President Trump’s efforts to hide his conversations with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and new details about the F.B.I. inquiry into his ties to Moscow have intensified debate over his relationship with Russia, adding fuel to Democrats’ budding investigations of his presidency and potentially setting up a clash between the White House and Congress
.. Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, who now leads the Intelligence Committee as part of the new Democratic House majority, implored his Republican colleagues Sunday to support his effort to obtain notes or testimony from the interpreter in one of the private meetings between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin.
“Will they join us now?” Mr. Schiff wrote on Twitter. “Shouldn’t we find out whether our president is really putting ‘America first?’”
The administration appears unlikely to acquiesce to such a demand without a fight.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly withheld details of his conversations with Mr. Putin, according to current and former American officials, a practice that has left officials blind to the dynamic between the two leaders and intensified questions within the administration over the president’s actions... On Sunday, congressional Democrats said the steps Mr. Trump took to keep his conversations secret brought forth uncomfortable questions about the relations between the two men and why the American president echoed some of Mr. Putin’s positions.
“Why is he so chummy with Vladimir Putin, this man who is a former K.G.B. agent, never been a friend to the United States, invaded our allies, threatens us around the world and tries his damnedest to undermine our elections?” Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, said on ABC’s “This Week.” “Why is this President Trump’s best buddy? I don’t get it.”
Mr. Trump went so far as to take the notes from the interpreter who worked with him during a private meeting with Mr. Putin at the 2017 Group of 20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany... A former senior administration official said a number of top figures in the administration sought in the hours and days after the meeting to find out details of what Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin had discussed. But Mr. Trump waved off their queries, leaving the officials to rely solely on a brief readout that Rex W. Tillerson, the secretary of state at the time, had provided to the news media, according to the former official.
.. Several administration officials asked the interpreter what had been discussed. But the interpreter told them that the president had taken the notes after the meeting, and had instructed the translator not to discuss the meeting, the former official said...Mr. Trump’s failure to allow other officials into the room or share notes of the meeting has become something of a Rorschach test inside the government.
For opponents of the president, there are no innocent explanations for Mr. Trump’s actions, which are possible evidence that Mr. Trump has colluded with Russia, a question at the heart of the special counsel inquiry. For supporters, Mr. Trump’s actions are evidence that he must go to extreme lengths to prevent leaks and is a nontraditional politician pursuing new approaches to old problems.
Republicans defended Mr. Trump on Sunday. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that any notion the president was a threat to American security “is absolutely ludicrous.”
Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House minority leader, defended Mr. Trump’s choice to talk privately with Mr. Putin or other leaders.
“I know what the president likes to do,” Mr. McCarthy said on “Face the Nation.” “He likes to create a personal relationship, build that relationship, even rebuild that relationship, like he does with other world leaders around.”.. Mr. Mueller asked Mr. Trump whether he had any discussions during the campaign about any meetings with Mr. Putin and whether he spoke to others about American sanctions against Russia... The revelation about the earlier F.B.I. counterintelligence investigation prompted Republicans to renew their criticism of the bureau.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and fierce defender of Mr. Trump, told Fox News he was going to ask Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, if the bureau had begun a counterintelligence investigation of Mr. Trump.
Mr. Graham said there should be checks inside the bureau to prevent such an investigation.
“I find it astonishing, and to me, it tells me a lot about the people running the F.B.I.,” Mr. Graham said. “I don’t trust them as far as I throw them.”.. Without official detailed notes about Mr. Trump’s conversations, senior officials in the administration have had to rely on intelligence reports about what the Russians were saying to one another after the meeting. There are limits to what officials could glean from the intelligence, current and former officials said. And the Russians could hardly be considered reliable narrators, even with one another.
While that frustrated some in the government, the former senior administration official said he was not unsympathetic to Mr. Trump’s predicament. The official said the president feared that whatever he said to Mr. Putin would be twisted by critics.
But because access to meetings and transcripts was tightened after early leaks, some officials believed Mr. Trump’s decision to take the notes was too extreme and raised questions about what he was trying to keep private, the former official said.
The special counsel is connecting the dots and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture for the president.a flurry of recent activity this past week all points in the same direction: Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation will likely implicate the president, his campaign, and his close associates in aiding and abetting a Russian conspiracy against the United States to undermine the 2016 election.First, Mueller has clearly identified collusion in the
- efforts of Trump aides and associates to contact WikiLeaks. In a draft plea agreement provided to conservative operative Jerome Corsi, Mueller details how Roger Stone, who the special counsel notes was in frequent contact with Donald Trump and senior campaign officials, directed Corsi to connect with WikiLeaks about the trove of stolen materials it received from Russia.
- Corsi subsequently communicated WikiLeaks’ release plan back to Stone, and
- the Trump campaign built its final message around the email release. That is collusion.
Third, Mueller has found evidence that Trump was compromised by a hostile foreign power during the election. In his plea deal, Cohen revealed that Trump had repeatedly lied to voters about the then-candidate’s financial ties to Russia. While Trump claimed during the campaign to have no business dealings with Russia, he was negotiating a wildly lucrative business deal not simply with Russian businessmen, but also involving with the Kremlin itself. Trump’s team even reportedly tried to bribe Russian President Vladimir Putin by offering him a $50 million penthouse.
Worse, Russia not only knew that Trump was lying, but when investigators first started looking into this deal, the Kremlin helped Trump cover up what really happened. That made Trump doubly compromised: first, because he was eager to get the financial payout and second because Russia had evidence he was lying to the American people—evidence they could have held over Trump by threatening to reveal at any time.
Since the president’s embarrassing performance at the Helsinki summit with Vladimir Putin—when he kowtowed to a foreign adversary rather than stand up for American interests—there has been open speculation about what leverage the Kremlin has over him. Now we know at least part of the picture, raising the specter of what other information Putin has, and how he is using it to influence Trump’s policy decisions.
Fourth, we know that Trump has engaged in an increasingly brazen attempt to cover up his actions: installing a political crony to head the Department of Justice by potentially illegal means in an effort to shut down the investigation; using his former campaign chairman and convicted criminal Paul Manafort to find out information about Mueller’s investigation; and even appearing to offer Manafort a pardon if he helps him obstruct the Russia probe. These may be components of an obstruction of justice case, but they also provide strongly circumstantial data points as to how serious Trump himself views the allegations of collusion being levelled against him.
the enmity between the two men was long-standing and bitter. After the Helsinki summit, earlier this year, McCain called Trump’s joint press conference with Vladimir Putin “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American President in memory.” If, after all this acrimony, Trump had said something positive about McCain, it would have rung hollow.
But messing with the flag that flies above the White House was different. The flag represents the United States and the office of the Presidency, not Trump personally. After the death of a prominent U.S. politician, such as a former President or prominent senator, it is standard practice for the sitting President to issue a proclamation ordering the flag to be lowered to half-staff until the burial, which, in this case, will be next Sunday.
Whatever one thinks of McCain’s political views, his record—five and a half years in a Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camp, thirty-one years in the Senate, and two Presidential bids—surely merited such an honor. As Mark Knoller, of CBS News, noted on Monday morning, Trump failed to order the proclamation. Evidently, there is no limit to his smallness.
The outcry was immediate and broad-based, and, in this instance, Trump backed down.
.. Who persuaded Trump to change course? Was there a rebellion in the West Wing? The initial reports about the reversal didn’t say. But it was clear that the last thing the White House needs right now is another public-relations disaster. Although McCain’s death knocked the saga of Michael Cohen’s guilty plea off the front pages, at least temporarily, the past week was a disaster for the White House, and a reminder that Trump’s pettiness is only exceeded by his deceitfulness. Is there anybody in the entire country who now believes anything he says about the payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal that Cohen helped orchestrate?
.. For habitual liars, telling untruths is “partly practice and partly habit,” William Hazlitt once wrote. “It requires an effort in them to speak truth.” Trump seldom makes the exertion.
.. Some of Trump’s defenders are complaining that the Feds, having failed to nail the President on the charge of conspiring with Russia to influence the 2016 election, are now “trying to Al Capone the President”—that is, get him on a technicality. Others in the Trump camp are falling back on the legal argument that a sitting President can’t be indicted, or that Hillary Clinton’s campaign also violated campaign laws. But, apart from Trump himself, virtually nobody seems to be claiming that he didn’t direct the payoffs.
.. Here’s a quick reminder of the rap sheet. Turning a blind eye to money laundering at his New Jersey casinos. Operating a bogus university that bilked middle-income seniors out of their retirement savings. Stiffing his suppliers as a matter of course. Selling condos to Russians and other rich foreigners who may well have been looking to launder hot money. Entering franchising deals with Eastern European oligarchs and other shady characters. For decades, Trump has run roughshod over laws and regulations.
To protect himself from whistle-blowers, financial cops, and plaintiffs, Trump relied on nondisclosure agreements, lax enforcement, and his reputation for uncompromising litigiousness.
As president, Donald Trump has uttered more than 4,000 falsehoods or misleading statements. And the spokespeople and advisers tasked with squaring Trump’s version of reality with actual reality must often contort themselves accordingly.
.. On Sunday, they tried a couple of new tacks: asserting that “facts develop” and saying that the president “misspoke” — while saying something he has said dozens of times.
.. George Stephanopoulos challenged the president’s personal attorney Jay Sekulow on two past, disproven assurances that Trump hadn’t authored the initial, misleading statement about it. (That statement said the meeting was “primarily” about the adoption of Russian children.)
.. Facts might have “developed” from Sekulow’s perspective, but the actual events never changed. Either Trump didn’t tell him the truth about his role in drafting that statement, or Sekulow and Sanders offered assurances that were basically made-up. That “bad information” came from somewhere — either Trump or thin air.
.. John Bolton offered another extremely hard-to-stomach explanation for Trump’s soft stance toward Vladimir Putin on Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election, saying Trump merely “misspoke”:
.. why not stand there right alongside Putin, with the whole world watching and say, we are not going to stand for any more meddling?
BOLTON: Well, as the president said, he misspoke.
.. Trump has also said that he misspoke at the news conference with Putin — but not at this juncture. He said that when he said “I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia, he meant to say wouldn’t instead.
As the video clip Wallace played shows, that was hardly the only moment in the joint news conference with Putin in which Trump played down the idea that Russia interfered. Bolton was responding not to Trump saying “I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia but to his insistence that “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.” Trump has never said he misspoke about that.
.. And that really gives lie to this whole thing. Trump has downplayed Putin’s interference so many times over the past 18 months that he would have had to be misspeaking almost constantly. It’s clear what he truly believes or at least wants to convey — even if aides can occasionally reel him back in slightly.
.. each and every one of them also has the side effect of undermining the credibility of the spokespeople who, in neither of these cases, must truly believe the things they are saying.
For Republicans lost inside the Trump fun house, a message: Run on his biggest victory.
In mid-June, the country stopped what it was doing to transfix for days over the spectacle of children separated from their parents in Texas. You can argue about the policy merits, but like a curved mirror it had one effect: Everyone involved looked smaller.
Four weeks later, the news cycle pumped out days of disorienting political optics around the mysterious press conference Mr. Trump conducted after his private meeting with Vladimir Putin. A week later, Mr. Trump said he would invite Mr. Putin to Washington amid the election. Then he said he wouldn’t, until next year.
In recent days, Mr. Trump has erected more mirrors for Republicans to navigate. On Sunday, he tweeted he would shut down the government before the election. Privately, he says he won’t.
.. Steve Bannon is demanding that Republicans run on every jot or tweeted tittle in the Trump agenda. But only Donald Trump himself could run for re-election on all this stuff simultaneously. For Republican candidates in competitive races—meaning the races in which 2 or 3 percentage points in the wrong direction means they lose the election and control of the House—the way forward requires simplicity and clarity, not a thousand points of rage.
A message to Republicans lost in the Trump fun house: Run on something solid. Run on something you understand. Join yourself at the hip with the greatest accomplishment of Donald Trump’s presidency. Run on America’s booming economy. (Footnote: For put-off GOP voters who need more reason to show up, the next 30 years of the Gorsuch-Kavanaugh court was why they signed on for this ride in 2016.)
.. there were 82 known “contacts between the Trump team and Russia-linked operatives.”
.. the June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower between the Trump campaign high command and Kremlin emissaries promising dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of the Kremlin’s “support for Mr. Trump.” “If it’s what you say, I love it,” Donald Trump Jr. gushed. When this was revealed last summer, President Trump personally orchestrated an attempted coverup by claiming the meeting was about adoptions.
This was shortly after Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey to stop the investigation of “this Russia thing,” as he put it in an interview with “NBC Nightly News” — showing just how much he fears this inquiry.
.. Trump’s deputy campaign manager, Rick Gates, was in touch in 2016 with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate with “ties to Russian intelligence.” Campaign chairman
Paul Manafort, who has a long history of representing Russian interests and was running the campaign for no pay, also reportedly met with Kilimnik in 2016.
Manafort was also in contact with the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska (whom he owed at least $10 million) , offering him “private briefings” that would no doubt have been instantly conveyed to Putin.
.. Russians first tried to hack into Clinton’s email on July 27, 2016, hours after Trump asked them to do just that (“Russia, if you’re listening”).
.. Both Stone and Donald Trump Jr. were also in contact with WikiLeaks, the Russians’ conduit for releasing stolen emails. Surely it is no mere coincidence that Stone predicted on Aug. 21, 2016 — nearly seven weeks before Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s stolen emails were released — that “it will soon [be] Podesta’s time in the barrel.”
.. the indictment also reveals that the Russians stole not just emails but also the data analytics Democrats used to run their campaign. This happened in September 2016. A few weeks later, the Trump campaign shifted its “datadriven” strategy to focus on the states that would provide the margin of victory, raising the question of whether it benefited from stolen Democratic data.
.. The application, approved by four Republican judges, notes that “the FBI believes that the Russian Government’s efforts are being coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated with Candidate #1’s [Trump’s] campaign.” It also says that Putin aide Igor Diveykin “had met secretly with Page and that their agenda for the meeting included Diveykin raising
a dossier or ‘kompromat’ that the Kremlin possessed on Candidate #2 [Clinton] and the possibility of it being released to Candidate #1’s campaign.”
.. Helsinki, where Trump refused to criticize Putin and insisted on meeting with him alone for two hours. Why doesn’t Trump want his own aides in the room when he talks with Putin? What does he have to hide?
.. Former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. , among others, suspects that Putin has “something” on Trump — perhaps evidence of financial wrongdoing. But, by now, any such “kompromat” could well include the help that Russia provided in 2016. Trump certainly gives the impression that he knows how much he owes Russia and how important it is to repay that debt lest Putin release the evidence that might bring him down. And the
Putin Republicans give the impression that they couldn’t care less if the president plotted to win power with help from a hostile foreign state.
Moments before the highly anticipated press conference between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, a credentialed member of the media holding a sign reading “Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty” was kicked out of the room inside the Presidential Palace in Helsinki. He was later identified as Sam Husseini, the communications director of a Washington non-profit who was covering the Trump-Putin summit in Finland on behalf of the magazine The Nation.
Video of the incident shows Husseini holding the sign before security quickly grabbed him and forcibly took him out of the venue.
A journalist who heckled other members of the press and waved a sign that said “nuclear weapon treaty” was confronted by security detail and escorted out of press conference, @weijia Jiang reports from Helsinki https://t.co/ayZoKGvWxk pic.twitter.com/iHGnzvVT4I
— CBS News (@CBSNews) July 16, 2018
Husseini was removed twice, initially cooperating with security agents and exiting the media area. He came back, however, and brandished a sheet of paper with writing on it, at which point he was removed by force.