US Will ‘Not Repeat’ Claims GCHQ Wiretapped Donald Trump

The US has agreed not to repeat claims the UK’s communications intelligence agency wiretapped Donald Trump during the presidential election campaign.

GCHQ rejected allegations made by White House press secretary Sean Spicer, that it spied on Mr Trump, as “nonsense”.

No. 10 has been assured by Mr Spicer he would not repeat the claims, which he cited from US TV channel Fox News.

The White House has said that Mr Spicer was “simply pointing to public reports, not endorsing any specific story”.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said it had been made clear to US authorities the claims were “ridiculous and should have been ignored”.

Former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind said it was not enough to promise not to repeat the allegation.

“That’s not the same as saying it was rubbish in the first place,” he told the BBC.

GCHQ rejected the allegations as “utterly ridiculous”. The unusual move by the agency to comment on the news came after Mr Spicer cited claims first made on Fox News earlier this week.

Mr Trump said Trump Tower in New York was under surveillance, but has provided no evidence for the claim.

The allegations of GCHQ involvement were initially made by former judge Andrew Napolitano.

Mr Spicer quoted Mr Napolitano as saying: “Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command.”

He said Mr Obama “didn’t use the NSA, he didn’t use the CIA, he didn’t use the FBI and he didn’t use the Department of Justice, he used GCHQ.

“What the heck is GCHQ? That’s the initials for the British spying agency. They have 24/7 access to the NSA database.”

A GCHQ spokesman said: “Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct ‘wiretapping’ against the then president-elect are nonsense.

“They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.”

It’s a bad day for the transatlantic intelligence community when Britain’s largest and best funded spy agency – GCHQ – has to come out and publicly contradict a claim made by its closest ally.

GCHQ, MI6 and MI5 rarely, if ever, comment on ongoing intelligence stories in the news.

But the allegation made by Mr Spicer was seen as so potentially damaging – as well as being untrue – that it was decided to make an exception.

The BBC understands that a discussion was held earlier this week in No 10 on whether and how to respond.

When Mr Spicer repeated his claim of GCHQ collusion on Thursday the strongly-worded denial was written and published.

Career intelligence officers on both sides of the Atlantic will now be at pains to protect their historically-close relationship from any further perceived gaffes coming out of the White House.

(h/t BBC News)

Trump Administration Rescinds Obama Guidance on Student Loan Defaults

The Trump administration on Thursday rolled back Obama-era guidance that forbade student loan debt collectors from charging high fees to defaulted borrowers, The Washington Post reported.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter, the administration tells agencies that collect on defaulted loan debt to disregard guidance prohibiting them from charging borrowers who default on their payments fees of as much as 16 percent of the loan’s principal and accrued interest.

It also says that the initial guidance handed down by the Obama administration in 2015 should have been subjected to public comment before it was issued.

“The Department thinks that the position set forth in the [Obama administration guidance] would have benefitted from public input on the issues discussed in the [guidance letter],” the Trump administration’s directive reads.

“The department will not require compliance with the interpretations set forth … without providing prior notice and an opportunity for public comment on the issues,” it continues.

The decision to rescind the guidance came two days after the Consumer Federation of America issued a report that finds that the number of people defaulting on their student loan payments is on the rise.

The Trump’s administration’s letter affects 7 million people with loans through the Federal Family Education Loan Program that are held by guaranty agencies. Individuals whose debt is held by the Department of Education are not impacted by the decision.

The amount owed in student loan debt has surpassed that of credit card debt — about $1.2 trillion.

(h/t The Hill)

Trump Accuses German Reporter of Citing ‘Fake News’

President Donald Trump bristled at a question from a German reporter Friday afternoon who asked about his “America first” trade policies and disdain for the media, remarking that the reporter must have been reading “fake news.”

“Mr. President, ‘America first,’ don’t you think this is going to weaken also the European Union?” the reporter asked at Trump’s bilateral press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “And why are you so scared of diversity in the news and in the media, that you speak so often of ‘fake news’ and that things after all, in the end, cannot be proven, for example the fact that you have been wiretapped by Mr. Obama?”

“Nice friendly reporter,” Trump replied amid scattered laughter in the White House’s East Room. He did not directly address the reporter’s question about his disdain for the media, nor did he address a portion of that same reporter’s question to Merkel, which referenced past comments from the chancellor about walls coming down in seeking her thoughts on Trump’s policies.

The president did insist that he is “not an isolationist” but that he will insist, as he did on the campaign trail, that the U.S. is treated fairly in the international marketplace and does not fall victim to the pitfalls he blamed for job losses across the country.

“The United States has been treated very, very unfairly by many countries over the years and that’s going to stop. But I’m not an isolationist. I’m a free trader but I’m also a fair trader and our free trade has led to a lot of bad things happening,” Trump said, noting America’s significant trade deficit and the accompanying accumulation of debt. “We’re a very powerful company — country. We’re a very strong, very strong country. We’ll soon be at a level that we perhaps have never been before.”

“I am not an isolationist by any stretch of the imagination,” the president continued. “I don’t know what newspaper you’re reading, but I guess that would be another example of, as you say, fake news.”

(h/t Politico)

Trump: Don’t Blame Me When I Quote Fox News

Donald Trump does not like taking responsibility for White House screw-ups. He’ll blame anyone else he can think of—even his friends at Fox News.

On Thursday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer set off an international incident when he suggested that British intelligence might have spied on Trump during the campaign in response to a request from President Barack Obama. Spicer made this remark while once again trying to defend his boss, who two weeks ago tweet-claimed—without offering any evidence—that Obama had “wiretapped” him at Trump Tower during the 2016 election. Since then the GOP chairs of the congressional intelligence committees (and many others) have declared there is no proof to back up Trump’s reckless charge, which apparently was based on a Breitbart news story that itself was based on a statement (or rant) by right-wing radio talker Mark Levin.

The obvious conclusion is that an angry Trump had tweeted out fake news falsely accusing his predecessor of criminal activity. But Spicer has continued to contend that Trump’s allegations had a factual basis of some sort. And at the Thursday briefing he cited Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano, who claimed on that network that Obama had used the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ)—the British NSA— to eavesdrop on Trump with “no American fingerprints on this.” (Napolitano is no credible source. Like Trump, he has appeared on the radio show of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. In 2010, Napolitano told Jones’ audience that it’s “hard for me to believe” that World Trade Center Building 7 “came down by itself” and that the 9/11 attacks “couldn’t possibly have been done the way the government told us.”)

Yet here was the White House depending upon a conspiracy theorist to charge that Obama enlisted the Brits to conduct illegal surveillance against Trump. The GCHQ went into a tizzy. Breaking with its tradition of almost always staying silent on public controversies, the British spy agency released a statement that said, No way! It called the allegation Spicer embraced “ridiculous.”  (British journalists were shocked to see any response from the super-secretive GCHQ.) And British officials told reporters they had privately received some form of apology from White House officials.

Yet on Friday afternoon, at a short press conference with German leader Angela Merkel, Trump indicated that he believed there was nothing to apologize for. Asked by a German reporter about the wiretapping allegation, he made a reference to “fake news” without addressing the matter. When a second German reporter pressed Trump on the issue, Trump first made a joke that he had something in common with Merkel. (The NSA had listened in on her cell phone.) Then he dismissed the significance of Spicer’s citation of the Fox News report: “We said nothing. All we did was quote…a talented lawyer on Fox.” The German reporter, Trump said, “shouldn’t be talking to me. You should be talking to Fox.”

Fox News, for its part, wasn’t sticking to Napolitano’s crazy story. Following the press conference, Fox anchor Shep Smith reported the network “has no evidence of any kind” to support the notion that Obama (with or without the Brits) had spied on Trump.

To sum up, the White House was citing phony information from Fox that Fox wouldn’t stand by. And now Trump was basically saying, You can’t hold me and my White House accountable for what we say. If someone says it on Fox News, that’s good enough for us. In other words, they report, we repeat.

This is a stunning statement and admission from a president: There is no need for me to confirm anything before tossing it out from the bully pulpit. It may not be a big news flash at this point, but Trump was eschewing any responsibility for White House statements. This is apparently Trump’s standard: If an assertion appears on Breitbart or on Fox News—if a conspiracy theory is spouted by a right-wing talk show—then it can be freely cited by the president of the United States without any consequence. With this stance, Trump has fully embraced his position as fake-newser-in-chief.

(h/t Mother Jones)

Top Trump Aide Sebastian Gorka is a Sworn Member of a Nazi Group

Sebastian Gorka, President Trump’s top counter-terrorism adviser, is a formal member of a Hungarian far-right group that is listed by the U.S. State Department as having been “under the direction of the Nazi Government of Germany” during World War II, leaders of the organization have told the Forward.

The elite order, known as the Vitézi Rend, was established as a loyalist group by Admiral Miklos Horthy, who ruled Hungary as a staunch nationalist from 1920 to October 1944. A self-confessed anti-Semite, Horthy imposed restrictive Jewish laws prior to World War II and collaborated with Hitler during the conflict. His cooperation with the Nazi regime included the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Jews into Nazi hands.

Gorka’s membership in the organization — if these Vitézi Rend leaders are correct, and if Gorka did not disclose this when he entered the United States as an immigrant — could have implications for his immigration status. The State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual specifies that members of the Vitézi Rend “are presumed to be inadmissible” to the country under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Gorka — who Vitézi Rend leaders say took a lifelong oath of loyalty to their group — did not respond to multiple emails sent to his work and personal accounts, asking whether he is a member of the Vitézi Rend and, if so, whether he disclosed this on his immigration application and on his application to be naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 2012. The White House also did not respond to a request for comment.

But Bruce Einhorn, a retired immigration judge who now teaches nationality law at Pepperdine University, said of this, “His silence speaks volumes.”

The group to which Gorka reportedly belongs is a reconstitution of the original group on the State Department list, which was banned in Hungary until the fall of Communism in 1989. There are now two organizations in Hungary that claim to be the heirs of the original Vitézi Rend, with Gorka, according to fellow members, belonging to the so-called “Historical Vitézi Rend.” Though it is not known to engage in violence, the Historical Vitézi Rend upholds all the nationalist and oftentimes racial principles of the original group as established by Horthy.

Einhorn said these nuances did not relieve Gorka of the obligation, if he’s a member, to disclose his affiliation when applying for his visa or his citizenship.

“This is a group that advocates racialist nativism,” said Einhorn. If Gorka did not disclose his affiliation with it, he said, this would constitute “failure to disclose a material fact,” which could undermine the validity of both his immigration status and claim to citizenship.

“It’s a material fact that, if disclosed, would have provoked a significant inquiry into the specific post-war role of this organization and Gorka’s activities in it,” he said.

Before serving 17 years as an immigration judge, Einhorn was deputy chief at the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations. The unit, which has since been disbanded, was charged with finding and deporting Nazis and members of other extremist groups who entered America illegally by lying about or hiding their background. He noted that individuals who apply for both visas and citizenship are specifically asked to name all organizations they belong to due to the government’s interest in scrutinizing those affiliated with extremist groups, and in particular those on the State Department’s list.

If Gorka did not disclose his Vitézi Rend affiliation, said Einhorn, he thereby “foreclosed the opportunity for U.S. officials to pursue that inquiry with him.” No statute of limitations exists for such violations, he noted.

Einhorn stressed that Gorka would have defenses in such a case; he might argue the chances were small that immigration and naturalization officials — who are not extremism experts or historians — would have recognized the nature of the group and questioned him even if he disclosed his affiliation. “There would have to be clear and convincing evidence that had he told the truth… it would have led to a meaningful inquiry that could have kept him out of the country.”

But Einhorn stressed: “My view is that it would be a legitimate case — difficult and challenging, but I believe winnable.”

Gorka, who is a deputy assistant to the president, first provoked questions about his relationship to the Vitézi Rend after he publicly brandished its medal on his lapel at a presidential inauguration ball January 20. When questions were raised about this in February on the news website Lobelog and elsewhere, he explained it as a gesture of honor to his late father.

“In 1979 my father was awarded a declaration for his resistance to a dictatorship,” he told Breitbart News then. “Although he passed away 14 years ago, I wear that medal in remembrance of what my family went through and what it represents today, to me, as an American.”

But the Forward’s inquiry into Gorka’s relationship with the Vitézi Rend suggests that Gorka’s explanation is, at best, incomplete:

Gorka, who pledged his loyalty to the United States when he took American citizenship in 2012, is himself a sworn member of the Vitézi Rend, according to both Gyula Soltész — a high-ranking member of the Vitézi Rend’s central apparatus — and Kornél Pintér — a leader of the Vitézi Rend in Western Hungary who befriended Gorka’s father through their activities in the Vitézi Rend.

Soltész, who holds a national-level leadership position at the Vitézi Rend, confirmed to the Forward in a phone conversation that Gorka is a full member of the organization.

“Of course he was sworn in,” Pintér said, in a phone interview. “I met with him in Sopron [a city near Hungary’s border with Austria]. His father introduced him.”

“In today’s world it is rare to meet anyone as well-bred as Sebastian or his father, Pali,” he added.

If correct, Gorka’s membership in the order is notable because, as Pintér and other members explained, affiliation is possible only via a solemn initiation rite in which new members take an oath swearing undying allegiance to the Hungarian nation and the Vitézi Rend’s goals:

“I, Vitez [name], swear on the Holy Crown that I know the Order’s goals and code, and based on the orders of the Captain and Order Superiors will follow them for the rest of my life. I never betrayed my Hungarianness, and was never and am not currently a member of an anti-national or secret organization. So help me God.”

Several commentators also noted that in his 2008 doctoral dissertation at Hungary’s Corvinus University, Gorka presented his name as Sebastian L. v. Gorka. The “v.” is an initial used by members of the Vitézi Rend.

But Gorka did not use the initial only in academic papers.

In June 2011, Gorka testified in front of the House Armed Services Committee. His official testimony did not list his name as Sebastian L. Gorka, but rather as Dr. Sebastian L. v. Gorka.

“Of course, only after the oath,” György Kerekes, a current member of the Vitézi Rend, told the Forward when asked if anyone may use the initial “v.” without going through the Vitézi Rend’s application process and an elaborate swearing-in ceremony.

As the son of a member of the Vitézi Rend, Gorka is eligible to apply for membership. But membership is not bestowed automatically, and he cannot use the initial in his name without actively applying for membership and taking the formal oath to the organization.

Gorka’s self-identification to a congressional committee as Dr. Sebastian L. v. Gorka thus indicates that Gorka either misrepresented his identity to Congress in 2011 or is currently misrepresenting his affiliation with the Vitézi Rend, potentially having taken an oath to Hungarian nationalist and racist principles.

The Vitézi Rend, which was established in 1920 for Horthy’s loyal followers, is listed by the State Department as one of many groups in Germany and the countries it occupied as collaborationist “criminal organizations” with the Nazis as determined by the post-war International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. The group was among those Horthy rewarded with real estate taken from hundreds of thousands of Jews his government deported to Nazi concentration camps.

Dissolved in Hungary after World War II under the terms of the Allies’ armistice with Hungary, it was reconstituted by veterans’ groups in exile, including prewar members of the group appointed by Horthy. It was re-established inside Hungary after communism’s collapse in 1989. According to State Department guidelines, while Vitézi Rend membership “does not automatically render the alien ineligible for a visa, the applicant has the burden of establishing that, despite being a member of a designated criminal organization, he or she did not participate in activities that would fall within the purview of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The guidelines cite a provision of the act barring entry to the United States to “participants in Nazi persecution, genocide, or the commission of any act of torture or extrajudicial killing.”

Gorka, who is 46, could not have been part of any World War II killings. But the provisions reflect the State Department’s understanding of the Vitézi Rend’s historical nature.

The group’s mission emphasized not only loyalty to Hungary and nationalist ideas, but also an ideology of racial superiority. One of the original aims of the Vitézi Rend was to “ensure such might to the Hungarian race, which with tremendous power strikes every subversive state and anti-national movement,” Horthy said in a speech to new members in 1921.

The Hungarian dictator, whom Vitézi Rend members still lionize on their websites as the order’s founding leader and ideological guide, added, “Let the Vitézi Rend be the pride of the Turan race and our homeland, but if necessary, its sharp cutting sword.” “The Turan race” refers to Turanism, a theory popular among the country’s far-right and fascist groups whereby Hungarians are thought to be a race descended from tribes that migrated from Asia.

Members of the Vitézi Rend should practice “love of their race,” Horthy said in 1926, in a speech during a swearing-in ceremony for new members.

“Whoever lets another take his place is committing a crime against his race,” Horthy emphasized eight years later, in a June 1934 speech to members of the Vitézi Rend.

Nearly a century later, the Vitézi Rend has not left its legacy of racism behind. Horthy is revered among the organization’s members. His speeches are quoted on Vitézi Rend websites, and his original goals for the organization are highlighted.

As historian Eva S. Balogh notes, the organization’s formal slogan — “I believe in one God, I believe in one country, I believe in the divine everlasting truth, I believe in the resurrection of Hungary” — advocates a return to Hungary’s pre-World War I borders; a territory that includes parts of modern-day Romania, Ukraine, Slovakia and Serbia.

Today, the organization presents itself as a “conservative, right-wing” group independent of party politics. But some of the organization’s newer members also openly embrace racist and anti-Semitic views. Footage on YouTube of a 2012 swearing-in ceremony of new members reveals Zsolt Bayer, a publicist and writer known as one of Hungary’s most outspoken anti-Semites, being initiated as a member.

In 2013, Hungary’s highest court formally ruled that one of Bayer’s articles was anti-Semitic. In a 2016 article that earned the protest of Israel’s ambassador to Hungary, the Vitézi Rend member asked, “Why are we surprised that the simple peasant” didn’t interfere with the deportation of Hungarian Jews to Nazi concentration camps “when the ‘Jews’ broke into his village and beat the priests to death or hung them from lamp posts, the judge and everyone they didn’t like…?”

Though Gorka did not respond to inquiries about his relationship to the Vitézi Rend, when the Forward revealed in February that he had co-founded a political party together with former members of the Hungarian far-right Jobbik party and wrote articles for a Hungarian paper known for its anti-Semitism, the White House aide responded on Twitter by quoting a friend: “Sharing a room w Helen Keller does not make 1 blind; sharing a subway car w Albert Einstein does not make 1 a genius.”

But Einhorn, the immigration expert, stressed a larger moral principle was at stake.

“Gorka is part of an administration issuing travel bans against countries and people as a whole,” he said. “For someone who is part of this effort to not answer your question [about his membership] and yet support what’s gong on in the West Wing where he works is the height of hypocrisy. The administration that makes so much of protecting us from extremists while looping the guilty in with the innocent should at least require its officials tell the truth.”

Gorka’s inconsistent record on his affiliation with the Vitézi Rend is one of several ways in which the deputy assistant to the president may be misconstruing his past.

Adrian Weale, who served as a British Intelligence Corps officer in the 1980s, traced how Gorka’s claims to have worked on counter-terror issues for British Military Intelligence in Northern Ireland and on collecting evidence for the war crimes tribunal set up after the collapse of Yugoslavia are unlikely to be true. According to Weale, Gorka “has never been an operational practitioner of counter-terrorism.”

At the same time, Gorka’s credentials as an academic expert in terrorism have been widely questioned. His doctoral dissertation has been dissected by various academics who say he is not an expert in their field, has never lived in a Muslim-majority country, does not speak Arabic and has avoided publishing any serious, peer-reviewed academic research.

Gorka’s doctoral supervisor in Hungary, András Lánczi, is an expert on political philosophy and Hungarian politics, but has never worked on terrorism, counter-terror or Islam-related research.

Writing in Foreign Policy, Colin Kahl, a deputy assistant to former President Obama and national security adviser to his vice president, Joe Biden, noted that it appears Gorka does not currently possess Top Secret or a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information security clearance. Nevertheless, in his frequent appearances in the media Gorka presents himself as having insight into decision making and threat intelligence to which only someone with a clearance would legally have access.

Gorka, who worked in Hungary’s Ministry of Defense and served in the British military, became a U.S. citizen only five years ago.

Others before Gorka have become American naturalized citizens and have quickly taken on senior government roles. One example is Martin Indyk, who was born in London and raised in Australia but nevertheless became a special assistant to President Clinton and served on the National Security Council before becoming the U.S. ambassador to Israel.

But Gorka’s position is distinguished by his past work for foreign governments, involvement with nationalist and far-right groups and figures, and, perhaps most important, for security investigators, inconsistencies in how he portrays his own past.

(h/t Forward)

Mike Flynn Was Paid By Russia’s Top Cybersecurity Firm While He Still Had Top-Secret-Level Security Clearance

Retired Gen. Michael Flynn was paid $11,250 by Russia’s top cybersecurity firm, Kaspersky, in 2015, according to new documents obtained and published by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Thursday. Flynn was also paid $11,250 by the Russian charter cargo airline Volga-Dnepr Airlines, according to the documents.

Flynn was paid for his work with both companies while he still had top-secret-level security clearance, a year after he was fired as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, The Wall Street Journal’s Shane Harris reported.

Kaspersky said in a statement provided to Business Insider that the company had “paid Gen. Flynn a speaker fee for remarks at the 2015 Government Cybersecurity Forum in Washington, DC.”

Another keynote speaker, Rep. Michael McCaul, was not paid by Kaspersky to speak at the event, his representative confirmed to Business Insider on Thursday. Kaspersky said that was because Flynn was a member of a speakers bureau that required a speaking fee, whereas McCaul was not.

Chris Haddad, another keynote speaker at the forum, told Business Insider he can’t remember if Kaspersky paid him to speak at the event.

Flynn — who was forced to resign as national security adviser in early February after he misled Vice President Mike Pence about his phone calls with the Russian ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak — was also paid $33,750 to speak at a gala celebrating the 10th anniversary of Russia’s state-sponsored news agency, Russia Today, in December 2015.

The oversight committee received the documents earlier this month from Flynn’s speakers bureau, Leading Authorities, after requesting information from the bureau relating to Flynn’s speaking engagements or appearances “in connection with RT, any agent or affiliate of RT, or any agent or instrumentality of the Russian government.”

Leading Authorities redacted information about Flynn’s other speaking engagements in 2015 that were presumably not connected to Russia.

The oversight committee had previously called on the Defense Department to investigate whether Flynn had run afoul of the US Constitution by being paid to speak at the RT gala. The lawmakers pointed to a report released in January by the US intelligence community concluding that RT, as part of Russia’s “state-run propaganda machine,” served as “a platform for Kremlin messaging to Russian and international audiences.”

The conclusion was in the community’s report about Russia’s attempt to influence the US election.

Flynn told The Washington Post last year that he had been paid to speak at the gala, but he would not disclose the amount. He also did not disclose the paid work he had done for Kaspersky and Volga-Dnepr Airlines, which transports military aircraft, in the summer of 2015.

Email correspondences between RT employees and Leading Authorities reveal that RT wanted Flynn to talk about the “decision-making process in the White House — and the role of the intelligence community in it” with regard to US policy in the Middle East over the last decade.

An RT official wrote in an email on November 20, 2015, that RT wanted Flynn to speak about “the decision-making process in the White House” when it came to the “Middle East security situation.”

Russia intervened in the Syrian civil war on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who the Obama administration had said should step down, in the months before the gala.

The oversight committee’s findings come just over a week after Flynn registered as a foreign agent with the Justice Department for his lobbying work in the latter half of 2016 on behalf of a Turkish businessman connected to the Turkish government.

“I cannot recall any time in our nation’s history when the president selected as his national security advisor someone who violated the Constitution by accepting tens of thousands of dollars from an agent of a global adversary that attacked our democracy,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, wrote in a letter to President Donald Trump on Thursday.

“I also cannot recall a time when the president and his top advisers seemed so disinterested in the truth about that individual’s work on behalf of foreign nations — whether due to willful ignorance or knowing indifference.”

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

(h/t Business Insider)

 

Trump’s Irish Proverb Come From a Nigerian Muslim Poet

During the annual White House meeting with the Irish Prime Minister on Thursday, President Donald Trump shared one of his favorite proverbs with Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

The only problem was, as many pointed out on social media after the meeting’s broadcast, it may not have been an Irish proverb at all.

“As we stand together with our Irish friends, I’m reminded of a proverb — and this is a good one, this is one I like. I’ve heard it for many, many years and I love it,” Trump said. “Always remember to forget the friends that proved untrue, but never forget to remember those that have stuck by you.”

The proverb that Trump cited does indeed appear on a few websites that list “St. Patrick’s Day Blessings” and in a few memes dotting Pinterest and Instagram profiles.

But as viewers were quick to point out after Trump’s meeting with Kenny aired on MSNBC, a Google search for the proverb quickly leads to a longer poem posted online in January 2013 by a Nigerian Muslim bank manager named Albasheer Adam Alhassan.

The 32-year-old told NBC News he wrote the poem in 2001 when he was a teenager, “when no one in Nigeria had access to the internet.”

The mystery continues to unfurl over where, exactly, Trump found the stanza. Similar quotes appear in books published in 1997 and as far back as 1936, as The Guardian discovered on Friday, but none cite the passage as Irish.

Irish social media users also weighed in, with some — including Twitter’s former Ireland director Mark Little — highly skeptical that a quote they’d never heard of was indeed an old proverb from the Emerald Isle.

Regardless of where the quote came from, the bulk of social media responses pointed to Alhassan’s poem as a suspected source — noting its prominence in Google search results.

“I’m actually surprised because I’m wondering how someone like the American president got to find a poem that I just posted on the internet,” said Alhassan.

“I have no idea how he found it,” said Alhassan, who told NBC News that his religion is Islam.

NBC News reached out to the White House to ask whether it’s possible a mistake was made, and to verify the source of the proverb. The White House did not immediately respond.

Alhassan told NBC News that he’s been writing poetry since 2001, but doesn’t have much time for it these days due to his position at the First Bank of Nigeria, the country’s largest. Of the poem “Remember to Forget,” he said the subject was “human nature.”

“I noticed that people are always nice to you when they need something but when they get what they want they abandon you,” said Alhassan of the poem’s meaning. “People use you as tools.”

He couldn’t explain how the poem he claimed as his own had appeared in several other books. He was adamant it was his own work.

Alhassan described himself as an introvert, and said when he was younger he preferred writing to going out and playing with friends. He was just sharing his thoughts, he said, when he posted the poems online, and never expected a powerful U.S. president to come across them — much less to conflate them with Ireland.

“I don’t know why he related it to St Patrick’s Day — it’s got nothing to do with that,” said Alhassan. “It’s just based on my personal experiences.”

The irony of an African Muslim’s words potentially being read by a president who promised during the campaign to ban Muslims from the U.S. is not lost on Alhassan, who said he disagrees with Trump’s travel ban.

“I think that policy is very harsh. There is a big difference between the way people see Islam and how it actually is,” Alhassan said.

Like many, Alhassan wants to stay positive about Trump’s presidency and said he doesn’t necessarily want to be part of a chorus of critics.

At the same time, said Alhassan, “There are some policies that do not favor the blacks and religious beliefs.”

(h/t NBC News)

Media

 

Asked For Wiretapping Proof, Trump Cites Reports That Don’t Prove His Claim

Asked about his unsubstantiated claim that President Obama ordered wiretapping at Trump Tower, President Donald Trump said he relied on media reports for the assertion.

In an interview with Trump on Wednesday, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson asked the President how he originally learned the information that led to his charge. Trump tweeted on March 4 that he “just found out” that “Obama had my ‘wires tapped.’”

Trump referenced as evidence a New York Times article six weeks earlier, about Trump campaign affiliates who were reportedly under investigation for communicating with Russian officials. (Everyone mentioned in the story has denied wrongdoing.) He also said that Fox News’ Brett Baier had used the word “wiretapping” the day before his claim.

“I had been reading about things,” he told Carlson. “I read in, I think it was January 20, a New York Times article where they were talking about wiretapping. There was an article, I think they used that exact term.”

“There were other things,” he continued. “I watched your friend Brett Baier the day previous, where he was talking about certain very complex sets of things happening, and wiretapping. I said, ‘Wait a minute, there’s a lot of wiretapping being talked about.’ I’ve been seeing a lot of things. Now, for the most part, I’m not going to discuss it, because we have it before the committee and we will be submitting things before the committee very soon that hasn’t been submitted as of yet. But it’s potentially a very serious issue.”

It’s unclear which single committee Trump was referring to, as multiple are looking into his claim. The Republican chair and Democratic ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee both said Wednesday that they had so far seen no evidence to support Trump’s claim.

And the Times did not report that Trump Tower or Trump himself were under surveillance. The Times also did not report that President Obama was personally involved at all in the investigation of Trump’s affiliates, as Trump claimed.

On Friday, March 3, Fox’s Brett Baier asked House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) if he was concerned “that the Obama administration may have been surveilling members of the Trump campaign in a pretty detailed investigation during the election?”

“I don’t think that’s the case,” Ryan responded.

Baier also referenced a “report,” seemingly from radio host Mark Levin and later amplified by Breitbart, that the Obama administration had twice requested a FISA warrant to monitor “communications involving” Trump, and specifically a server owned by Trump that Breitbart and others reported was located in Trump Tower. In fact, the server is operated by a company in Lititz, Pennsylvania.

“I’ve seen nothing of that. I’ve seen nothing come of that,” Ryan said.

Carlson asked Trump why he hadn’t, as President, simply asked intelligence officials directly for proof that Obama had directed surveillance on him.

“Because I don’t want to do anything that’s going to violate any strength of an agency,” he said, before changing topics briefly. “You know, we have enough problems. And by the way, with the CIA, I just want people to know, the CIA was hacked and a lot of things taken. That was during the Obama years. That was not during us. That was during the Obama situation. Mike Pompeo is there now doing a fantastic job now.”

“But we will be submitting certain things and I will be perhaps speaking about this next week, but it’s right now before the committee and I think I want to leave it there,” he said. “I have a lot of confidence in the committee.”

“Why not wait to tweet about it until you can prove it?” Carlson asked. “Don’t you devalue your words when you can’t provide evidence?”

“Because the New York Times wrote about it,” Trump said. “Not that I respect the New York Times. I call it the failing New York Times. But they did write, on January 20, using the word ‘wiretap.’ Other people have come out with – ”

Carlson interrupted: “Right, but you’re the President! You have the ability to gather all the evidence you want.”

“I do, I do, but I think that frankly we have a lot right now,” Trump said. “And I think if you watched the Brett Baier and what he was saying, and what he was talking about, and how he mentioned the word wiretap, you would feel very confident that you could mention the name. He mentioned it. And other people have mentioned it. But if you take a look at some of the things written about wiretapping and eavesdropping…”

“And don’t forget, when I say ‘wiretap,’ those words are in quotes,” he continued. “That really covers – because wiretapping is pretty old-fashioned stuff. But that really covers surveillance and many other things. And nobody ever talks about the fact that it was in quotes, but that’s a very important thing. But ‘wiretap’ covers a lot of different things. I think you’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.”

In fact, the White House itself has brought up this point in recent days. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said during a press briefing Monday that Trump had told him to say as much during a conversation about his wiretapping charge.

“He said they were in quotes, it’s referring to surveillance overall, it was something that had been referred to in other reports,” Spicer said, explaining why Trump had used quotes around “wires tapped” and “wire tapping.” In two tweets, though, Trump omitted the quotes:

(h/t Talking Points Memo)

Senate Intel Committee Very Strongly Rebukes Wiretapping, Wider Surveillance at Trump Tower

Senate Intelligence Committee leaders released a joint statement Thursday saying that they have no reason to believe that President Donald Trump‘s wiretapping claims against former President Barack Obama are true.

“Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016,” Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, and Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Virginia, said in the joint statement.

They both visited CIA headquarters last week and the two men have also met with FBI Director James Comey. Both men have been privy to relevant classified documents.

This statement comes on the heels of what House Intelligence Committee leaders concluded Wednesday.

In a press conference on Capitol Hill yesterday, Chairman Devin Nunes, R-California, said, “We don’t have any evidence that that took place. … I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower.”

California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said that there is “no basis” for President Trump’s accusations, adding that it “deeply concerns me that the president would make such an accusation without basis.”

The accusations from Trump against Obama first came in a series of tweets March 4.

“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” Trump wrote.

In an interview with Fox News that aired Wednesday evening, Trump explained he didn’t necessarily mean wiretapping.

“When I say wiretapping, those words were in quotes. That really covers — because wiretapping is pretty old-fashioned stuff — but that really covers surveillance and many other things,” Trump said.

Two out of Trump’s four March 4 tweets related to wiretapping included the phrase in quotes.

In the interview, Trump also said the sources of information behind his tweets stemmed from a Jan. 20 New York Times article and a Fox News report from anchor Bret Baier. However, neither the Times article nor the Fox News report said that Obama had ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower.

When asked why he didn’t reach out to intelligence agencies to gather evidence backing his allegations, President Trump said he didn’t want to do “anything that’s going to violate any strength of an agency.”

Despite the growing chorus of voices saying that they haven’t found proof, Trump did not back down from his claims.

“I think you’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks,” Trump told Fox News.

(h/t ABC News)

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)

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