Investigation of Russian interference & new information regarding unmasking of Americans

Reporting by Catherine Herridge and Bret Baier 

A legal source confirms to FOX News that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has made a broad records request to the White House, covering multiple staffers, and includes actions taken by the president.

The New York Times reports the special counsel has thirteen areas of interest including the firing of the former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, as well as the firing of Former FBI Director James Comey.

The requests reportedly include the May Oval Office meeting with Russian officials, where the president met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, where it is alleged by the New York Times, Mr. Trump said that firing Comey relieved the pressure on him.

Ty Cobb, a member of the president’s legal team, said “Out of respect for the special counsel and his process, the White House does not comment on any specific requests…I can only reaffirm that the White House is committed to cooperating fully with Special Counsel Mueller.”

In a separate development FOX News is learning new information about the rapid pace of unmasking in the final months of the Obama White House.

Two sources, not authorized to speak on the record, said the requests from Samantha Power, former US Ambassador to the United Nations, exceeded 260, with one request coming in the days leading up to the inauguration.

The House Intelligence Committee sent subpoenas in May for the unmasking requests by former CIA Director John Brennan, Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, and Power. Records were also requested for presidential adviser Ben Rhodes.

At a congressional hearing the same month, a senior committee Republican pressed the CIA director on the issue, without mentioning Power by name.

A spokesperson for Power had no comment on the numbers, or the timing of the requests, but in a previous statement emphasized that Power was acting in her capacity as a member of the National Security Council, and never leaked classified information.

Hurricane Maria knocks out all power to Puerto Rico

Remembering 9/11

Reporting by Eric Shawn

16 years have passed, but it seems as if not one day has gone by.

Once again, family members and officials gathered for the somber and solemn remembrance for those who perished on September 11, 2001.

There were four moments of silence, one each for when the two planes hit the Twin Towers and when the buildings crumbled, and the methodical reading of the names—2.753 souls, some recalled with emotional and deeply personal tributes.

The toll of the radical Islamic terrorist attack continues to this day.

More than 1,000 first responders, volunteers and others have died from cancer and other diseases linked to the toxic fumes and dust according to the World Trade Center Health Program.

In Shanksville, Pennsylvania tribute was paid to the passengers of United Flight 93, who fought back against the hijackers and crashed into a field.

A visibly emotional Vice President Mike Pence, an Indiana congressman at the time, recalled standing at the U.S. Capital, a believed target of the terrorists.

“I will always believe that I and many others in our nation’s capital were able to go home that day and hug our families because of the courage and selflessness of the heroes of flight 93,” Pence told the crowd. “So for me it’s personal.”

And in New York, personal too for so many—

“Today is important for a number of reasons. It’s important for everybody to remember, but also a reminder for us that we have to continue to be vigilant,” said NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill.

Tonight, the tribute light will also pierce the night sky, two beans lighting the heavens evoking the towers that were lost. As the nation pays tribute and is reminded of the threat that still exists.

Pentagon: US pulls back from watching ISIS convoy at request of Russians

Reporting by Lucas Tomlinson

The US military has pulled back its surveillance aircraft that had been watching an 11-bus ISIS convoy filled with hundreds of militants  including some of their family members at a request of the Russian government.

The ISIS convoy was given safe passage over 10 days ago to travel from the Lebanon-Syria border across the Syrian desert to the Iraqi border in a deal struck between Syria and Hezbollah, which angered the U.S. military.

Since the convoy departed, U.S. drones have picked off ISIS fighters when they left the convoy to relieve themselves, according to U.S. officials.

“We were able to exploit it and take advantage,” said Army Col. Ryan Dillon, a U.S. coalition spokesman Thursday during a press conference from Baghdad. 

The Russian military requested U.S. drones depart the area through the “de-confliction” line as Russian-backed Syrian forces battle to recapture the ISIS-held city of Deir ez-Zor located in eastern Syria.

The U.S. official was confident the U.S. military would pick up surveillance of the ISIS fighters in the future and said they would not threaten US military forces located in other parts of Syria.

A U.S. Army general said he would hold the Assad regime in Syria responsible for dealing with the convoy.

"The regime's advance past the convoy underlines continued Syrian responsibility for the buses and terrorists. As always, we will do our utmost to ensure that the ISIS terrorists do not move toward the border of our Iraqi partners," said Brig. Gen. Jon Braga, director of operations for the coalition.

A week ago the outgoing top U.S. commander in Iraq suggested he had no intention of letting this convoy make it across the desert.

“When ISIS came out to link up with them, we started striking ISIS, said Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend. “We have struck every ISIS fighter and/or vehicle that has tried to approach that convoy, and that -- will continue to do that.”

Townsend said the U.S. coalition did not target any civilians in the convoy, but now that there is no surveillance on the convoy there is no stopping the convoy from moving again.

President Trump reaches across the aisle

Reporting by John Roberts

In the Oval Office today, meeting with the Emir of Kuwait, President Trump reassured people in the path of Irma that while it has been strained to the max, the federal government is on the job.

“We’ve never had a thing like this where you get hit with Harvey which was about as bad as it gets, and then you get hit with Irma,” the president said. “ I think FEMA’s been—I don’t think anybody has done anything like they’ve done at FEMA, and they have done a really good job.”

The president also weighed in on the surprise deal he cut with Senator Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi yesterday, indicating that there may be more such deals ahead.

“The people of the United States want to see it coming together. At least to an extent,” Mr. Trump said. We’re different parties and we have different thoughts, different feelings, and different ideas. But I think you’re going to see a much stronger coming together.”

Already, President Trump is in preliminary discussions with the democratic leadership on how to do away with the need for repeated measures to raise the debt ceiling.

And a tweet President Trump sent out this morning telling DACA recipients: “For all of those that are concerned about your stats during the 6 month period, you have nothing to worry about—No action!”

The tweet was prompted by a morning phone call with Leader Pelosi: “When he called this morning, I said, thanks for calling. This is what we need; the people really need a reassurance from you, Mr. President, that the 6 month period is not a period of roundup.

Republicans who were blindsided by what President Trump did on the debt ceiling and government funding yesterday were left to put their best spin on it this morning.

Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters, “The president made it really clear, and what he was aiming for in that meeting yesterday was a bi-partisan moment, while the country is facing two horrible hurricanes.”

Sources tell FOX News the president went into the meeting with the intention of clearing the decks on the knotty issue of debt ceiling and government funding so congress could stay focused on tax reform.

Sources also say the president grew weary of the dithering that was consuming the meeting. When the two sides appeared to hit a stalemate, agreeing to disagree, President Trump jumped in to close the deal he could get—if not the one he wanted.

The move shocked the Republican leadership, angered many conservatives, and produced a remarkable photo of the president and Senator Chuck Schumer locked in a partial embrace—but it appears to have the intended effect.

“This is our number one priority this fall,” said Speaker Ryan. “As you may have heard me say earlier, we want Americans to begin the new year with a new tax system.”

 

Senator Bob Menendez on trial for bribery

Reporting by David Lee Miller

New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, on trial from bribery, was on the verge of tears as he proclaimed his innocence outside a federal court in Newark today.

“I appreciate my family, my son and daughter, for being here today and appreciate all my supporters.”

Menendez faces a dozen criminal charges. He is accused of accepting more than $700,000 in campaign related cash and thousands of dollars in free hotel rooms and air travel from a longtime friend, Dr. Solomon Melgen.

During opening statements the prosecution told the jury that as part of the bribery scheme Menendez sent the doctor an email asking him to provide a $1,500 a night Paris hotel room with a limestone bath and a view of the courtyard.

Prosecutors say Menendez in exchange helped the doctor in multi-million dollar business deals and allegedly tried to get visas for the doctors foreign girlfriends.

Both Melgen, who has a previous conviction for Medicare fraud, and Menendez are on trial, but there is more at stake. The trial could change the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.

The judge rejected a motion by Menendez to change the trial schedule to allow him to attend crucial votes such as healthcare.

In a testy exchange today, Menendez’s attorney accused the judge of disparaging the defense in his written opinion. At one point the judge told Menendez’s lawyer “shut up for a moment, if you don’t mind.”

Menendez says he will exercise his constitutional right to attend trial, but acknowledged the conflict he faces if Democrats need his vote in the senate.

“When conflict exists, the clash between those constitutional rights, I will make a decision based upon the gravity of the situation and the difference that my vote would make.”

During his opening statement Menendez‘s lawyer told jurors “a single word can cut through a mountain of evidence.” That word—friendship. The defense says this isn’t a case of bribery, just one friend helping another out.

The trial is expected to last six weeks.

U.S. settles suit over Trump travel ban

Reporting by Rich Edson

Hameed Khalid Darweesh is an Iraqi immigrant who worked with the U.S. military. In January, he was detained in New York—a result of the Trump administration’s first travel ban.

Under his settlement with the administration, the government must notify those wrongly blocked from entering the United States in January and help them reapply for U.S. visas.

A Justice Department spokeswoman tells FOX news: “Although this case has been moot since March, when the president rescinded the original executive order and issued a new one that does not restrict the entry of Iraqi nationals, the U.S. government has elected to settle this case on favorable terms.”

Department officials say the decision affects fewer than 20 people and that they had the right prior to this settlement to reapply for a visa.

The next and ultimate legal destination for the president’s travel ban is the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Trump administration unveiled its first travel ban in January barring citizens from entering Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the U.S. All are Muslim-majority countries.

The next day, a federal judge in New York blocked some of the order. Days later a U.S. district judge in Seattle halted the immigration ban nationwide.

A month later, the Trump administration issued a new, more limited order.

The following week, a federal judge in Hawaii blocked that executive order and in June, the Supreme Court reinstated some of it while it considers the issue.

Supreme Court oral arguments are scheduled for next month. Justices will consider how much power a president has over immigration, national security concerns and any role religion may have played in the order.

Harvey cleanup: Only 1 in 6 have flood insurance

Reporting by Mike Emanuel

The grim reality is many of Hurricane Harvey’s storm victims do not have flood insurance and soon they must decide if they’ll try to rebuild, or if it’s time to go elsewhere.

FEMA is trying to point all displaced families in the right direction, advising those with insurance to activate their national flood insurance policies, but for those without the Small Business Administration offers loans to homeowners and renters with 1.75% interest rate--more affordable than banks or credit cards.

For many, that loan would be on top of a mortgage, which may be difficult for many residents to juggle.

For those with insurance, people who default with rebuilding after Superstorm Sandy in New York and New Jersey warn it has been a very frustrating process.

“It’s a nightmare,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said during a recent interview. “And it’s one of the worst run programs in America, the National Flood Insurance Program.”

That flood insurance program is $25 billion in debt after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Sandy in 2012. It has less than $2 billion cash on hand with only $6 billion in borrowing capacity as it prepares for Hurricane Harvey recovery.

Congress must act to reauthorize it by October 1st, and some lawmakers are saying it’s time to fix flood insurance by creating a reserve fund for these kinds of disasters.

“We should look over the horizon and say how do you make this program work,” said Congressman Sean Duffy (R-WI). “We have properties that will flood multiple times, and when your property floods, you get mold in your house, let’s help people get out of those homes and into a different house that is actually safe and secure for them.”

Republican congressional leaders are considering putting some Harvey relief, government funding, and the debt ceiling all in one package.

“We obviously have now the hurricane spending which is an issue so that’s going to have some impact on our September spending but more importantly, we’re going have to go to Congress to get authorization to spend more,” said Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

In Texas this week, President Trump expressed a sense of urgency, saying “There’s never been anything so historic in terms of damage and in terms of ferocity as what we’ve witnessed with Harvey.”

There are only 12 legislative days in September that the House and Senate are both due to be in session so that would suggest a mega bill would seem likely. Plus, the Harvey components would make it much more difficult for lawmakers to vote no.

Trump heads to Missouri to push tax reform

Reporting by John Roberts

As the president kicked off his campaign for tax reform in Springfield, MO, a new FOX News poll finds his approval rating at just 41%. That’s down 4 points from April. 55% disapprove –a 7 point rise since April and a record high.

56% of registered voters think President Trump is tearing the nation apart vs 33% who believe he is drawing the country together.

His highest marks were on his handling of the economy with 49% giving him a thumbs up.

The president’s speech in Missouri was all about why tax reform is important to the economy, now how plans to do it, with a particular focus on the people who put him into the Oval Office—middle income Americans.

“We believe that ordinary Americans know better than Washington how to spend their money and we want to help them take home as much of their money as possible and then spend it,” the president told the crowd.

His speech set the table for meetings at the White House text week.

Tuesday, the president will strategize with the so called “big 6” on tax reform—Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Orrin Hatch, Kevin Brady, Stephen Mnuchin, and Gary Cohn.

Wednesday, he’ll meet with the bipartisan congressional leadership. Tax reform is not officially on the agenda, but likely to come up.

After the repeal of Obamacare fell flat, the president laid down a stern marker to his colleagues on Capitol Hill.

“I am fully committed to working with Congress to get this job done and I don’t want to be disappointed by Congress. Do you understand me?”

And he took specific aim at Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill who is up for re-election next year.

“She must do this for you and if she doesn’t do it for you, you must vote her out of office!”

President Trump also appeared to take notice of criticisms about his visit to Texas yesterday and his fire station address to people in Corpus Christi. Several publicans said the president’s tone lacked empathy and was more akin to that of a political rally.

At the top of his Missouri speech the president did reach out to victims of Harvey, saying “to those affected by the storm, we are praying for you and we are here for you every single step of the way.”

The president’s response so far to hurricane Harvey received middling marks. 44% of registered voters said they approve. Just 26% say they disapprove while 30% said they were unsure. With so much yet uncertain in the aftermath of Harvey a lot of folks have yet to make up their minds.

Staff changes at the White House

Reporting by James Rosen

With the firing on Friday of Sebastian Gorka, the Trump White House lost its last prominent foreign policy hard liner.

The author of a well-regarded history of Jihad, Gorka lost key backers when Mike Flynn and Steve Bannon were each sent packing, and sometimes failed, in his frequent TV appearances, to help his own cause.

In his resignation letter, Gorka noted the absence of the term “radical Islam” from the commander-in-chief’s recent Afghanistan address, and lamented: “A crucial element of the presidential campaign has been lost.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace “I think he’s completely wrong, Chris. And I think it shows a lack of understanding of the president’s broader policy…”

In the same appearance, Tillerson was only slightly less direct in declining to endorse President Trump’s post-Charlottesville rhetoric, saying the president “speaks for himself” when asked about his values.

On numerous issues, including trade policy, the president maintains his own hard line.

Reporter Jonathan Swan of Axios published a story Sunday, “undisputed by the White House,” he noted, recounting a scene from the first week of August in which the president told advisers in the oval office” “for the last six months, this same group of geniuses comes in here all the time and I tell them, ‘tariffs. I want tariffs. And what do they do?  They bring me IP,” meaning measures to curb Chinese theft of intellectual property.

“So, John [the president reportedly told his new Chief of Staff, General Kelly], I want you to know, this is my view. I want tariffs. And I want someone to bring me some tariffs.”

Swan added that top economic adviser Gary Cohn, who opposes tariffs and the protectionist trade measures pushed by the “Bannonites,” had his shoulders slumped and was clearly appalled by the situation.

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