Trump publicly urges China to investigate Bidens amid impeachment inquiry

 President Donald Trump urged another foreign government to probe Joe Biden and his son Thursday, saying the Chinese government should investigate the former vice president and son Hunter Biden over the latter’s involvement with an investment fund that raised money in the country.

“China should start an investigation into the Bidens because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine,” Trump told reporters outside the White House.

While Trump said he hasn’t requested Chinese President Xi Jinping investigate the Bidens, the public call mirrors the private behavior on which Democrats are partially basing their impeachment inquiry — using the office of the presidency to press a foreign leader to investigate a political rival.

It is “certainly something we can start thinking about, because I’m sure that President Xi does not like being on that kind of scrutiny, where billions of dollars is taken out of his country by a guy that just got kicked out of the Navy,” Trump said Thursday of asking China to probe the Bidens. “He got kicked out of the Navy, all of the sudden he’s getting billions of dollars. You know what they call that? They call that a payoff.”

The U.S. in the midst of a tense trade war with China. The president, discussing progress on negotiations with Beijing on a possible trade agreement just moments prior to his remarks about the Bidens, told reporters that “if they don’t do what we want, we have tremendous power.”

Chinese officials will be in Washington next week in another attempt to revive talks, Trump said.

Trump, seeking to expand his corruption accusations against the Bidens beyond Ukraine, has in recent days repeatedly accused Hunter Biden of using a 2013 trip on Air Force Two with his father, then the vice president, to procure $1.5 billion from China for a private equity fund he had started.

Prior to Thursday, Trump had not called for an investigation of the matter. The White House declined to comment on Trump’s remarks.

Despite Trump’s accusations, there has been no evidence of corruption on the part of the former vice president or his son. In a statement, Biden’s deputy campaign manager and communications director, Kate Bedingfield, said the president “is flailing and melting down on national television, desperately clutching for conspiracy theories that have been debunked and dismissed by independent, credible news organizations.”

“As Joe Biden forcefully said last night, the defining characteristic of Donald Trump’s presidency is the ongoing abuse of power. What Donald Trump just said on the South Lawn of the White House was this election’s equivalent of his infamous ‘Russia, if you’re listening’ moment from 2016 — a grotesque choice of lies over truth and self over the country,” Bedingfield said.

Trump, during a 2016 campaign rally, encouraged the country to meddle in the 2016 election by trying to access Hillary Clinton’s emails, saying, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation found that within hours of Trump‘s invitation, Russian military intelligence initiated a hack against Clinton’s office. Trump and his allies have said he wasn’t serious when he made the comment.

In pushing back on Trump, Biden’s campaign previously pointed to a fact-check from The Washington Post that found Trump’s claims false while tracing the origins of the $1.5 billion figure to a 2018 book published by conservative author Peter Schweizer.

In addition, Hunter Biden’s spokesman, George Mesires, told NBC News previously that Hunter Biden wasn’t initially an “owner” of the company and has never gotten paid for serving on the board. He said Hunter Biden didn’t acquire an equity interest in the fund until 2017, after his father had left office.

And when he did, he put in only about $420,000 — a 10 percent interest. That puts the total capitalization of the fund at the time at about $4.2 million — a far cry from the $1.5 billion that Trump has alleged.

Trump also said Thursday that he still wants Ukraine to conduct “a major investigation” into Joe and Hunter Biden.

[NBC News]

Reality

Lawfare: Former federal prosecutor and current professor at the University of Alabama School of Law Joyce White Vance concisely yet methodically explained why Trump’s statements constituted a crime.

“Trump just committed a felony violation of law by soliciting something of value in connection with a US election from a foreign government on national TV. 52 U.S. Code § 30121. Violating the law isn’t necessary for Impeachment but it certainly warrants it,” Vance wrote (including a citation to a statute).

She then explained how previously documented accounts of similar behavior render Trump’s conduct here even more culpable than in earlier instances of his requests for foreign assistance.

“The statute requires knowledge your conduct is a crime. After the Mueller investigation, there’s no way Trump was unaware this violates the law. Ukraine/China can you hear me is even worse than Russia, if that’s possible, because it comes from a sitting president,” she wrote.

Trump slammed for congratulating China on 70 years of Communist rule

President Trump faced a backlash online and from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle Tuesday for congratulating China on the 70th anniversary of Communist rule.

“Congratulations to President Xi and the Chinese people on the 70th Anniversary of the People’s Republic of China!” the president said in a tweet that was slammed for ignoring decades of human rights abuses in the country.

Trump has generally spoken favorably about Xi, though relations between the two nations have deteriorated since he took office and has launched a trade war with Beijing.

His shoutout came amid violent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, where an 18-year-old was hit in the chest by a live round fired by police in the Chinese territory.

House Republican Conference chairwoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming released a statement pointing to China’s oppressive governing tactics, according to the Washington Post.

“This is not a day for celebration,” she said in a joint statement with Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.).

The US will use the occasion to “rededicate ourselves to ensuring that the Chinese Communist Party is left on the ash heap of history,” they added.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) also issued a statement that contrasted sharply with the president’s message.

“Today Chinese tyrants celebrated 70 years of communist oppression with their typically brutal symbolism: by sending a police officer to shoot a pro-democracy protester at point-blank range,” Sasse said.

“The freedom-seekers in Hong Kong mourn this anniversary, and the American people stand with them against those who deny their God-given dignity.”

In a statement, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said: “From the Great Leap Forward to the Cultural Revolution to the camps in Xinjiang today, it has been a ghoulish 70 years of Chinese Communist Party control.”

And Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), a Trump ally, tweeted a terse “I will pass” in response to the president’s wishes.

On Twitter, Trump’s followers also didn’t hold back in calling him out.

“Don’t forget to send timely salutations to the other loves of your life, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, Rodrigo Duterte, and Jair Bolsonaro!” Karen Walz wrote.

User Michael Lebowitz wrote: “Are you kidding me. Congratulations to a nation that has killed more people than Hitler and Stalin in the effort to uphold communism. They are morally corrupt and certainly not deserving of congratulations.”

“Mr. President, I regret to point out you are literally congratulating your greatest enemy, the biggest threat to the US: you are congratulating the CCP,” @WBYeats1865 tweeted.

“Today the CCP just showed off their missiles capable of striking Taiwan, Japan, Guam, and USA soil, and they said it PROUDLY!” he added, referring to the Chinese display of military might on Tuesday.

And another user, Jim Clarke, said: “Never thought I see the day a US President celebrates the anniversary of communism!”

[New York Post]

White House Pressed Agency to Repudiate Weather Forecasters Who Contradicted Trump


Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, told Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, to have the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration publicly disavow the forecasters’ position that Alabama was not at risk. NOAA, which is part of the Commerce Department, issued an unsigned statement last Friday in response, saying that the Birmingham, Ala., office was wrong to dispute the president’s warning.

In pressing NOAA’s acting administrator to take action, Mr. Ross warned that top employees at the agency could be fired if the situation was not addressed, The New York Times previously reported. Mr. Ross’s spokesman has denied that he threatened to fire anyone, and a senior administration official on Wednesday said Mr. Mulvaney did not tell the commerce secretary to make such a threat.

The release of the NOAA statement provoked complaints that the Trump administration was improperly intervening in the professional weather forecasting system to justify the president’s mistaken assertion. The Commerce Department’s inspector general is investigating how that statement came to be issued, saying it could call into question scientific independence.

The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, which is controlled by Democrats, announced on Wednesday that it too has opened an investigation into Mr. Ross’s actions.

The White House had no immediate comment on Wednesday, but the senior administration official said Mr. Mulvaney was interested in having the record corrected because, in his view, the Birmingham forecasters had gone too far and the president was right to suggest there had been forecasts showing possible impact on Alabama.

Mr. Trump was furious at being contradicted by the forecasters in Alabama. On Sept. 1, the president wrote on Twitter that Alabama “will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.” A few minutes later, the National Weather Service in Birmingham posted on Twitter that “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane Dorian will be felt across Alabama.”

For nearly a week, Mr. Trump kept insisting he was right, displaying outdated maps, including one that had been apparently altered with a Sharpie pen to make it look like Alabama might be in the path of the storm. He had his homeland security adviser release a statement backing him up.

Mr. Ross called Neil Jacobs, the acting administrator of NOAA, from Greece where the secretary was traveling for meetings, and instructed Dr. Jacobs to fix the agency’s perceived contradiction of the president, according to three people informed about the discussions.

Dr. Jacobs objected to the demand and was told that the political appointees at NOAA would be fired if the situation was not fixed, according to the three individuals, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the episode.

The political staff at an agency typically includes a handful of top officials, such as Dr. Jacobs, and their aides. They are appointed to their jobs by the administration currently in power, as opposed to career government employees, who remain in their jobs as administrations come and go.

The statement NOAA ultimately issued later on Friday called the Birmingham office’s statement “inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”

Dr. Jacobs has since sought to reassure his work force and the broader scientific community concerned about political interference.

“This administration is committed to the important mission of weather forecasting,” Dr. Jacobs told a weather conference in Huntsville, Ala., on Tuesday. “There is no pressure to change the way you communicate or forecast risk in the future.”

In the speech, Dr. Jacobs praised Mr. Trump, calling him “genuinely interested in improving weather forecasts,” and echoed the president’s position that Dorian initially threatened Alabama. “At one point, Alabama was in the mix, as was the rest of the Southeast.”

He also said he still had faith in the Birmingham office. “The purpose of the NOAA statement was to clarify the technical aspects of the potential impacts of Dorian,” Dr. Jacobs said. “What it did not say, however, is that we understand and fully support the good intent of the Birmingham weather forecast office, which was to calm fears in support of public safety.”

[The New York Times]

Immigration Chief: ‘Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor Who Can Stand On Their Own 2 Feet’

“Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge,” Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said Tuesday, twisting Emma Lazarus’ famous words on a bronze plaque at the Statue of Liberty.

Cuccinelli was speaking to NPR’s Morning Edition about a new regulation he announced Monday that targets legal immigration. The rule denies green cards and visas to immigrants if they use — or are deemed likely to need — federal, state and local government benefits including food stamps, housing vouchers and Medicaid. The change stands to impact hundreds of thousands of immigrants who come to the United States legally every year.

The final version of the “public charge” rule is scheduled to be published Wednesday in the Federal Register. A public charge refers to a person who relies on public assistance for help.

On Tuesday, Cuccinelli described the public charge as a “burden on the government.” He told NPR the new regulation was a prospective rule, “part of President Trump keeping his promises.”

The new rule will go into effect Oct. 15, and only government aid used after that point will be assessed, Cuccinelli said.

Welfare benefits will be just one factor that immigration service officers use to determine an applicant’s fate in the United States, in addition to age, health, education and financial status.

“If they don’t have future prospects of being legal permanent residents without welfare, that will be counted against them,” Cuccinelli said.

“All immigrants who can stand on their own two feet, self-sufficient, pull themselves up by their bootstraps” would be welcome, he added.

Asked if that changes the definition of the American dream, Cuccinelli said, “No one has a right to become an American who isn’t born here as an American.”

Then he clarified: “It is a privilege to become an American, not a right for anybody who is not already an American citizen, that’s what I was referring to.”

He said the welcoming words from the 1903 plaque at the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor,” were put there “at almost the same time” as when the first public charge law was passed — in 1882.

Critics have denounced the rule as a sweeping attempt to stem immigration and favor wealthy migrants. The regulation is expected to be challenged by immigration groups in court.

Leon Fresco, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Obama administration, said the case could wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I also expect lawsuits from individuals who say that, at the end of the day, if Congress provided certain benefits to be accessible by certain groups of immigrants, that meant that they did not want them then banned under the public charge rule,” Fresco told NPR.

Rumors that the Trump administration was considering the regulation already led to a chilling effect on immigrants looking to put down roots through legal and permanent residency. Public health and social service providers report that immigrants are worried about seeking medical and housing aid for themselves and their children, who may be U.S. citizens.

Cuccinelli, a former Virginia attorney general, has long held a hard-line stance against immigration and asylum policies. President Trump tapped him to be the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in June, bringing him to the helm of an agency he had never worked in.

[NPR]

Trump Slams U.S. Military Exercises, Helps Kim Jong Un Blame America for Missile Launches

President Donald Trump released some details of the “beautiful letter” that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un sent him recently, which apparently included a “small apology” for the recent missile tests, which Kim blamed on the U.S. military exercises that Trump called “ridiculous and expensive.”

During an impromptu press gaggle on the South Lawn of the White House Friday, Trump told reporters that he “got a very beautiful letter from Kim Jong Un yesterday,” and while he gushed about the beauty and three-page (“right from top to bottom”) length of the letter, Trump would not reveal its beautiful contents.

But on Saturday morning, Trump did reveal some of Kim’s letter, writing that the dictator mostly complained about our country’s military exercises, and promised to end missile tests once those exercises stop. Trump called the exercises “expensive and ridiculous.”

Since Trump announced receipt of that beautiful letter, North Koreas has reportedly conducted another missile launch, its fifth in recent weeks. Trump has been a consistent critic of the U.S. military’s joint military exercises with South Korea, which Trump and the North Koreans call “war games.”

Watch Trump describe the beautiful three full page, right from top to bottom, feat of correspondence above, via CBS.

[Mediaite]

White House proposal would have FCC and FTC police alleged social media censorship

A draft executive order from the White House could put the Federal Communications Commission in charge of shaping how Facebook (FB), Twitter (TWTR) and other large tech companies curate what appears on their websites, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.

The draft order, a summary of which was obtained by CNN, calls for the FCC to develop new regulations clarifying how and when the law protects social media websites when they decide to remove or suppress content on their platforms. Although still in its early stages and subject to change, the Trump administration’s draft order also calls for the Federal Trade Commission to take those new policies into account when it investigates or files lawsuits against misbehaving companies.

If put into effect, the order would reflect a significant escalation by President Trump in his frequent attacks against social media companies over an alleged but unproven systemic bias against conservatives by technology platforms. And it could lead to a significant reinterpretation of a law that, its authors have insisted, was meant to give tech companies broad freedom to handle content as they see fit.

A White House spokesperson declined to comment on the draft order, but referred CNN to Trump’s remarks at a recent meeting with right-wing social media activists. During the meeting, Trump vowed to “explore all regulatory and legislative solutions to protect free speech.”

According to the summary seen by CNN, the draft executive order currently carries the title “Protecting Americans from Online Censorship.” It claims that the White House has received more than 15,000 anecdotal complaints of social media platforms censoring American political discourse, the summary indicates. The Trump administration, in the draft order, will offer to share the complaints it’s received with the FTC.

In May, the White House launched a website inviting consumers to report complaints of alleged partisan bias by social media companies.

The FTC will also be asked to open a public complaint docket, according to the summary, and to work with the FCC to develop a report investigating how tech companies curate their platforms and whether they do so in neutral ways. Companies whose monthly user base accounts for one-eighth of the U.S. population or more could find themselves facing scrutiny, the summary said, including but not limited to Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Snapchat.

The Trump administration’s proposal seeks to significantly narrow the protections afforded to companies under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Under the current law, internet companies are not liable for most of the content that their users or other third parties post on their platforms. Tech platforms also qualify for broad legal immunity when they take down objectionable content, at least when they are acting “in good faith.” From the start, the legislation has been interpreted to give tech companies the benefit of the doubt.

In a Senate floor speech last year, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), one of the authors of Section 230, said his aim with the legislation was to make sure “that internet companies could moderate their websites without getting clobbered by lawsuits.”

“Imagine how hard it would be to launch a platform that’s open to discussion of any topic when even the simplest, most narrowly-focused website on the internet can become a magnet for lawsuits,” Wyden said.

By comparison, according to the summary,the White House draft order asks the FCC to restrict the government’s view of the good-faith provision. Under the draft proposal, the FCC will be asked to find that social media sites do not qualify for the good-faith immunity if they remove or suppress content without notifying the user who posted the material, or if the decision is proven to be evidence of anticompetitive, unfair or deceptive practices.

Yet in its current form, the draft order could lead to significant questions about the role the FCC and FTC can play when it comes to interpreting and enforcing Section 230, an area they have previouslyleft largely unaddressed. The effort to draft the order has been ongoing for some time, the people said, and the proposal remains subject to change.

“It makes no sense to involve the FCC here,” said Berin Szoka, president of the libertarian-leaning think tank TechFreedom. “They have rule-making authority, but no jurisdiction — they can’t possibly want to be involved. It would be an impossible position.”

The FTC and FCC both declined to comment.

The attempt to write the order comes as the White House on Friday prepared to meet with a number of tech companies to discuss their approaches to detecting and responding to violent extremism.

The midday meeting is expected to involve five-minute presentations from the companies on their respective policies and projects, according to copies of an invitation obtained by CNN. The presentations will be followed by a group discussion on technology and the companies’ roles in fighting “signals of violence … while respecting free speech.”

Some people close to the tech industry expressed frustration that the White House seemed to be trying to have it both ways — excoriating tech companies for allegedly censoring conservative speech, a claim the platforms vigorously dispute, while castigating them for failing to block enough violent or hateful content.

“The internal inconsistency of this is outrageous,” one of them said.

[CNN]

Trump claims he tried to quell “send her back!” chants. The video says otherwise.

During an Oval Office media session with the US Special Olympics team on Thursday, President Donald Trump made a desperate attempt to distance himself from one of the ugliest moments of his presidency — one his words directly incited, despite what he’d now have people believe.

ABC’s Jonathan Karl asked why he didn’t do something to try to stop the “send her back!” chants that were directed toward Somali refugee-turned-Rep. Ilhan Omar during his rally the night before in North Carolina. Trump defended himself by simply lying.

“Well, number one, I think I did. I started speaking very quickly,” Trump said. “I disagree with [the chants], by the way. But it was quite a chant, and I felt a little bit badly about it. But I will say — I did, and I started speaking very quickly. But it started up rather fast.”

Trump went on to try to draw a contrast between what he said and what his supporters chanted.

“I didn’t say that, they did,” Trump said, prompting Karl to point out that the chant seemed to be directly inspired not only by his misleading attacks on Omar during the rally, but also by tweets he posted on Sunday urging Omar and other Democratic women of color in Congress who are critical of him to leave the country.

“If you examine that, I don’t think you’ll find that,” Trump said, unconvincingly. He then moved on to taking questions from other reporters.

Trump isn’t shy about gaslighting — during a speech last summer, he advised his supporters to “just remember, what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” But his claim that he “started speaking very quickly” is directly contradicted by video footage of Wednesday’s event.

Here’s what really happened

After Trump spent about two minutes lambasting Omar during his rally in North Carolina — going as far as to falsely accuse her of sympathizing with al-Qaeda — the “send her back!” chants broke out. But instead of trying to stop them, Trump briefly basked in the chants before moving on with his speech.

He gave no indication that he disagreed with the sentiments expressed by his supporters. In fact, given that he admonished Omar and other congresswomen of color “to go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came” in the aforementioned tweet, the idea that he’s opposed to such sentiments is a huge stretch.

Here’s the full clip of the chants and what led up to them:

The chants quickly became the major headline from the speech, in a week when Trump has continued his racist attacks on Democratic women of color. Journalists and politicians compared the outburst to scenes from fascist rallies, including Nazi Germany.

Even Trump and his supporters seem to realize that this is a bad look. But instead of apologizing, they’re lying. For instance, during his weekly press conference on Thursday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) tried to portray the fact that Trump continued with his speech after the chants as though it constituted a bold stand against bigotry.

White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley echoed McCarthy during a Fox News interview later that day. “He didn’t let the chant go on very long,” Gidley said, adding that “it’s tough to hear what they were chanting.” (It was not tough to hear what people were chanting.)

While the White House and McCarthy try to rewrite history, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said the quiet part loud. Asked about the anti-Omar chants during a press gaggle on Thursday, Graham suggested that Trump and his supporters are only interested in deporting refugees who don’t support the president politically.

“If you’re a Somali refugee wearing a MAGA cap, [Trump] doesn’t want to send you back,” Graham said. “What does that tell me? That it’s about the criticism, not the critic.”

Refugees, however, have just as much of a right to criticize the president as anybody else — no matter how much Trump and his supporters may dislike it.

[Vox]

Trump admin dramatically limits asylum claims by Central Americans

The Trump administration on Monday moved to dramatically limit the ability of Central American migrants to claim asylum if they enter the United States by land through Mexico, the latest attempt by the White House to limit immigration and toughen the US asylum process amid overcrowded conditionsat border facilities.The rule from the departments of Justice and Homeland Security would prohibit migrants who have resided or “transited en route” in a third country from seeking asylum in the US, therefore barring migrants traveling through Mexico from being able to claim asylum and as a result, drastically limit who’s eligible for asylum. Over recent months, there’s been a dramatic spike in apprehensions at the US-Mexico border. The majority of migrants are from the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. They’ve had to travel through Mexico to reach the border and upon arriving in the US, some have turned themselves into the US Border Patrol and claimed asylum.The regulation addresses that group of migrants.

“Until Congress can act, this interim rule will help reduce a major ‘pull’ factor driving irregular migration to the United States,” acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan in a statement. It will allow the departments of Justice and Homeland Security to “more quickly and efficiently process cases originating from the southern border, leading to fewer individuals transiting through Mexico on a dangerous journey.”There are some exceptions: an asylum seeker whose claim was denied after applying for protection in a country, if someone has been trafficked, and if someone transited through a country that did not sign one of the major international treaties on refugees. The rule would take effect immediately but is certain to face legal challenges. Under US law, migrants are allowed to claim asylum once on US soil. There’s a caveat, however, for those who come through safe third countries, meaning countries that the US has entered into an agreement with. The United Nations’ refugee agency defines “safe country,” in part, as “being countries in which refugees can enjoy asylum without any danger.”But Trump’s own statements on Mexico could undercut that definition. In tweets, the President has called Mexico “one of the most dangerous country’s in the world” and claimed that the murder rate in the country has increased.”The Coyotes and Drug Cartels are in total control of the Mexico side of the Southern Border. They have labs nearby where they make drugs to sell into the U.S. Mexico, one of the most dangerous country’s in the world, must eradicate this problem now. Also, stop the MARCH to U.S.” Trump tweeted in April.

[CNN]

Trump defends Putin’s claim that democracy is dead with bizarre, confused rant about California

Ahead of the G20 summit in Osaka, Vladimir Putin told the Financial Times that “the liberal idea has become obsolete,” a line that drew sharp rebuke from the democratic world.

But when President Donald Trump was asked about the line by Peter Baker of The New York Times, he didn’t even appear to understand what Putin was talking about, responding with a confused rant about how terrible California is.

Los Angeles and San Francisco, Trump said, are “sad to look at” because they are run by “liberal people”:

Putin, of course, was not talking about “liberal” in the sense of California or the Democratic Party. He was talking about the whole concept of Western, pluralistic, multicultural democracy, and arguing that giving marginalized groups like refugees and LGBTQ persons human rights is dying off.

Even if Trump had understood Putin, it is not clear he wouldn’t agree, given that his administration is rolling back LGBTQ protections, holding asylum seekers in camps with no soap and toothpaste, and broadly pushing to remove federal protections for the democratic process.

[Raw Story]

Trump gives Putin light-hearted warning: ‘Don’t meddle in the election’

President Donald Trump issued a breezy warning to his Russian counterpart Friday against meddling in US elections, laughing and smiling as he told his counterpart not to interfere.”Don’t meddle in the election, please,” Trump said, smirking and wagging his finger at Putin. He only raised the matter after being questioned by reporters whether he would issue a warning.”Yes, of course I will,” Trump said before making his joking aside.It was an off-hand moment that came at the start of the men’s first meeting since the conclusion of Robert Mueller’s investigation.Trump said he enjoyed a “very, very good relationship” with Putin, and said “many positive things are going to come out of the relationship.””We have many things to discuss, including trade and some disarmament, some little protectionism, in a very positive way,” Trump said.

When he made his playful admonishment against election interference, Putin sat beside him laughing. Trump’s aides, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, also smiled.It was hardly the serious confrontation that many of Trump’s critics — and even some officials in the US government — have been hoping he’d make ahead of the 2020 contest, which could be vulnerable again to foreign meddling efforts.Instead, it appeared to be Trump’s way of injecting levity into what remains a deeply fractured Washington-Moscow relationship.In the seven months since Trump last encountered his Russian counterpart, the Russians detained a former Marine on espionage charges and were accused by Mueller in his report of waging a “sweeping and systematic” influence campaign during the 2016 election.That’s a distant cry from the warmed-up relations with Russia that Trump entered office vowing to pursue. When he sat down with Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit here on Friday, ties between the two countries were near the lowest ebb since the Cold War.In Trump’s view, that’s the fault of Democrats and overzealous investigators intent on finding links between his campaign and Russian officials. As he greeted Putin for the first time since Mueller concluded his investigation and released a final report, there was little to indicate his view of Moscow’s influence efforts has changed or that his prickliness on the topic had waned.”I’ll have a very good conversation with him,” Trump told reporters at the White House as he was departing for Japan.But he declined to detail what he might say regarding election meddling, or whether he would raise it at all.”What I say to him is none of your business,” Trump said.

[CNN]

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