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Mueller questioned Wikistrat on work with UAE

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Special counsel Robert Mueller, who’s investigating Russian interference in U.S. politics, has looked into the work of a consulting firm that’s done business in the Middle East, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

Mueller’s team “informally met” Joel Zamel, co-founder of the consulting firm Wikistrat, according to the report, which cited one person familiar with the matter.

Wikistrat, a Washington-based company that analyzes geopolitical issues, has worked for the United Arab Emirates, which tried to win U.S. backing for a regional blockade on Qatar, the Journal reported. Wikistrat was founded in Israel in 2010.

During the meeting, Zamel was asked about his business relationship with George Nader, an adviser to the U.A.E. and a witness in the special counsel’s investigation, according to the report. Mueller’s team also asked about Zamel’s work for certain clients, the report added.

It wasn’t clear where the questioning was leading, according to the report. The Journal suggested that Mueller’s probe may be “looking more deeply at foreign influence in Washington” — beyond Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Marc Mukasey, a lawyer representing Wikistrat, said neither Zamel nor the company are targets of the Mueller investigation.

“Neither Mr. Zamel nor Wikistrat are the targets of any investigation. Mr. Zamel is a well respected and ethical businessman with a fantastic company and a great reputation,” Mukasey told CNBC in an email late Monday.

The office of the special counsel didn’t respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

For the full report on Wikistrat, read the Wall Street Journal.

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House opens probe into security failures in deadly U.S. Capitol attack

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House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks to reporters next to U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) as House Democrats respond to a White House briefing on reports Russia paid the Taliban bounties to kill U.S. troops during a news conference following the briefing at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., June 30, 2020.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

The Democratic-led House of Representatives on Saturday sent a letter to FBI Director Chris Wray and other agency chiefs seeking information on the intelligence and security failures that led up to the breach of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 that forced lawmakers into hiding.

Four House committee chairs signed onto the letter, which called for documents and briefings from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Counterterrorism Center and the Director of National Intelligence on what was known ahead of the attack.

“This still-emerging story is one of astounding bravery by some U.S. Capitol Police and other officers; of staggering treachery by violent criminals; and of apparent and high-level failures — in particular, with respect to intelligence and security preparedness,” the committees wrote.

The letter was signed by Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y. and Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. 

The probe comes as lawmakers — and Democrats in particular — are clamoring for more information on how a mob of President Donald Trump supporters was able to break into the so-called “People’s House,” which has its own police force, and delay the certification of President-elect Joe Biden‘s Electoral College victory by several hours.

The inspectors general of the Department of Justice, Defense, Homeland Security and Interior have launched reviews of their agency’s actions connected to the attack.

In the letter, lawmakers cited press reporting that the U.S. Capitol Police had been warned that Trump supporters would attempt to violently enter into the Capitol.

NBC News reported on Jan. 10 that the FBI and the New York Police Department passed information to the Capitol Police about threats of violence directed at the counting of the Electoral College votes.

The Washington Post reported on Jan. 12 that an FBI field office in Virginia had warned ahead of the attack that extremists headed to Washington were planning for “war.”

“Security and logistical preparations before January 6 were not consistent with the prospect of serious and widespread violence. Yet, according to media accounts that have surfaced in recent days, federal and other authorities earlier on possessed — and may have shared with some parties — intelligence and other information forecasting a dire security threat against the Congress’s meeting to certify the election results,” the committee chairs wrote.

“These latter reports, if acted upon, might have prompted more extensive planning for the event, and the infusion of far greater security and other resources,” they added.

Capitol Police officials have said they did not see FBI intelligence ahead of the attack.

The committee chairs lay out three broad lines of inquiry that they will pursue.

The first is what was known by the intelligence community and law enforcement ahead of, during and after the attack. The lawmakers also said they will be probing whether any foreign powers played a role in exploiting the crisis.

The second prong the committees are examining is whether any current or former holders of national security clearances participated in the insurrection.

The committees are also asking for information on government policy in response to the attack, including measures to prevent those implicated in crimes from traveling.

“The Committees expect and appreciate your full cooperation with this matter – while of course recognizing that resources appropriately and immediately must be allocated to efforts to counter any continuing threats to the transfer of power, including the presidential inauguration and related activities,” the committee chairs wrote.

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Armin Laschet picked as new leader of Germany’s ruling CDU party 

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Candidate for the chairmanship of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union party, Armin Laschet, gestures as he takes part in a discussion at the party’s headquarters in Berlin on Jan. 8, 2021.

CHRISTIAN MANG / POOL / AFP) (Photo by CHRISTIAN MANG/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

FRANKFURT, Germany — Germany’s ruling CDU party picked Armin Laschet to be its new chairman on Saturday, possibly paving the way for him to replace Angela Merkel as chancellor at elections later this year. 

Laschet is currently the prime minister of Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia region, the most populous federal state in the country. He beat rival Friedrich Merz by 521 to 466 in a vote that was forced online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Born in 1961, he was first elected to the Bundestag (German Parliament) in 1994 and his election is seen as a continuation of Merkel’s policies, as he has pledged to keep the CDU firmly in the “middle of society.” 

With him as chairman, the CDU will likely stay on message and focus on more climate change policies and environmental topics. He has a strong Catholic background which brings him support from Christian circles within the party. 

He is a trained lawyer and also worked as a journalist at the time of German reunification between 1986 and 1991. He is seen as being very liberal and is popular with the immigrant community in his home state.

If he becomes the CDU’s candidate for chancellor at September’s elections, he could be open to various coalitions — power sharing is somewhat of a recent tradition in German politics.

He has floated the idea of a government alongside the liberals, the FDP, in a bid to win over parts of the business camp inside the CDU. But he is also seen as a natural fit for a coalition with the Greens too, as he is on good speaking terms with the party and favors environmental issues.

But the CDU’s candidate for chancellor will only be determined in the spring. And it’s not certain that the newly-elected chairman will automatically move into Merkel’s role. Markus Söder, the very popular Bavarian prime minister, and also Jens Spahn, the current health minister, may also join the race to lead Europe’s largest economy.

Merkel stepped down as leader of the CDU in 2018, and her replacement Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer quit in February 2020 after a series of communication mishaps exposed her as being too weak to lead the chancellery.

This is a breaking news story, please check back later for more.

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Biden heads into inauguration with a stock market tailwind

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