Trump disrupts G-7 gender equality meeting by arriving late

President Donald Trump arrived late for a gender equality meeting at an international summit, prompting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to kick it off without waiting for “stragglers” to arrive.

Trump created a distraction when he walked in late for Saturday’s breakfast meeting during the Group of Seven summit of leading industrialized nations being held in Quebec.

He missed Trudeau’s introductory statement and entered the room while Gender Equality Advisory Council co-chair Isabelle Hudon was speaking.

Security personnel had to open a path for Trump through a throng of journalists and cameramen. The camera clicks for Trump almost drowned out Hudon.

French President Emmanuel Macron stared at Trump after he sat down.

Trudeau and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland later tweeted photos of the women’s empowerment meeting, showing Trump’s empty chair.

Trudeau had made the issue of gender equality a priority for the gathering. He said gender equality must “cut through” everything the G-7 does.

[PBS]

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

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

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

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

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

[Raw Story]

Media

Trump breaks the law and jolts markets by teasing secret jobs numbers

President Donald Trump moved markets and busted norms on Friday morning with a tweet about the May employment report more than an hour before the numbers came out.

The post appeared to skirt strict rules on government employees not commenting on the highly sensitive economic data until an hour after its public release at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.

Trump, who received the numbers Thursday night on Air Force One, did not include any of the jobs data in his tweet. But it appeared positive enough to suggest to Wall Street that a good number was coming Friday morning.

“Looking forward to seeing the employment numbers at 8:30 this morning,” the president tweeted at 7:21 a.m.

And the numbers were in fact quite good, showing a better than expected gain of 223,000 jobs and a dip in unemployment to 3.8 percent, the lowest level since April of 2000, sending Dow futures higher.

But markets were already moving before the release and popped immediately after Trump’s tweet, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury note moving higher along with stock market futures. The rise in the 10-year yield suggested traders assumed Trump’s tweet meant the jobs number would be strong and push the Fed to raise interest rates more quickly.

Former Obama administration officials pounced on Trump’s tweet even before the public got to see the numbers, saying it violated rules banning federal employees with access to the jobs data from saying anything at all about it until 9:30 a.m. Eastern time.

The one-hour lag is meant to allow the jobs data—compiled by non-partisan career employees at the Bureau of Labor Statistics—to stand on its own without any immediate spin from elected officials.

“We took the one-hour delay 100 percent seriously,” Jason Furman, who served as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Barack Obama, said in an interview. “There were times when there was a good number and they wanted to send the president out to talk about it, but Air Force One was scheduled to leave at 9:15 a.m. and we would tell them to delay the flight until after 9:30 a.m.”

Furman suggested Trump should no longer get the numbers in advance.

[Politico]

Trump bragged about classified Syria skirmish at fundraiser

The White House has tried to avoid discussing a February skirmish between U.S. troops and Russian mercenaries in Syria, but that didn’t stop President Donald Trump from bragging about the Pentagon’s performance at a recent closed-door fundraiser.

The details of the battle remain classified, but speaking to donors in midtown Manhattan last Wednesday, Trump said he was amazed by the performance of American F-18 pilots. He suggested that the strikes may have been as brief as “10 minutes” and taken out 100 to 300 Russians, according to a person briefed on the president’s remarks, which have not previously been reported.

Trump often makes unscripted comments at fundraisers, and he revels in the exploits of the U.S. military. At a Republican National Committee fundraiser last fall, he told the crowd that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had “never lost a battle,” and he has bragged about the country’s nuclear superiority in confrontations with North Korea.

American officials have long feared that a clash with Russian forces in Syria would add tension to the already strained relationship between the two countries, and they intentionally avoided Russian targets last month when they bombed the country in response to Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons. According to The New York Times, which last week provided the first detailed description of the battle, the confrontation lasted four hours and left between 200 and 300 pro-Assad forces dead.

[Politico]

Trump goes rogue on phone security

President Donald Trump uses a White House cellphone that isn’t equipped with sophisticated security features designed to shield his communications, according to two senior administration officials — a departure from the practice of his predecessors that potentially exposes him to hacking or surveillance.

The president, who relies on cellphones to reach his friends and millions of Twitter followers, has rebuffed staff efforts to strengthen security around his phone use, according to the administration officials.

The president uses at least two iPhones, according to one of the officials. The phones — one capable only of making calls, the other equipped only with the Twitter app and preloaded with a handful of news sites — are issued by White House Information Technology and the White House Communications Agency, an office staffed by military personnel that oversees White House telecommunications.

While aides have urged the president to swap out the Twitter phone on a monthly basis, Trump has resisted their entreaties, telling them it was “too inconvenient,” the same administration official said.

The president has gone as long as five months without having the phone checked by security experts. It is unclear how often Trump’s call-capable phones, which are essentially used as burner phones, are swapped out.

President Barack Obama handed over his White House phones every 30 days to be examined by telecommunications staffers for hacking and other suspicious activity, according to an Obama administration official.

The White House declined to comment for this story, but a senior West Wing official said the call-capable phones “are seamlessly swapped out on a regular basis through routine support operations. Because of the security controls of the Twitter phone and the Twitter account, it does not necessitate regular change-out.”

Trump’s call-capable cellphone has a camera and microphone, unlike the White House-issued cellphones used by Obama. Keeping those components creates a risk that hackers could use them to access the phone and monitor the president’s movements. The GPS location tracker, however — which can be used to track the president’s whereabouts — is disabled on Trump’s devices.

The West Wing official refuted the idea that the presence of a camera and microphone on the president’s phone posed any risk, telling POLITICO, “Due to inherent capabilities and advancement in technologies, these devices are more secure than any Obama-era devices.”

Trump’s reluctance to submit to White House security protocols that would limit his ability to tweet or contact friends freely is a case of the president’s personal peculiarities colliding with the demands of his office — a tension created in part because of society’s growing attachment to mobile technology over the past decade.

Obama, who relied on email and text messages, was the first president to speak publicly about his desire to hang on to his cellphone in office and to be photographed repeatedly with it in hand. Trump, who doesn’t use email in office, entered the White House eight years later with a long-established Twitter habit and a lifelong attachment of doing business, dealing with the press and gabbing with associates over the phone.

Former national security officials are virtually unanimous in their agreement about the dangers posed by cellphones, which are vulnerable to hacking by domestic and foreign actors who would want to listen in on the president’s conversations or monitor his movements.

“Foreign adversaries seeking intelligence about the U.S. are relentless in their pursuit of vulnerabilities in our government’s communications networks, and there is no more sought-after intelligence target than the president of the United States,” said Nate Jones, former director of counterterrorism on the National Security Council in the Obama administration and the founder of Culper Partners, a consulting firm.

While the president has the authority to override or ignore the advice provided by aides and advisers for reasons of comfort or convenience, Jones said, “doing so could pose significant risks to the country.”

Trump campaigned in part on his denunciations of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state — a system that made classified information vulnerable to hacking by hostile actors.

“Her server was easily hacked by foreign governments, perhaps even by her financial backers in communist China — sure they have it — putting all of America and our citizens in danger, great danger,” Trump said in a June 2016 speech in which he called Clinton “the most corrupt person ever to run for president.” He repeatedly vowed on the trail to “lock her up.”

Dozens of Trump’s friends and advisers testify to his frequent cellphone use. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Trump confidant, told POLITICO in April that he hears from the president either late at night or early in the morning, sometimes from a blocked number and sometimes from “a 10-digit number that starts with a 202 area code.”

Three White House aides confirmed that Trump’s cellphone number changes from time to time. Several aides close to the president also carry secure devices from which he can place calls — a standard practice in any presidential administration.

Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly has cracked down on personal cellphone use by White House staff, citing security risks.

Personal cellphones were banned from the West Wing in January in order to “protect White House information technology infrastructure from compromise and sensitive or classified information from unauthorized access or dissemination,” according to a memo sent to staff.

The memo was sent after Kelly’s own phone was apparently compromised during the Trump transition. At the time, according to a senior administration official, he was told to replace the phone — his own personal device — though he didn’t do so until October, after POLITICO reported the potential hacking.

Though it was unclear whether Kelly’s phone was compromised by a foreign government, cybersecurity experts pointed to sophisticated adversaries like Russia and China as the biggest threats, and expressed shock over the president’s refusal to take measures to protect himself from them, particularly when engaged in delicate negotiations.

“It’s baffling that Trump isn’t taking baseline cybersecurity measures at a time when he is trying to negotiate his way out of a trade war with China, a country that is known for using cyber tactics to gain the upper hand in business negotiations,” said Samm Sacks, a China and technology expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Former government officials from Republican and Democratic administrations expressed astonishment that any White House would issue the president a cellphone that posed a security threat.

“This would be the case of a president overruling literally the most rudimentary advice given by the communications agencies,” said Andrew McLaughlin, who served as deputy chief technology officer under Obama and helped develop the former president’s specialized phone.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has warned of the threats posed by unsecured devices and is considering banning personal cellphones as well as exercise trackers from the Pentagon. “It’s about electronics, GPS-enabled electronics. You have to also consider the fact that we have been attacked, bases have been attacked. Information is power and our adversaries have used information to plan attacks against us,” Mattis spokeswoman Dana White told reporters in early February.

Trump is not the first president to struggle with the relative isolation of the Oval Office and cling to his cellphone as a way to stay connected with friends and family outside of Washington. Three days before his inauguration in 2001, George W. Bush sent a wistful message to friends announcing that he would no longer use email. “Since I do not want my private conversations looked at by those out to embarrass, the only course of action is not to correspond in cyberspace. This saddens me,” he wrote them.

Eight years later, Obama begged advisers to find a way for him to keep his beloved BlackBerry after his election and said publicly he used the phone as a way to reach beyond the Washington bubble.

A notorious text and email junkie who was frequently spotted on the campaign trail with headphones plugged in his ears listening to music streaming from his phone, Obama tasked his transition team with developing a phone that complied with the White House’s stringent electronic security guidelines. “I’m still clinging to my BlackBerry,” he told CNBC in January 2009, days before his inauguration.

The Obama transition team produced a military-grade phone without a microphone, camera, or location tracker that could not make or receive calls.

“I get the thing, and they’re all like, ‘Well, Mr. President, for security reasons … it doesn’t take pictures, you can’t text, the phone doesn’t work … you can’t play your music on it,’” Obama told Jimmy Fallon in 2016. “Basically, it’s like, does your 3-year-old have one of those play phones?”

[Politico]

DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen “hasn’t seen” intel showing Russia pushed for Trump win

Following a classified election security briefing for all House members, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said that she “hasn’t seen” a conclusion by the intelligence community that Russia’s intent in meddling in the 2016 election was to help Donald Trump win the presidency and to hurt Hillary Clinton. Nielsen was pressed about the January Intelligence Community Assessment on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, endorsed by the Senate Intelligence Committee last week.

“I do not believe that I’ve seen that conclusion, that the specific intent was to help President Trump win. I’m not aware of that. But I do generally have no reason to doubt any intelligence assessment,” Nielsen told reporters following the briefing. Nielsen joined FBI Director Christopher Wray and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats in the closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill.

Nielsen added, “What we have seen the Russians do is attempt to manipulate public confidence on both sides. So we’ve seen them encourage people go to a protest on one side; we’ve seen them simultaneously encourage people to go to that same protest on the other side. So I think what they’re trying to do, in my opinion, and I defer to the intel community, is just disrupt our belief and our own understanding of what’s happening. It’s an integrity issue of who is saying what and why and how that may or may not affect an American’s behavior in what they’re voting for.”

Her comments contrast with the intelligence community’s report that Putin and the Russian government “developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”

“We have high confidence in these judgments. We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment,” the report’s conclusion found.

[CBS News]

Trump eliminates job of national cybersecurity coordinator

President Donald Trump eliminated the job of the nation’s cybersecurity czar on Tuesday, and Democratic lawmakers immediately introduced legislation to restore it.

Trump signed an executive order rearranging the federal information technology infrastructure that includes no mention of the White House cybersecurity coordinator or of a replacement for Rob Joyce, who said last month that he is leaving the position to return to the National Security Agency, where he previously directed cyberdefense programs.

“Today’s actions continue an effort to empower National Security Council senior directors,” the National Security Council said in a statement, according to Reuters. “Streamlining management will improve efficiency, reduce bureaucracy and increase accountability.”

Politico first reported the elimination of the job on Tuesday. The White House and the National Security Council didn’t reply to requests for comment about the decision, which came on the same day a major computer security report again found government systems to be the least secure among all industries.

John Bolton, Trump’s new national security adviser, has widely been reported to have sought to eliminate the job as part of a top-to-bottom reorganization of the National Security Council. Joyce and his predecessors reported to the president; the senior NSC directors report to Bolton.

Top Democrats on Capitol Hill reacted harshly to the decision. In a statement, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, criticized Bolton for “already wreaking havoc on the National Security Council.”

[NBC News]

White House blames ‘typo’ for major claim on Iran’s nuclear program

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday blamed a “typo” for a controversial statement issued late Monday that initially said Iran currently “has” a secret nuclear program — a conclusion that would have major implications for the Iran nuclear deal.

In the statement issued under Sanders’ name, the Trump administration originally wrote that “Iran has a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program that it has tried and failed to hide from the world and from its own people,” a position that conflicted with international monitors who have found Iran to be in compliance with the landmark nuclear deal it signed with other nations, including the U.S., in 2015.

The statement was later amended online to switch to the past tense, that “Iran had a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program.” On the White House website, the statement is published without a correction or other acknowledgment of the error, and a corrected email was not sent to reporters.

“We think the biggest mistake that was made was under the Obama administration by ever entering the deal that you referenced in the first place,” Sanders told reporters on Tuesday. “The typo that you referenced was noticed, immediately corrected and we are focused on moving forward on the safety and security of our country.”

The White House statement came in response to a Monday presentation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an outspoken critic of the Iran nuclear deal, lambasting the agreement and accusing the Iranian government of deceiving the international community on the subject of its nuclear program.

Netanyahu’s presentation was met with skepticism by many who argued that it contained little new information, and Sanders, in her Monday statement, said “the United States is aware of the information just released by Israel and continues to examine it carefully.”

Despite having to defend the White House’s edited statement, Sanders still went on the offensive at Tuesday’s briefing, slamming the Iran deal that the president has often threatened to withdraw the U.S. from.

“The problem is that the deal was made on a completely false pretense. Iran lied on the front end. They were dishonest actors and so the deal that was made was made on things that weren’t accurate and we have a big problem with that,” she said.

[Politico]

Trump ramps up personal cell phone use

President Donald Trump is increasingly relying on his personal cell phone to contact outside advisers, multiple sources inside and outside the White House told CNN, as Trump returns to the free-wheeling mode of operation that characterized the earliest days of his administration.

“He uses it a lot more often more recently,” a senior White House official said of the President’s cell phone.

Sources cited Trump’s stepped-up cell phone use as an example of chief of staff John Kelly’s waning influence over who gets access to the President. During the early days of Kelly’s tenure, multiple sources said, Trump made many of his calls from the White House switchboard — a tactic that allowed the chief of staff to receive a printed list of who Trump had phoned. Kelly has less insight into who Trump calls on his personal cell phone.

While Trump never entirely gave up his personal cell phone once Kelly came aboard, one source close to the White House speculated that the President is ramping up the use of his personal device recently in part because “he doesn’t want Kelly to know who he’s talking to.”

The senior White House official said Trump “is talking to all sorts of people on it,” noting Trump’s barrage of private calls is a “recent development.”

‘The walls are breaking’

Three sources familiar with the situation said Trump has also increased his direct outreach to GOP lawmakers over the past several weeks, sometimes employing his cell phone.

“Basically, at this point, he’s just sort of engaging on his own,” observed a source familiar with Trump’s calls to congressional allies.

“Kelly used to be more clearly the gatekeeper than he is now from a Hill standpoint,” that source added, noting members would typically call Kelly’s office if they wanted to set up a talk with Trump rather than dial the President directly.

“I don’t know that he even is running it by the chief of staff anymore,” the staff said.

Some White House allies said they see Trump’s more frequent solicitation of advice outside the West Wing as a sign that Kelly’s status as a gatekeeper for the President has diminished.

“Definitely, the walls are breaking,” one source close to the White House said of the procedures Kelly initially established to regulate access to Trump. Another source close to the White House added that “a lot of meetings, a lot of things have happened lately without Kelly being in the room.”

Former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski has been one notable beneficiary of Kelly’s loosened grip. One source said Lewandowski recently bragged to friends that he now enjoys “unfettered” access to the President — including a recent dinner in the residence with Trump, according to two sources. Upon his arrival last year, Kelly attempted to limit Lewandowski’s access to Trump from the nearly unchecked privileges he enjoyed at the start of the administration, although Kelly’s efforts were never entirely successful. Lewandowski did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump has also made clear that Larry Kudlow, his new economic adviser, and John Bolton, his new national security adviser, are “direct reports” to him and not to Kelly, two sources familiar with the matter told CNN. Their predecessors, however, reported directly to the chief of staff or at least looped Kelly in after a meeting with the President — a potential sign of Trump’s shift toward controlling more of what goes on in his own White House.

A senior White House official said Kelly’s absence from phone calls and meetings in recent weeks is more a reflection of the balance Trump and his chief of staff have struck since Kelly took the job.

“They’ve grown into some level of comfort,” the official said. “There used to be a level of babysitting, and it wasn’t organized.” The source added Kelly “spent months” fixing the operational process and noted now, Kelly doesn’t need to insert himself into as many issues.

Security questions

Former President Barack Obama was permitted to use a Blackberry during his presidency. However, the White House said at the time that the device given to Obama was outfitted with enhanced security to protect potentially classified talks.

Mary McCord, who used to head the Justice Department’s national security division, says smartphones are notorious for their security vulnerabilities.

“Because the smartphones of high-level government officials — including the President — are obvious targets for foreign intelligence services, the government goes to significant effort to ensure that government-issued smartphones are constantly updated to address security vulnerabilities,” she said. “Use of personal smartphones, which may not have all of the security features of government-issued smartphones or be regularly updated to address newly discovered vulnerabilities, present an obvious potential security risk.”

Another security expert said the President’s increased cell phone use makes his calls more vulnerable to eavesdropping from foreign governments.

“All communications devices of all senior government officials are targeted by foreign governments. This is not new,” said Bryan Cunningham, executive director of the Cybersecurity Policy and Research Institute at the University of California-Irvine.

“What is new in the cell phone age is the ease of intercepting them and that at least our last two presidents … have chafed at not being able to use their personal cell phones,” Cunningham added. “Of course, calls are only secure if both parties use a secure device.”

Another implication of Trump’s private cell phone use, Cunningham noted, is the possibility that Trump’s conversations may not be “captured for the purposes of government accountability and history.”

[CNN]

Trump Says He’ll Take ‘Very Serious Look’ at Amazon’s Business

President Donald Trump said he will take a “very serious look” at Amazon.com Inc. and what he said is an “uneven playing field” the retailer enjoys against competitors.

“I’m going to study it and take a look,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One on Thursday. “We’re going to take a very serious look at that.”

Trump aides said earlier in the week that the White House wasn’t preparing punitive measures toward Amazon, but it wasn’t immediately clear whether the president’s comments indicated a potential shift.

Amazon was little changed in extended trading, dropping 0.1 percent to $1,451.75 at 5:43 p.m. in New York. While Trump’s broadsides against the company battered the stock last week and into Monday, investors have shrugged off his latest assaults and sent the shares up each of the past three days.

Trump has fired off a barrage of criticism against Amazon and chief executive officer Jeff Bezos in Twitter postings since last week, sinking the Seattle-based Internet retailer’s market value by as much as $55 billion at one point. Trump has argued the company receives favorable treatment on taxes and postal rates.

“You look at the sales tax situation which is going to be taken up I guess very soon, there’s going to be a decision from the Supreme Court,” Trump told reporters on Thursday. “So we’ll see what happens. The post office is not doing well with Amazon that I can tell you.

“The playing field has to be level for everybody,” he said as he returned from a trip to West Virginia.

Amazon collects sales tax in every state that has one. But Amazon’s policies don’t apply to third-party merchants selling goods through its website, and many of those transactions remain untaxed. Such sales make up about half of the company’s volume. Amazon has said it’s up to the sellers to collect any taxes and many don’t.

The Trump administration has urged the U.S. Supreme Court to let state and local governments collect billions of dollars in sales taxes from online retailers. The justices are scheduled to hear arguments next month centering on a South Dakota law that calls for collecting sales taxes from large internet retailers even if they don’t have brick-and-mortar stores in the state. A ruling is expected by late June.

While its contract with Amazon is confidential, the Postal Service has argued that its e-commerce services benefit the organization and its mail customers. It is legally prohibited from charging shippers less than its delivery costs. Further, taxpayers don’t directly support the Postal Service’s operations.

Amazon regularly uses the Postal Service to complete what’s called the “last mile” of delivery, with letter carriers dropping off packages at some 150 million residences and businesses daily. The company has a network of 35 “sort centers” where customer packages are sorted by zip code, stacked on pallets and delivered to post offices for the final leg of delivery.

The company remains exposed to government action on other fronts.

The Justice Department or Federal Trade Commission could open antitrust or consumer protection investigations. The company is also competing for a multi-billion-dollar contract to provide cloud computing services to the Pentagon.

Safra Catz, the chief executive of Oracle Corp., one of Amazon’s rivals for the Defense Department contract, criticized the bidding process in a private dinner with Trump Tuesday, complaining that it favored Amazon, people familiar with the plans said.

Trump heard her out and said he wants the contract competition to be fair, but made no indication he’d interfere in the bidding, the people said. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday that Trump isn’t interfering in the contract decision.

[Bloomberg]

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