FBI sends documents on Clinton probe to Congress

Aug 16, 2016 110

 

The FBI has provided documents to a House committee on its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server for government business, in an unusual step taken in response to requests from lawmakers seeking insight into why Director James Comey did not recommend criminal charges.  

A brief letter sent Wednesday from the bureau to House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said the FBI was providing for review “a number of documents related to this investigation.”

The FBI, in its letter, said the materials cannot be shared without the bureau’s permission. The files include material that is “non-public,” containing “classified and other sensitive” information.  

Some materials, further, are only being provided to the House and Senate intelligence committees because of their highly sensitive nature.

The decision to share investigative records with lawmakers is not standard practice for the bureau or Justice Department.

But it was made in response to an effort by lawmakers to learn more about the FBI investigation which resulted in no charges against the former secretary of state and current Democratic presidential nominee – though Comey concluded Clinton had been “extremely careless” in her handling of classified and sensitive material.

The latest headlines on the 2016 elections from the biggest name in politics. See Latest Coverage →

It remains unclear whether the most critical documents – including the summary of Clinton’s interview known as a “302,” and the agents’ notes – were provided to the oversight committee, or have only been provided to the intelligence committees because Clinton was questioned about top-secret emails on her server.

The bureau, in closing its case, confirmed publicly that 113 classified emails were sent and received by Clinton, as well as 2,000 that were classified after the fact.

Comey said investigators found at least three emails that contained classified markings. However, he did not recommend criminal charges, and the Justice Department closed the case.

While Clinton has insisted nothing was marked classified at the time, the investigation found otherwise, with the emails containing a portion marking (C for confidential, the lowest level of classification). Fox News first reported that some of the emails were marked classified in June. 

The House Oversight Committee questioned Comey for over five hours in July after he said no reasonable prosecutor would pursue criminal charges.

The Oversight Committee also has formally asked if Clinton committed perjury during her Benghazi testimony in October 2015, because her statements to Congress appear to conflict with the FBI’s findings.

Clinton has maintained she was truthful in her FBI interview.

Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.

Lawmakers slam 'reckless' Gitmo release as Obama speeds up transfers

Aug 16, 2016 89

 

The Obama administration is facing renewed accusations from Republican lawmakers of putting national security at risk following the release of 15 more Guantanamo Bay detainees — including former Usama bin Laden bodyguards and Al Qaeda bomb experts — as the Pentagon works to fulfill the president’s vow to shutter the camp by the end of his term. 

“It is reckless for the administration to continue to release terrorists like these to fulfill a misguided campaign promise to empty and close Guantanamo,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said in a statement on Tuesday.

The newly announced transfer of 15 detainees – 12 Yemenis and three Afghans – to the United Arab Emirates marks the single largest release under the Obama administration.

With five months remaining in President Obama’s term, the transfer is the latest effort to shrink the prison camp’s population as part of the president’s goal to shutter the facility.

Naureen Shah, Amnesty International USA’s director of national security and human rights, said the transfers announced Monday are a “powerful sign that President Obama is serious about closing Guantanamo before he leaves office.”

The Pentagon says 61 detainees remain at Guantanamo, which was opened in January 2002 to hold foreign fighters suspected of links to the Taliban or the Al Qaeda terrorist organization. During the Bush administration, 532 prisoners were released from Guantanamo, often in large groups to Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.

But the transfers, especially of the remaining detainees, also come with substantial risk, GOP lawmakers warn.

“It is unconscionable that this administration continues to release known terrorists. Several terrorists released by the Obama administration have returned to the battlefield and re-engaged in attacks against coalition forces and our allies,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., said in a statement. “The administration continues to put our national security at risk in misguided attempts to fulfill campaign pledges and to cement the President’s legacy.” 

Ayotte recently released unclassified files on some of the remaining detainees, and said Tuesday that the latest batch of 15 are “among the worst terrorists.”

“The terrorists this administration just released include individuals who fought on the frontlines against U.S. and other coalition forces, targeted U.S. personnel with explosives, served as bin Laden bodyguards, and acted as al Qaeda IED experts,” she said

Her office described three of them — Abdel Qadir al-Mudafari, Mahmud Abd Al Aziz al-Mujahid and Majid Mahmud Abdu Ahmed – as former bin Laden bodyguards.

Her office said another, Zahar Omar Hamis bin Hamdoun, served as an Al Qaeda weapons and explosives instructor.

The Donald Trump campaign also criticized the transfers in a press release

The latest group of released prisoners mostly had been held without charge for some 14 years at Guantanamo. They were cleared for release by the Periodic Review Board, composed of representatives from six U.S. government agencies.

Some groups dispute the risk some of the inmates truly pose.

According to Amnesty, one of the Afghans released to the UAE alleged that he was “tortured and subjected to other cruel treatment” while in U.S. military custody. The man, identified only as Obaidullah, was captured by U.S. special forces in July 2002 and allegedly admitted to acquiring and planting anti-tank mines to target U.S. and other coalition forces in eastern Afghanistan.

In clearing him for transfer, the review board said he hasn’t expressed any anti-U.S. sentiment or intent to re-engage in militant activities. However, a Pentagon detainee profile also said he provided little information and they had little “insight into his current mindset.”

The review board is moving quickly.

Fox News reported earlier this month that 32 detainees are slated to have their cases heard by the board. Further, the 15 newly transferred detainees were among another 34 already slated for transfer — another 19 detainees are expected to be transferred soon. 

Even as the administration accelerates the transfers, it still faces the thorny problem of figuring out what to do with prisoners that cannot be sent to other countries. The Defense Department has looked at prisons in Colorado, South Carolina and elsewhere, but Congress by law prevents Pentagon from bringing any of those detainees to the United States.

Lee Wolosky, the State Department’s special envoy for Guantanamo’s closure, said the U.S. was grateful to the United Arab Emirates for accepting the latest group of 15 men and helping pave the way for the detention center’s closure.

“The continued operation of the detention facility weakens our national security by draining resources, damaging our relationships with key allies and partners, and emboldening violent extremists,” Wolosky said.

Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Money talks? From Ferguson to unrest overseas, new reports reveal Soros influence

Aug 16, 2016 65

 

Newly leaked emails and other files from billionaire George Soros’ web of organizations are shedding light on the liberal powerbroker’s extensive influence in political and diplomatic affairs.  

One email chain shows the Wall Street titan in 2011 personally wrote then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, urging intervention in Albania’s political unrest. Within days, an envoy he recommended was dispatched to the region.

Other emails seem to show Soros using his billions to push an anti-Israel agenda, while other documents reportedly detail funding for various grassroots organizations that were loosely linked to the 2014 unrest in Ferguson, Mo.

The revelations mostly stem from a recent hack by a group called DC Leaks – which describes itself as “American hacktivists who respect and appreciate freedom of speech, human rights and government of the people.”

The files – all 2,576 of them from 2008 to 2016 – were released Saturday and provide an eye-opening look into Soros’ political operations.

In a Jan. 23, 2011 email, Soros adviser Jonas Rolett sent Richard Verma, then-assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, a letter to “Hillary” about the situation in Albania. At the time, the country was seeing an escalation of political instability and violence fueled by accusations of corruption involving the prime minister.

The latest headlines on the 2016 elections from the biggest name in politics. See Latest Coverage →

Soros’ email provided instructions on what the American response should be and gave Clinton the names of three possible mediators who could provide analysis of the crisis.

“I believe two things need to be done urgently: 1. Bring the full weight of the international community to bear on Prime Minister Berisha and opposition leader Edi Rama to forestall further public demonstrations and to tone down public pronouncements. 2. Appoint a senior European official as a mediator,” the letter said.

He suggested three mediators, including Miroslav Lajcak, saying “all three … have strong connections to the Balkans.” He added, “My foundation in Tirana is monitoring the situation closely and can provide independent analysis of the crisis.”

Lajcak was ultimately dispatched by the European Union to meet with Albanian leaders in Tirana and worked toward ending the unrest there. It’s unclear from the emails whether the State Department had forwarded Soros’ recommendation to the E.U.

Separately, the billionaire’s Soros Open Society Foundation reportedly sought to challenge what were described in documents as “Israel’s racist and anti-democratic policies” in part by “questioning Israel’s reputation as a democracy.” 

The Jerusalem Post reported that the group gave $10 million since 2001 to organizations promoting Arab-Israeli rights, focusing on countering Israel’s “restrictive measures.” 

The Washington Times, meanwhile, reported that Soros’ financial help supported groups that fueled the 2014 protests in Ferguson. 

According to tax filings, Soros spent $33 million to support “already-established groups that emboldened the grass-roots, on-the-ground activists in Ferguson,” the newspaper wrote.

Records also show the founder of Soros Fund Management, which boasts $29 billion in assets, has a vested interest in how the presidential elections play out this year.

So far, he’s donated more than $25 million to Clinton and other Democratic Party members this cycle — though that number is expected to go higher as the general election in November nears.

Soros also has shelled out money for Media Matters and has been a major financial contributor to the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank founded by John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman.

Soros also had a relationship with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. In 2004, the Wall Street titan lent Trump $160 million to help with the construction of Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago.

In 2008, both were named in a lawsuit brought by Leslie Dick Worldwide Ltd., a real estate developer. The suit, which was later dismissed, involved the sale of the General Motors Building in New York City.

A year later, the billionaire buddies hobnobbed at a Christmas Eve party hosted by Nouriel Roubini, according to The Daily Beast.

Trump to receive intel briefing, amid foreign policy clash with Clinton

Aug 16, 2016 77

 

After months of railing against President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy – and taking hits from both on his own stances – Donald Trump will have his first chance to be briefed on classified intelligence regarding threats to the United States and other security issues.

Fox News confirmed Tuesday that the Republican presidential nominee will be briefed Wednesday, most likely at the FBI field office in New York. The briefing will be led by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

Such briefings usually run for about an hour and can go longer. Presidential nominees do not need to have a special security clearance to receive the briefings. It is unclear what will be discussed; the campaigns typically work with the ODNI to set up the sessions and discuss topics of interest. 

With national security rising as a campaign issue, however, it could be a detailed briefing. The session comes after Trump made a major foreign policy address Monday in which he placed the blame for the rise of Islamic terrorism across the globe at the feet of the Obama administration, and in particular Clinton.

“With one episode of bad judgment after another, Hillary Clinton’s policies launched ISIS onto the world stage,” Trump said at the speech in Youngstown Ohio, after lambasting her for the “total disaster” in Libya.

“Instead, all we got from Iraq and our ventures in the Middle East was death, destruction and tremendous financial loss,” he said. “It’s time to put the mistakes of the past behind us and chart a new course.”

In the speech, Trump called for an end to nation-building abroad, a new “extreme vetting” of immigrants seeking to enter the U.S., and a “bipartisan and international consensus” to defeat Islamic extremism.

Trump, in return, has been attacked throughout the campaign for a perceived lack of foreign policy chops, with Clinton accusing him Monday of being “all over the place on ISIS.”

“He talked about letting Syria become a free-zone for ISIS, a major country in the Middle East that could launch attacks against us and others. He’s talked about sending ground troops, American ground troops — well, that is off the table as far as I am concerned,” she said in Scranton, Pa.

She concluded by calling him “temperamentally unfit and totally unqualified to be president of the United States and commander-on-chief.”

Vice President Joe Biden also took aim at Trump at the same event.

“No major party nominee in the history of the United States of America has … known less or been less prepared to deal with our national security than Donald Trump,” Biden said. 

Biden went a step further to accuse Trump of being sympathetic to totalitarian dictators.

“He’s even showered praise on Saddam Hussein, one of the most violent dictators of the 20th century, a man who repeatedly backed terror attacks against Israel because he was supposedly — the reason he admires him — he was a killer of terrorists, that’s why he likes Saddam,” he said. “He would’ve loved Stalin, he would’ve loved Stalin.”

It was not immediately clear if a briefing had been set up for Clinton, or when it would take place. Republicans have called for Clinton not to be given classified information in light of FBI Director James Comey’s conclusion that she had been “extremely careless” in her use of a homebrew private email server as secretary of state.

Fox News’ Catherine Herridge contributed to this report.

A different kind of August

Aug 16, 2016 85

 

**Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.**

On the roster: A different kind of August – Trump changes tune on NATO, Muslim vetting – Foundation pushed State Dept. for Bubba’s NoKo speech – Audible: Egg man – No shame in his game

A DIFFERENT KIND OF AUGUST
So how’s it going out there?

The latest poll from Florida shows no relief for Donald Trump. Monmouth University, in a survey out this afternoon, has Hillary Clinton 9 points ahead in a four-way race that includes minor party nominees.

Add that to the WaPo poll that shows Trump getting trounced by 14 points among registered voters in Virginia. Taken with last week’s double-digit deficit in Pennsylvania, and reversals in Ohio, one could say Republican presidential hopes seem to be melting like a Popsicle in the August heat.

But look at it another way: It doesn’t really matter.

Not because it’s too early. We are 12 weeks away from Election Day, which as recently as the 1990s might have been considered quite a long stretch. With the advent of early voting, however, and the intensive coverage of campaigns, it’s later than you think.

The reason these swing state polls don’t matter right now is that Trump is so far behind nationally that focusing on electoral votes would be like the coaches of the Atlanta Braves arguing about their playoff pitching rotation. You have to get there first.

We have certainly encouraged you to keep an eye on state polls and the performance of down-ballot candidates. And as we get closer to the election, it may be increasingly important, if only for the GOP’s effort to hold their Senate majority.

What we can take away from these state polls and national surveys is that in order for Trump to win, the race needs to be reset.

Republicans are trying manfully to force Trump into a Romney-shaped box in hopes that somehow if Trump can avoid gaffes, Clinton’s heinous scores on character questions will bring the contest into some closer alignment. But that’s not what this race looks like. In an average of reliable polls, Trump has never led and at his best was more than 4-points behind Clinton nationally.

It’s too late to make it based on incremental movements, but there’s lots of time for things to change on the grander scale.

So, what would a reset look like?

The most obvious means for the race to be remade is Clinton blowing herself up. That could come in the form of the sins of her past being dug out of an old email server somewhere, or in the possibility that she would say or do something so shockingly bad that Trump could take advantage of a week or two of solidly negative coverage. But given the bent of the press and the condition of the electorate it would have to be pretty bad.

Remember, this is a woman who leads nationally by 9 points after the FBI director said she was reckless with the handling of state secrets and essentially lied to voters. In a normal year, that would’ve been the kiss of death.

Other game changers could come in external events, but here context would matter.

An attack on U.S. soil might do for Clinton what the Gulf of Tonkin incident did for Lyndon Johnson in 1964, convincing an anxious nation that steady, experienced leadership was required. Plus, a tragedy of large enough proportion would probably create a “rally ‘round the flag” effect for President Obama. But, increased incidents of urban unrest of the kind we’re seeing in Milwaukee might help Trump.

That’s the thing about unknown unknowns, you never know…

Trump’s best hope for a race reset probably rests with his strongest suit among voters: the economy. We will never know how John McCain might’ve fared in 2008 had the financial sector not burned like a straw bale soaked in gasoline.

None of this is to say that the day-to-day of this race isn’t worth watching. Smart observers know that larger changes are often foretold in small movements.

But it is fair to say that we are in a different kind of election than the ones we have known for the past four cycles. Rather than an evenly split electorate and a battle for a handful of late deciders, this is something else.

So for now, relax. Find a pool in which to dangle your toes and wait to see what unfolds.

TIME OUT: GIVE A FIG
New Yorker: “All kinds of critters, not only humans, frequent fig trees, but the plants owe their existence to what may be evolution’s most intimate partnership between two species. Because a fig is actually a ball of flowers, it requires pollination to reproduce, but, because the flowers are sealed, not just any bug can crawl inside.* That task belongs to a minuscule insect known as the fig wasp, whose life cycle is intertwined with the fig’s…When you eat a dried fig, you’re probably chewing fig-wasp mummies, too.”

Flag on the play? – Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions

SCOREBOARD
Average of national presidential polls:
 Clinton vs. Trump: Clinton +9.2 points
Generic congressional vote: Democrats +2.8

TRUMP CHANGES TUNE ON NATO, MUSLIM VETTING
Fox News: “Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, in what was billed as a major foreign policy address, on Monday backed off past threats to withdraw from the NATO alliance — saying that if he’s elected, the U.S. will work with the 28-member bloc to defeat the Islamic State…Trump acknowledged having previously described NATO as ‘obsolete’ for not dealing adequately with terrorism. ‘Since my comments, they have changed their policy,’ Trump said, calling this apparent development ‘very, very good’ … During his speech Trump proposed ‘extreme vetting’ of Muslim immigrants and visitors to the United States, vowing once more to block those who sympathize with extremist groups or don’t embrace American values. He said the policy would first require a temporary halt in immigration from dangerous regions of the world.”

[ABC News reports that Trump will start getting classified national security briefings Wednesday.]

‘To the victor belong the spoils’ – AP: “‘I have long said that we should have kept the oil in Iraq,’ [Trump] said in Youngstown, Ohio. ‘I said, ‘Keep the oil. Keep the oil. Keep the oil. Don’t let somebody else get it.’ ‘It would have required U.S. troops to protect the oil, he said, but the benefit would have been clear today. ‘If we had controlled the oil like I said we should, we could have prevented the rise of ISIS in Iraq, both by cutting off a major source of funding and through the presence of U.S. forces necessary to safeguard the oil and vital infrastructure products necessary for us to have the oil.’ Rather than nation-building, this would have been nation-grabbing, making Iraq a de-facto American colony.”

FOUNDATION PUSHED STATE DEPT. FOR BUBBA’S NOKO SPEECH
WashEx: “A Clinton Foundation official pushed Hillary Clinton’s State Department to approve a request for Bill Clinton to speak at a North Korean industrial complex accused of funding the country’s rogue nuclear program. The invitation was facilitated by Tony Rodham, the brother of the Democratic nominee, who had entered now-defunct business partnerships with the Clinton bundler named as a ‘go-between’ for the speech hosts and the secretary of state. New emails shed light on a paid speech opportunity in North Korea that was first uncovered last year through a batch of documents provided to Citizens United through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The latest records to emerge from that case, which were obtained by the Washington Examiner, offer additional insight into the effort to persuade Bill Clinton to deliver remarks in the communist country.”

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Independent McMullin qualifies for Utah ballot – 
The Hill

Sanders team promises DNC chairwoman they will campaign for Clinton – The Hill

Ailes to advise Trump on debates – NYT

Commission on Presidential Debates sets polling parameters – WSJ

Pence, Rubio to campaign together in Florida – ABC News

Liz Cheney poised for House primary win in Wyoming today – National Journal

Dem Senate Candidate Maggie Hassan refuses to say Clinton is honest – Daily Caller

Priebus considering another bid as RNC chairman – Politico

Portman says RNC funds don’t really matter in his race – WashEx

Aetna looks to pull out of ObamaCare – WSJ

Democrats keep up push for taxpayer-funded abortions – Time

How will they vote? Try the turnout scenario widget – RCP

AUDIBLE: EGG MAN
“I think Donald Trump is in serious meltdown. I don’t know if he’s going to make it and I don’t know how long RNC support lasts. But he’s very fragile.” –Evan McMullin on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“What if Trump found some face saving medical condition that requires him to drop out? Would that make Pence the candidate for President and could name someone for the veep slot?” – Joseph Dean, Auburn, Calif.

[Ed note: It does sound a little far-fetched, but it is 2016… The simple answer is that if the Republican nominee is out of the running, it would fall to the members of the Republican National Committee to choose his replacement. One supposes that they might choose someone more famous than the Indiana governor or one less closely tied to their former nominee, but it would certainly depend on the circumstances of the vacancy.]

“This is where Trump should invoke the George Costanza principle and say, ‘My policies will be the exact opposite of what Hillary proposes because Hillary’s Progressive economic programs will turn this country into another Venezuela, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Greece…need I go on?’” – Ken Ruszkowski, Williamsburg, Va.

[Ed. note: Opposite George! Love it. “My name is George. I’m unemployed and I live with my parents.”]

Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.

NO SHAME IN HIS GAME
News.com.au: “Never before has a member of the male species wished for a smaller manhood. Until now,
 Japanese pole vaulter Hiroki Ogita will be ruing the size of his phallus after it caused him to foul during the qualifying rounds in the men’s event in Rio. Ogita was attempting to clear a height of 5.3 metres in group A of the first round of the pole vault, when his leg came in contact with the bar. As he began to drop back down towards the ground, his shin grazed the bar, causing it to wobble dangerously. But it was his penis that delivered the final blow. Already unsteady, the bar was dislodged from its holdings when Ogita’s old fellow decided to make an appearance and slap the metal. The vaulter’s arm then collected the bar as it began to fall. Video footage showed the crushing moment the 28-year-old was let down by his trouser friend.”

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News. Sally Persons contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, he authors the daily “Fox News First” political news note and hosts “Power Play,” a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including “The Kelly File,” “Special Report with Bret Baier,” and “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.”  He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.

'McLaughlin Group' host John McLaughlin dead at 89

Aug 16, 2016 62

John McLaughlin, a Jesuit priest-turned-presidential speechwriter who was best-known as host of the long-running political discussion show “The McLaughlin Group” has died. He was 89.

McLaughlin’s death was announced in a statement on the show’s Facebook page Tuesday afternoon. No cause of death was immediately given. 

“For 34 years, The McLaughlin Group informed millions of Americans,” the statement read, in part. “Now he has said bye bye for the last time, to rejoin his beloved dog, Oliver, in heaven.”

McLaughlin had missed Sunday’s edition of “The McLaughlin Group”, his first since the show debuted on New Year’s Day, 1982. A note from McLaughlin informed viewers, “I am under the weather … The final issue of this episode has my voice, but please forgive me for its weaker than usual quality. Yet my spirit is strong and my dedication to this show remains absolute!”

US officials: Up to 100,000 Iran-backed fighters now in Iraq

Aug 16, 2016 106

 

As many as 100,000 Iranian-backed Shiite militia are now fighting on the ground in Iraq, according to U.S. military officials — raising concerns that should the Islamic State be defeated, it may only be replaced by another anti-American force that fuels further sectarian violence in the region.

The ranks have swelled inside a network of Shiite militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces. Since the rise of Sunni-dominated ISIS fighters inside Iraq more than two years ago, the Shiite forces have grown to 100,000 fighters, Col. Chris Garver, a Baghdad-based U.S. military spokesman, confirmed in an email to Fox News. The fighters are mostly Iraqis.

Garver said not all the Shia militias in Iraq are backed by Iran, adding: “The [Iranian-backed] Shia militia are usually identified at around 80,000.”

According to some experts, this still is an alarmingly high number.

“The effect of the Obama administration’s policy has been to replace American boots on the ground with the Iranian’s. As Iran advances, one anti-American actor is being replaced with another,” Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said in a recent phone interview.

Garver said other Popular Mobilization fighters also consist of Sunni tribal fighters from Anbar and Nineveh provinces in Iraq.

Whether the force size is 80,000 or 100,000, the figures are the first-known estimates of the Iranian-backed fighters. The figure first surfaced in a recent Tampa Bay Times article and marks the latest evidence of Tehran’s deepening involvement in the war against ISIS, with the U.S. military also confirming that Russian bombers are now flying into Syria from a base in Iran. The growth also could create greater risk for Americans operating in the country, as at least one Iran-backed group vowed earlier this year to attack U.S. forces supporting the Iraqis.

Even more troubling to the U.S. military are reports that Qassem Soleimani, an Iranian general who commands the Islamic Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, is now on the ground outside Mosul ahead of an expected operation to retake Iraq’s second-largest city which has been under ISIS control for the past two years.

According to the Long War Journal, a spokesman for the Iranian-backed forces said earlier this month that Soleimani is expected to play a “major role” in the battle for Mosul.  

When asked about Shia militias participating in the liberation of Sunni-dominated Mosul, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq said last week, “The government of Iraq is in charge of this war. We’re here to support them. So, who they [want in] the campaign is really their decision.”

A U.S. military official could not confirm Soleimani’s presence in Mosul, but said Soleimani had been seen throughout Iraq and Syria in the past two years coordinating activities.

Garver stressed Tuesday there is no coordination between the U.S. and Iranians. “We are not coordinating with the Iranians in any way, we are not working with them in any way,” he said during a press conference, adding: “However the government of Iraq comes up with the plan, we are supporting [their] plan for the seizure of Mosul.”

Last August, Fox News first reported Soleimani’s visit to Moscow 10 days after the landmark nuclear agreement in July to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and top Russian officials to plan Russia’s upcoming deployment to Syria in late September.

Soleimani is banned from international travel through United Nations Security Council resolutions. He was first designated a terrorist and sanctioned by the U.S. in 2005. In October 2011, the U.S. Treasury Department tied Soleimani to the failed Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States at a popular restaurant in Washington, D.C. Soleimani’s Quds Force is the special forces external wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, responsible for supporting terrorist proxies across the Middle East.

At his confirmation hearing last year, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford was asked how many Americans were killed by Iranian-backed forces under the command of Soleimani. 

“The number has been recently quoted as about 500. We weren’t always able to attribute the casualties we had to Iranian activity, although many times we suspected it was Iranian activity even though we didn’t necessarily have the forensics to support that,” Dunford said.  

The threat to American troops remains. Last month, firebrand Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr — responsible for attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq a decade ago – once again called for his supporters to kill American troops.

“[U.S. forces] are a target for us,” he said on his website. 

In March, one Iranian-backed group said it would attack U.S. forces after the Pentagon announced that hundreds of U.S. Marines were supporting Iraqi forces with artillery fire.  

“If the U.S. administration doesn’t withdraw its forces immediately, we will deal with them as forces of occupation,” Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) said on its TV channel.

The Iranian-backed group has claimed responsibility for over 6,000 attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq since 2006 and operates under the supervision of Soleimani, according to a report by the Institute for the Study of War.

Meanwhile, there are more indications that Russia and Iran are expanding their military ties. The U.S. military has confirmed that Russian bombers flying from a base in Iran have bombed three areas in Syria.

In addition to the up to 100,000 Iranian-backed forces in Iraq, there are thousands of Iranian-backed forces in Syria as well in support of President Bashar al-Assad.  Some of these Iranian-backed forces come from as far as Afghanistan and hundreds have recently died fighting Syrian rebels in the city of Aleppo, according to recent reports.  

Lucas Tomlinson is the Pentagon and State Department producer for Fox News Channel. You can follow him on Twitter: @LucasFoxNews

Online voting systems raise hacking concerns

Aug 16, 2016 54

 

Voting can be as easy as a click of the mouse – but is it secure?

Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia now allow some form of online voting, from casting your vote online to sending an email.

But after high-profile hacks like those at the Democratic National Committee, the Obama administration is looking at ways to protect online voting amid growing concerns about whether these systems are vulnerable.

“There’s a vital national interest in our election process, so I do think we need to consider whether it should be considered by my department and others critical infrastructure,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said.

M.I.T. Professor Ron Rivest, an Internet voting expert, says despite the promise, online voting is not yet foolproof.

“Once you have something on the Internet, you are telling the world, please come hack me,” he said.

The latest headlines on the 2016 elections from the biggest name in politics. See Latest Coverage →

He added: “There’s lots of wonderful ways the Internet can contribute to elections, but putting voting itself online for me is a step to far. It’s over the line. We don’t know how to do it securely, you’re inviting trouble. Every country overseas that has an ax to grind with the U.S.”

These actors, he warned, could try to “get in and manipulate the election.”

In one example of how online voting has developed, Washington, D.C., is one of the areas that allows members of the military and other voters who live overseas to email their votes.

Officials there say they’ve had no problems.

“It’s been going well. We’ve had this program for a few years now, and the only downside that I can see to it is that the voter is required to waive the secrecy of their ballot,” said Margarita Mikhaylova, with the D.C. Board of Elections.

But even the U.S. Election Assistance Commission – a federal agency that oversees voting systems – is cautious.

“We are not at the point now where we can use the Internet to cast ballots securely, safely and simply. But at some point we should be able to do that — I hope we can do that in my lifetime,” Commission Chairman Tom Hicks said.

Last month, Illinois shut down its voter registration system after it may have been hacked. Officials reportedly blamed a “highly sophisticated attack most likely from a foreign entity.”

Further, Arizona took its registration system offline after it, too, may have been compromised by a hacker. 

Fox News’ Jennifer Oliva contributed to this report.

Recent polls show Trump gaining on Clinton when 3rd-party candidates considered

Aug 16, 2016 84

 

Donald Trump may see a glimmer of hope in the sea of polls that show him trailing Hillary Clinton – he consistently gains on his Democratic rival when third-party candidates are taken into account.

A flurry of recent surveys, especially in battleground states, shows that when voters are asked about a four-way race — involving Trump, Clinton, Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein – Clinton’s lead often narrows. 

The most recent example is in Virginia, where a new Washington Post poll shows Clinton ahead in a two-way race by a sizeable 14-point margin among registered voters, 52-38 percent. But when voters are asked about Johnson and Stein as well, Clinton’s lead narrows to 11 points. 

Quinnipiac University polling released last week in the swing states of Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania showed a similar pattern — with the races tightening slightly when Johnson and Stein were factored in. 

“When voters are asked about a four-way ballot that includes Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein, Trump picks up a point or two against Secretary Clinton in each of the three states,” Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said in a statement.

In a new NBC News national poll, Clinton’s 9-point lead also shrinks to 6 points when Johnson and Stein are included.

The latest headlines on the 2016 elections from the biggest name in politics. See Latest Coverage →

The findings come as Stein in particular has made an aggressive effort to peel off disaffected Democrats. The Green Party candidate kept a presence on the sidelines of last month’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia where she appealed to Bernie Sanders supporters vowing to oppose Clinton’s candidacy.

Johnson, though, is drawing from the Republican voter pool as well.

In the latest Washington Post Virginia poll, the former New Mexico governor gets 25 percent from Republicans who supported other primary candidates.

Unclear is whether the candidates will continue to pick up steam in the race – and whether, if they do, that will redound to Trump’s benefit. The third-party candidates still have to collect signatures in some remaining states, including Virginia, to even get on the ballot.

And even when they are included in recent polls, Clinton’s lead over Trump remains daunting.

In the Quinnipiac poll, her lead in Pennsylvania, a pivotal battleground, narrows from 10 percent to 9 percent when third-party candidates are included.

And in another set of battleground polls by NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist,Clinton maintains a solid lead across Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and Colorado no matter which candidates are polled.

That lead shrinks slightly, though, in Virginia and Colorado when third-party candidates are considered. 

Time it takes to rig a voting machine? 7 minutes

Aug 16, 2016 61

 

A Princeton professor is reigniting the debate around potential election-rigging in U.S. elections, by reportedly showing it is possible to hack some voting machines in as little as seven minutes.

Politico reports that Professor Andrew Appel bought a Sequoia AVC Advantage online — one of the oldest voting machines in the U.S. and deployed in Louisiana, New Jersey, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Along with a graduate student, Appel went to work on the machine with a screwdriver, pulling out the ROM chips and replacing them with modified firmware that would throw off the machine’s results. Voters would be oblivious.

Appel is part of a group of so-called ‘cyber-academics’ who have spent a lot of their time hacking the electronic voting machines that took off in the wake of the controversy surrounding the 2000 presidential election. Since then, Appel and his colleagues have been working to convince the public that the system is unsecure and vulnerable to mischief.

In the wake of the recent hack of the Democratic National Committee, which resulted in the leaking of politically damaging emails, Appel is raising the question: if hackers can do that, can they also manipulate voting machines to skew the outcome?

“Look, we could see 15 years ago that this would be perfectly possible,” Appel said. “It’s well within the capabilities of a country as sophisticated as Russia.”

The latest headlines on the 2016 elections from the biggest name in politics. See Latest Coverage →

“Actually, it’s well within the capabilities of much less well-funded and sophisticated attackers,” he added.

Click for more from Politico