Overnight Technology

Hillicon Valley: Trump's exclusive interview with Hill.TV | Trump, intel officials clash over Russia docs | EU investigating Amazon | Military gets new cyber authority | Flynn sentencing sparks new questions about Mueller probe

Welcome to Hillicon Valley, The Hill's newsletter detailing all you need to know about the tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley.

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TRUMP TIME: President Trump sat down with The Hill for a wide-ranging interview on Tuesday, weighing in on a number of topics from the Russia investigation to the Department of Justice.

Trump launched one of his most ferocious broadsides to date against Jeff Sessions, suggesting the attorney general was essentially AWOL and performing badly on a variety of issues.

"I don't have an attorney general. It's very sad," Trump told Hill.TV.

The president has long excoriated Sessions for his March 2017 decision to recuse himself from the Russia collusion investigation. But on Tuesday he suggested he is frustrated by Sessions's performance on far more than that.

"I'm not happy at the border, I'm not happy with numerous things, not just this," he said.

The president also said he ordered the release of classified documents in the Russia collusion case to show the public the FBI probe started as a "hoax" and that exposing it could become one of the "crowning achievements" of his presidency.

"What we've done is a great service to the country, really," Trump said. "I hope to be able to call this, along with tax cuts and regulation and all the things I've done ... in its own way this might be the most important thing because this was corrupt."

Trump also said he regretted not firing former FBI Director James Comey immediately instead of waiting until May 2017, confirming an account his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, gave Hill.TV earlier in the day that Trump was dismayed in 2016 by the way Comey handled the Hillary Clinton email case and began discussing firing him well before he became president.

"If I did one mistake with Comey, I should have fired him before I got here. I should have fired him the day I won the primaries," Trump said. "I should have fired him right after the convention, say I don't want that guy. Or at least fired him the first day on the job. ... I would have been better off firing him or putting out a statement that I don't want him there when I get there."

Read the transcript of the whole interview here.

 

TRUMP AND INTEL COMMUNITY POISED TO CLASH OVER RUSSIA DOCS: President Trump's decision to publicly release classified documents related to the Trump-Russia dossier could further inflame his administration's already tense relationship with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the intelligence community.

The president sparked a political firestorm after he bulldozed past reviews of his own federal agencies regarding the redactions of sensitive documents. Instead, Trump chose to declassify documents tied to special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

Under Trump's order on Monday, a series of documents will become public, including classified parts of a surveillance application that allowed the FBI to wiretap former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, FBI reports of interviews with Justice Department official Bruce Ohr and "all text messages relating to the Russia investigation" from former FBI Director James Comey.

One Republican source familiar with the impending document release says the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and Justice Department are expected to coordinate the release of the documents. The release, the source noted, isn't expected to happen this week.

House Republicans, who made a direct appeal to Trump to release the documents earlier this month, say the records will support their claims that the Russia probe has been tainted by political bias.

Former intelligence officials, however, say the monumental disclosure poses a serious conflict of interest since the documents are related to an investigation in which he is personally involved.

"You don't have to be a legal expert to see that the president has a built-in conflict here to take some of the actions that he is taking because they relate to an investigation of people surrounding him," Ron Hosko, a former assistant director of the FBI, told The Hill.

Officials say the move is not only unprecedented but also a short-sighted, politically motivated decision that could have long-term national security implications. "It shows no regard at all for the judicial and the investigative process, which are the foundation of our system of laws. It is clearly being done as a purely political gamble," said John McLaughlin, who served as acting director of the CIA during the Bush administration.

Read more here.

 

OH, and: Trump told the Hill.TV that he has not reviewed the documents himself.

 

EU REGULATORS SET THEIR SIGHTS ON AMAZON: The European Union antitrust regulator that has been aggressively policing American tech giants said on Wednesday that her office is now looking into Amazon's business practices.

Margrethe Vestager, Europe's Commissioner for Competition, said at a news conference on Wednesday that she had opened a preliminary inquiry into the e-commerce giant.

At issue, Vestager said, was how the company handles data from the merchants hosted on its platform that it also competes with. If regulators find that Amazon is using that data to hurt competitors, the company could be in for a crackdown.

"We are gathering information on the issue and have sent quite a number of questionnaires to market participants in order to understand this issue in full," Vestager said, adding that the commission hasn't opened a formal investigation.

U.S. tech companies have learned in recent years not to take the EU watchdog lightly. Read more here.

 

CYBER GETS AGGRESSIVE: The Department of Defense's new cyber strategy gives the U.S. military authority to act more aggressively in the case of cyber attacks, which could include acting against countries that considered friendly toward the United States.

The new version of the strategy, first reported on by CNN on Tuesday, states that the department will "defend forward" to block cyber threats against the U.S., essentially giving the military the authority to initiate preventative cyberattacks.

"Our primary role in this homeland defense mission is to defend forward by leveraging our focus outward to stop threats before they reach their targets," the strategy reads.

CNN noted that hackers from one nation will often establish a computer network in a second country before using that network to launch an attack against the U.S., which opens to the door to attacking networks housed in American-allied countries.

The new strategy does prevent the U.S. from attacking civilian infrastructure in other countries, citing a United Nations agreement "against damaging civilian critical infrastructure during peacetime."

The new strategy comes as top Trump administration officials hint toward a more proactive approach to blocking cyber threats. President Trump reportedly rolled back a directive last month on how the U.S. launches cyber attacks against other countries that required several departments to weigh in and sign off on the move.

Read more here.

 

COULD FLYNN MARK THE END (and yes, rhyme intended)?: Robert Mueller's request that a federal judge move forward with sentencing for Michael Flynn, President Trump's former national security adviser, has triggered new debate over the status of the special counsel's investigation and the value of Flynn's cooperation.

Some observers interpreted the move, which followed months of delays in Flynn's sentencing, as an indication that Mueller is unlikely to call Flynn to testify at any future trials that may arise from the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

"It's a sign that, perhaps, Flynn may not be critical to other pieces of Mueller's investigation," said Ron Hosko, a former assistant director at the FBI.

But Hosko and others warned that while Mueller may be wrapping up with Flynn, the development should not be construed as a sign that Mueller is concluding his broader probe, which includes examining possible collusion between Trump's campaign and Moscow and whether the president obstructed justice.

"These are the types of moves a prosecutor makes when they are entering the final stage of an investigation or prosecution," said Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University. "What people have to be cautious about is that Mueller could be wrapping up aspects of his investigation while continuing to explore other aspects."

Mueller's request for Flynn's sentencing came days after he secured a key cooperator in Paul Manafort, the onetime Trump campaign chairman who participated in the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer that was predicated on obtaining damaging information on then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

"The Mueller investigation is now so sprawling that it is dangerous to assume that shutting down one aspect will necessarily mean the end to all aspects of his investigation," said Turley, who is also an opinion contributor for The Hill.

Flynn pleaded guilty in December to one count of lying to FBI agents about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States and agreed to cooperate with Mueller's team, from submitting to interviews with government investigators to providing courthouse testimony.

Read more here.

 

A LIGHTER TWITTER CLICK: Vocab tests were hard, okay?

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Inside Facebook's election 'war room.' (The New York Times)

Women don't just face a gender pay gap. They also suffer from a stock options gap. (The Washington Post)

A major bug in Bitcoin software could have crashed the currency (Motherboard)

Alibaba bails on pledge to create one million U.S. jobs. (Axios)

Nearly half of cellphone calls will be scams by 2019, report says (The Washington Post)

Global tech firms gear up to fight India's planned data law. (Reuters)

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