Trump Says Election Meddling ‘Could Be Russia’ But ‘Nobody Really Knows for Sure’

President Donald Trump said Thursday that he thinks Russia was behind 2016 election meddling, but added that he feels “it could have been other people in other countries” and that “nobody really knows for sure.”

“I think it very well could be Russia but I think it could very well have been other countries,” Trump said during a news conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda in which he also slammed the news media, including CNN and NBC. “I think a lot of people interfere.”

Trump, asked about the fact the United States intelligence community has said it was Russia, compared that assessment to the eventually debunked claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction in the lead-up to the Iraq War.

“I think it was Russia but I think it was probably other people and or countries. I see nothing wrong with that statement,” Trump said. “Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure.”

He added, “I remember when I was sitting back listening about Iraq, weapons of mass destruction, how everybody was 100% certain that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. Guess what? That led to one big mess. They were wrong and it led to a mess.”

The intelligence community assessment spans both Obama and Trump administrations, however. Intelligence officials nominated by Trump have publicly said they have no doubt that Russia was behind the election meddling.

Russian meddling in the 2016 election is the subject of numerous investigations in Washington, casting a pall over the White House. The swirl of Russia investigations — and possible connections between Trump’s orbit and Russian officials — has caused friction on Capitol Hill, hampering Trump’s ability to score a number of legislative victories.

Trump slammed former President Barack Obama’s handling of Russian interference as he stood next to Duda, arguing that the former president “did nothing” to combat the interference.

“Why did he do nothing about it? He was told it was Russia by the CIA … and he did nothing about it,” Trump said. “They said he choked. I don’t think he choked. Well, I don’t think he choked. I think what happened was he thought Hillary Clinton was going to win the election and he said let’s not do anything about it. Had he thought the other way, he would have done something about it.”

Obama confronted Russian President Vladimir Putin over election meddling, though, during the 2016 G20 meeting in Hanghzhou, China. Photos of the meeting showed a stern Obama staring down Putin.

Obama later revealed that he told Putin “to cut it out” in his meddling in the 2016 election or “there were going to be serious consequences if he did not.” The Obama administration also later expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the United States and shuttered Russian compounds in Maryland and New York.

Trump’s comments come during the first day of his foreign trip to Poland and Germany, the second international trip of his presidency. Trump did not formally take questions from reporters on his first trip, so the bilateral press conference with Duda on Thursday was Trump’s first official conversation with reporters on foreign soil.

Attacks news coverage

Trump, standing next to Duda, also slammed American media, particularly CNN and NBC.
Trump, as he has done many times before, criticized CNN as “fake news” after being asked about CNN’s coverage by David Martosko of the Daily Mail.

Trump’s critique — which came during his first formal press conference in nearly a month — came in response to CNN’s coverage of the video the President tweeted that showed him body-slamming a man with the CNN logo over his head.

“I think what CNN did was unfortunate for them. As you know, they now have some pretty serious problems. They have been fake news for a long time. They have been covering me in a very dishonest way,” Trump said.

Martosko met with Trump to pitch him the idea of writing a book about the President, CNN has reported. Numerous reports have also indicated that the reporter was considered for a press job in the White House. Martosko later tweeted a statement pulling him out of consideration for any White House job.

“Since you started the whole wrestling video thing, what are your thoughts about what has happened since then? CNN went after you and has threatened to expose the identity of a person,” Martosko asked before being cut off by Trump.

CNN did not threaten to expose the identity of anyone behind the video, but did contact the Reddit user who originally posted the video that Trump tweeted.

A spokesman for the news network said CNN decided not to publish the name of the Reddit user out of concern for his safety and that “any assertion that the network blackmailed or coerced him is false.” The user, who had a long history of posting anti-semitic, racist and anti-Muslim content, apologized for his posts after being contacted by CNN but before speaking to the network.

Martosko was standing directly behind a number of smiling Trump aides when he asked the question. Martosko shook hands with Dan Scavino, Trump’s director of social media, after the news conference.

After slamming CNN as fake news, Trump turned to Duda and asked, “Do you have that also, Mr. President?”

Duda has been accused of curbing press freedoms in Poland. Though he denies the criticisms, the fears of curbs being put on reporters have led to protests throughout the country.

[CNN]

Intel Officials Fret Trump Doesn’t Understand Info Given to Him During 30-Minute Security Briefings

It’s now well-known that President Donald Trump allegedly revealed classified information to Russian officials during an unorthodox Oval Office meeting a few weeks ago. The underlying message behind that story, according to a new Washington Post report, is about how the president consumes the intelligence that comes across his desk.

According to the Post, Trump’s intelligence briefings “often run past their scheduled time, stretching for 30 or 45 minutes, prompting Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, to pop into the Oval Office to cut off the discussion: ‘Mr. President, we’ve got people backing up outside.’”

It’s not just the length, but also the content of the Trump’s briefings that appear to be cause for concern. Prior reports reveal that the president prefers the use of “visual aides” like infographics and photos in his briefings, and this latest Post report reinforces that.

“As they huddle around the desk, Trump likes to pore over visuals — maps, charts, pictures and videos, as well as “killer graphics,” as CIA Director Mike Pompeo phrased it,” Post reporters Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker wrote. This tendency towards visuals is, according to their sources, due to Trump’s career in real estate that required him to regularly view blueprints.

Despite efforts by White House staff to make intelligence more legible for the president, “there are signs that the president may not be retaining all the intelligence he is presented, fully absorbing its nuance, or respecting the sensitivities of the information and how it was gathered,” Parker and Rucker wrote.

The president’s seeming mishandling of the classified intelligence he gave to the Russians, according to the Post, provides an uneasy “portrait of Trump as a consumer of the nation’s secrets”.

During his presidential transition, Trump infamously said he only needed weekly briefings, and reports from the transition noted that he would often refuse briefings presented to him.

“Pompeo and [Director of National Intelligence Dan] Coats are doing their best to give him the most accurate daily briefing, but my sense is in the rank-and-file, they are very worried about how do you deal with him and about sharing with him sensitive material,” former Assistant CIA Director Mark Lowenthal told the Post. “This is the result of his behavior.”

[Raw Story]

White House Didn’t Act on Sally Yates’ Warning Because She’s a “Political Opponent”

The White House has a new explanation for its decision not to immediately fire National Security Adviser Michael Flynn after learning that he could be the target of Russian blackmail efforts: The acting attorney general, who supplied that information, was a supporter of Hillary Clinton.

On January 26, Sally Yates, then acting attorney general, met with White House Counsel Donald McGahn to warn him that Flynn could be compromised by the Russians. He had lied to the Vice President Mike Pence about the content of his conversations with the Russian ambassador, and the Russians knew he had lied. But President Donald Trump waited 18 days before showing Flynn the door for lying to Pence.

On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer defended the administration’s decision to keep Flynn on as national security adviser for more than two weeks after Yates’ warning by implying that Yates, a Barack Obama appointee, could not be trusted because she was “a strong supporter of Clinton.”

“One thing that I think is important to note is, let’s look at, again, how this came down,” Spicer said. “Someone who is not exactly a supporter of the president’s agenda, who a couple days after this first conversation took place refused to uphold a lawful order of the president’s…she had come here, given a heads up, told us there were materials, and at the same we did what we should do. Just because someone comes in and gives you a heads up about something and says I want to share some information, doesn’t mean that you immediately jump the gun and go take an action.”

Spicer continued, “I think if you flip this scenario and say, what if we had just dismissed someone because a political opponent of the president had made an utterance, you would argue that it was pretty irrational to act in that manner.”

After being asked multiple times if the White House took any steps to reduce Flynn’s role or access to classified information after receiving Yates’ warning, Spicer finally said, “I’m not aware of any.”

Media

Trump is Being Sued for Saying ‘Get ’Em Out of Here’ at a Rally. He Just Did it Again.

“Get them out of here.”

Those five words have already led to a lawsuit against President Donald Trump. But Trump continued to use them Saturday night at a rally celebrating his first 100 days in office.

According to CNN, Kashiya Nwanguma, Molly Shah and Henry Brousseau attended a Trump rally in Louisville, Kentucky in March 2016 to protest. When they did so, however, Trump took notice and said from the podium, “Get them out of here.”

The protesters then say they were pushed out of the venue as Trump supporters yelled at them, per the Washington Post. In a suit filed this year, the three are accusing several supporters of assault and battery and Trump himself of incitement to riot, negligence, gross negligence and recklessness. They say Trump should have known that his words would have sparked violence.

That case is still making its way through the legal system, but on April 1, a federal judge in Kentucky ruled that it was plausible that Trump’s words has incited violence and ruled that the lawsuit could proceed, a defeat for Trump’s legal team, per the Louisville Courier-Journal.

On Saturday, however, Trump was hosting another rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, when another protest seemed to break out. Trump stopped his speech to say, “That’s right, get him out of here. Get him out.” The crowd then began to chant, “USA!” as Trump watched. Trump resumed by saying “Thank you” and then praising law enforcement.

Another social media post showed multiple law enforcement officials restraining a protester on the ground. A key argument of Trump’s legal team in the current lawsuit is that his comments were clearly directed at law enforcement officials, not supporters, but Hale rejected that claim.

Two of the original protesters who are being sued for the events of the Louisville rally have since filed claims saying they took Trump’s words as a directive towards them to remove the protesters. Because of this, the two supporters say, Trump should be held liable for their actions, not them, according to the Associated Press.

(h/t McClatchy)

Trump Slams His Own SCOTUS Pick, “I’ll Criticize Judges!”

President Trump on Tuesday said the courts aren’t helping the administration in its attempts to strengthen the country’s vetting procedures to weed out potential terrorists.

“We’re also taking decisive action to improve our vetting procedures,” Trump said, speaking at the National Republican Congressional Committee dinner.

“The courts are not helping us, I have to be honest with you. It’s ridiculous. Somebody said I should not criticize judges. OK, I’ll criticize judges.”

Earlier this year, Trump blasted James Robart, the federal judge for the Western District of Washington who placed a halt on Trump’s initial travel ban. The president referred to Robart as a “so-called judge.”

During the campaign, he also attacked the judge hearing a lawsuit against Trump’s defunct real estate education program, Trump University, saying that his Mexican heritage makes him unable to be impartial.

On Tuesday, Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch said during his confirmation hearing that he finds the president’s criticism of judges’ integrity “disheartening and demoralizing.”

“I know these people and how decent they are, and when anyone criticizes the honesty, integrity and motives of a federal judge, I find that disheartening and demoralizing because I know the truth,” Gorsuch told Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

“Anyone including the president of the United States?” Blumenthal asked.

“Anyone is anyone,” Gorsuch replied.

Earlier this month, a federal judge in Hawaii issued a temporary restraining order on parts of the president’s revised travel ban.

(h/t The Hill)

Media

White House Rejects FBI’s Denial Of Trump’s Wiretapping Claims

President Donald Trump’s administration continues to insist that former President Barack Obama ordered Trump Tower to be wiretapped during the presidential campaign, rejecting FBI Director James Comey’s denial of such activity despite not providing evidence to back up its claims.

ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday whether Trump accepts Comey’s reported request for the Department of Justice to “publicly reject” the president’s unfounded statement.

“No, I don’t think he does,” she replied.

Although he didn’t provide any evidence, Trump claimed over the weekend that Obama ordered wiretapping of his communications last year during his presidential campaign. On Sunday, Sanders even called for an investigation into the matter.

Obama, as well as numerous U.S. intelligence officials, have denied the allegation. James Clapper, former director of national intelligence, said Sunday that “there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect, at the time, as a candidate or against his campaign.” He also denied that the FBI obtained a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court warrant to investigate the Trump campaign’s alleged contact with Russian officials.

Later that day, The New York Times and other outlets confirmed that Comey told DOJ officials to “publicly reject” Trump’s claim, reportedly saying it was “false and must be corrected.”

The only evidence that the Trump administration has offered are reports from right-wing news sites, maintaining a pattern of spreading unfounded conspiracy theories.

Yet Trump’s team continued to dig into the claims on Monday, while still providing no definitive proof.

“This is a storyline that has been reported by quite a few outlets,” Sanders said Monday, citing mainstream outlets that have reported on the claims but have found no evidence to support them.

Stephanopoulos repeatedly pressed her for evidence, but she had none.
Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, insisted on Fox News that Trump has “information and intelligence” to back up his claims.

“He’s the president of the United States,” she said. “He has information and intelligence that the rest of us do not, and that’s the way it should be.”

(h/t Huffington Post)

Media

Trump-Ordered Raid in Yemen That Killed US Navy SEAL Was Approved ‘Without Sufficient Intelligence’

The US military said on Wednesday it was looking into whether more civilians were killed in a raid on Al Qaeda in Yemen on the weekend, in the first operation authorized by President Donald Trump as commander in chief.

US Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens died in the raid on a branch of Al Qaeda, also known as AQAP, in al Bayda province, which the Pentagon said also killed 14 militants. Medics at the scene, however, said about 30 people, including 10 women and children, were killed.

US Central Command said in a statement that an investigating team had “concluded regrettably that civilian noncombatants were likely killed” during Sunday’s raid. It added that children may have been among the casualties.

Central Command said its assessment “seeks to determine if there were any still-undetected civilian casualties in the ferocious firefight.”

US military officials told Reuters that Trump approved his first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support, or adequate backup preparations.

As a result, three officials said, the attacking SEAL team found itself dropping onto a reinforced Al Qaeda base defended by landmines, snipers, and a larger-than-expected contingent of heavily armed Islamist extremists.

The Pentagon directed queries about the officials’ characterization of the raid to US Central Command, which pointed only to its statement on Wednesday.

The US officials said the extremists’ base had been identified as a target before the Obama administration left office on January 20, but President Barack Obama held off approving a raid ahead of his departure.

A White House official said the operation was thoroughly vetted by the previous administration and the previous defense secretary had signed off on it in January. The raid was delayed for operational reasons, the White House official said.

The military officials who spoke with Reuters on condition of anonymity said “a brutal firefight” took the lives of Owens and at least 15 Yemeni women and children. One of the dead was the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, a militant killed by a 2011 US drone strike.

Some of the women were firing at the US force, Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis told reporters.

Intelligence gathered

The American elite forces did not seize any militants or take any prisoners offsite, but White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Wednesday the raid yielded benefits.

“Knowing that we killed an estimated 14 AQAP members and that we gathered an unbelievable amount of intelligence that will prevent the potential deaths or attacks on American soil — is something that I think most service members understand, that that’s why they joined the service,” Spicer said.

A senior leader in Yemen’s Al Qaeda branch, Abdulraoof al-Dhahab, and other militants were killed in the gunfight, Al Qaeda said.

One of the three US officials said on-the-ground surveillance of the compound was “minimal, at best.”

“The decision was made … to leave it to the incoming administration, partly in the hope that more and better intelligence could be collected,” that official said.

As Sunday’s firefight intensified, the raiders called in Marine helicopter gunships and Harrier jump jets, and then two MV-22 Osprey vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft to extract the SEALs.

One of the two suffered engine failure, two of the officials said, and hit the ground so hard that two crew members were injured, and one of the Marine jets had to launch a precision-guided bomb to destroy it.

Trump traveled to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Wednesday in an unexpected visit to meet with the family of Owens, who had been a chief special warfare operator.

(h/t Business Insider)

President Trump Fires Acting Attorney General Who Would Not Defend Immigration Ban

Sally Yates, who had been appointed under Barack Obama, earlier ordered justice department lawyers not to enforce the president’s executive order.

In a statement, the White House said Ms Yates had “betrayed” the department.
Dana Boente, US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, replaces her as acting attorney general.

In a letter, Ms Yates had said she was “not convinced” that the president’s order was lawful.

“As long as I am the acting attorney general, the department of justice will not present arguments in defence of the Executive Order,” she said.

But the White House said she had “betrayed the department of justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States”.

“President Trump relieved Ms Yates of her duties,” a statement from the press secretary said.

Trump Likes Intel Briefings to Be “Short”

President-elect Donald Trump is expressing concern about what he has heard during his intelligence briefings on global threats.

“I’ve had a lot of briefings that are very … I don’t want to say ‘scary,’ because I’ll solve the problems,” he said in an interview with Axios.

“But … we have some big enemies out there in this country and we have some very big enemies — very big and, in some cases, strong enemies.”

He also talked about the importance of making the right decisions while in office.

“You also realize that you’ve got to get it right,” Trump said, “because a mistake would be very, very costly in so many different ways.”

The president-elect also told the news outlet he prefers his briefings to be short.

“I like bullets or I like as little as possible,” he said.

“I don’t need, you know, 200-page reports on something that can be handled on a page. That I can tell you.”

Last month, Trump pushed back against criticism that he does not receive intelligence briefings daily.

“I get it when I need it,” Trump said in an interview that aired on “Fox News Sunday.”

(h/t The Hill)

Trump Still Questions Intelligence on Russia Hacking After Briefing

President-elect Donald Trump said he had a “constructive” meeting with intelligence officials on Friday, but still had questions about assertions that Russia hacked Democrats during last year’s election in order to defeat Hillary Clinton.

Claiming that Russia, China and other countries and organizations are always launching cyber-attacks against the United States — “including the Democratic National Committee” — Trump said in a written statement that “there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.”

He added: “There were attempts to hack the Republican National Committee, but the RNC had strong hacking defenses and the hackers were unsuccessful.”

The intelligence community outlined its findings in a declassified report issued a few hours after the Trump briefing.

Among them: “We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”

A statement from the office of the Director of National Intelligence said that investigators “did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election, and DHS assesses that the types of systems the Russian actors targeted or compromised were not involved in vote tallying.”

While criticizing aspects of the Russia investigation just hours before a special briefing, Trump said in his statement, “I have tremendous respect for the work and service done by the men and women of this (intelligence) community to our great nation.”

Saying all Americans need to “aggressively combat and stop cyber-attacks,” Trump said that as president he would appoint a team to develop a new defense plan.

“The methods, tools and tactics we use to keep America safe should not be a public discussion that will benefit those who seek to do us harm,” the president-elect added. “Two weeks from today I will take the oath of office and America’s safety and security will be my number one priority.”

Brian Fallon, a spokesman for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign, said on Twitter: “Why. Can’t. He. Just. Say. He. Accepts. The. Conclusion. Of. The. Intel. Agencies? It is seriously weird he won’t just admit Russia did it.”

Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who also attended the briefing, called it “a constructive and respectful dialogue.” He said Trump has pledged “aggressive action in the early days of our new administration to combat cyber attacks and protect the security of the American people from this type of intrusion in the future.”

Before the meeting, Trump continued to attack what he called an over-emphasis on claims that the Russians hacked Democratic Party officials in an election operation authorized by Putin.

“China, relatively recently, hacked 20 million government names,” Trump told The New York Times. “How come nobody even talks about that? This is a political witch hunt.”

Before his high-profile briefing at Trump Tower, the president-elect also announced he has asked Congress to investigate what he believes to be the leak of a secret intelligence report on the Russians to the news media. He tweeted: “I am asking the chairs of the House and Senate committees to investigate top secret intelligence shared with NBC prior to me seeing it.”

The president-elect had a nearly two-hour briefing that included Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director John Brennan and FBI Director James Comey, all of whom have cited evidence pointing to a Russian plan to hack Democrats backing Clinton, perhaps in an effort to aid Trump.

Trump and aides have questioned the government’s position that the Russians engineered the hacking in order to undermine Clinton, a conclusion officials reaffirmed during a Senate hearing Thursday.

Changing rhetoric

In recent days, the president-elect has also softened his rhetoric about the intelligence agencies.

“The media lies to make it look like I am against ‘Intelligence’ when in fact I am a big fan!” Trump said during a Thursday tweet storm.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the White House did not leak the report that Trump cited — and said he found it ironic that the president-elect was complaining about the disclosure. Just days ago, Earnest noted, Trump tweeted his approval of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who has published classified information in addition to the Democratic emails that surfaced during the election.

Trump’s situational disapproval of leaks, Earnest said, “leads me to believe that his concerns are something other than protecting classified information.”

Lawmakers have criticized Trump for seeming to defend the Russians.

“I think it’s dangerous,” Vice President Biden told PBS NewsHour. “For a President not to have confidence in, not to be prepared to listen to the myriad of intelligence agencies from defense intelligence, to the CIA, et cetera, is absolutely mindless. It’s just mindless.”

DNC Chairwoman Donna Brazile, meanwhile, pointed out that, “for the first time ever,” Trump “is not disputing the fact that Russia was behind the targeted attack on the DNC and the Clinton campaign.”

(h/t USA Today)

Reality

In a written statement Trump said that “there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election,” however Trump is lying. The report never waded into the territory of if there was an effect, just that the Putin-ordered hack and ensuing propaganda from Russia existed.

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