Trump gets caught up in his own lie after just 8 minutes

On Tuesday afternoon, North Korean dignitaries met with Donald Trump to deliver a mysterious letter from the North Korean regime.

A while later, Donald Trump held a press conference, where in the course of under ten minutes changed his story about the letter.

Reuters reported that Trump had said the letter “was a very nice letter, a very interesting letter.” Around 8 minutes later—according to the Reuters time stamp—Trump confessed that he hadn’t opened it yet.

On Twitter, the Toronto Star’s Washington correspondent Daniel Dale joked “The Trump era in two Reuters alerts.”

[Raw Story]

Media

Russian oligarch met with Michael Cohen at Trump Tower during transition

A Russian oligarch who was questioned by special counsel Robert Mueller and recently sanctioned by the US visited President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen in Trump Tower during the presidential transition in January 2017, according to video reviewed by CNN and a person familiar with the matter.

The January 9, 2017, Trump Tower appearance by Viktor Vekselberg, which was also reported Friday by The New York Times, adds to the questions swirling over the payments to Cohen, which Mueller’s team questioned Vekselberg about after the FBI stopped his private jet at a New York-area airport earlier this year.

Vekselberg, chairman of Russian asset manager Renova Group, was accompanied at Trump Tower by Andrew Intrater, who is Vekselberg’s cousin and head of Columbus Nova. Vekselberg is Columbus Nova’s biggest client.

A person familiar with the meeting told CNN that Vekselberg and Intrater met with Cohen and discussed improving US-Russia relations. The meeting was brief, the person said, and Vekselberg was not originally expected to attend.

An attorney for Cohen did not respond immediately to a request for comment. A representative for Vekselberg also did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Intrater’s firm, Columbus Nova, paid $580,000 to Cohen for a consulting contract starting in January 2017.

Since the payments have become public, Columbus Nova has attempted to distance itself from Vekselberg, denying Vekselberg used Columbus Nova as a conduit to pay Cohen. Columbus Nova recently removed references to Renova Group from the biography of its partners. It has stated it’s a “management company solely owned and controlled by Americans,” and that it hired Cohen after Trump’s inauguration.

But the newly discovered video indicates that Vekselberg and Intrater were meeting with Cohen before that, and they were just steps away from the President-elect during the transition.

Vekselberg was questioned by FBI agents working with Mueller earlier this year about the Columbus Nova payments to Cohen, as well as more than $300,000 in donations made by Intrater to Trump’s inauguration and the Republican National Committee, sources said.

Intrater was also questioned, the sources said. Intrater’s lawyer, Richard Owens, said, “Columbus Nova has cooperated with all requests for documents and information from federal authorities.”

The questions asked of Vekselberg suggest that Mueller’s team has been examining some of Cohen’s business relationships as part of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Cohen’s home and office were raided last month as part of a criminal investigation by federal prosecutors in Manhattan. In court documents, the prosecutors said at least part of their inquiry stemmed from a referral from Mueller’s office.

The US Treasury Department placed Renova Group and Vekselberg on the list of sanctioned individuals and entities last month, for activities including election interference. The sanctions prohibit Vekselberg from traveling to the US.

[CNN]

Reality

Many members of the Trump administration had worked for Vekselberg.

Makan Delrahim and David Bernhardt were registered lobbyists for Access Industries, which has direct ties to Vekselberg.

And Wilbur Ross, who served as vice-chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, where Vekselberg and many other friends of Putin “invested” (laundered) their money.

Trump Tweets ‘Nothing Has Happened With ZTE Except As It Pertains To The Larger Trade Deal’

President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday that the reversal on trade policy around ZTE Corp. does not indicate a slackened position on China trade negotiations.

Here’s what Trump said in a series of tweets:

“The Washington Post and CNN have typically written false stories about our trade negotiations with China. Nothing has happened with ZTE except as it pertains to the larger trade deal. Our country has been losing hundreds of billions of dollars a year with China…We have not seen China’s demands yet, which should be few in that previous U.S. Administrations have done so poorly in negotiating. China has seen our demands. There has been no folding as the media would love people to believe, the meetings…haven’t even started yet! The U.S. has very little to give, because it has given so much over the years. China has much to give!”

Why It’s Important

The president’s support of trade with ZTE had driven a spike in optical stocks exposed to the Chinese business. Some shares traded lower Wednesday on the clarified policy.

Acacia Communications, Inc. (NASDAQ: ACIA) fell 4.3 percent and Oclaro Inc (NASDAQ: OCLR) 1.1 percent, while Applied Optoelectronics Inc(NASDAQ: AAOI) and Lumentum Holdings Inc(NASDAQ: LITE) dipped marginally.

What’s Next

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He arrived in Washington Tuesday for a five-day visit packed with trade talks. Reuters reported that several U.S. lawmakers U.S. lawmakers rejected any planby Trump to ease restrictions on ZTE Corp., calling the company a security threat and vowing not to abandon legislation clamping down on the company.

[Yahoo News]

Trump working with Chinese president to help China’s ZTE ‘get back into business’

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping are working to give Chinese telecom company ZTE Corp “a way to get back into business, fast.”

“President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

The Chinese technology company earlier this month suspended its main operations after the U.S. Commerce Department banned American supplies to its business.

As one of the world’s largest telecom equipment makers, ZTE relied on U.S. companies such as Qualcomm Inc and Intel Corp for components.

[Reuters]

ZTE is banned from selling devices in the US because they violated our own sanctions and sold equipment to Iran. Remember, just this week Trump thought sanctions on Iran are so important he left the Iran deal to impose new sanctions on the country.

Do you realize how insane this is?

The company reached a settlement in March 2017 with the Commerce Department and Treasury Department for $1.19 billion and the promise to terminate several employees and punish others.

ZTE disclosed earlier this year that while it had gotten rid of several employees, the company hadn’t properly reduced the bonuses of some workers, or issued letters of reprimand. The inaction wasn’t consistent with a progress report ZTE issued in July. It’s because of those false statements that the Commerce Department decided to act.

Trump, Giuliani hint at release of Americans detained in North Korea

President Donald Trump hinted late Wednesday that three Americans detained in North Korea could soon be released as he prepares for a potential summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“As everybody is aware,” Trump tweeted, “the past Administration has long been asking for three hostages to be released from a North Korean Labor camp, but to no avail. Stay tuned!”

Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, appeared to confirm the news Thursday morning during a FOX News appearance in which he remarked: “We’ve got Kim Jong Un impressed enough to release three prisoners today.”

The developments follow last week’s historic meeting between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Trump’s new national security adviser, John Bolton, earlier said that releasing the Americans — Kim Hak-song, Kim Dong-chul and Kim Sang-duk, who also goes by Tony Kim — would be a “demonstration of their sincerity” in the lead-up to the U.S.-North Korea summit.

Relatives of one of the men said they are “hopeful” amid the unconfirmed reports that they could soon be released.

South Korean media reports quoted a local activist as saying North Korea had relocated the trio from a labor camp to a hotel on the outskirts of Pyongyang.

“We cannot confirm the validity of these reports,” a State Department official said.

[NBC News]

Reality

Two of the three prisoners were only jailed after Mr Trump’s inauguration last year and amid an escalating feud between the Republican and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Trump Calls Kim Jong Un ‘Very Open,’ ‘Very Honorable’

As President Donald Trump says he’s planning for talks with North Korea, he called the country’s dictator, Kim Jong-un, “very open” and “very honorable.”

“Kim Jong Un was, he really has been very open, and I think very honorable from everything we’re seeing,” Trump told reporters in the White House Tuesday. “Now, a lot of promises have been made by North Korea over the years, but they’ve never been in this position.”

Trump made the remarks as he met with French President Emmanuel Macron, who had just participated in an official White House welcoming ceremony on the second day of his U.S. visit.

“We have been very, very tough on maximum pressure, we have been very tough on, as you know, trade, we’ve been very, very tough at the border, sanctions have been the toughest we’ve ever imposed on any country, and we think it’ll be a great thing for North Korea, it’ll be a great thing for the world, so we’ll see where that all goes and maybe it’ll be wonderful and maybe it won’t, and if it’s not gonna be fair and reasonable and good, I will, unlike past administrations, I will leave the table,” Trump said.

The administration has said it intends for a U.S.-North Korea summit to occur near the end of May or in June.

[Mediaite]

Media

Trump Mistakenly Claims North Korea Has Agreed to “Denuclearization”

President Donald Trump took yet another shot at the media on Sunday, this time aiming his fire toward “sleepy eyes” Chuck Todd from NBC. A day after he criticized the New York Times and the Washington Post, the president was mad Sunday morning after Todd said, according to Trump, “we have given up so much in our negotiations with North Korea, and they have given up nothing.” The truth, Trump went on to write on Twitter, was exactly the opposite. “We haven’t given up anything & they have agreed to denuclearization (so great for World), site closure, & no more testing!” Trump said.

Does Trump know something the rest of us don’t? Or is he just confused about what denuclearization means and what North Korea has said? On Friday, North Korea said it would suspend nuclear and ballistic missile tests before a planned summit with South Korea. But North Korean leader Kim Jong Un never actually pledged to get rid of the country’s existing nuclear weapons and missiles.

Analysts have struck a cautious tone over the promises precisely because North Korea has made similar promises in the past and they never amounted to much. “North Korea has a long history of raising the issue of denuclearization and has committed to freeze its nuclear weapons programs in the past. We all remember how those pledges and commitments went down over past decades,” Nam Sung-wook, a professor of North Korean Studies at Korea University in Seoul, told Reuters.

Trump’s tweet is also a reminder that North Korea’s Kim often means a very different thing when he refers to denuclearization than South Korea or the Western world in general. Whereas the United States and South Korea have long said denuclearization means dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program, North Korea’s Kim has talked about denuclearization of the entire Korean peninsula.

When Trump criticized Todd, he appears to have been referring to this segment:

With his response, Trump makes it clear he doesn’t think he has given up anything to North Korea seemingly without realizing that sitting down for talks in and of itself is a victory for Kim. With his seeming concessions, Kim will be heading to the summits with a recognition from global powers that North Korea is a nuclear nation, which is something the country has long wanted. As one analyst told Axios on Saturday, the issues North Korea says it is willing to discuss, “amounts to “all the trappings of a ‘responsible’ nuclear weapons state (which is what they ultimately wanted to be accepted as).”

In a second tweet Sunday, Trump made clear he knows the North Korean nuclear issue is a long way from being resolved, in a rare note of caution for the commander in chief. “We are a long way from conclusion on North Korea, maybe things will work out, and maybe they won’t—only time will tell,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

[Slate]

Trump: We’ll put sanctions on Russia ‘as soon as they very much deserve it’

President Trump on Wednesday said his administration would levy additional sanctions on Russia “as soon as they very much deserve it.”

The comments, made at a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, capped a four-day stretch of confusion over whether the Trump administration would punish Moscow for its alleged role in a recent chemical attack in Syria.

Trump began to walk away from the microphone, but returned to answer a shouted question about the sanctions. He then went on to tout his record on confronting Russia.

“There has been nobody tougher on Russia than Donald Trump,” the president said, restating one of his common talking points.

He noted that he has helped raise money for NATO, as well as touted a recent military strike in Syria that was carried out in coordination with France and the United Kingdom.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haleysaid on Sunday that additional sanctions against Russia would be announced as soon as Monday in response to its alleged role in a recent chemical attack in Syria.

However, the White House said Monday that Trump had decided not to impose sanctions, contradicting Haley’s comments.

Haley quickly fired back, saying “With all due respect, I don’t get confused.”

Kudlow later apologized, but the incident sparked speculation that all of the Trump administration was not on the same page regarding its policy toward Russia.

Trump has faced criticism from lawmakers for being hesitant at times to speak out forcefully against Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

[The Hill]

Trump just blocked his own administration’s Russia sanctions

It appears that President Trump just blocked his own administration’s plan to sanction Russia.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, announced Sunday that the Trump administration was going to hit Russia with new sanctions on Monday over its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons program in the wake of the April 7 chemical attack in Douma, Syria, that killed dozens of people. The sanctions were explicitly focused on Russian companies that deal in equipment linked to Assad’s chemical weapons program.

But just a day later, the White House backtracked, with press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying that the administration was merely “considering additional sanctions on Russia” and that “a decision will be made in the near future.”

So why the awkward reversal? Apparently President Trump wasn’t on board with sanctioning Russia.

According to the Washington Post, after Haley announced the sanctions on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday morning, Trump told national security advisers he was “upset the sanctions were being officially rolled out because he was not yet comfortable executing them.”

It unclear whether Haley just mistakenly announced the sanctions prematurely before the president had officially signed off on them, or if something else entirely went wrong.

But two things are obvious: The administration is once again botching the rollout of a fairly straightforward policy, and Trump is personally taking steps to ensure that he doesn’t anger Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A Russian foreign ministry official said on Monday that the Trump administration contacted the Russian embassy on Sunday and told them that the sanctions that Haley had mentioned were not actually coming.

[VOX]

Two top Trump officials were registered lobbyists for Russian-born businessman linked to Putin

A new investigation from Vice News reveals that two senior Trump administration officials were once registered lobbyists for a Russian-born businessman who has deep ties to Putin-connected Russian oligarchs.

According to Vice, Makan Delrahim — the Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division in the Department of Justice — and David Bernhardt — who is currently the No. 2 official at the Department of the Interior — were registered lobbyists for Access Industries, a holding company under the control of Soviet-born billionaire Leonard Blavatnik.

Blavatnik, who is a naturalized dual U.S.-U.K. citizen, is connected to Russian oligarchs via Access Industries’ large stake in Russian aluminum company UC Rusal. Two other men who have large stakes in UC Rusal are Oleg Deripaska and Viktor Vekselberg — Russian businessmen who were recently hit with sanctions by the United States Treasury Department.

What is particularly notable about Blavatnik, notes Vice, is that he once spread out campaign donations fairly evenly between Republicans and Democrats — before shifting heavily in favor of the GOP during the 2016 election cycle, when President Donald Trump was the party’s nominee.

What’s more, he’s continued to give to Republicans since Trump’s election.

“Although he didn’t donate directly to Trump’s campaign, after Trump won, Access Industries gave a further $1 million to the Presidential Inaugural Committee,” Vice News reports. “And according to The Wall Street Journal, Blavatnik gave $12,700 in April 2017 to a Republican National Committee fund that was used to help pay for the team of private attorneys representing Trump in the probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.”

Read the whole report here.

[Raw Story]

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