Jason Foster, chief investigative counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, fits a classic Washington profile: A powerful, mostly unknown force at the center of some of the most consequential battles on Capitol Hill. For the last year, Foster — empowered by his boss, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the committee’s chairman — has been the behind-the-scenes architect of an assault on the FBI, and most centrally its role in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to interviews with current and former congressional aides, federal law enforcement officials and others. With Foster in charge of his oversight work, Grassley has openly speculated about whether former FBI director James Comey leaked classified information as Comey raised alarms about President Donald Trump’s possible interference in the Russia probe. Grassley and the other Republicans on the committee have questioned the impartiality of a former member of Mueller’s team, cast doubt on the credibility of the FBI’s secret court application for permission to surveil a Trump campaign associate and called for a second special counsel to investigate matters related to Hillary Clinton. A firm that conducted opposition research on Trump has made clear in court it believes Grassley’s committee, with Foster as its lead investigator, had leaked sensitive information about its business.
During the 2016 election, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security didn’t know which state officials to communicate with to relay the threat of attempted Russian interference. That confusion is one thing U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich wants to fix with the Securing America’s Voting Equipment (SAVE) Act, which he introduced with Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins. “I think overall, over the course of the last few decades, we may have become complacent as a country as to the potential for this,” Heinrich said of attempts to influence elections in the United States. “There were cases where they were maybe engaged with the wrong decisionmaker or talking to the vendor instead of, say a secretary of state or a county clerk,” Heinrich said. “Just getting all of that written down in a way that sort of provides a roadmap for a real-time event so that the response is quick provides a lot of advantages.”
If passed, the legislation would strengthen the security of the country’s elections system, which are not centrally run by the federal government, but by state and local officials.
New Mexico was told there are no signs that Russians targeted the state’s elections systems ahead of the 2016 elections. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver made the announcement Friday afternoon, after news broke that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security contacted the elections officials in each state and informed 21 there were attempts to breach their systems. The Associated Press reported DHS said there was no evidence any votes were affected. It’s not clear how many states saw their elections systems breached. “Fortunately, it appears that New Mexico was not one of the states targeted by Russian hackers last year,” Toulouse Oliver said in a statement. “However, cybersecurity threats are still a major concern and should be handled with the utmost seriousness and attention to detail.
Sen. Martin Heinrich has asked the Trump administration for a damage assessment after news reports that the president revealed classified information to Russian officials during an Oval Office visit. Heinrich, along with two other Democratic senators, requested a review and damage assessment from Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. “We request that you determine whether classified information was disclosed or compromised in any way during the May 10, 2017 meeting, and if so, to designate the National Counterintelligence Executive, in consultation with the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, as the lead agency for conducting a damage assessment,” the letter reads. The other senators signing onto the letter are Tom Carper of Delaware and Gary Peters of Michigan. Both are members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee while Heinrich sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts led 11 senators in calling for an investigation into Attorney General Jeff Sessions and whether his role in the firing of former FBI Director James Comey violated his recusal from any investigation into Russian ties with those close to President Donald Trump. The letter, which was also signed by New Mexico U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, was sent to the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice Tuesday. In the letter, the senators said Session’s “recusal language itself could not be clearer.”
They also seek answers to three questions: to what extent Sessions was required to recuse himself from the investigation, the scope of his recusal and the timeline of his involvement in Comey’s firing. The letter notes that Sessions met with Trump and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to discuss the removal of Comey on May 8.
U.S. Sen. Tom Udall criticized President Donald Trump Tuesday after the Washington Post revealed that the president disclosed classified information to Russian officials during a meeting in the Oval Office last week. On the Senate floor, Udall said the latest news calls for a “swift” and independent investigation. “The White House and President Trump face another crisis,” Udall said. Udall went on to criticize Trump’s firing of former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and FBI Director James Comey. “The only rational explanation is that he has something to hide,” Udall said.
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich says a former Donald Trump campaign chairman should testify in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee after reports of the former campaign official’s ties to Russia. Heinrich, a member of the committee, said that Paul Manafort must testify “and give the American people the answers they deserve.”
Heinrich cited an Associated Press report that Manafort “secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics.”
Manafort worked for Oleg Deripaska, who is a close ally of Putin, for a reported $10 million a year contract. Heinrich said the work described by the AP was similar to recent Russian hacking actions during the elections in the United States. “I am alarmed by reports that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort created and then sold the Russians what appears to be a game plan to undermine democracy and further the interests of the Russian government – including inside the United States,” Heinrich said. “His reported recommendation to use political campaign tactics, establish front groups, and manipulate the press are strikingly similar to the actual tactics we know the Russians employed to undermine our presidential election.”
The Trump administration has attempted to downplay Manafort’s role, with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer saying Manafort’s role in the campaign was “for a very limited amount of time.”
As CNN reported, Manafort was Trump’s campaign chairman and chief strategist for the summer of 2016 before the role went to Breitbart News’ Steve Bannon and political strategist Kellyanne Conway.