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.
- Clinton joined with Russia in an agreement to . . . wait for it . . . protect Ukraine.
- Bush looked Putin in the eye, got a “sense of his soul,” and found him “straightforward and trustworthy” — so much so that
- his State Department regarded Russia as a “strategic partner” that was going to help us with Iran (by helping it develop nuclear power!) .
- . . while Russia annexed parts of Georgia.
- Then came Obama’s “Russia Reset” — more “partnering” on Iran,
- ushering Moscow into the World Trade Organization,
- 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) . . .
- while Russia backed Assad and the Iranian mullahs,
- annexed Crimea,
- stoked civil war in eastern Ukraine, and
- conducted cyber attacks on our election system.
The billionaire financier Tom Barrack was caught in a bind.
.. Mr. Trump’s outspoken hostility to Muslims — epitomized by his call for a ban on Muslim immigrants — was offending the Persian Gulf princes Mr. Barrack had depended on for decades as investors and buyers.
.. Mr. Barrack, a longtime friend who had done business with the ambassador, assured him that Mr. Trump understood the Persian Gulf perspective. “He also has joint ventures in the U.A.E.!” Mr. Barrack wrote in an email on April 26.
.. During the Trump campaign, Mr. Barrack was a top fund-raiser and trusted gatekeeper who opened communications with the Emiratis and Saudis, recommended that the candidate bring on Paul Manafort as campaign manager — and then tried to arrange a secret meeting between Mr. Manafort and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.
.. Investigators interviewed him in December but asked questions almost exclusively about Mr. Manafort and his associate Rick Gates
.. he has said he rebuffed offers to become treasury secretary or ambassador to Mexico.
.. He sought a role as a special envoy for Middle East economic development
.. Mr. Barrack’s company, known as Colony NorthStar since a merger last year, has raised more than $7 billion in investments since Mr. Trump won the nomination, and 24 percent of that money has come from the Persian Gulf — all from either the U.A.E. or Saudi Arabia
.. Mr. Barrack played as a matchmaker between Mr. Trump and the Persian Gulf princes.
.. “He is the only person I know who the president speaks to as a peer,” said Roger Stone, a veteran Republican operative who has known both men for decades. “Barrack is to Trump as Bebe Rebozo was to Nixon, which is the best friend,”
.. By 2010, he had acquired $70 million of the debt owed by Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, on his troubled $1.8 billion purchase of a skyscraper at 666 Fifth Avenue in New York. After a call from Mr. Trump, Mr. Barrack was among a group of lenders who agreed to reduce Mr. Kushner’s obligations to keep him out of bankruptcy.
.. Thomas J. Barrack Jr. and Donald J. Trump first met in the 1980s, and Mr. Barrack got the better of the encounters. He negotiated Mr. Trump into overpaying for two famous assets: a one-fifth stake in the New York department store chain Alexander’s in 1985, and the entire Plaza Hotel in 1988. Mr. Trump paid about $410 million for the Plaza and later lost both properties to creditors.
.. But Mr. Barrack nonetheless parlayed the deals into a lasting friendship, in part by flattering Mr. Trump about his skill as a negotiator.
“He played me like a Steinway piano,” Mr. Barrack recounted in a speech at the Republican convention.
.. people who know him well say he still tells new acquaintances that he is truly honored to meet them, cheerfully doling out superlatives like “first-class,” “amazing” and “brilliant.” He invariably tells the story of his own success as a parable about luck and perseverance, never about talent.
.. He grew up speaking Arabic as the son of Lebanese immigrants to Los Angeles
.. Mr. Barrack wrote back that Mr. Trump was “the king of hyperbole.”
.. “We can turn him to prudence,” Mr. Barrack wrote in an email. “He needs a few really smart Arab minds to whom he can confer — u r at the top of that list!”
.. Mr. Barrack had befriended Mr. Manafort in the 1970s, when they were both living in Beirut and working for Saudi interests.
.. Early in 2016, when Mr. Trump faced the prospect of a contested nomination fight at the Republican convention, Mr. Barrack had recommended Mr. Manafort for the job of campaign manager. “The most experienced and lethal of managers” and “a killer,” Mr. Barrack called him in a letter to Mr. Trump.
.. The Saudi prince had tried to reach the Trump campaign through “a midlevel person” at the rival private equity giant Blackstone
.. Mr. Barrack forwarded to the ambassador a message from Mr. Manafort with a “clarification” that modulated Mr. Trump’s call for a Muslim ban.
.. Mr. Barrack informed Ambassador Otaiba that the Trump team had also removed a proposed Republican platform provision inserted to “embarrass” Saudi Arabia. The provision had called for the release of redacted pages about the kingdom in a report on the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
.. When those two states imposed an embargo on their neighbor Qatar — home to a major United States air base — Mr. Trump broke with his own administration to throw his weight squarely behind the Saudis and Emiratis.
.. Until recently, Mr. Barrack’s most prominent Gulf customers were neither the Emiratis nor the Saudis — but their bitter rivals the Qataris
.. None of the Gulf investments that Mr. Barrack’s company has brought in since Mr. Trump’s nomination have come from Qatar.
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.
May had a “very simple message” for the Kremlin. “We know what you were doing and you will not succeed,” she said, “because you underestimate the resilience of our democracies, the enduring attraction of free and open societies, and the commitment of Western nations to the alliances that bind us.”
Trump’s message to the Kremlin is simple, too: Do what you want.
.. He believes President Vladimir Putin is “sincere” in denying Russian attempts to meddle in the American elections ..
.. Far from denouncing Putin’s continuous assaults on human rights and free speech in Russia, Trump has praised him as being a better leader than Obama.
.. Contrast Trump’s behavior not just with May’s, but also that of Ronald Reagan, who was viscerally opposed to Communism and entered office determined to bring down the Soviet empire.
.. In February, when Bill O’Reilly pointed out to Trump that Putin is “a killer,” the president replied: “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country’s so innocent?”