Justice Department anti-terror chief keeps pressing on encryption


Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Mary McCord said Tuesday that metadata is of limited use in terror probes. | AP Photo

The head of the Justice Department’s counterterrorism branch is keeping the pressure on for action to allow investigators to obtain access to encrypted communications.

Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Mary McCord said Tuesday that metadata is of limited use in terror probes and the problem the FBI refers to as “going dark” remains a “real problem for law enforcement.”

“All the metadata in the world cannot replace content when it comes to the short lead time that we have between inception of an attack and committing an attack,” McCord told a George Washington University conference on online extremism.

“When it’s that fast, metadata is just not going to answer that….These are the times where encrypted communications and the inability of law enforcement to get into those communications….is so important to find a solution.”

McCord praised social media platforms for removing content that seems to fuel radicalization and violates sites’ terms of service, but she also called on tech companies to explore automated solutions that can prevent such content from appearing even for a brief time on websites.

“I encourage them to put even more effort into automation, machine learning … to see if there aren’t ways to prevent certain content—the most violent, the most inciteful to terrorism — to keep that from ever posting,” she said.

The veteran prosecutor said one challenge with takedown systems that require human intervention is that disturbing content can go viral in certain circles very quickly. Once that information spreads on the internet, taking down from one or two sites may be ineffective, she said.

A senior law enforcement official who spoke at the same conference Monday, FBI General Counsel James Baker, said the bureau isn’t pushing specific legislation on encryption at the moment but is trying fuel continued public discussion about the costs of encryption.

The Obama administration punted on the contentious encryption issue during its final year in office. The Trump administration has yet to stake out a clear position on the question.

Josh Gerstein is a senior reporter for POLITICO.


Clinton urges women to ‘resist’ Trump agenda

SAN FRANCISCO — Emerging from the political shadows months after a devastating presidential campaign loss to Donald Trump, a fiesty Hillary Clinton — while never directly mentioning the occupant of the White House — urged women to “resist, insist, persist and enlist” in the continuing political struggle on key issues like women’s health care and budget priorities.

“I am thrilled to be out of the woods,’’ Clinton told a sold-out, mostly female audience of 6,000 at the Professional Women’s Business Conference in the Moscone Center on Tuesday who greeted her arrival with cheers and a standing ovation. “And there’s no place I’d rather be,’’ she added wryly, “… other than the White House.”

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Her speech in San Francisco, one of the country’s most liberal bastions, comes amid talk of a “comeback” tour for the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, who has become increasingly active in expressing her views on Twitter.

The Washington Post reported this week that Clinton’s formal re-emergence into the political realm will include a speech at Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security on Friday at ceremony to mark an award that is named in her honor. In addition to getting back on the speaking circuit, Clinton has said she’s also taken on a major writing project — a book of essays and inspirational quotations due out this fall.

In San Francisco, the former secretary of state appeared relaxed, and often resorted to self-depreciating humor to address some of the more painful aspects of her failed campaign — even as she leveled veiled jabs at the Trump administration and its policies, particularly those that affect women. But Clinton, in making several references to her “long walks in the woods” in the past months, appeared to signal she’s rested — and ready to take on new issues and draw contrasts with Trump in the public arena.

“Sure, the last few months are not exactly what I’ve envisioned,’’ she told the audience, “but I do know what I’m fighting for — a fairer, inclusive, big-hearted America.”

Clinton was especially animated when she noted high profile instances of women’s treatment in the months since President Donald Trump has taken office — an administration, she said, which has the lowest levels of women’s hiring in a generation.

“Just look at all that’s happened in the last few days — to women who are simply doing their jobs,’’ she said. Referring to an incident in which White House spokesman Sean Spicer reprimanded African American journalist April Ryan, she noted that Ryan “was doing her job just this afternoon in the White House press room when she was patronized and cut off just trying to ask a question.”

Clinton also cited Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly, who on air laughingly dismissed an impassioned House floor speech by Rep. Maxine Waters for wearing “a James Brown wig.” Waters, Clinton said, was “taunted with a racist joke about her hair.”

“Too many women, especially women of color, have had a lifetime of practice taking precisely these kind of indignities in stride,’’ she said. “But why should we have to?”

The former secretary of state also cited recent photos making the rounds on social media showing armies of men standing proudly around the President as he is “making decisions about women’s health.”

“How could they not have invited any women to the table?” she said. “It may not be an oversight at all … but an intentional signal: Don’t worry, the men are in charge of everything.”

Urging women to “resist, insist, persist and enlist” in the political struggle, Clinton said that Americans must “resist bias and bullying … hate and fear,” and “insist that we can do better, that is who we are … we are always pushing towards that more perfect union.”

In a pointed reference to Trump’s “American carnage” inauguration speech, she said: “Where some see a dark vision of carnage, I see a light shining on opportunity and creativity.”

“We saw that the day after the Inauguration, when women and men from all walks of life marched … the biggest march in our country’s history,’’ she said. “Afterward, there were plenty of people who wondered whether that level of enthusiasm could be sustained.’’

But Clinton called the run-up to the defeat of the Trump administration’s health care bill last week “the first indication” that the answer is yes.

She said the Republican Congress trying to “jam through a [health care] bill that would have kicked 24 million people off their health insurance,’’ were “met with a wave of resistance.”

And “when this disastrous bill failed, it was a victory for all Americans,’’ she said. Clinton added in warming, “but the other side never quits. Sooner or later they’ll try again.’’

“We will need to fight back” against “bad policies that will hurt our people and take our country in the wrong direction.”

“Obviously the outcome of the election wasn’t one I hoped for,’’ she told the audience. “But I will not stop speaking out” for issues and ideas that will improve the lives of average Americans, she said.

An appearance in California virtually guaranteed a supportive crowd for her re-emergence into the political realm: last November, the Democratic candidate clobbered Trump here by 4.2 million votes in November, or a nearly 2-1 margin.

And San Francisco, an exceedingly friendly turf that the former candidate tapped dozens of times for political fundraising, is also home to Susie Tompkins Buell, one of Clinton’s most longtime and loyal friends, who later shared the stage with her in conversation at the PBWC event.

Buell, at the close, declared Clinton officially back in the limelight. “It’s clear you’re out of the woods, for us,’’ she told Clinton. “I always knew you would be. Nobody’s going to take you down.”


Ex-congressman Stockman indicted in Texas


Former Rep. Steve Stockman is also accused of “filing a false tax return that concealed his receipt and use of the fraudulent proceeds,” the Justice Department said in a press release. | AP Photo

A federal grand jury indicted former Rep. Steve Stockman on Tuesday on charges that he obtained $1.25 million in donations under false pretenses and used funds intended for charity to finance his political campaigns.

Stockman (R-Texas) served two terms in the House, most recently representing the the Houston suburbs from 2013 to 2015. He mounted an unsuccessful challenge to Sen. John Cornyn in 2014, coming in second in a crowded GOP primary field.

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Stockman, 60, was arrested at Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston earlier this month as he attempted to board a flight for the Middle East. A federal complaint filed at that time in U.S. District Court accused him of making false statements to the Federal Election Commission and engaging in political contributions illegally routed through so-called conduits.

Federal prosecutors alleged that Stockman used a Nevada-based non-profit, Life Without Limits, to collect donations for charitable purposes, including for renovating a Washington, D.C., house to be used for the charity. Instead, prosecutors contend, Stockman used much of the funds for personal expenses and directed a portion of the money into his campaign coffers through third parties.

Stockman is also accused of “filing a false tax return that concealed his receipt and use of the fraudulent proceeds,” the Justice Department said in a press release.

An attorney for Stockman, Dane Ball, said his client will plead not guilty to the charges.

“Steve is an innocent man,” Ball said. “We are reviewing the new indictment, and Steve will respond in court in due course.”

At court hearing following his arrest, Stockman blamed his legal predicament on a government conspiracy that targeted him because of his harsh criticism of the Internal Revenue Service.

“This is part of a deep state that’s continuing to progress,” he said, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Two former aides to Stockman, special projects director Jason Posey and special assistant Thomas Dodd, have also been charged in the case.

Posey was named as a co-defendant in the indictment handed up Tuesday, accused of conspiring with Stockman and of falsifying an affidavit in order to obstruct an FEC investigation. No attorney for Posey was identified in court records.

Last week, Dodd entered guilty pleas to two federal conspiracy charges: one involving wire and mail fraud and another involving false statements to the FEC and making of conduit contributions. Dodd admitted he and Stockman were involved in soliciting hundreds of thousands of dollars for “voter education” activities, but that the funds were actually “diverted to pay for [Stockman’s] congressional campaign expenses.”

Dodd has pledged to cooperate with prosecutors.


Senate braces for fallout over Supreme Court fight

Senators in both parties are gearing up for a showdown over Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellPence casts tiebreaking Senate procedural vote on funding for abortion providers What if there’s no ‘Nuclear Option’ in the Senate? Senate votes to eliminate Obama-era retirement rule MORE (R-Ky.) confidently predicted on Tuesday that the Senate would confirm Gorsuch on April 7, before lawmakers leave town for a two-week recess.

But as Democratic opposition grows, leaders are signaling they’re prepared to push the chamber to the edge as President Trump’s pick comes up for a vote — even if it means using the “nuclear option” to change the Senate’s rules.

“We’re going to get Judge Gorsuch confirmed,” McConnell told reporters during a weekly press conference. “It’ll be an opportunity for the Democrats to invoke cloture. We’ll see where that ends.”

Pressed on if he would have the votes within his conference should Democrats initially block Gorsuch’s nomination, McConnell said he was “confident” the judge will join the Supreme Court.

But Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles SchumerPence casts tiebreaking Senate procedural vote on funding for abortion providers Senate seen as starting point for Trump’s infrastructure plan Dems wait for GOP olive branch after ObamaCare debacle MORE (D-N.Y.) returned his own rhetorical fire, arguing that Gorsuch faces a heavy lift to get the 60 votes — including the support of at least eight Democratic senators — he will need to avoid a filibuster.

“It’s going to be a real uphill climb for him to get those 60 votes,” Schumer told reporters.

Facing a mountain of pressure from progressive groups, a growing number of Democrats are coming out against Gorsuch’s nomination.

As of Tuesday evening more than half of the conference has announced opposition. So far, only one senator — Joe ManchinJoe ManchinMcCain looking to strike deal with Democrats on Gorsuch nomination Live coverage: Senate intel holds first public Russia hearing Manchin ‘very close’ on Gorsuch decision MORE (D-W.Va.) — has explicitly said he’ll vote for cloture.

If Republicans can’t get enough Democratic support for Gorsuch’s nomination, they could go nuclear and get rid of the 60-vote filibuster on Supreme Court nominees.

McConnell would need 50 members of his conference to back the change, allowing him to lose two GOP senators and bring in Vice President Pence to break a tie.

No Republican has yet said they wouldn’t support a rules change if Democrats block Gorsuch’s nomination, but a growing number of GOP senators are urging their colleagues to find a way to avoid that fight.

Sen. Bob CorkerBob CorkerThe Hill’s 12:30 Report After repeal failure, GOP senators propose ObamaCare subsidy patch Top GOP senator rips Ryan for rejecting bipartisan outreach MORE (R-Tenn.) took to the Senate floor on Tuesday, pleading with his colleagues to talk to each other and find agreement.

“I hope somehow or another we’ll have the ability to avoid what I see as something that’s very, very detrimental to the United States, and in the process very detrimental to our country,” he said.

Corker added that unless senators are able to avoid going nuclear, the Senate will eventually turn into a “six-year House term.”

Republican Sens. John McCainJohn McCainMcCain looking to strike deal with Democrats on Gorsuch nomination McCain responds to North Korean criticism to calling Kim Jong-un ‘crazy fat kid’ Overnight Finance: Dems seek probe of acting SEC chief | Defense hawks say they won’t back short-term funding | Senate seen as start point for Trump infrastructure plan | Dems want more money for IRS MORE (Ariz.) and Susan CollinsSusan CollinsPence casts tiebreaking Senate procedural vote on funding for abortion providers Senate braces for fallout over Supreme Court fight Overnight Finance: WH wants to slash billions | Border wall funding likely on hold | Wells Fargo to pay 0M over unauthorized accounts | Dems debate revamping consumer board MORE (Maine) are also walking a fine line, refusing to either implicitly support or directly rule out using the nuclear option if Democrats block Gorsuch’s nomination.

“I really hope that it doesn’t come to that,” Collins told reporters. “I don’t want to change the rules and the Senate, and I hope we’re not confronted with that choice.”

It wouldn’t be the first time the Senate nearly went nuclear only to back down. In 2005, the bipartisan “Gang of 14” reached a deal to avoid getting rid of the filibuster on all judicial nominations in return for Democrats limiting which nominees they would try to block.

Collins, McCain and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamOvernight Finance: Dems seek probe of acting SEC chief | Defense hawks say they won’t back short-term funding | Senate seen as start point for Trump infrastructure plan | Dems want more money for IRS Overnight Defense: Pentagon considers more troops for Afghanistan | McCain, Graham won’t back short-term funding | GOP defends Trump rules of engagement McCain and Graham: We won’t back short-term government funding bill MORE (R-S.C.) are the only three members of the group left in the Senate.

Manchin, who is up for reelection in a state that Trump won by more than 40 points, signaled on Tuesday that he’s huddling with colleagues about how to preserve the 60-vote procedural threshold for Supreme Court nominees.

“I want to make sure I’m talking to my colleagues and everything and see if we can get to a point where we can prevent from going to, basically a blow up, if you will, the nuclear option,” he told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Tuesday.

A spokesman for Manchin confirmed that the red-state lawmaker will help get Gorsuch’s nomination over the procedural threshold.

Sen. Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampMcCain looking to strike deal with Democrats on Gorsuch nomination Dem leaders give centrists space on Gorsuch Senate Dems to Trump: Work with us on ObamaCare MORE (D-N.D.) said separately that Gorsuch should get an “up-or-down vote” but didn’t specifically say she would vote for cloture. She remains undecided on a final vote on his nomination. 

“I’m in the process of reviewing the materials he submitted and testimony from his hearing before the Judiciary Committee while I continue to consider his nomination,” she said.

More mainstream Democrats, including Sens. Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahySenate braces for fallout over Supreme Court fight Register of copyrights should be presidential appointee GOP senator on going nuclear: ‘I really hope that it doesn’t come to that’ MORE (Vt.) and Ben CardinBen CardinThe truth is the latest casualty of today’s brand of politics Senate braces for fallout over Supreme Court fight Democrats step up calls that Russian hack was act of war MORE (Md.), are hinting that they would also like to avoid a fight over the nuclear option.

Leahy, a former Judiciary Committee chairman, told a Vermont publication that he isn’t “inclined to filibuster” Gorsuch, but later appeared to walk back his comments.

“Unless #JudgeGorsuch provides REAL answers to written Qs & senators are given ample time for review & debate, he will be filibustered,” he wrote on Twitter.

Cardin said on Tuesday he would vote against Gorsuch’s confirmation but left the door open to helping him overcome the 60-vote procedural hurdle.

“I want to see what accommodations are made,” he said when asked if his opposition to Gorsuch also meant he would vote no on cloture.

He recommended that Schumer and McConnell get together and talk.

Republican leaders haven’t specifically said they would go nuclear on Gorsuch, but they’ve begun to lay the rhetorical groundwork for the decision by accusing Democrats of abusing their power.

“What our colleagues are doing are basically saying that no nominee of President Trump or any Republican nominee is going to get confirmed to the Supreme Court because they are going to require 60 votes to do so,” charged Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynTexas Dem targets Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 Senate Dems: Border wall is a budget ‘poison pill’ Senate braces for fallout over Supreme Court fight MORE (R-Texas). “This would be unprecedented in our nation’s history.”

Democrats are facing a mountain of pressure from both sides over Gorsuch’s nomination: outside GOP groups are pouring in millions of dollars, while progressive groups charge that supporting Gorsuch would be on par with enabling Trump.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee is asking its members to target Leahy over his “squishy” comments, as well as Manchin, warning them both not to support cloture on Gorsuch.

“Voting against the filibuster is the same as voting for Gorsuch. Republicans can easily win a confirmation vote that only takes 50 votes to win. But getting the 60 votes to break the filibuster would be much harder,” they wrote in their email to supporters.

The group also asked their supporters to contact Michigan Democratic Sens. Debbie StabenowDebbie StabenowMembers help package meals at Kraft Heinz charity event in DC Senate braces for fallout over Supreme Court fight The Hill’s Whip List: 32 Dems are against Trump’s Supreme Court nominee MORE and Gary Peters — who have both announced their opposition to Gorsuch — to thank them and “and tell them we’ll get their back if they filibuster Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.”

– This story was updated at 10:26 a.m.


Trump tells senators: We can deal on health care ‘very quickly’


President Donald Trump speaks at a reception for Senators and their spouses in the East Room of the White House on March 28. | AP Photo

President Donald Trump still sees a deal on health care. In fact, he told senators he has “no doubt that that’s going to happen very quickly.”

Speaking in brief remarks at a White House reception for senators and their spouses, Trump brushed off the recent collapse of a House-led bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.

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Instead, Trump said, based on the bipartisan crowd gathered he expects to do a deal on health care sooner rather than later.

“A lot of people showed up,” Trump said of the crowd, which included more than half the Senate and their spouses. “People we weren’t expecting. I know that we are all going to make a deal on health care. That’s such an easy one.”

He added, “I have no doubt that’s going to happen very quickly.”

Trump told the senators the public expected action: “We have all been promising it — Democrat, Republican — to the public.”

Trump noted he had “some very special friends in the room” and noted a “shockingly … bipartisan,” crowd.

The president said he hoped the event was the start of something new.

“We are going to be doing a great job. Hopefully it will start being bipartisan because everybody really wants the same thing. We want greatness for this country that we love.”

He called out Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer: “I think we are going to have some very good relationships — right, Chuck? I see Chuck. Hello, Chuck.”

The reception included a mix of Democrats and Republicans. Entertainment included the Army Chorus, and Trump seemed to revel in the atmosphere.

“Nobody ever told me that politics was going to be so much fun,” Trump said.

Vice President Mike Pence, his wife, Karen, Trump and first lady Melania Trump all attended the event.