Christie said in a series of tweets in response to a report citing former congressmen Patrick Kennedy, a member of Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis.

Story Continued Below

The newspaper reported that Kennedy said Christie, who chairs the commission, had privately told him Trump’s presidency would be “over” if “he doesn’t recognize this as the issue of our time.”

The New Jersey governor strongly denied Kennedy’s version of events on Twitter, saying Trump was committed to addressing the drug crisis.

“Let me be very clear. I know that POTUS supports fighting this epidemic aggressively. In the days ahead, his actions will speak louder than anything else,” Christie wrote.

Trump in August announced his intent to name the opioid crisis a “national emergency,” though he has not done it yet. The declaration, initially recommended by the Christie-led commission, would allow the federal government to free up funds to tackle the issue.

The Trump administration’s efforts to battle the opioid crisis were put under the microscope after a report that Rep. Tom Marino, the president’s pick to be the nation’s leading drug enforcer, championed a law that critics said hindered the federal government’s ability to combat the spread of opioids. Marino withdrew from consideration for the role.

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Sgt. La David Johnson, soldier killed in Niger, laid to rest in Florida – ABC News

U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson, who was among four American service members killed in Niger earlier this month, was laid to rest in his home state of Florida on Saturday.

A flag-covered coffin holding Johnson’s remains was carried into South Florida’s Christ The Rock Church for a private funeral service Saturday morning. American flags flew at half-staff across the Sunshine State as Johnson’s body was then taken to Hollywood Memorial Gardens where he was buried.

An emotional public viewing for Johnson, 25, was held the previous night at the church in Cooper City, where gospel music filled the room while loved ones and strangers cried, prayed and hugged each other. His family, wearing red shirts, sat in the front row, a short distance from his closed casket, flanked by a heart-shaped wreath made of red roses.

Instead of wearing a red shirt, Johnson’s aunt, Sharon Wright, wore a military green U.S. Army T-shirt and sat outside the church on a bench weeping, according to ABC affiliate WPLG.

Johnson, a native of Miami Gardens, and three other U.S. service members, were killed during an ambush near a village close to Niger’s border with Mali on Oct. 4.

Johnson leaves behind his wife Myeshia, who is expecting their third child in January. They also have a 2-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter.

Terkiya McGriff, who told the Miami Herald she was Johnson’s sister on his father’s side, said she had spoken to him on Facetime before he left for Niger. She said it’s been tough accepting he’s gone.

“I’m not going to ever have my brother anymore,” she told the newspaper.

Throughout Johnson’s viewing on Friday night, soldiers marched up to the casket, stopped, saluted and marched away.

As people waited in line, two screens broadcast photos of Johnson — some in his army fatigues, others holding his children, the Miami Herald reported.

Many of those who attended the viewing were veterans who did not know Johnson, but wanted to pay their respects.

“I’m here for the fallen soldier. I’m here for his family,” Vietnam veteran L.C. Deal told WPLG. “I think they need to feel that they aren’t just out here because they lost a loved one. There’s a healing process and it’s going to take time.”

Another veteran, Mike Pacheco, told WPLG that his thoughts were with Johnson’s widow. “My condolences to her and her family,” he said. “I hurt maybe not as much as you, but I hurt deeply because it’s that kind of bond, and God Bless your family. I want to thank your husband for putting up the ultimate sacrifice and may he rest In peace.”

Melvin Harris, a Korean war veteran, told the Miami Herald as he entered the church, “I came to pay my respects to my brother.”

Earlier this week, Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Florida, was in a car with Myeshia Johnson when she received a call from President Donald Trump about her husband’s death. Wilson took issue with what she said Trump told Mrs. Johnson: that her husband “must have known what he signed up for.”

Trump later criticized the congresswoman and denied on Twitter her account of the conversation.

ABC News’ Morgan Winsor contributed to this report.

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Spain Will Remove Catalonia Leader, Escalating Secession Crisis – New York Times

BARCELONA — The escalating confrontation over Catalonia’s independence drive took its most serious turn on Saturday as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain announced that he would remove the leadership of the restive region and initiate a process of direct rule by the central government in Madrid.

It was the first time that Spain’s government had moved to strip the autonomy of one of its 17 regions, and the first time that a leader had invoked Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution — a broad tool intended to protect the “general interests” of the nation.

The unexpectedly forceful moves by Mr. Rajoy, made after an emergency cabinet meeting, thrust Spain into uncharted waters as he tried to put down one of the gravest constitutional crises his country has faced since embracing democracy after the death of its dictator Gen. Francisco Franco in 1975.

The steps were immediately condemned by Catalan leaders and risked further inflaming an already volatile atmosphere in the prosperous northeastern region, where thousands braved national police wielding truncheons to vote in a contentious independence referendum on Oct. 1, even after it was declared illegal by the Spanish government and courts.

“There’s nothing soft or limited about what he announced today,” Josep Ramoneda, a political columnist and philosopher, said of Mr. Rajoy. “We’re entering a very delicate phase, in which an independence movement that appeared to be running out of options might now draw instead on a collective sense of humiliation at seeing Catalonia being forced under Madrid’s control.”

Fueled by economic grievances and a distinct language and culture, aspirations for an independent state in Catalonia have ebbed and flowed for generations.

But the current confrontation has presented a vexing quandary not only for Spain but the entire European Union, pitting democratic rights and demands for self-determination against the desire to preserve the sovereignty and territorial integrity of an important member state.

Mr. Rajoy took the bold steps with broad support from Spain’s main political opposition, and will almost certainly receive the required approval next week from the Spanish Senate, where his own conservative party holds a majority.

He did so despite repeated appeals for dialogue and mediation by the Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont, whose independence drive has been shunned by wary European Union officials.

Mr. Rajoy said the Catalan government had never offered real dialogue but had instead tried to impose its secessionist project on Catalan citizens and the rest of the country in violation of Spain’s Constitution.

He said his government was putting an end to “a unilateral process, contrary to the law and searching for confrontation” because “no government of any democratic country can accept that the law be violated, ignored and changed.”

Mr. Rajoy said he planned to remove Mr. Puigdemont, and the rest of his separatist administration from office. The central government was also poised to take charge of Catalonia’s autonomous police force and the Catalan center for telecommunications.

Mr. Rajoy did not ask to dissolve the Catalan Parliament, but instead said that the president of the assembly would not be allowed to take any initiative judged to be contrary to Spain’s Constitution for a period of 30 days, including trying to propose another leader to replace Mr. Puigdemont.

Mr. Rajoy said that his goal was to arrange new Catalan elections within six months, so as to lift the measures taken under Article 155 as soon as possible.

It’s unclear, however, how such elections would be organized or whether they would significantly change Catalonia’s political landscape, let alone help to resolve the territorial conflict.

Mr. Puigdemont led a mass demonstration in Barcelona, the region’s capital, on Saturday afternoon, before giving his official response to Mr. Rajoy’s decision.

Protests in Barcelona on Saturday
Video by La Vanguardia

Several Catalan separatist politicians, however, reacted immediately to Mr. Rajoy’s announcement, warning that it would escalate rather than resolve the conflict.

Josep Lluís Cleries, a Catalan Senator, told reporters on Saturday that Mr. Rajoy’s decision showed that “the Spain of today is not democratic because what he has said is a return to the year 1975,” referring to Franco’s death. Mr. Rajoy, he added, was suspending not autonomy in Catalonia but democracy.

Oriol Junqueras, the region’s deputy leader, said in a tweet that Catalonia was “facing totalitarianism” and called on citizens to join the Barcelona protest on Saturday.

Significantly, Iñigo Urkullu, the leader of the Basque region, which also has a long history of separatism, described the measures as “disproportionate and extreme,” writing on Twitter that they would “dynamite the bridges” to any dialogue.

Faced with Madrid’s decision to remove him from office, Mr. Puigdemont could try to pre-empt Mr. Rajoy’s intervention and instead ask Catalan lawmakers to vote on a declaration of independence in coming days — as he had threatened to do earlier this month.

Mr. Puigdemont could also then try to convene Catalan elections, on his own terms, to form what he could describe as the first Parliament of a new Catalan republic.

Should Mr. Puigdemont resist Mr. Rajoy’s plans, Spain’s judiciary could separately step in and order that he and other separatists be arrested on charges of sedition or even rebellion for declaring independence.

Rebellion carries a maximum prison sentence of 30 years. Earlier this week, a judge from Spain’s national court ordered prison without bail for two separatist leaders, pending a sedition trial.

Using Article 155 “was neither our desire nor our intention,” Mr. Rajoy said on Saturday, but had become the only way to to return Catalonia to legality, normality and maintain a Spanish economic recovery “which is now under clear danger because of the capricious and unilateral decisions” of the Catalan separatist government.

Mr. Rajoy highlighted the decision of over 1,000 Catalan companies this month to relocate their legal headquarters outside the region, in response to the uncertainty generated by the possibility ofa breakup with Madrid.

Mr. Rajoy received strong backing from politicians from the main opposition parties, with the notable exception of Podemos, the far-left party that wants to use a referendum to convince Catalan voters to remain within Spain.

“We’re shocked by the suspension of democracy in Catalonia,” Pablo Echenique, a senior official from Podemos, said in a televised news conference on Saturday, after Mr. Rajoy’s announcement.

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