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]

Putin Tells Diplomats He Made Trump a New Offer on Ukraine at Their Summit

Vladimir Putin told Russian diplomats that he made a proposal to Donald Trump at their summit this week to hold a referendum to help resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine, but agreed not to disclose the plan publicly so the U.S. president could consider it, according to two people who attended Putin’s closed-door speech on Thursday.

Details of what the two leaders discussed in their summit in Helsinki, Finland, remain scarce, with much of the description so far coming from Russia. While Putin portrayed the Ukraine offer as a sign he’s seeking to bring the four-year-old crisis to an end, a referendum is likely to be a hard sell with Ukraine and its backers in Europe, who remain committed to an 2015 European-brokered truce deal for the Donbas region, parts of which are controlled by Russian-backed separatists.

White House officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. If Putin’s account of Trump’s reaction is accurate, it would suggest a more flexible approach than the U.S. has shown to date on the issue. At the Helsinki meeting, Trump also agreed to consider a Putin request to question the former U.S. ambassador to Moscow over U.S. campaign-finance violations that critics say Trump should have dismissed outright.

Putin gave his latest account of the meeting during at a conference with top Russian ambassadors and officials at the Foreign Ministry in Moscow, the people said, asking not to be identified discussing the president’s comments to the part of the session that was closed to the public. One of the people said that Trump had requested Putin not discuss the referendum idea at the press conference after the summit in order to give the U.S. leader time to mull it.

Referendum Proposal

Putin’s proposal would call for a vote conducted under international auspices by the residents of the separatist territories on their status, the people said. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on the details of what Putin said about Ukraine at the summit, saying only, “Some new ideas were discussed. They will be worked on.”

On Twitter Thursday, Trump called the summit “a great success” and cited Ukraine among the areas discussed, without providing details.

Putin’s proposal will alarm Ukrainian officials after Trump last week appeared to leave open the possibility of recognizing Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, which triggered the crisis that led to fighting in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Ukraine has offered the areas autonomy under its rule and backs the deployment of international peacekeepers in the region.

The U.S. and the European Union have repeatedly accused Russia of sending troops and weapons to support separatists in eastern Ukraine. Russia denies the charge, though Ukraine has captured a number of Russian soldiers and weaponry on its territory.

Putin pointed to a 2014 referendum, which wasn’t internationally recognized, that was held in Crimea to justify Russia’s annexation at his press conference with Trump after the summit in Helsinki on Monday. “We believe that we held a referendum in strict compliance with international law,” he said. “This case is closed for Russia.”

‘Farce’ Votes

Leaders of so-called rebel republics in Donetsk and Luhansk held referendums in May 2014 that declared independence. The votes were rejected as illegal by the U.S. and the European Union, while Ukraine called them a “farce.” Russia said at the time that it “respects” the votes, which showed as much as 96 percent support for breaking away from Ukraine.

Last year, Putin angered his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, by signing a decree recognizing passports and other documents issued by the separatist governments in Luhansk and Donetsk, which have already declared the ruble their official currency.

If a referendum was held in rebel areas of eastern Ukraine, “the result would be the same as in Crimea,” which voted to join Russia, Igor Plotnitsky, who was then leader of the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic, told Russian state-run RIA Novosti news service in March last year.

[Bloomberg]

Trump Calls Media ‘Real Enemy of the People’ While Revealing ‘Second Meeting’ With Putin

Amid widespread blowback this week over his comments relating to the summit in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump is declaring the meeting a success, and going on the warpath against the media — which he’s labeling “the real enemy of the people.”

In a Thursday morning tweet, the president suggested that another meeting is forthcoming.

“The Summit with Russia was a great success, except with the real enemy of the people, the Fake News Media,” Trump wrote. “I look forward to our second meeting so that we can start implementing some of the many things discussed, including stopping terrorism, security for Israel, nuclear proliferation, cyber attacks, trade, Ukraine, Middle East peace, North Korea and more. There are many answers, some easy and some hard, to these problems…but they can ALL be solved!”

The president then tweeted a montage which aired on Fox & Friendsearlier of times in which he’s acknowledged Russia meddled in the 2016 election. (Although he also left open the possibility of China and other nations or individuals also meddling.)

Trump is floating the possibility of a second meeting just as initial polling has been released on the first. According to a poll from Axios and SurveyMonkey, 79 percent of Republicans approve of the president’s handling of the summit. Overall, however, the public disapproved of Trump’s handling by a 58-40 margin.

[Mediaite]

Trump somehow still doesn’t understand NATO

Just a week after rattling NATO countriesin Europe, President Donald Trump once again put America’s commitment to the alliance in doubt on Tuesday night.

In an interview with Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, Trump equivocated on whether the US would come to a NATO ally’s defense if attacked, called the people from Montenegro “very aggressive,” and worried aloud that protecting Montenegro might unleash a third world war.

There were two key parts of the exchange. Here’s the first:

CARLSON: NATO was created chiefly to prevent the Russians from invading Western Europe. I don’t think you believe Western Europe’s at risk of being invaded by Russia right now, so what is the purpose of NATO right now?

TRUMP: Well, that was the purpose, and it’s okay. It’s fine, but they have to pay.

And here’s the second:

CARLSON: Membership in NATO obligates the members to defend any other member who has been attacked. So let’s say Montenegro, which joined last year, is attacked: Why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack? Why is that?

TRUMP: I understand what you’re saying. I’ve asked the same question. Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people.

CARLSON: Yeah, I’m not against it — or Albania.

TRUMP: No, by the way, they have very strong people — they have very aggressive people. They may get aggressive, and congratulations, you’re in World War III. Now I understand that — but that’s the way it was set up. Don’t forget, I just got here a little more than a year and a half ago. But I took over the conversation three or four days ago and said, “You have to pay.”

Carlson’s questions were entirely fair ones to ask (more on that in a minute). But Trump’s responses were deeply disturbing. Here’s why.

Trump didn’t steadfastly commit to NATO’s collective defense — again

At the heart of the NATO military alliance is a provision known as Article 5. That says that an attack on one NATO country is to be considered an attack on all the countries — and therefore that all the member countries are obligated to come to the defense of whoever is attacked.

This is why NATO allies — yes, including Montenegro — are fighting alongside the US in Afghanistan to this day. The US invoked Article 5 after 9/11, and NATO countries kept their promise and came to America’s aid.

And, to use Tucker Carlson’s example, if a country were to attack Montenegro — which became a NATO ally in June 2017under Trump’s watch — the US would be treaty-bound to defend it.

But Trump made it pretty clear that he’s not wild about that fact, and only begrudgingly said he’d go along with it as long as they pay their fair share of defense spending — an issue he brought up over and over again at the NATO summit in Brussels last week.

This isn’t the first time Trump has done this, either. In May 2017, he refused to commit the US to Article 5 during a meeting with NATO allies. But two weeks later, he reversed course, saying in impromptu remarks that the US would abide by the provision.

Trump did seem to endorse NATO as a whole during Carlson’s interview when he said the alliance’s original purpose is still “okay.” Still, Trump’s outward skepticism about NATO worries many.

“His rhetoric has unsettled allies, empowered Russia, and undermined Alliance solidarity,” Amanda Sloat, a European security expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, told me.

Trump still doesn’t get how NATO works

Trump said that if Montenegro got aggressive with another country, presumably Russia, then World War III would break out because the US would be obligated to defend it, thus dragging the US into a major war with Russia.

What Trump misses is that the US doesn’t have to defend Montenegro if that country starts a fight, only if it’s attacked. NATO is a defensive treaty. If you start an unprovoked war, that’s your decision, and no one in NATO has to help you at all.

So even if Montenegrins were, as Trump said, “very aggressive people” — whatever the hell that means — the US wouldn’t have to lift a finger to help them.

The fact that Trump doesn’t seem to understand that is beyond disturbing. If this were his first day in office, maybe it would be understandable. But it’s not. Trump has been in office for a year and a half. He’s met with NATO allies as a group not once but twice — including spending two days straight talking to them just a week ago.

There is no reason why he shouldn’t have that down pat at this point.

Carlson’s line of questioning was totally fair. It’s Trump’s responses that are the problem.

Debates about NATO’s usefulness have raged for decades, especially since the fall of the Soviet Union, as have concerns about NATO’s expansion over the years to include more and more countries. (Here’s a really smart Twitter thread on that if you’re interested.)

It’s certainly reasonable to ask the sitting US president to explain why America’s sons and daughters should be obligated to fight to protect Montenegro, or why the US should risk a potential nuclear war with Russia to defend Estonia.

It’s Trump’s responses to this question that are concerning here. Instead of laying out the case for NATO being in America’s national security interest (and there is a case to be made on that), Trump makes it clear that he doesn’t actually get why the hell NATO matters at all.

If you’re a NATO ally wondering whether the US president will have your back if shit goes down, that’s not the most reassuring thing to hear.

[Vox]

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