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Archive for October, 2018

Emails Disclose Angst, Handwringing at ATF After Vegas Shooting and Bump Stock Controversy

Acting head of ATF Thomas Brandon.

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Emails show the controversial rapid-fire bump stock device used in the Las Vegas massacre last year caused a lot of angst and handwringing inside ATF, a report in USA Today shows. It also shows why the devices are still legal in many states.

Nick Penzenstadler of USA Today reports:

Within hours of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history a year ago in Las Vegas, the federal agency in charge of regulating guns found itself under pressure to ban a rapid-fire device and penned in by legal boundaries that officials said prevented them from acting quickly, according to newly disclosed emails from inside the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Blame rained down on the ATF after gunfire showered concertgoers from a 32nd-floor room at the Mandalay Bay hotel Oct. 1, leaving 58 dead and more than 800 injured. Critics popped up everywhere – cable news anchors and politicians on both sides of the aisle, the National Rifle Association and Gabrielle Giffords’ anti-gun-violence group, and even from the ATF’s own ranks of current and former agents.

The focus was Slide Fire, a plastic add-on known as a “bump stock” that allowed Stephen Paddock to run through more than 1,100 rounds of ammunition in 10 minutes. Bump stocks were affixed to half of Paddock’s guns. Since 2010, up to 520,000 of the devices have been purchased in the USA, the Department of Justice reported.

Thomas Brandon, the acting head of ATF, writes in on email after the shooting to technology chief Earl Griffith:

“Are these ‘ATF approved’ as advertised?”

Griffith responds by saying they are.

Later, Brandon testified to Congress that in the interest of public safety, a law should ban them.

Mueller’s Investigation Appears to Be Winding Down, But Experts Say Maybe Not

Special counsel Robert Mueller

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

Is special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation nearing an end?

After six guilty pleas, a jury conviction and the indictment of 26 individuals and three Russians, Mueller has reduced the size of his staff from 17 prosecutors to 13.

After the midterms, Mueller’s team plans to issue a report on the main findings of an investigation that began in April 2017.

But does that mean the end is near?

“Who the heck knows? My guess is he is getting close to done, but that is only a guess,” Peter Zeidenberg, a former Justice Department prosecutor, told the Washington Examiner

“I think anyone who tells you the answer to this question [of winding down] with a high degree of confidence is mistaken,” Zeidenberg explained.

Paul Rosenzweig, a former senior counsel on the Whitewater investigation, said it’s reasonable to believe the investigation will pick up steam after the midterm elections.

“A seasoned investigator urged caution. “Anyone who is sure he is wrapping up is projecting their own thinking,” Rosenzweig said. “Anyone who is sure he is just laying low is, likewise, projecting. Mueller has been quiet of late because of the midterm elections. Expect a resumption after the new year.”

President Trump’s legal team has been claiming the investigation is wrapping up for more than a year. But so far, Mueller has been unable to get Trump to sit down for an interview.

Only time will tell when the investigation is over.

Weekend Series on Law Enforcement History: Nixon and Johnson Talk About J. Edgar Hoover

Ex-FBI Agent Gets 4 Years in Prison for Leaking Classified Info To a Reporter

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Former FBI agent Terry J. Albury, 39, was sentenced in federal court Thursday in St. Paul, Minn., to four years in prison for leaking classified national defense information to a reporter who works for The Intercept.

“We are conducting perhaps the most aggressive campaign against leaks in Department history,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a statement. “Crimes like the one committed by the defendant in this case will not be tolerated.”

Authorities alleged that Albury, who worked as an FBI agent in the Minneapolis field office,  disclosed from 2016 to 2017 national defense information, classified at the Secret level.

In a press release, authorities alleged:

Albury employed methods to avoid detection, including printing documents that he created by cutting and pasting portions of an original document into a new document so as to avoid leaving a record of having printed the original, classified document. Albury also accessed documents on a classified computer and took pictures of the computer screen in order to photograph certain classified documents. Those additional classified documents were recovered on an electronic storage device found during a search of his home.

The New York Times provided some context for the case:

By the time Terry J. Albury arrived in Minneapolis in 2012, about 11 years after he went to work for the F.B.I., he had grown increasingly convinced that agents were abusing their powers and discriminating against racial and religious minorities as they hunted for potential terrorists.

The son of an Ethiopian political refugee, Mr. Albury was the only African-American field agent assigned to a counterterrorism squad that scrutinized Minnesota’s Somali-American community. There, according to his lawyer, he became disillusioned about “widespread racist and xenophobic sentiments” in the bureau and “discriminatory practices and policies he observed and implemented.”

In 2016, Mr. Albury began photographing secret documents that described F.B.I. powers to recruit potential informants and identify potential extremists. On Thursday, he was sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty last year to unauthorized disclosures of national security secrets for sending several of the documents to The Intercept, which published the files with a series titled “The F.B.I.’s Secret Rules.”

Russian Woman Charged With Interfering With 2018 Elections

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

In the first case of its kind involving the upcoming election, the Justice Department Friday announced that a Russian national has been charged with conspiracy to interfere in the U.S. political system, including the 2018 midterm election.

“Today’s charges allege that Russian national Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova conspired with others who were part of a Russian influence campaign to interfere with U.S. democracy,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers in a statement. “Our nation is built upon a hard-fought and unwavering commitment to democracy. Americans disagree in good faith on all manner of issues, and we will protect their right to do so. Unlawful foreign interference with these debates debases their democratic integrity, and we will make every effort to disrupt it and hold those involved accountable.”

In a criminal complaint, authorities alleged that Khusyaynova, 44, of St. Petersburg, Russia, served as the chief accountant of “Project Lakhta,” a Russian umbrella effort funded by Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin and two companies he controls, Concord Management and Consulting LLC, and Concord Catering.

Authorities alleged that Khusyaynova managed the financing of Project Lakhta operations, including foreign influence activities directed at the United States.

The financial documents she controlled include detailed expenses for activities in the United States, such as expenditures for activists, advertisements on social media platforms, registration of domain names, the purchase of proxy servers and “promoting news postings on social networks,” the Justice Department alleged in a press release.

Between January 2016 and June 2018, Project Lakhta’s proposed operating budget totaled more than $35 million, although only a portion of these funds were directed at the United States, the Justice Department said. Between January and June 2018 alone, Project Lakhta’s proposed operating budget totaled more than $10 million.

Those involved, the Justice Department alleged,  “took extraordinary” steps to make it appear as if they were ordinary American political activists. This included the use of virtual private networks and other means to disguise their activities and to obfuscate their Russian origin.

 

Trump Threatens to Deploy Military, Shut Down Mexican Border over Caravan of Immigrants

Border marker, via Border Patrol.

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

President Trump threatened Thursday to deploy the military and close the southern border if Mexico fails to stop thousands of immigrants heading toward the United States.

“I must, in the strongest of terms, ask Mexico to stop this onslaught – and if unable to do so I will call up the U.S. Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!,” the president tweeted Thursday.

In another tweet, Trump continued to castigate Democrats for being weak on immigrations.

“I am watching the Democrat Party led (because they want Open Borders and existing weak laws) assault on our country by Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, whose leaders are doing little to stop this large flow of people, INCLUDING MANY CRIMINALS, from entering Mexico to U.S,” Trump said.

In a third tweet, Trump said trade is less important to him than stopping migrants from entering the country.

“The assault on our country at our Southern Border, including the Criminal elements and DRUGS pouring in, is far more important to me, as President, than Trade or the USMCA. Hopefully Mexico will stop this onslaught at their Northern Border,” he wrote. “All Democrats fault for weak laws!”

A caravan of more than 4,000 migrants fled Central American countries a week ago because of violence and poverty.

They appeared to be undeterred by Trump’s threats.

“We are going to continue,” 32-year-old Luis Navarreto told the Associated Press. “It is God who decides here. We have no other option but to move ahead.”

Mueller’s Team Questioning Manafort, Others about Longtime Trump Supporter Roger Stone

Roger Stone

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has been questioning former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and others about Roger Stone.

Stone, who also worked on Trump’s campaign and previously was a partner at Manafort’s lobbying firm, Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly, has been the subject of Mueller’s investigation.

Manafort has agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s probe into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia.   

“I am highly confident Mr. Manafort is aware of no wrongdoing on my part during the 2016 campaign, or at any other time, and therefore there is no wrongdoing to know about,” Stone told ABC News. “Narratives to the contrary by some in the media are false and defamatory.” 

Mueller’s team wants to know whether Stone had advance knowledge of WikiLeaks’ plans to release Hillary Clinton’s emails, which Russian hackers had stolen. At the time, Stone publicly suggested he had been in touch with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange over the emails, which were released to hurt Clinton’s chances of winning the 2016 presidential election.

Nearly a dozen people close to Stone – many of whom have appeared before a federal grand jury – have been questioned by Mueller’s team.

Special Counsel Expected to Reveal Findings of Investigation After Midterm Elections

Special Counsel Robert Mueller, via FBI.

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

Special counsel Robert Mueller is expected to issue findings related to his investigation into Russian election interference after the midterm elections.

Mueller is finishing up his report, which will include findings about whether Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia and whether the president obstructed justice during the probe, Bloomberg News reports.

The findings will be presented to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. It’s not yet clear whether the report will become public.

Regulations give some discretion to Rosenstein in deciding what to reveal to Congress and the public.