Stock markets plunge after Trump’s ‘Tariff Man’ tweet

Stocks took a nosedive on Wall Street as investors worried that a US-China trade truce reached over the weekend wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average sank almost 800 points Tuesday.

Boeing and Caterpillar, two major exporters which would have much to lose if trade tensions don’t ease, weighed the most on the Dow.

Bond prices soared sharply, sending yields lower, as traders shoved money into lower-risk investments.

The sharp drop in yields hurt banks because it makes it harder to earn money from lending. JPMorgan Chase sank 4.5 percent.

The S&P 500 lost 90 points, or 3.2 percent, to 2,700.

The Dow dropped 799 points, or 3.1 percent, to 25,027. The Nasdaq fell 283 points, or 3.8 percent, to 7,158.

The markets plunged after President Donald Trump unleashed a threatening tweet Tuesday morning.

“President Xi and I want this deal to happen, and it probably will. But if not remember, I am a Tariff Man,” Trump tweeted.

[New York Post]

White House Blocks CIA Director From Briefing Senate on Khashoggi Murder

President Donald Trump‘s White House will prevent CIA director Gina Haspel or any other intelligence official from briefing the Senate on conclusions reached by the U.S. government regarding the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, according to a new report by The Guardian.

Khashoggi disappeared and was brutally murdered nearly two months ago after entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

Senators expected to hear on Wednesday from Haspel, who traveled to Istanbul during the investigation, reportedly heard audio tapes of Khashoggi’s murder and briefed Trump upon her return one month ago.

Instead, they will be briefed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis.

“On a national security issue of such importance, it would be customary for a senior intelligence official to take part,” Guardian reporter Julian Borger wrote. “Officials made it clear that the decision for Haspel not to appear in front of the committee came from the White House.”

A Senate staffer told Borger, “there is always an intel person there for a briefing like this” and that “it is totally unprecedented and should be interpreted as nothing less than the Trump administration trying to silence the intelligence community.”

The CIA has reportedly concluded with high level of confidence that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of the dissident journalist.

President Trump, however, has been increasingly reluctant to accept the verdict of his own intelligence community.

“They didn’t conclude,” Trump insisted last week during a pool spray at Mar-a-Lago. “No no, they didn’t conclude. I’m sorry. No they didn’t conclude. They did not come to a conclusion. They have feelings certain ways… I don’t know if anyone’s going to be able to conclude the crown prince did it.”

[Mediaite]

Trump on toning down his rhetoric: ‘You should go about your life’

President Trump on Monday said “you should go about your life” when asked whether he would tone down his rhetoric in the wake of a violent week that included pipe bombs mailed to Democrats and a mass shooting at a synagogue.

Trump sat down with Fox News host Laura Ingraham on Monday and said he didn’t want to make the suspects behind the violence “too important” by cancelling events.

The president was criticized for going to a scheduled campaign rally in Illinois hours after 11 people were killed when a gunman opened fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue.

“Once you start doing that, once you cancel — so you’re doing a rally and rallies are meant to be fun,” Trump told Ingraham on Monday. “Rallies are meant to be everything and I said, ‘Tone it down,’ and then you saw the group saying, ‘No, don’t tone it down, don’t tone it down.’”

Trump at the rally in Illinois told the crowd: “If you don’t mind, I’m going to tone it down, just a little bit. Is that okay?”

After the crowd responded with a ‘No,” he said, “I had a feeling you might say that.”

“So we had a great rally in Illinois, for some great people and frankly, I think that’s probably the way it should be,” Trump told Ingraham.

The president has rejected calls to temper his political rhetoric in the aftermath of the nationwide bomb scare involving many prominent Democrats. The figures targeted with mailed bombs were all critics of Trump who has has criticized in return.

“I think I’ve been toned down, if you want to know the truth,” Trump told reporters on Friday.

“I could really tone it up because, as you know, the media’s been extremely unfair to me and to the Republican Party,” Trump said.

His comments came after the arrest of Cesar Sayoc Jr., a reported Trump fan who was charged with five federal crimes for allegedly mailing explosive devices to more than a dozen Democrats, celebrities and news organizations.

[The Hill]

When Trump Phones Friends, the Chinese Listen and Learn

When President Trump calls old friends on one of his iPhones to gossip, gripe or solicit their latest take on how he is doing, American intelligence reports indicate that Chinese spies are often listening — and putting to use invaluable insights into how to best work the president and affect administration policy, current and former American officials said.

Mr. Trump’s aides have repeatedly warned him that his cellphone calls are not secure, and they have told him that Russian spies are routinely eavesdropping on the calls, as well. But aides say the voluble president, who has been pressured into using his secure White House landline more often these days, has still refused to give up his iPhones. White House officials say they can only hope he refrains from discussing classified information when he is on them.

Mr. Trump’s use of his iPhones was detailed by several current and former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so they could discuss classified intelligence and sensitive security arrangements. The officials said they were doing so not to undermine Mr. Trump, but out of frustration with what they considered the president’s casual approach to electronic security.

American spy agencies, the officials said, had learned that China and Russia were eavesdropping on the president’s cellphone calls from human sources inside foreign governments and intercepting communications between foreign officials.

The officials said they have also determined that China is seeking to use what it is learning from the calls — how Mr. Trump thinks, what arguments tend to sway him and to whom he is inclined to listen — to keep a trade war with the United States from escalating further. In what amounts to a marriage of lobbying and espionage, the Chinese have pieced together a list of the people with whom Mr. Trump regularly speaks in hopes of using them to influence the president, the officials said.

Among those on the list are Stephen A. Schwarzman, the Blackstone Group chief executive who has endowed a master’s program at Tsinghua University in Beijing, and Steve Wynn, the former Las Vegas casino magnate who used to own a lucrative property in Macau.

The Chinese have identified friends of both men and others among the president’s regulars, and are now relying on Chinese businessmen and others with ties to Beijing to feed arguments to the friends of the Trump friends. The strategy is that those people will pass on what they are hearing, and that Beijing’s views will eventually be delivered to the president by trusted voices, the officials said. They added that the Trump friends were most likely unaware of any Chinese effort.

L. Lin Wood, a lawyer for Mr. Wynn, said his client was retired and had no comment. A spokeswoman for Blackstone, Christine Anderson, declined to comment on Chinese efforts to influence Mr. Schwarzman but said that he “has been happy to serve as an intermediary on certain critical matters between the two countries at the request of both heads of state.”

Russia is not believed to be running as sophisticated an influence effort as China because of Mr. Trump’s apparent affinity for President Vladimir V. Putin, a former official said.

China’s effort is a 21st-century version of what officials there have been doing for many decades, which is trying to influence American leaders by cultivating an informal network of prominent businesspeople and academics who can be sold on ideas and policy prescriptions and then carry them to the White House. The difference now is that China, through its eavesdropping on Mr. Trump’s calls, has a far clearer idea of who carries the most influence with the president, and what arguments tend to work.

The Chinese and the Russians “would look for any little thing — how easily was he talked out of something, what was the argument that was used,” said John Sipher, a 28-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency who served in Moscow in the 1990s and later ran the agency’s Russia program.

Trump friends like Mr. Schwarzman, who figured prominently in the first meeting between President Xi Jinping of China and Mr. Trump at Mar-a-Lago, the president’s Florida resort, already hold pro-China and pro-trade views, and thus are ideal targets in the eyes of the Chinese, the officials said. Targeting the friends of Mr. Schwarzman and Mr. Wynn can reinforce the views of the two, the officials said. The friends are also most likely to be more accessible.

One official said the Chinese were pushing for the friends to persuade Mr. Trump to sit down with Mr. Xi as often as possible. The Chinese, the official said, correctly perceive that Mr. Trump places tremendous value on personal relationships, and that one-on-one meetings yield breakthroughs far more often than regular contacts between Chinese and American officials.

Whether the friends can stop Mr. Trump from pursuing a trade war with China is another question.

Officials said the president has two official iPhones that have been altered by the National Security Agency to limit their capabilities — and vulnerabilities — and a third personal phone that is no different from hundreds of millions of iPhones in use around the world. Mr. Trump keeps the personal phone, White House officials said, because unlike his other two phones, he can store his contacts in it.

Apple declined to comment on the president’s iPhones. None of them are completely secure and are vulnerable to hackers who could remotely break into the phones themselves.

But the calls made from the phones are intercepted as they travel through the cell towers, cables and switches that make up national and international cellphone networks. Calls made from any cellphone — iPhone, Android, an old-school Samsung flip phone — are vulnerable.

The issue of secure communications is fraught for Mr. Trump. As a presidential candidate, he regularly attacked his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, during the 2016 campaign for her use of an unsecured email server while she was secretary state, and he basked in chants of “lock her up” at his rallies.

Intercepting calls is a relatively easy skill for governments. American intelligence agencies consider it an essential tool of spycraft, and they routinely try to tap the phones of important foreign leaders. In a diplomatic blowup during the Obama administration, documents leaked by Edward J. Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency, showed that the American government had tapped the phone of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.

Foreign governments are well aware of the risk, and so leaders like Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin avoid using cellphones when possible.

President Barack Obama was careful with cellphones, too. He used an iPhone in his second term, but it could not make calls and could receive email only from a special address that was given to a select group of staff members and intimates. It had no camera or microphone and could not be used to download apps at will. Texting was forbidden because there was no way to collect and store the messages, as required by the Presidential Records Act.

“It is a great phone, state of the art, but it doesn’t take pictures, you can’t text. The phone doesn’t work, you know, you can’t play your music on it,” Mr. Obama said on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” in June 2016. “So basically, it’s like — does your 3-year-old have one of those play phones?”

When Mr. Obama needed a cellphone, the officials said, he used one of those of his aides.
Mr. Trump has insisted on more capable devices, although he did agree during the transition to give up his Android phone (the Google operating system is considered more vulnerable than Apple’s). And since becoming president, Mr. Trump has agreed to a slightly cumbersome arrangement of having two official phones: one for Twitter and other apps, and one for calls.

Mr. Trump typically relies on his mobile phones when he does not want a call going through the White House switchboard and logged for senior aides to see, his aides said. Many of those Mr. Trump speaks with most often on one of his cellphones, such as hosts at Fox News, share the president’s political views, or simply enable his sense of grievance about any number of subjects.

Administration officials said Mr. Trump’s longtime paranoia about surveillance — well before coming to the White House he believed his phone conversations were often being recorded — gave them some comfort that he was not disclosing classified information on the calls.

They said they had further confidence he was not spilling secrets because he rarely digs into the details of the intelligence he is shown and is not well versed in the operational specifics of military or covert activities.

In an interview this week with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Trump quipped about his phones being insecure. When asked what American officials in Turkey had learned about the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, he replied, “I actually said don’t give it to me on the phone. I don’t want it on the phone. As good as these phones are supposed to be.”

But Mr. Trump is also famously indiscreet. In a May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office with Russian officials, he shared highly sensitive intelligence passed to the United States by Israel. He also told the Russians that James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, was “a real nut job” and that firing him had relieved “great pressure.”

Still, Mr. Trump’s lack of tech savvy has alleviated some other security concerns. He does not use email, so the risk of a phishing attack like those used by Russian intelligence to gain access to Democratic Party emails is close to nil. The same goes for texts, which are disabled on his official phones.

His Twitter phone can connect to the internet only over a Wi-Fi connection, and he rarely, if ever, has access to unsecured wireless networks, officials said. But the security of the device ultimately depends on the user, and protecting the president’s phones has sometimes proved difficult.

Last year, Mr. Trump’s cellphone was left behind in a golf cart at his club in Bedminster, N.J., causing a scramble to locate it, according to two people familiar with what took place.

Mr. Trump is supposed to swap out his two official phones every 30 days for new ones but rarely does, bristling at the inconvenience. White House staff members are supposed to set up the new phones exactly like the old ones, but the new iPhones cannot be restored from backups of his old phones, because doing so would transfer over any malware.

New phone or old, though, the Chinese and the Russians are listening, and learning.

[The New York Times]

Trump Tweets Out Outdated Death Count for Hurricane Florence

On Saturday, President Donald Trump tweeted out his “deepest sympathies” to the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones in Hurricane Florence.

“Five deaths have been recorded thus far with regard to Hurricane Florence! Deepest sympathies and warmth go out to the families and friends of the victims. May God be with them!” Trump wrote.

The death toll in Florence is actually, and sadly, up to at least 11 (some reports have it at 12) on Saturday after being reported as 5 on Friday.

As per Fox News:

The death toll attributed to Florence stands at 11, including 10 in North Carolina and one in South Carolina. Authorities say some other fatalities were unrelated.

Trump’s misreporting of the death toll comes on the heels of his repeated denial that 3000 people died in Puerto Rico following the devastating hurricanes on the island.

[Mediaite]

White House shuts down press availability after Trump tweet admits collusion

The White House announced on Monday that President Donald Trump would not take any questions after he admitted on Twitter that his son may have colluded with Russians during the 2016 campaign.

In a tweet over the weekend, Trump reversed course on his explanation of a 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer in Trump Tower. The president had originally claimed that the meeting had been about adoptions. But in his Sunday tweet, Trump admitted that the purpose of the meeting had been to get damaging information about Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic nominee.

On Monday, White House correspondents reported that the White House had issued a “lid” on presidential travel and questions from the press.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders also had not scheduled a Monday briefing by the time of publication.

[Raw Story]

Trump administration tells ACLU to find deported parents

The Trump administration on Thursday informed a federal judge that it isn’t responsible for locating deported parents separated forcibly from their children at the southern border.

DOJ said in a court filing that the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit over family separations, should instead take the lead in reunifying deported parents with their children.

“Plaintiffs’ counsel should use their considerable resources and their network of law firms, NGOs, volunteers, and others, together with the information that defendants have provided (or will soon provide), to establish contact with possible class members in foreign countries,” DOJ said.

The administration suggested that the ACLU find out whether the deported parents wish to be reconnected with their children, or whether they waive that option.

An administration official said Thursday evening that the filing “simply asks the court to require the ACLU to determine the wishes of and fulfill their obligations to their clients, as they have repeatedly represented in court that they would.“

DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has statedrepeatedly that no parents were deported without first being given the option to take their children with them. But a Trump administration official told POLITICO on July 25 that an estimated three-quarters of the parents who left the country alone left no record behind that they ever consented to leave their children in the U.S. “We don’t see it in the documentation,” the official said.

At a Senate hearing earlier this week, Matthew Albence, executive associate director for Enforcement and Removal Operations at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, repeatedly dodged questions about whether DHS could document that it secured deportee parents’ consent to leave their children behind.

[Politico]

Update

A federal judge has said the Trump administration is 100% responsible to find the lost parents.

Trump tweets support for congressman not on the ballot

President Donald Trump issued one of his patented Twitter endorsements on Thursday, urging people to vote for a top political ally next week. But there was just one problem: He’s not on the ballot.

Trump tweeted that Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), who is leading House Republicans’ efforts to keep the chamber in this fall’s midterm elections, has earned his “full [and] total endorsement.” Stivers, Trump wrote, “has done a fantastic job” as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

“Get out and vote for Steve on Aug 7th,” Trump wrote.

But Stivers isn’t up for reelection next Tuesday. The fourth-term incumbent was unopposed in his primary, all the way back in May. He will next go before voters on Nov. 6, when he faces Democrat Rick Neal.

Trump quickly deleted the tweet — but not before earning ridicule for the mix-up from other users of the platform.

It’s unclear whether Trump or his social-media team intended instead to tweet support for another Ohioan who ison the ballot Aug. 7: state Sen. Troy Balderson, the Republican nominee in next week’s closely watched special election in a neighboring district.

About a half-hour later, Trump teased his Saturday rally in Lewis Center, Ohio, where he will campaign for Balderson, who is facing Democrat Danny O’Connor — both next week and in the November general election.

“Looking forward to being in the Great State of Ohio on Saturday night where I will be campaigning hard for a truly talented future Congressman, @Troy_Balderson,” he tweeted, along with a link to sign up for tickets at a website set up for Trump’s reelection campaign.

[Politico]

Trump, citing politics, looking to revoke security clearances

President Donald Trump is considering stripping a half-dozen former national security officials of their security clearances, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Monday, calling their public commentary about the ongoing Russia probe inappropriate.

The list of former officials under consideration includes former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former FBI Director James Comey, former national security adviser Susan Rice, former deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe and former National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden, according to Sanders.

“They’ve politicized and in some cases monetized their public service,” Sanders said during a press briefing. “Making baseless accusations of an improper relationship with Russia is inappropriate.”

Sanders would not say when the President would make the decision; she said only that the White House would provide updates when it had them.

The announcement came after Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, tweeted that he planned to speak with Trump about removing Brennan’s security clearance. Brennan declared last week that Trump’s performance following a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki was “nothing short of treasonous.”

A decision to strip a former official of a security clearance would prove a striking use of presidential power. Even Michael Flynn, Trump’s onetime national security adviser who was fired during the Obama administration, maintained his clearance when he was acting as a campaign surrogate for Trump, often leading “lock her up” chants at political rallies.

Sanders did little to mask the political nature of Trump’s threat, indicating the President was frustrated by the former officials’ criticism of him.

“When you have the highest level of security clearance, when you’re the person that holds the nation’s deepest, most sacred secrets at your hands and you go out and you make false accusations against the President on the United States, he says that’s something to be concerned with,” Sanders said.

“We’re exploring what those options are and what that looks like,” she said of the process for removing the officials clearances.

When they leave government, national security officials routinely maintain their security clearances, partly to consult with those who replace them about ongoing situations or issues.

Officials also use their clearances to obtain high-paying consulting positions in the private sector.

“I think this is just a very, very petty thing to do. And that’s about all I’ll say about it,” Clapper said on CNN in the immediate wake of Sanders’ announcement.

“There is a formal process for doing this,” he added. “But, you know, legally the President has that prerogative and he can suspend and revoke clearances as he sees fit. If he chooses to do it for political reasons, I think that’s a terrible precedent and it’s a really sad commentary and its an abuse of the system.”

Hayden indicated being stripped of his clearance would be of little consequence to his commentary.

“I don’t go back for classified briefings. Won’t have any effect on what I say or write,” he tweeted.

It is the President’s prerogative to revoke security clearances, a former senior intelligence official said on Monday, who added that instances of such an occurrence were rare.

Usually former senior officials retain clearances so their successors can consult with theem on a pro bono basis, the former official said.

[CNN]

Trump on Whether He’ll Ask Putin to Extradite Indicted Russians: ‘I Might, I Hadn’t Thought of That’

President Donald Trump sat down for an interview with CBS Evening News anchor Jeff Glor and previewed his big summit with Vladimir Putin.

And given the indictments handed down Friday against 12 Russian officers for hacking the Clinton campaign and the DNC, there have been many calls for Trump to call off the summit. Senator John McCain said it shouldn’t happen if Trump’s “not prepared to hold Putin accountable.”

Trump told Glor he believes in meetings, saying having meetings with Putin, Kim Jong Un, and Xi Jinping are good.

Of the Putin summit in particular, the President said, “Nothing bad’s going to come out of it, and maybe some good will come out. But I go in with low expectations, I’m not going in with high expectations. I don’t really––I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I can tell you what I’ll be asking for and we’ll see if something comes of it.”

[Mediaite]

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