Russia retaliates

Reporting by Amy Kellogg

Russia is retaliating and as a result hundreds of American diplomats will have to pack their bags and leave the country by September first.

Staff at the US Embassy and consulates will now be capped at 455 people, the same number Russia has in the United States, and the Serebryanni Bor compound where Americans working in Russia would vacation will be off limits as of next week. Storage facilities used by the American Embassy in Moscow will also be closed in a matter of days.

The US Ambassador has expressed “strong disappointment and protest.”

The moves from Moscow signal payback for the new sanctions passed by Congress this week. Russian President Vladimir Putin said enough is enough.

“It is impossible to endlessly endure boorish behavior toward our country.”

A key aspect of the new legislation is congressional control. It removes the president’s authority to remove any sanctions without the blessing of Congress.

In addition, the bill puts new restrictions on a wide range of entities from weapons suppliers to corrupt individuals and it punishes Russia for meddling in the 2016 presidential campaigns.

The sanctions bill had overwhelming bipartisan support.

“It sends a message to him and the rest of the world,” said Senator Chuck Schumer. Any further attempts to degrade our democracy will meet further sanctions and action. We will not stand by idly as this is done. There is no process that is more sacred.”

President Obama seized two Russian diplomatic properties in the US last December and expelled 35 diplomats. President Putin did not respond at the time. Analysts say the Kremlin was banking on better relations with incoming President Trump and didn’t want to rock the boat.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did speak with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov who said the Russian movers were not an eye for an eye but a forced step. That said, Lavrov claims Russia is still ready to normalize relations.

Trump trip overshadowed by yet another controversy

Reporting by John Roberts

President Trump leaves for his third foreign trip tomorrow this week. What was designed as a show of solidarity between the U.S. and France in the fight against terrorism has yet another cloud of controversy threatening to overshadow the agenda.

In his first public comments since his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin President Trump did not talk about his new firestorm surrounding his son, Donald Trump Jr. today, but he did say on CBN that he thinks he and Putin can get along.

“I think we get along very, very well. We are a tremendously powerful nuclear power, and so are they. It doesn’t make sense not to have some kind of a relationship.”

In an appearance with Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity last night, Donald Trump Jr. acknowledged that he took the meeting with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya because she may have had useful information about Hillary Clinton and ties to Russia.

“I had been reading about scandals that people were probably underreporting for a long time so maybe it was something that had to do with one of those things,” Don Jr. said. “I mean this was perhaps involvement with the Russian government.”

Trump Jr. played down the significance of encounter, saying Veselnitskaya revealed nothing about Hillary Clinton and instead wanted to talk about Russian adoptions.

The President praised the appearance, tweeting this morning: “My son Donald did a good job last night. He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!”

The meeting came up on Capitol Hill today. Senator Lindsey Graham pushed FBI nominee Christopher Wray into directly contradicting the president.

Graham: Do you consider this endeavor a witch hunt?

Wray: I do not consider Director Mueller to be on a witch hunt.

Asked about the contradiction White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders backed up her boss.

Senator Graham also pressed Wray whether he thought Trump Jr. should have brought the matter to the attention of the FBI. 

Wray replied by saying “ to the members of this committee any threat or effort to interfere is the kind of thing the FBI would want to know.”

Russian officials today denied any involvement in the meeting between Trump Jr. and Veselnitskaya, mocking the whole episode as worthy of a soap opera.

For his part, the president tried to force the spotlight onto the Democrats, tweeting: @WashTimes states Democrats have willfully used Moscow disinformation to influence the presidential election against Donald Trump. Why aren’t the same standards placed on the Democrats. Look what Hillary Clinton may have gotten away with. Disgraceful!”

After smothering any progress that came out of President Trump’s  meeting with Vladimir Putin last week, the controversy now threatens to overshadow his upcoming trip to France. But amid reports the White House is in a state of paralysis and President Trump obsessed with the bad news on cable TV, he took a “nothing to see here” attitude today tweeting: “ The WH is functioning perfectly, focused on HealthCare, Tax Cuts/Reform & many other things. I have very little time for watching T.V.”

Comey, Rogers Testify to House Intelligence Committee

By Jake Smith

FBI Director James Comey and NSA Chief Michael Rogers testified before the House Intelligence Committee today regarding Russian interference into the 2016 election and President Trump’s accusations of “wiretapping” of Trump Tower by the Obama Administration.

In a rare circumstance, Director Comey confirmed an on-going investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election – “I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI -- as part of our counterintelligence mission -- is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.”

Comey said the investigation “includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government.”

President Trump took to Twitter this morning to say, “James Clapper and others stated that there is no evidence Potus colluded with Russia. This story is FAKE NEWS and everyone knows it!” James Clapper is the former Director of National Intelligence under President Barack Obama.

The United States 17 intelligence agencies agree that the Russian government – directed by Russian President Vladimir Putin – interfered in the 2016 election to benefit Donald Trump.

Although, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes says there is currently no evidence of collusion by the Russian government and the Trump campaign and he “doubts any evidence exists.”

Chairman Nunes pushed Admiral Rogers on whether the Russian interference could have affected vote tallies in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina, or Ohio. Rogers answered “no” to the Russians being able to interfere in vote tallies in any of those states.

The FBI head says he has “no information” to support the claim by President Trump that wiretapping of Trump Towers took place during the election.

Comey told the Committee, “With respect to the president's tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets.”

Chairman Nunes said in his opening statement, “we know there was not a physical wiretap of Trump Tower. However, it is still possible that other surveillance activities were used against President Trump and his associates.”

This hearing was just the beginning of long political and legal battles of the Russian interference into the 2016 election and the allegation of surveillance of Trump Tower. 

Confirmed: Russian jet buzzes US Navy spy plane today in Black Sea

Per Lucas Tomlinson, Fox News Pentagon Producer

A Russian jet buzzed a US Navy spy plane today over the Black Sea, a senior defense official tells Fox News.

A Russian Su-27 flew dangerously close to a US Navy P-8 Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft used primary for anti-submarine warfare while on routine patrol in the Black Sea.

The incident occurred Wednesday, but the official did not offer specifics on timing or how close the Russian jet managed to come to the US Navy plane.

In April, Russian jets buzzed a US Navy destroyer in the Baltic Sea, coming within 30 feet of the US Navy ship. 

This latest provocation comes as Secretary of State John Kerry is negotiating a cease-fire with Russia in Syria.

Earlier today, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said Russia is “trying to play by their own rules” and making the situation in Syria “more violent”  while speaking at Oxford University in the United Kingdom.

Carter added, "Russia's actions in recent years - with its violations of Ukrainian and Georgian territorial integrity, its unprofessional behavior in the air, in space, and in cyber-space, as well as its nuclear saber-rattling - all have demonstrated that Russia has clear ambition to erode the principled international order.”

The Russian jet flew within 10 feet of the US Navy spy plane, a defense official with knowledge of the incident tells Fox News.

There is a classified photo of the incident, but a decision has not been made about releasing it yet, the official added.

“[The Russian jet] takes up the whole photo,” said the official describing how close the Russian jet came to the US Navy plane.

Navy Captain Jeff A. Davis, a Pentagon spokesman issued the following statement regarding the incident: “Earlier today (Sept. 7) a Russian SU-27 Flanker fighter jet made an unsafe close-range intercept of a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon aircraft while it conducted routine operations in international airspace over the Black Sea.  The intercept lasted about 19 minutes.  U.S. Navy aircraft and ships routinely interact with Russian units in the area and most interactions are safe and professional.  However, we have concerns when there is an unsafe maneuver like this.  These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions, and could result in a miscalculation or accident.”

Russia ignores Obama plea to maintain Syria ceasefire, shifts forces north for Aleppo offensive, officials

By Lucas Tomlinson, Fox News

Despite a call from President Obama to Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday urging him to maintain a fragile cease-fire in Syria, Russia has shown no signs of complying.  Russia continues to ignore repeated requests from the administration to stop backing the Syrian regime after five-years of civil war that have killed a quarter of a million people.

A U.S. defense official tells Fox News Russian-backed Syrian forces have shifted the bulk of their fire power, including rocket propelled artillery north to areas outside Aleppo, where a new offensive to recapture Syria’s largest city is poised to take place in the near future.

“They have shifted everything from Palmyra up north,” the official told Fox News.

Russian-backed Syrian forces recently recaptured the historic city of Palmyra from ISIS in central Syria.  Russian and Syrian jets have also been striking rebel held towns around Damascus and Homs, despite a cease-fire agreement agreed to in late November.   The cease-fire does not apply to ISIS and an al-Qaeda affiliated group in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra.

Earlier this week, the main Syrian opposition group walked out of peace talks held in Geneva, brokered by the United States and Russia.  UN envoy Staffan de Mistura told reporters Monday that the humanitarian situation around Aleppo had deteriorated, where fighting has resumed in the past few days.

The State Department said Monday the cease-fire in Syria had been largely successful, despite reports of resumed Russian and Syrian bombing of rebel held areas.

“More Syrian people are living better lives as a result of the cessation than they were before,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said Monday

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that President Obama did not raise the issue of Russia’s provocative dangerous close range ‘flybys’ of a US Navy destroyer in the Baltic Sea and later conduced an “unsafe” barrel roll over a US Air Force spy plane also in the Baltic. 

The incidents “while provocative and concerning, are not particularly unusual,” said Earnest

Wall Street Journal first to report movement of artillery to northern Syria. 

Edward Snowden Seeks to Return to United States

By Ford Fischer, Special Report College Associate

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden seeks to return to the United States, according to Anatoly Kucherena, his Russian lawyer.

"I won't keep it secret that he... wants to return back home. And we are doing everything possible now to solve this issue. There is a group of U.S. lawyers, there is also a group of German lawyers and I'm dealing with it on the Russian side."

Mr. Snowden is currently in Russia, where he has been granted asylum. Russia has refused to extradite him to the United States. Snowden says he cannot return home unless guaranteed a fair trial.

Attorney General Eric Holder claimed in a letter to Snowden's legal team in 2013 that Mr. Snowden would not face the death penalty if he returns home. Kucherena said Tuesday that this promise is not enough.

"[T]hey guarantee that Snowden will not be executed, not that he will receive a fair trial. And it is guaranteed by attorney [general] who cannot even influence court decisions according to law," he said.

Snowden is charged with two counts of violating the Espionage Act as well as theft of government property.

The White House has maintained its position that Snowden should return home and that no deals should be offered. When asked today, Press Secretary Josh Earnest reaffirmed that the charges are “very serious” and that the president would also like to see him back in the United States to face trial.

The White House has not yet responded to a 2013 petition to pardon Snowden, which surpassed the 100,000 signatures needed for a response.

Special Report Grapevine

Thanks A Brunch: Having a seat on the highest court in the land does not guarantee you a seat for brunch. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito was turned away from a restaurant at his alma mater yesterday because he did not make a reservation. His honor was reportedly at Yale to receive an award from the law school. Above the Law reports Alito and his wife went to brunch at a restaurant in the Yale Hotel, but the hostess said it was full and they could not be seated. He said ok and left. Someone who recognized the justice asked the hostess if she knew who she had just kicked out--she said no. After learning who he was she told the person he should have made a reservation.

It should come as no surprise that even at his alma mater Alito went unrecognized. A poll finds two-thirds of americans cannot name even one Supreme Court Justice. Of that list -- Alito ranks seventh of nine when it comes to name recognition at just five percent. The least known -- Stephen Breyer-- at three percent.

Selfie Safety:  The Russian government is warning young people to lay off the selfies because of head lice. That recommendation comes from a department that regularly dispenses health advice. It claims multi-person selfies are one of the prime culprits for lice transmission because the little bugs can hop from one closely-bunched head to another.

The Force Is NOT With You: Finally, the force apparently was not with Darth Vader this weekend. A candidate for Ukraine's parliament, who legally changed his name to Darth Vader, was not allowed to vote because he would not take off his mask. The Internet Party candidate always wears full Star Wars regalia and promises to turn Ukraine into a galactic empire.Yesterday was election day and Vader arrived at his polling place, showed his ID, but would not show his face. He was denied a ballot.He said he was disappointed, but polls show regardless of the ballot he has little chance of winning. 

Special Report Panel: Ukraine Latest

Concern over Russian capability for Ukrainian incursion

Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych says he was wrong to invite Russian troops into Crimea. Yanukovich says he still hopes to persuade Russia to return the territory to Ukraine.
 
Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent Greg Palkot continues his reporting from Kiev with new concerns about just the opposite happening.
 

Crimea

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