Politics

Trump says he believes Saudi explanation for Khashoggi's death, but some lawmakers are skeptical

Trump says he believes Saudi explanation for Khashoggi's death, but some lawmakers are skeptical

(CNN) - President Donald Trump said Friday that he believes Saudi Arabia's explanation for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and called the arrest of 18 Saudis "a good first step."

The Saudi Arabian government announced Friday that Khashoggi died after a fistfight at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and that 18 Saudis had been arrested for further investigation while Deputy Director of Saudi Intelligence Ahmed al-Assiri had been dismissed.

"I do. I do," Trump said when asked about his confidence in the explanation. "Again, it's early. We haven't finished our review, our investigation. But I think it's a very important first step."

Trump said talks with Saudi officials would continue, including raising some questions about their account of events that led to the death of Khashoggi, and that he would work with Congress to develop a response.

However, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill expressed skepticism over Saudi Arabia's professed explanation for Khashoggi's disappearance.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal accused the Saudis of "buying time and buying cover," calling for an investigation that included US involvement and Turkish audio and visual records of the event.

"The Saudis very clearly seem to be buying time and buying cover, but this action raises more questions than it answers," the Connecticut Democrat told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on "The Situation Room" Friday night.

"There has to be an international investigation," he continued. "It has to be done with legitimate and credible means involving the United States, and it has to use those tapes, the surveillance that evidently the Turks have."

Blumenthal also accused the Saudi government of trying to "insulate and shield" Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, known as MBS, and protect the 18 arrested Saudis from further investigation.

"The world deserves an explanation, not from the Saudis, who evidently are making every effort to insulate and shield the crown prince, but from an international inquiry," Blumenthal said, adding that the group arrest "raises the possibility that they may put them in a kind of protective custody and insulate them from an international investigation, shield them from fact-finding that the world needs to do."

New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement that the Saudi statement is "far from the end."

"This is far from the end and we need to keep up the international pressure. Congress did its part when we invoked Global Magnitsky Act for a presidential determination. Now President Trump must follow the law," Menendez said.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Sen. Bob Corker warned against assuming that the Saudis' "latest story holds water" and stressed that the U.S. must assess Khashoggi's death under the Global Magnitsky Act, which sanctions human rights offenders.

"The story the Saudis have told about Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance continues to change with each passing day, so we should not assume their latest story holds water," Corker tweeted Friday. "They can undergo their own investigation, but the U.S. administration must make its own independent, credible determination of responsibility for Khashoggi's murder under the Global Magnitsky investigation as required by law."

Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham also questioned the credibility of the Saudis' changing explanation.

"To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement," Graham tweeted Friday. "First we were told Mr. Khashoggi supposedly left the consulate and there was blanket denial of any Saudi involvement. Now, a fight breaks out and he's killed in the consulate, all without knowledge of Crown Prince."

"It's hard to find this latest 'explanation' as credible," he added.

Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul called for Saudi Arabia to pay "a severe price" for Khashoggi's death.

"We should ... halt all military sales, aid and cooperation immediately," Paul tweeted. "There must be a severe price for these actions by Saudi Arabia."

On the House side, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers called on Trump to act.

Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman called on the administration to take a stronger stance in responding to Khashoggi's death.

"Our country must stand up for our values and demand our 'allies' respect human rights," the House Armed Services committee member wrote in a statement on Twitter.

"The United States and the rest of the international community must condemn the murder of Mr. Khashoggi and the use of diplomatic posts as torture chambers for rogue nations," Coffman added. "I am calling on President Trump to immediately recall the (Acting) U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom pending further consultation with Congress."

Rep. Gerry Connolly said that the Saudi statement sounded "almost like a classic mafia operation."

"Now they're engaged in a cover up to protect the Crown Prince, and we'll see how that works for them," the Virginia Democrat told CNN's Kate Bolduan on "Erin Burnett OutFront". "There is no way this kind of premeditated murder operation conceivably have happened in the Saudi consulate without the knowledge of and approval of the Crown Prince."

When asked if Congress would take action, Connolly said there was sufficient bipartisan "outrage," but still criticized Trump's handling of the incident from the beginning.

"Wouldn't it be nice if we had a president who actually held murderers to account?" he added.

Democratic Rep. Eliot L. Engel, ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, called for Trump to more actively pursue "a thorough and transparent investigation."

"Tonight's explanation from Saudi authorities just isn't credible, particularly since the story has shifted so much over the past days," Engel wrote in a statement. "The Administration needs to push for a thorough and transparent investigation into Mr. Khashoggi's death without delay."

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Saudis admit Khashoggi is dead. What are Trump's options?

Saudis admit Khashoggi is dead. What are Trump's options?

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Jamal Khashoggi's murder at the hands of a Saudi Arabian government team means President Donald Trump now faces a question: what to do about it.

On Friday, Saudi Arabia admitted the Washington Post columnist was dead and announced the arrest of 18 individuals including high ranking officials close to the kingdom's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It was a widely expected step as the kingdom moves to insulate its heir apparent.

A state television news bulletin said a Saudi commission led by the crown prince will spend one month investigating. The bulletin claimed that he was killed in a "fist fight" with the men, who the Saudis claim had gone to Turkey to convince Khashoggi to return to Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom, which had completely denied any knowledge of what happened to the journalist for more than two weeks, expressed "deep regret." They offered no information on what happened to Khashoggi's body. Turkish officials have told CNN he was dismembered.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the US "acknowledges the announcement from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia" and will "closely follow the international investigations into this tragic incident."

The crown prince spoke to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the announcement on Friday, a senior administration official said.

Prior to the Saudi announcement Trump indicated he was ready to act, telling reporters Friday he wanted Congress to be involved in a US response. He also hinted that the US is conducting a probe into the Washington Post journalist's October 2 disappearance inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

'Get to the bottom of it'

"We're doing investigations now, we have a lot of people working on it and we have other countries working on it," Trump told reporters in Arizona. "It's something that we don't like, it's very serious stuff and we're going to get to the bottom of it."

"I'm going to have very much Congress involved in determining what to do," he added.

Trump has said the consequences for Khashoggi's suspected murder would "have to be very severe," but he faces a dilemma. He has to balance a valuable alliance against a heinous crime -- as well as outraged lawmakers demanding action.

And there will likely be doubts about the Saudis official line. Soon after their announcement, Aaron David Miller, a vice president at the nonpartisan Wilson Center, asked on Twitter whether it was "a royal whitewash?"

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina tweeted, "To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement."

"Will this be enough to buy off a Trump Administration already inclined to give Saudis the benefit of the doubt?" Miller asked. And he noted that the crown prince has been put in charge of the investigation. "Fox has keys to hen house," Miller added.

Trump needs Saudi Arabia for his foreign policy priorities. But possible financial ties between Trump's family and Saudi Arabia are complicating the picture, raising questions about the President's willingness to crack down on Riyadh.

What's likely, said Miller and other foreign policy analysts, is the White House will aim to strike a balance between a public punishment and an understanding that at the end of the day, the relationship will continue as before.

"They're trying to reconcile two unreconcilables," said Miller, a vice president at the nonpartisan Wilson Center. "They need to maintain the relationship against this horrific act." The way to synthesize these two unreconcilables, Miller said, "is with a negotiated punishment, a set of understandings that these are the actions the United States will have to take, but we have every understanding that the relationship will continue."

"They would say, 'you're going to have to live with this and at the end of the road, assuming no more transgressions, we can move back to business as usual'," Miller explained.

In theory, Trump's arsenal of responses ranges from diplomatic steps to economic penalties. Some options are already off the table though.

Often during a diplomatic spat, a country will show its displeasure by recalling its ambassador or declaring the ambassador of a country "PNG," or persona non grata -- meaning they are no longer welcome to remain.

But the Trump administration has not nominated anyone to be the US ambassador in Riyadh and soon after suspicions about Khashoggi's disappearance began to intensify, Saudi Arabia called home its ambassador to the US -- a son of King Salman and brother of the crown prince.

Closing diplomatic posts

Another possibility would be to close Saudi consulates or other diplomatic outposts, or reduce their diplomatic staff in the US, the way the US did with Russia in 2017 over the fallout from Moscow's election interference and in 2018 to express anger over Russia's poisoning on UK soil of a former Russian spy.

"All of those are options if you really wanted to punish them," said Gerald Feierstein, a former US ambassador to Yemen who is now a director at the Middle East Institute.

Feierstein points to other areas where the US could withdraw cooperation, for example, temporarily suspending cooperation with Saudi intelligence agencies, "though that's a two-edged sword," he said, noting that the US gains as well as gives information.

"We could also say we're going to freeze contacts with the Ministry of the Interior, or any security agencies implicated" in Khashoggi's death, Feierstein said. That could include "some of the special security organizations Mohammed bin Salman has established," where some members of the squad of men who killed Khashoggi apparently work.

Trump could also turn to sanctions.

Lawmakers are trying to force his hand on this using a law called the Global Magnitsky Act to trigger an investigation that could lead to penalties for human rights violations. The law requires the President to act within 120 days and gives him legal authority -- but doesn't require him -- to institute a travel ban and freeze the assets of a human rights violator in any country.

Like Miller, Feierstein sees the administration trying to carefully craft the punishment.

"My best guess is that they will probably end up trying to limit the scope of the response," he said. "I think they would likely use Magnitsky to sanction and go after people, but I suspect that that might be all that they do and pronounce that a satisfactory response and hope that they can move on with the relationship."

Pressure from lawmakers

Lawmakers might push for more.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, told CNN Friday that the Saudi regime is a "criminal enterprise" and that "anything that we've heard so far has not been the truth from the Saudis. They just lie."

He suggested that the US could "cut back on some of their banking, their visas, certainly we have the ability to block arms sales," which are crucial to Saudi Arabia's ongoing war in Yemen. "We should have done that after they lied to us about the civilian casualties in Yemen," Leahy added. Others have suggested halting US military refueling of Saudi planes that are bombing Yemen.

James Carafano, a director at the Heritage Foundation, says that the best course of action is to stop discussing possible punishments and penalties, let things calm and turn things over to investigators.

"The smartest course of action for the US should be to put the emphasis on the investigation," Carafano said. "They should have sent the FBI director, not the Secretary of State to Turkey and Saudi," he added, referring to a trip Pompeo took earlier this week.

"The strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia and Turkey is too important to risk what we might do when we don't know," Carafano said. "Speculating doesn't further US policy ... it's absolutely inappropriate. The other reason to focus on an investigation is that Congress can act on this."

Trump indicated he wants Congress to help determine a response on Friday, as he continued to signal his unhappiness.

"Saudi Arabia's been a great ally of ours, that is why this is so sad," Trump said. The President and his administration officials have repeatedly stressed the importance of the US-Saudi relationship.

The White House is relying on Saudi Arabia's financial support for funding for Syria's reconstruction, the fight against ISIS and for a Middle East peace plan.

Most crucially, the White House needs Saudi Arabia to keep international oil markets steady as they confront Iran and introduce new energy sanctions against countries that purchase Iranian oil starting November 4.

Pompeo, speaking to Voice of America in Mexico on Friday, said the administration will "consider a wide range of potential responses but I think the important thing to do is that the facts come out."

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Alaska Gov. Bill Walker suspends re-election bid

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker suspends re-election bid

(CNN) - Alaska Gov. Bill Walker suspended his re-election campaign Friday night with less than three weeks to go before election day.

In a statement, Walker expressed concerns that he and Lieutenant Gov. Valerie Davidson would not win the emerging three-way race for the governor's seat.

"With more time, I am confident that Val and I could deliver a message and a campaign that could earn a victory in this election," Walker wrote in an Instagram post Friday night. "But there are only 18 days remaining before election day. Absentee ballots have already been mailed, and Alaskans are already voting. In the time remaining, I believe we cannot win a three-way race."

The fact that absentee voting has already begun and early voting begins on Monday means Walker's name will likely remain on the ballot.

Walker, an independent, endorsed Democratic nominee Mark Begich, a former US senator, citing the way Begich's priorities "more closely align" with his than do those of Republican nominee Michael Dunleavy.

"This week I have talked to many Alaskans to determine whether I or Mark Begich had a better chance of running a competitive race against Mike Dunleavy. The determination was made that, at this point, Begich has the better odds," Walker wrote.

"On balance, it is my belief that despite my many differences with Mark Begich, his stance on the important issues ... more closely align with my priorities for Alaska," he later added.

Walker's lieutenant governor, Byron Mallott, resigned Tuesday over "inappropriate comments" that have remained largely unexplained.

Casey Steinau, chair of the Alaska Democratic Party, thanked Walker for "putting Alaska first once again."

"Despite the fact that the Democratic Party did not endorse his candidacy this time, we will always be proud of our support of him in 2014 when we all put Alaska first," Steinau said in a statement. "We are also proud of him now for putting Alaska first once again, and stepping aside for the greater good. Bill Walker has said himself that he has never shied away from making tough decisions, and surely this was among the toughest he has had to make as governor."

The governors associations from both parties attempted to spin the announcement as a positive for their candidates, with the Democratic Governors Association saying Walker's decision should tip the race to Begich and the Republican Governors Association slamming it as a "political charade" by Begich and Walker.

"Bill Walker's announcement -- only three days before early voting begins -- only reinforces why Alaska urgently needs change," said RGA communications director Jon Thompson in a statement. "At a time when Alaska faces enormous challenges, Mark Begich and Bill Walker have been more focused on protecting their own power and their shared failed liberal agenda than actually addressing these critical issues. Alaskans deserve better than this political charade by Mark Begich and Bill Walker."

"This is a game changer in the Alaska Governor's race. This race immediately becomes a tossup, open-seat race between a popular Democrat in Mark Begich and a fringe Republican in Mike Dunleavy," said Elizabeth Pearson, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association.

New York man charged with threatening senators over Kavanaugh vote

New York man charged with threatening senators over Kavanaugh vote

(CNN) - A New York man was arrested and charged Friday by federal prosecutors with threatening to assault and murder two US senators in retaliation for their support of Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court.

The man, Ronald DeRisi, left more than 10 threatening and "expletive-laced" voicemails for the two senators beginning September 27, according to the complaint unsealed Friday by prosecutors in the US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York.

In one message, DeRisi said he had a "present" for one of the senators, the complaint says, adding: "It's a nine millimeter. Side of your f---ing skull, you scumbag motherf---er." He finished the call by saying, "Yeah, Kavanaugh -- I don't think so."

The two senators are not identified by name in the complaint. The date DeRisi allegedly began leaving the messages is the same day both Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, a professor who accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were in high school, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Kavanaugh denied those allegations and was confirmed earlier this month.

"Representative democracy cannot work if elected officials are threatened with death for simply doing their job," US Attorney Richard Donoghue said in a statement.

On Friday, a frail DeRisi was wheeled into court wearing a blue T-shirt and jeans. DeRisi made small whimpers of pain as he heard Assistant US Attorney Justina Geraci lay out the case.

Geraci said DeRisi went to great lengths to hide his identity by using burner phones, a fake name, notes to remind himself what that fake name was and a separate credit card to replenish the phone that he hid in his car from his wife.

They were measures that show "a level of criminal intent," Geraci said.

"He's taken steps to hide what he's done from both his victims and his wife," Gerasi added

DeRisi is also alleged to have made the calls to the offices of both senators and the cellphone of one of them, Geraci said.

"He wanted them to know he knew where they were and how to reach them," Geraci said.

DeRisi's attorney, Peter Brill, said that his client posed no flight risk and was not a threat. He tried to explain away DeRisi's actions by saying his brain had been atrophying.

"There is no doubt that this is something that he should not have been doing. But is he a flight risk? No. Is he dangerous? No," Brill said, later clarifying that he meant physically dangerous because DeRisi is so frail.

"He's not a violent person. He's a belligerent person," Brill said. "This is an ongoing neurological problem that has manifested itself in this way."

DeRisi had no memory of making the calls and when he was told of the allegations, he only replied "Oh, my God," according to Brill.

"Mr. DeRisi is just an angry, sick old man," Brill said. "He's not a threat to anybody other than obviously the allegations here, that he made really upsetting phone calls. We feel terrible that that happened but he's not a physical threat to anybody."

DeRisi was remanded back into custody, where he will be given a psychiatric evaluation.

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Senator pressures EPA over official's industry ties, meetings

Senator pressures EPA over official's industry ties, meetings

WASHINGTON (CNN) - A key Democrat on the Senate environment committee has fired off two letters over concerns of a violation of President Donald Trump's ethics agreement and conflict of interest at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, is raising concerns about the EPA's assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, Bill Wehrum, who before joining the agency worked as an attorney representing the oil, gas and coal industries. He was confirmed by the Senate in November 2017 and oversees the EPA office responsible for developing policies and regulations for controlling pollution and radiation.

Trump's ethics pledge says appointees must abstain for two years from participating in "any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts."

The ethics pledge points out appointees cannot meet with or communicate with former clients or employers unless it's a discussion about a general issue and unless at least four others who are not former employers or clients are present. Wehrum's former clients include companies including ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, Chevron, American Petroleum Institute, Duke Energy and many others.

CNN reviewed Wehrum's calendars, obtained by Whitehouse's office, that show Wehrum had several scheduled meetings with his former employer and clients.

Meetings include a December 7, 2017 speaking engagement where Wehrum spoke at the offices of his former employer, Hunton & Williams, to several energy companies including Duke Energy, Dominion Energy, a subsidiary of Dominion Resources Services, Inc., and the Utility Air Regulatory Group a trade association representing electric utilities. The group and all three companies are listed on Wehrum's recusal letter as former clients.

"This would qualify as a meeting with four former employers or clients and only two parties that are not former employers or clients and therefore would be prohibited under your ethics pledge," Whitehouse wrote.

EPA spokesman James Hewitt told CNN "the meeting included former clients but many other interested parties were present and that follows EPA rules."

Wehrum's calendar also shows meetings on January 23 and 26 of this year with General Electric, which he also lists as a former client. The EPA tells CNN it is still gathering information on the January 23 meeting but says the January 26 meeting was between Wehrum and two of his former clients at GE was purely social. "It was a social meeting over coffee and no EPA business was discussed," Hewitt said.

The ethics guidance prohibits one-on-one meetings with former clients and employers.

On February 12 and 16, Wehrum's calendar notes a meeting with former clients including Duke Energy, UARG and AEP. The meeting appears to have been delegated to Mandy Gunasekara, principal deputy assistant administrator at EPA's Office of Air and Radiation. The calendar entry also lists Wehrum as an attendee and the organizer. Hewitt says despite the calendar entry, Wehrum was not at either of the February meetings.

The Office of Government Ethics told Whitehouse last month it was aware of the allegation Wehrum may have violated the Trump ethics pledge, but says it "has no authority to either administer or enforce potential violations of the pledge at other agencies."

OGE's guidelines allow for appointees to meet with former clients if they satisfy several requirements, such as including multiple other individuals or organizations in the meeting.

Whitehouse says he repeatedly asked for five months that Wehrum detail his recusal obligations once he joined EPA. The request went unanswered for months.

Whitehouse's letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler details conversations former EPA ethics counsel Kevin Minoli had with the senator's office. According to the letter, Minoli said that, despite repeated counsel from the ethics office, Wehrum refused to sign the recusal letter.

In an interview with the New York Times this August, Wehrum told the paper he was "scrupulously complying with my ethical obligations." He said he signed the Trump ethics pledge to show his commitment. In that interview, Wehrum acknowledged that the line between right and wrong was not always clear. For example, he said he had repeatedly sought a definition of what represents a "particular matter involving specific parties," which he would be banned from participating in as a result of the ethics pledge.

Citing this lack of clarity, Wehrum refused to sign a "recusal letter" detailing individual clients and potential conflict of interest.

"I have gotten three different interpretations, and what I don't want to do is sign a recusal letter and then have the rules change again," he told the Times.

Facing mounting pressure, Wehrum provided the signed letter this September, outlining former clients he is prohibited from meeting.

Whitehouse is urging the President to put procedures in place to guarantee executive branch appointees do not violate his ethics pledge and consider punishment for those who do violate the pledge.

The Office of Government Ethics says it continues to work with the EPA to improve the overall effectiveness of its ethics program as a result of its 2017 review of the EPA's program.

Russian national charged with attempting to interfere in 2018 midterms

Russian national charged with attempting to interfere in 2018 midterms

(CNN) - A Russian who allegedly worked on funding online propaganda efforts to manipulate voters in the 2016 and 2018 elections was charged with a federal crime Friday as part of a wider conspiracy to hurt American democracy.

Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, 44, of St. Petersburg, Russia, is charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States for managing the financing of the social media troll operation that included the Internet Research Agency, which special counsel Robert Mueller's investigators charged with crimes earlier this year.

Prosecutors who unsealed the complaint Friday say she aided the Russian effort to "inflame passions" online related to immigration, gun control and the Second Amendment, the Confederate flag, race relations, LGBT issues, the Women's March and the NFL National Anthem debate from December 2016 until May 2018.

The social media efforts specifically focused on the shootings of church members in Charleston, South Carolina, and concert attendees in Las Vegas, Nevada, the Charlottesville "Unite the Right" rally, which left one counterprotester dead, and police shootings of African-American men, the complaint says.

The criminal charge says the Russians' online manipulation effort focused on multiple political viewpoints and candidates, but frequently zeroed in on the Republican Party's most well-known leaders.

In one effort to spread an online news article about the late Sen. John McCain's position on a border wall to stop illegal immigration, an alleged conspirator directed others to "brand McCain as an old geezer." They also attempted to paint House Speaker Paul Ryan as "a complete and absolute nobody incapable of any decisiveness" and as a "two-faced loudmouth."

They aimed other efforts at stories about Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, pushed to "fully support" Donald Trump, and called Mueller "a puppet of the establishment," according to the complaint.

$35 million budget

The effort had an operating budget of $35 million, prosecutors say, and was allegedly funded by Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin and his companies. Prigozhin has not responded to a criminal charge he faces from Mueller for funding the scheme before the 2016 election.

"The conspiracy has a strategic goal, which continues to this day, to sow division and discord in the US political system, including by creating social and political polarization, undermining faith in democratic institutions, and influencing US elections, including the upcoming 2018 midterm election," the criminal complaint in the Eastern District of Virginia said Friday.

The online scheme directed its proponents to "effectively aggravate the conflict between minorities and the rest of the population," prosecutors quoted one member of the effort saying.

Khusyaynova also worked with Concord Management and Catering, another defendant in the Mueller probe, to take in funds. Concord is represented by lawyers in the US and is the only Russian defendant to plead not guilty so far.

Khusyaynova had not been previously charged with a crime.

Federal authorities issued a warrant for her arrest on September 28. But it had been kept secret for the three weeks since then so it would not derail "other government efforts to disrupt foreign influence efforts," a court filing released Friday said. Prosecutors did not elaborate.

Prosecutors say Khusyaynova oversaw the financing, budgeting and expense payments of the corporatized propaganda effort, called "Project Lakhta." The money came in from Concord, which received some of its funding from the Russian government to feed school children and the military, prosecutors allege.

The millions of dollars allowed the Russians to buy social media analytic services, secure server space and domain names, and plant online advertisements and to stage political rallies and protests in the US. Sometimes, the Russians would use fake Americanized names like "Bertha Malone" or "Helen Christopherson" on Facebook, or handles like "@TrumpWithUSA" "@swampdrainer659" or "@UsaUsafortrump" on Twitter. One Twitter account the group ran, @wokeluisa, amassed 55,000 followers in one year, tweeting about Flint, Michigan's drinking water crisis and encouraging voters to register in the 2018 midterm elections.

Project Lakhta's monthly budget frequently approached $2 million in the last three years.

Latest Russian charged in Mueller probe

The new case marks the 27th time a Russian has been charged with a crime related to 2016 election interference or by Mueller, whose mandate is to investigate those crimes.

In another open case, the Justice Department indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officers for hacking the Democratic Party and the Hillary Clinton campaign and spreading those documents online to influence the election. A 26th Russian national was indicted in June alongside now-convicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort for alleged witness tampering.

Typically, criminal cases against Russian nationals hang in the court system with no progress after the initial charge, because the European nation does not extradite its citizens to the US when they are charged. The cases in effect allow the US to "name and shame" defendants, as court-watchers call the practice. The defendants are unlikely to ever appear in US court.

Russian company Concord Management and Catering's not guilty plea in the election propaganda case was an unusual pushback on these types of indictments. Concord's US-based attorneys are fighting the conspiracy charge and have so far unsuccessfully attempted to use the court to challenge Mueller's work and to gather information about the investigators' tactics.

Brother's firm becomes headache for Donnelly in Indiana Senate race

Brother's firm becomes headache for Donnelly in Indiana Senate race

(CNN) - Sen. Joe Donnelly stands holding an axe in his new campaign ad and bluntly accuses his GOP opponent of lying about his record in Congress.

"He ships jobs to China," Donnelly, looking into the camera, says of Republican Mike Braun. "We've got to cut that out."

But as he battles to win a second term, the Democratic senator has found himself in an uncomfortable situation that hits close to home: The company his brother Jack owns, Stewart Superior, engages in the same trade practices he has long criticized. The senator has distanced himself from the company, noting he has had no role there since 1997, recently selling stock he owned in the firm and saying he had no knowledge of the outsourcing that occurred after he stopped working there more than two decades ago.

Braun, himself, is a multi-millionaire businessman whose auto supply brand, Promaxx Automotive, sells auto products that were made in China, despite the Republican's own criticism of outsourcing and attacks on Donnelly over the issue. An Associated Press report this summer found that numerous products under Braun's brand are listed as "made in China" -- and his firm is far bigger, and revenues far exceed, those of Stewart Superior.

Yet Donnelly's connection to Stewart Superior has continued to dog him in the race as the GOP tries to undercut his efforts to campaign against outsourcing, in large part because of Braun's ads, which are blanketing the airwaves, attacking him on the issue.

Documents reviewed by CNN reveal a previously undisclosed detail: When he was employed at the firm in 1994, Donnelly worked to establish a European arm of his brother's company called Stewart Superior Europe Ltd., which was initially a rubber stamp manufacturer. The British arm was created to expand the US operation's foothold abroad, initially buying its raw materials from the US, manufacturing the rubber stamps in London and selling them across Europe.

Roughly three years after Donnelly left his brother's company, it began outsourcing to China by buying products like picture frames the company would then sell in the European markets, according to the head of the company, Geoffrey Betts, who said the European firm pulls in roughly $5 million annually in revenue.

As its European business grew and began manufacturing and selling an array of office supplies, the company increasingly purchased Chinese goods and sold them into European markets, which Betts said now accounts for roughly 45 percent of its business.

"To get the price you need to be in the market, most of the time, you have to go to the Far East," Betts told CNN. "A lot of it isn't made anywhere else. That's one of the problems."

Asked to comment for this story, Will Baskin-Gerwitz, communications director for the Donnelly campaign, said that the senator helped found the European company to expand US manufacturing "and create more good-paying jobs in America."

"And as long as he had an active role in Stewart Superior or Stewart Superior Europe, that's what it did," the spokesman said. "After not having a role in the company for 20 years, Joe sold his stock in Stewart Superior and donated the profits to charity in 2017. Meanwhile his opponent Mike Braun continues to lie repeatedly about the fact that he profits every single day from Chinese labor at the expense of Hoosier workers, to the tune of $18 million a year."

Asked to respond, Braun campaign spokesman Josh Kelley said, "Through his family business, Mexico Joe Donnelly has personally profited from Stewart Superior outsourcing jobs to Mexico and China," adding that "every job" Braun created is a US job.

The new information shows the challenges candidates face in positioning themselves as harsh critics of outsourcing at a time when US companies are seeking to strengthen their competitive positions in the marketplace by relying on cheaper goods abroad. Railing on China and goods dumped in US markets often get crowds riled up, but in the Indiana Senate race, it's become a complicated issue for both candidates in a rural state where distrust of trade deals runs high.

Donnelly retained stock in Stewart Superior Corp. until the AP reported that it relied on Mexican labor to produce some of its goods, showing he may have been profiting off the outsourcing practices at his brother's firm. Over the time period when the US operation also imported Chinese goods, and as the European firm relied on Chinese products to sell in its region, Donnelly reported to the Senate holding stock ranging from $15,001 to $50,000 in the corporation.

After the initial AP report last year, Donnelly said he was unaware his brother's company engaged in such trade practices and wanted to remove a distraction from his campaign -- and sold roughly $17,000 worth of the stock he had held in the company and donated the proceeds to charity.

As a senator and previously as a congressman, Donnelly often sharply criticized outsourcing, often pointing out his opposition to trade deals he considers unfair, like NAFTA, and even touting a bill called the End Outsourcing Act. The bill would encourage companies to stay in the US by offering tax breaks for keeping its production domestically, while forcing firms to publicly disclose if outsourcing practices caused a loss of jobs.

"I've been against NAFTA, I thought a lot of our jobs went to China and elsewhere because of it," Donnelly said in Muncie, Indiana, last year. "I've tried to make sure we kept jobs here."

According to records filed in the UK, Donnelly signed documents incorporating Stewart Superior Europe in 1994 where he was listed as a director for the firm. Betts, who had previously been working in the rubber stamp business, had gotten to know the Donnelly brothers over the years and they discussed opening a European operation together since major office suppliers, like Staples and Office Depot, were opening European shops.

Betts confirmed that Donnelly left the company in 1997 and said he no longer had a role in the company decisions. Betts recalled, though, that it was him and Donnelly who were working together to get the European operation started and then off the ground.

"He was very involved in it," Betts said. "It was an exciting time."

Initially, Betts said, the UK-based company purchased the raw material -- ink, rubber and handles -- from the US and manufactured it in a factory in London before selling the rubber stamps to European markets. In 1996, it invested in a subsidiary in Moscow, following a similar supply chain -- purchasing raw materials in the US, making the rubber stamps in London and then distributing them to Russia.

Asked why the company would not manufacture the goods in the US, where foreign workers wouldn't be necessary, Betts said it would make "no sense" to do that because the goods would not be delivered to customers in a timely fashion as they demand.

Plus, he noted, "It saves a lot of money."

Trump: Charged Russian national 'had nothing to do with my campaign'

Trump: Charged Russian national 'had nothing to do with my campaign'

(CNN) - President Donald Trump, asked about the Russian national charged with attempting to interfere in the 2018 midterm elections Friday, was quick to defend himself and repeat that there was "no collusion" with his campaign.

"Had nothing to do with my campaign. You know, all of the hackers, and all of the -- everybody that you see, nothing to do with my campaign," Trump said at an event in Arizona. "If the hackers -- a lot of them probably like Hillary Clinton better than me. Now they do, now they do. You know, they go after some hacker in Russia they say oh, that had nothing to do with my campaign."

Federal prosecutors charged 44-year-old Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, of St. Petersburg, Russia, with conspiracy to defraud the United States for managing the financing of the social media troll operation that included the Internet Research Agency, which special counsel Robert Mueller's investigators charged with crimes earlier this year.

Prosecutors who unsealed the complaint Friday say she aided the Russian effort to "inflame passions" online related to immigration, gun control and the Second Amendment, the Confederate flag, race relations, LGBT issues, the Women's March and the NFL National Anthem debate from December 2016 until May 2018.

The social media efforts specifically focused on the shootings of church members in Charleston, South Carolina, and concert attendees in Las Vegas, Nevada, the Charlottesville "Unite the Right" rally, which left one counterprotester dead, and police shootings of African-American men, the complaint says.

The criminal charge says the Russians' online manipulation effort focused on multiple political viewpoints and candidates, but frequently zeroed in on the Republican Party's most well-known leaders.

In his comments, Trump cast blame on his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, who he said, "didn't lift a finger" to stop Russian meddling in 2016, and said that his administration has "done a lot to protect the elections coming up very shortly."

He emphasized that there was "no collusion whatsoever," and pivoted to attacking Clinton as a "bad candidate" who could have "gone out more" and "worked a little bit harder."

Young and black -- and running for Congress -- in Mississippi

Young and black -- and running for Congress -- in Mississippi

HATTIESBURG, Mississippi (CNN) - We're in Paul B. Johnson State Park, and Democratic congressional candidate Jeramey Anderson is cleaning his campaign's RV. "I just kind of like doing it," Anderson ... Continue Reading
What Donald Trump did Thursday night in Montana is really dangerous

What Donald Trump did Thursday night in Montana is really dangerous

(CNN) - During a Thursday night campaign rally in Montana, Donald Trump, the President of the United States, praised a Republican Congressman for assaulting a reporter.

Don't believe me? Here's the relevant passage on Rep. Greg Gianforte from Trump's speech:

"But Greg is smart. And by the way, never wrestle him. You understand that? Never.

Any guy that can do a body slam, he's my kind of ... He was my guy.

I shouldn't say this, because -- there's nothing to be embarrassed about. So I was in Rome with a lot of the leaders from other countries talking about all sorts of things, and I heard about it. And we endorsed Greg very early, but I had heard that he body-slammed a reporter.

"And he was way up. And he was way up. And I said, oh, this was like the day of the election, or just before, and I said, oh, this is terrible, he's going to lose the election. Then I said, well, wait a minute, I know Montana pretty well. I think it might help him. And it did!"

A bit of background: Gianforte, a wealthy businessman, was the GOP nominee running to replace Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke as Montana's congressman in a May 2017 special election. Polling suggested Gianforte had a clear lead but the race was shaken up in its final 24 hours, literally, when audio emerged of Gianforte grabbing and body-slamming a political reporter for The Guardian named Ben Jacobs.

After initially suggesting Jacobs might have been to blame -- despite all evidence to the contrary -- Gianforte acknowledged he had acted inappropriately. He won the special election anyway. Within weeks, Gianforte had sent Jacobs a letter of apology and said he would plead "no contest" to a misdemeanor assault charge. He eventually pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to a 180-day deferred sentence, 40 hours of community service, 20 hours of anger management and a $300 fine.

What we have then is this: A reporter asked a Republican candidate (and now Republican member of Congress) about health care. The candidate assaulted him. No one disputes this chain of events. Gianforte pleaded guilty. He faced a suspended sentence and fines.

And this is the man, in Gianforte, who Trump praised on Thursday night with these words: "Any guy that can do a body slam, he's my kind of ... He was my guy."

Trump undoubtedly viewed this line as a success because people laughed -- always his measure of whether a barb worked. But, ask yourself this: What was the humor proposition here? What were people actually laughing at?

The answer is this: They were laughing at one person assaulting another. (Again, the assault is not up for debate; Gianforte pleaded guilty to doing it.) It is funny, theoretically, because the person on the wrong end of the assault is a reporter. Reporters, in Trump's rhetoric, are loathsome, dishonest creatures -- not capable of human emotions. And, feeling bad for them is the surest sign that you are a "snowflake" -- one of those easily offended liberals who bow to the altar of political correctness and see everything as a potential trigger warning or outrage.

What all of that spin and, frankly, garbage, misses is that what Trump is doing -- along with those who laugh when he does it -- is dehumanizing reporters. These aren't people like you and I, Trump is saying. They deserve to get beat up, to get assaulted, to get roughed up a little bit. They're so bad and so dishonest, they don't deserve the common courtesy that you would grant to someone you meet on the street. They aren't like us. They're other. And, therefore, we can do whatever we want to them.

Trump stood by his rally performance when asked whether he regretted his comments. "No. No. not at all," Trump said Friday.

"He's a great guy," Trump said of Gianforte. "That was a tremendous success last night."

All of which, on its own, is troubling. Very troubling. But, Trump's celebration of an ASSAULT on a reporter -- I just can't emphasize this enough -- is made even worse by the fact that the world is currently watching Istanbul where Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi disappeared inside the Saudi Arabian consulate more than two weeks ago. The expectation -- including from Trump himself -- is that Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi government, was killed inside the consulate.

The Saudi government had denied involvement and, to date, Trump has taken their word for it -- noting that in his conversation with King Salman, "the King firmly denied any knowledge of it."

The point here is that even as we are dealing with an international incident revolving around the near-certain murder of a journalist by a government that didn't like what he said and wrote about them, the President of the United States is praising a member of Congress who assaulted a journalist for asking him questions.

"All Americans should recoil from the President's praise for a violent assault on a reporter doing his Constitutionally protected job," White House Correspondents Association president Olivier Knox said in a statement Friday.

I find it very hard to believe how anyone -- even if you hate journalists and love President Trump -- could fail to see the danger here. If you make reporters out to be deserving of being knocked around and assaulted, how big a leap is it until someone hears that as free license to do something far worse to a reporter?

Trump says he has no regrets about praising congressman for assaulting reporter

Trump says he has no regrets about praising congressman for assaulting reporter

(CNN) - President Donald Trump said Friday he doesn't regret praising a Republican congressman who body slammed a reporter."No. No. Not at all," he said when asked about his remarks, made a night ... Continue Reading
Three things that shaped Mary Katharine Ham's conservative world view

Three things that shaped Mary Katharine Ham's conservative world view

(CNN) - CNN commentator and journalist Mary Katharine Ham is happy to be the "divergent voice" in the age of Trump. "I have a very serious contrarian streak," Ham told David Axelrod on "The Axe Fi ... Continue Reading
Manafort appears in court in wheelchair, to be sentenced in February

Manafort appears in court in wheelchair, to be sentenced in February

(CNN) - Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort appeared in a wheelchair in a Virginia courtroom Friday afternoon, where he learned he will be sentenced next February even while his cooperation with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation continues.

His lawyer Kevin Downing said Manafort's health has "significant issues," related to the "terms of his confinement." He asked Judge T.S. Ellis to move on to the sentencing phase quickly, so he could be moved out of confinement at the Alexandria detention center and into a Bureau of Prisons facility, if he is sentenced to prison.

Manafort, who was convicted on eight counts in August, appeared in court in a wheelchair, with his right foot raised off the ground and in a sock. He is experiencing a serious medical condition -- inflammation that's related to his diet, a person familiar with Manafort's condition said.

In addition to setting the sentencing date for February 8, Ellis will dismiss 10 charges on which the jury could not reach a verdict during the August trial.

The prosecutors may be able to bring those charges back if his cooperation is not successful, and they will also have the option to ask the court to reduce his sentence later if Manafort is especially helpful to their ongoing investigation.

Manafort still may face an initial sentence of a decade or more in prison.

Manafort in September pleaded guilty before a different judge in DC to two criminal counts of conspiracy and obstruction of justice, setting in motion his cooperation deal to assist the special counsel's probe into the 2016 presidential election.

Ellis asked Mueller's team on Friday if they had an estimate on when Manafort's cooperation would end, and they said in court they did not.

Manafort's wife was not seen in the courtroom on Friday. She previously attended most of his hearings and the entirety of his Virginia trial.

The 69-year-old former Trump campaign chairman has been in jail since June, when a judge revoked his bail. He has been cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller's team of late. CNN reported that Manafort's visits with the special counsel have stretched over at least nine days since he cut a deal a month ago, indicating he's shared dozens of hours' worth of details about Russians and Trump campaign affiliates.

Manafort's trial and admissions of guilt focused on his lobbying work for pro-Russian Ukrainians and barely touched his time in the Trump campaign. It's not yet known the extent of his contacts with Russians and Ukrainians throughout 2016, though Mueller is believed to have closely examined allegations that Manafort coordinated with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Manafort is central to several of the most notable moments of 2016. He was an attendee of the Trump Tower meeting where Russians purportedly offered information to the campaign that could hurt Hillary Clinton; he offered private briefings on the campaign to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska; and he was instrumental at the Republican National Convention when the party softened its stance on Ukraine.

Manafort also stayed in touch through this year with his Russian associate Konstantin Kilimnik, whom prosecutors say has ties to the same Russian military intelligence operation that allegedly hacked the Democrats during the election.

Goldman Sachs and others line up for fresh tax breaks

Goldman Sachs and others line up for fresh tax breaks

(CNN) - The Treasury Department on Friday outlined details of a sweeping set of tax breaks under last year's tax cut that are intended to promote investment in underdeveloped neighborhoods across the nation.

The framework is expected to unleash billions of dollars that have been building up since the "Opportunity Zones" program was enacted along with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act at the end of 2017, potentially dwarfing existing incentive programs --- and saving investors a bundle in the process.

Goldman Sachs Group, which two decades ago stood up a unit for funding projects in struggling neighborhoods in the greater New York area, is among the investor groups hoping it can now capitalize on the new tax incentives. The firm began creating funds days after the tax law was passed last year.

The public now has 60 days to comment on the rules, which Treasury expects to finalize next year.

The Trump administration anticipates that the new tax policy will drive $100 billion in private capital to more than 8,700 communities across all of the US impacting nearly 35 million Americans, helping to create more jobs for American and spur economic growth.

"This incentive will foster economic revitalization and promote sustainable economic growth, which is a major goal of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act," said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a statement.

Friday's proposed regulations are aimed at helping clarify for investors what capital gains will qualify for deferral, which taxpayers and investments are eligible and other guidance. Investors have been sitting on the sidelines awaiting further information from Treasury before making the leap into new business deals in designated zones.

"Turns out, investors are very tax-sensitive," says Steve Glickman, a former Obama administration official who helped design the program and last month started a consulting firm to help channel capital towards projects in eligible zones. "And there has been an enormous response to the legislation, much more than I thought."

Last year's Republican-backed tax cut allows investors to defer taxes on capital gains if they're reinvested in a real estate project or business located in one of the nearly 9,000 qualified census tracts, and then to pay a reduced rate if the investment is held for certain time periods. Gains from investments held in the "opportunity funds" for more than 10 years are untaxed, in an exemption expected to cost $7.7 billion through 2022, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

That will allow investments with a lower expected pre-tax return --- in the downtowns of depressed second-tier cities like Louisville or Cleveland, for example --- to be more competitive with those in booming metropolises. Although the program currently only lasts until 2026, legislation has already been introduced to extend it.

While opportunity zones hold their designation for a decade, under the proposed regulation, investors can hold onto their investments if they keep it in a qualified fund through 2047 without losing tax benefits. Treasury said it will provide more guidance before the end of the year.

Along with Goldman, firms such as D.C.-based Fundrise and the hedge fund EJF Capital have been busy raising $500 million funds from high net worth individuals in order to be ready to deploy as soon as the rules are set in order to take advantage of the full duration of the tax cut. So far, large institutional investors have held back, but that may change now that Treasury has set the rules of the road.

Goldman could not immediately be reached for comment.

The program has come under some criticism by community organizations because many of the designated zones are in areas that are already rapidly gentrifying, fueling concerns that the additional capital could just super-charge displacement and handsomely reward investors for projects they would have funded anyway.

There is currently no central registry of funds that qualify under the rules of the program, since reporting requirements were stripped out during the process of passing the comprehensive tax reform package.

Glickman says the high-return projects will get snapped up quickly, but that investors will then move on to more marginal areas, especially if local politicians and chambers of commerce can put attractive deals in front of the fund managers who'll be allocating investor dollars.

"You're going to see, in the first phase of the program, lots of low hanging fruit, for sure," Glickman says. "So the stuff that was teed up to happen, if you're a smart developer, of course you're going to take advantage of the program."

Aside from excluding so-called "sin" businesses like casinos, the rules allow almost any kind of investment to qualify, from tech startups to to multi-family residential buildings, with no restrictions on affordability or the amount of capital that can qualify for favorable tax treatment. Other "enterprise zone" programs, such as the New Markets Tax Credit, have an annual cap and have shown little evidence of impact on poverty or incomes in the areas they target.

"The argument was that those programs failed in part because the capital was too diffuse to make an impact in any one location, and also that it had too many rules and regulations, and this was meant to be the antithesis to that," says Rachel Reilly, director of impact investing at the non-profit developer Enterprise Community Partners. "Enterprise is trying to figure out how we can capture some of this capital for the community development space."

GOP rep slams Schiff over accusation of racism

GOP rep slams Schiff over accusation of racism

WASHINGTON (CNN) - A New Jersey Republican congressman is demanding an apology from a Democratic colleague who accused him of racism.The spat began on Thursday when Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, ... Continue Reading
Trump's GOP allies are mad over Rosenstein's interview arrangement

Trump's GOP allies are mad over Rosenstein's interview arrangement

(CNN) - The group of House conservatives who have been Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's sharpest critics are steamed over plans for Rosenstein to be interviewed next week in a classified setting that excludes them, and they plan to push back to try to change the agreement.

Rosenstein will be interviewed in a classified setting next week by four lawmakers: House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy, Judiciary ranking Democrat Jerry Nadler and Oversight ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings. No staff or other rank-and-file members will be inside for the interview.

While the committees said Rosenstein will be under oath and a transcript would be released after it was scrubbed by the intelligence community, several House Republicans say the arrangement is allowing Rosenstein to avoid proper oversight.

"It should not happen the way it was talked about (Thursday). That is completely unacceptable for those of us who have been involved in this issue now," said Rep. Jim Jordan, who plans to run to be the next Republican House leader. "The idea that it's just going to happen with two members from the Republican Party, just two members from the Democrat Party, in a classified setting, which means one thing --- the American people will never know what's said."

The Ohio Republican said he's expressed his unhappiness to Goodlatte over the phone already.

"I think there are a number of us who are going to push back on that real, real hard," Jordan said.

Gowdy has encouraged his committee members to give him questions they want to be asked, and he will ask them of Rosenstein, a Gowdy aide said.

"As noted in our statement yesterday, the transcript will eventually be made public, therefore all members, press and the general public will have access to the information," the aide added.

Republicans demanded last month that Rosenstein testify to address reports that he discussed wearing a wire to secretly record President Donald Trump and recruited Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. But plans for the tentative interview slipped after Trump said he had no plans to fire Rosenstein following an Air Force One meeting.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows on Thursday renewed his calls for Rosenstein to resign. In July, Meadows and Jordan proposed a resolution to impeach Rosenstein.

"He's not coming under a subpoena, quite frankly he thinks the protection of a classified room is going to protect him from transparency, and it will not," the North Carolina Republican told reporters Friday. "So I don't know that next Wednesday will do anything to alleviate the concerns of Americans. And it's why are we continuing to do hearings in private where we don't have the press or the American people to be the arbiter of what is fair and right."

Asked why the hearing was agreed to with only the four committee leaders, Meadows said: "Weakness."

Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida went even further ripping the interview arrangement.

"Instead of having him here under oath, they're going to have some little game of patty-cake with the committee chairmen and the ranking members, with no transcript, with no television cameras, with no other members of the committee," Gaetz said, though Rosenstein will be under oath and a transcript will eventually be released.

"This is no way to conduct oversight. This is how you conduct oversight if you don't really want to find the truth," Gaetz added.

The Rosenstein interview announced Thursday was the product of lengthy negotiations between the Justice Department and the Republican chairmen, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.

Rosenstein is scheduled to appear in the middle of a string of interviews that the committees are conducting as part of the investigation into the FBI and the Justice Department handling of the Hillary Clinton and Russia investigations.

One of those witnesses, former FBI General Counsel James Baker, testified to the committees that senior FBI officials came to him believing Rosenstein was serious with his wire comments, although Baker was not in the room for the meeting where the comments were made, CNN has reported.

A source in the room has previously told CNN that Rosenstein's wire remark was sarcastic.

Jordan and Meadows have argued that in addition to questioning Rosenstein about recording the President and the 25th Amendment, his testimony is also needed as part of the larger investigation into the Justice Department.

"Rod Rosenstein gets a different standard than everybody else? This is what drives Americans crazy," Jordan said.

Jordan and Meadows attended nearly all of the committee interviews in the probe, many of which have been conducted while Congress has been out of session. They are part of a six-lawmaker Republican group that's taken the lead on the investigation.

Not all Republicans in that group are upset they won't be directly questioning Rosenstein, however.

"As a former federal prosecutor I would love to ask questions of Rod Rosenstein," said Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas, who is also among the leaders of the FBI probe. "Fortunately, they'll be another former federal prosecutor named Trey Gowdy who will be asking questions. I have every confidence that any question that I would have asked Rod Rosenstein, Trey Gowdy will ask that question as well or better than I could have."

Read the criminal complaint against Russian charged with election interference

Read the criminal complaint against Russian charged with election interference

(CNN) - A Russian who allegedly worked on funding an online propaganda effort to hurt American democracy was charged Friday for attempting to interfere in the upcoming midterm elections.Read the c ... Continue Reading

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