The House Intelligence Committee is holding a rare public hearing on Monday, with FBI Director James Comey and NSA chief Adm. Mike Rogers expected to face questions about Russia's involvement in the U.S. election, any ties between Russia and President Trump's campaign, who leaked information to the media about Trump aides' communications with Russia, and whether there is any evidence to back up Trump's claim that former President Barack Obama had his Trump Tower phones wiretapped. Comey is expected to say there is no evidence Trump's phones were tapped, but nobody is sure what other questions he will answer. Rogers is predicted to say less than Comey.
Democrats are most eager to discuss any Russian role in the election and any connections between Trump and the Kremlin, while Republicans are focused on who has been disclosing potentially classified information about Trump team members. Comey briefed lawmakers on Friday about the state of the Russian investigation and Trump's wiretapping accusations (he said no about Trump and wiretapping, and "it was a categorical denial," a U.S. official tells The Washington Post). What he told House Intelligence Committee members about Trump and Russia is apparently still up for debate.
On Fox New Sunday, committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said he has seen "no evidence of collusion" between Trump's circles and Russia to sway the election his way. But on NBC's Meet the Press, ranking Democrat Adam Schiff (Calif.) said there is already "circumstantial evidence of collusion" and "direct evidence" of "deception" by the Trump campaign, and "there is certainly enough for us to conduct an investigation."
Here’s where we begin our investigation into Russian interference – with circumstantial evidence of collusion & direct evidence of deception pic.twitter.com/1tobpyCjkj
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) March 19, 2017
Regarding Trump's wiretapping allegations, "I hope that we can put an end to this wild goose chase, because what the president said was just patently false," Schiff said. "It's continuing to grow in terms of damage, and he needs to put an end to this." Peter Weber
Three people who have spoken with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team or congressional committees investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election told Reuters that during their interviews, they contradicted the testimony of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who last November told the House Judiciary Committee he "pushed back" against a proposal in 2016 to have Trump campaign representatives meet with Russians.
The three witnesses were at the March 2016 meeting, where former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos suggested reaching out to the Russians, and while their accounts differed slightly, all said Sessions had no objections to Papadopoulos' idea. One told Reuters Sessions was polite, and told Papadopoulos something similar to, "okay, interesting." Last November, a meeting attendee named J.D. Gordon said Sessions was opposed to the plan, and on Saturday told Reuters he stood by his statement.
At the time, Sessions — who also failed last year to disclose to Congress he met with former Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak — was still a Republican senator from Alabama, and was chairing the meeting as head of the campaign's foreign policy team. President Trump posted a photo of the meeting on his Instagram, which showed Trump, Sessions, Papadopoulos, and other men sitting at a table. In October, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russia contacts, and is now cooperating with Mueller. Catherine Garcia
After purchasing three apartment buildings in Astoria, Queens, in 2015, Kushner Cos. filed false paperwork with the city of New York, claiming that there were zero rent-regulated tenants in the buildings when there were as many as 94, The Associated Press reports.
President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner stepped down as CEO of his family business last year, after spending three years in the role. Aaron Carr, founder of the watchdog group Housing Rights Initiative, found that from 2013 to 2016, Kushner Cos. filed at least 80 false applications for construction permits in 34 buildings across New York City, passing along the paperwork to AP. All of the documents said there were no rent-regulated tenants in the buildings, despite tax documents showing there were more than 300. Nearly every document was signed by an employee of Kushner Cos., including in some cases the chief operating officer.
When there are rent-regulated tenants in a building, the city keeps an eye on construction crews to make sure they are not pressuring residents to move out so new tenants can come in and pay higher rents. Current and former residents of the three Queens buildings told AP they had to endure leaking water, drilling, and loud noises throughout the construction work in their buildings, and in some cases their rent was increased by 60 percent and they felt they were pushed out. In 2017, the buildings were sold for $60 million, nearly 50 percent more than Kushner Cos. paid.
Carr told AP it was "bare-faced greed," and "the fact that the company was falsifying all these applications with the government shows a sordid attempt to avert accountability and get a rapid return on its investment." In a statement to AP, Kushner Cos. said it outsources the preparation of documents to third parties and "if mistakes or violations are identified, corrective action is taken immediately." Catherine Garcia
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) on Fox News Sunday chastised President Trump's personal attorney, John Dowd, for saying Saturday it is time for Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation to end.
"If you look at the jurisdiction for Robert Mueller, first and foremost [it is] what did Russia do to this country in 2016. That is supremely important, and it has nothing to do with collusion," Gowdy said. "So to suggest that Mueller should shut down and that all he's looking at is collusion — if you have an innocent client, Mr. Dowd, act like it."
The GOP representative also offered a warning to Trump himself. "When you are innocent ... act like it," Gowdy said to the president. "If you've done nothing wrong, you should want the investigation to be as fulsome and thorough as possible." Watch a clip of Gowdy's comments below. Bonnie Kristian
Trey Gowdy on Trump lawyer John Dowd calling for shutting down the Mueller probe: “When you are innocent… act like it.” (via Fox) pic.twitter.com/qIdueVe0FD
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) March 18, 2018
Lindsey Graham warns Trump that firing Mueller 'would be the beginning of the end of his presidency'
Sen. Lindsey Graham on CNN's State of the Union Sunday sought to distinguish between Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe and the circumstances surrounding the firing of Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, the latter including the allegation, as President Trump once put it, that the FBI became "a tool of anti-Trump political actors" in 2016.
McCabe's actions have "absolutely nothing to do with the Mueller investigation," Graham said, arguing that a new special counsel should be appointed to investigate the FBI.
He warned Trump against firing Mueller, suggesting that to do so "would be the beginning of the end of his presidency." Graham added that he believes Mueller is "doing a good job," pledging "to make sure that Mr. Mueller can continue to do his job without any interference — and there are many Republicans who share my view."
Watch an excerpt of Graham's interview below. Bonnie Kristian
If President Trump fired Robert Mueller, “that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency, because we are a rule of law nation,” says GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham #CNNSOTU https://t.co/Vgrqe3mIMf https://t.co/snm875uCzI
— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) March 18, 2018
Turkish troops and their Free Syrian Army allies on Sunday declared victory over Kurdish YPG militia fighters in the northern Syrian city of Afrin.
"Most of the terrorists have already fled with tails between their legs," said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, though enclaves of Kurdish fighters remain outside the city center. Activist groups in Afrin say about 280 civilians were killed in the fight to control the city, but Erdogan's government denies their report.
Turkey's war on the Kurds creates tension with Washington, which is allied with both sides. The YPG joined the U.S. in the fight against the Islamic State, but Ankara, a NATO ally, considers the Kurds terrorists because of their links to Kurdish rebels in Turkey. Bonnie Kristian
North Korean diplomat Choe Kang Il traveled to Finland Sunday for negotiations with American and South Korean representatives, notably including former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stephens. The talks are seen as a preliminary step toward the direct meeting President Trump has said he will have with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this spring.
The South Korean foreign ministry compared the Finland negotiations to the indirect and secretive "Track 2" dialogue Pyongyang maintains with Washington. Choe declined to comment on his agenda. Bonnie Kristian
Russian President Vladimir Putin faces seven challengers as voters go to the polls Sunday, but he is expected to easily win a fourth term for another six years in office. Advance polling suggests Putin boasts about 70 percent support, though critics say Russian elections are a pseudo-democratic exercise with a predetermined outcome.
"I voted for Putin," said Ust-Djeguta resident Lyubov Kachan, a teacher, in an interview with Reuters. "If anything is not going our way right now, that's thanks to the world which treats us so negatively, while he is trying to stand up to that."
Apathetic voters are under increased pressure to turn out this year, with some employers asking workers to provide proof that they voted. The mayor of the city of Yekaterinburg told The Associated Press officials "received orders 'from higher up' to make sure the presidential vote turnout is over 60 percent." Bonnie Kristian