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]

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince reportedly bragged about having Jared Kushner ‘in his pocket’ after being told classified information meant for Trump

Jared Kushner reportedly discussed classified information obtained from the President’s Daily Brief with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who bragged that he had Kushner “in his pocket,” according to a report by The Intercept.

Presidential son-in-law-turned-advisor Jared Kushner reportedly had a penchant for reading President Donald Trump’s daily brief, a highly sensitive intelligence update that is only meant to be seen by the president and his top advisers, before being stripped of his top security clearance and access to the daily brief in February.

Before losing his security access, Kushner was particularly interested about information on the Middle East, the Intercept reported, citing several former White House and US government officials.

When Salman became the new heir to the throne in June last year, the daily brief reportedly began to focus on shifting political allegiances in Saudi Arabia, and named several Saudi royals who were opposed to the crown prince’s position.

Kushner then made a surprise trip to Riyadh in October, reportedly staying up until 4 a.m. with Salman to discuss strategy.

Several sources told the Intercept that following the meeting, Salman told close confidants that Kushner had spilled the names of the Saudi royals “disloyal” to the prince, although Kushner’s camp strongly denies the claim.

Salman reportedly told the United Arab Emirates’ Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed about the meeting with Kushner, bragging that he had Kushner “in his pocket,” sources told the Intercept.

Just a week after the meeting Salman began his large-scale corruption crackdown, which saw 200 officials arrested. According to the report, Saudi officials mentioned in the daily briefs were among those detained.

The “two princes” have forged a close bond

Kushner has built a close relationship with the Salman, setting the stage for close communication between the the US and Saudi Arabia.

Kushner and Salman began their friendship at a lunch meeting at the White House last year, according to the Washington Post, citing sources familiar with their relationship. The two have been tasked with leading negotiations on Israel-Palestine peace, and have consulted frequently in private phone calls over several months, according to the Post.

A source close to Kushner told CNN that Kushner’s relationship with the Saudi prince is more personal and close than other professional relationships between the US and world leaders, and that Kushner seeks to use that bond to deepen ties between the countries.

Kushner is said to be playing an important role in Salman’s visit to the US this week.

Kushner attended official meetings between the president and the Saudi delegation, and is scheduled in for several dinners with Salman and other US and Saudi officials.

[Business Insider]

Trump Retweets Fox News Story Containing Classified Info

President Donald Trump’s retweet of a Fox News story claiming US satellites detected North Korea moving anti-cruise ship missiles to a patrol boat is raising eyebrows on Tuesday after US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley indicated that the information in the report is classified and was leaked.

“I can’t talk about anything that’s classified and if that’s in the newspaper that’s a shame,” Haley said Tuesday on “Fox and Friends” when asked about the story that cites two anonymous sources.

Pushed on whether the information was leaked, Haley said “it’s one of those things I don’t know what’s going on. I will tell you it’s incredibly dangerous when things get out into the press like that.”

But just a few hours before Haley’s appearance on Fox, Trump retweeted a post from the Fox News morning show promoting the story said to contain classified information.

CNN has not independently verified the Fox News report and the White House has not responded to a request for comment.

Trump’s motive for retweeting the Fox News story remains unclear but the decision to promote a report that — according to the US ambassador to the United Nations — contains classified information leaked to the press by anonymous sources comes just days after the President praised Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ plan to combat that very practice in the name of national security.

“After many years of LEAKS going on in Washington, it is great to see the A.G. taking action!” Trump tweeted. “For National Security, the tougher the better!” Trump tweeted over the weekend.

Tuesday’s retweet also coincided with the release of a series of new polls that not only call Trump’s Twitter habits into question but also reveal major concerns around the President’s trustworthiness and ability to effectively manage the standoff with North Korea.

According to a new CBS News poll only a third of those surveyed having confidence in Trump’s ability to handle the situation with North Korea.

A new CNN poll shows that a majority (52%) of Americans say Trump’s tweets are not an effective way for him to share his views on important issues, and 72% say they do not send the right message to other world leaders.

Further, 62% overall say that Trump’s statements and actions since taking office have made them less confident in his ability to be president.

In May, Trump was criticized after The Washington Post reported that he shared highly classified information with the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador to the US in a White House meeting.

Despite statements from top administration officials that called the report “false,” two former officials knowledgeable of the situation confirmed to CNN at the time that the main points of the Post story were accurate.

[CNN]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Reuters]

Reality

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

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

Donald Trump Says He Has Absolute Right to Share Intelligence with Russia

President Donald Trump pushed back on an explosive story in The Washington Post that he shared classified information with members of the Russian government during a meeting last week, arguing on Twitter that he had an “absolute right” to do so and engaged in the discussion for “humanitarian reasons.”

Trump did not characterize the information as classified but as “facts pertaining to terrorism and airline safety.” The White House called the Post story “false.”

“As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism,” Trump wrote in a two-part tweet.

According to The Washington Post, the nature of the information was related to an Islamic State terrorist threat and gathered by a United States intelligence partner. The report says that Trump disclosed the information to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak last Wednesday, even though Russia is not a partner in the intelligence-sharing arrangement from which the information originated.

As president, Trump has the legal power to declassify information, but officials worry these reported disclosures to the Russians could jeopardize that intelligence-sharing operation.

A senior U.S. official has confirmed two key details of the Post story to ABC News, namely that the White House was concerned enough after the meeting with the Russians that calls were placed to the CIA and NSA to relay information that the president had shared, and that notes on the meeting were edited in order to remove information that was deemed to be sensitive.

The official clarified these points by suggesting that the calls to intelligence agencies were intended to avoid any misunderstanding about what the president had shared, and that the redactions like what had taken place with the notes were routine occurrences.

The White House fervently denied allegations that the president gave away classified intelligence information to Russian officials in statements that were made Monday.

“The story that came out tonight as reported is false. The president and the foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries including threats to civil aviation,” said national security adviser H.R. McMaster. “At no time, at no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed. And the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known.”

“I was in the room. It didn’t happen,” added McMaster.

“This story is false. The president only discussed the common threats that both countries faced,” Dina Powell, the deputy national security adviser for strategy, said in a statement.

Neither McMaster or Powell specifically addressed the allegation that the president revealed classified information or the possibility that he may have jeopardized an intelligence-sharing operation.

Earlier in the day, McMaster ran into a group of reporters in the White House seeking comment on the story.

“This is the last place in the world I wanted to be,” said McMaster, who left without answering questions.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who met with Lavrov at the State Department before the foreign minister’s visit to the White House last week, released a statement on the situation.

“During President Trump’s meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov, a broad range of subjects were discussed, among which were common efforts and threats regarding counterterrorism,” said Tillerson. “During that exchange, the nature of specific threats were discussed, but they did not discuss sources, methods or military operations.”

A spokesperson for the Russian Embassy in Washington would not comment on the matter and would not discuss the Russians’ interactions with Trump.

On Capitol Hill, as news of the disclosure spread, senators on both sides of the aisle indicated their displeasure with the report.

“If it’s accurate, it would be troubling,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, described the dispatch as “really shocking,” and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, called it “disturbing.”

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton‘s handling of classified information and use of a private email server while secretary of state were key points of criticism by Trump and the GOP during last year’s campaign.

Shortly after the nature of Trump’s meeting with the Russians was revealed Monday, past statements by Trump and a number of Republicans as well as social media posts relating to Clinton’s security practices resurfaced.

“Crooked Hillary Clinton and her team ‘were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.’ Not fit!” wrote Trump on Twitter last July.

“It’s simple: Individuals who are ‘extremely careless’ w/ classified info should be denied further access to it,” tweeted Speaker of the House Paul Ryan about Clinton the same month, with a link to a press release titled “Speaker Ryan Presses for Action on Clinton Recklessness With Classified Information.”

“Why should we trust Clinton with our nation’s cybersecurity when she so recklessly jeopardized classified information?” asked then–Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, now the White House chief of staff, on Twitter last September.

The Democratic National Committee released a scathing statement in which it said Trump’s actions “could end with him in handcuffs” if he were not the president.

“Russia no longer has to spy on us to get information — they just ask President Trump, and he spills the beans with highly classified information that jeopardizes our national security and hurts our relationships with allies,” said the DNC.

[ABC News]

Reality

Donald Trump again threw his defenders under the bus by completely undercutting their spin and simply coming out and admiting to his highly questionable decision making. It really is amazing, for example:

National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster told the press, “What I’m saying is really the premise of that article is false.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried to look past what Trump actually released to the Russians and pointed out, “He did not discuss sources, methods or military operations.”

Fox News tried to smear the reporting at The Washington Post by telling their viewers they were wrong that time before and therefore they must be wrong now!

…A few hours later…

Trump: “Yeah I shared classified intel with the Russians and I have the absolute right to do so!!!”

 

Trump Revealed Highly Classified Information to Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador

The Washington Post reported that President Donald Trump divulged highly classified information during his meeting with Russian officials last week.

Officials told the Post that the information was incredibly sensitive and that its exposure endangers the relationship with an ally, which had not approved sharing the information with Russia. This ally, officials told the Post, “has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State.”

BuzzFeed, The New York Times and Reuters later confirmed the Post’s report.

In the wake of the reports, White House officials pushed back, saying Trump didn’t discuss intelligence sources or methods of collection.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that during Trump’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov “the nature of specific threats were discussed, but they did not discuss sources, methods or military operations.”

National security advisor H.R. McMaster echoed those remarks, saying “At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.”

Dina Powell, deputy national security advisor for strategy, called the reports false, saying “The president only discussed the common threats that both countries faced.”

Officials told the Post that Trump’s disclosure could obstruct intelligence operations by the United States and its allies.

While Trump’s release of highly classified information could seriously damage the U.S. relationship with the ally that collected the information, the president, as the Post noted, has the broad authority to declassify information.

The CIA declined to comment to the Post. The NSA did not respond to the Post’s requests for comment.

A former intelligence official told CNBC that if Trump’s reveal was unintentional, it is a demonstration of “shocking disregard or lack of understanding of classified material.” The official added that if Trump’s disclosure was intentional, it would mark a significant shift in the U.S. approach to intelligence alliances.

[CNBC]

Trump Leaked Classified CIA Intel to Tucker Carlson on Live TV

Pres. Donald Trump either leaked classified intelligence information to the world or told another whopping fib on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show Wednesday when he said that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)’s servers were hacked under Pres. Barack Obama.

TheHill.com reported that Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said in a press release, “In his effort to once again blame Obama, the President appeared to have discussed something that, if true and accurate, would otherwise be considered classified information.”

“I just want people to know, the CIA was hacked, and a lot of things taken — that was during the Obama years,” claimed Trump Wednesday night. “That was not during us. That was during the Obama situation. Mike Pompeo is there now doing a fantastic job.”

Schiff said, “The President has the power to declassify whatever he wants, but this should be done as the product of thoughtful consideration and with intense input from any agency affected. For anyone else to do what the President may have done, would constitute what he deplores as ‘leaks.’”

(h/t Raw Story)

Trump Reportedly Being Kept in the Dark About Sensitive Intelligence Due to Concerns About Leaks

U.S. intelligence officials’ mistrust of President Donald Trump is so acute that they have withheld information from him, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing current and former officials familiar with the matter.

The information withheld includes the sources and methods used to collect the intelligence, according to the newspaper.

The report comes amid Trump’s claims that intelligence agencies have leaked information to undermine him. In a tweet on Wednesday, Trump blasted the intelligence community for leaks.

And in tweets on Thursday, Trump lashed out at the media.

“Any suggestion that the U.S. intelligence community is withholding information and not providing the best possible intelligence to the president and his national security team is not true,” the Office of Director of National Intelligence said in a statement to the Journal.

The White House said it does not have evidence this is actually happening, the Journal said.

Withholding some information from presidents is not new for intelligence agencies, but the difference in Trump’s case is that the decision to refrain from sharing sensitive intelligence stemmed from concerns about leaks or compromises, the Journal reported.

To read more, check out the full Wall Street Journal report.

(h/t CNBC)

Trump’s Casual Approach to National Security at Mar-a-Lago Causes Concern

Richard DeAgazio was already seated for dinner, on the Mar-a-Lago Club’s terrace, when President Trump entered with the prime minister of Japan on Saturday night. The crowd — mostly paying members of Trump’s private oceanfront club in Palm Beach, Fla. — stood to applaud. The president’s party sat about six tables away.

Then, DeAgazio — a retired investor who joined Mar-a-Lago three months ago — got a text from a friend. North Korea had just test-fired a ballistic missile, which it claimed could carry a nuclear warhead. DeAgazio looked over at the president’s table.

“That’s when I saw things changing, you know,” DeAgazio recalled in a telephone interview with The Washington Post on Monday. He said a group of staffers surrounded the two world leaders: “The prime minister’s staff sort of surrounded him, and they had a little pow-wow.”

What was happening — as first reported by CNN — was an extraordinary moment, as Trump and Abe turned their dinner table into an open-air situation room. Aides and translators surrounded the two leaders as other diners chatted and gawked around them, with staffers using the flashlights on their cellphones to illuminate documents on the darkened outdoor terrace.

The scene of their discussion, Trump’s club, has been called “The Winter White House” by the president’s aides. But it is very different than the actual White House, where security is tight and people coming in are heavily screened. Trump’s club, by contrast, has hundreds of paying members who come and go, and it can be rented out for huge galas and other events open to non-members. On the night of the North Korea launch, for instance, there was a wedding reception underway: CNN reported that Trump dropped by, with Abe in tow.

As a Mar-a-Lago member, DeAgazio already had remarkable access to a president that day. He had earlier snapped pictures of Trump and Abe golfing and of the president and White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon schmoozing guests.

Now, as a national-security crisis broke out in front of him, DeAgazio continued snapping pictures — and posting them on Facebook.

“The President receiving the news about the Missile incident from North Korea on Japan with the Prime Minister sitting next to him,” DeAgazio wrote as the caption for a photo he posted on Facebook at 9:07 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday.

Later, he posted other photos of Trump and Abe’s discussion, including some that seemed to have been taken from just a few feet away. Those photos have now been seen around the world, providing photographic proof of this unusual moment.

“HOLY MOLY !!!” De Agazio wrote later, when he posted those closer-up photos. “It was fascinating to watch the flurry of activity at dinner when the news came that North Korea had launched a missile in the direction of Japan. The Prime Minister Abe of Japan huddles with his staff and the President is on the phone with Washington DC. the two world leaders then conferred and then went into another room for hastily arranged press conference. Wow…..the center of the action!!!”

DeAgazio told The Post that, after Trump and Abe had spoken for a few minutes, they left the open terrace and spent about 10 minutes in private before conducting a joint news conference at about 10:30 p.m. Eastern time. Later, he said that Trump and first lady Melania Trump had returned to listen to music on the terrace — which faces the Intracoastal Waterway — and shake hands and speak with club members.

DeAgazio said he’d been impressed with how the president had handled the situation.

“There wasn’t any panicked look. Most of the people [on the terrace] didn’t even realize what was happening,” DeAgazio said. “I thought he handled it very calmly, and very presidentially.”

Security experts have said this casual approach to national security discussions was very risky.

The two leaders could have discussed classified documents within earshot of waiters and club patrons. Those cellphones-turned-flashlights might also have been a problem: If one of them had been hacked by a foreign power, the phone’s camera could have provided a view of what the documents said.

But DeAgazio, for one, said he was impressed that Trump had not gotten up from the table immediately, to seek a more private (and better-lit) place for his discussion with Abe.

“He chooses to be out on the terrace, with the members. It just shows that he’s a man of the people,” DeAgazio said.

Membership at the Mar-a-Lago Club now requires a $200,000 initiation fee — a fee that increased by $100,000 after Trump was elected.

DeAgazio also posted photos of himself with a man that he identified as the military member who carries the “football” that would allow Trump to launch a nuclear attack. In that Facebook post, DeAgazio described how “the football” functions, but said that the military member did not divulge that information to him.

“I looked it up” on Wikipedia, DeAgazio said. “He didn’t say anything to me.”

Was DeAgazio worried about the national-security implications of Trump’s al-fresco discussion with Abe? He was not. He said he was sure they had not been overheard.

“You don’t hear anything. You can’t hear,” DeAgazio said, because of the background music and other diners’ chatter. “I mean, I can barely hear what’s going on at my table.”

After The Post spoke to DeAgazio, he deleted his Facebook account.

(h/t Washington Post)

Giuliani Confirms FBI Insiders Leaked Information To The Trump Campaign

Rudy Giuliani said Friday that he knew the FBI planned to review more emails tied to Hillary Clinton before a public announcement about the investigation last week, confirming that the agency leaked information to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

The former New York City mayor and Trump surrogate has recently dropped a series of hints that he knew in advance that the FBI planned to look at emails potentially connected to Clinton’s private server. The agency discovered the messages while investigating former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) for allegedly sexting with a minor. (Weiner’s estranged wife, Huma Abedin, is a top aide to Clinton.)

Giuliani has bragged about his close ties to the FBI for months, mentioning in interviews that “outraged FBI agents” have told him they’re frustrated by how the Clinton investigation was handled. And two days before FBI Director James Comey announced that the agency was reviewing the newly uncovered emails, Giuliani teased that Trump’s campaign had “a couple of surprises left.”

“You’ll see, and I think it will be enormously effective,” he said in an interview with Fox News.

All of this has led to suspicion that someone in the FBI is leaking information to Giuliani and the Trump campaign. The Daily Beast’s Wayne Barrett explored those suspicions on Thursday, detailing how Giuliani’s ties to the agency date back to his days as a U.S. attorney in the 1980s.

Giuliani confirmed that notion Friday during an appearance on “Fox & Friends.”

“I did nothing to get it out, I had no role in it,” he said. “Did I hear about it? You’re darn right I heard about it, and I can’t even repeat the language that I heard from the former FBI agents.”

Giuliani also said he expected Comey’s announcement to come weeks before it did.

“I had expected this for the last, honestly, to tell you the truth, I thought it was going to be about three or four weeks ago, because way back in July this started, they kept getting stymied looking for subpoenas, looking for records,” he said.

FBI officials knew about the newly discovered emails weeks before Comey’s announcement, according to multiple reports.

Giuliani insisted he had nothing to do with Comey’s decision to announce the probe prior to Election Day ― a move that both Republicans and Democrats have condemned. He also insisted his information comes from “former FBI agents.”

“I’m real careful not to talk to any on-duty, active FBI agents. I don’t want to put them in a compromising position. But I sure have a lot of friends who are retired FBI agents, close, personal friends,” he said. “All I heard were former FBI agents telling me that there’s a revolution going on inside the FBI and it’s now at a boiling point.”

Trump press secretary Hope Hicks did not immediately return a request for comment.

(h/t Huffington Post)

Reality

I thought Donald Trump said we should vote for him to stop the corruption and collusion?

This is very serious stuff.

Reps. Elijah Cummings and John Conyers, the top Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, penned a scathing letter to Inspector General Michael Horowitz Friday, urging him to probe the bureau for leaks in light of Giuliani bragging about obtaining leaked information from former agents.

“It is absolutely unacceptable for the FBI to leak unsubstantiated — and in some case false — information about one presidential candidate to benefit the other candidate,” Cummings and Conyers said in the letter. “Leaking this information to former FBI officials as a conduit to the Trump campaign is equally intolerable.”

Media

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