Trump slams Democrats over probe he calls harassment

President Donald Trump is claiming Democrats “have gone stone cold CRAZY” with their investigations of him and his surrogates.

Trump has been grumbling about “harassment” a lot lately, but obviously, his newest tweet is a response to the new investigation House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler has launched against his administration. Between the scope of the probe and the number of people who’ve been asked to turn over documents of interest, it seems the increased levels of oversight could become a new, lasting source of frustration for Trump.

[MarketWatch]

Trump Accuses Adam Schiff of ‘Illegally Leaking to Fake News CNN’

President Donald Trump baselessly accused Rep. Adam Schiff of leaking to CNN on Sunday.

Trump’s accusation, framed with a question mark at the end, came on a busy day of tweeting for the president.

At one point, Trump seemed to blame Democrats in some way for his lackluster North Korean summit, writing: “For the Democrats to interview in open hearings a convicted liar & fraudster, at the same time as the very important Nuclear Summit with North Korea, is perhaps a new low in American politics and may have contributed to the ‘walk.’ Never done when a president is overseas. Shame!”

And then this

[CNN]

Trump points to Dems over failure of North Korea summit

President Trump on Sunday appeared to point blame at Democrats for the collapse of his negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last week.

“For the Democrats to interview in open hearings a convicted liar & fraudster, at the same time as the very important Nuclear Summit with North Korea, is perhaps a new low in American politics and may have contributed to the “walk” Never done when a president is overseas. Shame!” Trump tweeted.

The president was referring to the testimony of his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, which occurred simultaneously with his summit in Hanoi, Vietnam. 

Cohen testified before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, where he accused the president of lying to the public about hush money payments and floated the possibility of Trump’s collusion with Moscow.

Cohen was sentenced to prison last year after pleading guilty to financial crimes, campaign finance violations and lying to Congress. He sentence is set to begin on May 6.

While Cohen was on Capitol Hill, Trump was in Hanoi, at his second meeting with Kim.

Trump entered negotiations with the hope of securing a deal that involved North Korea denuclearizing, but talks ended abruptly without any type of deal, which Trump alludes to in his tweet. 

The president told reporters following the summit that the U.S. was not willing to fully lift sanctions in exchange for partial denuclearization, stating that “[s]ometimes you have to walk, and this was just one of those times.”

A North Korean official disputed that characterization of the country’s position adding that Kim “may have lost the will” to engage in future negotiations.

“This proposal was the biggest denuclearization measure we could take at the present stage in relations to [the] current level of confidence between the DPRK and the United States,” North Korea’s foreign minister said.

[The Hill]

Trump claims unrevealed Cohen book manuscript shows testimony was ‘total lie’

President Trump on Sunday renewed his attacks against his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, claiming that a manuscript Cohen allegedly wrote proved that the attorney’s congressional testimony last week was a “total lie.”

“After more than two years of Presidential Harassment, the only things that have been proven is that Democrats and other broke the law,” Trump tweeted. “The hostile Cohen testimony, given by a liar to reduce his prison time, proved no Collusion!”

Trump has insisted that Cohen wrote a manuscript last year that was a “love letter” to Trump, contradicting his criticism of Trump in his congressional testimony. No manuscript has been publicly released, and Cohen’s publisher said he never turned one in.

Trump on Sunday maintained that Cohen’s unseen book manuscript proved his testimony was a lie. He said in a separate tweet that the “Fake Media won’t show it.” 

“I am an innocent man being persecuted by some very bad, conflicted & corrupt people in a Witch Hunt that is illegal & should never have been allowed to start – And only because I won the Election! Despite this, great success!” Trump said. 

Trump cites Imaginary ‘just released’ book manuscript to attack Cohen

President Donald Trump said Saturday that a “just released” manuscript of a book written by Michael Cohen would show his longtime personal lawyer had lied to Congress, without offering further evidence for the explosive claim.

“Virtually everything failed lawyer Michael Cohen said in his sworn testimony last week is totally contradicted in his just released manuscript for a book about me. It’s a total new love letter to “Trump” and the pols must now use it rather than his lies for sentence reduction!” Trump tweeted.

It’s not yet clear whether the manuscript exists, if Trump has actually seen it or if he is simply continuing a line of attack started on Friday, when the president demanded Congress obtain the alleged manuscript as proof that Cohen was lying in his testimony.

“The brand new manuscript for a new book by failed lawyer Michael Cohen shows his testimony was a total lie! Pundits should only use it,” Trump tweeted minutes later.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment

Last May, the Daily Beast reported that Cohen had written a book tentatively titled “Trump Revolution: From The Tower to The White House, Understanding Donald J. Trump,” but its release was stalled by legal issues.

During congressional testimony this week, Republicans pressed Cohen on whether he had a book deal lined up. Cohen would not rule out that possibility. However, Cohen’s potential publisher has said it “never saw a manuscript” and a lawyer for Cohen said the book never went beyond a preliminary proposal.

[Politico]

‘These People Are Sick’: Trump Mocks Media for Coverage of His ‘Russia, If You’re Listening…’ Comments at CPAC

President Donald Trump teed off on the media today at his CPAC speech, mocking them for taking his infamous “Russia, if you’re listening…” campaign comments about Hillary Clinton‘s emails seriously.

When he brought up the “fake news,” the president said, “If you tell a joke, if you are sarcastic, if you’re having fun with the audience, if you’re on live television with millions of people and 25,000 people in an arena people in an arena, and if you say something like ‘Russia, please, if you can get us Hillary Clinton’s emails! Please, Russia, please!’”

He said it in a mocking voice, which was immediately followed up by chants of “Lock her up!”

“Then that fake CNN and others say, ‘He asked Russia to get the emails. Horrible,’” Trump continued. “I mean, I saw it like two weeks ago. I’m watching and they’re talking about one of the points. ‘He asked Russia for the emails.’ These people are sick. And I’m telling you, they know the game. They know the game. And they play it dirty.”

[Mediaite]

Reality

It wasn’t a joke, Donald Trump was well aware in July 2016 that Russia had hacked DNC emails and were preparing to release them. Donald Trump Jr. told him. Roger Stone told him. George Papadapolous told him.

More Than 2 Years Later, Trump Complains About Media Coverage of Inauguration Crowd Size in CPAC Speech

In his big speech to CPAC this afternoon, President Donald Trumpcomplained again about the media coverage of his inauguration crowd size a little over two years ago.

Trump first railed against the Washington Post‘s Dave Weigel for a misleading December 2017 tweet about the size of the crowd at one of his rallies. Weigel took down the tweet after Trump initially tweeted about it. The President followed up at the time by saying Weigel should be fired:

He blasted Weigel today for a bit––”if that were a conservative, he would’ve been fired on the spot”––before going even further back to complain about media coverage of his inauguration crowd size.

Yes, really:

“I watched one of the evening shows that are ridiculous how horrible they are, how mean, how horrible. I watched it by mistake, and they showed… from the White House all the way down, they showed there were people––nobody’s ever seen it. The capital down to the Washington Monument, but I saw pictures that there were no people. Those pictures were taken hours before, right? They always mention crowd sizes. ‘He talks about crowd sizes.’ So I’m constantly bugging Mercedes whenever we had a slow moment. I say, Mercedes and Sarah, show them the pictures. Show them and compare them with what they put on television. Those pictures were taken hours before. And remember this also, not that Obama would do this, but we had fencing all the way down to the Washington Monument, and it was raining. And it was wet and the grass was wet. And women and men… they had to walk all the way down, they had to walk with high heels in many cases. They had to walk all the way down to the Washington Monument and then back!”

Sean Spicer‘s 2017 briefing room debut, you’ll remember, involved him railing against the media coverage of the inauguration crowd size at length. He was roundly lambasted for that briefing.

[Mediaite]

Trump claims Otto Warmbier comments were ‘misinterpreted’

President Trump on Friday claimed that he was “misinterpreted” when he said he took Kim Jong Un “at his word” when the dictator denied knowing what happened to US college student Otto Warmbier’s while he was in a North Korean prison.

“I never like being misinterpreted, but especially when it comes to Otto Warmbier and his great family. Remember, I got Otto out along with three others. The previous Administration did nothing, and he was taken on their watch,” Trump wrote on Twitter after increasing criticism of his acceptance of Kim’s denial.

“Of course I hold North Korea responsible for Otto’s mistreatment and death. Most important, Otto Warmbier will not have died in vain. Otto and his family have become a tremendous symbol of strong passion and strength, which will last for many years into the future. I love Otto and think of him often!” he continued, without mentioning Kim or his denial.

Earlier Friday, Warmbier’s parents directly blamed Kim for their son’s death and blasted his “evil regime.”

“We have been respectful during this summit process. Now we must speak out. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto,” Fred and Cindy Warmbier said in a scathing statement that rebuked Trump’s assertion.

“Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuses or lavish praise can change that,” added the couple, who were Trump’s guests at his 2018 State of the Union address.

The president drew criticism when he praised Kim’s leadership and said he believed the despot’s claims that he was unaware of how the 22-year-old college student from Ohio had been treated in a North Korean prison.

“Some really bad things happened to Otto — some really, really bad things. But he tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word,” Trump said during a press conference after his summit with Kim broke down.

“I really don’t think it was in his interest at all,” he said, adding that Kim felt “very badly” about the young man’s death.

[New York Post]

Trump Ordered Officials to Give Jared Kushner a Security Clearance

President Trump ordered his chief of staff to grant his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, a top-secret security clearance last year, overruling concerns flagged by intelligence officials and the White House’s top lawyer, four people briefed on the matter said.

Mr. Trump’s decision in May so troubled senior administration officials that at least one, the White House chief of staff at the time, John F. Kelly, wrote a contemporaneous internal memo about how he had been “ordered” to give Mr. Kushner the top-secret clearance.

The White House counsel at the time, Donald F. McGahn II, also wrote an internal memo outlining the concerns that had been raised about Mr. Kushner — including by the C.I.A. — and how Mr. McGahn had recommended that he not be given a top-secret clearance.

The disclosure of the memos contradicts statements made by the president, who told The New York Times in January in an Oval Office interview that he had no role in his son-in-law receiving his clearance.

Mr. Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe D. Lowell, also said that at the time the clearance was granted last year that his client went through a standard process. Ivanka Trump, the president’s eldest daughter and Mr. Kushner’s wife, said the same thing three weeks ago.

Asked on Thursday about the memos contradicting the president’s account, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said, “We don’t comment on security clearances.”

Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Mr. Lowell, said on Thursday: “In 2018, White House and security clearance officials affirmed that Mr. Kushner’s security clearance was handled in the regular process with no pressure from anyone. That was conveyed to the media at the time, and new stories, if accurate, do not change what was affirmed at the time.”

The decision last year to grant Mr. Kushner a top-secret clearance upgraded him from earlier temporary and interim status. He never received a higher-level designation that would have given him access to need-to-know intelligence known as sensitive compartmented information.

It is not known precisely what factors led to the problems with Mr. Kushner’s security clearance. Officials had raised questions about his own and his family’s real estate business’s ties to foreign governments and investors, and about initially unreported contacts he had with foreigners. The issue also generated criticism of Mr. Trump for having two family members serve in official capacities in the West Wing.

Mr. Kushner has spent this week abroad working on a Middle East peace plan. Among his meetings was one with Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.

While the president has the legal authority to grant a clearance, in most cases, the White House’s personnel security office makes a determination about whether to grant one after the F.B.I. has conducted a background check. If there is a dispute in the personnel security office about how to move forward — a rare occurrence — the White House counsel makes the decision. In highly unusual cases, the president weighs in and grants one himself.

In Mr. Kushner’s case, personnel division officials were divided about whether to grant him a top-secret clearance.

In May 2018, the White House Counsel’s Office, which at the time was led by Mr. McGahn, recommended to Mr. Trump that Mr. Kushner not be given a clearance at that level. But the next day, Mr. Trump ordered Mr. Kelly to grant it to Mr. Kushner anyway, the people familiar with the events said.

The question of Mr. Kushner’s access to intelligence was a flash point almost from the beginning of the administration. The initial background check into Mr. Kushner dragged on for more than a year, creating a distraction for the White House, which struggled to explain why one of the people closest to the president had yet to be given the proper approval to be trusted with the country’s most sensitive information.

The full scope of intelligence officials’ concerns about Mr. Kushner is not known. But the clearance had been held up in part over questions from the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. about his foreign and business contacts, including those related to Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Russia, according to multiple people familiar with the events.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr. Kushner was part of a group that met with a Russian lawyer who went to Trump Tower claiming to have political “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. And during the presidential transition, Mr. Kushner had a meeting with the Russian ambassador at the time, Sergey I. Kislyak, and the head of a Russian state-owned bank. When he applied for a security clearance, he did not reveal those meetings.

He later made several amendments to that section of his application, known as an SF86. His aides at the time insisted he had omitted those meetings inadvertently.

Mr. Kushner initially operated with a provisional clearance as his background check proceeded.

In an entry to Mr. Kushner’s personnel file on Sept. 15, 2017, the head of the personnel security division, Carl Kline, wrote, “Per conversation with WH Counsel the clearance was changed to interim Top Secret until we can confirm that the DOJ or someone else actually granted a final clearance. This action is out of an abundance of caution because the background investigation has not been completed.”

In a statement to The Times when Mr. Kushner received the clearance last year, Mr. Lowell said that “his application was properly submitted, reviewed by numerous career officials and underwent the normal process.”

During a review of security clearances in February 2018 that was prompted by the controversy surrounding Rob Porter, then the White House staff secretary, who had been accused of domestic abuse, Mr. Kushner’s clearance was downgraded from interim top secret to secret, limiting his access to classified information. At the time, Mr. Kelly wrote a five-page memo, revoking temporary clearances that had been in place since June 1, 2017.

That affected both Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump, who told friends and advisers that they believed that Mr. Kelly and Mr. McGahn were targeting them for petty reasons instead of legitimate concerns flagged by officials.

Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump both complained to the president about the situation, current and former administration officials said. In Mr. Kushner’s case, Mr. Trump would often turn to other aides and say in frustration, “Why isn’t this getting done?” according to a former administration official. On at least one occasion, the president asked another senior official if the person could sort out the issue. That official said no, according to this account.

Mr. Kelly did not believe it was appropriate to overrule the security clearance process and had brushed aside or avoided dealing with Mr. Kushner’s requests, a former administration official said. Mr. Kelly did not respond to a request for comment.

House Democrats are in the early stages of an investigation into how several Trump administration officials obtained clearances, including Mr. Kushner.

Mr. Trump’s precise language to Mr. Kelly about Mr. Kushner’s clearance in their direct conversation remains unclear. Two of the people familiar with Mr. Trump’s discussions with Mr. Kelly said that there might be different interpretations of what the president said. But Mr. Kelly believed it was an order, according to two people familiar with his thinking.

And Mr. Trump was definitive in his statements to The Times in the January interview.

“I was never involved with the security” clearances for Mr. Kushner, the president said. “I know that there was issues back and forth about security for numerous people, actually. But I don’t want to get involved in that stuff.”

A recent report by NBC revealed that Mr. Kline had overruled two career security specialists who had rejected Mr. Kushner’s application based on the F.B.I.’s concerns. A senior administration official confirmed the details laid out in the NBC report.

Mr. Kline was acting on the directive sent down by the president, one of the people familiar with the matter said.

The day that Mr. Lowell described Mr. Kushner’s process as having gone through normal routes, aides to Mr. Kushner had asked White House officials to deliver a statement from Mr. Kelly supporting what Mr. Lowell had said. But Mr. Kelly refused to do so, according to a person with knowledge of the events.

[The New York Times]

Trump defends Kim Jong Un over death of Otto Warmbier

President Trump on Thursday defended North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over the death of American college student Otto Warmbier, whose family says he was “brutally tortured” while imprisoned in North Korea and died in 2017 after being flown back to United States in a coma.

The president condemned the “brutality of the North Korean regime” following Warmbier’s death at 22 years old, but he took a softer stance toward Kim at the conclusion of their second summit.

“I don’t believe he would have allowed that to happen,” Trump said. “It just wasn’t to his advantage to allow that to happen.”

Trump said that he spoke to Kim about the death of Warmbier — whose family has called it a murder — and that Kim “feels badly about it.” He said the North Korea leader, who rules the country with an iron grip, knew about the case but learned about it only after the fact because, Trump suggested, “top leadership” might not have been involved.

“He tells me he didn’t know about it, and I take him at his word,” Trump said.

Richard Cullen, the attorney for Fred and Cindy Warmbier, who in December won a $501 million judgment against North Korea for the death of their son, said the couple probably will not say anything publicly about the president’s comment.

Trump’s defense of Kim mirrors his willingness to take the word of autocrats in other cases despite the findings of his own government or experts, particularly when confronting the leader is not what Trump sees as in his political interest.

Trump has not agreed with his intelligence community’s assessment that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia who has forged an alliance with the administration — ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October. Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributing columnist, was reportedly cut up with a bone saw, and messages later showed that the crown prince had plotted in the past to kill him. The Saudi government has blamed the operation on a rogue band of operatives who were sent to Istanbul to bring Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia.

Trump has repeatedly said that the crown prince has denied any involvement in Khashoggi’s death while emphasizing his own view that preserving the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia is most important.

“Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump said of whether Mohammed knew of the plan to kill Khashoggi. The remarks were included in an October news release defending his administration’s handling of the situation.

And Trump has sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin over his denial that Moscow interfered in the 2016 presidential election — even though the U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russia did interfere as part of an effort to sow discord and help Trump.

“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” Trump said standing beside the Russian president during a joint news conference in Helsinki in July.

Trump’s remarks about Warmbier and Kim drew bipartisan criticism. Rick Santorum, a former Republican senator from Pennsylvania, said that Trump’s acceptance of Kim’s denial of responsibility was “reprehensible.”

“He gave cover, as you said, to a leader who knew very well what was going on with Otto Warmbier,” said Santorum on CNN, adding, “I am disappointed, to say the least, that he did it.”

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted that Trump’s remark was “detestable.”

“Walking away from the summit was better than making a bad deal,” he wrote in a Thursday morning post. “It’s also the result of a poorly planned strategy. But accepting Kim’s denial of involvement in Warmbier’s death? Detestable, and harkens back to Trump’s duplicitous acceptances of denials from other dictators.”

Warmbier, a University of Virginia student from Ohio, was detained in Pyongyang after participating in an organized tour in December 2015 and was held for 17 months, after being charged with spying for the United States and being coerced into making an on-camera confession. His parents have stated that all the charges against him were untrue. Warmbier returned to his hometown of Cincinnati in a coma and died a few days later.

Trump said at the time that he was incensed by the death. He forged a relationship with the Warmbier family, even meeting with them in the Oval Office, and introduced them to a rousing ovation at his 2018 State of the Union address.

“We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat,” he said, with Warmbier’s tearful family looking on as he described the regime’s grisly actions.

Fred Warmbier accompanied Vice President Pence as part of the U.S. delegation to the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, in February 2018.

In a statement announcing a lawsuit against the government of North Korea in April 2018, Warmbier said his son was “taken hostage, kept as a prisoner for political purposes, used as a pawn and singled out for exceptionally harsh and brutal treatment by Kim Jong Un. Kim and his regime have portrayed themselves as innocent, while they intentionally destroyed our son’s life.”

As his relationship has warmed with Kim, Trump has played down human rights abuses in North Korea and has infrequently brought up Otto Warmbier’s death.

Trump has said to advisers that human rights are not a key concern when negotiating with North Korea, and human rights advocatestold The Washington Post in December that they have lost momentum with the administration. 

At the end of his first summit with Kim in June in Singapore, when asked about Warmbier, Trump described his death as a turning point that helped lead to a ratcheting-down of tensions with Kim and a move toward negotiations over its nuclear program.

“I think without Otto this would not have happened,” he said. “Something happened from that day — it was a terrible thing. It was brutal. A lot of people started to focus on what was going on, including North Korea. I really think that Otto is someone who did not die in vain.”

On Thursday, Trump jumped in when an American journalist asked Kim about his human rights record, saying they would discuss it privately.

“You’ve got a lot of people,” Trump said of North Korea during Thursday’s news conference. “Big country, a lot of people. And in those prisons and those camps, you’ve got a lot of people. And some really bad things happened to Otto. . . . But [Kim] tells me he didn’t know about it.”

[Washington Post]

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