White House, inaugural committee push back against report of criminal investigation

The Trump administration and the president's inaugural committee said Thursday they had no knowledge of a reported investigation by federal prosecutors into whether the committee misspent some of the money it raised to stage Trump's swearing-in last year. The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan was in the early stages of … Continue reading “White House, inaugural committee push back against report of criminal investigation”

The Trump administration and the president's inaugural committee said Thursday they had no knowledge of a reported investigation by federal prosecutors into whether the committee misspent some of the money it raised to stage Trump's swearing-in last year.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan was in the early stages of the probe exploring whether big-money donors gave money to the committee in the hope of access to — or influence within — the administration or policy concessions.

According to the paper, the investigation arose in part out of materials seized as part of the federal investigation into Michael Cohen, Trump's onetime personal attorney. Those materials included a conversation between Cohen and a onetime adviser to Melania Trump who raised concerns about how the inaugural committee was spending money.

In a statement, the inaugural committee said it was "not aware of any pending investigations and has not been contacted by any prosecutors. We simply have no evidence the investigation exists."

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The committee said its finances "were fully audited internally and independently and are fully accounted. Moreover, the inauguration's accounting was provided both to the Federal Election Commission and the IRS in compliance with all laws and regulations. These were funds raised from private individuals and were then spent in accordance with the law and the expectations of the donors."

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told Fox News' "The Story with Martha MacCallum" Thursday that the matter "didn't have anything to do with the president" or the first lady.

"The president was focused on the transition and building out a new government and preparing to take office. The role that the president had in the inauguration was to raise his hand and take the oath," said Sanders, who accused Democrats of "going to plan – I would say Plan B, but this is more like Plan D or E or F to take this president down."

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On Wednesday, Cohen was sentenced to three years in federal prison after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations, tax evasion and lying to Congress about Trump’s past business dealings in Russia.

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The Journal reported that prosecutors enlisted Rick Gates, Trump's onetime deputy campaign manager and deputy chairman of the inaugural committee, to provide information about the inaugural fund's spending and donors. Earlier this year, Gates pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy against the U.S. and one count of making false statements to FBI agents. Last month, Special Counsel Robert Mueller told a federal judge in a court filing that Gates was cooperating with "several ongoing investigations" and could not yet be sentenced.

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In all, the Trump inaugural committee raised $107 million, more than double the previous record of $53 million raised for Barack Obama's first inauguration in 2009.

Click for more from The Wall Street Journal.

Fox News’ Martha MacCallum contributed to this report.

Whistleblower who gave info on Clinton blasts FBI over mystery raid: ‘Secret police state?’

A former FBI contractor-turned-whistleblower who supplied documents related to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Uranium One controversy is blasting the FBI over a mysterious raid on his home last month.

Questioning whether “we now live in a secret police state,” Dennis Nathan Cain took his frustration to Twitter on the heels of a report that the Justice Department is trying to keep the justification for the raid secret.

“So I blow the whistle on the FBI, get raided by the same FBI, and now they want to keep the FBI’s reasons secret? Do we now live in a secret police state? Feels a little like 1984,” Cain tweeted late Monday, citing The Daily Caller report.

The Daily Caller requested that the court unseal the search warrant materials, but the U.S. Attorney in the District of Maryland, in a court filing, said: “the request should be denied.”

“Public disclosure of any search warrant materials would seriously jeopardize the integrity of the ongoing investigation,” the court filing by the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. “Continued sealing is essential in order to guard against possible tampering of witnesses and destruction of evidence, to maintain the ability of the grand jury to investigate this matter, and to prevent the disclosure of sensitive investigative techniques and methods.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney in the District of Maryland declined to comment.

Sixteen FBI agents raided Cain’s home on Nov. 19. His lawyer, Michael Socarras, told The Daily Caller that the agent who led the raid accused his client of possessing stolen federal property. In response, Cain reportedly claimed that he was a protected whistleblower under federal law, and said he was recognized as such by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz.

Socarras also claimed that Horowitz had transmitted information on the sale of Canadian mining company Uranium One to a Russian firm’s subsidiary to both the House and Senate intelligence committees.

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The documents in question allegedly show that federal officials failed to investigate possible criminal activity related to Clinton, the Clinton Foundation and Rosatom, the Russian nuclear company whose subsidiary purchased Uranium One in 2013.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, whose panel has oversight of the Justice Department, also penned a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Horowitz, requesting information on the justification for the raid of Cain’s home.

Grassley gave Wray and Horowitz until Dec. 12 to respond to his request.

An FBI spokesperson and a spokesperson for the inspector general declined to comment.

“As frustrating and violating as this feels to me and my family. I will continue to put my trust in God. Some day this life will pass away. I will stand before my maker with a clean concience[sic] and Jesus as my defender. Until then I continue to fight the good fight with God’s help,” Cain tweeted Monday night.

On Tuesday, he added: “Thank you for the outpouring of encouragement. You all are awesome. A boxer goes into his corner to rest for a minute, refocus, and get some sideline coaching. Then the bell rings and he’s ready to go another round. This fight is spiritual and God is in our corner. Ding! Rom 8:31.”

Fox News has previously reported that Douglas Campbell, an FBI informant involved in the Uranium One deal, has testified to lawmakers that Moscow paid millions to American lobbying firm APCO Worldwide to influence Clinton and the Obama administration.

“The contract called for four payments of $750,000 over 12 months,” Campbell said in his statement this past February. “APCO was expected to give assistance free of charge to the Clinton Global Initiative as part of their effort to create a favorable environment to ensure the Obama administration made affirmative decisions on everything from Uranium One to the US-Russia Civilian Nuclear Cooperation agreement.”

APCO has denied Campbell's claims while Clinton called any claims of wrongdoing related to the Uranium One deal "the same baloney they’ve been peddling for years, and there’s been no credible evidence by anyone.

"In fact," Clinton told C-SPAN in October of 2017, "it’s been debunked repeatedly and will continue to be debunked.”

Fox News' Samuel Chamberlain contributed to this report. 

Brooke Singman is a Politics Reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter at @brookefoxnews.

Top FBI official Bill Priestap to leave government

WASHINGTON – A top FBI official who helped oversee two politically sensitive investigations related to the 2016 presidential campaign is retiring from government service.

Bill Priestap, who currently serves as assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s counterintelligence division, will leave his post by the end of the year. Mr. Priestap, a 20-year veteran of the bureau, worked on organized crime and drug cases in Chicago before rising through the national security ranks of the agency after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Mr. Priestap’s retirement is unrelated to the controversies over the handling of the 2016 investigations, according to a person familiar with the matter. He “became eligible to retire and has chosen to do so after 20 years of service,” the FBI said in a statement.

The federal government allows some employees, including FBI agents, to retire with full benefits if they are 50 or older and have at least two decades of service.

During the 2016 campaign, Mr. Priestap was one of several officials at the center of two politically volatile probes: the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information, and a counterintelligence inquiry into whether associates of then-candidate Donald Trump colluded with the Russian government.

After Mr. Priestap’s departure, none of the high-ranking bureau officials involved in the two investigations will remain with the bureau. FBI director James Comeywas fired by President Trump last year, and Deputy Director Andrew McCabewas later dismissed by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions over his contacts with the media, days before he was eligible to retire with benefits.

Peter Strzok, the chief of the counterespionage section, left the FBI this year after it emerged that he had sent disparaging text messages about Mr. Trump.

Click for more from The Wall Street Journal.

Trump attorneys ask Stormy Daniels to pay nearly $800G in legal fees, penalties

Attorneys for President Trump asked a court Monday for nearly $800,000 in lawyers’ fees and penalties from adult-film actress Stormy Daniels for the failed defamation lawsuit against him.

Attorney Charles Harder defended more than 500 hours his firm spent that rang up a nearly $390,000 legal bill for the president and asked for an equal amount in sanctions as a deterrent against a “repeat filer or frivolous defamation cases.”

Harder said the fees and penalties were earned because of the extraordinary nature of the defamation case.

“This action is virtually unprecedented in American legal history,” Harder wrote in court papers. Daniels “not only brought a meritless claim for defamation against the sitting president of the United States, but she also has engaged, along with her attorney, in massive national publicity.”

Judge S. James Otero didn’t immediately rule. He noted that Harder’s fees — as much as $840 an hour — were reasonable but the number of hours spent on the case was excessive. He didn’t indicate how he felt about the requested penalties, but he questioned whether attorneys’ fees alone would serve as a deterrent.

Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, called the suggested sanctions “absurd and outrageous.”

“You can’t just pick a number out of thin air in an effort to put my client under Donald Trump’s thumb and intimidate her,” Avenatti said.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, alleged she had a one-night affair with Trump in 2006. She sued him earlier this year seeking to break a non-disclosure agreement she signed days before the 2016 election about the tryst as part of a $130,000 hush money settlement. Trump has strongly denied the affair took place.

Despite the deal to stay quiet, Daniels spoke out publicly and alleged that five years after the alleged affair she was threatened to keep quiet by a man she did not recognize in a Las Vegas parking lot. She also released a composite sketch of the mystery man.

She sued Trump for defamation after he responded to the allegation by tweeting: “A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!”

Otero ruled in October that Trump’s statement was “rhetorical hyperbole” against a political adversary and was protected speech under the First Amendment. Trump is entitled to legal fees, Otero said.

Daniels has appealed Otero’s decision and Avenatti said Monday he expects to prevail at a higher court.

Avenatti, who has positioned himself as a Trump foe and is considering a run for president in 2020, also said he will be seeking attorney’s fees against Trump in the ongoing hush-money case and he anticipates being rewarded a figure that “dwarfs exponentially” what Trump is seeking in the defamation case, possibly exceeding $2 million.

Daniels also revealed Sunday that she and Avenatti "straightened s— out" days after she questioned the origin of a fundraising appeal Avenatti launched on her behalf — and revealed that he'd sued Trump for defamation without her approval.

Daniels told the Daily Beast on Wednesday that Avenatti had launched the campaign on the website CrowdJustice "without my permission or even my knowledge," after she questioned him about how money raised through an initial fundraiser had been spent. The initial fundraiser brought in a reported $580,000 toward Daniels' expenses; the second fundraiser brought in $4,785 before the page was taken down Wednesday evening.

Avenatti also tweeted: "Onward and upward. To all the people that want to divide us for their own agendas: It is not going to happen!"

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Frank Miles is a reporter and editor covering geopolitics, military, crime, technology and sports for FoxNews.com. His email is Frank.Miles@foxnews.com.

Trump’s replacement of Sessions sparks a media wildfire

It was, for once, a predictable bombshell.

And met by equally predictable waves of media outrage.

Was there anyone in America, paying the slightest bit of attention, who didn't know that President Trump was going to fire Jeff Sessions after the midterms?

I mean, the president has practically been announcing it with a bullhorn.

Sure, we didn't know it was going to happen the day after the Democrats won control of the House (although George W. Bush ousted Don Rumsfeld the day after an even more disastrous election).

But come on. Trump didn't even bother to hide the motive.

He has been angry at his attorney general for a year and a half for recusing himself from the Russia investigation.

In truth, Sessions had no choice. As a senator, he was a campaign surrogate for Trump and wound up being questioned on the Hill over his own contacts with Russian officials.

But Trump viewed this as a personal betrayal, and said so, repeatedly. He said it on Twitter. He said it in an interview with The New York Times. He said it in encounters with reporters.

He called Sessions weak and beleaguered. He insisted the Justice Department should be investigating Democrats. Someone even leaked word that Trump privately called his own appointee Mr. Magoo.

It was humiliating, but Sessions hung in there, doing his job, although he knew his days were numbered. He said right there in his resignation letter that he was quitting at the president's request.

But what really fueled the media’s "crisis" coverage was Trump's choice for acting attorney general. It wasn't Sessions' deputy, Rod Rosenstein, the man who appointed Robert Mueller. It was Sessions' chief of staff, Matt Whitaker.

Whitaker is a former prosecutor, as well as a conservative activist, but he is obscure. He is a Trump loyalist, once described as the president's "eyes and ears" at DOJ.

What's more, as a CNN contributor and at other times, he has trashed the Mueller investigation that he will now be overseeing. He's suggesting that Justice could curtail the special counsel's probe by cutting his funding.

"The truth is there was no collusion with the Russians and the Trump campaign," Whitaker once said. As for the left, "the last thing they want right now is for the truth to come out, and for the fact that there's not a single piece of evidence that demonstrates that the Trump campaign had any illegal or any improper relationships with the Russians. It's that simple."

So Whitaker has, to put it mildly, a rather dim view of the investigation. And his associates are telling reporters he has no intention of recusing himself. Of course not — that's why Trump wants him.

So it's a big deal that oversight of the Russia probe is moving from Rosenstein, who likes the job Mueller is doing, to a man who's been so critical of the investigation. And criticism from House Democrats who'll soon be in a position to scrutinize these matters is fueling the story.

But a couple of cautionary notes. Whitaker hasn't done anything to impede the investigation since his appointment was announced. And it's possible, if only as a matter of political strategy, that he may not.

It's also possible, amid reports that Mueller is writing his report, that his prosecutors haven't found any evidence of collusion, or obstruction, and he'll be wrapping up soon.

Sessions has been toast for a long time. Whitaker could do something to cause a crisis, at least until a permanent AG (Chris Christie?) is named.

But unless and until there's an effort to rein in Mueller, the media might avoid keeping this cranked up to an 11.

Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of “MediaBuzz” (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author “Media Madness: Donald Trump, The Press and the War Over the Truth.” Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.

Trump’s replacement of Sessions sparks a media wildfire

It was, for once, a predictable bombshell.

And met by equally predictable waves of media outrage.

Was there anyone in America, paying the slightest bit of attention, who didn't know that President Trump was going to fire Jeff Sessions after the midterms?

I mean, the president has practically been announcing it with a bullhorn.

Sure, we didn't know it was going to happen the day after the Democrats won control of the House (although George W. Bush ousted Don Rumsfeld the day after an even more disastrous election).

But come on. Trump didn't even bother to hide the motive.

He has been angry at his attorney general for a year and a half for recusing himself from the Russia investigation.

In truth, Sessions had no choice. As a senator, he was a campaign surrogate for Trump and wound up being questioned on the Hill over his own contacts with Russian officials.

But Trump viewed this as a personal betrayal, and said so, repeatedly. He said it on Twitter. He said it in an interview with The New York Times. He said it in encounters with reporters.

He called Sessions weak and beleaguered. He insisted the Justice Department should be investigating Democrats. Someone even leaked word that Trump privately called his own appointee Mr. Magoo.

It was humiliating, but Sessions hung in there, doing his job, although he knew his days were numbered. He said right there in his resignation letter that he was quitting at the president's request.

But what really fueled the media’s "crisis" coverage was Trump's choice for acting attorney general. It wasn't Sessions' deputy, Rod Rosenstein, the man who appointed Robert Mueller. It was Sessions' chief of staff, Matt Whitaker.

Whitaker is a former prosecutor, as well as a conservative activist, but he is obscure. He is a Trump loyalist, once described as the president's "eyes and ears" at DOJ.

What's more, as a CNN contributor and at other times, he has trashed the Mueller investigation that he will now be overseeing. He's suggesting that Justice could curtail the special counsel's probe by cutting his funding.

"The truth is there was no collusion with the Russians and the Trump campaign," Whitaker once said. As for the left, "the last thing they want right now is for the truth to come out, and for the fact that there's not a single piece of evidence that demonstrates that the Trump campaign had any illegal or any improper relationships with the Russians. It's that simple."

So Whitaker has, to put it mildly, a rather dim view of the investigation. And his associates are telling reporters he has no intention of recusing himself. Of course not — that's why Trump wants him.

So it's a big deal that oversight of the Russia probe is moving from Rosenstein, who likes the job Mueller is doing, to a man who's been so critical of the investigation. And criticism from House Democrats who'll soon be in a position to scrutinize these matters is fueling the story.

But a couple of cautionary notes. Whitaker hasn't done anything to impede the investigation since his appointment was announced. And it's possible, if only as a matter of political strategy, that he may not.

It's also possible, amid reports that Mueller is writing his report, that his prosecutors haven't found any evidence of collusion, or obstruction, and he'll be wrapping up soon.

Sessions has been toast for a long time. Whitaker could do something to cause a crisis, at least until a permanent AG (Chris Christie?) is named.

But unless and until there's an effort to rein in Mueller, the media might avoid keeping this cranked up to an 11.

Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of “MediaBuzz” (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author “Media Madness: Donald Trump, The Press and the War Over the Truth.” Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.