U.S.-Led Coalition Airstrikes Against ISIS Increase By 50 Percent

The U.S.-led coalition has launched significantly more airstrikes against the Islamic State this year, increasing the number of bombs dropped on the terrorist group by about 50 percent.

A total of 14,192 rockets, bombs, and other munitions were deployed against ISIS in the first four months of 2017, compared to 9,442 during the same period in 2016, USA Today reported Tuesday, citing the latest statistics from U.S. Air Forces Central Command.

The uptick in strikes "can be attributed to the increased pace of operations in both Iraq and Syria as we target and destroy ISIS," Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, a spokesman for Air Forces Central Command, said Tuesday.

President Trump has given battlefield commanders greater authority to approve airstrikes and raids, quickening response times to react to events on the ground.

The Obama administration, in contrast, reserved many decisions about airstrikes for the highest levels of the military and had stricter rules of engagement.

"He [Trump] delegated authority to the right level to aggressively and in a timely manner move against enemy vulnerabilities," Secretary of Defense James Mattis said last week.

With more flexibility to launch strikes, Air Force officials insist they have not loosened their strict standards for using American air power.

"The protection of civilians remains a cornerstone of the campaign," Pickart said, adding that 90 percent of the munitions used have been precision guided.

Trump has also ordered the Pentagon to focus on surrounding ISIS forces to block them from fleeing at the last minute. ISIS fighters in the past have been able to escape at the last minute as U.S.-backed ground forces closed in on them.

"We carry out the annihilation campaign so we don't simply transplant this problem from one location to another," Mattis said.

U.S.-backed forces are engaged on the ground in Mosul, the terror group's last major stronghold in Iraq, fighting to liberate the western part of the city. The Pentagon is also planning to retake Raqqa, the group's de facto capital in Syria.

The U.S. has about 1,000 troops in Syria and about 5,000 in Iraq, including hundreds of advisers on the ground.

Gertz on New Book ‘iWar’: U.S. Is ‘Totally Unaware’ of Extent of Information War Threat

Washington Free Beacon senior editor Bill Gertz discussed his new book iWar: War and Peace in the Information Age during a radio interview with Ross Kaminsky on Tuesday.

Gertz said the premise of the book is that the world is currently engulfed in information warfare, which is a combination of both cyber and technical attacks. Examples include the "WannaCry" malware that recently wreaked havoc on the British health system and the Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 election.

Adversaries of the U.S. like China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and Islamic radical terrorists are employing these techniques, and the U.S. is "totally unaware" of it, he said.

"We're living in an information age," Gertz said. "Those countries have figured that they can't confront the United States on the kinetic, military front, so they're using information operations. This is really to sound the alarm that the United States needs to take steps to first of all counter this foreign information warfare, and then to get into the fight on our own level."

Gertz, who frequently writes on cybersecurity and national security, and Kaminsky also delved into new strain of ransomware called "EternalRocks," which, according to researchers, attacks similarly to the "WannaCry" ransomware.

Former CIA Director: Contacts, Interactions Between Trump Camp, Russia Not Evidence of Collusion

Former CIA Director John Brennan said Tuesday during a congressional hearing that contacts and interactions between Donald Trump's presidential campaign and Russian officials do not constitute evidence of collusion.

Brennan's testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence came on the heels of many Democratic lawmakers calling for President Trump's impeachment because of their belief that Trump colluded with the Russian government during the 2016 campaign. Several other Democrats, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), have said there is so far no evidence of collusion.

Rep. Michael Turner (R., Ohio) asked Brennan to clarify his earlier testimony that contacts and interactions alone do not constitute evidence of collusion.

Read the full transcript below:

TURNER: So, you indicated that you saw, when asked about whether or not you'd seen evidence of collusion or collaboration, you said that you saw intelligence that indicated there had been contacts with individuals, with Russians, that were of a nature that bore investigation. You said that those contacts might have been benign, might not have been, but they rose to the level of indicating that they need to be reviewed for their nature and looking into an investigation. Did I characterize that correctly?

BRENNAN: Yes, but I don't want to take this out of context. You know, we see contacts, interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons all the time. It is when it's in a context that there is something else going on, and so, we knew at the time that the Russians were involved in this effort to try to interfere in our election. So, with that backdrop and increasing indications that they were involved in that, seeing these types of contacts and interactions during this same period of time raised my concern.

TURNER: Excellent. I appreciate that qualification. But if someone left this hearing today and said that you had indicated that those contacts were evidence of collusion or collaboration, they would be misrepresenting your statements, correct?

BRENNAN: They will have misheard my response to the very good questions that were asked of me. I'm trying to be as clear as possible in terms of what I know, what I assess, and what I can say.

TURNER: So, you would say that's a misrepresentation of your statement, yes?

BRENNAN: I would say that it was not an accurate portrayal of my statement, absolutely. It was inconsistent with my remarks.

Coats: Leaks From Inside the Government Damage National Security, ‘Jeopardize Lives’

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats slammed leaks from inside the American government during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday.

Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) asked Coats to explain how damaging intelligence leaks pertaining to the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election are to American national security.

"Isn't it true that some of these leaks can be damaging to national security, Director Coats?" McCain asked.

"Leaks have become a very significant, played a very significant, negative role relative to our national security," Coats said. "The release of information not only undermines confidence in our allies about our ability to maintain secure information that we share with them; it jeopardizes sources and methods that are invaluable to our ability to find out what's going on and what those threats are."

"Lives are at stake in many instances and leaks jeopardize those lives," Coats continued.

The discussion sprang from a series of anonymous leaks from the Trump White House in recent weeks that have led to bombshell reports in publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post, including reports that Trump discussed highly classified information with top Russian officials in the Oval Office.

Gowdy Poised to Replace Chaffetz as Oversight Chairman

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R., S.C.) could become chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee following the June 30th departure of the current chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah).

Gowdy, who led the two year House Benghazi probe, has "near unanimous" support from the 36-member House Republican Steering Committee that determines chairmanships, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.

Gowdy has declined to comment on his interest, and a Gowdy spokeswoman told the Post that the congressman "is continuing to speak with members in the conference about the qualities they believe are most important for the next Chairman to possess."

Several committee members said they were backing Gowdy, and that he was ready to take up the job. Rep. Tom Graves (R., Ga.), a Steering Committee member, said he plans to nominate Gowdy.

"Trey’s proven himself over the last several years with the difficult roles he’s accepted, and clearly his history and his background perfectly suits him for this chairmanship," Graves said. "He’s got the trust and the confidence of our conference, and he’s going to do a fantastic job."

Most of Gowdy's potential competition has stood down. Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) said that he would not pursue the position, although he outranks Gowdy in seniority.

Jordan, a co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus, said he would not make a bid for the role because he has built a reputation as an anti-establishment member of the GOP caucus.

"I have not been making a play, and I’m not going to," said Jordan. "Look, you guys know how this works: The establishment’s not going to put the anti-establishment guy in charge of the committee whose job it is to go after the establishment."

A number of Freedom Caucus members said they were willing to back Jordan if he fought for the position. Rep. Paul Gosar (R., Ariz.) said that he would have gotten behind Jordan if he'd wanted the chairmanship.

"Here’s a guy who’s been very dynamic on the committee, he’s very organized, and he identifies with people across the country," said Gosar. "Not that Trey doesn’t, but he’s been the center focus of [Oversight and Government Reform] from day one."

But Jordan is backing Gowdy.

"I think Trey’s probably going to be our guy, and Trey’s a good guy," Jordan said.

Rep. Dennis A. Ross (R., Fla.) is also out of the running, and has chosen to support Gowdy.

"He’s got the credibility. He’s got the expertise," Ross told the Post. "He knows the jurisdiction of the committee very well, having served on it for six years. And he can do the legislation that’s necessary."

While it seems most of Gowdy's opponents have stepped out of the way, at least one remains: Rep. Steven Russell (R., Okla.). Russell is considered well-respected among his House colleagues, but lacks the background and support from the Steering Committee.

But it is unlikely that Russell will pose much of a threat: he told the Post that he is running for chairman with Gowdy's support, more to raise his profile for a possible future vacancy.

"I’m very aware of what goes on behind those closed doors, but I think it’s also important to provide a depth of bench," Russell said. "Do we honestly think that we will not be facing this problem again in a couple of years? Mr. Gowdy is in high demand. If there were a federal prosecuting job or something of that nature that were to come along, then rightfully so it would be of great interest to him."

The likely handoff from Chaffetz to Gowdy comes amid questions as to whether or not the Committee and Republican Congress will investigate alleged ties between associates of President Donald Trump and the Russian government. Chaffetz only recently began investigating possible attempts by the White House to deter a federal probe into the connections.

Chaffetz had also invited former FBI Director James Comey to testify before the Committee this week, before Comey's firing earlier this month. That testimony was cancelled when it became unclear as to whether or not it would interfere with the ongoing investigation led by the FBI. It is unclear whether Comey will appear before the committee with Gowdy at the helm.

The Steering Committee will meet in early June, the week after Memorial day, to select the new Oversight Committee chairman.

Kredo: After Obama-Created Power Vacuum, Trump Reasserting America in the Middle East

Washington Free Beacon reporter Adam Kredo discussed the Trump administration's $110-billion defense deal with Saudi Arabia during an appearance Monday on One America News.

Host Liz Wheeler took exception to the U.S. deal with Saudi Arabia, due to the majority of the 9/11 terrorists hailing from the country and the nation's continued human rights and women's rights problems.

"They happen to be a major U.S. ally," Kredo said. "I think the announcement of the deal represents one very major thing … Saudi Arabia, for the past eight years, has really been in a troubled place, and that's because of the power vacuum created by the Obama administration."

Kredo said President Trump's approach was "wildly different," in that it was about empowering allies in the Middle East.

"For better or worse, they are an ally, and the president's chief goal is to conduct diplomacy for the United States of America, and that's what Trump is doing, reasserting America in the region," he said.

Eight years of a "power vacuum," Kredo said, did not work out well for American allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia. Kredo went on to praise Trump's speech Sunday in Saudi Arabia that said the fight against terrorism could not be fought by the U.S. alone.

Tipper Gore Holding Fundraiser at Home of Anti-Vax Dem Donors

The former wife of failed Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore will be a special guest at a fundraiser at the Virginia home of anti-vaccine Democratic donors Claire and Al Dwoskin, according to an invitation emailed to supporters Monday.

Gore's appearance at the June 8 event will be in support of Kathleen Murphy, a candidate for Virginia's House of Delegates. The event will take place at the Dwoskins' McLean mansion.

The Dwoskins, who have a history of supporting the political ambitions of Bill and Hillary Clinton, have claimed through their family foundation that there may be links between increased cases of reported autism and childhood vaccinations. The Dwoskin Family Foundation once claimed "gaps in the knowledge about the biological and genetic risk factors for vaccine induced brain and immune dysfunction," according to The Daily Beast.

Writing about the couple's so-called charitable work, the Beast said, "In other words, they’re vaccination skeptics. And the foundation is just one in a series of anti-vaxx projects that the wealthy couple bankrolls."

The news site, writing in 2014, went on to claim that "the websites of their various foundations contain information that has been debunked or unsubstantiated."

In particular, the Dwoskins' foundation has claimed that the aluminum in vaccines could be linked to vaccines and has supported other so-called charitable endeavors that claim vaccines contain toxic ingredients like "aluminum adjuvants, polysorbate 80 and Thimerosal."

Scientists have debunked these unsubstantiated claims.

Tipper Gore's ex-husband, Al, served two terms as vice president during the Bill Clinton presidency. An inquiry placed through Gore's website, which is currently devoted to the former second lady's art projects, went unanswered.

The pair separated shortly after the former VP was accused of sexually assaulting multiple massage therapists.

Cost to attend the Democratic fundraiser, according to the invitation, will run supporters between $250 and $2,500.

Al Dwoskin in the president and CEO of his own real estate development and management firm, A.J. Dwoskin & Associates, Inc. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

CIA Sought FBI Probe Into Russian Targeting of Trump Campaign

Former CIA Director John Brennan told a House hearing on Tuesday the CIA first asked the FBI last summer to investigate contacts between Russian intelligence officials and Americans in the Trump campaign.

Skirting concerns involving classified information, John Brennan, President Obama's CIA chief, provided few details on the intelligence related to Russian recruitment attempts against Trump aides, who he described as "U.S. persons."

Asked if there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, Brennan said he did not know. But he said Russian intelligence was actively seeking to suborn Americans and that a number of contacts had taken place with campaign officials.

"I encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals, and it raised questions in my mind whether or not the Russians were able gain the cooperation of those individuals, " Brennan told the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

"I don't know whether or not such ‘collusion' existed. I don't know," he added. "But there was a sufficient basis of information and intelligence that required further investigation to determine whether U.S. persons were actively conspiring, colluding with Russian officials."

Brennan testified that he knew the names of the Americans but declined to provide the names in the public hearing. He also did not describe the nature of the intelligence on the Americans.

Brennan, a career CIA analyst, was considered among the CIA's more liberal directors. As a student he voted for a Communist Party USA candidate for president, Gus Hall, during the height of the Cold War. He voiced worries the vote for a communist president would disqualify him from a job in the CIA when he joined in 1980.

As CIA director, Brennan initiated a number of reforms that critics say have weakened the agency, including weakening the CIA operations directorate, its spying branch, by mixing in analysts with espionage and covert action specialists.

Brennan said in July he set up a task force that included FBI agents and National Security Agency officials to look into Russian election meddling. Sometime last summer, he then formally referred intelligence reports on the Russia-Trump campaign contacts to the FBI for further investigation.

The testimony is part of the House committee's investigation into whether Russian intelligence was able to penetrate the Trump presidential election campaign. It is also investigating how electronic intelligence related to the U.S. investigations of the matter was leaked to the press.

Brennan, in declining to specify the CIA intelligence on the Russian contacts, said documents related to the matter have been provided to the committee by the agency.

FBI Director James Comey announced to Congress in March that the FBI was conducting a counterintelligence probe into "any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts."

President Trump has dismissed the Russian collusion allegations as a hoax. He fired Comey earlier this month in part over concerns that the FBI was pursuing an unwarranted probe into the Russia ties.

A Justice Department special counsel, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, was appointed earlier this month to investigate the Russian effort to penetrate the Trump campaign.

Brennan was asked several times during the hearing whether he could confirm collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians and said he could not. However, the context of the contacts—Russian intelligence had hacked and disseminated Democratic Party-related documents—raised concerns that he said needed to be investigated.

Brennan said, "I felt as though the FBI investigation was certainly well-founded and needed to look into those issues."

Brennan said on August 4 that he spoke to Alexander Bortnikov, director of Russia's Federal Security Service, the main intelligence agency, as part of an intelligence-sharing arrangement related to Syria.

The former CIA chief then complained about Russian mistreatment of U.S. diplomats in Moscow before shifting to the topic of Russian election meddling.

"I next raised the published media reports of Russian attempts to interfere in our upcoming presidential election," he said. "I told Mr. Bortnikov that if Russia had such a campaign underway, it would be certain to backfire. I said that all Americans regardless of political affiliation or whom they might support in the election cherish their ability to elect their own leaders without outside interference or disruption. I said American voters would be outraged by any Russian attempt to interfere in election."

The FBI counterspy probe had begun about two months earlier. Brennan was not asked during the hearing whether he raised Russian attempts to try and recruit Trump campaign officials during the conversation with Bortnikov.

Bortnikov, in the conversation, denied Moscow was engaged in an influence operation against the election, Brennan said.

Brennan also disclosed under questioning that the FBI sought to pursue information contained in a private intelligence dossier done by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele.

The CIA did not rely on the dossier for its intelligence reporting on Russian activities related to the campaign. "It wasn't part of the corpus of intelligence" on Russian influence activities and was not made part of the final report, Brennan said.

The FBI, however, tried to confirm elements of the report, Brennan noted.

The dossier, produced by a private company linked to the Democratic Party, asserted that Russia has been "cultivating, supporting and assisting" Trump for five years. The document has been widely discredited as containing false information, however.

Rep. Chris Stewart (R., Utah) said he has reviewed raw CIA intelligence related to the intelligence community assessment of Russian election meddling and said he does not agree with its conclusion that Moscow sought to boost Trump's chances of winning.

"I don't agree with the conclusion [of the intelligence community assessment] particularly that it's such a high level of confidence," Stewart said.

"I just think there should have been allowances made for some of the ambiguity in that, and especially for those who didn't share in the conclusion that there is a high degree of confidence."

Allegations of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign remain unconfirmed but have set off a bitter political battle.

Democrats in Congress have charged the Russians secretly worked with Trump campaign associates to skew the election against the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton.

Since the election that brought Trump to power, many Democrats have alleged the win was the result of a conspiracy between Russian intelligence and the Trump campaign to defeat Clinton.

Republicans have questioned whether there is any solid evidence linking Moscow to the Trump campaign.

Congressional Republicans also are investigating whether highly classified intelligence gathered against foreign officials in the United States was misused to gather political intelligence against Trump and his transition team.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.), the House intelligence committee chairman, has charged that documents he has reviewed indicate that Americans were improperly spied on during an Obama administration foreign intelligence monitoring operation between November and January—the period when the Trump transition team was functioning.

Nunes, who was sidelined from the Russian investigation by an ethics probe related to the intelligence disclosures, also has said there are indications intelligence agencies may have improperly "unmasked" the identities of Americans that are normally blacked out in foreign intelligence reports to protect privacy rights.

The New York Times reported in March that during this period, the Obama administration was frantically seeking to uncover and preserve intelligence on Russia-Trump campaign ties, fearing the new president would destroy it once in power.

Three Trump aides have been the focus of the Democrats' allegations. They include former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, and unofficial campaign adviser Carter Page.

"Every day the American public is bombarded with news about the Russian interference in our elections," said the committee's acting chairman, Rep. Mike Conaway (R., Texas).

"Many of [these] reports are false and/or misleading," he said. "Today is an opportunity to focus on the truth and the truth can be only found through a full and fair investigation of all the facts."

Committee Vice Chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) called the Russian influence operation during the 2016 campaign "an unprecedented attack on our democratic institutions."

Schiff during earlier hearings had asked several questions of intelligence and law enforcement witnesses based on the discredited dossier.

Dems Building List of Political Novices to Help Regain House in 2018

The Democratic Party is creating a list of political novices to emerge in 2018 to challenge Republicans in traditionally conservative districts that supported Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.

Democratic officials on Monday shared a collection of names with the Washington Examiner that they hope will help build a new House majority.

The list includes political newcomers who have worked in business, medicine, philanthropy, and the military.

Democrats hope the progressive wing of the party that supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) will tolerate more moderate nominees that can appeal to Republican voters who are dissatisfied with President Trump but also uneasy about making Nancy Pelosi the speaker of the House again.

"The progressive base will be fine with it," a Democratic operative told the Examiner. "The question is, what the Bernie base will do. Most will be with their fellow progressives and liberals. But they vocal nihilists will get disproportionate attention from the media."

Democrats need to win 24 seats to regain a majority in the House. They are currently targeting 23 Republican-held districts won by Clinton, plus other swing districts where Trump was successful.

According to the Examiner, the list of potential candidates includes:

Vietnamese physician Mai-Khanh Tran, poised to challenge House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R., Calif.), in an Orange County district that voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton over Trump; and attorney and Army combat veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq Jason Crow, who is running against Rep. Mike Coffman (R., Colo.), a Marine veteran, in a suburban Denver district that Hillary Clinton won.

The Democratic Party has others on its radar, the Examiner noted.

Bryan Caforio, an attorney and the 2016 nominee running again for the nomination to challenge Rep. Steve Knight (R., Calif.); businessman Harley Rouda, running for the nomination to challenge Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R., Calif.); businessman and philanthropist Dean Phillips, running to challenge Rep. Erik Paulsen (R., Minn.); and nonprofit executive and Air Force veteran Chrissy Houlahan, running to challenge Rep. Ryan Costello (R., Pa.).

Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas' third congressional district may have a Democrat declare their candidacy this week. Clinton won the district by 1.2 percentage points in 2016.

The Democratic Party hopes the opposition to Trump will be similar to the opposition to George W. Bush and the Iraq war in 2006, when Democrats retook both houses of Congress.

"These candidates should be prepared to embrace key issues in the Democratic platform such as support for public education, affordable health care, immigration reform, and reproductive rights," said Democratic strategist Ed Espinoza, who cautioned that there are no guarantees for any of the party's recruits.

"They still need to win a primary and convince general election voters that they are better candidates than incumbent Republicans," he said.

Hoyer Called Out for Falsely Accusing Trump of Cutting Funding for Medical Research

House Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) on Tuesday was called out by CNBC's Brian Sullivan when Hoyer accused President Donald Trump of cutting funding for medical research in his proposed budget.

Hoyer claimed that in the proposed budget, Trump cut the funding level for the National Institute of Health (NIH). However, the Trump administration's budget keeps funding for NIH at the same level and simply did not raise it to grow with inflation.

Sullivan said that nobody wanted to cut the funding, but Hoyer disagreed, claiming that Trump just did in his proposed budget.

"Well, you say that but the President has just proposed a $5.5 billion cut which is about a 15 percent cut in NIH," Hoyer claimed.

"Is that a cut or is that a decrease in forward spending over time?" Sullivan asked.

"Well it's a decrease, it's a decrease in forward spending, you're correct on that but it's a decrease in terms of effort because as inflation occurs obviously a dollar doesn't buy tomorrow or the next year or five years from now what it buys today," Hoyer said. "So, yes, okay, fine, nominally you have an increase, but if you have an increase of five cents and the product cost you another 15 cents you have a decrease."

This is not the first time critics have considered that retaining spending levels was actually a decrease. Critics were known to have considered the same with retaining the spending levels of Medicaid.