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 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’s national security advisers warned him not to congratulate Putin. He did it anyway.

President Trump did not follow specific warnings from his national security advisers when he congratulated Russian President Vladi­mir Putin Tuesday on his reelection, including a section in his briefing materials in all-capital letters stating “DO NOT CONGRATULATE,” according to officials familiar with the call.

Trump also chose not to heed talking points from aides instructing him to condemn Putin about the recent poisoning of a former Russian spy in the United Kingdom with a powerful nerve agent, a case that both the British and U.S. governments have blamed on Moscow.

The president’s conversation with Putin, which Trump called a “very good call,” prompted fresh criticism of his muted tone toward one of the United States’s biggest geopolitical rivals amid the ongoing special counsel investigation into Russia’s election interference and the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian officials.

Although the Trump administration has taken a tougher stance toward Russia recently — including new sanctions last week on some entities for election meddling and cyber attacks — the president has declined to forcefully join London in denouncing Moscow for the poisoning of Sergie Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury this month. They remain critically ill.

Trump told reporters that he had offered his well wishes on Putin’s new six-year term during a conversation on a range of topics, including arms control and the security situations in Syria and North Korea. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that Skripal’s case was not discussed. Information on Syria and North Korea were also provided to the president in writing before the call, officials said.

“We’ll probably be meeting in the not-too-distant future,” Trump said of Putin, though Sanders emphasized that nothing was planned.

The White House press office declined to comment on the briefing materials given to Trump. Two people familiar with the notecards acknowledged that they included instructions not to congratulate Putin. But a senior White House official emphasized that national security adviser H.R. McMaster did not mention the issue during a telephone briefing with the president, who was in the White House residence ahead of and during his conversation with Putin.

It was not clear whether Trump read the notes, administration officials said. Trump, who initiated the call, opened it with the congratulations for Putin, one person familiar with the conversation said.

The president’s tone drew a rebuke from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, who wrote on Twitter: “An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections. And by doing so with Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election.”

But Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, appeared less concerned, noting Trump has also offered congratulations to other leaders of more totalitarian states. “I wouldn’t read much into it,” Corker said.

Putin’s latest consolidation of power came in what foreign policy analysts said was a rigged election in which he got 76 percent of the vote against several minor candidates. Some world leaders have hesitated to congratulate Putin, since his reelection occurred in an environment of state control of much of the news media and with his most prominent opponent barred from the ballot.

[Washington Post]

Trump congratulates Putin on winning sham election

President Donald Trump spoke to Vladimir Putin over the phone Tuesday morning, after the Russian leader’s overwhelming re-election victory.

“I had a call with President Putin and congratulated him on the victory, his electoral victory,” Trump said later Tuesday. He added that the two leaders “will probably get together in the not-too-distant future” to discuss the international arms race.

Trump and Putin will also talk about North Korea, Ukraine and Syria, among “various other things,” the U.S. said.

The election win keeps Putin in office as Russia’s president for another six years. His closest rival in the election, which was held Sunday, scored nearly 12 percent of the vote, while his most vocal opponent, Alexei Navalny, was barred from running in the race.

Putin’s overwhelming victory and the circumstances leading to it have prompted criticism from Russia watchers. The White House, however, skirted the issue Tuesday.

“We’re focused on our elections. We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at Tuesday’s White House press briefing. “What we do know is that Putin has been elected in their country.”

The arms race

Trump’s comment on the arms race came as the top nuclear commander for the U.S. made a case Tuesday for America adding another nuclear weapon to its arsenal.

“I strongly agree with the need for a low-yield nuclear weapon,” Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said of the Pentagon’s request for a low-yield warhead for submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

“That capability is a deterrence weapon to respond to the threat that Russia in particular is portraying,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

Late last month, Putin made waves by boasting about an arsenal of new nuclear weapons, including an underwater drone, a new hypersonic missile and a cruise missile that has a “practically unlimited range.”

Hyten has previously called Russia the “most significant threat” to the U.S. because the the nation poses “the only existential threat to the country right now.”

Sanctions and election meddling

The call between Trump and Putin also comes as the special counsel’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election intensifies. Trump has denied that his campaign colluded with Russia, and Putin has rejected accusations that the Kremlin had anything to do with any election interference.

The Trump administration announced last week that it was sanctioning several Russians and entities linked to the Kremlin for meddling in the 2016 election as well as for cyberattacks against U.S. infrastructure, such as the energy grid.

Trump had resisted calls to punish Russia for its malfeasance, despite U.S. intelligence agencies’ claims that Kremlin-backed operatives did interfere in the campaign.

On Tuesday, Sanders told reporters Tuesday that she doesn’t believe the subject of 2016 election meddling came up in the Putin-Trump phone call. “But it is something that we’ve spoken extensively about,” she said.

The war in Syria

Trump has expressed admiration for Putin dating back to the years before he ran for president, but he is not the only U.S. commander in chief to call the Russian leader after an election victory.

President Barack Obama called Putin in 2012 to congratulate him for his win that year, although Russia-U.S. relations were especially contentious during Obama’s administration due in large part to the conflict in Syria. Russia has backed Syrian President Bashar Assad’s brutal war.

Trump, for his part, has criticized Obama over his handling of the Syrian war. “President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a ‘red line’ against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing,” Trump said in August after a suspected chemical attack in Syria. “The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this intolerable attack.”

The war in Syria continues to rage, and a Russian military leader recently threatened action against U.S. forces there if Americans target Russian servicemen.

[NBC News]

Reality

Trump joins authoritarians, Xi Jinping, Rouhani, Mohammed bin Salman, Nicolas Maduro,  Evo Morales, Raul Castro, al-Sisi

  • China’s Xi Jinping
  • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
  • Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
  • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro
  • Bolivia’s President Evo Morales
  • Cuban President Raul Castro
  • Egyptian President Fatah al-Sisi

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 says he trusts Putin’s denials of election meddling

U.S. President Donald Trump said he believed President Vladimir Putin when he denied accusations Russia meddled in last year’s U.S. election despite U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion of Russian interference.

Trump made the comment after he and Putin met briefly at a summit in Vietnam on Saturday and agreed on a statement supporting a political solution for Syria.

It was their first encounter since July and came during a low in U.S.-Russia relations and at a time Trump is haunted by an investigation into accusations that Putin influenced the election that brought him to the White House.

Putin reiterated the denials of interference, Trump said.

“Every time he sees me he says I didn’t do that, and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One after leaving the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in the resort of Danang.

“I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country,” Trump said.

Trump, who has called allegations of campaign collusion with Moscow a hoax, has faced questions from Democrats about the matter since he took office. A special counsel, Robert Mueller, is conducting a probe that has led to charges against Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates.

U.S. intelligence agencies have also concluded Russians interfered to tip the election in Trump’s favor through hacking and releasing emails to embarrass Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and spreading social media propaganda.

Russia has repeatedly denied meddling.

The top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives intelligence committee, which is investigating the issue, harshly criticized Trump’s comments and accused him of siding with Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies.

“The President fools no one. He understands that the Russians intervened through the hacking and dumping of his opponent’s emails, the fruits of which he exploited time and again on the campaign trail,” Adam Schiff said in a statement.

“He understands all this and more. He just doesn’t understand how to put country over self. Or to put it in terms he is more familiar with – Mr. Trump simply can’t bring himself to put America first,” the Democrat said.

[Reuters]

Leaks Show Wilbur Ross Hid Ties to Putin Cronies

Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary in the Trump administration, shares business interests with Vladimir Putin’s immediate family, and he failed to clearly disclose those interests when he was being confirmed for his cabinet position.

Ross — a billionaire industrialist — retains an interest in a shipping company, Navigator Holdings, that was partially owned by his former investment company. One of Navigator’s most important business relationships is with a Russian energy firm controlled, in turn, by Putin’s son-in-law and other members of the Russian president’s inner circle.

Some of the details of Ross’s continuing financial holdings — much of which were not disclosed during his confirmation process — are revealed in a trove of more than 7 million internal documents of Appleby, a Bermuda-based law firm, that was leaked to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. The documents consist of emails, presentations and other electronic data. These were then shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists — a global network that won the Pulitzer Prize this year for its work on the Panama Papers — and its international media partners. NBC News was given access to some of the leaked documents, which the ICIJ calls the “Paradise Papers.”

Overall, the document leak provides a rare insight into the workings of the global offshore financial world, which is used by many of the world’s most powerful companies and government officials to legally avoid paying taxes and to conduct business away from public scrutiny. More than 120 politicians and royal rulers around the world are identified in the leak as having ties to offshore finance.

The New York Times reported Sunday that the documents also contain references to offshore interests held by Gary Cohn, Trump’s chief economic adviser, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. There is no evidence of illegality in their dealings.

Ross’ widespread financial interests

In Ross’s case, the documents give a far fuller picture of his finances than the filings he submitted to the government on Jan. 15 as part of his confirmation process. On that date, Ross, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for commerce secretary, submitted a letter to the designated ethics official at the department, explaining steps he was taking to avoid all conflicts of interest.

That explanation was vital to his confirmation, because Ross held financial interests in hundreds of companies across dozens of sectors, many of which could be affected by his decisions as commerce secretary. Any one of them could represent a potential conflict of interest, which is why the disclosures, by law, are supposed to be thorough.

“The information that he provided on that form is just a start. It is incomplete,” said Kathleen Clark, an expert on government ethics at Washington University in St. Louis. “I have no reason to believe that he violated the law of disclosure, but in order … for the Commerce Department to understand, you’d have to have more information than what is listed on that form.”

Ross, through a Commerce Department spokesperson, issued a statement saying that he recuses himself as secretary from any matters regarding transoceanic shipping, and said he works closely with ethics officials in the department “to ensure the highest ethical standards.”

The statement said Ross “has been generally supportive of the Administration’s sanctions of Russian” business entities. But the statement did not address the question of whether he informed Congress or the Commerce Department that he was retaining an interest in companies that have close Russian ties.

In his submission letter to the government, Ross pledged to cut ties with more than 80 financial entities in which he has interests.

Ross’s apparent ethical probity won praise, even before he signed the divestment agreement, from both sides of the political aisle.

‘Our Committee Was Misled’

The documents seen by NBC News, however, along with a careful examination of filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, tell a different story than the one Ross told at his confirmation. Ross divested most of his holdings, but did not reveal to the government the full details of the holdings he kept.

In his letter to the ethics official of the Commerce Department, Ross created two lists: those entities and interests he planned to get rid of and those he intended to keep. The second list consisted of nine entities, four of which were Cayman Islands companies represented and managed by the Appleby law firm, which specializes in creating complex offshore holdings for wealthy clients and businesses. The Wilbur Ross Group is one of the firm’s biggest clients, according to the leaked documents, connected to more than 60 offshore holdings.

The four holdings on the list of assets that Ross held onto were valued by him on the form as between $2.05 million and $10.1 million. These four, in turn, are linked through ownership chains to two other entities, WLR Recovery Fund IV DSS AIV L.P. and WLR Recovery Fund V DSS AIV L.P., which were listed in Ross’ financial disclosure prior to confirmation, but were not among the assets he declared he would retain. According to an SEC filing, those entities hold 17.5 million shares in Navigator, which constitutes control of nearly one-third of the shipping firm.

“You look at all of these names,” Clark said, referring to the financial entities, “and they actually look like a code. And what we actually have to do is find — in a sense — a code that decrypts what these names mean and what these companies actually do.”

She said the way the companies were listed was deliberately vague. “I would say this gives the appearance of transparency,” she said, referring to Ross’s disclosure documents. “It’s sort of fake transparency in a sense.”

The Office of Government Ethics, which is responsible for executive branch oversight, approved Ross’s arrangement, and it was left almost entirely unchallenged by the Senate.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said members of Congress who were part of Ross’ confirmation hearings were under the impression that Ross had divested all of his interests in Navigator. Furthermore, he said, they were unaware of Navigator’s close ties to Russia.

“I am astonished and appalled because I feel misled,” said Blumenthal. “Our committee was misled, the American people were misled by the concealment of those companies.” Blumenthal said he will call for the inspector general of the Commerce Department to launch an investigation.

And a cursory look at Navigator’s annual reports reveal an apparent conflict of interest. Navigator’s second-largest client is SIBUR, the Russian petrochemical giant. According to Navigator’s 2017 SEC filing, SIBUR was listed among its top five clients, based on total revenue for the previous two years. In 2016, Navigator’s annual reports show SIBUR brought in $23.2 million in revenue and another $28.7 million the following year.

The business relationship has been so profitable that in January, around the time Ross was being vetted for his Cabinet position, Navigator held a naming ceremony for two state-of-the-art tankers on long-term leases to SIBUR.

The Kremlin’s inner circle

One of the owners of SIBUR is Gennady Timchenko, a Russian billionaire on the Treasury Department’s sanctions list. He has been barred from entering the U.S. since 2014 because authorities consider him a Specially Designated National, or SDN, who is considered by Treasury to be a member “of the Russian leadership’s inner circle.”

The Treasury Department statement said that Timchenko’s activities in the energy sector “have been directly linked to Putin” and that Putin had investments with a company previously owned by Timchenko, as well as access to the company’s funds.

Daniel Fried, who was the State Department sanctions coordinator under President Barack Obama, said the connection to Timchenko’s interests should have raised alarm bells.

“I would think that any reputable American businessman, much less a Cabinet-level official, would want to have absolutely no relationship — direct, indirect — … with anybody of the character and reputation of Gennady Timchenko,” Fried said. “I just don’t get it.”

Another major SIBUR shareholder is Leonid Mikhelson, who, like Timchenko, has close ties to the Kremlin. One of his companies, Novatek, Russia’s second-largest natural gas producer, was placed on the Treasury’s sanctions list in 2014.

Included in the Appleby documents are details of an internal discussion that resulted in the law firm dropping Mikhelson as a client in 2014, over concerns regarding his financial affiliations.

“I would say to anybody who asked,” said Fried, “treat SDNs as radioactive. Stay away from them.”

A third shareholder of SIBUR – and deputy chairman of the board – is Kirill Shamalov, husband of Vladimir Putin’s daughter, Katerina Tikhonova. After the wedding, Shamalov’s meteoric rise to wealth led him to own as much as 21.3 percent of SIBUR’s stock until April, when he sold off around 17 percent for a reported $2 billion.

“It’s a new generation which is currently being prepared and groomed… to inherit whatever power and wealth Putin’s team has accumulated over the past years,” said Vladimir Milov, a former deputy energy minister in Putin’s government who is now working with the opposition.

Milov also said companies like SIBUR are often the way sanctioned Kremlin insiders have to keep doing business despite restrictions.

The Commerce Department statement said Ross never met Timchenko, Mikhelson, or Shamalov. It said he was not on the board of Navigator in March 2011 when the ships in question were acquired, or the following February when the charter agreement with Sibur was signed. It said Sibur was not under U.S. sanctions now or in 2012. The statement said Ross was on the board of Navigator from March 30, 2012 to 2014, and that no funds managed by his company ever owned a majority of Navigator’s shares.

But as The Guardian reported Sunday, other public documents suggest a different story. A Navigator news release on March 2, 2012, said that Ross was already on the board at that point, and Sibur’s annual report for 2012 said the deal with Navigator was signed in March. In addition, Ross’ company issued a news release on Aug. 10, 2012, saying that the company had agreed to acquire a majority stake in Navigator.

Fried said he has no doubt of the connections between SIBUR and the Kremlin.

“If any senior official of the U.S. government, much less a Cabinet secretary … had any business dealings with sanctioned individuals, direct or indirect,” he said, “I would be appalled.”

Richard Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer during the George W. Bush administration, said there needs to a close examination of whether Ross’ testimony to the Senate violated perjury laws. Painter also said Ross must recuse himself from all Russia-related matters because of the SIBUR connection.

“Secretary Ross cannot participate in any discussion or decision-making or recommendation about sanctions imposed on Russia or on Russian nationals when he owns a company that is doing business with Russian nationals who are either under sanctions or who could come under sanctions in any future sanctions regime,” Painter said. “That would be a criminal offense for him to participate in any such matter.”

[NBC News]

Trump Associate Boasted That Moscow Business Deal ‘Will Get Donald Elected’

A business associate of President Trump promised in 2015 to engineer a real estate deal with the aid of the president of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin, that he said would help Mr. Trump win the presidency.

The business associate, Felix Sater, wrote a series of emails to Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, in which he boasted about his ties to Mr. Putin and predicted that building a Trump Tower in Moscow would be a political boon to Mr. Trump’s candidacy.

“Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Mr. Sater wrote in an email. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”

The emails show that, from the earliest months of Mr. Trump’s campaign, some of his associates viewed close ties with Moscow as a political advantage. Those ties are now under investigation by the Justice Department and multiple congressional committees.

There is no evidence in the emails that Mr. Sater delivered on his promises. Mr. Sater, a Russian immigrant, was a broker for the Trump Organization at the time, which means he was paid to deliver real estate deals.

In another email, Mr. Sater envisioned a ribbon-cutting in Moscow. “I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected,” Mr. Sater wrote.

Mr. Cohen suggested that Mr. Sater’s comments were puffery. “He has sometimes used colorful language and has been prone to ‘salesmanship,’ ” Mr. Cohen said in a statement. “I ultimately determined that the proposal was not feasible and never agreed to make a trip to Russia.”

Mr. Sater presented himself as so influential in Russia that he helped arrange a 2006 trip that Mr. Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, took to Moscow. “I arranged for Ivanka to sit in Putins private chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin,” he said.

Ms. Trump said she had no involvement in the discussions about the Moscow deal. In a statement, she said she that during the 2006 trip, she took “a brief tour of Red Square and the Kremlin but I have never met President Vladimir Putin.” She did not say whether she sat in his chair.

The Times reported earlier this year on the plan for a Trump Tower in Moscow, which never materialized. On Sunday, The Washington Post reported the existence of the correspondence between Mr. Sater and Mr. Cohen but not its content.

The Trump Organization on Monday turned over emails to the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian meddling in the presidential election and whether anyone in Mr. Trump’s campaign was involved. Some of the emails were obtained by The Times.

The Trump Organization issued a statement Monday saying: “To be clear, the Trump Organization has never had any real estate holdings or interests in Russia.”

[New York Times]

Trump Thanks Putin for Expelling U.S. Diplomats to Dismay of State Department

President Donald Trump on Thursday thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for expelling American diplomats from Russia on the grounds that “we’re going to save a lot of money,” prompting dismay among some of the rank-and-file at the State Department.

“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll, and as far as I’m concerned I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll,” Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, according to a pool report.

“There’s no real reason for them to go back,” he added. “I greatly appreciate the fact that we’ve been able to cut our payroll of the United States. We’re going to save a lot of money.”

Russia recently announced that it would expel hundreds of American diplomats from Russia in retaliation for new sanctions the U.S. put on the Kremlin. Those sanctions are in response to Russia’s suspected attempts to meddle in last year’s U.S. presidential election through a disinformation campaign and cyberattacks on Democratic Party officials.

Trump, whose campaign’s relationship with Russia is the subject of an ongoing federal investigation, had pushed back against the sanctions bill, but signed it into law after it passed Congress with veto-proof majorities in both chambers.

The State Department has not yet released the details of how it will handle the drawdown. But many, if not most, of the positions cut will likely be those of locally hired Russian staffers, though the local staff who are let go will likely get severance payments. Cost savings are possible in the long run.

The U.S. diplomats forced to leave Moscow will in most cases be sent to other posts, sources said.

Trump’s remarks did not go down well among the rank-and-file at the State Department, some of whom noted that the people who would be most affected are locally hired staff crucial to American diplomats’ work overseas.

A senior U.S. diplomat serving overseas called Trump’s remarks “outrageous” and said it could lead more State Department staffers to head for the exits.

“This is so incredibly demoralizing and disrespectful to people serving their country in harm’s way,” the diplomat said.

“I kid you not, I have heard from three different people in the last five minutes,” one State Department official told POLITICO shortly after Trump’s comments. “Everyone seems pretty amazed. This statement is naive and shortsighted. It sends a terrible signal to local employees everywhere.”

“THANK Putin?” another bewildered State Department official responded. “I don’t have words that are printable to describe my reaction.”

The reaction to Trump’s comments on social media was equally as withering, with many suggesting he simply didn’t understand how the U.S. Foreign Service is structured and others shocked by his gesture to Putin.

Nicholas Burns, who served as undersecretary of state for political affairs during the second Bush administration, called Trump’s statement “shameful.”

“He justifies mistreatment of U.S. diplomats by Putin,” Burns wrote on Twitter.

Ever since Trump won the election, the State Department has felt sidelined by the president and his aides. Trump largely ignored U.S. diplomats who were ready and willing to offer him briefings when he talked to foreign leaders during the transition period. Since taking office, Trump has proposed cutting the State Department’s budget by a third, and his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is considered isolated and aloof from many of the diplomats he oversees.

[Politico]

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