Trump just blocked his own administration’s Russia sanctions

It appears that President Trump just blocked his own administration’s plan to sanction Russia.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, announced Sunday that the Trump administration was going to hit Russia with new sanctions on Monday over its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons program in the wake of the April 7 chemical attack in Douma, Syria, that killed dozens of people. The sanctions were explicitly focused on Russian companies that deal in equipment linked to Assad’s chemical weapons program.

But just a day later, the White House backtracked, with press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying that the administration was merely “considering additional sanctions on Russia” and that “a decision will be made in the near future.”

So why the awkward reversal? Apparently President Trump wasn’t on board with sanctioning Russia.

According to the Washington Post, after Haley announced the sanctions on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday morning, Trump told national security advisers he was “upset the sanctions were being officially rolled out because he was not yet comfortable executing them.”

It unclear whether Haley just mistakenly announced the sanctions prematurely before the president had officially signed off on them, or if something else entirely went wrong.

But two things are obvious: The administration is once again botching the rollout of a fairly straightforward policy, and Trump is personally taking steps to ensure that he doesn’t anger Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A Russian foreign ministry official said on Monday that the Trump administration contacted the Russian embassy on Sunday and told them that the sanctions that Haley had mentioned were not actually coming.

[VOX]

Two top Trump officials were registered lobbyists for Russian-born businessman linked to Putin

A new investigation from Vice News reveals that two senior Trump administration officials were once registered lobbyists for a Russian-born businessman who has deep ties to Putin-connected Russian oligarchs.

According to Vice, Makan Delrahim — the Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division in the Department of Justice — and David Bernhardt — who is currently the No. 2 official at the Department of the Interior — were registered lobbyists for Access Industries, a holding company under the control of Soviet-born billionaire Leonard Blavatnik.

Blavatnik, who is a naturalized dual U.S.-U.K. citizen, is connected to Russian oligarchs via Access Industries’ large stake in Russian aluminum company UC Rusal. Two other men who have large stakes in UC Rusal are Oleg Deripaska and Viktor Vekselberg — Russian businessmen who were recently hit with sanctions by the United States Treasury Department.

What is particularly notable about Blavatnik, notes Vice, is that he once spread out campaign donations fairly evenly between Republicans and Democrats — before shifting heavily in favor of the GOP during the 2016 election cycle, when President Donald Trump was the party’s nominee.

What’s more, he’s continued to give to Republicans since Trump’s election.

“Although he didn’t donate directly to Trump’s campaign, after Trump won, Access Industries gave a further $1 million to the Presidential Inaugural Committee,” Vice News reports. “And according to The Wall Street Journal, Blavatnik gave $12,700 in April 2017 to a Republican National Committee fund that was used to help pay for the team of private attorneys representing Trump in the probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.”

Read the whole report here.

[Raw Story]

Trump touts Hannity’s show on ‘Deep State crime families’ led by Mueller, Comey and Clintons

On Wednesday night, like most other weeknights, it was to be expected that President Trump would be tuning into his favorite prime-time pundit. But as if his followers needed a reminder, the president tweeted about it.

“Big show tonight on @seanhannity!” Trump tweeted, promoting Sean Hannity’s 9 p.m. segment on Fox News. By early Thursday morning, Hannity was the No. 1 topic trending on Twitter, and scores of viewers watched as Hannity fired out his usual attacks on his favorite subjects: Hillary Clinton, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and former FBI director James B. Comey.

In a conspiratorial, long-winded monologue, Hannity charted connections he sees among all three of them. The pundit outlined what he described as “obvious Deep State crime families trying to take down the president,” consisting of the Clinton “family,” the Comey “family” and the Mueller “family.”

Hannity said he was inspired by Comey, who appeared in a video this week promoting an interview between Comey and ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that will air Sunday. In the interview, Stephanopoulos suggests that Comey compared Trump to a “mob boss.”

“Mr. Comey, you’re really going to compare the sitting president of the United States to a mob boss so you can make money?” Hannity said of the former FBI director, who is currently promoting his soon-to-be-released book. “If he’s going to use a sweeping analogy, I’ve decided tonight we’re going to use the Comey standard … and make some comparisons of our own.”

He began with what he called “a family responsible for actual crimes … the head of the notorious political cabal, of course Bill and Hillary Clinton, the Clinton crime family.”

For the Clinton family, Hannity brought up allegations of sexual misconduct against President Bill Clinton and, of course, accused Hillary Clinton of committing crimes, obstructing justice and mishandling national secrets on a private server. Linked to the Clinton “crime family” were individuals such as Hillary Clinton aides Cheryl Mills and Huma Abedin, “sketchy” former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, former attorney general Loretta E. Lynch, and others, including Christopher Steele, the author of the “dossier” alleging ties between Trump and Russia.

Then there’s the “Mueller Crime Family,” Hannity said. The host drew connections between the special counsel and his “best friend” Comey, as well as notorious gangster and killer Whitey Bulger. Hannity accused Mueller of “looking the other way” at Bulger’s crimes while he was a federal prosecutor in Boston. Then, of course, Hannity mapped out the “Comey Crime Family,” linking the former FBI director to Lynch, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, Steele, former deputy attorney general Sally Yates, and “fellow Comey Deep State sycophant” former CIA director John Brennan.

Though Hannity retweeted Trump’s tweet promoting his Wednesday night show, he insisted that the president “was not given ANY heads up on my monologue using the ‘Comey’ standard!!!”

Regardless of what Trump knew before the show, the president is known to watch Hannity’s show regularly and look to it for guidance.

As CNN’s Brian Stelter tweeted, Wednesday night illustrated that “the line where Fox News ends and where Trump begins is getting blurrier by the day.”

Aides have said Trump regularly calls Hannity before or after the program to give feedback, The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey has reported. “Aides sometimes plot to have guests make points on Fox that they have been unable to get the president to agree to in person,” Dawsey wrote.

Hannity on Wednesday night once again called the Russia investigation a “witch hunt,” as does Trump, and brought on guests who attempted to discredit Justice Department officials and the special counsel.

[Washington Post]

Media

 

Trump says missiles ‘will be coming’

US President Donald Trump has tweeted that Russia should “get ready” for missiles to be fired at its ally Syria, in response to an alleged chemical attack near Damascus on Saturday.

“Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!'” Mr Trump said in his tweet.

Senior Russian figures have threatened to meet any US strikes with a response.

President Bashar al-Assad’s government denies mounting a chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Douma.

In one of his tweets on Wednesday, Mr Trump called the Syrian leader a “gas killing animal”.

In another, he painted a dark picture of US-Russia relations but said it did not have to be that way.

The US, UK and France have agreed to work together and are believed to be preparing for a military strike in response to the alleged chemical attack at the weekend.

[BBC]

Top Trump campaign officials urged Papadopoulos to communicate with Russians

Former Donald Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos was encouraged by campaign officials to communicate with foreign contacts, according to the Washington Post.

As the Post reports, Papadopoulos was urged by deputy communications director Bryan Lanza to participate in an interview with a Russian news agency.

“You should do it,” Lanza told Papadopoulos, adding the connection could benefit a “partnership with Russia.”

According to the Post, emails turned over to special counsel Robert Mueller show “more extensive contact” between Papadopoulos and top campaign and transition officials “than has been publicly acknowledged.”

Papadopoulos also communicated with former White House strategist Steve Bannon and onetime national security adviser Michael Flynn, “who corresponded with [Papadopoulos] about his efforts to broker ties between Trump and top foreign officials.”

Read the full report at the Washington Post.

[Raw Story]

Trump Goes After the ‘Crazed’ Media Over Russia Call, Defends His ‘Congratulations’ to Putin

President Trump this afternoon tweeted an attack on the media (again) over its “crazed” coverage of his call with Vladimir Putin.

“I called President Putin of Russia,” POTUS tweeted, “to congratulate him on his election victory (in past, Obama called him also). The Fake News Media is crazed because they wanted me to excoriate him. They are wrong! Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing.”

Some Republicans were critical of Trump congratulating Putin as well––particularly John McCain––but the President is standing by his message and dinging the media for getting worked up about it.

Oh, and he wasn’t done:

“They can help solve problems with North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, ISIS, Iran and even the coming Arms Race,” he continued. “Bush tried to get along, but didn’t have the “smarts.” Obama and Clinton tried, but didn’t have the energy or chemistry (remember RESET). PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH!”

[Mediaite]

Trump keeps up attacks on Obama over Russian meddling

President Donald Trump is continuing to blame his predecessor for not doing enough to deter Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Trump’s latest criticism of President Barack Obama comes as he’s deflected questions about his own administration’s response to Russian meddling and measures the US can take to prevent it. The President notably has refused to condemn the interference in the wake of last week’s indictments against 13 Russian nationals, instead claiming that the latest developments in the investigation demonstrate a lack of collusion between his campaign and Russia.

In one tweet, Trump quoted Obama saying toward the end of the 2016 race that there was no evidence America’s elections were “rigged,” suggesting the then-businessman should “stop whining.” Obama, however, was referring to Trump’s claims of a rigged election and calls at the time for supporters to monitor polling sites for potentially ineligible voters attempting to cast ballots.

Tuesday’s tweet came soon after “Fox & Friends” highlighted the comment.

“That’s because he thought Crooked Hillary was going to win and he didn’t want to ‘rock the boat.’ When I easily won the Electoral College, the whole game changed and the Russian excuse became the narrative of the Dems,” Trump said.

Trump also claimed on Tuesday he’s “been tougher on Russia than Obama.”

The 44th president, however, personally warned Russian President Vladimir Putin against messing with the election, imposed sanctions on Russian individuals and entities, kicked out 35 Russian diplomats and closed two of the Kremlin’s compounds in the United States.

Trump, in comparison, still has not imposed sanctions designed to punish election meddling by Moscow.

Representatives for Obama declined to comment Tuesday on Trump’s latest round of tweets.

And over the weekend, Trump publicly rebuked his own national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, after he said there was “incontrovertible” evidence that Russia meddled in the election.

Trump also questioned on Monday why Obama didn’t do more to prevent Moscow from interfering in US elections, tweeting: “Obama was President up to, and beyond, the 2016 Election. So why didn’t he do something about Russian meddling?”

Trump has adamantly denied any cooperation between his team and Russia and has called the investigation a Democratic hoax.

[CNN]

Reality

Obama faced Putin and told him “to cut it out”, tried to alert the public with a bi-partisan announcement but was blocked by Mitch McConnell, expelled 35 Russian diplomats and closed two compounds.

Let’s take score. Trump calls the investigation a hoax, attacks his FBI, fired an FBI director for not easing up on it, never condemned Russia, took Putin at his word that he had no involvement, never implemented Russian sanctions passed by Congress which is a dereliction of duty, and tried to reopen the Russian compounds Obama closed.

Timeline

July 2016: The FBI opens an investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

August 2016: Obama receives top secret intelligence file detailing Putin’s direct involvement in Russian election meddling.

September 2016: U.S. intelligence agencies reach unanimous agreement regarding Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. At a G20 meeting in Huangzhou, China, Obama pulls Putin aside and warns him directly “to cut it out.” Obama then held a meeting with 12 key members of both parties of Congress and top intelligence officials to release a public bi-partisan statement on Russian election interference, but Mitch McConnell blocked the statement not believing the underlying intelligence.

October 2016: At Obama’s direction, former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper issue a public statement saying, “The U.S. intelligence community is confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations. We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”

December 2016: Obama approves a set of relatively modest — and primarily symbolic — sanctions, including expelling 35 Russian diplomats and closing two compounds in Maryland. The administration had considered several steeper measures including “cyberattacks on Russian infrastructure, the release of CIA-gathered material that might embarrass Putin and sanctions that officials said could ‘crater’ the Russian economy,” per the Post.

Trump administration holds off on new Russia sanctions, despite law

The Trump administration said on Monday it would not immediately impose additional sanctions on Russia, despite a new law designed to punish Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, insisting the measure was already hitting Russian companies.

“Today, we have informed Congress that this legislation and its implementation are deterring Russian defense sales,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. “Since the enactment of the … legislation, we estimate that foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions.”

Seeking to press President Donald Trump to clamp down on Russia, the U.S. Congress voted nearly unanimously last year to pass a law setting sweeping new sanctions on Moscow.

Trump, who wanted warmer ties with Moscow and had opposed the legislation as it worked its way through Congress, signed it reluctantly in August, just six months into his presidency.

Under the measure, the administration faced a deadline on Monday to impose sanctions on anyone determined to conduct significant business with Russian defense and intelligence sectors, already sanctioned for their alleged role in the election.

But citing long time frames associated with major defense deals, Nauert said it was better to wait to impose those sanctions.

“From that perspective, if the law is working, sanctions on specific entities or individuals will not need to be imposed because the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent,” she said in a statement.

The measure, known as the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act,” or CAATSA, required the administration to list “oligarchs” close to President Vladimir Putin’s government and issue a report detailing possible consequences of penalizing Russia’s sovereign debt.

[Reuters]

Trump’s lawyer wants second special counsel to probe investigators

President Trump‘s legal team said Tuesday it would like a new special counsel to be appointed to probe individuals investigating Russian election meddling.

“The Department of Justice and FBI can not ignore the multiple problems that have been created by these obvious conflicts of interests. These new revelations require the appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate,” one of Trump’s lawyers, Jay Sekulow, said in a statement.

Sekulow’s statement calling for a second special counsel, which was first reported by Axios, comes after Fox News published an article on Monday that said the wife of an official in the Justice Department was employed during the campaign by Fusion GPS, the opposition firm behind a controversial dossier of Trump opposition research.

The president’s attorneys, according to Axios, fault the FBI and the Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the probe into Russia’s election meddling and any potential ties between Trump campaign staff members and the Kremlin.

Trump has repeatedly called the probe a “witch hunt,” arguing Democrats are using Russia’s attempts to interfere in last year’s presidential election as an excuse for their loss.

“As the phony Russian Witch Hunt continues, two groups are laughing at this excuse for a lost election taking hold, Democrats and Russians!” Trump said in July.

[The Hill]

Reality

Trump’s lawyers display a fundamental misunderstanding of how special councils work. First, there has to be a crime, and Mueller and the FBI haven’t committed one. Second, a Special Council office was created because of the recusals of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Rod Rosenstein. And finally, a President of the United States calling for an investigation into the investigators, who have already secured two indictments and another two pleas, is not what happens in a democracy.

Mueller: Manafort Worked With Russian Operative Last Week

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office filed court papers to the U.S. District Court of D.C. on Monday opposing the release of Paul Manafort on bail later this month due to “newly discovered facts [that] cast doubt on Manafort’s willingness to comply with this Court’s Orders.”

According to Mueller, Manafort ghostwrote an op-ed alongside a “long-time Russian colleague” who is “currently based in Russia and assessed to have ties to a Russian intelligence service.” Manafort worked on the op-ed as late as Nov. 30—nearly a month after he was indicted by Mueller’s team. Mueller called for GPS monitoring and a “fully secured bond of unencumbered real estate.”

Mueller noted that even if the op-ed were truthful, it would be a violation of a Nov. 8 court order to “not try the case in the press.”

The editorial, Mueller wrote, “clearly was undertaken to influence the public’s opinion of defendant Manafort, or else there would be no reason to seek its publication.”

“It compounds the problem that the proposed piece is not a dispassionate recitation of the facts,” Mueller continued.

Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates and Manafort are facing a host of charges—including money laundering and failure to register as foreign agents. The two had been under home confinement with GPS monitoring since they were charged on Oct. 30.

Manafort struck an $11 million bail deal just last week. His wife, Kathleen Manafort, would guarantee another $10 million if the former Trump campaign chief fled the country.

Mueller called for GPS monitoring and a “fully secured bond of unencumbered real estate.”

From 2004 to 2010, Manafort worked as an adviser to pro-Putin Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia after becoming a target in the Euromaidan protests. He returned to Ukraine in 2014 to close Yanukovych associate Serhiy Lyovochkin.

[The Daily Beast]

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