Exclusive: Controversial FBI agent co-wrote initial draft of explosive Comey letter reopening Clinton email probe


Washington (CNN)Emails obtained by CNN show the FBI agent at the center of a Capitol Hill storm played a key role in a controversial FBI decision that upended Hillary Clinton's campaign just days before the 2016 election: the letter to Congress by then-FBI Director James Comey announcing the bureau was investigating newly discovered Clinton emails.
The new revelation about FBI agent Peter Strzok comes as Republicans accuse him of being sympathetic to Clinton while seeking to undermine Donald Trump during the heat of the 2016 campaign season.
Strzok, who co-wrote what appears to be the first draft that formed the basis of the letter Comey sent to Congress, also supported reopening the Clinton investigation once the emails were discovered on disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner's laptop, according to a source familiar with Strzok's thinking. The day after Strzok sent his draft to his colleagues, Comey released the letter to Congress, reigniting the email controversy in the final days of the campaign.
Strzok did, however, harbor reservations about Comey making a public announcement just days before the election and sent a text message to that effect, two sources said. And Strzok's text messages provided to Congress show him grappling with the fallout of making the letter public, according to a CNN review of his texts.This new information reveals a more complicated portrait of Strzok than many of his critics have painted in public. Republicans have seized on text messages between Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who were often critical of Trump, to characterize the two -- who were having an extramarital affair -- as part of an effort to go easy on Clinton and get tough with Trump.
And conservative critics have seized on their texts to make the case that special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Trump campaign is tainted with bias since the two officials were briefly on Mueller's team -- with Trump himself accusing Strzok of "treason" in a Wall Street Journal interview.

While Strzok was removed from the Mueller probe last year, he also was deeply involved in the Clinton investigation and sought to pursue it "aggressively," according to the source familiar with Strzok's thinking.
In an October 27, 2016, email the FBI provided to congressional investigators, Strzok informs his colleagues he and another FBI agent had drafted "the first cut" of the letter notifying Congress of the decision to reopen the Clinton email investigation. His colleagues then exchanged two additional emails referencing further comments and changes to Strzok's initial draft, which was ultimately forwarded to Comey by then-FBI chief of staff James Rybicki.
One of the drafts, reviewed by CNN, was recently produced to Congress with the email chain. But it is unclear whether that draft was the initial copy written by Strzok or one incorporating others' edits. That draft states that the FBI had an "obligation to take appropriate investigative steps to review" the newly discovered emails on Weiner's laptop.

The next day, on October, 28, 2016, Comey sent the final letter to Congress, editing out the line that he had an "obligation" to take steps to review. Instead, new language was added saying that Comey had been briefed by his team "yesterday" and that he "agreed that the FBI should take appropriate investigative steps."
The key line noting that the "FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation" appears in both the final version and the earlier draft reviewed by CNN.
Two sources who reviewed the text messages between Strzok and Page said they exchanged messages on November 6, when Page said she didn't know if they should issue a public statement, which Strzok agreed with. The two did not describe which statement they were referring to, but that same day, Comey sent another public letter to Congress to close the Clinton email investigation -- just two days before the election.

Stzrok's attorney declined to comment on the draft statements and related text messages.
Comey's announcement sent the Clinton campaign into full damage control and gave Trump major ammunition, something many Democrats now say cost Clinton the presidency.
"Our analysis is that Comey's letter raising doubts that were groundless, baseless, proven to be, stopped our momentum," Clinton said days after the election.
Strzok led the investigation of Clinton's email server as the No. 2 official in the FBI's counterintelligence division, and then was a member of the FBI's team investigating possible coordination between Trump's team and Russian officials.
Strzok edited Comey's July 2016 statement on the Clinton investigation that cleared her, changing the language describing Clinton's actions as "grossly negligent" to "extremely careless."
But Strzok was removed from Mueller's team over the summer after the Justice Department's inspector general discovered anti-Trump text messages between Strzok and Page, who was assigned to the Mueller investigation in the summer but returned to the FBI before Mueller was notified of the texts.
The texts between Strzok and Page have been of major interest to congressional Republicans, some of whom charge that Strzok's texts show that Mueller's investigation is biased against Trump.
Republicans have pointed to the messages to raise questions about the FBI's investigations into Clinton and Trump, both of which are being scrutinized by multiple congressional committees.
In one February 2016 text released last week by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, Page and Strzok appear to discuss the possibility of tamping down their actions because Clinton could become the next president.
"She might be our next president. The last thing you need us going in there loaded for bear," Page said in a discussion on February 25, 2016, about personnel involved in the investigation.
"Agreed," replied Strzok.
Two tranches of the text messages have already been provided to Congress. Five months of texts in the time leading up to the launch of Mueller's investigation were initially missing due to what Justice Department officials said was a technical issue, but they have since been recovered. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that outside of the five-month span, more than 50,000 messages have been reviewed by the inspector general's office.

Not taking responsibility is        what got us Trump

Uncle Juan's             Blog

Senate to vote on Shutdown today        at 12.00 PM

Washington (CNN)The Senate is scheduled to have a key vote at noon Monday on a bill to reopen the government and fund it for three weeks, though it's unclear if this plan will win over enough Democrats to pass.
The vote will come several hours after the workday for hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal employees was supposed to have begun, and comes three days after the government officially shut down Friday at midnight. Many of the shutdown's full effects were less visible during the weekend, when much of the federal workforce would typically be off anyway.
The vote was moved from 1 a.m. ET Monday to noon after it became clear Democrats would block the spending bill over disagreements on a variety of issues, most notably what do about young people affected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said he thought Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York agreed to push back the vote to give his caucus "a chance to chew" on a GOP proposal to break the impasse.
"It's better to have a successful vote tomorrow at noon than a failed vote tonight," Cornyn told reporters.
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[Senate vote scheduled for Monday to end shutdown]
Senate vote scheduled for Monday to end shutdown
But a top Democratic leadership aide disputed Cornyn's assertion and said unless Republicans make significant changes to their offer, Democrats will likely reject it when the vote comes. The Democratic aide did say, however, that progress was made in the lengthy negotiations that took place late Sunday night. But more talks are needed.
GOP Sen. Jeff Flake told reporters Sunday night a bipartisan group of senators will meet again at 10 a.m. ET Monday ahead of the noon vote.
He said he was now a "yes" on the funding bill and it was his hope that six or seven more moderate Democrats would come on board to get the continuing resolution over the finish line -- to 60 votes -- to end the shutdown.
He said the Democrats still want something tangible on DACA but said it was problematic because it could run into the February 8 funding deadline.
He argued that they won a concession from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that he isn't requiring President Donald Trump to sign off before an immigration bill moves to the floor.
"For the first time, we have the majority leader move off of we can only move something if the President agrees," Flake told reporters.

Despite Schumer's rejection of the deal, one senior GOP aide involved in the talks told CNN Republican leaders think they have a shot of picking off enough Democrats to move forward.
While McConnell's commitment falls far short of what the vast majority of Democrats want, there's some GOP hope they can get enough to move forward -- and notably split the caucus.
"This is their off-ramp," the aide said. "We'll see if they dig in or if they want a way out."
The aide also noted talks will continue and may yield more progress in the meantime.
Earlier Sunday, Trump called for Senate Republicans to change the chamber's rules to resolve the funding impasse as the government shutdown continued into its second day. He tweeted a call for McConnell to invoke the so-called "nuclear option" and thereby remove leverage for Senate Democrats.
Senate rules impose a threshold of 60 votes to break a filibuster, and Senate Republicans currently hold a slim majority of 51 votes, meaning even if they can unite their members, they need nine more votes to end debate. The White House is calling for the Senate to change its rules and move the threshold to a simple majority of 51 votes.
A spokesman for McConnell said in response to the tweet that the Senate Republican Conference does not support changing the 60-vote rule, a reiteration of Republican Senate leadership's already-stated opposition to the move Trump has called for over the past year.
CNN's Phil Mattingly contributed to this report

Republicans are going to get blamed for a government shutdown. Bigly.

(CNN)If House Republicans can't find a way to wrangle their always-fractious conference to support legislation that would avoid a government shutdown by Friday night, they are likely to bear the brunt of the blame for the closure and pay a serious political price as well.
The "why" is simple. Because a) the GOP controls all levers of power -- House, Senate and White House -- in Washington and b) average people are aware of a).
"Republicans control the House, they control the Senate and they control the presidency," Vermont Sen. Pat Leahy told CNN on Tuesday. "The government stays open if they want it to stay open and shuts down if they want it to shut down."
Yes, Leahy is a Democrat. But, smart Republicans know he's absolutely right.It's why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has repeatedly said -- in the face of these shutdown showdowns -- that "there's not going to be a government shutdown. It's just not going to happen." It's why Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, told The New York Timesthat "to believe that you can successfully blame Democrats for a shutdown over the DACA debate is naive."

Go back to the last government shutdown -- in the fall of 2013. Republicans held the majority in the House, but Democratic President Barack Obama sat in the White House.
And yet, despite this split control, the blame fell squarely on the shoulders of congressional Republicans. In a Washington Post-ABC poll conducted shortly after the shutdown ended, a majority of Americans (53%) blamed Republicans for the impasse while 29% blamed Obama. In that same poll, just 1 in 3 people said they had a favorable view of the Republican Party -- the lowest that number had been in the history of the poll.
(Nota bene: A year later, Republicans went on to score major gains in the 2014 midterms -- a sign, some argued, that the shutdown didn't hurt them. Wrong! The shutdown quite clearly damaged the GOP brand but distaste for Obama and Obamacare was so strong that it overwhelmed doubts voters had about Republicans.)
The "blame" numbers in the 2013 shutdown were very similar to how the blame game shook out in the twin shutdowns of late 1995 and early 1996. After those shutdowns, the Post-ABC poll showed that a majority of people (50%) blamed the Republican congressional majority for the government closure while 27% blamed then-President Bill Clinton, a Democrat. Most Republicans blame that shutdown -- and the role then-Speaker Newt Gingrich played in it -- for Clinton's glide-path reelection victory over Bob Dole in 1996.
[Shutdown watch: Are there enough House Republicans to keep the government open?]
Shutdown watch: Are there enough House Republicans to keep the government open?
And, remember, those shutdowns were in eras of split control in Washington. We don't have that right now. If anything, then, the blame for a government shutdown would fall even more squarely on Republicans this time around than in either 1996 or 2013.
People blame whoever they think is in charge. And although in the past two shutdowns that was somewhat up for debate, it isn't this time around. Which is why tweets from President Donald Trump insisting that "Democrats want to shut down the Government over Amnesty for all and Border Security" won't work. Sure, the base of the GOP will respond to that red-meat-throwing. But, there is no amount of Trump tweets that can overcome the fact that Republicans totally control Washington at the moment.

The overall political environment heading into this shutdown showdown also looks more toxic for Republicans than in the past two shutdowns. Democrats had an 18-point lead in the generic ballot in a December CNN/ORC poll. That same poll showed Democrats with a 17-point enthusiasm edge over Republicans about voting in 2018. And, results on the ground -- from the state legislative level to the US Senate -- suggest that Democrats already have the wind at their backs with less than 300 days left before the 2018 midterms.
Given all of that, a government shutdown would almost certainly have near-disastrous consequences for Republicans already on their back foot, politically speaking. Which, of course, doesn't mean it won't happen. Just that if it does, Republicans had better start bracing for a major political impact.

Trump supporters react to his derogatory remark, in their own words

WSJ: Trump lawyer arranged porn star payment for her silence in October 2016

(CNN)Reports that Donald Trump referred to certain nations as "shithole countries" during a Thursday meeting in the Oval Office have inflamed his critics and drawn condemnation from the international community.
But how did it play with his supporters?
CNN spoke to several of them to see whether they still support the President after his comments. Here's what they had to say.

(CNN)President Donald Trump's longtime attorney denied that Trump had a sexual encounter with a porn star after a report by The Wall Street Journal on Friday alleged the lawyer helped facilitate a six-figure payment to the actress in October 2016 in exchange for her silence.
Michael Cohen, Trump's personal attorney, said the President "vehemently denies" the encounter, but did not address the alleged payment in a statement to CNN.
The story, which cites people familiar with the matter, says Cohen arranged a $130,000 payment to Stephanie Clifford -- whose stage name is "Stormy Daniels" -- a month ahead of the election. Cohen denies the sexual encounter took place.
CNN has not independently confirmed The Wall Street Journal's reporting."These rumors have circulated time and again since 2011," Cohen said in a statement to CNN. "President Trump once again vehemently denies any such occurrence as has Ms. Daniels." Cohen, once one of Trump's most trusted aides, is no longer in regular contact with Trump -- a distance forced by the Russia investigations, in which Cohen has been entangled.
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A White House official said in a statement: "These are old, recycled reports, which were published and strongly denied prior to the election."
[Trump: I don't want Republicans to shut down Russia investigations]
Trump: I don't want Republicans to shut down Russia investigations
The Wall Street Journal reported that Daniels' alleged encounter with Trump took place in July 2006 after a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe.
In a statement provided by Cohen from Daniels, she also calls the article "absolutely false."
"My involvement with Donald Trump was limited to a few public appearances and nothing more," she wrote in a statement, dated January 10. "When I met Donald Trump, he was gracious, professional and a complete gentleman to me and EVERYONE in my presence. Rumors that I have received hush money from Donald Trump are completely false. If indeed I did have a relationship with Donald Trump, trust me, you wouldn't be reading about in the news, you would be reading about it in my book. But the fact of the matter is, these stories are not true."
CNN asked Cohen, who had provided Daniels' statement, for her contact information, but he did not respond.
Two sources at ABC News told CNN that Daniels was in touch with producers at ABC's "Good Morning America" in the fall of 2016 about a potential interview and was prepared to discuss Trump. The Daily Beast reported Friday that Daniels also had a tentative interview set up with them, but she backed out just days before the 2016 election.