USA: Russian collusion probe

Investigations continue into possible Russian collusion by both Democrats and republicans in last year’s US election.

Washington Examiner: Fusion GPS paid journalists, court papers confirm

Newly filed court documents confirm that Fusion GPS, the company mostly responsible for the controversial “Trump dossier” on presidential candidate Donald Trump, made payments to three journalists between June 2016 until February 2017.

The revelation could be a breakthrough for House Republicans, who are exploring whether Fusion GPS used the dossier, which was later criticized for having inaccurate information on Trump, to feed anti-Trump stories to the press during and after the presidential campaign.

The three journalists who were paid by Fusion GPS are known to have reported on “Russia issues relevant to [the committee’s] investigation,” the House Intelligence Committee said in a court filing.

“Fusion GPS is a research firm set up by former investigative journalists,” Fusion GPS’s lawyer, Josh Levy, said in a statement to the Washington Examiner.

“As such, it sometimes works with contractors that have specialized skills seeking public information. Contractors are not permitted to publish any articles based on that work, and Fusion GPS does not pay journalists to write stories.”

Levy also dismissed the Republican idea that these payments were somehow aimed at or otherwise used to help get anti-Trump stories written by the press.

“This is simply another desperate attempt by the president’s political allies to discredit Fusion GPS’s work and divert attention from the question these committees are supposed to be investigating: the Trump campaign’s knowledge of Russian interference in the election,” Levy said.

But House Republicans still have their doubts. One of the documents filed by lawyers for the House Intelligence Committee said each of the three reporters who received payments had written about the Russia probe, which could indicate that reporters were using Fusion GPS’s work to write their stories.

The dossier has become one of the central components of the investigations being carried out by the House and Senate Intelligence committees, as well as the Senate Judiciary Committee. Investigators are trying to determine how the dossier may have influence the intelligence agencies during the 2016 election.

The Washington Examinerreported that “FBI and Justice Department officials have told congressional investigators in recent days that they have not been able to verify or corroborate the substantive allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign outlined in the Trump dossier.”

And more on that from The Hill: Mueller investigating Kushner’s communication with foreign leaders

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of investigators are looking into White House senior adviser and President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and his contact with foreign leaders, according to a new report.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Mueller’s team is probing Kushner’s involvement in the controversy surrounding a United Nations resolution passed in December 2016 that condemned Israeli settlement construction.

Trump, who was president-elect at the time, called for the U.S. to veto the resolution, saying it was “extremely unfair to all Israelis.”

The U.N. Security Council passed the resolution days later as the U.S. abstained from vetoing it.

The newspaper reports that Israeli officials reached out to several top officials involved in Trump’s transition, including Kushner and former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, and that Mueller’s probe is asking questions about those overtures.

Mueller’s investigators are also looking into Kushner’s role in setting up meetings and communication with foreign leaders during Trump’s transition, according to the newspaper.

Investigations into possible collusion seem likely to take some time.

The end result may be that Russia tried to influence the election, but both Republicans and Democrats were trying to use Russian resources to gain an advantage.

US politics looks like a dirty business all round.

 

 

NZ First plans with Russia puts EU trade at risk

A trade concern has emerged out of the coalition agreement between Labour and NZ First that could potentially put future trade opportunities with the European Union at risk.

NZH:  Winston Peters’ plans to reopen trade with Russia raises alarm from Europe

KEY POINTS:

  • Buried detail in Labour-NZ First coalition agreement calls for thawing of relations with Russia, on ice since invasion of Crimea and Ukraine.
  • EU Ambassador critical of move to break ranks on sanctions and warns of consequences for EU-NZ free trade negotiations.
  • Commentators say pursuing policy of warmer relations with Russia would position New Zealand alongside Trump administration.
  • Winston understood to have met several times with Russian ambassador over the past year.

New Zealand First’s plans to reopen trade negotiations with Russia have sparked the new Government’s first international crisis.

The unheralded policy this week drew an unusually forthright and undiplomatic rebuke from European Union ambassador Bernard Savage.

At a briefing on Tuesday in Wellington, Savage said any moves made towards thawing relations with Russia would be viewed in a “very negative” light.

The policy, written into the Labour-New Zealand First coalition agreement at the urging of the smaller party, risks harming relations with one of our largest trading partners in order to enhance those with one of our smallest.

According to 2016 figures the European Union is our third-largest trading partner with a total of $20 billion in imports and exports each year, while two-way trade with Russia currently amounts to only $417 million.

Savages told those attending that reactivating the stalled Russia deal – suspended since 2014 – would complicate New Zealand’s efforts later this year to secure a free trade deal with the EU.

This will take some careful managing by the Government. It is complicated by split responsibilities between Labour (David Parker as Minister of Trade) and NZ First (Winston Peters as Minister of Foreign Affairs.

This is on top of conflicting aims between Labour and the Greens on the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Dirty democracy: Clinton, Trump, Russia

Investigations and revelations continue on dirty democracy involving the US and Russia.

The use of Facebook by Russians continues – CNBC: House panel plans to release Russian ads that ran on Facebook, committee leaders say

The House Intelligence Committee plans to release Russia-linked ads that ran on Facebook during the 2016 election, the panel’s leaders said Wednesday, according to NBC News.

The House committee is investigating Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election and possible collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. Reps. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and Adam Schiff, D-Calif., are leading the probe.

Facebook has already shared about 3,000 ads bought by Russia-linked groups with the congressional committees investigating the Russian influence campaign.

Google also has discovered that Russian operatives spent tens of thousands of dollars on ads on its platforms, according to reports.

Recode:  Facebook admits Russia agents used Messenger to disrupt U.S. presidential election

A top Facebook executive admitted Wednesday that Russian agents had used the social network’s popular Messenger platform to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Facebook Messenger boss David Marcus disclosed that a “very small” number of the 470 accounts active in the Russian interference campaign were using Messenger to communicate with their users.

Messenger was reportedly used by some pages with ties to Russian operatives. Marcus, like other Facebook executives, argued that the work done by Facebook around the world was being wrongly “overshadowed” by the Russia “narrative.”

Investigations continue into possible links between the trump campaign and Russians.

Newsweek: DID TRUMP FAMILY, ASSOCIATES BREAK LAW WITH RUSSIA? A GUIDE TO POTENTIAL SUSPECTS IN MUELLER’S PROBE

It has been a big few days in the ongoing investigation into Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 election and possibly collude with Donald Trump’s campaign. The president’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, has appeared before multiple congressional committees…

Paul Manafort: At the same time, the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller is delving deeper into Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager.

This week, it was reported that the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, in conjunction with Mueller, is investigating Manafort for money laundering. It is widely believed that Mueller aims to use the money laundering charges to flip Manafort and turn him into a witness against Trump.

Roger Stone: A longtime adviser to Trump, Stone boasted during the campaign that he was in communication with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange before that outfit released emails from the account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. Stone has also confirmed that he exchanged messages with a hacker believed to be responsible for attacking the Democratic National Committee.

NBC:  Kushner Under Scrutiny By FBI as Part of Russia Investigation

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and one of his senior advisers, has come under FBI scrutiny in the Russia investigation, multiple US officials tell NBC Nightly News.

And the Clinton campaign is also reported to be close to Russia in it’s dirty campaigning too – Washington Post: Clinton campaign, DNC paid for research that led to Russia dossier

The Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee helped fund research that resulted in a now-famous dossier containing allegations about President Trump’s connections to Russia and possible coordination between his campaign and the Kremlin, people familiar with the matter said.

Marc E. Elias, a lawyer representing the Clinton campaign and the DNC, retained Fusion GPS, a Washington firm, to conduct the research.

After that, Fusion GPS hired dossier author Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer with ties to the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community, according to those people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Elias and his law firm, Perkins Coie, retained the company in April 2016 on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the DNC. Before that agreement, Fusion GPS’s research into Trump was funded by an unknown Republican client during the GOP primary.

So both the Republicans and then the Clinton campaign have had Russian connections in what appears to have been a particularly dirty campaign.

The US and Russia have interfered in other democracies for a long time, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that Russia has tried to interfere in the US election, and both sides have had connections to Russia in conducting their campaigns.

Vanity Fair: THE DIRTY TRUTH ABOUT THE STEELE DOSSIER

On many levels, the Post story merely confirms earlier reports about Steele’s backers. The same day that BuzzFeed published the dossier in its entirety, CNN confirmed much of Corn’s earlier reporting. “The memos originated as opposition research, first commissioned by anti-Trump Republicans, and later by Democrats,” Evan Perez, Jim Sciutto, Jake Tapper and Carl Bernstein wrote. (As Howard Blum recently reported for Vanity Fair, the funding for the research originally came from a “Never Trump” Republican but not specifically from the war chest of one of Trump’s rivals in the G.O.P. primary, according to a friend of Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson.)

The involvement of Clinton and the D.N.C. in funding the Steele dossier is not surprising, but it does add fuel to the partisan fire. “I have to say, the whole Russian thing is what it’s turned out to be,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Wednesday morning. “This was the Democrats coming up with an excuse for losing an election.” Conservative pundits and commentators celebrated on Twitter, seeing in the Post story validation of their arguments that the connections between the Trump campaign and Russia were overblown, if not fabricated.

Complicating matters is the fact that Fusion GPS has also worked with Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer who attended the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, in which Donald Trump Jr. was promised damaging information on Clinton as part of what was described to him as a Russian government effort to help elect his father.

It is all extremely messy.

It has become a very dirty democracy in the US, with mud covered credibility. I don’t know if it is repairable.

The end result so far is the Trump presidency that risks becoming an increasingly disastrous train wreck.

Trump versus the MSM and social media

Donald Trump is claiming the media was against him again – attack is a good sign he is trying to defend or divert.

Reuters: Trump slams Facebook as lawmakers await ads amid Russia probe

U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday criticized Facebook as “anti-Trump” and questioned its role during the 2016 presidential campaign, amid probes into alleged Russian interference in the election and possible collusion by Trump’s associates.

His salvo came as the social media giant prepares to hand over 3,000 political ads to congressional investigators that it has said were likely purchased by Russian entities during and after last year’s presidential contest.

Trump appeared to embrace the focus on the social media network in his comments on Wednesday, which also took aim at more traditional medial outlets, long targeted by the president as “fake news.”

“Facebook was always anti-Trump. The networks were always anti-Trump,” Trump said on Twitter, leveling the same charge against the New York Times and the Washington Post. “Collusion?”

Trump’s success was largely due to the amount of attention he received by all media, and arguably how his campaign successfully used social media, especially Facebook.

Business Insider:  Steve Bannon reportedly tried to place a mole inside Facebook before joining Trump’s campaign

Former White House chief strategist and current Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon reportedly tried to infiltrate Facebook last year with the help of far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopolous.

BuzzFeed reported on Monday that in August 2016, shortly before joining the President Donald Trump’s campaign, Bannon sought t0 dispatch a subordinate to apply for a job at Facebook and serve as an informant about what the job application process was like.

Wired: WHAT WE KNOW—AND DON’T KNOW—ABOUT FACEBOOK, TRUMP, AND RUSSIA

From last November:  How the Trump Campaign Built an Identity Database and Used Facebook Ads to Win the Election

 

Trump-Kim war of words continues

While the war between Donald Trump and Kim Yong Un is just of words at the moment it continues to escalate with threats, provocation and name calling. If one acts with weapons it is certain the other will also try to act, so this is a very dangerous game of brinkmanship and ego.

Trump ramped things up substantially with his comments at the United Nations several days ago. Kim has responded, and Trump has escalated their slanging match.

BBC: Trump and Kim call each other mad

Kim Jong-un has said remarks by “deranged” US President Donald Trump have convinced him he is right to develop weapons for North Korea.

In an unprecedented personal statement, Mr Kim said Mr Trump would “pay dearly” for a UN speech where he threatened to “totally destroy” the North if the US was forced to defend itself.

Mr Trump responded that the “madman… will be tested like never before”.

The two countries have engaged in ever more heated rhetoric in recent months.

Mr Kim ended his statement by saying he would “surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire”.

This does sound like madness from both of them. Other countries have joined the war of words.

China responded to the war of words, warning that the situation was “complicated and sensitive”.

“All relevant parties should exercise restraint instead of provoking each other,” said Foreign Minister spokesman Lu Kang.

Russia also urged restraint. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow was “deeply concerned by an escalation of tensions”.

Kim and Trump don’t seem to care what the rest of the world thinks or fears, they seem intent on trying to out-heckle each other. The obvious risk is if the hackles rise too far then the shackles might come off military action, and that could end up in a major mess. Like nuclear. And world war 3.

North Korea may or may not have much of a nuclear arsenal, but the US, China and Russia all have huge ones, as well as huge non-nuclear armies.

NZH: This is personal: Why Kim’s latest attack on Trump is on a new level

On the surface it seems like more of the same: North Korea responds to another threat by US President Donald Trump by calling him a “deranged” old man who will “pay dearly” for his insults. These words yesterday, however, carry the weight of an unprecedented personal rebuke from North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong Un.

Here are five things to know about Kim’s statement:

He’s breaking ground

It was written in the first person, and issued directly to the international community generally and to Trump specifically.

He’s issuing a warning

The statement suggests more powerful weapons tests are in the works. North Korea’s Foreign Minister seemed to confirm this on the sidelines of a global UN meeting in New York, telling reporters that Kim’s comments could mean that North Korea will conduct an H-bomb test in the Pacific.

He’s playing the statesman

Believe it or not, Kim’s statement actually used gentler language than his propaganda specialists have favoured in the past. Granted, he called Trump a “mentally deranged US dotard” (a word to describe a fragile elderly person) and a “frightened dog”. But this is a far cry from North Korea at its worst.

He feels justified

Kim says Trump’s threats only emphasise that North Korea has been justified in its pursuit of nuclear missiles. North Korea has long said that its weapons tests are necessary because of US hostility.

He’s insulted

Kim seemed to take umbrage that Trump was personally insulting him. Kim essentially says that he expected better of Trump.

…far from making remarks of any persuasive power that can be viewed to be helpful to defusing tension, he made unprecedented rude nonsense one has never heard from any of his predecessors,” Kim said.

Kim advised the President “to exercise prudence in selecting words and to be considerate of whom he speaks to when making a speech in front of the world”. He added that “Trump has denied the existence of and insulted me and my country in front of the eyes of the world”. In a country where Kim’s word is law, the message seems clear: This will not stand.

This could end very badly.

Examining the Russian media war

A very interesting article by Jim Rutenberg in the New York Times that claims Russian influence in what has become known as fake news, used to promote discord and protest and to interfere in elections in countries around the world.

Examples are given of interference in Germany over immigration, in the UK over Brexit, and in the US election.

RT, Sputnik and Russia’s New Theory of War

How the Kremlin built one of the most powerful information weapons of the 21st century — and why it may be impossible to stop.

…Steltner found the phone calls he received that morning confounding. They came from police officers from towns far outside Berlin, who reported that protests were erupting, seemingly out of nowhere, on their streets. “They are demonstrating — ‘Save our children,’ ‘No attacks from immigrants on our children’ and some things like that,” Steltner told me when I met him in Berlin recently.

The police were calling Steltner because this was ostensibly his office’s fault. The protesters were angry over the Berlin prosecutor’s supposed refusal to indict three Arab migrants who, they said, raped a 13-year-old girl from Berlin’s tight-knit Russian-German community.

Steltner, who would certainly have been informed if such a case had come up for prosecution, had heard nothing of it. He called the Berlin Police Department, which informed him that a 13-year-old Russian-German girl had indeed gone missing a week before. When she resurfaced a day later, she told her parents that three “Southern-looking men” — by which she meant Arab migrants — had yanked her off the street and taken her to a rundown apartment, where they beat and raped her.

But when the police interviewed the girl, whose name was Lisa, she changed her story. She had left home, it turned out, because she had gotten in trouble at school. Afraid of how her parents would react, she went to stay with a 19-year-old male friend. The kidnapping and gang rape, she admitted, never happened.

The allegations were false, but Russian news agencies kept publishing them, promoting protests and discord over immigration in Germany.

Officials in Germany and at NATO headquarters in Brussels view the Lisa case, as it is now known, as an early strike in a new information war Russia is waging against the West. In the months that followed, politicians perceived by the Russian government as hostile to its interests would find themselves caught up in media storms that, in their broad contours, resembled the one that gathered around Merkel.

They often involved conspiracy theories and outright falsehoods — sometimes with a tenuous connection to fact, as in the Lisa case, sometimes with no connection at all — amplified until they broke through into domestic politics. In other cases, they simply helped promote nationalist, far-left or far-right views that put pressure on the political center.

What the efforts had in common was their agents: a loose network of Russian-government-run or -financed media outlets and apparently coordinated social-media accounts.

And this is effective. This is evident in New Zealand where ordinary people, especially those with conspiracy tendencies or with strong views about things like immigration or politics, pick up on and amplify the messages – which is of course one of the aims.

After RT and Sputnik gave platforms to politicians behind the British vote to leave the European Union, like Nigel Farage, a committee of the British Parliament released a report warning that foreign governments may have tried to interfere with the referendum.

Russia and China, the report argued, had an “understanding of mass psychology and of how to exploit individuals” and practiced a kind of cyberwarfare “reaching beyond the digital to influence public opinion.”

I wouldn’t rule out other countries either, like North Korea, from the Middle East – and the US, who are also one of the main targets.

But all of this paled in comparison with the role that Russian information networks are suspected to have played in the American presidential election of 2016.

In early January, two weeks before Donald J. Trump took office, American intelligence officials released a declassified version of a report — prepared jointly by the Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Security Agency — titled “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections.” It detailed what an Obama-era Pentagon intelligence official, Michael Vickers, described in an interview in June with NBC News as “the political equivalent of 9/11.”

“Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election,” the authors wrote. “Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton and harm her electability and potential presidency.” According to the report, “Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”

The intelligence assessment detailed some cloak-and-dagger activities, like the murky web of Russian (if not directly government-affiliated or -financed) hackers who infiltrated voting systems and stole gigabytes’ worth of email and other documents from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.

But most of the assessment concerned machinations that were plainly visible to anyone with a cable subscription or an internet connection: the coordinated activities of the TV and online-media properties and social-media accounts that made up, in the report’s words, “Russia’s state-run propaganda machine.”

The assessment devoted nearly half its pages to a single cable network: RT. The Kremlin started RT — shortened from the original Russia Today — a dozen years ago to improve Russia’s image abroad.

But it is not simple to isolate and combat.

Plenty of RT’s programming, to outward appearances, is not qualitatively different from conventional opinion-infused cable news.

Its fans point to its coverage of political perspectives that aren’t prominent on mainstream networks — voices from the Occupy movement, the libertarian right and third parties like the Green Party. The network has been nominated for four International Emmy Awards and one Daytime Emmy.

This makes RT and Sputnik harder for the West to combat than shadowy hackers.

 RT might not have amassed an audience that remotely rivals CNN’s in conventional terms, but in the new, “democratized” media landscape, it doesn’t need to.

Over the past several years, the network has come to form the hub of a new kind of state media operation: one that travels through the same diffuse online channels, chasing the same viral hits and memes, as the rest of the Twitter-and-Facebook-age media.

In the process, Russia has built the most effective propaganda operation of the 21st century so far, one that thrives in the feverish political climates that have descended on many Western publics.

It is a long article but worth reading if you have any interest in international propaganda and information wars.

As stated it is not just the use of news organisations, it is the use of social media as well. Facebook is gradually admitting how they were used during the US election campaign.

Reuters: Facebook says some Russian ads during U.S. election promoted live events

Some of the ads bought by Russians on Facebook last year promoted events during the U.S. presidential campaign, Facebook Inc said on Tuesday, indicating that alleged meddling ahead of the 2016 election went beyond social media.

Facebook said in a statement that its takedown of what the company last week called Russian-affiliated pages included shutting down “several promoted events.”

Facebook declined to provide details of the promoted events.

Facebook, the world’s largest social network, said last week that an operation likely based in Russia had placed thousands of U.S. ads with polarizing views on topics such as immigration, race and gay rights on the site during a two-year period through May 2017.

The Daily Beast, the news website that first reported on the promoted events posted on Facebook, said one advertisement promoted an anti-immigrant rally in Idaho in August 2016.

The rally was hosted by a Facebook group called “Secured Borders,” which was a Russian front and is now suspended, according to the Daily Beast.

In social media they commonly target people who want to believe certain things and  spread issues that have dubious merit.

Putin warns of ‘global planetary catastrophe’ over North Korea

Vladimir Putin has warned of a “global planetary catastrophe” if the North Korea crisis tips over into war.

CNN: Vladimir Putin warns world faces ‘global catastrophe’ over North Korea

President Vladimir Putin warned that the escalating crisis over North Korea’s weapons program risks developing into a “global catastrophe” with mass casualties.

But Putin, speaking in China on Tuesday, cautioned against “military hysteria” and said that the only way to resolve the crisis was through diplomacy.

He warned that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has calculated that the survival of his regime depends on its development of nuclear weapons. Kim had seen how western intervention in Iraq had ended in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein after which the country was ravaged by war, Putin warned, and Kim was determined not to suffer the same fate.

“Saddam Hussein rejected the production of weapons of mass destruction, but even under that pretense, he was destroyed and members of his family were killed,” Putin said.

Putin said that while Russia condemned North Korea’s latest actions, imposing any kind of sanctions would be “useless and ineffective.” Kim would rather starve his people than see his regime overthrown, he said.

“They will eat grass but they will not turn away from the path that will provide for their security,” he said.

Grass dripping with radiation will not be very palatable.

Fox News:

US update

Some bits from the US.

Trying to divert blame to Obama for Trump Jnr’s meeting:

Fox: Trump slams media for coverage of mysterious Russian lawyer, lays blame on Lynch

President Trump lashed out at the media and the Obama administration Thursday over the criticism his team is facing for his eldest son’s 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer thought to have damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

But support is limited, even from conservatives.

Fox: Conservative carping: Why many on the right aren’t defending Don Jr.

During the long campaign, some of Donald Trump’s toughest critics in the media were conservatives.

Now, with the media furor over Don Jr. and his emails, they have ramped up their criticism once again. And that has deprived the White House of much of a cheering squad as the Russia story heats up once again.

It’s not that these conservative critics have a megaphone that approaches that of the White House. But it muddies the case that the “liberal media” are out to get Trump.

There are exceptions, of course. Sean Hannity, who interviewed Don Jr. Tuesday—the president’s son said that in retrospect he probably would have done things differently—told him during the sitdown: “Liberals in the destroy Trump media once again have worked themselves into frenzy. They’re frothing at the mouth.”

Rush Limbaugh took on the “Drive-By Media,” saying: “I actually think I’m watching people lose their minds…This is the story that’s gonna get Trump thrown out of office. This is the story that’s gonna cause an uprising among the American people. Except they have done that practically every day for the last year, and certainly for the last six months.”

But others on the right said that Trump Jr.’s meeting with the Russian lawyer he was told had oppo research on Hillary Clinton—as documented in the emails he released—was troubling.

In “Don Jr.’s Disgraceful Meeting,” National Review says: “No campaign professional would have accepted such a dodgy meeting the way Trump Jr. did, and no person with a strong sense of propriety — Russia is a hostile power run by a deeply corrupt regime — would have wanted to.”

The Weekly Standard, writing about U.S. sanctions against Moscow, says that “the Trump team has lost all credibility on the question of Russia. Second-guessing by the media and politicians of both parties will be the inevitable accompaniment to every White House announcement about Vladimir Putin or Russia.”

Fox’s Charles Krauthammer said this about the president’s son, in light of the fact that his meeting with Veselnitskaya apparently went nowhere: “It’s a hell of a defense to say your collusion might be incompetent…

“If you get a call to go to a certain place in the middle of the night to pick up stolen goods and it turns out the stolen goods don’t show up but the cops show up,” he noted. “I think you’re going to have a very weak story saying, ‘Well, I got swindled here.’”

Ex spooks:  Clapper: Trump Jr. Emails “Only One Anecdote in a Much Larger Story”

Donald Trump Jr. eagerly accepted help connected with what he was explicitly told was the Russian government’s effort to boost his father’s campaign, a move that former top Intelligence Community officials said comes straight out of the Russian playbook on tradecraft and raises alarming new questions about Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“I’ll leave it to the special counsel to determine whether the legal threshold of collusion was breached, but from this layman’s point of view, it certainly appears that way to me,” former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said.

Former Acting Director of the CIA John McLaughlin said that based on what has been reported about the emails Trump Jr. released on Tuesday, “it looks to me like an elaborate operation carried out through intermediaries to probe the receptivity of the Trump campaign to assistance from the Russian government during the campaign.”

“It is not unusual for it to be carried out through such a long chain of intermediaries, because the tradecraft objective here is to separate the original ambition as far as possible from the ultimate result so it becomes very hard to trace back, as it is in this case, exactly what happened and who did what,” he said.

This email exchange is “huge,” former CIA Acting Director Michael Morell said, given it “shows that a senior member of the Trump team” knew in early summer of 2016 that “the Russians were working on behalf of Trump.”

“Any person with integrity would have picked up the phone and called the FBI, and they would not have attended the meeting,” Morell said. “The fact that Donald Jr. did not call the FBI — and the fact that he went ahead with the meeting with such enthusiasm — shows a willingness to collude with a foreign government, even though there was probably no actual collusion during the meeting itself, if it played out as described.”

But someone claims to be clean.

Trump claims Democrats just as bad

I’m not sure that claiming the Democrats were as bad as the Trump team but that seems to be the current ‘attack is defence’ of President Trump.

I’d be quite happy to see the same standards of holding to account applied to the Democrats and the Trumps.

Fox News is leading with Trump unloads on Hillary over double standard, amid reports Dems also got foreign help

President Trump ripped Hillary Clinton and fellow Democrats Wednesday over what he described as a double standard for their respective associates’ alleged coordination with foreign governments in the 2016 campaign.

The president has been on defense over fresh revelations of a meeting his eldest son held last year with a Russian lawyer who promised dirt on Clinton.

The news report refers back to the questionable dossier — written by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele and allegedly distributed by Fusion GPS — which contained unverified allegations against the Trump team.

Fusion GPS, the Democrat-funded opposition research firm, allegedly paid Steele with money from a Clinton backer. The dossier eventually fell into the hands of the FBI.

The White House and Trump allies also have cited a reported meeting between a DNC consultant and officials at the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington, D.C., last year.

“If you are looking for an example of a campaign coordinating with a foreign country or a foreign source, look no further than the DNC which actually coordinated opposition research with the Ukrainian Embassy,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday.

“This is not an accusation. That is an on-the-record action that they took,” Sanders said.

‘Look over there, they were crap too’ has become a common diversion tactic for Trump.

The meeting Sanders referred to was first reported in January by Politico. The report cited a meeting between Ukrainian government officials who allegedly tried to help Clinton undermine Trump by publicly questioning his fitness for office and shared research and damaging information on Trump and his advisers with Clinton allies.

The Ukrainian Embassy pushed back on Sanders’ characterization, saying: “Unfortunately, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee-Sanders must have been misinformed about Ukraine and the DNC.

“The Embassy of Ukraine in Washington did not coordinate with the DNC about opposition research. While some politicians who are not part of the Ukrainian government might have taken sides during last year’s elections in the U.S., the government of Ukraine did not,” the statement said.

More from Fox:

Also: Grassley probing how Russian lawyer got into US after visa denial

The Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. in a controversial June 2016 sit-down had been denied a visa to the enter the United States months before the infamous encounter – and a powerful senator wants to find out how she ended up in America anyway.

“She shouldn’t have been in the country,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told “Fox & Friends” on Wednesday.

The senior lawmaker is raising questions about how Natalia Veselnitskaya was able to gain access to the U.S. for a June 9 meeting with Trump Jr., then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and senior aide and President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

But Fox promoting the defence of the Trumps won’t stop probes into what their campaign did.

Reuters:  Trump Jr.’s Russia emails could trigger probe under election law

Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a woman he was told was a Russian government lawyer who had incriminating information about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton that could help his father’s presidential campaign could lead investigators to probe whether he violated U.S. election law, experts said.

Trump Jr. said in his tweets that nothing came of the meeting. Veselnitskaya told NBC News early on Tuesday she was not affiliated with the Russian government and had passed no information.

“In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently,” Trump Jr. said in an interview on Fox News. “For me, this was opposition research.”

Collusion itself is not an actual crime under the U.S. criminal code, so prosecutors would look to see if Trump Jr.’s conduct ran afoul of a specific law, legal experts said.

One law that might come into play is the Federal Election Campaign Act, which makes it illegal for a foreign national to contribute to a U.S. political campaign. The campaign is also prohibited from soliciting such contributions.

Regardless of whether any laws were broken this week’s revelations have shown that denials of meeting with or collusion with Russians or the Russian government by Trump and his family and campaign team have proven to be wrong and false.

 

 

Trump backs off joint cyber security suggestion

Another example of changing stories with Donald Trump, this time after he suggested a joint Cyber security unit with Russia. On Sunday Trump tweeted:

President Trump tweeted Sunday evening that a proposed “Cyber Security unit” operated by the U.S. and Russia “can’t happen,” an apparent reaction to criticism of the idea by Democrats and Republicans.

Trump tweeted:

A bizarre suggestion given all the claims of Russian hacker interference in the US election last year.

Fox News: Trump appears to back off joint ‘Cyber Security unit’ with Russia after criticism

The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 election campaign. Russian state actors have been linked to Wikileaks, which published stolen emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

The cybersecurity unit drew widespread ridicule from lawmakers, including two of Trump’s rivals for the Republican nomination last year.

Republican senator Lindsey Graham on NBZ’s Mett The Press:

“It’s not the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard, but it’s pretty close”.

Graham also said that Trump has “a blind spot” when it comes to Russia, “and to forgive and forget when it comes to Putin regarding cyberattacks is to empower Putin and that’s exactly what he’s doing.”

Senator Marco Rubio:

Partnering with Putin on a “Cyber Security Unit” is akin to partnering with Assad on a “Chemical Weapons Unit”.

We have no quarrel with Russia or the Russian people. Problem is with Putin & his oppression, war crimes & interference in our elections.

Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter…

…said the move was “like the guy who robbed your house proposing a working group on burglary.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democratic Party member of the House intelligence committee…

…told CNN’s “State of the Union” that expecting Russia to be a credible partner in any cybersecurity initiative “would be dangerously naive for this country.”

“If that’s our best election defense, we might as well just mail our ballot boxes to Moscow”.

Trump staff tried to defend his suggestion.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley…

…stood up for the initiative, arguing that working with Russia on cybersecurity “doesn’t mean we ever trust Russia. We can’t trust Russia and we won’t ever trust Russia. But you keep those that you don’t trust closer so that you can always keep an eye on `em and keep them in check.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin…

…defended the plan on ABC’s “This Week,” calling the initiative a “very important step forward.”

“What we want to make sure is that we coordinate with Russia, that we’re focused on cybersecurity together, that we make sure that they never interfere in any democratic elections or conduct any cyber security. I think is a very significant accomplishment for President Trump.”

Stuff: Russia confirms Putin-Trump talk on joint cyber security unit

Russia confirmed that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin had discussed forming a joint Russian-US group on cyber security, an idea that has provoked uproar in Washington, but said it was only a tentative proposal.

“The heads of state did talk about such a possibility,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with reporters on Monday (Tuesday NZT).

“Nothing was promised to each other. What is positive, they stated their readiness to work in this direction.”

The conversation had been “about the possibility of forming such a group”, he said.

Svetlana Lukash, a Russian official who was at the Hamburg summit, told a news conference earlier on Monday (Tuesday NZT), Putin and Trump’s discussion of cyber security had taken up 40 minutes of their meeting, which lasted more than two hours.

“President Putin proposed creating a working group,” she said. “This does not mean it should start working immediately, virtually tomorrow.”

She added: “The main thing is, this matter was discussed, the United States is ready to consider cooperation in this sphere, and then we will see.

“Maybe this will be a working group, maybe this will be cooperation on the floor of the United Nations. But in any case, our two countries will need to discuss these questions. This is namely what the presidents agreed upon.” She said of the landmark talks between the two men in Hamburg: “Nobody, except the participants of that meeting, knows how that proposal was formulated and how President Trump reacted.”

But Trump seems to have changed his mind. He has at least changed his tune.

So why did he tweet what he did without qualification?

Why did Mnuchin and Haley defend and support his original tweet?

Why trust anything Trump tweets or says? His staff have been embarrassed by his changing ideas many times.