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National Govt & Politics
Digging into the latest spats over President Trump and Russia
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Digging into the latest spats over President Trump and Russia

Digging into the latest spats over President Trump and Russia
Photo Credit: Jamie Dupree

Digging into the latest spats over President Trump and Russia

It was no ordinary news weekend, as President Donald Trump leveled an extraordinary charge against former President Barack Obama, alleging that the feds had wiretapped Mr. Trump during the 2016 election. Democrats denounced the current President, and Republicans in the Congress openly said they had no idea what he was talking about.

Confused? Let's see if we can clear up some of this:

1. President Trump says he was wiretapped by the Obama Administration. Without offering any evidence, the President began this weekend with an early Saturday morning series of tweets in which he made the astounding charge that President Obama had targeted him with surveillance during the 2016 campaign. "How low has President Obama gone to tapp (sic) my phones during the very sacred election process," Mr. Trump wrote. "This is Nixon/Watergate." The President then said that a court had turned down one effort to track him. How did he know this? By Sunday night, all signs pointed to conservative media, not a leak from within the FBI to the President himself.

2. What were the Breitbart and Mark Levin stories all about? To better understand why the President reportedly was upset about this matter, let's take a look at what media he evidently was consuming. The Breitbart story on Friday was simply a rundown of a television segment that conservative talk radio host Mark Levin had done last Thursday night, in which he tied together a number of different stories to conclude that the Obama Administration had obtained a secret intelligence warrant to eavesdrop on the Trump campaign, and then made sure that evidence was spread around the government. Levin labeled it a "silent coup." Some might consider that conclusion to be a stretch. Watch it here:

3. But the story did not originate with Breitbart. It is important to note where this story came from - Louise Mensch, and her website Heat Street. Mensch is a former member of Parliament in Britain, who in recent months has made it her journalistic goal to expose wrongdoing of Mr. Trump and his allies. She was working hard this weekend to expand the story with the momentum from the Trump Twitter Tirade, but noted some discrepancies. "My own FISA story nowhere mentions a wiretap," Mensch tweeted. Instead, Mensch says the U.S. investigation involves money laundering and a Russian bank that has been mentioned as having ties to Mr. Trump (Alfa Bank).

4. Team Trump & backers take aim at the "Deep State." More and more on talk radio, and within strong supporters of President Trump, you are hearing criticism of the "Deep State." There is no such thing, but the phrase basically refers to well established intelligence personnel that critics believe are doing all they can to leak information and undermine the Trump Administration - especially when it comes to the Russia-Trump investigation. Other terms include "silent coup" and "shadow government," mainly accusing former President Obama and bureaucrats of trying to take back power from Mr. Trump, by using the tools of the U.S. Intelligence Community against him.

5. So, is there really a FISA warrant involving Trump? That depends on who you believe. The New York Times wrote it this way: "There is no confirmed evidence that the F.B.I. obtained a court warrant to wiretap the Trump Organization or was capturing communications directly from the Trump Organization." Other major news organizations in the U.S. have not made that jump either. A reporter from the Washington Post said Sunday that they've pushed their sources, but not confirmed this. Instead, it's Mensch, the BBC and the Guardian newspaper - all from across the Atlantic. That has some on this side of the pond wondering what is up.

6. What about the FBI? Comey sends a Sunday message. If you believe that there was a wiretap or other surveillance of the Trump Campaign in 2016, then all signs point back to the FBI and Director James Comey as being in charge of that effort. Comey said nothing in public, but the New York Times reported Sunday afternoon that the FBI Director feels the President's allegation is false, and has asked the Justice Department to publicly reject the charge. Democrats swiftly noted that Comey didn't seem to wait to talk when it came to Hillary Clinton's emails during the 2016 campaign, just one of the subtexts to this whole battle, as both parties have had reason to love and hate the FBI Director in recent months.

7. Republicans in Congress puzzled by Trump charge. Most GOP lawmakers stayed dead silent on both Saturday and Sunday about the latest Trump kerfuffle, venturing on to social media only to tweet about high school and college basketball, local dance contests, and other items that had nothing to do with anything named Russia. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) urged Trump to reveal his sources for his charge. Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) agreed, saying the Trump "allegation has serious implications." Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who has been briefed by the FBI Director on the probe of Russian interference in the U.S. elections, said flatly, he didn't know what President Trump was talking about.

8. Trump was reported to be angry about the wiretap. There was no shortage of reports over the weekend about the President's mood, which was said to be one of frustration and anger, believing in his heart that he was wrongly under law enforcement surveillance in 2016. Maggie Haberman of the New York Times reported that "Trump has repeatedly told people throughout today that he is convinced he's right re wiretaps." Others reported Trump had gone ballistic on Friday before he left for Mar-a-Lago, angered that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself from any probe related to Russia and the elections.

9. White House asks Congress to investigate Trump claim. The White House waited over 24 hours to finally comment on the tweets of the boss, as Press Secretary Sean Spicer issued a statement that asked the Congress to investigate the President's claim that he had been wiretapped by the Obama Administration in 2016. The White House phrased it this way, asking "whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016." Spicer then flatly said the White House and the President would have no further comment on the matter. Soon after, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), who served on the Trump Transition team, agreed to take up the matter.

10. This story is not going away soon. Congress will get a shot at this issue on Tuesday, when confirmation hearings take place for two top nominees at the Justice Department. Normally, reporters wouldn't take that big of an interest in the hearings for the Deputy Attorney General and an Associate Attorney General. But with Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself on matters related to Russia investigations, the two nominees are certain to be asked about the Russia investigations matter, and most likely quizzed by Democrats on whether they would support a special counsel probe to handle it.

11. What's the bottom line? No matter whether you believe or don't believe the President's electric charge that he had been targeted with a wiretap during his campaign for the White House, the request by the Trump Administration for the allegations to be reviewed by Congress only insures that even more attention gets paid to the underlying issue - did associates of the President have contacts with Russia and possibly Russian intelligence agents? This would seem to be something that the White House would rather not spur renewed interest in - but that's what happened. Whether it's on Twitter, or in person, we'll see when the President speaks out. Yes, there are other issues, but this Russia stuff just keeps chugging along.

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Local News

  • The man accused of helping burn the body of a south Georgia teacher asked for forgiveness as he was sentenced.  Bo Dukes was found guilty Thursday of lying to authorities in the Tara Grinstead case. Dukes' attorney didn't want to speak to Channel 2’s Tony Thomas as he walked out of court Friday following sentencing, but he sent Thomas an email that read, “While we appreciate the jury’s service we do not agree with the verdict reached and are weighing all appellate options.” That statement was greatly different than Dukes’ tone inside court.  [READ: Who is Tara Grinstead?] “I was more interested in self-pity and self-preservation than doing the right thing for Tara and for you. I pray for your forgiveness,” Dukes told the court Friday morning.  Grinstead’s family stared at Dukes as he directed his comments at them.  For years, Dukes had lied to investigators as they tried to solve Grinstead’s disappearance from Irwin County in 2005.  RELATED STORIES: Leaked confession reveals motive behind Tara Grinstead's murder, GBI says Judge considers removing gag order in Tara Grinstead case Man accused of murdering former beauty queen talks about alleged 'confession' Dukes said his friend, Ryan Duke, killed her, and that he then helped Duke move and burn her body in a pecan field. “He watched whole communities in turmoil because Tara was missing,” Grinstead’s stepmother, Connie Grinstead, said. “He did nothing. He just went on living his life, not caring about the pain he caused others.” Connie Grinstead spared no words as she asked the judge to give Dukes the maximum sentence of 25 years, and he did. [READ MORE:  Bo Dukes, charged in Tara Grinstead case, in custody after 5-day manhunt, police say ] “I just can't quite wrap my head around what was done,” said Judge Robert Chasteen. Dukes' mother stood up for her son but admitted he had problems. She asked for rehabilitation. Dukes also faces charges in neighboring Ben Hill County, where Grinstead’s body was burned, and in Houston County on unrelated charges. “I want each of you to know I am truly remorseful. Thank you,” Dukes told the court. The man charged with the actual killing of Tara Grinstead, Duke, faces a trial starting April 1.
  • The 2019 Alumni Weekend is underway at UGA: activities that began Thursday continue today and tomorrow at the University of Georgia. From the University of Georgia master calendar… The UGA Alumni Association wants to welcome alumni back to Athens and make them feel like students again. Come back to campus, relive the glory days with friends and loved ones, and experience what it's like to be a student in Athens today.Registration covers: * Thursday: Orientation Dinner with President Jere W. Morehead * Friday: Classes, meals, reception at Wall & Broad and TEDxUGA * Saturday: Commencement Brunch The University of Georgia’s curriculum committee meets today: it’s a 3:30 session at New College on Herty Drive in Athens. 
  • Georgia track and field’s Elija Godwin has been named the Southeastern Conference Men’s Freshman of the Week following his performance at the Yellow Jacket Invitational, according to a league announcement.   Godwin, a native of Covington, Ga., and graduate of Newton High School, is the Bulldogs’ first outdoor weekly award winner following the first collegiate outdoor meet of his career.   Godwin clocked a career best 10.47 into -0.4 wind to be the top 100-meter dash finisher in the 33-man field. This finish ranks No. 13 nationally (No. 8 nationally for wind-legal times under 2.0 meters/second), makes him the No. 4 freshman nationally and the No. 3 SEC performer in 2019. He returned to win the 200m with a 20.90, which is his fastest time of 2019 and second best of his career, to move to No. 3 nationally (No. 2 for wind-legal times) as the country’s top freshman and No. 2 competitor from the SEC.   Georgia trains through the coming weekend before splitting squads to the Florida Relays (March 28-30) and Raleigh Relays (March 29-30).
  • Barrow County Commissioners meet in a special session today: they’re scheduled to vote on a proposal that would place an ambulance station at Northeast Georgia Medical Center Barrow in Winder. It’s a plan to end a dispute between the Barrow County government and the city of Winder over who provides ambulance service inside the Winder city limits. This morning’s Commission meeting is set for 8:15 in Winder.  The Franklin County School Board is sending to the Georgia School Superintendent’s Association the list of 32 candidates who have applied to be the next school superintendent in Carnesville. The Board is looking to replace Wayne Randall, who will retire at the end of the current school year. Randall was told by the Board that his contract would not be renewed.  The Hall County city of Oakwood is getting a new top cop: Tim Hatch is now the police chief in St. Mary’s; he’ll take over in Oakwood, replacing former Chief Randall Moon, who retired last month. Hatch’s resume’ includes time on the force with the University of Georgia campus police department and the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office. 
  • The Georgia football team held its second practice of spring drills on Thursday on the Woodruff Practice Fields.   The Bulldogs practiced for approximately two hours in helmets, shoulder pads, and shorts. The practice was No. 2 of what is expected to be 15 during the spring, which will culminate with the annual G-Day Game on Saturday, April 20. The Bulldogs will return to the practice fields on Saturday.   Senior Charlie Woerner was asked how the transition is going for the tight ends with him as the elder statesman following the departures of Isaac Nauta and Jackson Harris and with the addition of new tight ends coach Todd Hartley.   “Things have started well,” Woerner said. “Day 2 is done, and we’re looking as good as we can two days in. I think we’re pretty far ahead on our installs. It’s a lot different (in the tight ends room), but it’s fine. We have a really good group, a lot of good guys in the room. It feels like it’s my time and I’m ready to have a big year, but I don’t feel any pressure. All I can do is my best for this team.”   Junior Jeremiah Holloman also finds himself in a potential leadership role on and off the field among the receivers since the Bulldogs said goodbye to the likes of Terry Godwin, Riley Ridley, Mecole Hardman, and Ahkil Crumpton.   “I feel like our whole room can step in and contribute,” Holloman said. “We have guys just waiting for a chance. I stepped in last year and made an impact (with 24 catches for 418 yards and five touchdowns), and we have plenty of guys like that. We have a load of guys capable of going out there and competing and making plays.”   On Wednesday, all 32 NFL teams were in attendance as the Bulldogs eligible for next month’s draft participated in Pro Day drills.   The G-Day Game is slated for Saturday, April 20, at 2 p.m. at Sanford Stadium. The game will be televised by the SEC Network.

Bulldog News

  • ATHENS — Georgia junior offensive tackle Andrew Thomas knows this might be his last season with the Bulldogs. But Thomas, projected by some as a preseason All-American and shoo-in preseason All-SEC pick, is more dialed in on the details of spring football. “I’m just trying to be better than I was the previous year,” Thomas said following practice last Tuesday. RELATED: James Coley likes to throw more than Jim Chaney, per UGA senior The Bulldogs took part in the third of 15 spring football workouts on Saturday. Georgia will hold its annual G-Day game at 2 p.m. on April 20. Thomas said new offensive coordinator James Coley has identified three areas the Bulldogs’ offense needs to improve this spring. “We had a meeting (Monday), we  talked about how we want to get better at our gap schemes, we want to get better at our third-and-7 passing and goal line-short yardage,” Thomas said. Quarterback Jake Fromm had his share of struggles the first half of the 2018 season and again in the postseason when put into third-and-long situations. The short-yardage issues peaked with a debacle against Florida last season that was well-documented. The Bulldogs failed to score on six plays inside the Gators 1-yard line in an otherwise dominant 36-17 victory on the Jacksonville, Fla., road trip. Thomas confided that Coley isn’t standing pat on Jim Chaney’s playbook. “We’re changing up a couple of things playbook-wise,” Thomas said. “(But) it helps a lot because we don’t have to learn a totally new system. I think everybody will adjust well.” The Bulldogs’ offensive line won’t be short on motivation coming off an embarrassing performance against Texas in the Sugar Bowl. A late touchdown made the 28-21 loss appear closer than it really was. The Longhorns dominated the line of scrimmage and held the SEC’s top rush attack to 72 yards on 30 attempts. “As an offensive line we understood we did’t play well and that wasn’t up to our standard,” Thomas said, “so it’s motivation for going into next year.” DawgNation spring football coverage Complete Georgia football early enrollee jersey numbers Early feedback on freshman QB Dwan Mathis, ‘he’s going to be a threat’ Charlie Woerner compares James Coley to Jim Chaney Returning receivers ready to make an impact for Georgia Observations from Georgia practice No. 2  Why Charlie Woerner will benefit from James Coley as OC O-Line looks the part, Brian Herrien built for power game     The post Georgia football OT Andrew Thomas reveals James Coley’s 3-point spring plan appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — Controversial college football coach Lane Kiffin is coming to Georgia as a guest speaker for Kirby Smart’s coaching camp next week. The camp figures to have it all with Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson and New York Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams on  hand to talk football along with the entertaining Kiffin. Kiffin, as usual, is in the national headlines this offseason, commenting on the NCAA transfer portal and some of its unintended consequences. According to the Palm Beach Post, Kiffin says players entering the portal is “a sexy thing to do,” and he suggests it will have an adverse affect on college football. “You’re gonna see rosters around the country that are not at 85 (scholarships) and they won’t be able to get to 85. So what do you do if you have 25 seniors and 10 guys transferring?” Kiffin said in the Palm Beach Post article. “That’s 35 off your roster, but you’re capped at 25. “I think you have an issue and that’s really opposite of what has been the new thing to do, which is player safety and getting more players on the field so players don’t play as many snaps. And now, this portal is making that go backwards.” Georgia lost two valuable freshmen in the NCAA portal, freshman quarterback Justin Fields and tight end Luke Ford. Kiffin, who lost a quarterback to transfer after his Florida Atlantic team went 5-7 last season, said some players get in the transfer portal to get attention. “I can get in this portal so I can get some attention — we’re in a generation of just wanting attention no matter what — so now, I can go in this (portal), get an article written about me, and get re-recruited because I don’t like exactly how something’s going,” Kiffin said. The irony, of course, is that Kiffin knows how to get attention better than perhaps any coach in the country. Kiffin’s one-year tenure as a head coach in the SEC was filled with headlines, from his controversial departure from Tennessee after just one season, to the NCAA investigation he triggered that put a cloud over his successor, Derek Dooley. Smart coached on the same Alabama staff with Kiffin in 2014-15, serving as the defensive coordinator while Kiffin was the offensive coordinator.     The post Lane Kiffin discusses ‘sexy’ NCAA portal leading up to Georgia football camp appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — Georgia football practice No. 2 is in the books, the Bulldogs still working to establish a new identity and new leaders. There weren’t many clues in the open portion of practice on Thursday, but Kirby Smart will talk on Saturday and provide more insight into how he sees the Bulldogs developing. The early sentiment is this UGA team could throw the ball more, but it won’t come at the expense of being able to run the football. DawgNation reporters give their early takes on how Georgia is evolving in what will be Smart’s fourth season at the helm. Mike Griffith & Chip Towers   Georgia football practice headlines Kirby Smart sheds light on James Coley’s ‘balanced’ philosophy J.R. Reed puts NFL dreams on hold for title run Georgia football injury updates, Zamir White status James Coley ‘likes to throw more’ than Jim Chaney Offensive line, Brian Herrien look the part Complete Georgia early enrollee roster numbers   The post WATCH: DawgNation observations from Georgia football spring practice No. 2 appeared first on DawgNation.