Image courtesy of Andrew Harnik/AP
At a packed press conference on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, provided a progress report on his panel’s investigation of the Trump-Russia scandal. Naturally, this is a touchy and dicey matter for a Republican, and Burr tried to make some points that appeared designed to limit President Donald Trump’s political vulnerabilities on this front.
First, Burr declared that although Russian hackers had probed or penetrated the election systems of at least 21 states, he could confidently state that the Russian meddling in the 2016 election resulted in no changes to the vote tallies. That is, there’s no reason to question Trump’s Electoral College win. And second, Burr said that Russia’s use of Facebook ads during the presidential campaign seemed “indiscriminate” and not designed to help a particular candidate—meaning the recent revelations do not bolster the case that Trump was the Kremlin’s choice.
But Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-Ore.), a feisty member of the intelligence committee, says both assertions are bunk. In an interview with Mother Jones on Thursday, Wyden argued that Burr’s confidence in the election system was unwarranted. “The chairman said that he can say ‘certifiably’ that there was no vote tampering,” said Wyden. “I do not agree with this judgment. I don’t think it is possible to know that. There was no systematic analysis of the voting or forensic evaluations of the voting machines.”
President Trump tweeted, “Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low. You can thank Congress, the same people that can’t even give us HCare!” White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, you see, cannot prevent the president from revealing his self-delusions and own ignorance. Once again, we see Trump’s inability to recognize the danger posed to us by Russia and, worse, his own conduct in forcing Congress to act on its own initiative.
For starters, Russia brought this on itself by meddling in our elections and those of our European allies, invading neighbors, backing the murderous Syrian regime and engaging in domestic repression. Trump refuses to take issue with all that or to acknowledge that such conduct is contrary to U.S. interests. By blaming Congress, he once again does Russian President Vladimir Putin’s water-carrying. Blaming the West and casting Russia as the innocent victim come straight from the Russian propaganda playbook.
Trumps prefers not only to avoid identifying or punishing Russia but also shows no interest in protecting American democracy. Numerous intelligence officials have testified before Congress in open session that Trump has never asked them about Russian cyberespionage or anti-Western propaganda. Think about it. Trump will not acknowledge, let alone do something about the tactics of our chief international foe. He prefers that Congress do nothing — just appease and avoid Russia’s ire. That’s the sort of attitude conservatives in Congress and in the foreign policy community would have virulently criticize President Barack Obama for adopting (and did).
The question then presents itself: Is the president willing to counter an identified threat to U.S. national security, and will his administration follow the law in staffing and developing programs to do just that? So far the answer to both is “no.”
The Washington Post
By Philip Bump
Image courtesy of The Daily Buzz
In a conversation with reporters on the flight to Paris on Wednesday, President Trump discussed the question of the week: His son Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer who Trump Jr. believed could provide him with negative information about Hillary Clinton.
“Don is — as many of you know Don — he’s a good boy,” Trump began. “He’s a good kid. And he had a meeting, nothing happened with the meeting. It was a short meeting, as he told me — because I only heard about it two or three days ago.”
Trump’s defense appears to have rested on how useless that meeting was, much as his son’s defense did.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that this portrayal of events is accurate. It’s what Trump Jr. said happened, and it’s what the Russian lawyer with whom he met, Natalia Veselnitskaya, said happened, too. Unless one of the other attendees says something different — a group of people that extends to the president’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort (the one “playing with his iPhone”) and music promoter Rob Goldstone — that’s the story that we have to go with.
And, for now, it doesn’t matter. Once Trump Jr. (and Manafort and Kushner) walked through the door of the office or conference room where the meeting was happened, the damage was already done.
The Wall Street Journal
By Shane Harris
Image courtesy of Jewel Samad/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
U.S. intelligence agencies starting in the spring of 2015 detected conversations in which Russian government officials discussed associates of Donald Trump, several months before he declared his candidacy for president, according to current and former U.S. officials.
Now, in light of emails released Tuesday by the president’s eldest son concerning a 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer, investigators are going back to those early reports to see if they can understand them better.
In some cases, the Russians in the overheard 2015 conversations talked about meetings held outside the U.S. involving Russian government officials and Trump business associates or advisers, these people said.
It isn’t clear which of Mr. Trump’s associates or advisers the Russians were referring to, or whether they had any connection to his presidential aspirations.
The reports were gathered by intelligence agencies that routinely monitor Russian espionage against the U.S. Such efforts can include monitoring phone calls and emails as well as information from informants. The efforts weren’t aimed at Mr. Trump or his associates, these people said.
Now, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and several congressional committees are probing Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia over the years, as is special counsel Robert Mueller.
The Washington Post
Image courtesy of ABC News
It’s a very big day for President Trump: the day he meets and sits down with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time. So naturally he got it started with a strange tweet.
When it comes to strange tweets, Trump is, well, no stranger. But this one is inexplicable in so many ways that I thought it worth a quick recap.
1. It fails the smell test spectacularly: Okay, even if we grant that perhaps foreign leaders are talking about Russian hacking of the 2016 election or even second-guessing how it was dealt with, this would be an extremely specific and insider-y thing to zero in on. Podesta, who was Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, hasn’t really been in the news for months, nor has the Democratic National Committee’s decision not to turn over its servers. Perhaps the leaders might be talking about President Barack Obama not doing more about Russia before the election after Trump broached the topic Thursday, but this is weirdly specific fare for leaders at the Group of 20 summit.
2. The FBI requested the servers: There is no indication that the CIA, which deals with foreign intelligence and surveillance, was involved.
3. Podesta wouldn’t have had control over this decision: He was not a DNC official, and even if you argue that Clinton’s campaign could have exerted control over such a thing, she wasn’t the Democratic nominee when the situation came to a head.
Either Trump knows something we don’t and he’s disclosing new information here, or he’s confused.
From The Washington Post — Written by Aaron Blake — Image courtesy of Reuters / Carlos Barria
President Trump and former House speaker Newt Gingrich have both now admitted, for all intents and purposes, that Trump’s ruse about possible White House tapes was meant to influence James B. Comey’s public comments. In an interview Friday with Fox News, Trump congratulated himself for the ploy.
“Who knows, I think his story may have changed,” Trump said. Asked whether his strategy was smart, Trump said, “It wasn’t very stupid; I can tell you that.”
But was it just political subterfuge, or was it something that could haunt Trump in his ongoing obstruction of justice investigation? Some have even suggested it could amount to witness tampering.
Meanwhile, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, also nodded in the direction of potential witness tampering on Thursday, after Trump revealed he had no tapes.
“If the president had no tapes, why did he suggest otherwise? Did he seek to mislead the public? Was he trying to intimidate or silence James Comey?” Schiff asked. “And if so, did he take other steps to discourage potential witnesses from speaking out?”
Opinion from The Washington Post — Written by Greg Sargent —
Now that James B. Comey’s testimony to Congress has painted a picture of President Trump’s contempt for the rule of law that’s far more forceful and persuasive in its dramatic details than Republicans ever bargained for, the new and emerging GOP defense is that Trump is a political and procedural naif. He merely needs to learn the rules. This line of obfuscation requires pretending that many of the events of the past six months never happened.
But this spin from Republicans has a significance that runs deeper than merely revealing the absurd lengths to which they’ll go to protect Trump from political and legal harm. More urgently, their new line unwittingly reveals the degree to which Trump’s abuses of power and assault on our democracy have depended all along upon their tacit and willful complicity — and, perhaps worse, it leaves little doubt that this enabling will continue, with unforeseen consequences.
This strategy takes various forms. Paul Ryan casts Trump’s interactions with Comey as a mere matter of inexperience. “The president’s new at this,” Ryan says, adding that Trump “probably wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols” that under our system establish law enforcement’s independence from the White House. Others ground the argument in Trump’s business past or affection for the theatrics of disruption. “He’s used to being the CEO,” insists one House Republican. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) adds that Trump is merely being “crude, rude and a bull in a china shop.”
But Republicans making this argument are dishonestly feigning naivete about much of what we’ve seen from Trump since the beginning of his presidency. The problem with the idea that Trump merely needs to learn the rules is that we have a large pile of evidence showing that Trump is deeply convinced that the rules should not apply to him.