Trump trashes Tillerson for saying Putin outfoxed him

President Donald Trump on Thursday bashed former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as “dumb as a rock,” saying he was “totally ill prepared and ill equipped” to be America’s top diplomat, after Tillerson shared unflattering information about Trump with top House members.

The president’s outburst on social media comes after Tillerson met with the top Democrat and Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and some of their staffers on Tuesday. He said during the meeting that Russian leader Vladimir Putin had out-prepared the U.S. president when the pair met for the first time in July 2017 in Hamburg, Germany.

Tillerson, whom Trump fired in March 2018, left the impression that the Russians had outmaneuvered the Republican president on at least two occasions, three people familiar with Tillerson’s meeting with the lawmakers told POLITICO.

Trump denied he was under-prepared for the meeting with Putin, who he has long sought to charm.

“Rex Tillerson, a man who is ‘dumb as a rock’ and totally ill prepared and ill equipped to be Secretary of State, made up a story (he got fired) that I was out-prepared by Vladimir Putin at a meeting in Hamburg, Germany,” the president tweeted. “I don’t think Putin would agree. Look how the U.S. is doing!”

It was not the first time the president has lashed out at his former secretary of state, who was ousted last year after frequently being at odds with Trump on policy issues. Trump also called Tillerson “dumb as a rock” in December.

According to the people familiar with Tillerson’s Tuesday session, which lasted roughly seven hours, he said that while in Germany, the Russians indicated to U.S. officials that the meeting between Trump and Putin would be quick, essentially a meet-and-greet.

The Russians also proposed not having anyone present to take notes, according to Tillerson’s statements, and Tillerson and others agreed to that condition, the people said. “Tillerson said, ‘It’s the way the Russians preferred it,’” one of the people told POLITICO.

But instead of lasting just a few minutes, the session turned into a wide-ranging meeting that stretched more than two hours.

It is still not clear what the two leaders discussed; Tillerson has said cyber issues and allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election came up. He indicated Tuesday that there were other topics discussed, though he declined to go into specifics, the people familiar with the meeting said.

Tillerson told those attending Tuesday’s session that he does not recall crafting a written record of the meeting after it ended and that he doesn’t know if anyone did.

The Washington Post, which first revealed some details of Tillerson’s talks with lawmakers this week, has in the past reported that Trump took away the notes of his interpreter in that meeting. Tillerson, who could not be reached for comment for this story, told lawmakers that he did not witness the interpreter’s notes being taken away.

The Hamburg meeting may not have been the first time the Russians out-played the Trump administration, the people familiar with Tillerson’s remarks told POLITICO.

In May 2017, Trump met in the Oval Office with two top Russian officials, foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

The people familiar with the Tillerson meeting Tuesday said he indicated that the U.S. side understood the session to be a mere courtesy call with no real agenda. Tillerson also said he did not recall a designated note-taker being in the room.

“The president twice went into a meeting with sophisticated diplomatic players from an adversary with no agenda and presumably no designated note-taker. That’s concerning, because it leaves the U.S. side open to being out-maneuvered,” one of the people familiar with Tuesday’s session said.

It was later reported that Trump divulged classified information to his Russian guests. Tillerson did not address those reports, however.

Tillerson was careful not to disparage Trump during his discussions Tuesday, the people familiar with the meeting said.

[Politico]

Trump says he did not confront Putin on election interference in post-Mueller call


President Trump
 said he did not confront Russian President Vladimir Putinabout interfering in U.S. elections during a lengthy phone call earlier Friday, their first known conversation since the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

Trump told reporters in the Oval Office they briefly addressed the outcome of the report, but lashed out at NBC’s Kristen Welker who interjected to ask whether he warned Putin not to interfere, telling her “you are very rude.”

“We didn’t discuss that. Really, we didn’t discuss it,” Trump said when asked a second time, adding they instead “went into great detail” on issues such as Venezuela, North Korea and nuclear arms control.

Trump added that when the report was brought up, Putin “sort of smiled” and said “something to the effect that it started off being a mountain and ended up being a mouse.” 

The president said he agreed with Putin’s assessment of the Mueller report.

Trump addressed his conversation with Putin hours after White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders informed reporters of the call, which she said lasted more than an hour.

Sanders said the two men discussed Mueller’s probe “very, very briefly” but dodged when asked if Trump addressed the subject of election interference.

“It was discussed essentially in the context of that it’s over and there was no collusion, which I’m pretty sure both leaders were well aware of long before this call took place,” she said. “Now they moved on to talk about those topics.”

Trump said the discussion was focused on brokering a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia, and possibly China, as well as the crisis in Venezuela and denuclearizing North Korea.

The president’s comments are sure to reignite criticism that he is not doing enough to counter Moscow’s attempts to meddle in elections. Those criticisms reached a fever pitch last summer when Trump failed to publicly confront Putin during a summit meeting about his government’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 election.

Mueller’s 448-page report determined that Russia interfered in the 2016 election “in systematic fashion,” an effort that included a social media campaign and the release of stolen documents from key Democrats in order to help Trump.

The special counsel concluded there were multiple “Russian offers of assistance” to the Trump campaign and in some cases, the campaign was “receptive to the offer” but other times “campaign officials shied away.”

Trump has instead seized on Mueller’s finding that the Trump campaign and Moscow did not engage in a criminal conspiracy, claiming there was “no collusion” and calling the report a “complete and total exoneration.”

Members of Trump’s administration have cautioned that Russia still poses a real threat to the nation’s elections.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said last week that Russia is committed to interfering again in the 2020 contests, calling it a “significant counterterrorism threat.” But Trump has reportedly bristled at their warnings behind closed doors because he sees questions about Russian influence as undermining the legitimacy of his victory in 2016. 

Sanders defended the Trump’s handling of the Putin call and faulted former President Barack Obama for not doing enough to deter the interference campaign in 2016.

“We’re actually doing things to prevent everybody from meddling in our elections, something the other administration failed to do,” she told reporters later Friday. “The president’s been clear that no one needs to meddle in our election. He doesn’t need to do that every two seconds.”

[The Hill]

After Call, Trump Says Putin ‘Not Looking at All to Get Involved in Venezuela’

President Donald Trump spoke with Vladimir Putin today about a number of topics––apparently not Russian meddling, though––including Venezuela.

The United States recognizes Juan Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela, and amid the uprising this week officials in the Trump administration have called out Russia’s role in helping prop up Nicolas Maduro.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed on CNN earlier this week that Maduro was ready to leave but was talked out of it by the Russians. (The Russian foreign ministry called this “fake news” in response.)

In an interview yesterday, Pompeo said, “The Cubans invaded some time ago; the Russians have now followed suit. The numbers of Cubans in the security apparatus alone are in the thousands. The Russians have people working over there in the hundreds, if not more. These are the folks who are actually controlling the direction of travel for Venezuela.”

Both John Bolton and Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan also called out Russia for propping up Maduro:

Trump said today Venezuela came up in his call with Putin:

“Venezuela was one of the topics. And he is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela other than he’d like to see something positive happen in Venezuela, and I feel the same way.”

[Mediaite]

Trump calls Russia deal ‘legal and cool’ as Mueller inquiry gathers momentum

Donald Trump, drawn deeper into an investigation into Russian meddling in US elections, has defended his pursuit of a business deal in Moscow at the same time he was running for president as “very legal & very cool”.

Trump appeared rattled this week after Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer, confessed that he lied to Congress about a Russian property contract he pursued on his boss’s behalf during the Republican primary campaign in 2016.

In a series of tweets from Buenos Aires, where he is attending the G20 summit, Trump recalled “happily living my life” as a property developer before running for president after seeing the “Country going in the wrong direction (to put it mildly)”.

“Against all odds,” he continued, “I decide to run for President & continue to run my business-very legal & very cool, talked about it on the campaign trail. Lightly looked at doing a building somewhere in Russia. Put up zero money, zero guarantees and didn’t do the project. Witch Hunt!”

The president frequently uses the phrase “witch hunt” to belittle Mueller’s investigation, which began in May last year and seems to have gathered momentum in recent days.

Trump repeatedly said during the election campaign that he had no ties to Russia. In July 2016 he tweeted: “For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia.”

But Cohen, who had already pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and other financial crimes in a separate case brought by federal prosecutors in New York, on Thursday said he had lied to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower skyscraper in Moscow.

Cohen told two congressional committees last year that the talks about the tower project ended in January 2016, a lie he said was an act of loyalty to Trump. In fact, the negotiations continued until June that year, after Trump had secured the Republican nomination, Cohen admitted.

Cohen told Mueller’s prosecutors that he briefed Trump on the project more than three times. He also briefed members of Trump’s family, had direct contact with Kremlin representatives and considered traveling to Moscow to discuss it.

Trump condemned Cohen after the plea deal was announced, calling him “a weak person” and a liar. As he departed for Buenos Aires, he acknowledged his business dealings with Russia, telling reporters: “It doesn’t matter because I was allowed to do whatever I wanted during the campaign.”

Mueller’s team has brought charges or secured convictions against more than two dozen Russian nationals and entities, as well as several of Trump’s associates, but now the president himself is front and centre. Experts suggested that the walls are closing in.

Jeffrey Toobin, a legal analyst, told CNN: “Today is the first day I actually thought Donald Trump might not finish his term in office. I think this thing is enormous.” An opinion column in the Washington Post was headlined: “Trump should be freaked out right about now.”

Democrats have joined the criticism. Senator Chris Murphy tweeted: “This whole thing has likely been a scam from the start. It’s not some wild coincidence that the Administration’s foreign policy is most inexplicable toward the two countries – Russia and Saudi Arabia – where the Trump family pursues the most business.”

But the White House remains defiant. Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, issued a statement that said: “BREAKING NEWS ALERT: Michael Cohen is a liar. It’s no surprise that Cohen lied to Congress. He’s a proven liar who is doing everything he can to get out of a long-term prison sentence for serious crimes of bank and tax fraud that had nothing to do with the Trump Organization.”

He added: “With regard to the hotel proposal in Moscow, the President has been completely open and transparent.”

Trump still owns his private company but had said he would hand over day-to-day dealings to his sons Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump when he took office in January 2017. He has repeatedly blurred the distinction between business and public office that has been observed by past presidents.

His meeting with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in Helsinki earlier this year drew fierce criticism after Trump appeared to side with Moscow’s denials over the findings of his own intelligence agencies. After Cohen’s plea, Trump cancelled his planned meeting with Putin at the G20, citing the Ukraine crisis. Russia’s foreign ministry on Friday said it believed the meeting was canceled over “the US domestic political situation”.

The Cohen confession comes as Mueller’s investigation gathers pace. Trump has provided responses to written questions while the special counsel has accused his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, of lying after his own guilty plea.

On Friday, Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the US District Court for the District of Columbia asked Mueller’s team to submit a report next week outlining how they believe Manafort breached a plea agreement struck shortly before he was to have gone on trial on charges including money laundering, failing to register as a lobbyist for the Ukraine government and conspiracy to defraud the US.

The judge set 5 March as a tentative date for sentencing of Manafort, a veteran Washington consultant convicted of financial crimes. Prosecutors also left open the possibility that new charges could be filed against Manafort for lying. “That determination has not been made,” prosecutor Andrew Weissmann said.

In August, a jury in Virginia had convicted Manafort of bank and tax fraud in a separate case. He is scheduled to be sentenced on 8 February for that conviction.

Mueller continues to investigate whether campaign associates had advance knowledge of hacked emails becoming public. Another potential target, Jerome Corsi, has rejected a plea offer and faces a possible indictment.

[The Guardian]

Trump Organization planned to give $50 million penthouse to Putin amid Moscow deal

The Trump Organization planned to offer a $50 million penthouse suite to Russian President Vladimir Putin amid negotiations over a real estate deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to a report by BuzzFeed News. 

The bombshell report includes Felix Sater, a longtime Donald Trump associate accused of having Russian mafia ties, telling BuzzFeed News that he and Michael Cohen, the president’s former attorney and fixer, thought giving the suite to Putin could help sell other apartments.

“In Russia, the oligarchs would bend over backwards to live in the same building as Vladimir Putin,” Sater told BuzzFeed News. “My idea was to give a $50 million penthouse to Putin and charge $250 million more for the rest of the units. All the oligarchs would line up to live in the same building as Putin.”

BuzzFeed notes other unnamed officials confirmed the existence of the plan and the officials said Cohen discussed the idea with a representative of Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary.

It’s unclear whether Trump was aware of the plan, which never came to fruition due to the Trump Tower deal in Russia falling through.

Sater, a Russian immigrant who spent a year in prison for a 1991 stabbing, told the news organization that Cohen, at the time, remarked that it was a “great idea.”

Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, declined to comment on the report when reached by USA TODAY. Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for President Trump, said the story was “unknown to the president.”

Giuliani added the project was “too premature for anything like that” and called the idea to give Putin a suite “crazy.”

The revelations come at a time where the president’s Trump Tower deal in Moscow has come under intense scrutiny by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is examining Russian interference in the 2016 election.

On Thursday, Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court in New York to lying to Congress about the plan to build a Trump Tower in Russia all in the hope of shielding Trump from criticism.

Court documents filed as part of Cohen’s plea deal detailed Trump’s business dealings in Russia lasted longer during his campaign than previously acknowledged.

Federal prosecutors said Cohen lied when he submitted an Aug. 28, 2017, letter to the Senate and House intelligence committees. The letter said the project had ended by January 2016, when planning continued months longer during the presidential campaign.

Prosecutors said that Cohen lied to the committees to “minimize links between the Moscow Project and (Trump) and give the false impression that the Moscow Project ended before the Iowa caucus and the very first primary in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations.”

Sater, who had a large role in developing the Trump SoHo Hotel in New York, is also under scrutiny in Mueller’s investigation.

He wrote an email to Cohen in 2015 bragging about his ties to Putin, according to the New York Times. “Our boy can be president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote in one of the emails. “I will get all of Putin’s team to buy in on this.”

The Times noted that Cohen never replied to the emails and viewed them as “puffery.” Sater, who spent a year in prison for stabbing a man and later scouted for Trump investments in Russia, said he was simply expressing “enthusiasm” for the Trump Organization.

[USA Today]

Trump and Rick Scott Spread Claims of Fraud Without Evidence

Days after midterm voting, as ballots are still being counted, Republican lawmakers holding onto tight leads in midterm states are alleging foul play and voter fraud. The claims were amplified by President Trump, without evidence, on Friday morning.

“You mean they are just now finding votes in Florida and Georgia — but the Election was on Tuesday?” he wrote in a tweet. “Let’s blame the Russians and demand an immediate apology from President Putin!”

Current Florida Gov. Rick Scott, locked in a tight Senate race, said in a press conference Thursday night that “the people of Florida deserve fairness and transparency and the supervisors are failing to give it to us.”

“Every Floridian should be concerned there may be rampant voter fraud in Palm Beach and Broward Counties,” he said. “I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election from the great people of Florida.”

Scott’s race against Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson seems to be headed toward triggering a mandatory recount. Florida law says any race within a 0.5 percent margin must go to a recount, and as of 9 a.m. Friday, Nelson trailed Scott by 0.18 percent.

Previous claims of widespread voter fraud, including Trump’s claim that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016, are considered false by voting experts. One investigation, published in 2014, found 31 possible cases of in-person voter fraud out of more than a billion ballots cast over a 14 year period.

Scott claimed victory Tuesday night and has filed lawsuits against two county elections officials, in Palm Beach and Broward Counties, alleging their offices have withheld voting records.

Nelson’s election attorney Marc Elias tweeted Friday that “as the counties continue their work, I expect that margin will narrow further. And then the State will conduct an orderly recount.”

Trump has a history of calling out fraud, without providing evidence to back up his claims. No widespread claim of voter fraud by the president has ever been proven true. Trump even created a commission to investigate alleged fraud after the 2016 election, but it dissolved without releasing any findings.

“They’re finding votes out of nowhere, and Rick Scott who won by — it was close, but he won by a comfortable margin, he easily won but every hour it seems to be going down,” Trump said outside the White House Friday. “I think that people have to look at it very, very cautiously.”

In the case of Florida still counting ballots more than 48 hours after polls closed, David Becker, the executive director for the Center for Election Innovation and Research, told NPR it is extremely common for a voting jurisdiction to be taking as long as Broward County is.

“Election officials are literally just counting the ballots. This isn’t corruption or fraud,” Becker said. “It is literally the best of democracy. Let election officials do their job and count the ballots.”

[NPR]

Trump: ‘No reason’ for Korea war games right now

President Trump on Wednesday said there was “no reason” for joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises at the moment, citing ongoing discussions over North Korea’s nuclear program.

“The President believes that his relationship with Kim Jong Un is a very good and warm one, and there is no reason at this time to be spending large amounts of money on joint U.S.-South Korea war games,” the White House said in a statement that Trump himself issued on Twitter.

“Besides, the President can instantly start the joint exercises again with South Korea, and Japan, if he so chooses,” the statement added.

The Trump administration statement came one day after Defense Secretary James Mattis said there were no plans to suspend future military exercisesbetween the U.S. and South Korea.

Mattis later clarified, however, that there has been “no decision” about suspending more exercises following the three that were cancelled after Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un earlier this year.

“Our military posture has not changed since the conclusion of the Singapore summit and no decisions have been made about suspending any future exercises,” Mattis said in a statement Wednesday.

Following the summit between Trump and Kim in June, the Pentagon said it would indefinitely suspend the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise and two Korean Marine Exchange Program training exercises with South Korea as part of diplomatic negotiations with the North.

The Trump administration has been engaged with North Korea for several months in an effort to scale back Pyongyang’s nuclear program, but those efforts have appeared to hit a roadblock in recent weeks.

Trump last week abruptly cancelled a planned trip for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to travel to Pyongyang to continue negotiations. The Washington Post reported that Trump nixed the trip after a North Korean official signaled in a letter that the meeting would not be successful.

On Wednesday, the White House argued that China was partially to blame for the stalled efforts, accusing Beijing of applying “tremendous pressure” to North Korea because of the ongoing trade dispute between the U.S. and China.

“At the same time, we also know that China is providing North Korea with considerable aid, including money, fuel, fertilizer and various other commodities,” the White House said. “This is not helpful!”

However, the White House added that the trade disputes with China will be “resolved” and described Trump’s relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping as “very strong.”

[The Hill]

Reality

Reminder: It was Vladimir Putin who suggested to Trump we cancel these military exercises.

Trump says he’s worried about Russian meddling … to elect Democrats

President Donald Trump would like you to believe that Russia, which targeted the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016 and whose president, Vladimir Putin, said just last week that he wanted Trump to win, are interfering in American politics to boost … Democrats.

Trump is also “very concerned” about Russian meddling, despite, also last week, telling a reporter he doesn’t think Russia is still targeting the US and publicly doubting Russian interference on multiple occasions.

The president has faced mounting criticism over his handling of relations with Russia in the wake of his disastrous performance at a press conference with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, last week. After a one-on-one meeting with Putin, whose contents remain unknown to US officials, Trump failed to publicly denounce the Russian leader for his country’s efforts to interfere in US politics in 2016 and beyond and said he wasn’t so sure about the intelligence community’s consensus that Russia was and is meddling.

The White House’s cleanup efforts have largely centered on one strategy, which is, basically, gaslighting.

Trump claimed he misspoke at the Helsinki press conference and that when he told reporters, “I don’t see any reason why it would be [Russia]” who meddled in the 2016 election, he meant to say he didn’t see why it wouldn’t have been Russia. And when he told a reporter later in the week, “No,” when asked if Russia was still targeting the US, the White House claimed he was just saying he didn’t want to answer questions.

On Tuesday, Trump was at it again with another counter-reality tweet, this time claiming that Russians are interfering — but that they’re doing it to boost Democrats because Russia is so afraid of him.

[Vox]

Trump Says Obama was a ‘Total Patsy’ for Russia

In an excerpt of an interview with CNBC that was published Thursday afternoon, President Donald Trump says that he will be Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s “worst enemy” if their relationship and their dealmaking doesn’t work out, unlike President Barack Obama who he called Putin’s “patsy.”

Speaking to CNBC in an interview that will air in full on Friday, Trump said this about Putin if the dealings don’t work out: “I’ll be the worst enemy he’s ever had.”

He also said in the same interview, according to CNBC, that Obama had been a “total patsy” on Russia.

“Obama didn’t do it, Obama was a patsy for Russia, Obama was a total patsy,” Trump opined.

Trump also insisted that as the current president he has been “far tougher on Russia than any president in many, many years” and the toughest president on Russia “maybe ever.”

Trump’s tough talk was somewhat mitigated, however, by Trump’s desire to make things work out between him and the Russian leader which he insisted was a positive thing.

“Getting along with President Putin, getting along with Russia, is positive, not a negative,” he told CNBC’s Joe Kernen, in the released excerpts before his warning about turning enemy if the relationship sours.

[Mediaite]

President Donald Trump asked national security adviser to invite Putin to Washington for fall meeting

Unbowed by criticism over his Helsinki summit, President Donald Trump extended an invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet in Washington in the fall, the White House said Thursday.

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Twitter that Trump had asked National Security Adviser John Bolton to invite Putin, adding, “Those discussions are already underway.” The invitation was announced hours after the president tweeted that he looked forward to “our second meeting” as he defended his performance Monday at the summit in which the two leaders conferred on a range of issues, including terrorism, Israeli security, nuclear proliferation and North Korea.

“There are many answers, some easy and some hard, to these problems … but they can ALL be solved!” Trump tweeted.

The announcement of the invitation came as the White House sought to clean up days of confounding statements on Russian interference in the 2016 election that sent Trump to the presidency. Trump’s public doubting of Russia’s responsibility in a joint news conference with Putin on Monday provoked withering criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike and forced the president to make a rare public admission of error.

On Thursday, the White House said Trump “disagrees” with Putin’s offer to swap the questioning of 12 Russians accused of 2016 election interference for an interview with the former U.S. ambassador.

The White House retreated from what Trump had called Putin’s “incredible offer” during the Helsinki summit, revising its position just before the Senate voted overwhelmingly against the plan. It was Congress’ first formal rebuke of Trump’s actions from the summit and its aftermath.

Sanders said Putin’s proposal was “made in sincerity,” but Trump “disagrees with it.” She said the U.S. hopes Putin will have the indicted Russians “come to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt.”

[ABC News]

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