It was the sort of photo that was just begging to be hilariously captioned, mocked on Twitter and During a visit to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday, Vice President Pence solemnly reached out and touched the Orion spacecraft’s titanium forward bay cover, placing his full palm just below a sign that read: “Critical […]
Saved Stories – None
Trump suggested a cybersecurity pact with Russia. Lawmakers say they were ‘dumbfounded.’
Graham said Trump is “hurting his presidency by not embracing the fact that Putin is the bad guy.” A quick primer: Many, many people and several U.S. government intelligence agencies have accused Putin and Russia of hacking the 2016 election to help …
russia helping trump – Google News
Confusing civility with comity is a grave mistake in human or international relations. Yes, the G20 summit did agree on a common communiqué after the leaders’ meeting. Some see this as an achievement or an indication that some normality in international relations between the US and other countries is being restored. The truth is that at no previous G20 meeting did the possibility that there would not be a common statement agreed by all participants occur to anyone.
Rather than seeing agreement as an achievement, it is more accurate to see the content of the communiqué as a confirmation of the breakdown of international order that many have feared since the election of Donald Trump. The president’s behaviour in and around the summit was unsettling to US allies and confirmed the fears of those who believe that his conduct is the greatest threat to American security.
The existence of the G20 as an annual forum arose from a common belief of major nations that there was a global community with common interests in peace, mutual security, prosperity and economic integration and the containment of threats even as there was competition between nations in the security and economic realms. The idea that the US should lead in the development of the international community has been a central tenet of American foreign policy since the end of the second world war.
Since his election, Mr Trump’s rhetoric has rejected the concept of global community, and expressed a strong belief that the US should seek better deals rather than stronger institutions and systems. In the past month and especially after the G20, it has become clear that Mr Trump’s actions will match his rhetoric. The US is now isolated on the question of how to deal with the long run security threat of climate change. It has forced the G20 to back away from previous commitments to rejecting protectionism. And in part because of American attitudes, the G20 was mute on international migration at a time when refugee issues are more serious than at any moment in the past 50 years.
All of this is troubling enough. What many people fear but few are saying is that in the difficult times that come during any term the president’s character will cause him to act dangerously. As biographer Robert Caro has observed, power may or may not corrupt but it always reveals. Mr Trump has yet to experience a period of economic difficulty or any form of international economic crisis. He has not yet had to make a major military decision in time of crisis. Yet his behaviour has been erratic.
The president chose hours before meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin to cast doubt on judgments of the US intelligence community regarding Russia’s interference with the US election. On the brink of the most important set of international meetings of his presidency so far, he put forward the absurd idea that a main discussion item at the G20 involved Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, making demonstrably false assertions about his role.
It is rare for heads of government to step away from the table during major summits. When it is necessary, their place is normally taken by the foreign minister or another very senior government official. There is no precedent for a head of government’s adult child taking a seat, as was the case when Ivanka Trump took her father’s place at the G20. There is no precedent for good reason. It is insulting to the others present and sends a signal of disempowerment regarding senior officials.
Mr Trump’s pre-summit speech in Poland expressed the sentiment that the primary question of our time was the will of the west to survive. Such a sentiment is inevitably alienating to the vast majority of humanity that does not live in what the president considers to be the west. Manichean rhetoric from presidents is rarely wise. George W Bush’s reference to an “axis of evil” is generally regarded as a serious error not because the nations he referenced were not evil but because his rhetoric drew those adversaries together. Invoking the idea of the west against the rest as the president did is a graver mis-step.
A corporate chief executive whose public behaviour was as erratic as that of Mr Trump would already have been replaced. The standard for democratically elected officials is appropriately different. But one cannot look at the past months and rule out the possibility of even more aberrant behaviour in the future. The president’s cabinet and his political allies in Congress should never forget that the oaths they swore were not to the defence of the president but to the defence of the constitution.
The writer is Charles W Eliot university professor at Harvard and a former US Treasury secretary
In-Depth–CNN–Jun 15, 2017
Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, the special counsel probing Russian interference in the 2016 election, has submitted a proposed budget to the Justice Department. The department declined to make it public Friday, but a special counsel spokesman said officials would release expenditure reports later. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
Special Counsel Robert Mueller has turned in a proposed budget to the Justice Department, but officials declined to make the document public and committed only to releasing reports of the team’s expenditures every six months.
That means the public won’t get a window into how much money Mueller thinks he will need to spend, though he will provide information on what he is spending. The first report will come sometime after Sept. 30, said Peter Carr, a spokesman for the special counsel’s office.
Mueller is less than two months into his investigation of possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to influence the 2016 election, and his every move has come under scrutiny. President Trump has decried the probe as a “witch hunt,” and he and his supporters have raised questions about whether Mueller and his hires can be impartial.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.
Carr said Mueller has hired 16 lawyers to work with him. Together, the team is a formidable collection of legal talent with experience prosecuting national security, fraud and public corruption cases, arguing matters before the Supreme Court and assessing complicated legal questions.
Trump and his allies have pointed out that many are Democratic donors.
Dallas shooting updates
News and analysis on the deadliest day for police since 9/11.
Military, defense and security at home and abroad.
Seven special counsel team members have donated to Democratic campaigns — five of those to Hillary Clinton’s — and their giving totals nearly $53,000, according to Federal Election Commission records. The others have not donated at all, the records show.
The special counsel’s budget also could become a source of contention. Shortly before Mueller was appointed, Trump seemed to express disdain that tax dollars were being spent on the Russia investigation, writing on Twitter, “The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?” He will likely soon have specific dollar figures to pair with his tweets.
The regulation under which Mueller was appointed does not specifically detail how the special counsel must disclose expenses to the public. It requires only that Mueller “be provided all appropriate resources by the Department of Justice,” that he submit a proposed budget within his first 60 days and that he make a budget request 90 days before the start of the fiscal year.
When Patrick J. Fitzgerald, at the time a U.S. attorney, was appointed as special counsel to investigate the leak of the identity of CIA Officer Valerie Plame, the U.S. Government Accountability Office audited his expenditure statements every six months and released them publicly.
Russian President and US First Lady smiled as they talked during the dinner, which was attended by world leaders and their spouses
News In Photos
Updated at 4:03 p.m. ET
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters Friday that President Trump raised the issue of Russian election interference in a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump opened the more than two-hour meeting “by raising the concerns of the American people” about Russia’s meddling in last year’s presidential race, according to Tillerson. Trump and Putin had a “robust and lengthy exchange on the subject,” the secretary of state said.
As he has done in the past, Putin denied involvement in any meddling in the election.
Trump and Putin agreed, however, that the issue of election interference was a substantial hindrance in their ability to move the U.S.-Russia relationship forward. The two world leaders also agreed to work on further commitments of noninterference in the affairs of the United States and in the democratic process in the U.S. as well as in other countries.
There is “more work to be done in that regard,” Tillerson said.
The top U.S. diplomat spoke Friday at a press briefing after Trump held his first official meeting with Putin. Trump and Putin exchanged a warm handshake in a brief interlude with reporters and photographers before their meeting began.
“President Putin and I have been discussing various things, and I think it’s going very well. We’ve had some very, very good talks,” Trump told reporters before the meeting. “We’re going to have a talk now and obviously that will continue, but we look forward to a lot of very positive things happening — for Russia, for the United States, and for everybody concerned. And it’s an honor to be with you.”
The two men were scheduled for a 30-minute meeting on the sidelines of the Group of 20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, but ended up talking almost five times that long.
Beforehand, Putin mentioned that they have talked already a few times over the phone.
“But phone conversation is never enough,” he said through a translator. “If we want to have positive results in bilaterals and be able to resolve most acute international topics and issues, definitely we need personal meetings.
“And I’m delighted to be able to meet you personally, Mr. President, and I hope, as you have said, our meeting will yield positive results for Russia and the U.S.”
The two presidents were joined in the meeting by their translators and by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Tillerson.
Speaking from Hamburg on Russian state TV, Lavrov said Trump “heard President Putin’s clear statements that it’s not true the Russian leadership intervened in the election and that he accepts those statements.”
Tillerson told reporters that his interpretation of the exchange was that the two men agreed on the need to move past the issue of election interference. The secretary of state said the focus is now on how the U.S. secures a commitment that Russia has no intention of interfering in U.S. elections in the future — and how the Trump administration creates a framework to judge whether Russia is keeping that commitment.
Last month, Putin told international journalists in St. Petersburg that it’s possible that “patriotic” Russian hackers outside of his government might be trying to engage in cyber attacks against the world’s democracies. “I must stress, on a state level, we are never engaged into these kind of activity,” said Putin at the time, according to a media report.
The U.S. intelligence community has unanimously concluded, however, that Russian intelligence services did interfere with “active measures” including cyber attacks, social media bots and other techniques — and that they did so at Putin’s direction.
The majority of the meeting, Tillerson said, was spent parsing out details of a cease-fire in southwest Syria that between the U.S. and Russia. Jordan and Israel are also part of the deal. A state-run news agency in Jordan reported that the cease-fire would go into effect on Sunday.
Putin and Trump also discussed the increasing threat posed by North Korea. Earlier this week, that country tested an intercontinental ballistic missile, which showed the theoretical potential to reach Alaska.
“I would say the Russians see (North Korea) a little differently than we do,” Tillerson said. “We’re going to continue those discussions and ask them to do more. Russia does have economic activity with North Korea. But, I would also hasten to add, Russia’s official policy is the same as ours: a denuclearized Korean peninsula.”
Friday’s warm meeting between the two leaders also came just a day after Trump spoke in Poland, a country known for its distaste for Russia, and reiterated America’s commitment to Article 5 of the NATO charter.
“The United States has demonstrated not merely with words, but with its actions, that we stand firmly behind Article 5, the mutual defense commitment,” he said.
The statement would not have been newsworthy if not for Trump’s decision in May to omit a line in a speech that reaffirmed the U.S. commitment. That decision raised eyebrows especially in Eastern Europe, as Putin has shown in Ukraine and Crimea that he is intent on projecting Russia’s power and influence in Europe beyond his country’s borders.
While Friday’s meeting was the first time the two men have met since Trump became president, it’s unclear whether they’ve met in person before.
In an interview in 2013 with David Letterman, the Late Show host asked Trump whether he had met Putin before.
“I met him once,” Trump said.
But in 2016, Trump seemingly began to backtrack on that claim. In July, he told a CBS affiliate in Miami, “I never met Putin, I have nothing to do with Russia whatsoever.”
He reiterated that at a news conference that month, too.
“I never met Putin,” he said. “I don’t know who Putin is.”
CNN put together a list of 80 times Trump talked about the Russian president over the past four years, which gives insight into how his rhetoric has and hasn’t changed.
Compared with predecessor President Barack Obama, however, Trump has been noticeably warmer toward Russia. Whereas Obama once mentioned the threats posed by Ebola and “Russian aggression” in the same sentence back in 2014, Trump has repeatedly talked about wanting to improve relations with Russia.
On Friday, the two presidents hit it off immediately, Tillerson said.
“There was a clear positive chemistry between the two,” he added. “There was such a level of engagement and exchange, neither one of them wanted to stop.”
He said that at one point the first lady was even sent into the meeting to try to persuade them to finish up, but “that didn’t work either.” They continued talking for another hour.
That is good news for many Americans. According to a recent NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll, 46 percent of adults view Trump’s goal of improving relations as a mostly good thing, whereas 41 percent view it as a mostly bad thing.
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit <a href=”http://www.npr.org/” rel=”nofollow”>http://www.npr.org/</a>.
Russian intelligence services are the main suspects behind the hacking of DNC emails, and many Democrats warn that the Russian president has stepped into American politics in an unprecedented way.
July 25, 2016
In “NPR News”
JOHN Mindermann is part of an unusual fraternity. A former agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), now 80 and retired in his hometown, San Francisco, he is among the relative handful of law-enforcement officials who have investigated a sitting president of the US.
In June, when it was reported that former FBI director Robert Mueller would investigate whether US president Donald Trump had obstructed the federal inquiry into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, I called Mindermann, who told me he was feeling a strong sense of déjà vu.
Mindermann joined the FBI 50 years ago, after a stint with the San Francisco police force. He was soon transferred to the bureau’s Washington field office, housed in the Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Ave.
On the afternoon of Saturday, June 17, 1972, he was in the shower at home when the phone rang.
An FBI clerk told him that there had been a break-in overnight at the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate complex. He was to go to the Metropolitan Police Department headquarters and see the detective on duty.
The clerk confided that the bureau had run a name check on one of the burglars, James McCord.
It revealed that McCord had worked at both the FBI and the CIA. He would later be identified as the chief of security at the Committee to Re-elect the President, the Nixon campaign operation known as Creep.
Mindermann met the detective, who was wearing a loud sports jacket and smiling widely. The detective strode into the evidence vault and produced nearly three dozen $100 bills, each in a glassine envelope. They had been seized from one of the burglars.
Mindermann noticed the consecutive serial numbers. “That alone told me that they came from a bank through a person with economic power,” Mindermann told me.
“I got this instant cold chill. I thought: This is not an ordinary burglary.”
McCord had been carrying wire-tapping gear at the Watergate. This was evidence of a US federal crime — the illegal interception of communications — which meant the break-in was a case for the FBI.
Wire-tapping was standard practice at the FBI under J Edgar Hoover, who had ruled the bureau since 1924. But Hoover died six weeks before the Watergate break-in, and L Patrick Gray, a lawyer at the Justice Department and a staunch Nixon loyalist, was named acting director.
“I don’t believe he could bring himself to suspect his superiors in the White House — a suspicion which was well within the Watergate investigating agents’ world by about the third or fourth week,” said Mindermann.
A month after the break-in, Mindermann and a colleague named Paul Magallanes found their way to Judy Hoback, a Creep accountant.
They learned from Hoback that $3m or more in unaccountable cash was sloshing around at Creep, to finance crimes like the Watergate break-in.
Both men sensed instinctively that “people in the White House itself were involved”, Magallanes, who is now 79 and runs an international security firm near Los Angeles, told me. The agents typed up a 19-page statement that laid out Creep’s direct connections to Richard Nixon’s inner circle.
The following year, on Friday, April 27, as Nixon flew off to Camp David for the weekend, the FBI moved to secure White House records relevant to Watergate.
At 5.15 pm, 15 agents arose from their desks in the Old Post Office building and marched, fully armed, up Pennsylvania Avenue.
On Monday, Nixon returned to the White House to find a skinny FBI accountant standing watch outside a West Wing office. The president pushed him up against a wall and demanded to know how he had the authority to invade the White House.
Mindermann laughed at the memory: “What do you do,” he said, “when you’re mugged by the president of the United States?”
JAMES Comey, the former FBI director, said in June, testifying before the US Senate Intelligence Committee a month after his dismissal from his post by the president: “I take the president at his word — that I was fired because of the Russia investigation.”
Comey was referring to the account Trump gave in an NBC interview on May 11 — and Comey took issue with the rest of the story as Trump told it.
Trump, he said, “chose to defame me and, more importantly, the FBI by saying that the organisation was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader. Those were lies, plain and simple.”
Trump, Comey said, had asked his FBI director for his loyalty — and that seemed to shock Comey the most. The FBI’s stated mission is “to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution of the United States” — not to protect the president.
Trump might have been less confused about how Comey saw his job if he had ever visited the FBI director in his office. On his desk, under glass, Comey kept a copy of a 1963 order authorising Hoover to conduct round-the-clock FBI surveillance of the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
It was signed by the young attorney general, Robert F Kennedy, after Hoover convinced John F Kennedy and his brother that King had communists in his organisation — a reminder of the abuses of power that had emanated from the desk where Comey sat.
One of history’s great what ifs is whether the Watergate investigation would have gone forward if Hoover hadn’t died before the break-in. Hoover’s FBI was not unlike what Trump seems to have imagined the agency still to be: A law-enforcement apparatus whose flexible loyalties were bent to fit the whims of its director.
In his half-century at the helm of the FBI, Hoover rarely approved cases against politicians. In the 1960s, he much preferred going after the civil rights and anti-war movements.
The Iran-Contra scandal provided the bureau with its first great post-Watergate test. On October 5, 1986, Sandinistas in Nicaragua shot down a cargo plane, which was found to contain 60 Kalashnikov rifles, tens of thousands of cartridges, and other gear.
One crew member was captured and revealed the first inklings of what turned out to be an extraordinary plot. President Ronald Reagan’s national-security team had conspired to sell American weapons to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and, after marking up the price fivefold, skimmed the proceeds and slipped them to the anti-communist Contra rebels in Nicaragua.
This was a direct violation of federal law, as US Congress had passed a bill cutting off aid to the rebels, which made Iran-contra a case for the FBI.
In a major feat of forensics, FBI agents recovered 5,000 deleted emails from National Security Council office computers, which laid out the scheme. They opened a burn bag of top-secret documents belonging to the NSC aide Oliver North and found a copy of elaborately falsified secret testimony to Congress.
They dusted it for fingerprints and found ones belonging to Clair George, chief of the clandestine service of the CIA. Almost all the major evidence that led to the indictments of 12 top national-security officials was uncovered by the FBI.
George HW Bush pardoned many of the key defendants at the end of his presidency, on Christmas Eve 1992. This was the limit of the agency’s influence, the one presidential power that the FBI could not fight.
But over the course of two decades, the post-Hoover relationship between the FBI and the White House had settled into a delicate balance between the rule of law and the chief of state. Presidents could use secrecy to push their executive powers to the limit. But the FBI retained a powerful unofficial check on these privileges: The ability to amass, and unveil, deep secrets of state.
The agency might not have been able to stop presidents like Nixon and Reagan from overreaching, but when it did intervene, there was little presidents could do to keep the FBI from making their lives very difficult — as Bill Clinton discovered in 1993, when he appointed Louis J Freeh as his FBI director.
Freeh was an FBI agent early in his career but had been gone from the agency for some time when he was named to run it — so he was alarmed to discover that the FBI was in the midst of investigating real estate deals involving the Clintons in Arkansas.
Freeh saw Clinton as a criminal suspect in the Whitewater affair, in which the FBI and a special prosecutor bushwhacked through the brambles of Arkansas politics and business for four years — and, through a most circuitous route, wound up grilling a 24-year-old former White House intern named Monica Lewinsky in a hotel.
The bureau had blood drawn from the president to match the DNA on Lewinsky’s blue dress — evidence that the president perjured himself under oath about sex, opening the door to his impeachment by the House of Representatives.
Clinton’s allies complained after the fact that Freeh’s serial investigations of the president were a fatal distraction. From 1996 to 2001, when al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden bombed two American Embassies in Africa and plotted the September 11 attacks, the FBI spent less time and money on any counterterrorism investigation than it did investigating claims that Chinese money bought influence over Clinton though illegal 1996 campaign contributions.
One of the FBI’s informants in the investigation was a politically connected Californian named Katrina Leung. At the time, Leung was in a sexual relationship with her FBI handler, James J Smith. Smith
had reason to suspect that Leung might be a double agent working for Chinese intelligence, but he protected her anyway.
The FBI buried the scandal until after Clinton left the White House in 2001. By the time it came to light, Freeh was out the door and President George W Bush had chosen Mueller as the sixth director of the FBI.
Mueller arrived at FBI headquarters with years of service as a United States attorney and US Justice Department official. It was a week before the September 11 attacks, and he was inheriting an agency ill-suited for the mission that would soon loom enormously before it. Richard A Clarke, the White House counterterrorism czar under Clinton and Bush, later wrote that Freeh’s FBI had not done enough to seek out foreign terrorists.
In a speech Mueller gave at Stanford University in 2002, concerning the nation’s newest threat, he spoke of “the balance we must strike to protect our national security and our civil liberties as we address the threat of terrorism”.
He concluded: “We will be judged by history, not just on how we disrupt and deter terrorism, but also on how we protect the civil liberties and the constitutional rights of all Americans, including those Americans who wish us ill. We must do both of these things, and we must do them exceptionally well.”
These views made Mueller something of an outlier in the Bush administration; five days after the September 11 attacks, vice president Dick Cheney was warning that the White House needed to go over to “the dark side” to fight al-Qaida.
Among the darkest places was a top-secret programme code-named Stellar Wind, under which the National Security Agency eavesdropped freely in the US without search warrants.
By the end of 2003, Mueller had a new boss: James Comey, who was named deputy attorney general. Comey read into the Stellar Wind programme and deemed it unconstitutional. He briefed Mueller, who concurred. In the first week of March, the two men agreed that the FBI could not continue to go along with the surveillance programmes. They also thought attorney general John Ashcroft should not re-endorse Stellar Wind.
Comey made the case to Ashcroft. In remarkable congressional testimony in 2007, Comey described what happened next: Hours later, Ashcroft keeled over with gallstone pancreatitis. Comey was now acting attorney general.
Comey read into the Stellar Wind programme and deemed it unconstitutional. He briefed Mueller, who concurred. In the first week of March, the two men agreed that the FBI could not continue to go along with the surveillance programmes.
They also thought attorney general John Ashcroft should not re-endorse Stellar Wind. Comey made the case to Ashcroft. In remarkable congressional testimony in 2007, Comey described what happened next: Hours later, Ashcroft keeled over with gallstone pancreatitis. Comey was now acting attorney general.
He and the president were required to reauthorise Stellar Wind on March 11 for the programme to continue. When Comey learned the White House counsel and chief of staff were heading to the hospital on the night of March 10 to get the signature of the barely conscious Ashcroft, Comey raced to Ashcroft’s hospital room to head them off.
When they arrived, Ashcroft told the president’s men that he wouldn’t sign. Pointing at Comey, he said: “There is the attorney general.”
Bush signed the authorisation alone anyway, asserting that he had constitutional power to do so. Mueller took meticulous notes of these events; they were partly declassified years later.
On March 11, he wrote that the president was “trying to do an end run around” Comey. At 1.30am on March 12, Mueller drafted a letter of resignation.
“I am forced to withdraw the FBI from participation in the program,” he wrote. If the president did not back down, “I would be constrained to resign as director of the FBI.”
And Comey and Ashcroft would go with him. Seven hours later Mueller sat alone with Bush in the Oval Office. Once again, the FBI had joined a battle against a president.
Mueller’s notes show that he told Bush in no uncertain terms that “a presidential order alone” could not legalise Stellar Wind.
Unless the NSA brought Stellar Wind within the constraints of the law, he would lose his FBI director, attorney general and acting attorney general. In the end, Bush relented. It took years, but the programmes were put on what Mueller considered a defensible legal footing.
Trump’s showdown with Comey and its aftermath is the fifth confrontation between the FBI and a sitting president since Hoover’s death, and the first in which the president’s principal antagonists, Mueller and Comey, have been there before. For the Watergate veterans Mindermann and Magallanes, the news of recent weeks came with a certain amount of professional gratification. When I spoke to them on June 14, both said they wanted the bureau’s role as a check on the president to be in the public eye.
Magallanes had always been bothered by how, in the collective American memory, Nixon’s downfall was attributed to so many other authors: Woodward and Bernstein, crusading congressional committees, hard-nosed special prosecutors.
To the agents who were present at the time, it was first and foremost an FBI story.
“We were the people who did the work,” Magallanes told me. “It was we, the FBI, who brought Richard Nixon down. We showed that our government can investigate itself.”
Tim Weiner was a reporter for The New York Times from 1993 to 2009. His work has won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. His books include Enemies: A History of the FBI.
Adapted from an article that appeared in The New York Times Magazine.
© 2017 The New York Times
Up to now, the confirmed meetings between the Donald Trump campaign and Russia have all been highly suspicious but have all had ways in which they could be explained away. Jeff Sessions claimed he only met with the Russian Ambassador because he was doing so in his role as a Senator, for instance. But now comes confirmation of a meeting that could not have been anything but collusion between the Trump team and the Russian government.
Key members of Donald Trump’s family and campaign staff held a meeting with a top Kremlin lawyer during the campaign, then lied about it, according to an explosive new report from the New York Times (link) – and incredibly, Donald Trump Jr is now admitting to the meeting but is insisting that it was about the adoption of Russian kids.
So we’re supposed to believe that everyone from Donald Trump Jr to Jared Kushner to Paul Manafort had such a strong moral compunction about Russian adoption that they stopped what they were doing in the middle of the campaign to hold a meeting with a Kremlin lawyer, just to get the adoption issue cleared up. This might actually be the weakest on-the-fly excuse that a stupid criminal has ever come up with to try to explain away criminal activities after getting caught in the act.
To be clear, we still don’t know what was discussed in the meeting. If there are tapes of the meeting, as Donald Trump seems to keep unwittingly hinting at during his recent Twitter rants, then the NY Times doesn’t appear to have those tapes. But considering that the upper ranks of the Trump campaign all piled into a meeting with a notorious Kremlin attorney like Natalia Veselnitskaya during the campaign, this is nothing short of a collusion bombshell. Moreover, there are likely larger collusion bombshells forthcoming. If you’re a regular reader, feel free to support Palmer Report.
The post Collusion bombshell: Donald Trump team secretly met with Kremlin lawyer during campaignappeared first on Palmer Report.
American intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian hackers and propagandists worked to tip the election toward Mr. Trump, and a special prosecutor and congressional committees are now investigating whether his campaign associates colluded with Russians. Mr. Trump has disputed that, but the investigation has cast a shadow over his administration for months.
Mr. Trump has also equivocated on whether the Russians were solely responsible for the hacking. But in Germany on Friday, meeting President Vladimir V. Putin for the first time as president, Mr. Trump questioned him about the hacking. The Russian leader denied meddling in the election.
The Russian lawyer invited to the Trump Tower meeting, Natalia Veselnitskaya, is best known for mounting a multipronged attack against the Magnitsky Act, an American law that blacklists suspected Russian human rights abusers. The law so enraged Mr. Putin that he retaliated by halting American adoptions of Russian children.
The adoption impasse is a frequently used talking point for opponents of the Magnitsky Act. Ms. Veselnitskaya’s campaign against the law has also included attempts to discredit its namesake, Sergei L. Magnitsky, a lawyer and auditor who died in under mysterious circumstances in a Russian prison in 2009 after exposing one of the biggest corruption scandals during Mr. Putin’s rule.
Ms. Veselnitskaya is married to a former deputy transportation minister of the Moscow region, and her clients include state-owned businesses and a senior government official’s son, whose company was under investigation in the United States at the time of the meeting. Her activities and associations had previously drawn the attention of the F.B.I., according to a former senior law enforcement official.
In his statement, Donald J. Trump Jr. said: “It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up.”
He added: “I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.”
Donald J. Trump Jr. had denied participating in any campaign-related meetings with Russian nationals when he was interviewed by The Times in March. “Did I meet with people that were Russian? I’m sure, I’m sure I did,” he said. “But none that were set up. None that I can think of at the moment. And certainly none that I was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form.”
Asked at that time whether he had ever discussed government policies related to Russia, the younger Mr. Trump replied, “A hundred percent no.”
The Trump Tower meeting was not disclosed to government officials until recently, when Mr. Kushner, who is also a senior White House aide, filed a revised version of a form required to obtain a security clearance. The Times reported in April that he had failed to disclose any foreign contacts, including meetings with the Russian ambassador to the United States and the head of a Russian state bank. Failure to report such contacts can result in a loss of access to classified information and even, if information is knowingly falsified or concealed, in imprisonment.
Mr. Kushner’s advisers said at the time that the omissions were an error, and that he had immediately notified the F.B.I. that he would be revising the filing. They also said he had met with the Russians in his official transition capacity as a main point of contact for foreign officials.
In a statement on Saturday, Mr. Kushner’s lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, said: “He has since submitted this information, including that during the campaign and transition, he had over 100 calls or meetings with representatives of more than 20 countries, most of which were during transition. Mr. Kushner has submitted additional updates and included, out of an abundance of caution, this meeting with a Russian person, which he briefly attended at the request of his brother-in-law Donald Trump Jr. As Mr. Kushner has consistently stated, he is eager to cooperate and share what he knows.”
Mr. Kushner’s lawyers referred all other questions about the Trump Tower meeting to Donald J. Trump Jr.
Mr. Manafort, the former campaign chairman, also recently disclosed the meeting, and Donald J. Trump Jr.’s role in organizing it, to congressional investigators who had questions about his foreign contacts, according to people familiar with the events.
A spokesman for Mr. Manafort declined to comment. Ms. Veselnitskaya did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Because Donald J. Trump Jr. does not serve in the administration and does not have a security clearance, he was not required to disclose his foreign contacts. Federal and congressional investigators have not publicly asked for any records that would require his disclosure of Russian contacts. It is not clear whether the Justice Department was aware of the meeting before Mr. Kushner disclosed it recently. Neither Mr. Kushner nor Mr. Manafort was required to disclose the content of the meeting in their government filings.
During the campaign, Donald J. Trump Jr. served as a close adviser to his father, frequently appearing at campaign events. Since the president took office, the younger Mr. Trump and his brother, who have worked for the Trump Organization for most of their adult lives, assumed day-to-day control of their father’s real estate empire.
But a quick internet search would have revealed Ms. Veselnitskaya as a formidable operator with a history of pushing the Kremlin’s agenda. Most notable is her campaign against the Magnitsky Act, which provoked a Cold War-style, tit-for-tat row with the Kremlin when President Barack Obama signed it into law in 2012.
Under the law, some 44 Russian citizenshave been put on a list that allows the United States to seize their American assets and deny them visas. The United States asserts that many of them are connected to fraud exposed by Mr. Magnitsky, who after being jailed for more than a year was found dead in his cell. A Russian human rights panel found that he had been assaulted. To critics of Mr. Putin, Mr. Magnitsky, in death, became a symbol of corruption and brutality in the Russian state.
An infuriated Mr. Putin has called the law an “outrageous act,” and, in addition to banning American adoptions, compiled what became known as an “anti-Magnitsky” blacklist of United States citizens.
Among those blacklisted was Preet Bharara, then the United States district attorney in Manhattan, who led high-profile convictions of Russian arms and drug dealers. Mr. Bharara was abruptly fired in March, after previously being asked to stay on by Mr. Trump.
One of Ms. Veselnitskaya’s clients is Denis Katsyv, the Russian owner of a Cyprus-based investment company called Prevezon Holdings. . In a civil forfeiture case prosecuted by Mr. Bharara’s office, the Justice Department alleged that Prevezon had helped launder money tied to a $230 million corruption scheme exposed by Mr. Magnitsky by parking it in New York real estate and bank accounts. As a result, the government froze $14 million of its assets. Prevezon recently settled the case for $6 million without admitting wrongdoing.
Ms. Veselnitskaya and her client hired a team of political and legal operatives that has worked unsuccessfully in Washington to repeal the Magnitsky Act. They also tried but failed to keep Mr. Magnitsky’s name off a new law that takes aim at human-rights abusers across the globe.
The New York Times would like to hear from readers who want to share messages and materials with our journalists.
Ms. Veselnitskaya was also deeply involved in the making of an anti-Magnitsky film that premiered just weeks before the Trump Tower meeting. Titled “The Magnitsky Act — Behind the Scenes,” the film echoes the Kremlin line that the widely accepted version of Mr. Magnitsky’s life and death is wrong. The film claims that he was not assaulted and alleges that he never testified that government officials conspired to steal $230 million in fraudulent tax rebates.
In the film’s telling, the true culprit of the fraud was William F. Browder, an American-born financier who hired Mr. Magnitsky to investigate the fraud after he had three of his investment funds companies in Russia seized. On RussiaTV5, a station whose owners are known to be close to Mr. Putin, Ms. Veselnitskaya was lauded as “one of those who gave the film crew the real proofs and records of testimony.”
Mr. Browder, who stopped the screening of the film in Europe by threatening libel suits, called the film a state-sponsored smear campaign.
“She’s not just some private lawyer,” Mr. Browder said of Ms. Veselnitskaya. “She is a tool of the Russian government.”
John O. Brennan, the former C.I.A. director, testified in May that he had been concerned last year by Russian government efforts to contact and manipulate members of Mr. Trump’s campaign. “Russian intelligence agencies do not hesitate at all to use private companies and Russian persons who are unaffiliated with the Russian government to support their objectives,” he said.
Among those now under investigation is Michael T. Flynn, who was forced to resign as Mr. Trump’s national security adviser after it became known that he had falsely denied speaking to the Russian ambassador about sanctions imposed by the Obama administration over the election hacking.
Congress later discovered that Mr. Flynn had been paid more than $65,000 by companies linked to Russia, and that he had failed to disclose those payments when he renewed his security clearance and underwent an additional background check to join the White House staff.
In May, the president fired the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, who days later provided information about a meeting with Mr. Trump at the White House. According to Mr. Comey, the president asked him to end the bureau’s investigation into Mr. Flynn. That led to the appointment of Robert S. Mueller III, a former F.B.I. director, as special counsel.
The status of Mr. Mueller’s investigation is not clear, but he has assembled a veteran team of prosecutors and agents to dig into any possible collusion.