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James Comey Confirms Trump Tried To Make Him Drop Russia Probe And Pledge Loyalty To Him

 Former FBI Director James Comey will confirm past reports that Donald Trump pressured him to drop investigations related to an ongoing probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, according to prepared testimony.

Mr Comey’s prepared testimony appears to confirm past reports based upon memos that the former FBI director wrote about his interactions with the President, including a January dinner between the two when Mr Trump asked him if he wanted to stay on in his post as director before demanding loyalty.

In other interactions between the two in February, the President pressured Mr Comey to drop an FBI investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign from his post a day earlier and less than a month into the presidency amid concerns about his contacts with Russians.

“I hope you can see your way clear to let this go, to let Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go,” Mr Trump said to Mr Comey during that Valentines Day dinner, according to the testimony. Mr Comey didn’t say that he would drop it.

Mr Comey immediately prepared unclassified memos about his conversations with the President regarding Mr Flynn and had thought the request was concerning. After a call with FBI leadership, Mr Comey determined that it was important to try and avoid being alone with the President – he wrote that he was concerned that there was nobody who could corroborate that initial interaction regarding Mr Flynn – and later asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to restrict any further one-on-one meetings between the President and himself. The attorney general did not reply to that request.

The two would speak twice more before Mr Trump abruptly fired the former FBI director, according to the testimony.

In a late March phone call, Mr Trump repeatedly complained that the Russia probe was creating “a cloud” that made it very hard for him to perform his duties as president, and asked that Mr Comey to tell people that he was not investigating the President specifically. Mr Comey told Mr Trump that FBI protocol is to not make that information public because it would create an obligation to correct the record publicly if the probe ended up including the President.

“He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, and had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia. He asked what we could do to ‘lift the cloud,'” Mr Comey’s testimony reads. “I responded that we were investigating the matter as quickly as we could, nd that there would be a great benefit, if we didn’t find anything, to our having done the work well. He agreed, but then re-emphasized the problems this was causing him.”

During a final phone call between the two, Mr Trump asked why Mr Comey hadn’t gotten the word out that the President wasn’t personally being investigated, to which Mr Comey said that he had sent the request along to the Justice Department but hadn’t heard back. Mr Trump indicated that he would also ask the Justice Department to release that information, to which Mr Comey said that was the appropriate process for the request.

Mr Comey’s testimony in front of the Senate has become one of the most anticipated hearings in modern political history. The former FBI director was fired abruptly by the President, and reportedly learned about his ouster during a speech in California when he glimpsed the news playing on television. Following his firing, leaks detailing the information now corroborated by Mr Comey’s testimony began to trickle out, leading to outrage in Washington and concerns that Mr Trump’s actions constituted obstruction of justice.  (The Independent)

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Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him To End Flynn Investigation

 

By MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT

Video by MSNBC

WASHINGTON — President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo that Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.

“I hope you can let this go,” the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.

The existence of Mr. Trump’s request is the clearest evidence that the president has tried to directly influence the Justice Department and F.B.I. investigation into links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia.

Mr. Comey wrote the memo detailing his conversation with the president immediately after the meeting, which took place the day after Mr. Flynn resigned, according to two people who read the memo. The memo was part of a paper trail Mr. Comey created documenting what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence an ongoing investigation. An F.B.I. agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations.

James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing this month.© Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing this month.

Mr. Comey shared the existence of the memo with senior F.B.I. officials and close associates. The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo, which is unclassified, but one of Mr. Comey’s associates read parts of the memo to a Times reporter.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey, according to the memo. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey that Mr. Flynn had done nothing wrong, according to the memo.

Mr. Comey did not say anything to Mr. Trump about curtailing the investigation, only replying: “I agree he is a good guy.”

In a statement, the White House denied the version of events in the memo.

“While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn,” the statement said. “The president has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.”

In testimony to the Senate last week, the acting F.B.I. director, Andrew G. McCabe, said, “There has been no effort to impede our investigation to date.”

A spokesman for the F.B.I. declined to comment.

Mr. Comey created similar memos — including some that are classified — about every phone call and meeting he had with the president, the two people said. It is unclear whether Mr. Comey told the Justice Department about the conversation or his memos.

Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey last week. Trump administration officials have provided multiple, conflicting accounts of the reasoning behind Mr. Comey’s dismissal. Mr. Trump said in a television interview that one of the reasons was because he believed “this Russia thing” was a “made-up story.”

The Feb. 14 meeting took place just a day after Mr. Flynn was forced out of his job after it was revealed he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of phone conversations he had had with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

Despite the conversation between Mr. Trump and Mr. Comey, the investigation of Mr. Flynn has proceeded. In Virginia, a federal grand jury has issued subpoenas in recent weeks for records related to Mr. Flynn. Part of the Flynn investigation is centered on his financial ties to Russia and Turkey.

Mr. Comey had been in the Oval Office that day with other senior national security officials for a terrorism threat briefing. When the meeting ended, Mr. Trump told those present — including Mr. Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions — to leave the room except for Mr. Comey.

Alone in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump began the discussion by condemning leaks to the news media, saying that Mr. Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information, according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.

Mr. Trump then turned the discussion to Mr. Flynn.

After writing up a memo that outlined the meeting, Mr. Comey shared it with senior F.B.I. officials. Mr. Comey and his aides perceived Mr. Trump’s comments as an effort to influence the investigation, but they decided that they would try to keep the conversation secret — even from the F.B.I. agents working on the Russia investigation — so the details of the conversation would not affect the investigation.

Mr. Comey was known among his closest advisers to document conversations that he believed would later be called into question, according to two former confidants, who said Mr. Comey was uncomfortable at times with his relationship with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Comey’s recollection has been bolstered in the past by F.B.I. notes. In 2007, he told Congress about a now-famous showdown with senior White House officials over the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. The White House disputed Mr. Comey’s account, but the F.B.I. director at the time, Robert S. Mueller III, kept notes that backed up Mr. Comey’s story.

The White House has repeatedly crossed lines that other administrations have been reluctant to cross when discussing politically charged criminal investigations. Mr. Trump has disparaged the ongoing F.B.I. investigation as a hoax and called for an investigation into his political rivals. His representatives have taken the unusual step of declaring no need for a special prosecutor to investigate the president’s associates.

The Oval Office meeting occurred a little more than two weeks after Mr. Trump summoned Mr. Comey to the White House for a lengthy, one-on-one dinner in the residence. At that dinner, on Jan. 27, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Comey at least two times for a pledge of loyalty — which Mr. Comey declined, according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.

In a Twitter posting on Friday, Mr. Trump said that “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

After the meeting, Mr. Comey’s associates did not believe there was any way to corroborate Mr. Trump’s statements. But Mr. Trump’s suggestion last week that he was keeping tapes has made them wonder whether there are tapes that back up Mr. Comey’s account.

The Jan. 27 dinner came a day after White House officials learned that Mr. Flynn had been interviewed by F.B.I. agents about his phone calls with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak. On Jan. 26, Acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates told the White House counsel about the interview, and said Mr. Flynn could be subject to blackmail by the Russians because they knew he had lied about the content of the calls.                             (The New York Times)

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BREAKING: Senate Panel Subpoenas Flynn For Russia-related Documents

 

The Senate intelligence committee has subpoenaed former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn for documents related to the panel’s investigation into Russia’s election meddling.

Sen. Richard Burr, the Republican chairman, and Sen. Mark Warner, the committee’s Democratic vice chairman, say the panel had first requested the documents from Flynn on April 28. They say Flynn’s lawyer declined to cooperate with the request.

Flynn was fired by Trump after less than a month on the job. The White House said he misled Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials about his communications with Russia’s ambassador to the United States.

Flynn’s Russia ties are also being scrutinized by the FBI as it investigates whether Trump’s campaign was involved in Russia’s election interference.

This is a breaking news alert. Check back later for more.

Michael Flynn

AP

MORE DETAILS LATER…….

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Yates: Alarm About Russian Blackmail Led To Warning On Flynn (Video)

 

By ERIC TUCKER and EILEEN SULLIVAN
Video by TIME

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates told Congress Monday she bluntly warned the Trump White House in January that new National Security Adviser Michael Flynn “essentially could be blackmailed” by the Russians because he apparently had lied to his bosses about his contacts with Moscow’s ambassador in Washington.

The testimony from Yates, an Obama administration holdover fired soon after for other reasons, marked her first public comments about the concerns she raised and filled in basic details about the chain of events that led to Flynn’s ouster.

Her testimony, coupled with the revelation hours earlier that President Barack Obama himself had warned Trump against hiring Flynn shortly after the November election, made clear that alarms about Flynn had reached the highest levels of the U.S. government months before. Flynn had been an adviser to Donald Trump and an outspoken supporter of his presidential candidacy in the 2016 campaign.

Yates, appearing before a Senate panel investigating Russian interference in the election, described discussions with Trump White House Counsel Don McGahn in which she warned that Flynn apparently had misled the administration about his communications with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador.

White House officials had insisted that Flynn had not discussed U.S.-imposed sanctions with Kislyak during the presidential transition period, but asked Flynn to resign after news reports indicated he had lied about the nature of the calls.

“We felt like it was critical that we get this information to the White House, in part because the vice president was unknowingly making false statements to the public and because we believed that Gen. Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians,” Yates said.

“To state the obvious,” she added later, “you don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians.”

Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, right, and former National Intelligence Director James Clapper, prepare to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, May 8, 2017, before the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism hearing: "Russian Interference in the 2016 United States Election." (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)© The Associated Press Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, right, and former National Intelligence Director James Clapper, prepare to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, May 8, 2017, before the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on…

 

Yates’ questioning by a Senate panel investigating Russian interference in the presidential election was just one portion of a politically charged day that began with combative tweets from Trump and continued with disclosures from Obama administration officials about a private Oval Office conversation between Obama and his successor.

Republican senators in the hearing repeatedly pressed Yates on an unrelated matter — her refusal to defend the Trump administration’s travel ban — and whether she was responsible for leaking classified information. She said she was not.

Trump shouldered into the conversation early in the morning, tweeting that it was the Obama administration, not he, that had given Lt. Gen. Flynn “the highest security clearance” when he worked at the Pentagon. Trump made no mention of the fact that Flynn had been fired from his high position by the Obama administration in 2014.

Yates filled in new details of the events of Jan. 26, describing contacting McGahn in the morning and telling him she had something sensitive to discuss in person. Later that day, at the White House, she told him there was an alarming discrepancy between how Trump officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, were characterizing Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak and what intelligence officials knew to be true based on recordings of those calls.

The pair spoke several times over the next two days, with McGahn asking Yates how Flynn had fared during an interview with the FBI earlier that week — she did not answer — and why it was the business of the Justice Department if White House officials had misled each other. Flynn’s forced February resignation followed media reports that he had discussed U.S.-imposed sanctions on Russia with Ambassador Kislyak, which was contrary to the public representations of the Trump White House.

Yates herself, a longtime federal prosecutor, was fired by Trump on Jan. 30 after refusing to defend his travel ban. James Clapper, director of national intelligence under President Obama, testified as well on Monday. He retired when Trump took office.

Separately on Monday, former Obama officials said he had raised general concerns about Flynn with Trump and had told the incoming president there were better people for the national security post. Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer said in response that if Obama “was seriously concerned” about Flynn’s connections to Russia or other foreign countries, he should have withheld Flynn’s security clearance. Flynn served under Obama as defense intelligence chief before Obama dismissed him.

Trump repeatedly has said he has no ties to Russia and isn’t aware of any involvement by his aides in any Russian interference in the election. He’s dismissed FBI and congressional investigations into his campaign’s possible ties to the election meddling as a “hoax” driven by Democrats bitter over losing the White House.

The Associated Press reported last week that one sign taken as a warning by Obama officials about Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak was a request by a member of Trump’s own transition team made to national security officials in the Obama White House for the classified CIA profile of Kislyak. The AP interviewed a host of former U.S. officials, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss sensitive national security information.

Yates’ warning about Flynn in January capped weeks of building concern among top Obama officials, former officials told the AP. Obama himself that month told one of his closest advisers that the FBI, which by then had been investigating Trump associates’ possible ties to Russia for about six months, seemed particularly focused on Flynn.

Yates, a longtime federal prosecutor and Obama administration holdover, had been scheduled to appear in March before the House intelligence committee, but that hearing was canceled.

The subcommittee meeting Monday is one of multiple congressional probes into the Russia interference, along with House and Senate intelligence panels. All the committees are led by Republicans.          (AP)

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Flynn Probably Broke Law By Failing To Declare Foreign Payments, House Oversight Leaders Say

 

Karoun Demirjian
FILE PHOTO - White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (C) arrives prior to a joint news conference between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 13, 2017.© REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo FILE PHOTO – White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (C) arrives prior to a joint news conference between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House…  

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn probably broke the law by failing to disclose foreign income he earned from Russia and Turkey, the heads of the House Oversight Committee said Tuesday.

Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), said they believe Flynn neither received permission nor fully disclosed income he earned for a speaking engagement in Russia and lobbying activities on behalf of Turkey when he applied to reinstate his security clearance. They reached this conclusion after viewing two classified memos and a disclosure form in a private briefing Tuesday morning.

“Personally I see no evidence or no data to support the notion that General Flynn complied with the law,” Chaffetz told reporters after the briefing.

Said Cummings: “He was supposed to get permission, he was supposed to report it, and he didn’t. This is a major problem.”

Chaffetz and Cummings stressed that as a former military officer, Flynn would have needed special permission for his appearance at a gala sponsored by RT, the Russian-government-funded television station, for which he was paid $45,000. For his work lobbying on behalf of the Turkish government, he was paid more than $500,000.

“It does not appear that was ever sought, nor did he get that permission,” Chaffetz said.

The Republican later added that while Flynn was clearly not in compliance with the law, “it would be a little strong to say that he flat-out lied.”

Democrats immediately pounced on the news, claiming that it was yet another drip of damaging information implicating Trump world’s relationship with Russia.

“The disturbing news that General Flynn may have violated the law in connection with his security clearance may be just the tip of the iceberg,” declared Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday.

“These revelations highlight the importance of the intelligence committee working in a bipartisan way to request and receive documents with respect to any financial arrangements Flynn and others in similar positions may have had with foreign governments.”

Flynn’s omission could cost him. Violations of this nature can be punished by up to five years of jail time, though President Trump’s Justice Department ultimately would make the decision about whether to investigate or charge him.

Chaffetz stressed that the government ought to “recover the money” that was paid to Flynn by foreign entities — a figure that would at least be in the tens of thousands of dollars.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer would not say whether Flynn may have broken the law.

“That would be a question for him and the law-enforcement agency. I don’t know what he filled out or what he did or didn’t do,” Spicer told reporters at the daily press briefing. “He filled that form out before coming here, so it would be up to the committee and other authorities to look at that.”

He insisted the Trump administration had provided all documents requested by Congress to the committee.

“Every document they asked for it’s my understanding they’ve gotten,” he said.

He added that the committee’s request for a record of Flynn’s conversations with foreign contacts was “unwieldy,” arguing it was Flynn’s job “to talk with foreign counterparts on a daily basis. To document every call that he may have made is not exactly a request that is able to be filled.”

While it will not be up to the Oversight Committee to impose punishment, panel leaders pledged to pursue the matter, indicating a preference for making the documents the lawmakers reviewed public.

The future of any action may rely on a new Oversight Committee chairman. Chaffetz announced last week that he would resign from Congress in 2018 and perhaps leave much sooner — setting off a scramble to replace him on the House’s chief investigative panel.

Flynn could be charged with a crime for lying on the background-check form, and it could cause problems with his future ability to obtain security clearances. But the law requires investigators to show that he “knowingly and willfully” made false statements, setting a high bar. Prosecutors would not be able to make a case if Flynn’s forms were inaccurate by mere carelessness or honest mistake.

The FBI could open an investigation into the matter, and if they have not already, Congress could presumably ask them to do so. Chaffetz himself did just that after FBI Director James B. Comey said he would need such a referral to explore whether Hillary Clinton committed perjury when she testified before a congressional committee about her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.

The documents that committee members reviewed Tuesday came from the Defense Intelligence Agency and showed that Flynn had not declared any income from Russian or Turkish sources, despite the fact that the forms were filed about a month after Flynn’s reported trip to Moscow to speak at the RT gala, Cummings said.

“As has previously been reported, General Flynn briefed the Defense Intelligence Agency, a component agency of DoD, extensively regarding the RT speaking event trip both before and after the trip, and he answered any questions that were posed by DIA concerning the trip during those briefings,” said Flynn counsel Rob Kelner of Covington & Burling.

Flynn, a Trump campaign adviser and the first national security adviser of the Trump administration, was ousted in February after it was revealed that he misled Vice President Pence about his talks at the end of 2016 with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

The FBI and the House and Senate intelligence committees are investigating Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election, supposedly to help Trump. They are also exploring possible links between Trump aides and Russian officials.

Former acting attorney general Sally Yates and former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. are scheduled to testify before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on May 8. The House Intelligence Committee has also invited Yates and Clapper to testify in a public hearing that has not yet been scheduled.

The House probe in particular has been beset with controversy after the Intelligence Committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), publicly signaled that he had seen information suggesting the identity of Trump or members of his transition team may have been revealed in classified surveillance reports.

The Oversight Committee asked the White House in March for documents pertaining to Flynn’s security-clearance applications, the vetting that occurred before he was named national security adviser, and all of his contacts with foreign agents, including any payments received. In particular, the committee heads requested to see a disclosure form known as the SF86, on which Flynn was obligated to declare any foreign income.

On April 19, the White House sent the committee a reply, stating that any documents related to Flynn from before Jan. 20 — the day Trump took office — were not in its possession and that any documents from after that date did not seem relevant to the committee’s investigation.

“The White House has refused to provide this committee with a single piece of paper in response to our bipartisan request,” Cummings said.

He noted that lawmakers would be interested in seeing documents that could shed light on what Flynn told the White House and his foreign contacts before he was named national security adviser, and what led to his exit less than a month later.

During the transition period, Flynn told the incoming White House that he might need to register as a foreign agent. Cummings would not go so far as to accuse the White House of intentionally obstructing the committee’s investigation of Flynn.

The committee is not likely to pull Flynn before the panel for testimony — despite Cummings’s insistence that it “should be holding a hearing with General Flynn.”

Chaffetz said he would “highly doubt” that the committee would call Flynn to testify, deferring any command for such an audience to the House Intelligence Committee.

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Trump Allies Quietly Push Plan For Russia And Ukraine

 

By MEGAN TWOHEY and SCOTT SHANE
President Trump on his way to Charleston, S.C., on Friday. Although he has expressed hope that the United States and Russia can work together, it is unclear if the White House will take a privately submitted peace proposal for Ukraine seriously
President Trump on his way to Charleston, S.C., on Friday. Although he has expressed hope that the United States and Russia can work together, it is unclear if the White House will take a privately submitted peace proposal for Ukraine seriously

 

A week before Michael T. Flynn resigned as national security adviser, a sealed proposal was hand-delivered to his office, outlining a way for President Trump to lift sanctions against Russia.

Mr. Flynn is gone, having been caught lying about his own discussion of sanctions with the Russian ambassador. But the proposal, a peace plan for Ukraine and Russia, remains, along with those pushing it: Michael D. Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer, who delivered the document; Felix H. Sater, a business associate who helped Mr. Trump scout deals in Russia; and a Ukrainian lawmaker trying to rise in a political opposition movement shaped in part by Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager Paul D. Manafort.

At a time when Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia, and the people connected to him, are under heightened scrutiny — with investigations by American intelligence agencies, the F.B.I. and Congress — some of his associates remain willing and eager to wade into Russia-related efforts behind the scenes.

Mr. Trump has confounded Democrats and Republicans alike with his repeated praise for the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, and his desire to forge an American-Russian alliance. While there is nothing illegal about such unofficial efforts, a proposal that seems to tip toward Russian interests may set off alarms.

The amateur diplomats say their goal is simply to help settle a grueling, three-year conflict that has cost 10,000 lives. “Who doesn’t want to help bring about peace?” Mr. Cohen asked.

But the proposal contains more than just a peace plan. Andrii V. Artemenko, the Ukrainian lawmaker, who sees himself as a Trump-style leader of a future Ukraine, claims to have evidence — “names of companies, wire transfers” — showing corruption by the Ukrainian president, Petro O. Poroshenko, that could help oust him. And Mr. Artemenko said he had received encouragement for his plans from top aides to Mr. Putin.

“A lot of people will call me a Russian agent, a U.S. agent, a C.I.A. agent,” Mr. Artemenko said. “But how can you find a good solution between our countries if we do not talk?”

Mr. Cohen and Mr. Sater said they had not spoken to Mr. Trump about the proposal, and have no experience in foreign policy. Mr. Cohen is one of several Trump associates under scrutiny in an F.B.I. counterintelligence examination of links with Russia, according to law enforcement officials; he has denied any illicit connections.

The two others involved in the effort have somewhat questionable pasts: Mr. Sater, 50, a Russian-American, pleaded guilty to a role in a stock manipulation scheme decades ago that involved the Mafia. Mr. Artemenko spent two and a half years in jail in Kiev in the early 2000s on embezzlement charges, later dropped, which he said had been politically motivated.

While it is unclear if the White House will take the proposal seriously, the diplomatic freelancing has infuriated Ukrainian officials. Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, Valeriy Chaly, said Mr. Artemenko “is not entitled to present any alternative peace plans on behalf of Ukraine to any foreign government, including the U.S. administration.”

At a security conference in Munich on Friday, Mr. Poroshenko warned the West against “appeasement” of Russia, and some American experts say offering Russia any alternative to a two-year-old international agreement on Ukraine would be a mistake. The Trump administration has sent mixed signals about the conflict in Ukraine.

But given Mr. Trump’s praise for Mr. Putin, John Herbst, a former American ambassador to Ukraine, said he feared the new president might be too eager to mend relations with Russia at Ukraine’s expense — potentially with a plan like Mr. Artemenko’s.

It was late January when the three men associated with the proposed plan converged on the Loews Regency, a luxury hotel on Park Avenue in Manhattan where business deals are made in a lobby furnished with leather couches, over martinis at the restaurant bar and in private conference rooms on upper floors.

Mr. Cohen, 50, lives two blocks up the street, in Trump Park Avenue. A lawyer who joined the Trump Organization in 2007 as special counsel, he has worked on many deals, including a Trump-branded tower in the republic of Georgia and a short-lived mixed martial arts venture starring a Russian fighter. He is considered a loyal lieutenant whom Mr. Trump trusts to fix difficult problems.

The F.B.I. is reviewing an unverified dossier, compiled by a former British intelligence agent and funded by Mr. Trump’s political opponents, that claims Mr. Cohen met with a Russian representative in Prague during the presidential campaign to discuss Russia’s hacking of Democratic targets. But the Russian official named in the report told The New York Times that he had never met Mr. Cohen. Mr. Cohen insists that he has never visited Prague and that the dossier’s assertions are fabrications.

Mr. Cohen has a personal connection to Ukraine: He is married to a Ukrainian woman and once worked with relatives there to establish an ethanol business.

Mr. Artemenko, tall and burly, arrived at the Manhattan hotel between visits to Washington. (His wife, he said, met the first lady, Melania Trump, years ago during their modeling careers, but he did not try to meet Mr. Trump.) He had attended the inauguration and visited Congress, posting on Facebook his admiration for Mr. Trump and talking up his peace plan in meetings with American lawmakers.

He entered Parliament in 2014, the year that the former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych fled to Moscow amid protests over his economic alignment with Russia and corruption. Mr. Manafort, who had been instrumental in getting Mr. Yanukovych elected, helped shape a political bloc that sprang up to oppose the new president, Mr. Poroshenko, a wealthy businessman who has taken a far tougher stance toward Russia and accused Mr. Putin of wanting to absorb Ukraine into a new Russian Empire. Mr. Artemenko, 48, emerged from the opposition that Mr. Manafort nurtured. (The two men have never met, Mr. Artemenko said.)

Before entering politics, Mr. Artemenko had business ventures in the Middle East and real estate deals in the Miami area, and had worked as an agent representing top Ukrainian athletes. Some colleagues in Parliament describe him as corrupt, untrustworthy or simply insignificant, but he appears to have amassed considerable wealth.

He has fashioned himself in the image of Mr. Trump, presenting himself as Ukraine’s answer to a rising class of nationalist leaders in the West. He even traveled to Cleveland last summer for the Republican National Convention, seizing on the chance to meet with members of Mr. Trump’s campaign.

“It’s time for new leaders, new approaches to the governance of the country, new principles and new negotiators in international politics,” he wrote on Facebook on Jan. 27. “Our time has come!”Michael D. Cohen, second from left, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, with Michael T. Flynn, left, and former Gov. Rick Perry of Texas at Trump Tower in December. Mr. Cohen delivered the peace plan to Mr. Flynn a week before Mr. Flynn resigned as national security adviser.       © Sam Hodgson for The New York Times Michael D. Cohen, second from left, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, with Michael T. Flynn, left, and former Gov. Rick Perry of Texas at Trump Tower in December. Mr. Cohen delivered the peace plan to Mr. Flynn a week before Mr. Flynn resigned as national security adviser.

Mr. Artemenko said he saw in Mr. Trump an opportunity to advocate a plan for peace in Ukraine — and help advance his own political career. Essentially, his plan would require the withdrawal of all Russian forces from eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian voters would decide in a referendum whether Crimea, the Ukrainian territory seized by Russia in 2014, would be leased to Russia for a term of 50 or 100 years.

The Ukrainian ambassador, Mr. Chaly, rejected a lease of that kind. “It is a gross violation of the Constitution,” he said in written answers to questions from The Times. “Such ideas can be pitched or pushed through only by those openly or covertly representing Russian interests.”

The reaction suggested why Mr. Artemenko’s project also includes the dissemination of “kompromat,” or compromising material, purportedly showing that Mr. Poroshenko and his closest associates are corrupt. Only a new government, presumably one less hostile to Russia, might take up his plan.

Mr. Sater, a longtime business associate of Mr. Trump’s with connections in Russia, was willing to help Mr. Artemenko’s proposal reach the White House.

Mr. Trump has sought to distance himself from Mr. Sater in recent years. If Mr. Sater “were sitting in the room right now,” Mr. Trump saidin a 2013 deposition, “I really wouldn’t know what he looked like.”

But Mr. Sater worked on real estate development deals with the Trump Organization on and off for at least a decade, even after his role in the stock manipulation scheme came to light.

Mr. Sater, who was born in the Soviet Union and grew up in New York, served as an executive at a firm called Bayrock Group, two floors below the Trump Organization in Trump Tower, and was later a senior adviser to Mr. Trump.

He said he had been working on a plan for a Trump Tower in Moscow with a Russian real estate developer as recently as the fall of 2015, one that he said had come to a halt because of Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign. (Mr. Cohen said the Trump Organization had received a letter of intent for a project in Moscow from a Russian real estate developer at that time but determined that the project was not feasible.)

Mr. Artemenko said a mutual friend had put him in touch with Mr. Sater. Helping to advance the proposal, Mr. Sater said, made sense.

“I want to stop a war, number one,” he said. “Number two, I absolutely believe that the U.S. and Russia need to be allies, not enemies. If I could achieve both in one stroke, it would be a home run.”

After speaking with Mr. Sater and Mr. Artemenko in person, Mr. Cohen said he would deliver the plan to the White House.

Mr. Cohen said he did not know who in the Russian government had offered encouragement on it, as Mr. Artemenko claims, but he understood there was a promise of proof of corruption by the Ukrainian president.

“Fraud is never good, right?” Mr. Cohen said.

He said Mr. Sater had given him the written proposal in a sealed envelope. When Mr. Cohen met with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office in early February, he said, he left the proposal in Mr. Flynn’s office.

Mr. Cohen said he was waiting for a response when Mr. Flynn was forced from his post. Now he, Mr. Sater and Mr. Artemenko are hoping a new national security adviser will take up their cause. On Friday the president wrote on Twitter that he had four new candidates for the job.

(The New York Times)

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Flynn Episode ‘Darkens The Cloud’ Of Russia That Hangs Over Trump Administration

 

Rosalind S. Helderman, Tom Hamburger
Michael Flynn’s abrupt ouster from President Trump’s top national security post prompted a flurry of Republicans calling for a deeper look into the administration’s relations with Russia.© Olivier Douliery/Bloomberg News Michael Flynn’s abrupt ouster from President Trump’s top national security post prompted a flurry of Republicans calling for a deeper look into the administration’s relations with Russia.  

Once again, Donald Trump is embroiled in controversy related to Russia.

The ouster of Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, caught by intelligence agencies speaking with the Russian ambassador about U.S. sanctions and then misleading administration officials about the interactions, marked the latest chapter in a months-long saga in which Trump has been unable to break free from the shadow of the United States’ longtime rival.

Two advisers left the campaign amid questions about their ties to Moscow and the oligarchs that hold sway there. The FBI is probing ties between Trump associates and Russia, as is the Senate Intelligence Committee. The president himself has repeatedly praised Russia’s authoritarian leader, Vladi­mir Putin, while he has long expressed a desire to build a Trump Tower in Moscow and boasted of how the Trump brand holds special appeal for Russian investors.

All of this coincided with Russia’s role in last year’s U.S. election, in which the Kremlin is accused by U.S. intelligence agencies of orchestrating hacks that targeted Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and her top aides to weaken her campaign. FBI Director James B. Comey also last month briefed Trump on accusations that the Russians hold compromising material about him, an unverified claim found in a dossier written by a former British spy hired by Trump’s political opponents. Trump has rejected the claim as “fake news.”

Now the foreign power that allegedly hoped to help Trump gain power is in a position to undermine his grip on it, with Flynn’s departure lending new gravity and intensity to long-simmering questions about Trump and Russia.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/c6b318fe-f2e3-11e6-9fb1-2d8f3fc9c0ed

Democratic lawmakers and a handful of Republicans escalated calls Tuesday for a thorough and independent investigation into the possible connections between Trump and Russia. The line of inquiry could result in uncomfortable questions for the White House, including demands by Democrats that lawmakers seek to make public Trump’s tax returns.

“There was already a cloud hanging over the administration when it comes to Russia, and this darkens the cloud,” said Eliot Cohen, who served as an adviser to the George W. Bush administration and has been a Trump critic. “This is serious.”

Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), a member of the Senate Republican leadership, told a Missouri radio station Tuesday that the Senate Intelligence Committee should look into Trump’s Russia connections “exhaustively so that at the end of this process, nobody wonders whether there was a stone left unturned, and shouldn’t reach conclusions before you have the information that you need to have to make those conclusions.”

“For all of us, finding out if there’s a problem or not, and sooner rather than later, is the right thing to do,” he said.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who had raised initial questions about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s past good relations with Putin during his time as ExxonMobil’s CEO, told reporters this week that senators will “go wherever the truth leads us” in the Russia inquiry.

Trump aides stressed Tuesday that the Flynn controversy was entirely about internal dynamics in the White House — and not about any larger issues related to Russia. Press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that Flynn resigned because of misleading information he gave to Vice President Pence and others, rather than the nature of his contact with the Russians. “Pure and simple, it was a matter of trust,” Spicer said.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/a2d07228-f2b7-11e6-9fb1-2d8f3fc9c0ed

Spicer, meanwhile, sought to portray Trump as a hawk when it comes to dealing with the Kremlin. “The irony of this entire situation is that the president has been incredibly tough on Russia,” Spicer said, citing comments from Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who has issued recent condemnations of recent Russian military action in Ukraine.

Trump, however, has done little in his public appearances as a businessman, a candidate or as president to suggest a hard line on Russia.

For years before entering politics, Trump appeared to hold Putin in an especially high regard.

“By the way, I really like Vladi­mir Putin,” Trump told the Russian-language magazine Chayka in 2008 as he debuted a new Trump-branded New York City condo project that was catering in part to Russian buyers. “I respect him. He does his job well. Much better than our Bush.”

Trump continued to praise the Russian leader after President Bush left office, repeatedly citing Putin as a stronger leader than President Obama.

In 2014, a year after Trump hosted the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, he tweeted that Putin had become a “big hero” in Russia who would “rebuild the Russian empire,” even as Obama’s popularity sagged.

Trump’s positive words about the Russian leader during last year’s campaign surprised some Republicans, considering that most GOP leaders said Putin’s rise was a threat to U.S. allies and interests around the world.

In December 2015, before any ballots were cast in the primary election, Trump declared that praise he had received from Putin was a “great honor” and rejected allegations that Putin had killed journalists and other political opponents. “He’s always denied it,” Trump told ABC’s “This Week” on Dec. 20, 2015, adding, “I think our country does plenty of killing also.”

Trump also seemed to embrace some aspects of Russia’s foreign policy agenda. He spoke of partnering with Moscow to fight the Islamic State and other radical Islamic terrorist groups, while, during the Republican National Convention, his campaign sought a tweak to the GOP platform softening a call for the United States to provide Ukraine with “lethal defensive weapons” in its ongoing fight with Russian-backed separatists.

After WikiLeaks first posted hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee, Trump refused to criticize — instead inviting Russia to hack his Democratic opponent.

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” he said in July, referring to emails Hillary Clinton had deleted as personal while secretary of state.

Later, after WikiLeaks posted thousands of emails from Clinton campaign chief John D. Podesta, Trump resisted findings by U.S. intelligence of Russian interference.

Only in January did he say he concurred with the professionals’ assessment that Russia was behind the cyberhacks that plagued his opposition.

“As far as hacking, I think it was Russia,” he said, before quickly adding. “But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.”

Trump has also surrounded himself with aides who had expressed similar views on Russia.

Flynn, who Trump considered naming vice president, had been particularly vocal about the potential for Russia to be a stronger ally against terrorism.

Flynn was also a frequent commentator on RT, the Russian-government funded news network and had been paid to attend a gala for the network in 2015 where he was seated near Putin.

Another top Trump aide, Paul Manafort, had financial ties with business and political leaders linked to Putin, including time spent advising the Putin-backed president of Ukraine. Manafort was named Trump’s campaign manager in June but resigned in August, after Ukrainian anti-corruption investigators announced they discovered a “black ledger” showing $12.7 million designated for Manafort between 2007 and 2012 by a political party associated with the former president of Ukraine. Manafort denied any wrongdoing and rejected the suggestion that he received “off the books” funds from his work in Ukraine.

Another Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, delivered a speech critical of the U.S. role in promoting democracy while visiting Moscow in July. An energy consultant who worked in Moscow for Merrill Lynch a decade ago, Page had been little known in Washington policy circles until Trump named him publicly as an adviser in March.

After reports of his speech in Moscow surfaced last summer, campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said Page was an “informal foreign policy adviser” who “does not speak for Mr. Trump or the campaign.” In September, as criticism continued, Page took a leave from the campaign.

Sensing vulnerability, Democrats pressed Tuesday for more investigation into whether Trump has business ties in Russia that could explain his attitudes.

Trump has said he has done no deals there. But over 30 years, he has repeatedly visited Moscow and promised to one day build a tower bearing his name there.

He has also bragged about selling a mansion in Florida to a Russian oligarch for nearly $100 million, and Russian investors were key to the success of several Trump-branded buildings, particularly in Florida following the 2008 crash of the U.S. housing market.

“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008, according to an account posted on the website of eTurboNews, a trade publication. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

Trump’s aides have been unequivocal that his campaign did not coordinate with Russians who meddled in the campaign.

Two days after Trump was elected, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told a reporter in Moscow that “there were contacts” between Russian officials and the Trump campaign. “Obviously, we know most of the people from his entourage,” Ryabkov told the Interfax news agency.

Russian officials later described those contacts as standard diplomatic interactions — but at the time, they were vigorously denied by Trump’s transition team, with Hicks saying there had been “no contact with Russian officials.”

In fact, Ambassador Sergey Kisylak recently confirmed to The Washington Post that he had spoken with Flynn prior to Election Day.

Asked again Tuesday whether anyone from the campaign had contact with Russians before the election, Spicer told reporters he knew nothing to suggest anything had “changed with respect to that time period.”

WP

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BREAKING NEWS: U.S. National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn Resigns Amid Russia Ties

 

JULIE PACE, ERIC TUCKER and JILL COLVIN
FILE- In this Monday, Feb. 6, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump passes Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, left, and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn as he arrives via Air Force One at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla. A top White House aide sidestepped repeated chances Sunday, Feb. 12, to publicly defend Flynn following reports that he engaged in conversations with a Russian diplomat about U.S. sanctions before Trump's inauguration. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)© The Associated Press FILE- In this Monday, Feb. 6, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump passes Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, left, and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn as he arrives via Air Force One at Ma…

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s embattled national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned late Monday night, following reports that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other officials about his contacts with Russia. His departure upends Trump’s senior team after less than one month in office.

In a resignation letter, Flynn said he held numerous calls with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. during the transition and gave “incomplete information” about those discussions to Vice President Mike Pence. The vice president, apparently relying on information from Flynn, initially said the national security adviser had not discussed sanctions with the Russian envoy, though Flynn later conceded the issue may have come up.

The revelations were another destabilizing blow to an administration that has already suffered a major legal defeat, botched the implementation of a signature policy and stumbled through a string of embarrassing public relations missteps.

Trump on Monday named retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg as the acting national security adviser. Kellogg had previously been appointed the National Security Council chief of staff and advised Trump on national security issues during the campaign. Trump is also considering former CIA Director David Petraeus and Vice Admiral Robert Harward, a U.S. Navy SEAL, for the post, according to a senior administration official.

The Trump team’s account of Flynn’s discussions with the Russian envoy changed repeatedly over several weeks, including the number of contacts, the dates of those contacts and, ultimately, the content of the conversations.

Last month, the Justice Department warned the Trump administration that Flynn could be in a compromised position as a result of the contradictions between the public depictions of the calls and what intelligence officials knew to be true based on recordings of the conversations, which were picked up as part of routine monitoring of foreign officials communications in the U.S.

An administration official and two people with knowledge of the situation confirmed the Justice Department warnings on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. It was unclear when Trump and Pence learned about the Justice Department outreach.

The Washington Post was the first to report the communication between former acting attorney general Sally Yates, a holdover from the Obama administration, and the Trump White House.

Even before the Post report, the White House was signaling that Flynn’s future was in doubt. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump was “evaluating the situation” and consulting with Pence on Monday about his conversations with the national security adviser.

Asked whether the president had been aware that Flynn might have discussed sanctions with the Russian envoy, Spicer said, “No, absolutely not.”

Trump, who comments on a steady stream of issues on his Twitter feed, had been conspicuously silent about the matter since The Washington Post reported last week that Flynn had discussed sanctions with the Russian envoy. A U.S. official told The Associated Press that Flynn was in frequent contact with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on the day the Obama administration slapped sanctions on Russia for election-related hacking, as well as at other times during the transition.

Flynn’s discussions with the Russian raised questions about whether Flynn offered assurances about the incoming administration’s new approach. Such conversations would breach diplomatic protocol and possibly violate the Logan Act, a law aimed at keeping citizens from conducting diplomacy.

Earlier Monday, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Trump had “full confidence” in Flynn, though her assertions were not backed up by other senior Trump aides.

Flynn was spotted near the Oval Office just after 10 p.m. Monday. Amid the uncertainty over Flynn’s future, several of the president’s top advisers, including chief of staff Reince Priebus and counsel Don McGahn, ducked in and out of late-night meetings in the West Wing.

Several House Democrats called on Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, to launch an investigation into Flynn’s ties to Russia. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called for Flynn to be fired, saying he “cannot be trusted not to put Putin before America.”

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said that if Pence were misled, “I can’t imagine he would have trust in Gen. Flynn going forward.” She said it would also be “troubling” if Flynn had been negotiating with a foreign government before taking office.

It’s illegal for private citizens to conduct U.S. diplomacy. Flynn’s conversations also raise questions about Trump’s friendly posture toward Russia after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Moscow hacked Democratic emails during the election.

Flynn’s resignation comes as Trump and his top advisers seek to steady the White House after a rocky start. The president, who seeks input from a wide range of business associates, friends and colleagues, has been asking people their opinions on his senior team, including Spicer and Priebus.

Advisers have privately conceded that the White House spit out too many disparate messages in the first few weeks, though they also note that the president’s own tweets sometimes muddy the day’s plans before most of the White House staff has arrived for work.

Trump voiced support for Priebus Monday, saying the chief of staff was doing, “not a good job, a great job.” But he did not make a similar show of support for his national security adviser.

Flynn sat in the front row of Trump’s news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier Monday. The president did not receive a question about Flynn’s future from the two reporters who were called upon, and he ignored journalists’ shouted follow-up inquiries as he left the room.

Over the weekend, Trump told associates he was troubled by the situation, but did not say whether he planned to ask Flynn to step down, according to a person who spoke with him recently. Flynn was a loyal Trump supporter during the campaign, but he is viewed skeptically by some in the administration’s national security circles, in part because of his ties to Russia.

In 2015, Flynn was paid to attend a gala dinner for Russia Today, a Kremlin-backed television station, and sat next to Russian President Vladimir Putin during the event.

Flynn spoke with the vice president about the matter twice on Friday, according to an administration official. The official said Pence was relying on information from Flynn when he went on television and denied that sanctions were discussed with Kislyak.

Kellogg takes the helm of the National Security Council at a time when the young administration is grappling with a series of national security challenges, including North Korea’s reported ballistic missile launch. The president, who was joined at his Mar-a-Lago estate by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over the weekend, voiced solidarity with Japan.

The White House is also dealing with fallout from the rocky rollout of Trump’s immigration executive order, which has been blocked by the courts. The order was intended to suspend the nation’s refugee program and bar citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

AP

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White House Stops Defending Flynn, Raising Questions About His Fate

 

By JILL COLVIN and JULIE PACE
WASHINGTON (AP) — Embattled national security adviser Michael Flynn’s fate as one of President Donald Trump’s senior aides remained uncertain Monday following reports that he discussed U.S. sanctions with a Russian envoy before Trump’s inauguration.

For a fourth straight day, White House officials would not say whether Trump had confidence in Flynn. The president has not publicly commented on Flynn’s status, nor has Vice President Mike Pence, who previously denied that Flynn had discussed sanctions with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S.

Pence and Flynn spoke twice on Friday, according to an administration official.

Trump has told associates he is troubled by the situation, but he has not said whether he plans to ask Flynn to step down, according to a person who spoke with him recently. Flynn was a loyal Trump supporter during the campaign, but he is viewed skeptically by some in the administration’s national security circles, in part because of his ties to Russia.

The administration official and both people with ties to Trump spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called for Flynn to be fired, saying he “cannot be trusted to put (Russian President Vladimir) Putin before America.”

FILE- In this Monday, Feb. 6, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump passes Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, left, and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn as he arrives via Air Force One at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla. A top White House aide sidestepped repeated chances Sunday, Feb. 12, to publicly defend Flynn following reports that he engaged in conversations with a Russian diplomat about U.S. sanctions before Trump's inauguration. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)© The Associated Press FILE- In this Monday, Feb. 6, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump passes Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, left, and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn as he arrives via Air Force One at Ma…  

On Friday, The Washington Post reported that Flynn addressed sanctions against Russia in a call with Kislyak. The report contradicted repeated denials from Trump officials, including Pence, who vouched for Flynn in a televised interview.

Flynn has since told administration officials that sanctions may have come up in the calls, which coincided with the Obama administration slapping penalties on Russia for election-related hacking.

It’s illegal for private citizens to conduct U.S. diplomacy. Flynn’s conversations also raise questions about Trump’s friendly posture toward Russia after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Moscow hacked Democratic emails during the election.

Stephen Miller, Trump’s top policy adviser, skirted the issue on several Sunday news shows, saying it was not his place to weigh in on the “sensitive matter” or to say whether the president retains confidence in Flynn.

Several other White House officials did not respond Sunday to questions about whether Trump had confidence in his national security adviser. Their silence appeared to reflect some uncertainty about the views of the president, who is known to quickly change his mind.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who led Trump’s transition planning before the election, said Flynn would have to explain his conflicting statements about his conversations with Kislyak to Trump and Pence.

“Gen. Flynn has said up to this point that he had not said anything like that to the Russian ambassador. I think now he’s saying that he doesn’t remember whether he did or not,” Christie said on CNN. “So, that’s a conversation he is going to need to have with the president and the vice president to clear that up, so that the White House can make sure that they are completely accurate about what went on.”

The controversy surrounding Flynn comes as the young administration grapples with a series of national security challenges, including North Korea’s reported ballistic missile launch. The president, who was joined at his Mar-a-Lago estate by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over the weekend, voiced solidarity with Japan.

Trump meets Monday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and later in the week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The White House is also dealing with fallout from the rocky rollout of Trump’s immigration executive order, which has been blocked by the courts. The order was intended to suspend the nation’s refugee program and bar citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.

Advocacy groups contend the government has rounded up large numbers of people as part of stepped-up enforcement. The agency calls the effort no different from enforcement actions carried out in the past.

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Turmoil, From The Top Down, At The National Security Council

 

By DAVID E. SANGER, ERIC SCHMITT and PETER BAKER

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WASHINGTON — These are chaotic and anxious days inside the National Security Council, the traditional center of management for a president’s dealings with an uncertain world.

Three weeks into the Trump administration, council staff members get up in the morning, read President Trump’s Twitter posts and struggle to make policy to fit them. Most are kept in the dark about what Mr. Trump tells foreign leaders in his phone calls. Some staff members have turned to encrypted communications to talk with their colleagues, after hearing that Mr. Trump’s top advisers are considering an “insider threat” program that could result in monitoring cellphones and emails for leaks.

The national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, has hunkered down since investigators began looking into what, exactly, he told the Russian ambassador to the United States about the lifting of sanctions imposed in the last days of the Obama administration, and whether he misled Vice President Mike Pence about those conversations. His survival in the job may hang in the balance.

Although Mr. Trump suggested to reporters aboard Air Force One on Friday that he was unaware of the latest questions swirling around Mr. Flynn’s dealings with Russia, aides said over the weekend in Florida — where Mr. Flynn accompanied the president and Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe — that Mr. Trump was closely monitoring the reaction to Mr. Flynn’s conversations. There are transcripts of a conversation in at least one phone call, recorded by American intelligence agencies that wiretap foreign diplomats, which may determine Mr. Flynn’s future.

Stephen Miller, the White House senior policy adviser, was circumspect on Sunday about Mr. Flynn’s future. Mr. Miller said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that possibly misleading the vice president on communications with Russia was “a sensitive matter.” Asked if Mr. Trump still had confidence in Mr. Flynn, Mr. Miller responded, “That’s a question for the president.”

This account of life inside the council — offices made up of several hundred career civil servants who advise the president on counterterrorism, foreign policy, nuclear deterrence and other issues of war and peace — is based on conversations with more than two dozen current and former council staff members and others throughout the government. All spoke on the condition that they not be quoted by name for fear of reprisals.

“It’s so far a very dysfunctional N.S.C.,” Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a telephone interview.

In a telephone conversation on Sunday afternoon, K. T. McFarland, the deputy national security adviser, said that early meetings of the council were brisker, tighter and more decisive than in the past, but she acknowledged that career officials were on edge. “Not only is this a new administration, but it is a different party, and Donald Trump was elected by people who wanted the status quo thrown out,” said Ms. McFarland, a veteran of the Reagan administration who most recently worked for Fox News. “I think it would be a mistake if we didn’t have consternation about the changes — most of the cabinet haven’t even been in government before.”

There is always a shakedown period for any new National Security Council, whose staff is drawn from the State Department, the Pentagon and other agencies and is largely housed opposite the White House in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

President Barack Obama replaced his first national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, a four-star former supreme allied commander in Europe, after concluding that the general was a bad fit for the administration. The first years of President George W. Bush’s council were defined by clashes among experienced bureaucratic infighters — Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell among them — and by decisions that often took place outside official channels.

But what is happening under the Trump White House is different, officials say, and not just because of Mr. Trump’s Twitter foreign policy. (Two officials said that at one recent meeting, there was talk of feeding suggested Twitter posts to the president so the council’s staff would have greater influence.)

A number of staff members who did not want to work for Mr. Trump have returned to their regular agencies, leaving a larger-than-usual hole in the experienced bureaucracy. Many of those who remain, who see themselves as apolitical civil servants, have been disturbed by displays of overt partisanship. At an all-hands meeting about two weeks into the new administration, Ms. McFarland told the group it needed to “make America great again,” numerous staff members who were there said.

New Trump appointees are carrying coffee mugs with that Trump campaign slogan into meetings with foreign counterparts, one staff member said. And Mr. Miller was once allowed to act as chairman of a weekend meeting of the national security deputies, stunning career officials.

Nervous staff members recently met late at night at a bar a few blocks from the White House and talked about purging their social media accounts of any suggestion of anti-Trump sentiments.

Mr. Trump’s council staff draws heavily from the military — often people who had ties to Mr. Flynn when he served as a senior military intelligence officer and then as the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency before he was forced out of the job. Many of the first ideas that have been floated have involved military, rather than diplomatic, initiatives.

Last week, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was exploring whether the Navy could intercept and board an Iranian ship to look for contraband weapons possibly headed to Houthi fighters in Yemen. The potential interdiction seemed in keeping with recent instructions from Mr. Trump, reinforced in meetings with Mr. Mattis and Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, to crack down on Iran’s support of terrorism.

But the ship was in international waters in the Arabian Sea, according to two officials. Mr. Mattis ultimately decided to set the operation aside, at least for now. White House officials said that was because news of the impending operation leaked, a threat to security that has helped fuel the move for the insider threat program. But others doubt whether there was enough basis in international law, and wondered what would happen if, in the early days of an administration that has already seen one botched military action in Yemen, American forces were suddenly in a firefight with the Iranian Navy.

Ms. McFarland often draws on her television experience to make clear to officials that they need to make their points in council meetings quickly, and she signals when to wrap up, several participants said.

And while Mr. Obama liked policy option papers that were three to six single-spaced pages, council staff members are now being told to keep papers to a single page, with lots of graphics and maps.

“The president likes maps,” one official said.

Paper flow, the lifeblood of the bureaucracy, has been erratic. A senior Pentagon official saw a draft executive order on prisoner treatment only through unofficial rumors and news media leaks. He called the White House to find out if it was real and said he had concerns but was not sure if he was authorized to make suggestions.

Officials said that the absence of an orderly flow of council documents, ultimately the responsibility of Mr. Flynn, explained why Mr. Mattis and Mike Pompeo, the director of the C.I.A., never saw a number of Mr. Trump’s executive orders before they were issued. One order had to be amended after it was made public, to reassure Mr. Pompeo that he had a regular seat on the council.

White House officials say that was a blunder, and that the process of reviewing executive orders has been straightened out by Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff.

Still, Mr. Flynn presents additional complications beyond his conversations with the Russian ambassador. His aides say he is insecure about whether his unfettered access to Mr. Trump during the campaign is being scaled back and about a shadow council created by Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s top strategist, who was made a member of the council two weeks ago. For his part, Mr. Bannon sees the United States as headed toward an inevitable confrontation with two adversaries — China and Iran.

Mr. Flynn finds himself in a continuing conflict with the intelligence agencies, whose work on Russia and other issues he has dismissed as subpar and politically biased. Last week, in an incident first reported by Politico, one of Mr. Flynn’s top deputies, Robin Townley, was denied the high-level security clearance he needed before he could take up his job on the council as the senior director for Africa.

It was not clear what in Mr. Townley’s past disqualified him, and in every administration some officials are denied clearances. But some saw the intelligence community striking back.

Two people with direct access to the White House leadership said Mr. Flynn was surprised to learn that the State Department and Congress play a pivotal role in foreign arms sales and technology transfers. So it was a rude discovery that Mr. Trump could not simply order the Pentagon to send more weapons to Saudi Arabia — which is clamoring to have an Obama administration ban on the sale of cluster bombs and precision-guided weapons lifted — or to deliver bigger weapons packages to the United Arab Emirates.

Several staff members said that Mr. Flynn, who was a career Army officer, was not familiar with how to call up the National Guard in an emergency — for, say, a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina or the detonation of a dirty bomb in an American city.

At the all-hands meeting, Mr. Flynn talked about the importance of a balanced work life, taking care of family, and using the time at the council to gain experience that would help staff members in other parts of the government. At one point, the crowd was asked for a show of hands of how many expected to be working at the White House in a year.

Mr. Flynn turned to Ms. McFarland and, in what seemed to be a self-deprecating joke, said, “I wonder if we’ll be here a year from now?”

(The New York Times)

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