what an absolutely riveting s***show.
This week in Russia (it’s a lot, so buckle up)
On Monday, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, claiming that “she expected White House officials to ‘take action’ on her January warning that then-national security advisor Michael Flynn could be blackmailed by Russia.” Former Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. also testified, warning that Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was so successful that “they are now emboldened to continue such activities in the future both here and around the world and to do so more intensely.”
Following the testimony, federal prosecutors issued grand jury subpoenas to several of Flynn’s business associates, as part of the ongoing investigation into the links between Russian intelligence and the Trump campaign. Flynn himself was subpoenaed by the Senate Intelligence Committee for documents he’s already refused to provide.
FBI Director James Comey was fired by President Trump on Tuesday, following the news that there had been errors in his Senate testimony last week. In a publicly released letter, Trump claimed he’d been advised by the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General to dismiss Comey, who was “not able to effectively lead the Bureau” despite “informing [Trump], on three separate occasions, that [he was] not under investigation.” In a more detailed memorandum to the Attorney General, also released to the public, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein recommended Comey’s dismissal based on his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email use during the election. As the New York Times Daily podcast reported on Wednesday, Comey was not informed of his dismissal before the news leaked to the media. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Rosenstein threatened to resign “after the narrative emerging from the White House on Tuesday evening cast him as a prime mover of the decision to fire Comey and that the president acted only on his recommendation.”
You can read Comey’s dismissal letter, along with the Rosenstein memo listing out the reasons to fire Comey, right here.
The curious timing of Rosenstein’s memorandum has led to backlash from both Democratic and Republican officials: Senator Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) asked “Why now? If the administration had objections to the way Director Comey handled the Clinton investigation, they had those objections the minute the president got into office.” Patrick Leahy (D-VT), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is investigating the ties between Trump’s camp and Russian intelligence, asserted that Comey’s firing was “nothing less than Nixonian,” and Richard Burr (R-NC), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee – also investigating the Trump-Russia connection – called the move “deeply troubling,” as did another Republican member of the Judiciary Committee, Ben Sasse (R-NE).
On Wednesday morning, Schumer called for an all-Senate closed-door meeting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, even as Trump met privately with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. All US press was barred from the room, but TASS, the official Russian news agency, was allowed in, and tweeted a handful of photos of the meeting.
Also on Wednesday: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor to reject the increasing number of calls for a special prosecutor to lead an independent investigation, asserting that “too much is at stake” to halt the current Senate Judiciary investigation.
There has been lots of speculation about why Comey was dismissed, but according to the New York Times, Comey had “asked the Justice Department for more prosecutors and other personnel to accelerate the bureau’s investigation” just days before he was fired. Comey’s request went to Rosenstein, who later wrote the memo detailing the reasons for the FBI Director’s dismissal. The Times also reported that Trump had been privately “nursing a collection of festering grievances” against Comey, “including Mr. Comey’s handling of the Russia investigation, his seeming lack of interest in pursuing anti-Trump leaks and the perceived disloyalty over the wiretapping claim.”
On Thursday, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee in Comey’s place, directly contradicting Trump’s assertion that Comey had lost the respect of the FBI and asserting that “you cannot stop the FBI from doing the right thing.”
Also on Thursday: in an interview with NBC News’s Lester Holt, Trump claimed that Comey was a “showboat” and that “regardless of recommendation, [he] was going to fire Comey.”
At The Atlantic, Julia Ioffe asks the all-important question: “What happens to the FBI’s Russia investigation now?”
Recommended Listening: Lawfare Blog’s “Emergency Edition” podcast on Comey's firing and the resulting backlash.
On Tuesday, Trump approved a plan to arm Kurdish insurgents fighting against ISIS in Syria. Turkey, a key NATO ally, described the decision as a “threat to Turkey.”
Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), who possibly saved the House’s healthcare bill with an amendment that various Republican factions agreed to, took hostile questions from angry, anxious constituents at a town hall on Wednesday night that lasted nearly five hours.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signed an Arctic Council agreement “recognizing the landmark Paris accord” on Thursday, but cautioned that Trump was still deciding “whether to leave or weaken [US commitment to]” the Paris Climate Agreement.
New South Korean President Moon Jae-in began his efforts to re-engage with North Korea diplomatically, speaking to Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe about “how to respond to North Korea’s rapidly developing nuclear and ballistic missile programs.” Meanwhile, North Korea called on alleged plot to assassinate Kim Jong-Un last month “a declaration of war,” and demanded the extradition of all those involved from the US and South Korea.
above image: Federal Bureau of Investigation / wikimedia commons