President Donald Trump pressured allies at the NATO summit Wednesday to double the military spending target to 4% of gross domestic product, while bashing Germany for its military spending and support for a major gas deal with Russia.
.. Mr. Trump began his visit by accusing Germany of being “captive to Russia” because of its support for Nord Stream 2, an offshore pipeline that would bring gas directly from Russia via the Baltic Sea.
Speaking in a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Mr. Trump called Germany’s support for the project “very sad,” and said, “We’re supposed to be guarding against Russia, and Germany goes out and pays billions and billions of dollars a year to Russia.”
.. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D, N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said, “President Trump’s brazen insults and denigration of one of America’s most steadfast allies, Germany, is an embarrassment.”
.. He has met frequent criticism in Washington for appearing overly friendly toward Mr. Putin, including when he congratulated the Russian leader on his election victory earlier this year despite being advised by national security officials not to do so.
.. Germany is the biggest importer of natural gas from Russia in the EU, accounting for more than 20% of the purchases in 2017 by the 28-member bloc, according to the EU’s statistics agency Eurostat. Russian imports made up about 40% of Germany’s annual gas purchases for the past two years.
Why Trump’s sudden interest? One possible inference was that the President had somehow heard that there was more bad news coming about Manafort, and he was trying to limit some of the damage in advance of its release.
.. Mueller’s office accused Manafort, who is out on bail, of trying to tamper with potential witnesses earlier this year, and asked a judge to consider jailing him before his trial.
.. Manafort secretly arranged for a group of former European officials, known as the Hapsburg group, to lobby inside the United States on his clients’ behalf, and that Manafort didn’t disclose this activity on federal disclosure forms.
.. The court filing states that Manafort was trying to get the witness to lie on his behalf: “Person D1 has told the government that he understood Manafort’s outreach to be an effort to ‘suborn perjury,’ because person D1 knew that the Hapsburg group worked in the United States—not just Europe.”
.. “Persons D1 and D2 both preserved the messages they received from Manafort and Person A”—Manafort’s longtime associate—“which were sent on encrypted applications, and have provided them to the government.”
.. Manafort’s actions seem brazen or desperate, or perhaps both.
.. On Monday night, reporters identified Person A as Konstantin Kilimnik, a Ukrainian with Russian citizenship, who once worked for Manafort’s consulting firm.
.. His name came up last year, when Mueller’s team claimed he helped edit an op-ed for a Kiev newspaper in coöperation with Manafort.
.. The special counsel said that this op-ed violated a gag order that had been placed on Manafort.
.. leaving Manafort to face the prospect of a trial in Virginia next month, followed by another one, in Washington, D.C., in September.
.. Neither did Trump—but he didn’t need to. He had already tried to run as far as possible from his former campaign chairman.
.. Now, like everyone else, he will watch what happens next in court, and see if Manafort becomes a coöperating witness.
According to Comey’s account in a new memoir, Trump “strongly denied the allegations, asking — rhetorically, I assumed — whether he seemed like a guy who needed the service of prostitutes. He then began discussing cases where women had accused him of sexual assault, a subject I had not raised. He mentioned a number of women, and seemed to have memorized their allegations.”
The January 2017 conversation at Trump Tower in Manhattan “teetered toward disaster” — until “I pulled the tool from my bag: ‘We are not investigating you, sir.’ That seemed to quiet him,” Comey writes.
Trump did not stay quiet for long. Comey describes Trump as having been obsessed with the prostitutes portion of the infamous dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, raising it at least four times with the FBI head.
.. Trump offered varying explanations to convince Comey it was not true. “I’m a germaphobe,” Trump told him in a follow-up call on Jan. 11, 2017, according to Comey’s account. “There’s no way I would let people pee on each other around me. No way.” Later, the president asked what could be done to “lift the cloud” because it was so painful for first lady Melania Trump.
.. In his memoir, Comey paints a devastating portrait of a president who built “a cocoon of alternative reality that he was busily wrapping around all of us.” Comey describes Trump as a congenital liar and unethical leader, devoid of human emotion and driven by personal ego.
.. Interacting with Trump, Comey writes, gave him “flashbacks to my earlier career as a prosecutor against the Mob.
- The silent circle of assent.
- The boss in complete control.
- The loyalty oaths.
- The us-versus-them worldview.
- The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and above the truth.”
.. The result, in Comey’s telling, is “the forest fire that is the Trump presidency.”
.. “You can’t be kicked out of the room so he can talk to me alone,” Comey told Sessions, according to the book. “You have to be between me and the president.”
.. “Sessions just cast his eyes down at the table, and they darted quickly back and forth, side to side. He said nothing. I read in his posture and face a message that he would not be able to help me.”
.. Comey delivers an indirect but unmistakable rebuke of the GOP’s congressional leaders as well: “It is also wrong to stand idly by, or worse, to stay silent when you know better, while a president brazenly seeks to undermine public confidence in law enforcement institutions that were established to keep our leaders in check.”
.. “I have one perspective on the behavior I saw, which while disturbing and violating basic norms of ethical leadership, may fall short of being illegal,” he writes.
.. “They lose the ability to distinguish between what’s true and what’s not,” Comey writes. “They surround themselves with other liars . . . Perks and access are given to those willing to lie and tolerate lies. This creates a culture, which becomes an entire way of life.”
.. Comey also writes that in a post-election briefing for senators, then-Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) confronted him about “what you did to Hillary Clinton.” Comey responded, “I did my best with the facts before me.” A teary-eyed Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) grabbed him by the hand afterward and said, “I know you. You were in an impossible position,” Comey writes.
.. Comey is critical of then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, saying she had a “tortured half-out, half-in approach” to the Clinton investigation and that he considered calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor.
.. “As he extended his hand,” Comey adds, “I made a mental note to check its size. It was smaller than mine, but did not seem unusually so.”
.. Comey recalls being struck that neither Trump nor his advisers asked about the future Russian threat, nor how the United States might prepare to meet it. Rather, he writes, they focused on “how they could spin what we’d just told them.”
.. “I decided not to tell him that the activity alleged did not seem to require either an overnight stay or even being in proximity to the participants,” Comey writes. “In fact, though I didn’t know for sure, I imagined the presidential suite of the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow was large enough for a germaphobe to be at a safe distance from the activity.”
.. Comey writes that he believed Trump was trying “to establish a patronage relationship,” and that he said: “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.”
.. Trump broke the standoff by turning to other topics, Comey writes, speaking in torrents, “like an oral jigsaw puzzle,” about the size of his inauguration crowd, his free media coverage and the viciousness of the campaign. He talked about the Clinton email investigation as in three phases, as if it were a television series: “Comey One,” “Comey Two” and “Comey Three.” Trump also tried to convince Comey that he had not mocked disabled New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski at a campaign rally, and then turned to the detailed allegations of sexual assault against him.
“There was no way he groped that lady sitting next to him on the airplane, he insisted,” Comey writes. “And the idea that he grabbed a porn star and offered her money to come to his room was preposterous.”
.. And then Trump brought up “the golden showers thing,” Comey writes. The president told him that “it bothered him if there was ‘even a one percent chance’ his wife, Melania, thought it was true.” Comey writes that Trump told him to consider having the FBI investigate the prostitutes allegation to “prove it was a lie.”
.. As the dinner concluded, Trump returned to the issue of loyalty.
“I need loyalty,” Trump tells Comey, according to the book.
“You will always get honesty from me,” Comey replies.
“That’s what I want, honest loyalty,” Trump said, reaching what Comey writes was “some sort of ‘deal’ in which we were both winners.”.. “But he’s a killer,” O’Reilly told Trump.The president’s reply: “There are a ton of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country’s so innocent?”
Trump fumed to Comey about the media criticism he received.
“I gave a good answer,” Trump said, according to Comey. “Really, it was a great answer. I gave a really great answer.”
Trump sought validation: “You think it was a great answer, right?”
Comey replied, “We aren’t the kind of killers that Putin is.”
Trump apparently did not take the correction well. Comey writes that the president’s eyes changed and his jaw tightened, and Priebus escorted him out.
.. Comey describes soon receiving an “emotional call” from Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly.
“He said he was sick about my firing and that he intended to quit in protest,” Comey writes. “He said he didn’t want to work for dishonorable people who would treat someone like me in such a manner. I urged Kelly not to do that, arguing that the country needed principled people around this president. Especially this president.”
Kelly did not resign. Two and a half months later, he was named White House chief of staff.
‘You won’t be safe anywhere, even if you’re in Britain’
The nerve agent attack on former Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter sends a powerful message to the rest of the world: the assassins aren’t playing by the rules.
.. Still, if the Russian government really was responsible, why use a nerve agent that could so easily be traced back to them? “They’ve had plenty of opportunities to kill Skripal,” says Michael Kofman, an expert on Russian military affairs at the nonprofit research organization CNA. “And there are, frankly, a myriad of much simpler and more practical ways of doing it.”
But using chemical weapons is about more than just killing. These taboo weapons are instruments of terror, and their use is designed to send a message to the world: that the power behind the attack — Russia, according to the UK — doesn’t think anyone else is ruthless enough to retaliate effectively. And to others who might consider betraying Russia to foreign powers, it’s that snitches get more than stitches — they get murdered.
.. Using Novichok as a calling card could be a way of saying that Russia doesn’t care about looking guilty because whatever retaliation the UK and the West might muster isn’t frightening enough. After all, an in-kind response is off the table
.. If only one side is willing to be ruthless, it changes the rules of the game. This “etiquette of espionage,” for example, held that former spies were off limits for assassination attempts
.. And there’s an international treaty against using chemical weapons, so using them for assassination attempts on foreign soil are beyond the pale. “They do things like this intentionally to show that they in no way will be limited by what are considered to be established rules and norms of behavior,”
.. That message is also aimed at anyone considering telling Russia’s secrets to foreign powers, Kimmage says. “One very clear message is ‘If you betray us, we will kill you’ to put it into blunt, mafia-like terms,” he says. “‘You won’t be safe anywhere, even if you’re in Britain.’” The attempted murder of Sergei Skripal made an example out of him, and the theatrical method ensured that the press picked up the message and distributed it around the globe.
.. “The threat of chemical weapons not only endures in the 21st century, but is spreading.” In the last few years, the Assad regime unleashed chemical weapons on civilians in Syria; ISIS used mustard gas in Syria and Iraq; state-sponsored assassins used the nerve agent VX to kill Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-un’s half-brother. And now, a chemical weapon made for the battlefield was used in a UK cathedral town, in the attempted murder of a UK citizen.
Vestergaard writes: “It seems the chemical peace is not just broken; it is shattered.”