Congress to probe Trump wiretap claim, FBI disputes it

This file photo taken on January 22, 2017 shows US Vice President Mike Pence (2nd L) shaking hands with FBI Director James Comey (R) watched by Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy (L) and US President Donald Trump (3rd R) during the reception for law enforcement officers and first responders in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. (AFP / MANDEL NGAN)
Updated 06 March 2017
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Congress to probe Trump wiretap claim, FBI disputes it

WASHINGTON: Key members of Congress say they will honor President Donald Trump’s request to investigate his unsubstantiated claim that Barack Obama overstepped his authority as president and had Trump’s telephones tapped during the election campaign. A US official said the FBI has asked the Justice Department to dispute Trump’s allegation, though no such statement has been issued.
Obama’s intelligence director also said no such action was ever carried out.
Trump’s startling claim of presidential abuse of power, made without evidence in a series of tweets early Saturday, capped a week in which the positive reaction to his address to Congress quickly evaporated amid the swirl of allegations — and revelations — about contacts between Trump aides and Russia’s ambassador to the US, both during and after a presidential election Russia is believed to have meddled in.
Trump is said to be frustrated by his senior advisers’ inability to tamp down the Russia issue. Compounding the situation was the revelation last week that former US senator and now Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an early Trump campaign supporter, had met twice with the Russian official but didn’t disclose that to lawmakers when he was asked about it during his Senate confirmation hearing.
Separately, an Indiana newspaper reported that Vice President Mike Pence used personal e-mail to conduct state business when he was governor of Indiana. The revelation recalled the use of personal e-mail by Trump’s 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, when she was secretary of state. The issue dogged Clinton for most of the presidential campaign.
“It’s sort of like getting nibbled to death by ducks,” said Rutgers political science professor Ross Baker.
The House and Senate intelligence committees, and the FBI, are investigating the contacts, and Trump demanded Sunday that they broaden the scope of their inquiries into Russian meddling in the 2016 election to include Obama’s potential abuse of his executive powers.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr said in a statement that the panel “will follow the evidence where it leads, and we will continue to be guided by the intelligence and facts as we compile our findings.”
Rep. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that the committee “will make inquiries into whether the government was conducting surveillance activities on any political party’s campaign officials or surrogates.”
Trump’s request carries some risk, particularly if the committees unearth damaging information about him or his associates. Committee Democrats will have access to the information and could wield anything negative against the president. Asking Congress to conduct a much broader investigation than originally envisioned also ensures the Russia issue will hang over the White House for months.
Trump claimed in a series of unsubstantiated tweets Saturday that his predecessor had tried to undermine him by tapping the telephones at Trump Tower, the New York skyscraper where Trump based his campaign and transition operations, and maintains a home.
Obama’s director of national intelligence, James Clapper, said nothing matching Trump’s claims had taken place.
“Absolutely, I can deny it,” said Clapper, who left government when Trump took office. Other Obama representatives also denied Trump’s allegation, which the FBI has asked the Justice Department to dispute, a US official told The Associated Press on Sunday. The official wasn’t authorized to discuss the request by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The department, however, has issued no such statement. DOJ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores declined to comment Sunday, and an FBI spokesman also did not comment.
The New York Times reported that senior American officials say FBI Director James Comey has argued that the Justice Department must correct the claim because it falsely insinuates that the FBI broke the law.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump’s instruction to Congress was based on “very troubling” reports “concerning potentially politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of the 2016 election.” He did not elaborate.
Spicer said the White House wants the congressional committees to “exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016.” He said there would be no further comment until the investigations are completed.
Spicer’s chief deputy, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said she thinks Trump is “going off of information that he’s seen that has led him to believe that this is a very real potential.”
Josh Earnest, who was Obama’s White House press secretary, said presidents do not have authority to unilaterally order the wiretapping of American citizens, as Trump has alleged was done to him. FBI investigators and Justice Department officials must seek approval from a federal judge for such a step. Earnest accused Trump of leveling the allegation to distract from the attention being given to the Russia issue.
Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee said they will ask the White House for details about reports of contacts between the White House and the Justice Department concerning the FBI’s review of whether the Russian government unlawfully influenced the US presidential election.
Trump said in the tweets that he had “just found out” about being wiretapped. Unclear was whether he was referring to having learned through a briefing, a conversation or a media report. The president in the past has tweeted about unsubstantiated and provocative reports he reads on blogs or conservative websites.
The tweets stood out, given the gravity of the charge and the sharp personal attack on the former president. Trump spoke as recently as last month about how much he likes Obama and how much they get along, despite their differences.
“How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” he tweeted, misspelling ‘tap.’
Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis said a “cardinal rule” of the Obama administration was not to interfere in Justice Department investigations. Lewis said neither Obama nor any White House official had ever ordered surveillance on any US citizen. “Any suggestion otherwise is simply false,” Lewis said.
Clapper appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” and Sanders and Earnest were on ABC’s “This Week.”
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Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.


7-year-old immigrant girl dies after Border Patrol arrest

Updated 34 min 19 sec ago
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7-year-old immigrant girl dies after Border Patrol arrest

  • Immigrants, attorneys and activists have long raised issues with the conditions of Border Patrol holding cells
  • The death of the 7-year-old comes after a toddler died in May just after being released from an ICE family detention facility in Texas

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico: A 7-year-old girl who crossed the US-Mexico border with her father last week died after being taken into the custody of the US Border Patrol, federal immigration authorities confirmed Thursday.
The Washington Post reports the girl died of dehydration and shock more than eight hours after she was arrested by agents near Lordsburg, New Mexico. The girl was from Guatemala and was traveling with a group of 163 people who approached agents to turn themselves in on Dec. 6.
It’s unknown what happened to the girl during the eight hours before she started having seizures and was flown to an El Paso hospital.
In a statement, Customs and Border Protection said the girl had not eaten or consumed water in several days.
The agency did not provide The Associated Press with the statement it gave to the Post, despite repeated requests.
Processing 163 immigrants in one night could have posed challenges for the agency, whose detention facilities are meant to be temporary and don’t usually fit that many people.
When a Border Patrol agent arrests someone, that person gets processed at a facility but usually spends no more than 72 hours in custody before they are either transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement or, if they’re Mexican, quickly deported home.
The girl’s death raises questions about whether border agents knew she was ill and whether she was fed anything or given anything to drink during the eight-plus hours she was in custody.
Immigrants, attorneys and activists have long raised issues with the conditions of Border Patrol holding cells. In Tucson, an ongoing lawsuit claims holding cells are filthy, extremely cold and lacking basic necessities such as blankets. A judge overseeing that lawsuit has ordered the agency’s Tucson Sector, which patrols much of the Arizona-Mexico border, to provide blankets and mats to sleep on and to continually turn over surveillance footage from inside the cells.
The Border Patrol has seen an increasing trend of large groups of immigrants, many with young children, walking up to agents and turning themselves in. Most are Central American and say they are fleeing violence. They turn themselves in instead of trying to circumvent authorities, many with plans to apply for asylum.
Agents in Arizona see groups of over 100 people on a regular basis, sometimes including infants and toddlers.
Arresting such groups poses logistical problems for agents who have to wait on transport vans that are equipped with baby seats to take them to processing facilities, some which are at least half hour north of the border.
The death of the 7-year-old comes after a toddler died in May just after being released from an ICE family detention facility in Texas, and as the administration of Donald Trump attempts to ban people from asking for asylum if they crossed the border illegally. A federal appeals court has temporarily blocked that ban, but the administration asked the US Supreme Court to reinstate it Tuesday.
Cynthia Pompa, advocacy manager for the ACLU Border Rights Center, said migrant deaths increased last year even as the number of border crossing dropped.
“This tragedy represents the worst possible outcome when people, including children, are held in inhumane conditions. Lack of accountability, and a culture of cruelty within CBP have exacerbated policies that lead to migrant deaths,” Pompa said.