Trump Bites on Putin’s ‘Incredible Offer’

But he’s not the first president to foolishly place his trust in the Russian despot.

President Trump did get one thing right on Monday in Helsinki: Vladimir Putin did make an “incredible offer.”

.. But he’s not the first president to foolishly place his trust in the Russian despot.

President Trump did get one thing right on Monday in Helsinki: Vladimir Putin did make an “incredible offer.”

.. having the indictment, they must have calculated, would strengthen Trump’s hand in the confrontation.

.. Of all the president’s mind-boggling utterances at the press conference, I found this the most stunning.

.. One hoped that Trump’s election would end Obama’s hallmark depictions of moral equivalence between America and thug countries. Yet here’s how the president, at the start of his term, defended Putin when Bill O’Reilly called him a “killer”: “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?

.. when has this president ever been restrained by a presidential norm?

.. the most alarming part of the presser was the palpable satisfaction the president took in describing Putin’s “incredible” proposal. Trump is desperate to show that his entreaties to the Russian despot — amid the “collusion” controversy and against the better judgment of his skeptical advisers and supporters — could bear real fruit. It made him ripe to get rolled.

.. The proposal to invite Mueller to Moscow brought to mind others who’ve tried to investigate Putin’s regime on Russian soil. There is, of course, Sergei Magnitsky, who exposed the regime’s $230 million fraud only to be clubbed to death with rubber batons in a Russian prison — Putin said he must have had a heart attack.

.. Then there is Nikolai Gorokhov, a lawyer for the Magnitsky family who has been investigating regime involvement in the fraud. He was slated to testify in a U.S. Justice Department lawsuit against Prevezon, a company controlled by Putin cronies that is implicated in the fraud. But then, somehow, Gorokhov “accidentally” fell from the fourth-floor balcony of a Moscow apartment building.

.. Truth be told, the prospect of hosting Mueller’s investigators in his accident-prone country interests Putin less than the “reciprocity” he has in mind.

.. This is classic Putin. The former KGB agent takes every Western misstep as a precedent, to be contorted and pushed to maximum advantage. As we’ve observed over the years, for example, the Kremlin has rationalized its territorial aggression against former Soviet satellites by relying on U.S. spearheading — over Russian objections — of Kosovo’s secession from Serbia.

.. While positing lip-service denials that he meddled in our 2016 election, Putin implies that we had it coming after what he claims was Obama-administration interference in Russia’s 2011 parliamentary elections

.. if our government does not see how Russia (like other rogue nations) is certain to exploit the precedent the Justice Department has set by indicting foreign officials for actions taken on their government’s behalf, we are in for a rude awakening

.. Naturally, Putin expects us to help him investigate Bill Browder. If you think the word “collusion” makes Trump crazy, try uttering the word “Browder” around Putin

.. the Russian dictator repeated his standing allegation that Browder and his associates have evaded taxes on over a billion dollars in Russian income. He further claimed that “they sent a huge amount — $400 million — as a contribution to the campaign of Hillary Clinton.” While this is outlandish, it reminds us of the purported dirt on Mrs. Clinton that Putin’s operatives sought to peddle to the Trump campaign in June 2016.

.. Natalia Veselnitskaya reportedly told Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort that Browder was involved in a tax-evasion scheme that implicated Clinton donors. This, she urged, was information that could be used to damage the Clinton campaign. Ms. Veselnitskaya also rehearsed the Kremlin’s rant against the Magnitsky legislation.

.. at least as far as what is publicly known, the Trump Tower meeting remains the closest brush that Trump has had with “collusion” — the narrative (indeed, the investigation) that has dogged his presidency. It is astonishing that the president would allow Putin to manipulate him into reviving that storyline.

.. Memo to DOJ: Expect Russia to issue indictments and international arrest warrants soon — as Putin said, it’s all about “reciprocity.”

.. The “incredible offer” that Putin hit Trump with — and that Trump was palpably thrown by — was not woven out of whole cloth. Did you know that the United States and the Russian Federation have a bilateral mutual-legal-assistance treaty? Yeah, it was negotiated by the Clinton administration and ratified by the Bush administration. The MLAT calls for us to cooperate when the Putin regime seeks to obtain testimony, interview subjects of investigations, locate and identify suspects, transfer persons held in custody, freeze assets — you name it.
.. It’s part of our government’s commitment to the notion that the law-enforcement processes of a constitutional, representative republic dedicated to the rule of law can seamlessly mesh with those of a gangster dictatorship whose idea of due process is deciding which nerve agent — polonium or novichok — is the punishment that fits the “crime.”

..  It enables Putin to pose as the leader of a normal, law-abiding regime that just wants to help Bob Mueller out and maybe ask Bill Browder a couple of questions — preferably out on the balcony.

  1. Clinton joined with Russia in an agreement to . . . wait for it . . . protect Ukraine.
  2. Bush looked Putin in the eye, got a “sense of his soul,” and found him “straightforward and trustworthy” — so much so that
  3. his State Department regarded Russia as a “strategic partner” that was going to help us with Iran (by helping it develop nuclear power!) .
  4. . . while Russia annexed parts of Georgia.
  5. Then came Obama’s “Russia Reset” — more “partnering” on Iran,
  6. ushering Moscow into the World Trade Organization,
  7. signing off on the Uranium One deal (and let’s not forget that cool $500,000 Russian payday for Bill Clinton and all those millions flowing into the Clinton Foundation) . . .
  8. while Russia backed Assad and the Iranian mullahs,
  9. annexed Crimea,
  10. stoked civil war in eastern Ukraine, and
  11. conducted cyber attacks on our election system.

Scoop. Denial. Scoop confirmed. That’s business as usual for writers covering the Trump White House.

The New York Times had what appeared to be a big scoop earlier this month.President Trump, it reported, was considering shaking up the legal team advising him on the investigation conducted by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Within hours of the story’s publication, however, Trump himself threw cold water on the Times. He tweeted, “The Failing New York Times purposely wrote a false story stating that I am unhappy with my legal team on the Russia case and am going to add another lawyer to help out. Wrong. I am VERY happy with my lawyers, John Dowd, Ty Cobb and Jay Sekulow. They are doing a great job. . . . The writer of the story, Maggie Haberman, a Hillary flunky, knows nothing about me and is not given access.”

.. Last week, too, The Washington Post broke some news about a forthcoming shake-up among White House advisers. Trump had decided to remove national security adviser H.R. McMaster, the paper reported.

Within hours, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders rejected that very idea. “Just spoke to @POTUS and Gen. H.R. McMaster — contrary to reports they have a good working relationship and there are no changes” at the National Security Council, she tweeted.

.. “Unfortunately, this happens often enough that reporters have learned that we can’t trust the denials,” said Peter Baker

.. It all stems from him. People can focus on staff and I certainly have, but at the end of the day it’s the president who runs things this way and makes the choices to deny true stories and attempt to confuse people.”

During the post-election transition, for example, a spokesman denied a Washington Post report that Gen. Jim Mattis would be his nominee for secretary of defense; Trump confirmed it hours later at a public appearance.

In October, the White House denied a Post story that Trump would decertify the Iran nuclear agreement as not in the national interest. He ended up doing so.

.. Reporters say they believe Trump sometimes employs denials to maintain an image of orderly calm until it’s no longer possible to do so.

It could also be a delaying tactic, aimed at holding off a news report until the White House is ready to announce it.

.. “Even introducing something that turns out to be false into our information system means that it’s out there, and the vast majority of people will never hear the correction,”

.. It is the best tactic, actually, to introduce false information into the news ecosystem because most people will never notice that it has been corrected. If they do, they’ll find reasons to dismiss the correction as insignificant, leaving their underlying support intact.”

 

Trump has trouble finding attorneys as top Russia lawyer leaves legal team

President Trump, whose top attorney handling the Russia probe resigned Thursday, is struggling to find top-notch defense lawyers willing to represent him in the case, according to multiple Trump advisers familiar with the negotiations.

.. John Dowd, the president’s chief lawyer in handling the Mueller probe since last year, quit Thursday morning after several strategy disputes with the president, who ultimately lost confidence in the veteran lawyer

.. Dowd also had been negotiating the terms for the president to sit for an interview with Mueller’s team ..

.. The struggles are reminiscent of Trump’s difficulties in the spring of 2017 when the president was first seeking new attorneys to represent him in the Russia probe. He interviewed a half-dozen high-profile legal stars in the white-collar defense bar, including Flood, Brendan V. Sullivan Jr. and A.B. Culvahouse Jr.; all of them declined.

.. “These major law firms have spent millions of dollars on their image,” said one Trump adviser, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It’s political. They are saying that representing this president is just too controversial.”

.. Aside from being controversial, aides said Trump has proved to be a difficult client, as Dowd learned firsthand.

.. Dowd complained to colleagues that Trump had ignored his advice and tweeted attacks on Mueller and other topics hours after Dowd and other advisers urged him not to

.. Dowd also said he was personally insulted by the president’s efforts to hire other lawyers. One person familiar with the dynamics said Trump frequently praised his legal team to their faces but criticized them when they were not around.

.. But privately, Dowd was “blindsided” when the president interviewed Flood and again when Trump announced he was adding conservative lawyer and attack-dog Joseph diGenova to the team last week.

.. One Trump adviser said the president berated Dowd for not doing enough to, in the president’s view, highlight corruption and political bias in the FBI to undercut the legitimacy of the Mueller probe. Trump told Dowd he wanted to tweet that the firing of deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe was another reason the Mueller probe should be shut down, the adviser said.

.. At 10 a.m. Thursday, Dowd resigned without consulting Trump ..

.. Aides said they were unsuccessful in asking him to hold off until they could confer with the president and prepare a statement.

.. A huge bone of contention between Trump and his team has been over testifying in front of Mueller’s team, these people said. Trump wants to do so, thinking he can talk his way out of it, while his lawyers are far more wary,

.. Dowd and Marc Kasowitz, Trump’s former lawyer whom he still occasionally consults, have told Trump he could damage himself by testifying. His chief White House counsel, Donald McGahn, also has chafed at Trump granting an interview and has criticized others on the team.

.. Trump has groused to friends and aides that he thinks his lawyers are weak and that his New York attorneys are tougher and better.

Earlier this month, Trump dubbed news reports of trouble on his legal team as inaccurate.

“The Failing New York Times purposely wrote a false story stating that I am unhappy with my legal team on the Russia case and am going to add another lawyer to help out,” Trump tweeted March 11. “Wrong. I am VERY happy with my lawyers, John Dowd, Ty Cobb and Jay Sekulow. They are doing a great job.

.. Eight days later, the president hired diGenova, and Dowd is now off the team.

 

Trump boasts he made up trade facts in meeting with Trudeau

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis says the United States actually has a trade surplus of US$7.7-billion with Canada. The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) – the agency charged with renegotiating NAFTA – calculates the United States’ advantage as being even greater, at US$12.5-billion. According to the USTR, Canada runs a surplus in the trade of goods but the United States more than makes up for it with a surplus in the services sector.

.. The President has long been the focus of fact-checkers – a tally by the Washington Post found more than 2,000 false statements since he took office – but it is rare for him to admit that he does it. His book The Art of the Deal memorably described lying as “truthful hyperbole.”

“It’s an embarrassment to the United States for the President to be lying to other countries. There are a lot of issues where the United States has made commitments to other countries; if they can’t have confidence in the word of the President, they can’t have confidence in those commitments,” said Jordan Tama, a foreign-policy expert at American University in Washington.

Mr. Trump is preparing for sensitive talks with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un – a high-stakes gambit aimed at avoiding a nuclear confrontation.

Roland Paris, Mr. Trudeau’s former foreign-policy adviser and now a professor of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa, said world leaders learned a while ago to be careful when interpreting what Mr. Trump says and not to engage in a public spat with him.

Trump’s language is a mish-mash of selective facts, contradictions and fabrications, but his actions are a lot more important than his words,” Prof. Paris said. “I think that the Prime Minister has been handling the Canada-U.S. file very brightly and it has involved not publicly provoking a thin-skinned President.”

Mr. Trudeau’s shrewdness is, at least, one thing on which the President would agree. In the fundraising speech, he expressed some grudging admiration for Canada’s firmness at the NAFTA table, where Ottawa is fighting back against Mr. Trump’s protectionist demands.

“Canada,” Mr. Trump said, “they negotiate tougher than Mexico.”