Top FBI Officials Questioned in Trump Obstruction Case

“What you are going to have is the potential for a powerful obstruction case,” a senior law enforcement official told Vox.com.

After the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller in May, Acting FBI director Andrew McCabe told several of the highest-ranking managers of the bureau they should consider themselves possible witnesses in any investigation into whether President Donald Trump engaged in obstruction of justice, reports Vox.com. McCabe has told colleagues that he too is a potential witness in the probe of whether Trump broke the law by trying to thwart the FBI’s Russia investigation and the investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to defeat Hillary Clinton last year.

“What you are going to have is the potential for a powerful obstruction case,” a senior law enforcement official said. “You are going to have the [former] FBI director testify, and then the acting director, the chief of staff to the FBI director, the FBI’s general counsel, and then others, one right after another. This has never been the word of Trump against what [James Comey] has had to say. This is more like the Federal Bureau of Investigation versus Donald Trump.” Trump and his supporters argue that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the special counsel to bring an obstruction case against Trump. The case would rely on the word of one man versus another, that of the president of the United States versus the director of the FBI he fired. This was never the case. Including Comey, as many as 10, and possibly more, senior law enforcement officials are likely to be questioned as part of the investigation into whether Trump committed obstruction of justice. The witness list and breadth of possible evidence, including notes Comey and several other senior FBI officials made at the time, could add up to a much stronger obstruction of justice case than Trump could have ever imagined.

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Wray Confirmed as FBI Director; Will Serve in Fish Bowl

The U.S. Senate voted 92-5 to confirm Christopher Wray as FBI director, replacing James Comey, who was fired by President Trump. He faces close scrutiny in these tempestuous political times.

President Trump’s sudden ouster of FBI Director James Comey in May set off a legal and political conflagration that eventually led to the appointment of a special counsel. The confirmation process for Christopher Wray, Trump’s chosen replacement for Comey, could not have been less controversial by comparison, says the Atlantic. The Senate voted to confirm Wray, a former federal prosecutor, in a 92-5 vote on Tuesday. Though he ultimately will answer to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI director himself, on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Wray will oversee the bureau’s role in the sprawling federal probe.
His leadership will inevitably come under close scrutiny, given the tempestuous moment in American politics and the fate of his predecessor. During his confirmation hearing, Wray strongly distanced himself from the president and said he would uphold the bureau’s independence. Lawmakers emphasized the latter point during their questioning. “If I am given the honor of leading this agency, I will never allow the FBI’s work to be driven by anything other than the facts, the law, and the impartial pursuit of justice. Period. Full stop,” he told members of the Judiciary Committee. “My loyalty is to the Constitution and the rule of law.” He also publicly defended Mueller’s integrity, declaring him “the consummate straight shooter.”

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FBI: Chrysler, Union Negotiators Lined Their Own Pockets

The FBI alleges that the chief contract negotiators for Fiat Chrysler and the United Autoworkers Union colluded for six years to enrich themselves, skimming cash to pay for trips, jewelry and a Ferrari. They succeeded by plotting to keep senior union members “fat, dumb and happy.”

They were supposed to be rivals across the bargaining table, one jockeying for the best deal for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), the other pushing for a good contract for autoworkers. Instead, the FBI says, former Fiat Chrysler executive Al Iacobelli and the late UAW Vice President General Holiefield were scheming to enrich themselves, jet-setting and buying luxury watches, jewelry, a Ferrari and $37,500 Mont Blanc pens with money that was supposed to help train autoworkers. The top negotiators allegedly did this by secretly funneling FCA money through a UAW training center and a fake children’s charity, ultimately spending it on themselves, reports the Detroit Free Press. They pulled it off with the help of an FCA financial analyst who cooked the books, they say, and ignored a warning years ago that they could “go to jail” for their misdeeds.

To pull off the scam, a criminal indictment says, the pair plotted to keep senior union members “fat, dumb and happy.” The scheme lasted for six years, authorities say. But the FBI and Department of Labor caught on, triggering a criminal investigation that surfaced this week, shaking up one of the country’s largest and most powerful unions and a billion-dollar international auto giant. In an indictment unsealed Wednesday, the federal government charged Iacobelli and Holiefield’s widow with multiple corruption crimes, alleging they and others perverted the negotiation process by taking millions in FCA money that they weren’t entitled to.

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FBI Warns of ‘Virtual Kidnapping’ Phone Scams

In a growing menace, scammers try to extort money after phoning parents or other kin and falsely convincing them that a loved one is being held hostage. They sometimes research potential victims on social media.

Hundreds of people in Southern California have been targeted by criminals hoping to carry out a scheme that law enforcement officials have termed “virtual kidnapping for ransom,” reports the Los Angeles Times. The scammers try to extort money after phoning parents or other kin and falsely convincing them that a loved one is being held hostage. A network of criminals in the U.S. and Mexico have been making the calls since at least 2015, affecting thousands of people in several states, including California, according to Gene Kowel of the FBI in Los Angeles. Officials from the FBI, LAPD and other agencies held a press conference Tuesday to warn potential victims against succumbing to panic if they receive a similar call.

Investigators made their first arrest in connection with the scam last week. Yanette Rodriguez Acosta, 34, of Houston was indicted on charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. She is charged as part of a ring that used Mexican telephone numbers to call targets in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, claiming to hold the victims’ children as prisoners. The ring targeted at least 39 victims in California, Texas and Idaho. At least 250 calls were aimed at Los Angeles residents, costing victims roughly $114,000. Officials said some scammers research potential victims on social media.

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Senate Panel Will Vote Thursday on Wray FBI Nomination

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) scheduled a vote on Thursday for the nomination of Christopher Wray, calling him “the independent leader the FBI needs.”

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has scheduled a committee vote next week on Christopher Wray’s nomination to be FBI director, the Associated Press reports. Grassley says he’s impressed with Wray, who promised at at a hearing this week never to let politics get in the way of the bureau’s mission. Grassley said yesterday that Wray is “the independent leader the FBI needs,” and that he takes Wray at his word that his loyalty will be to the Constitution.

Wray would replace James Comey, who was fired by President Trump in May amid an investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and possible ties to Trump’s campaign. The committee vote is scheduled for July 20. Democrats on the committee signaled support for Wray, but it was unclear if they will try and delay the vote. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the panel, said she will vote for Wray. She noted that nominations are often delayed, but said she hopes that the vote on Wray will be “sooner rather than later.”

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Wray Vows ‘Strict Independence, By The Book’ at FBI

Christoper Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee, “I will never allow the FBI’s work to be driven by anything other than the facts, the law and the impartial pursuit of justice. Period. Full stop.”

Christoper Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee, "I will never allow the FBI's work to be driven by anything other than the facts, the law and the impartial pursuit of justice. Period. Full stop . . .

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Futile Search for New FBI HQ May Have Wasted $50M

Officials in Maryland and Virginia spent years pushing for the bureau to move its 11,000 headquarters employees to one of three final locations. “I’ve never seen a decision handled with more mismanagement and more negligence,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

Officials in Maryland and Virginia spent years pushing for the bureau to move its 11,000 headquarters employees to one of three final locations. “I’ve never seen a decision handled with more mismanagement and more negligence,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD . . .

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U.S. Halting Plans for New FBI Headquarters

FBI officials have raised alarms that the decrepit conditions at its downtown Washington, D.C., Hoover Building constitute serious security concerns. The plan to replace the building grew mired in what the Washington Post calls a pit of government dysfunction and escalating costs with no end in sight.

The federal government is canceling the search for a new FBI headquarters, putting a more than decade-long effort by the bureau to move out of the crumbling J. Edgar Hoover Building back at square one, the Washington Post reports. The decision follows years of failed attempts by federal officials to persuade Congress to back a plan for a campus in the Washington, D.C., suburbs paid for by trading away the downtown Hoover Building to a real estate developer and putting up nearly $2 billion in taxpayer funds to cover the remaining cost. Officials from the General Services Administration, which manages federal real estate, are to announce the cancellation in a phone call with bidders and in meetings on Capitol Hill today.

For years, FBI officials have raised alarms that the decrepit conditions at Hoover constitute serious security concerns. The plan to replace the building grew mired in a pit of government dysfunction and escalating costs with no end in sight. Officials said a lack of permanent leadership at both agencies could have hindered the case for funding. Both agencies are operating under transitional leadership. President Trump’s appointee to the FBI, Christopher Wray, has not yet been confirmed, and Trump has not appointed a permanent GSA administrator. Trump has had an unusual relationship with both the GSA and the FBI. The GSA is the landlord to his D.C. hotel. Trump has been embroiled in a high-profile dispute with the FBI over its ongoing Russia investigation, having fired director James Comey, who lobbied hard for a new campus.

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FBI Nominee Wray ‘Workhorse Who Avoids Spotlight’

Former Justice Department official Christopher Wray, 50, will go before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday in his first public appearance as President Trump’s nominee to head the FBI.

Christopher Wray, whose nomination to head the FBI goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, is a former Justice Department official known as a workhorse who eschews the spotlight, reports the Wall Street Journal. Current and former FBI agents say that is exactly what the bureau needs—someone who focuses on running investigations while leaving politics to others—as the FBI navigates turbulence following the firing of James Comey. Other agents and legal observers wonder if Wray, 50, who has spent a decade as a defense lawyer, has the gravitas to buck political pressure and chart an independent course for the nation’s premier law-enforcement agency. “Chris looks for the way that creates the least drama,” said John Richter, an attorney who worked with Wray at the Justice Department and at his law firm, King & Spalding.

Few would say that about Comey, who was known for his dramatically timed press conferences, his performances before Congress and information leaks to the press. Comey was beloved by many agents for standing up for them, but he also attracted sometimes-unwelcome attention to the agency. Democrats plan to press Wray on whether he could stand up to White House pressure if necessary. Comey said that President Trump demanded his loyalty and pressured him to drop an investigation of a former top aide, allegations the White House has denied. Frank Montoya Jr., a longtime FBI agent and supervisor who retired last year, said Wray is “going to be viewed first and foremost as a political appointment by a president who demanded loyalty from the last director and didn’t get it, so he fired him.” Wray’s associates said he would walk away from the job if put in a compromising situation.

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FBI Agent Indicted in Oregon Wildlife Refuge Shooting

FBI agent W. Joseph Astarita is accused of lying to hide that he fired two shots at Robert “LaVoy” Finicum and missed. The case casts a shadow on the bureau’s Hostage Rescue Team.

An indictment accusing FBI agent W. Joseph Astarita of lying to hide that he fired two shots at Robert “LaVoy” Finicum and missed casts a shadow on the bureau’s Hostage Rescue Team, The Oregonian reports. The team “is among the most elite units in the bureau and the idea that someone could be engaged in a firearm discharge in such a high-profile case and then allegedly withhold information is an extraordinary and serious charge,” said Brian Levin, a former New York police officer who directs California State University’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. “It’s extraordinarily disappointing.”

Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson said that FBI leaders, told of the findings in the case more than a year ago, didn’t put the agent or four of his colleagues on leave. The Hostage Rescue Team was assigned to help arrest the leaders of the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.  Jeannette Finicum, the widow of the Arizona rancher who served as the occupation’s primary spokesman, said Astarita’s early shots may have contributed to the firing of the fatal gunshots moments later by two state police troopers who killed her husband on Jan. 26, 2016. She intends to file a civil lawsuit claiming excessive force in her husband’s death. Astarita’s trial date was set for Aug. 29.

 

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