Trump handed Merkel £300bn Nato invoice

International diplomacy Trump style.

Independent: Donald Trump printed out made-up £300bn Nato invoice and handed it to Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel will reportedly ignore Donald Trump’s attempts to extricate £300bn from Germany for what he deems to be owed contributions to Nato.

The US President is said to have had an “invoice” printed out outlining the sum estimated by his aides as covering Germany’s unpaid contributions for defence.

Said to be presented during private talks in Washington, the move has been met with criticism from German and Nato officials.

While the figure presented to the Germans was not revealed by either side, Nato countries pledged in 2014 to spend two per cent of their GDP on defence, something only a handful of nations – including the UK, Greece, Poland and Estonia – currently do.

But the bill has been backdated even further to 2002, the year Mrs Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, pledged to spend more on defence.

Mr Trump reportedly instructed aides to calculate how much German spending fell below two per cent over the past 12 years, then added interest.

Estimates suggest the total came to £300bn, with official figures citing the shortfall to be around £250bn plus £50bn in interest added on.

The Times quoted a German government minister as saying the move was “outrageous”.

If this is true it doesn’t look like a good start to Trump’s relationship with Merkel and Germany.

He has already talked about billing Mexico for the construction of his wall.

Doing business and doing international relationships may not work the same way.

Trump versus Ryan

Donald Trump initially blamed the House Democrats when he failed to get sufficient support to progress his health reform bill, despite Congress having a Republican majority.

Now it seems he may be targeting House Speaker Paul Ryan.  On Saturday (US time) Trump tweeted:

Hollywood Reporter: Judge Jeanine Pirro opened her show demanding that Ryan step down for his “failure” over Trump’s health care bill

The Fox News host kicked off her show with her “Opening Statement” segment, which called for Ryan to step down after the GOP’s health care bill failed to gain enough votes to continue.

“Paul Ryan needs to step down as speaker of the house,” Pirro said, beginning her show. “The reason? He failed to deliver the votes on his health care bill, the one trumpeted to repeal and replace Obamacare. The one that he had seven years to work on. The one he hid under lock and key in the basement of Congress. The one that had to be pulled to prevent the embarrassment of not having enough votes to pass.”

“But this bill didn’t just fail,” she continued. “It failed when Republicans had the House, the Senate, the White House.”

The network host assured viewers that she hasn’t spoken with Trump about the subject, but it seemed as though the president knew she would cover the issue on her show.

It certainly looks like Trump knew about this in advance. Of course that wouldn’t require direct contact between Trump and Pirro.

Breitbart have been campaigning against Ryan for quite a while. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Trump try and blame Ryan for the bill failure, he tends to avoid responsibility himself.

How many judges does Fox have on their shows?

Trump relaxed terms of engagement or just more aggression?

The possibility has arisen that terms of engagement relaxed after Donald Trump wanted more aggression in the Middle East may have caused a surge in civilian deaths in Syria.

NY Times: U.S. Investigating Mosul Strikes Said to Have Killed Up to 200 Civilians

The American-led military coalition in Iraq said Friday that it was investigating reports that scores of civilians — perhaps as many as 200, residents said — had been killed in recent American airstrikes in Mosul, the northern Iraqi city at the center of an offensive to drive out the Islamic State.

If confirmed, the series of airstrikes would rank among the highest civilian death tolls in an American air mission since the United States went to war in Iraq in 2003. And the reports of civilian deaths in Mosul came immediately after two recent incidents in Syria, where the coalition is also battling the Islamic State from the air, in which activists and local residents said dozens of civilians had been killed.

Taken together, the surge of reported civilian deaths raised questions about whether once-strict rules of engagement meant to minimize civilian casualties were being relaxed under the Trump administration, which has vowed to fight the Islamic State more aggressively.

American military officials insisted on Friday that the rules of engagement had not changed. They acknowledged, however, that American airstrikes in Syria and Iraq had been heavier in an effort to press the Islamic State on multiple fronts.

Whether the terms of engagement have changed or not more aggression (perhaps reinforced with the attitude of the President) and more attacks is almost certain to result in more mistakes and more civilian casualties.

It will be interesting to see how Trump handles the world exposure of more aggressive IS actions.

Comey: no evidence supporting Trump’s wiretap accusations

FBI Director James Comey has just appeared before the House Intelligence Committee.

On Donald Trump’s tweeted accusations that then-President Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower during the presidential election campaign:

“I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI”.

He also said that that the Justice Department had also looked for evidence to support Trump’s  allegation and couldn’t find any.

And the Director of the National Security Agency Mike Rogers strongly denied allegations repeated by the Trump administration that he’d asked GCHQ to spy on Mr Trump.

Comey declined to say whether the FBI was investigating the potential leak of classified information related to now resigned National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, but said that such a leak would be taken very seriously.

Comey  confirmed that the FBI was investigating if Russia had meddled in the presidential election, including investigating possible links between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

The official presidential Twitter account responded:

BBC Live: FBI: No evidence Obama wiretapped Trump

Summary

  1. FBI director Comey confirms investigation into alleged Russian meddling in US election and any Trump links
  2. The law enforcement chief says there is no evidence to support Trump’s claim that Obama wiretapped Trump
  3. The Trump administration says ‘nothing has changed’ and ‘there is NO EVIDENCE of Trump-Russia collusion’
  4. The NSA’s head strongly denies Trump administration claims that he asked Britain’s GCHQ to spy on Trump
  5. Democrats and Republicans, meanwhile, trade barbs at Senate hearing on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch

FBI Director James Comey confirmed that the FBI was investigating any possible co-ordination between the Trump campaign and Russia’s alleged efforts to influence the election outcome.

US intelligence chiefs have previously said only that they believed Russia aimed to favour Donald Trump’s candidacy.

Comey also said neither the FBI nor the Department of Justice had evidence to support Trump’s claims that his predecessor Barack Obama wiretapped his phones ahead of the election.

And the Director of the National Security Agency Mike Rogers strongly denied allegations repeated by the Trump administration that he’d asked GCHQ to spy on Mr Trump.

Rogers said that would violate both US law and international spy agreements.

Chris Wallace at Fox News:

Wallace said it was “pretty startling” to hear the FBI director confirm that the Trump campaign – including President Trump – is under FBI investigation.

He added that Comey also said that the FBI has “no information” to support Trump’s claims that he was wiretapped by the Obama administration during the presidential campaign.

“It’s been a bad day for the Trump White House,” Wallace said.

The tweet/debunk cycle continues

Donald Trump sulked during his media conference with Angela Merkel and waiting until he was in the ‘safety’ of his twittersphere before taking a swipe at Germany.

Trying to circumvent unfavourable media coverage by tweeting directly to his base audience is one thing.

But dirty diplomacy is another. He is looking like a gutless keyboard warrior.

And as has become common the challenges to his claims have flowed.

NZ Herald: German Defense Ministry contradicts Trump, says it doesn’t owe US money for NATO

President Donald Trump’s Saturday tweet accusing Germany of owing the United States “vast sums of money” for NATO might have been an attempt to put pressure on the European ally. But Berlin has rejected his claim while also questioning his understanding of NATO finances.

Yesterday, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen called the criticism “inaccurate,” without mentioning the president’s name.

“NATO does not have a debt account,” von der Leyen said, according to her ministry. In reality, NATO has only a small logistical budget, which relies on funding by all member states. The vast majority of NATO members’ total resources are managed domestically, however.

And:

The criticism echoed other experts, including former US ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder. “Trump’s comments misrepresent the way NATO functions,” Daalder told The Washington Post on Saturday. “The president keeps saying that we need to be paid by the Europeans for the fact that we have troops in Europe or provide defense there. But that’s not how it works.”

Trump is not  just gutless, he is also often inaccurate.

Trump’s disregard for words – and truth

Gezza: “From The Guardian. Worth quoting in full:”


Donald Trump’s disregard for words – and truth – is finally catching up with him

“The bizarre allegations did not come courtesy of Vladimir Putin. Their source was not a mayhem-spreading autocrat eager to drive a wedge between firm democratic allies. No, they came directly from the White House itself.

On Thursday, in a surreal news briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer amplified on the president’s claim that his predecessor in the Oval Office had wiretapped the phones of then-candidate Trump. Reading from statements made by a commentator on Fox News, Spicer claimed that Obama “didn’t use the NSA, he didn’t use the CIA, he didn’t use the FBI and he didn’t use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ’’ – the Government Communications Headquarters, the British intelligence agency.

The response from Britain has been a tad more vehement than what we’ve come to expect from our friends across the pond. “Complete garbage … rubbish,” said the former chairman of the British Parliament’s intelligence committee. “Nonsense … utterly ridiculous,” declared the GCHQ.

And while the White House, in effort to smooth deeply ruffled British feathers, has agreed not repeat the president’s scandalous claim, the president himself has assumed a characteristically more defiant stance. “We said nothing,” Trump insisted this afternoon at a joint White House news conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel. “All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn’t make an opinion on it.”

Anyone familiar with Trump will recognize this tactic. It is the same sleazy dodge he employed during the primaries in peddling a photo allegedly showing Ted Cruz’s father in the company of Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. Don’t ask me, ask the National Enquirer.

Incredibly, Trump has never had to pay a political price for his malign speech, shameless evasions and legion lies. To the contrary. By treating words as potent and weightless – potent, as tools to skewer opponents; and weightless, without lasting consequence – he greased his way to a spectacular political rise.

Until now. In the past three days, in the worlds of law and diplomacy, the president has been confronted with the consequences of his inflammatory speech. On Wednesday, Judge Derrick Watson issued a temporary restraining order blocking the administration’s revamped travel ban.

In concluding that the revised travel ban was “issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion,” Judge Watson did a shocking thing – he took the president at his word. Having heard the president call for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” Judge Watson did not accept the revised order’s quiet assurance that it “was not motivated by animus toward any religion.” Apparently a federal court will not let Trump unsay his earlier characterizations of the travel ban with the alacrity that Breitbart lets him unsay his touting of the birther myth.

The British are now trying to teach Trump a similar hard lesson. But Trump is a stubborn or dull pupil. In refusing to utter a word of regret, much less apology, he is sticking to his tried and true script. Apologies are recognitions of mistake and Trump by his own lights commits none.

And yet whether he acknowledges it or not, his words are costing him – not with his core supporters or his minions in the media, but with the coordinate branches of government and abroad.

The director of the FBI has dismissed the charges against Obama as false. The Republican chairmen of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have said they have seen nothing to suggest that Mr. Trump’s claim is true. And Friday, Representative Tom Cole, a prominent Republican congressman, described Trump’s accusation as “reckless,” adding, “I think President Obama is owed an apology.”

Again – we shouldn’t hold our breath. But nor should President Trump in the expectation that this will all go away. A president prone to conspiracy theories makes wild claims that turn members of his own government against him. It has the making of a blockbuster political thriller. One we just happen to be living.”

 

Pressure on Trump as he stands by wiretap claim

Sean Spicer has flailed in attempts to explain Donald Trumps wiretap claims, while Trump continues to reassert his claims despite still producing no evidence (in public at least).

SpicerZeroIntelligence

That’s from a video of a media conference with edits shown at Business Insider – ‘CALM DOWN’: Watch Sean Spicer spar with reporters over Trump’s wiretap claims

That particular sequence went:

Spicer: Somehow, you seem to believe that you have all of this information, you’ve been read in on all of these things, which I find very interesting.

Reporter: I haven’t been read in by the FBI…but the House and Senate committees have been

Spicer: So you’re coming to some serious conclusions for a guy who has zero intelligence…ee ah…classifi…

[Laughter]

That was funny and even Spicer smiled. But it’s very ironic considering how little information Spicer has had in trying to defend the president’s accusations, and how little intelligence the President appears to have had to base his claims on.

And in his meeting with Angela Merkel Trump reiterated his claims.

Fox News: Trump stands by wiretap claim, jokes he has ‘something in common’ with Merkel

President Trump on Friday once again suggested former President Barack Obama wiretapped him during the 2016 election, joking during a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that they have “something in common.”

Trump continues to face pressure to provide evidence for his widely disputed claims that Trump Tower was the target of an Obama administration wiretap during the presidential campaign.

On the sidelines of the press conference, Trump’s Justice Department said it had “complied” with a request from several congressional committees for information relating to surveillance during the 2016 election. A high-profile hearing is set for Monday that could turn up answers on the matter, and confirm or refute certain allegations.

At the same press conference Friday, Trump also was asked about claims originally made by a Fox News analyst regarding British intelligence services.

“We said nothing,” Trump said. “All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for [the claim].”

Trump was referring to a report by Judge Andrew Napolitano, Fox News’ senior judicial analyst, charging that British intelligence services were involved in the alleged spying of then-candidate Trump.

The allegation was cited by spokesman Sean Spicer at Thursday’s White House briefing. British officials have vigorously denied the claims, and Fox News cannot confirm the allegations.

Napolitano’s claims  are still on Fox News’ website in a column:

Sources have told me that the British foreign surveillance service, the Government Communications Headquarters, known as GCHQ, most likely provided Obama with transcripts of Trump’s calls. The NSA has given GCHQ full 24/7 access to its computers, so GCHQ — a foreign intelligence agency that, like the NSA, operates outside our constitutional norms — has the digital versions of all electronic communications made in America in 2016, including Trump’s. So by bypassing all American intelligence services, Obama would have had access to what he wanted with no Obama administration fingerprints.

Fox News have added a link to the GCHQ’s statement.

In a public statement in the UK the Rt. Hon. Dominic Grieve QC MP, Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, echoed the vigorous denials:

…I should make clear that the President of the United States is not able to task GCHQ to intercept an individual’s communications.

…an individual can only be the target of interception by GCHQ under a warrant signed by a Secretary of State. Such warrants can only authorise action where it is necessary and proportionate for a valid national security purpose. It is inconceivable that those legal requirements could be met in the circumstances described.

I note GCHQ’s public denial of the potentially damaging allegations against them. This was an unusual step by the Agency, but it clearly indicates the strength of feeling about this issue, and I echo that sentiment.

See UK v Trump on GCHQ accusation.

Trump contradicted himself with “We said nothing. All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for [the claim]”. The president is saying nothing when he quotes?

“Fox News cannot confirm the allegations” – Shepard Smith said on Fox News:

Fox News cannot confirm Judge Napolitano’s commentary. Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now-President of the United States was surveilled at any time, in any way. Full stop.

Bret Baier on Fox News:

We love the Judge. We love him here at Fox, but the Fox News division was never able to back up those claims, and was never reported on this show on Special Report.

So Trump appears to be relying on claims made on Fox by one person that Fox can’t verify. Why they haven’t checked things out with Judge Napolitano?

In less important news: Tillerson refuses to rule out nuclearization of Asian allies to keep North Korea in check

“Nothing has been taken off the table,” he said, when asked whether he would rule out nuclearization of the peninsula, during the interview with Fox News.

Tillerson, who’s called the past 20 years of diplomacy toward North Korea a failure, has said the world needs a new strategy.

“Let me be very clear: the policy of strategic patience has ended. If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level we believe requires action that option is on the table”.

This may be of historic interest: US releases secret footage of nuclear bomb tests

Nothing to worry about.

How to make climate change go away

Donald Trump and his administration has a novel way of making something they don’t like go away – stop funding any research on it.

They propose to slash funding of climate research. That will either make everyone forget there could be any problems, or it will put the US way out of the world scientific loop.

VOX: Trump’s budget would hammer climate programs at EPA, NASA, NOAA, and Energy

President Donald Trump’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2018 can be read as a political document, a statement of his administration’s policy priorities. Many of these proposed cuts won’t get passed by Congress, but it’s a look at what Trump values.

And what’s clear is that Trump wants the US government to pull back sharply from any effort to stop global warming, adapt to its impacts — or even study it further. Under the proposal, a wide variety of Obama-era climate programs across multiple agencies would be scaled back or slashed entirely.

That includes eliminating much of the work the Environmental Protection Agency is doing to research climate impacts and limit emissions. It includes scaling back the Department of Energy’s efforts to accelerate low-carbon energy. It includes cuts to NASA’s Earth-monitoring programs. The proposal would also eliminate the Sea Grant program at NOAA, which helps coastal communities adapt to a warmer world. The document dubs this a “lower priority.”

This anti-science approach will please some people, but it is likely to isolate the US even more from the rest of the world, which is moving away from high energy production and products.

1) Many of the EPA’s climate programs would be terminated. Trump is proposing a sweeping 31 percent cut to the EPA’s budget — from $8.2 billion down to $5.7 billion — shrinking funding to the lowest levels in 40 years. That includes zeroing out funding for many of the agency’s climate programs. Currently, the EPA is the main US entity working to monitor and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

So there’s no more money for work on the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era regulation to control CO2 emissions from power plants, which Trump aims to repeal.

2) The Department of Energy’s R&D programs would be reoriented and scaled back. Trump is proposing a 5.6 percent cut to the Department of Energy. And, to do that, he would impose a steep 17.9 percent cut — roughly $2 billion — from core energy/science programs intended to accelerate the transition to new (and cleaner) energy technologies.

Clean energy and emissions controls and limiting pollution will be good for the world regardless of the effect on the climate and any effect changing climate may have on the world, but the US seems to prefer to go back to greater disregard for the environment and bugger the consequences.

3) State Department funding for climate change is axed. As part of the Paris climate deal in 2015, the United States pledged not just to cut emissions, but also to offer $3 billion in aid to poorer countries to help them adapt to climate change and build clean energy. So far, the Obama administration has chipped in $1 billion. This was seen as crucial for bringing these countries into the deal.

Trump would end all that. In his budget, he’s proposing to “cease payments to the United Nations’ (UN) climate change programs by eliminating U.S. funding related to the Green Climate Fund and its two precursor Climate Investment Funds.”

4) NASA’s Earth-monitoring programs are cut. One reason we know so much about climate change is that NASA has deployed a fleet of Earth-observing satellites since 1999. They collect data on everything from temperature and precipitation to underground aquifers and ocean currents to wildfires, soil moisture, and storms.

But NASA’s Earth Science Division has come under attack from conservatives who don’t appreciate the agency’s forays into climate science and think NASA should focus on space exploration instead. As such, Trump’s budget would trim the agency’s Earth science budget to $1.8 billion — a $102 million cut. That’d include terminating “four Earth science missions (PACE, OCO-3, DSCOVR Earth-viewing instruments, and CLARREO Pathfinder) and reduc[ing] funding for Earth science research grants.”

The proposal derides these programs as too “Earth-centric.”

The aim seems to be to make America great again – on a different planet to the rest of the world.

5) A key NOAA program to help coastal communities adapt to climate change would be gone. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Grant program provides grants for research efforts intended to help coastal communities deal with a wide variety of challenges. Lately, that has included climate change

The rest of the world will carry ion doing what research it can. Perhaps Trump will order wiretaps of scientists in other countries to keep in touch with what research is finding out.

Alternately he could just turn his back on science and rely on Breitbart for all his guidance.

There will be a few scientists and bureaucrats out of jobs (3,200 from EPA alone) but they could be retrained into digging and shovelling coal.

If Congress plays ball with White House budget proposals it will mean massive changes, which will end up being a massive experiment. If they get it wrong it could be an expensive mistake.

UK v Trump on GCHQ accusation

The UK  Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament has issued a statement categorically refuting Donald Trump’s claim that the GCHQ assisted the President Obama to wiretap Donald Trump.


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17 March 2017

The Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, the Rt. Hon. Dominic Grieve QC MP, has today issued the following statement:

The Committee is aware of the allegations that the former President of the United States, Barack Obama, tasked GCHQ to ‘wire tap’ the now President of the United States, Donald Trump, during the 2016 US Presidential election.

First, I should make clear that the President of the United States is not able to task GCHQ to intercept an individual’s communications.

Second, long-standing agreements between the Five Eyes countries means that the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand cannot ask each other to target each other’s citizens or individuals that they cannot themselves target, or in any other way seek to circumvent their own or each other’s legal and policy obligations.

Third, an individual can only be the target of interception by GCHQ under a warrant signed by a Secretary of State. Such warrants can only authorise action where it is necessary and proportionate for a valid national security purpose. It is inconceivable that those legal requirements could be met in the circumstances described.<

I note GCHQ’s public denial of the potentially damaging allegations against them. This was an unusual step by the Agency, but it clearly indicates the strength of feeling about this issue, and I echo that sentiment.

http://isc.independent.gov.uk/news-archive/17march2017


So this makes it approximately everyone denying Trump’s accusations have any basis, and Trump has come up with approximately no evidence to support his accusations.

Trump tries to explain on wiretapping

Donald Trump was interviewed by Tucker Carlson on Fox when he tried to explain how solid his claims were when he accused Barack Obama of wiretapping him.

He also explained how Twitter lets him get his message out to avoid failing fake news media.

Exclusive: President Trump on his use of Twitter, its role in his presidential victory, his attitude toward the press coverage he receives from ‘fake new media,’and more

Trump: Twitter allows me to get my message out

Here is some of the transcript (highlighted on Twitter by @BraddJaffy)

TrumpCarlson1

TrumpCarlson2

TrumpCarlson3

TrumpCarlson4

That is the President of the United States of America.