Russian spies tried to recruit the GOP congressman who House GOP leaders 'joked' was on Putin's payroll
Late Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that back in June 2016, House Republicans were discussing the hack of the Democratic National Committee (WikiLeaks had not yet begun to publish the stolen emails), and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy suggested that "the Russians hacked the DNC and got the opp [opposition] research that they had on Trump," and when House Speaker Paul Ryan asked who they "delivered" that information to, McCarthy replied: "There's two people, I think, Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump. Swear to God."
After the House GOP leaders denied that the conversation ever took place, The Washington Post said there was audio of the conversation, and McCarthy called the comments a "bad attempt at a joke," pointing to laughter in the room. But it turns out that Russian spies actually did try to recruit Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), one of Moscow's staunchest defenders and President Trump's loyalist allies in Washington, The New York Times reported Friday.
In a secure room, with Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) present, FBI agents told Rohrabacher in 2012 that Russian agents were trying to recruit him as an "agent of influence," someone Moscow could use to steer policy, wittingly or not, former officials tell the Times, adding that the FBI did not think Rohrabacher was actively working with or accepting money from Russia. Rohrabacher said the FBI agents specifically warned him that a Russian Foreign Ministry official he met with in Moscow "had something to do with some kind of Russian intelligence" and "looked at me as someone who could be influenced." Ruppersberger recalls: "Mike and I reminded Dana that Russia is our adversary."
The meeting shows that "the FBI has taken seriously the possibility that Russian spies would target American politicians," The New York Times says. But while the FBI is trying to figure out any connections between Moscow and Trump's inner circle, House Republican leaders are poring over the Washington Post article to figure out who leaked their private conversation, worried that there are more leaks to come, reports Jonathan Swan at Axios. "The most widespread theory in House leadership is that the secret recorder and the leaker was Evan McMullin, who as a former leadership aide participated in the June 15 conversation and confirmed the private conversation to The Washington Post." There's no evidence that McMullin, who ran as an independent conservative presidential candidate in 2016, is the leaker. Peter Weber
Lawyers representing President Trump in the suit brought by adult film star Stormy Daniels on Friday filed motions asking to move the case to federal court. The switch may be intended to get the suit into arbitration via the Federal Arbitration Act to maintain a lower public profile.
Daniels is suing to be released from a non-disclosure agreement she signed with Trump attorney Michael Cohen shortly before the 2016 election, a deal intended to buy her silence about an affair she claims to have had with Trump.
The Trump team's Friday filing also claims Daniels violated the NDA as many as 20 times and could be liable for up to $20 million in damages. "Mr. Trump intends to pursue his rights to the fullest extent permitted by the law," the motion concludes. Bonnie Kristian
Facebook on Friday suspended political data firm Cambridge Analytica from its network, accusing the company of violating the platform's privacy policies. Cambridge Analytica worked with the Trump campaign in the 2016 election, using "behavioral microtargeting" for digital ad campaigns.
In a blog post explaining the decision, Facebook said the firm lied about deleting user data it obtained in violation of the social network's rules. "We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people's information," the statement said. "We will take legal action if necessary to hold them responsible and accountable for any unlawful behavior." The post did not mention the Trump campaign. Bonnie Kristian
While Trump celebrated his firing, McCabe slammed the president's 'false, defamatory, and degrading' attacks
Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI - A great day for Democracy. Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 17, 2018
Trump has repeatedly targeted McCabe for criticism over his wife's Democratic congressional run, alleging corrupt campaign practices linked to McCabe's position. The FBI has released documents showing Trump's allegations are unfounded.
McCabe, meanwhile, issued a lengthy statement slamming the "false, defamatory, and degrading" allegations to which he and his wife have been subject, and which Trump's "tweets have amplified and exacerbated."
"The big picture is a tale of what can happen when law enforcement is politicized, public servants are attacked, and people who are supposed to cherish and protect our institutions become instruments for damaging those institutions and people," he argued, labeling his firing "part of this Administration's ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of [Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia] investigation," as well as evidence of the investigation's necessity. Bonnie Kristian
The engineer who oversaw construction of the footbridge that collapsed in Florida Thursday, killing multiple people, left a voicemail with the state Transportation Department two days prior reporting cracks in the structure. The employee the engineer called was out of the office and thus did not hear the message until Friday.
However, it is not clear that the tragedy would have been prevented even if the voicemail were received more quickly: The engineer said the cracking would be repaired but was not a safety risk. "We've taken a look at it and, uh, obviously some repairs or whatever will have to be done, but from a safety perspective we don't see that there’s any issue there, so we're not concerned about it from that perspective," said the message from engineer W. Denney Pate. "Although obviously the cracking is not good and something's going to have to be, you know, done to repair that."
The University of Maryland, Baltimore County Retrievers pulled off a historic upset win against the top-seeded University of Virginia Cavaliers in the first round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament Friday night. UMBC's 74-54 win is the first time a No. 16 seed has bested a No. 1 team in the championship's history.
March 16, 2018
11:33 PM eastern
#16 The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC)
#1 University of Virginia
It's even better with Titanic music! (@UMBCAthletics with the upset to end all upsets)
— UMBC MADNESS (@TitanicHoops) March 17, 2018
"We didn't know what seed we would be when we won the America East championship," said UMBC guard Jairus Lyles, who scored 28 points in Friday's game. "Once we saw that No. 16 seed we knew we had a chance to make history. It's a very surreal moment."
UMBC next faces No. 9 Kansas State on Sunday for a shot at the Sweet 16. Bonnie Kristian
Moscow on Saturday announced 23 British diplomats have one week to leave Russia, a retaliation for the United Kingdom's decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats and cut off high-level communications with Russia earlier this week.
The first expulsion came in response to the poisoning of a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia Skripaland, who now live in England. Both remain in critical condition. The U.S., U.K., France, and Germany have blamed the nerve gas attack on Moscow, which denies the accusation.
Russia's Saturday announcement also said the British Council in Russia, a cultural liaison, and the British Consulate in St. Petersburg will be shut down. The U.K. Foreign Office said it "anticipated a response of this kind." Bonnie Kristian
Former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe was fired from the Justice Department on Friday, just two days before he was set to retire and receive his pension. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he'd dismissed McCabe "effective immediately," saying McCabe "lacked candor."
STATEMENT FROM AG SESSIONS on McCabe firing: pic.twitter.com/vj2C8FtW4x
— Sabrina Siddiqui (@SabrinaSiddiqui) March 17, 2018
McCabe had become a frequent target of President Trump because of his wife's congressional run as a Democrat, though most recently he was accused of an "unauthorized disclosure to the media," detailed in a yet-to-be released report that allegedly accuses McCabe of trying to hide a conversation he arranged between FBI officials and The Wall Street Journal. He was set to retire Sunday, at which point he would have been eligible to receive a pension after 21 years of service; it is unclear how the preemptive firing will affect that benefit.
McCabe defended his integrity after the news broke, telling The New York Times: "The idea that I was dishonest is just wrong." He additionally tied his firing to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential collusion by the Trump campaign, saying in a statement: "The big picture is a tale of what can happen when law enforcement is politicized ... I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey."
McCabe added that his dismissal is "part of [the Trump administration's] ongoing war with the FBI and the efforts of the special counsel investigation, which continue to this day." Read McCabe's entire statement — in which he fiercely defends his honor — below. Kimberly Alters
McCabe statement: pic.twitter.com/32vsbf6XWZ
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) March 17, 2018