Trump voices support for Saudi leaders amid political purge

President Donald Trump said Monday he has “great confidence” in King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi Arabian leaders whose regime carried out an apparent purge of royals, ministers and businessmen in recent days amid a political crackdown that has resulted in mass arrests.

“I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing,” the president tweeted Tuesday while traveling in Asia as a part of his first diplomatic trip in the region.

The president added: “Some of those they are harshly treating have been ‘milking’ their country for years!”

Over the weekend bin Salman oversaw the arrest of 11 princes, including billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, in what the country’s attorney general referred to as “phase one” of the regime’s crackdown on political opponents.

The moves, which targeted royal political opponents within Salman’s own family, are widely-seen as the latest step in the 32-year-old’s attempt to consolidate power since King Salman, his father, took the throne in 2015.

The comments from Trump come just over a week after Jared Kushner, his senior adviser and son-in-law, took an unannounced trip to Saudi Arabia, marking his third visit to the country this year.

Kushner, whose trip was not announced to the public, was accompanied by deputy national security adviser Dina Powell and Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt.

Trump traveled to Saudia Arabia in September to meet with their political leaders. At the time, he expressed a more cooperative tone as president than he did as a candidate. During the 2016 campaign, Trump criticized the country for its human rights record and blasted Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, for accepting Saudi donations through the Clinton Foundation.

[Politico]

Leaks Show Wilbur Ross Hid Ties to Putin Cronies

Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary in the Trump administration, shares business interests with Vladimir Putin’s immediate family, and he failed to clearly disclose those interests when he was being confirmed for his cabinet position.

Ross — a billionaire industrialist — retains an interest in a shipping company, Navigator Holdings, that was partially owned by his former investment company. One of Navigator’s most important business relationships is with a Russian energy firm controlled, in turn, by Putin’s son-in-law and other members of the Russian president’s inner circle.

Some of the details of Ross’s continuing financial holdings — much of which were not disclosed during his confirmation process — are revealed in a trove of more than 7 million internal documents of Appleby, a Bermuda-based law firm, that was leaked to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. The documents consist of emails, presentations and other electronic data. These were then shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists — a global network that won the Pulitzer Prize this year for its work on the Panama Papers — and its international media partners. NBC News was given access to some of the leaked documents, which the ICIJ calls the “Paradise Papers.”

Overall, the document leak provides a rare insight into the workings of the global offshore financial world, which is used by many of the world’s most powerful companies and government officials to legally avoid paying taxes and to conduct business away from public scrutiny. More than 120 politicians and royal rulers around the world are identified in the leak as having ties to offshore finance.

The New York Times reported Sunday that the documents also contain references to offshore interests held by Gary Cohn, Trump’s chief economic adviser, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. There is no evidence of illegality in their dealings.

Ross’ widespread financial interests

In Ross’s case, the documents give a far fuller picture of his finances than the filings he submitted to the government on Jan. 15 as part of his confirmation process. On that date, Ross, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for commerce secretary, submitted a letter to the designated ethics official at the department, explaining steps he was taking to avoid all conflicts of interest.

That explanation was vital to his confirmation, because Ross held financial interests in hundreds of companies across dozens of sectors, many of which could be affected by his decisions as commerce secretary. Any one of them could represent a potential conflict of interest, which is why the disclosures, by law, are supposed to be thorough.

“The information that he provided on that form is just a start. It is incomplete,” said Kathleen Clark, an expert on government ethics at Washington University in St. Louis. “I have no reason to believe that he violated the law of disclosure, but in order … for the Commerce Department to understand, you’d have to have more information than what is listed on that form.”

Ross, through a Commerce Department spokesperson, issued a statement saying that he recuses himself as secretary from any matters regarding transoceanic shipping, and said he works closely with ethics officials in the department “to ensure the highest ethical standards.”

The statement said Ross “has been generally supportive of the Administration’s sanctions of Russian” business entities. But the statement did not address the question of whether he informed Congress or the Commerce Department that he was retaining an interest in companies that have close Russian ties.

In his submission letter to the government, Ross pledged to cut ties with more than 80 financial entities in which he has interests.

Ross’s apparent ethical probity won praise, even before he signed the divestment agreement, from both sides of the political aisle.

‘Our Committee Was Misled’

The documents seen by NBC News, however, along with a careful examination of filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, tell a different story than the one Ross told at his confirmation. Ross divested most of his holdings, but did not reveal to the government the full details of the holdings he kept.

In his letter to the ethics official of the Commerce Department, Ross created two lists: those entities and interests he planned to get rid of and those he intended to keep. The second list consisted of nine entities, four of which were Cayman Islands companies represented and managed by the Appleby law firm, which specializes in creating complex offshore holdings for wealthy clients and businesses. The Wilbur Ross Group is one of the firm’s biggest clients, according to the leaked documents, connected to more than 60 offshore holdings.

The four holdings on the list of assets that Ross held onto were valued by him on the form as between $2.05 million and $10.1 million. These four, in turn, are linked through ownership chains to two other entities, WLR Recovery Fund IV DSS AIV L.P. and WLR Recovery Fund V DSS AIV L.P., which were listed in Ross’ financial disclosure prior to confirmation, but were not among the assets he declared he would retain. According to an SEC filing, those entities hold 17.5 million shares in Navigator, which constitutes control of nearly one-third of the shipping firm.

“You look at all of these names,” Clark said, referring to the financial entities, “and they actually look like a code. And what we actually have to do is find — in a sense — a code that decrypts what these names mean and what these companies actually do.”

She said the way the companies were listed was deliberately vague. “I would say this gives the appearance of transparency,” she said, referring to Ross’s disclosure documents. “It’s sort of fake transparency in a sense.”

The Office of Government Ethics, which is responsible for executive branch oversight, approved Ross’s arrangement, and it was left almost entirely unchallenged by the Senate.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said members of Congress who were part of Ross’ confirmation hearings were under the impression that Ross had divested all of his interests in Navigator. Furthermore, he said, they were unaware of Navigator’s close ties to Russia.

“I am astonished and appalled because I feel misled,” said Blumenthal. “Our committee was misled, the American people were misled by the concealment of those companies.” Blumenthal said he will call for the inspector general of the Commerce Department to launch an investigation.

And a cursory look at Navigator’s annual reports reveal an apparent conflict of interest. Navigator’s second-largest client is SIBUR, the Russian petrochemical giant. According to Navigator’s 2017 SEC filing, SIBUR was listed among its top five clients, based on total revenue for the previous two years. In 2016, Navigator’s annual reports show SIBUR brought in $23.2 million in revenue and another $28.7 million the following year.

The business relationship has been so profitable that in January, around the time Ross was being vetted for his Cabinet position, Navigator held a naming ceremony for two state-of-the-art tankers on long-term leases to SIBUR.

The Kremlin’s inner circle

One of the owners of SIBUR is Gennady Timchenko, a Russian billionaire on the Treasury Department’s sanctions list. He has been barred from entering the U.S. since 2014 because authorities consider him a Specially Designated National, or SDN, who is considered by Treasury to be a member “of the Russian leadership’s inner circle.”

The Treasury Department statement said that Timchenko’s activities in the energy sector “have been directly linked to Putin” and that Putin had investments with a company previously owned by Timchenko, as well as access to the company’s funds.

Daniel Fried, who was the State Department sanctions coordinator under President Barack Obama, said the connection to Timchenko’s interests should have raised alarm bells.

“I would think that any reputable American businessman, much less a Cabinet-level official, would want to have absolutely no relationship — direct, indirect — … with anybody of the character and reputation of Gennady Timchenko,” Fried said. “I just don’t get it.”

Another major SIBUR shareholder is Leonid Mikhelson, who, like Timchenko, has close ties to the Kremlin. One of his companies, Novatek, Russia’s second-largest natural gas producer, was placed on the Treasury’s sanctions list in 2014.

Included in the Appleby documents are details of an internal discussion that resulted in the law firm dropping Mikhelson as a client in 2014, over concerns regarding his financial affiliations.

“I would say to anybody who asked,” said Fried, “treat SDNs as radioactive. Stay away from them.”

A third shareholder of SIBUR – and deputy chairman of the board – is Kirill Shamalov, husband of Vladimir Putin’s daughter, Katerina Tikhonova. After the wedding, Shamalov’s meteoric rise to wealth led him to own as much as 21.3 percent of SIBUR’s stock until April, when he sold off around 17 percent for a reported $2 billion.

“It’s a new generation which is currently being prepared and groomed… to inherit whatever power and wealth Putin’s team has accumulated over the past years,” said Vladimir Milov, a former deputy energy minister in Putin’s government who is now working with the opposition.

Milov also said companies like SIBUR are often the way sanctioned Kremlin insiders have to keep doing business despite restrictions.

The Commerce Department statement said Ross never met Timchenko, Mikhelson, or Shamalov. It said he was not on the board of Navigator in March 2011 when the ships in question were acquired, or the following February when the charter agreement with Sibur was signed. It said Sibur was not under U.S. sanctions now or in 2012. The statement said Ross was on the board of Navigator from March 30, 2012 to 2014, and that no funds managed by his company ever owned a majority of Navigator’s shares.

But as The Guardian reported Sunday, other public documents suggest a different story. A Navigator news release on March 2, 2012, said that Ross was already on the board at that point, and Sibur’s annual report for 2012 said the deal with Navigator was signed in March. In addition, Ross’ company issued a news release on Aug. 10, 2012, saying that the company had agreed to acquire a majority stake in Navigator.

Fried said he has no doubt of the connections between SIBUR and the Kremlin.

“If any senior official of the U.S. government, much less a Cabinet secretary … had any business dealings with sanctioned individuals, direct or indirect,” he said, “I would be appalled.”

Richard Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer during the George W. Bush administration, said there needs to a close examination of whether Ross’ testimony to the Senate violated perjury laws. Painter also said Ross must recuse himself from all Russia-related matters because of the SIBUR connection.

“Secretary Ross cannot participate in any discussion or decision-making or recommendation about sanctions imposed on Russia or on Russian nationals when he owns a company that is doing business with Russian nationals who are either under sanctions or who could come under sanctions in any future sanctions regime,” Painter said. “That would be a criminal offense for him to participate in any such matter.”

[NBC News]

Lawmakers want immediate review of travel restriction on Putin critic

The United States government has revoked travel privileges for a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, stirring alarm on Capitol Hill.

Bill Browder, a crusader for the Magnitsky Act designed to punish Russian human rights abusers, found himself blocked from traveling to the United States in recent days.

The situation appears to be triggered by Russia’s decision to place Browder on the Interpol wanted list in pursuit of his arrest.

“The Department of Homeland Security should expedite an immediate review of the decision to revoke Mr. Browder’s visa,” Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said in a statement on Monday.

The senators said it “would be unfortunate if the U.S. decided to bar him based on a decision by those same Russian officials who have been targeted by this important legislation.”

Browder, a British citizen, told The Hill in an interview Monday that he was notified late last week that the Department of Homeland Security had revoked his status as a member of the Global Entry program, which is administered by Customs and Border Protection and allows trusted travelers expedited entry into the country.

When Browder tried to book a flight to the United States, he further discovered that his privileges to enter the U.S. ad a citizen of Great Britain had been revoked. Browder uses the Electronic System for Travel Authorization to gain entry into the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program.

“I discovered that my Global Entry status had been revoked,” Browder said. “We then checked into a flight to Newark and the airline wouldn’t let me check in, wouldn’t let me board because of the visa issue.”

“At that point, I then contact my contacts in law enforcement and it was confirmed to me that Russia had added me using the Interpol diffusion system on the 17th of October,” Browder added.

Browder is a British financier who has been a major driving force behind the Magnitsky Act, a bipartisan law was passed in 2012 to punish human rights abusers in Russia. The law is named for Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer, who was jailed after discovering a tax fraud scheme and who died under suspicious circumstances. Browder was one of Magnitsky’s clients.

Browder’s support for the law has made him an enemy of Moscow. Russia has on four previous occasions petitioned to get Interpol to secure Browder’s arrest, though the international police organization has rejected the requests, deeming them politically motivated.

In the past, Browder’s visa privileges were revoked as a result of Russia’s actions, but he said the U.S. government previously had resolved the issue within hours.

“I am hopeful that this is just a technical issue driven by Interpol and it will be resolved quickly,” Browder said Monday.

The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for more information. Browder said he received little information from Homeland Security when he inquired about his Global Entry status in recent days.

[The Hill]

Update

After the firestorm, Browder has been cleared again to enter the US.

Trump: ‘Only one thing will work’ with North Korea

President Trump on Saturday continued to dismiss a diplomatic approach in handling North Korea’s escalating nuclear ambitions, saying “only one thing will work.”

“Presidents and their administrations have been talking to North Korea for 25 years, agreements made and massive amounts of money paid hasn’t worked, agreements violated before the ink was dry, makings fools of U.S. negotiators,” Trump wrote in tweets.

“Sorry, but only one thing will work!” he added.

Trump’s tweets alluding to possible military action in dealing with the crisis on the Korean Peninsula echoed his comments last Sunday in which he argued that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was “wasting his time” trying to negotiate with North Korea.

The president said that his administration would “do what has to be done” in response to actions from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whom he referred to as “Little Rocket Man.”

Tensions between Washington and Pyongyang have remained heightened in recent months, though relations between Trump and Tillerson have also gained fresh interest recently amid differing comments on the U.S. approach to North Korea.

Tillerson held a hastily-scheduled press conference on Wednesday to push back on reports that he considered resigning over the summer. Trump later expressed confidence in his chief diplomat, and officials emphasized that the administration was working together.

North Korea has put the international community on alert in recent months after testing a series of intercontinental ballistic missiles, including two over Japanese airspace.

Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea on the floor of the United Nations last month, prompting the country’s foreign minister to threaten to test a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean.

[The Hill]

Trump Thanks Putin for Expelling U.S. Diplomats to Dismay of State Department

President Donald Trump on Thursday thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for expelling American diplomats from Russia on the grounds that “we’re going to save a lot of money,” prompting dismay among some of the rank-and-file at the State Department.

“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll, and as far as I’m concerned I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll,” Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, according to a pool report.

“There’s no real reason for them to go back,” he added. “I greatly appreciate the fact that we’ve been able to cut our payroll of the United States. We’re going to save a lot of money.”

Russia recently announced that it would expel hundreds of American diplomats from Russia in retaliation for new sanctions the U.S. put on the Kremlin. Those sanctions are in response to Russia’s suspected attempts to meddle in last year’s U.S. presidential election through a disinformation campaign and cyberattacks on Democratic Party officials.

Trump, whose campaign’s relationship with Russia is the subject of an ongoing federal investigation, had pushed back against the sanctions bill, but signed it into law after it passed Congress with veto-proof majorities in both chambers.

The State Department has not yet released the details of how it will handle the drawdown. But many, if not most, of the positions cut will likely be those of locally hired Russian staffers, though the local staff who are let go will likely get severance payments. Cost savings are possible in the long run.

The U.S. diplomats forced to leave Moscow will in most cases be sent to other posts, sources said.

Trump’s remarks did not go down well among the rank-and-file at the State Department, some of whom noted that the people who would be most affected are locally hired staff crucial to American diplomats’ work overseas.

A senior U.S. diplomat serving overseas called Trump’s remarks “outrageous” and said it could lead more State Department staffers to head for the exits.

“This is so incredibly demoralizing and disrespectful to people serving their country in harm’s way,” the diplomat said.

“I kid you not, I have heard from three different people in the last five minutes,” one State Department official told POLITICO shortly after Trump’s comments. “Everyone seems pretty amazed. This statement is naive and shortsighted. It sends a terrible signal to local employees everywhere.”

“THANK Putin?” another bewildered State Department official responded. “I don’t have words that are printable to describe my reaction.”

The reaction to Trump’s comments on social media was equally as withering, with many suggesting he simply didn’t understand how the U.S. Foreign Service is structured and others shocked by his gesture to Putin.

Nicholas Burns, who served as undersecretary of state for political affairs during the second Bush administration, called Trump’s statement “shameful.”

“He justifies mistreatment of U.S. diplomats by Putin,” Burns wrote on Twitter.

Ever since Trump won the election, the State Department has felt sidelined by the president and his aides. Trump largely ignored U.S. diplomats who were ready and willing to offer him briefings when he talked to foreign leaders during the transition period. Since taking office, Trump has proposed cutting the State Department’s budget by a third, and his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is considered isolated and aloof from many of the diplomats he oversees.

[Politico]

Trump Draws a His Own Red Line in Syria

Defense officials were “caught off guard” Monday by a White House statement warning against “potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime,” Buzzfeed reports.

“The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children,” the statement from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer reads. “The activities are similar to preparations the regime made before its April 4, 2017 chemical weapons attack.”

“As we have previously stated, the United States is in Syria to eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. If, however, Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price.”

Buzzfeed spoke to five US defense officials who told the publications “they did not know where the potential chemical attack would come from” and were not informed that the White House was going to release such a statement. As Buzzfeed notes, statements like this are usually coordinated across national security agencies prior to their release.

Likewise, the New York Times reports that “several” military officials were caught of guard by the White House statement.

[Raw Story]

Vladimir Putin praises Trump as ‘straightforward’ and ‘frank’

Russian President Vladimir Putin praised President Trump on Thursday as a “straightforward” and “frank person” who looks at issues with a “fresh set of eyes.”

Speaking to foreign reporters at an economic forum in St. Petersburg, Putin denied that the Russian state had ever engaged in election hacking, but conceded it is theoretically possible some individual “patriotic” Russians could have mounted some cyberattacks.

He rejected charges by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia hacked into Democratic Party emails, helping Trump’s election victory and railed against “Russo-phobic hysteria” that he said makes it “somewhat inconvenient to work with one another or even to talk.”

“It’s having an impact, and I’m afraid this is one of the goals of those who organize it are pursuing and they can fine-tune the public sentiments to their liking, trying to establish an atmosphere that is going to prevent us from addressing common issues, say with regard to terrorism,” Putin said.

He indicated, however, that Trump is an American leader he could work with.
Putin praised Trump as “a straightforward person, a frank person,” adding that some view Trump’s lack of political experience as a disadvantage, while the Russian leader considers it a plus.

“He can’t be put in the same category as normal politicians,” Putin said. “I see that as an advantage. He has a fresh set of eyes.’’

Putin noted that the two leaders have only talked by phone and it is difficult to form an opinion from a distance. They plan to meet for the first time at the G-20 summit in Hamburg in July.

“How can you be friends with someone you don’t know?’’ Putin said. “I don’t think he can call me a friend. We have never seen each other in person.’’

As for the strains between Russia and the West, Putin predicted “this will end, sooner or later,” adding that “we are patient, we know how to wait and we will wait.”

[USA Today]

 

Trump Officials Pressed State Dept Staffers for Plans to Lift Russia Sanctions

Trump administration officials pressed State Department staffers to develop plans for removing sanctions against Russia almost immediately after President Trump took office in January, Yahoo News reported Thursday.

In turn, according to Yahoo News, State Department employees sought to convince lawmakers to codify the sanctions, which were put in place by former President Barack Obama in response to Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine and the Kremlin’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Former Coordinator of Sanctions Policy Dan Fried, who retired from the State Department in February, said that he received phone calls from concerned officials tasked with developing plans to lift the sanctions asking him to intervene and “stop this.”

“There was serious consideration by the White House to unilaterally rescind the sanctions,” Fried told Yahoo News, saying he eventually contacted lawmakers, including Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.), in an effort to codify the sanctions, which would complicate efforts by Trump to lift them.

Former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski, who, at the time, had just left the State Department, also brought the issue up with members of Congress.

The revelation State Department officials had scrambled to prevent the Trump administration from doing away with Obama-era sanctions on Russia comes as the FBI and at least four congressional committees are investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.

It also follows reports last week that Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner had discussed setting up a backchannel line of communication between the Trump transition team and the Kremlin with the country’s Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Kushner is currently under FBI scrutiny for his meetings with Kislyak and Russian banking executive Sergey Gorkov in December. He did not disclose those meetings.

Also present at the meeting with Kislyak was former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign from the White House in February amid revelations that he had discussed sanctions with Kislyak in the month before Trump took office.

As a presidential candidate and since taking office, Trump has expressed a desire to improve U.S.-Russia relations, though he has repeatedly denied any collusion between his campaign and Moscow and has called the federal investigations into the matter a “witch hunt.”

[The Hill]

Trump Tells Duterte of Two U.S. Nuclear Subs in Korean Waters

U.S. President Donald Trump told his Philippine counterpart that Washington has sent two nuclear submarines to waters off the Korean peninsula, the New York Times said, comments likely to raise questions about his handling of sensitive information.

Trump has said “a major, major conflict” with North Korea is possible because of its nuclear and missile programs and that all options are on the table but that he wants to resolve the crisis diplomatically.

North Korea has vowed to develop a missile mounted with a nuclear warhead that can strike the mainland United States, saying the program is necessary to counter U.S. aggression.

Trump told Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte Washington had “a lot of firepower over there”, according to the New York Times, which quoted a transcript of an April 29 call between the two.

“We have two submarines — the best in the world. We have two nuclear submarines, not that we want to use them at all,” the newspaper quoted Trump as telling Duterte, based on the transcript.

The report was based on a Philippine transcript of the call that was circulated on Tuesday under a “confidential” cover sheet by the Americas division of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs.

In a show of force, the United States has sent the nuclear-powered USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier to waters off the Korean peninsula, where it joined the USS Michigan, a nuclear submarine that docked in South Korea in late April.

According to the Times, a senior Trump administration official in Washington, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the call and insisted on anonymity, confirmed the transcript was an accurate representation of the call between the two leaders.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said Trump discussed intelligence about Islamic State with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak at talks in the Oval Office this month, raising questions about Trump’s handling of secrets.

Trump also praised Duterte for doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem”, the New York Times reported, a subject that has drawn much criticism in the West.

Almost 9,000 people, many small-time users and dealers, have been killed in the Philippines since Duterte took office on June 30. Police say about one-third of the victims were shot by officers in self-defense during legitimate operations.

[Reuters]

Reality

BuzzFeed News is reporting that “Pentagon officials are in shock after the release of a transcript between President Donald Trump and his Philippines counterpart reveals that the US military had moved two nuclear submarines towards North Korea.”

The report goes on to quote officials as saying, “We never talk about subs!”

Trump Praised Philippines President Duterte For Drug War That Has Killed 9,000 People

President Donald Trump opened a brief April phone call with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte by commending the strongman’s bloody war on drugs, according to a transcript obtained by The Washington Post and the The Intercept.

“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem,” said Trump. “Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”

Trump then criticized former President Barack Obama, who had spoken out against Duterte’s violent anti-drug offensive that has killed an estimated 9,000 people, including many small-time users and dealers.

“I understand that and fully understand that and I think we had a previous president who did not understand that, but I understand that and we have spoken about this before,” Trump said, according to the transcript.

A senior Trump administration official told the Post the transcript is accurate, but would not speak on the record about a “leaked” document.

The transcript, provided to the outlets by a source in the Philippines and authenticated by Rappler, a Philippines news outlet that partnered with the Intercept, is further confirmation of Trump’s uncharacteristic friendliness toward autocratic world leaders. It also is likely to raise fears that harsh rhetoric from Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions on what they call the scourge of drug abuse and addiction may give way to more militant action in the future.

In his call with Trump, Duterte similarly called drugs “the scourge of my nation,” according to the transcript.

White House officials initially characterized the April call as “a very friendly conversation,” during which Trump had invited Duterte to visit Washington. That development reportedly surprised White House staffers and drew widespread condemnation from human rights groups, which have accused Duterte of condoning a lawless drug war that has terrorized the nation with a campaign of extrajudicial killings carried out by vigilantes and police officers. Duterte has seemingly embraced this barbaric depiction, comparing himself with Adolf Hitler on a mission to kill millions of drug addicts.

“By essentially endorsing Duterte’s murderous war on drugs, Trump is now morally complicit in future killings,” John Sifton, Asia advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, told The New York Times in April. “Although the traits of his personality likely make it impossible, Trump should be ashamed of himself.”

Michael Collins, deputy director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit that supports the progressive reform of drug laws, called Trump’s remarks “a new low.”

“It fills me with disgust to see the U.S. president congratulate someone who has overseen the massacre of thousands of his own people in the name of the war on drugs,” Collins said in a statement to HuffPost. “The U.S. government should be urging restraint and respect for human rights; instead Trump gives Duterte’s deadly drug war his seal of approval.”

Trump’s support for Duterte’s tactics also mark a significant departure from the policies of Obama’s administration, which had shown a willingness to confront the Philippines president on the issue of drug enforcement. Ahead of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in September, Obama said he’d bring up the drug war during a planned meeting with Duterte, because he believed in the need to “have due process and to engage in that fight against drugs in a way that’s consistent with basic international norms.”

Duterte responded by calling Obama a Taglog phrase for “son of a bitch,” and the meeting was canceled.

Trump and Duterte, during their call, also discussed escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula, and expressed concerns about North Korean leader Kim Jung Un, whom Trump called a “madman with nuclear weapons.” Days later, Trump said he’d be “honored” to meet with the North Korean dictator.

Trump and Duterte agreed that China would play a pivotal role in keeping North Korea in check, and warding off the possibility of military action.

“We have a lot of firepower over there. We have two submarines – the best in the world – we have two nuclear submarines – not that we want to use them at all,” said Trump, according to the transcript. “I’ve never seen anything like they are but we don’t have to use this but he could be crazy so we will see what happens.”

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