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Where do the investigations related to Trump stand? - The Washington Post - 5:57 AM 12/31/2018

FILE - In this Dec. 13, 2018, file photo, President Donald Trump listens during a meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington. New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood and Trump’s charitable foundation reached a deal on Tuesday, Dec. 18 to dissolve the foundation and distribute its remaining assets to other nonprofit groups. (Evan Vucci, File/Associated Press)

Where do the investigations related to Trump stand? - AP 

The Washington Post

Where the investigations related to President Donald Trump stand and what may lie ahead for him:
WHAT’S THIS ALL ABOUT?
Trump is facing criminal investigations in Washington and New York.
Special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia and whether the president obstructed the investigation. Trump also plays a central role in a separate case in New York, where prosecutors have implicated him in a crime. They say Trump directed his personal lawyer Michael Cohen to make illegal hush money payments to two women as a way to quash potential sex scandals during the campaign.
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WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW TODAY?
House Republicans brought an unceremonious end to their yearlong look at the Justice Department’s handling of the investigations into Trump’s ties to Russia and Democrat Hillary Clinton’s emails.
In a letter released before Republicans cede the House majority to Democrats, the chairmen of two committees described what they said was the “seemingly disparate treatment” the two probes received during the 2016 presidential election and called on the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to investigate further.
The wrapping up of the congressional investigation, done in a letter and without a full final report, was a quiet end to a probe that was conducted mostly behind closed doors but also in public. Republican lawmakers often criticized interview subjects afterward and suggested they were conspiring against Trump.
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WHAT’S UP WITH THE ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE?
Trump’s pick for attorney general, William Barr, sent an unsolicited memo to the Justice Department this year criticizing parts of the Mueller probe as “fatally misconceived.”
The 20-page memo, sent in June while Barr was in private practice and months before he was selected by Trump for the Justice Department job, may prompt questions about his ability to oversee the special counsel’s investigation fairly.
The document argues that there could be disastrous consequences for the Justice Department and the presidency if Mueller were to conclude that acts a president is legally permitted to take — such as firing an FBI director — could constitute obstruction of justice, just because someone concludes that there was corrupt intent.
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SO ... DID THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN COLLUDE WITH RUSSIA?
There is no smoking gun when it comes to the question of Russia collusion. But the evidence so far shows a broad range of Trump associates had Russia-related contacts during the 2016 presidential campaign and transition period, and that several lied about the communication.
There is also evidence that some people in the president’s orbit were discussing a possible email dump from WikiLeaks before it occurred. American intelligence agencies and Mueller have said Russia was the source of hacked material released by WikiLeaks during the campaign that was damaging to Clinton’s presidential effort.
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OTHER QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
—WHAT ABOUT OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE? That is another unresolved question that Mueller is pursuing. Investigators have examined key episodes such as Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey and his fury over the recusal from the investigation of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
—WHAT DOES TRUMP HAVE TO SAY ABOUT ALL THIS? Trump has repeatedly slammed the Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt” and insisted there was “NO COLLUSION” with Russia. He also says his now-former lawyer, Cohen, lied to get a lighter sentence in New York.
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For more in-depth information, follow AP coverage at https://apnews.com/TrumpInvestigations
Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Where do the investigations related to Trump stand? - The Washington Post

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Trump listens to Fox, Putin, not his advisers | Letters

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Mueller investigation stirring up more trouble than it’s finding – The Mercury News

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After 19 months, special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has charged a number of targets with almost every conceivable sin — except collusion with Russia to throw an election. Yet suspicion of collusion was the reason that Mueller was appointed in the first place.
President Trump’s former consigliere, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress. But as part of his plea deal, Cohen also confessed to a superfluous charge of a campaign finance violation.
Cohen allegedly negotiated a nondisclosure agreement concerning a supposed past Trump liaison with porn star Stormy Daniels. Yet no one alleges that Trump used cash from his 2016 campaign account to buy Daniels’ silence.
Instead, the accusation is that Cohen and Trump used Trump’s own money, but they did not report the payout as a “contribution” to his campaign. But Trump likely would have paid off Daniels anyway to protect his marriage, family and reputation, regardless of whether he was running for office.
If you take media-sensationalized sex out of the equation, Trump, like any other American, has the right to pay anyone whatever he wishes to keep quiet about past embarrassing behavior, whether that be secretly gulping down too many Big Macs or cheating on the golf course.
Apparently, Cohen was leveraged by Mueller’s team to plead guilty to a crime that was likely not a crime. And in circular fashion, his confession was used as proof that the non-crime was actually a crime after all — and thus could serve as yet another way to find something on Trump.
Retired Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, pleaded guilty to giving false testimony about a “crime” that also apparently did not exist.
It was not a crime for Flynn to talk with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition. Yet the Russian diplomat was being surveilled by American intelligence, perhaps to reverse-target Flynn by getting something on him on tape.
The secret taping was green-lighted by a federal court in the midst of the hysteria created by the Christopher Steele dossier paid for in part by presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Then, Flynn’s name was illegally leaked to the press.
The FBI sent two investigators to interview Flynn, apparently on the prompt of acting Attorney General Sally Yates, a holdover from the Barack Obama administration. Yates, who served as the interim attorney general for 10 days, apparently came up with the ludicrous idea that Flynn might have violated the Logan Act. That law is an ossified 219-year-old statute about meeting foreign officials that has resulted in only two indictments over the years.
Next, former FBI Director James Comey counted on the Trump administration’s inexperience and broke normal protocol by sending investigators to interrogate Flynn directly without bothering with the usual administration intermediaries. Comey’s deputy director, Andrew McCabe, misled Flynn into assuming that the interview would be a friendly chat among “allies.” Flynn was told he would not need a lawyer.
Flynn complied, rightly assuming that it was not a crime for a transition administration official to talk with a foreign ambassador. He also likely was not fully aware that the FBI’s intent was to have him say something that would contradict the FBI’s secret transcripts of his talks with the Russian ambassador.
It gets worse. The FBI agents, who presumably had transcripts from Flynn’s talks with the Russian ambassador to compare to Flynn’s interview answers, expressed the belief that Flynn did not seem as if he was lying to them. Yet that conclusion was apparently overturned at some point by the FBI. To this day, the only real evidence that Flynn lied is his confession — and apparently the second thoughts of the FBI investigators, who reinterpreted their initial impressions in a much later official report.
Mueller seemingly wanted Flynn to testify about something that might prove that the Trump administration colluded with Russia. When that did not work, Flynn was later leveraged to “confess” to having lied to FBI investigators, who originally thought that he had not lied about a “crime” of talking about foreign policy with a Russian ambassador — an act that in itself was not illegal.
Once Flynn confessed that he lied, his legal costs diminished. His son was not indicted by Mueller. He was promised little or no jail time by cooperating with the investigation.
One of Flynn’s investigators was subsequently fired FBI agent Peter Strzok, who had exchanged texts with his paramour, fellow FBI official Lisa Page, in which they shared their disdain for Trump and their desire to keep him from ascending to the presidency.
Add it all up, and we have reached the point where the Mueller team may be constructing more crimes than it is finding.
Read the whole story
 
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Trump investigations news review – Trump Investigations Report

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Is trump-russia collusion demonstrated or proven? - Google Search

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Is trump-russia collusion demonstrated or proven? - Google Search

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Story image for Is trump-russia collusion demonstrated or proven? from USA TODAY

Mueller is building a conspiracy case that's likely to ensnare Trump ...

USA TODAY-Dec 3, 2018
... “no collusion” has been proved. While it is true that the charges made public have not alleged conspiracy (there is no crime of “collusion”) it ...
Story image for Is trump-russia collusion demonstrated or proven? from Vox

Trump got the National Enquirer to bury his secrets. Did he do the ...

Vox-Dec 21, 2018
... clear that the Trump campaign colluded with AMI to influence the election. ... in the West Wing — revealed audio recordings she had made to make sure ... Cohen has already confirmed that he was a go-between in Trump's ...
Story image for Is trump-russia collusion demonstrated or proven? from Washington Post

Trump has plenty of legal troubles. Collusion isn't one of them.

Washington Post-Dec 10, 2018
But collusion would have to demonstrate a clear back-and-forth between ... Mueller III still hasn't confirmed the collusion that Trump critics have always ... that they can say validates their commitment to Trump-Russia collusion.
What's Happening With the Trump-Russia Investigation
International-Voice of America-Dec 10, 2018
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There’s actually lots of evidence of Trump-Russia collusion - Google Search

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Story image for There’s actually lots of evidence of Trump-Russia collusion from The Guardian

Mueller closes in: what will the Trump-Russia inquiry deliver in 2019?

The Guardian-Dec 27, 2018
The special counsel investigation into Russian meddling and possible collusion is notoriously leak-proofbut it could soon touch Trump directly ...
Story image for There’s actually lots of evidence of Trump-Russia collusion from Vox

There's actually lots of evidence of Trump-Russia collusion

Vox-Jun 11, 2018
“In all of this, in any of this, there's been no evidence that there's been any collusion between the Trump campaign and President Trump and ...
Story image for There’s actually lots of evidence of Trump-Russia collusion from Vox

Michael Cohen's guilty plea proves the House GOP's Russia ...

Vox-Nov 30, 2018
... the House Intelligence Committee really cared about corroborating what ... Cohen didn't offer any evidence for collusion, but his newest revelation underscores how little the GOP-led panel aimed to learn the true extent of Trump-Russia ties. ... They did little to see if there was any conspiracy on the part of ...
Trump-Russia: Five big things Mueller is looking at
International-BBC News-Nov 30, 2018
Robert Mueller's Plan
International-National Review-Dec 1, 2018
Story image for There’s actually lots of evidence of Trump-Russia collusion from USA TODAY

Mueller is close to answering Russia collusion question that could end ...

USA TODAY-Dec 9, 2018
That core is collusion between the campaign, Trump and Russia. ... own Justice Department announce that he directed and orchestrated an illegal scheme to silence evidence of his adulterous affairs ... But wait, there's more.
Story image for There’s actually lots of evidence of Trump-Russia collusion from Washington Post

The red flags on Trump's new attorney general pick, William Barr

Washington Post-Dec 7, 2018
In fact, in November 2017, Barr told the New York Times that there ... than there is to investigate Trump for potential collusion with Russia. ... respect to the actual evidence at hand and not for political reasons. ... Plus, why it's maybe OK that First Lady Melania Trump doesn't actually want to be the first lady.
Story image for There’s actually lots of evidence of Trump-Russia collusion from USA TODAY

Poll: Most Americans don't believe Trump's denials, setting a rocky ...

USA TODAY-Dec 18, 2018
"I have plenty of evidence that the president lied ... starting with the first day ... Most of those surveyed, 53 percent, say they have a lot or some trust in ... Nearly as many, 46 percent, say Trump associates "definitely" colluded with the Russians; 29 percent say they definitely didn't. ... There was no Collusion!".
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There’s actually lots of evidence of Trump-Russia collusion - Google Search

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There’s actually lots of evidence of Trump-Russia collusion

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“In all of this, in any of this, there’s been no evidence that there’s been any collusion between the Trump campaign and President Trump and Russia,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday at his weekly press conference. “Let’s just make that really clear. There’s no evidence of collusion. This is about Russia and what they did and making sure they don’t do it again.”
From Ryan’s perspective, it would be convenient if it were true that Robert Mueller’s investigation had turned up no evidence of collusion, but it simply isn’t.
Republicans from Donald Trump on down have made “no collusion” a mantra. The term itself is ill-defined in this context; you won’t find it in the US code. But roughly speaking, the question is whether the campaign got involved with Russian agents who committed computer crimes to help Trump win the 2016 presidential election.
The verdict on this is unclear. But there is certainly plenty of evidence pointing toward collusion; what you would call “probable cause” in a legal context, or what a journalist might simply consider reason to continue investigating the story. And the investigating thus far, both by special counsel Mueller and by journalists working on the story, has been fruitful. The efforts have continued to turn up contacts between Trumpworld and Putinland, cover-ups, and dishonesty.
Even as recently as Friday afternoon, we got new indictments charging Trump’s former campaign chair and his former GRU operative business partner with witness tampering and obstruction of justice.
It’s important, obviously, not to prejudge a case. It turns out that Saddam Hussein was acting like a man who was covering up a secret nuclear weapons arsenal because he didn’t want the world to know how weak his defenses really were.
By the same token, it’s certainly possible that the various Trump-Russia contacts never amounted to anything and that they’ve been consistently covered up for some reason other than an effort to hide collusion. But both the contacts that have been revealed so far and the deception used to deny their existence are certainly evidence of collusion — evidence that should be (and is being) pursued by the special counsel’s office and that should not be dismissed by the press or by elected officials.

The circumstantial case for collusion

It’s worth backing up to recall what we all saw on camera before anyone knew anything about an FBI investigation, before FBI Director James Comey was fired in an effort to halt the investigation, and before Mueller and his team revealed anything:
  • Two separate hacks of Democratic Party emails — one purloining a trove of internal Democratic National Committee emails and one that stole a ton of correspondence from John Podesta’s personal Gmail account — were perpetrated over the course of 2016, by what are now believed to have been agents operating on behalf of the Russian government.
  • These emails were not immediately released, and they were not released by the hackers who obtained them. Instead, the emails were disseminated to the public by using Julian Assange and WikiLeaks as an intermediary. Their releases also seemed strategically timed — the DNC emails disrupted efforts to create a show of unity between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders at the beginning of the Democratic National Convention, while the Podesta emails were released right after the infamous Access Hollywood tape.
  • Trump and his campaign, at the time, believed these emails were a big deal and cited them frequently. Trump built substantial portions of his campaign messaging around narratives — typically half-true at best — contained in the emails, and made no bones about welcoming the hacking.
  • “WikiLeaks, I love WikiLeaks,” he said on several occasions on the campaign trail, and he also explicitly called on the Russian government to hack and release Hillary Clinton’s emails.
  • Trump also spent the 2016 campaign running an overtly pro-Russian campaign message, praising Vladimir Putin’s leadership, defending him from allegations of murdering his political opponents, and calling for a realignment of US strategy in Syria and Ukraine.
I would not necessarily call any of this “evidence” of collusion, but it’s certainly grounds for suspicion. It gave the impression that Trump was on some level coordinating his campaign messaging with the Russian hackers, and that either he was taking a pro-Putin line in exchange for Russian help or he sincerely believed in the pro-Putin line and therefore saw nothing wrong with accepting Russian assistance.
That said, Trump was asked about this possibility explicitly during the campaign. And during the campaign and the transition, both he and his team issued at least 20 denials of any contact between his camp and the Russians. And where evidence really enters the picture is that they were lying.

There was extensive outreach between Trump and Russia

In reality, as exhaustively documented by the Moscow Project, there were extensive communications between people in Trump’s orbit and Russian government figures or others who had, or purported to have, close ties to the Putin regime.
Some of this communication — including Michael Cohen’s January 2016 email to Dmitry Peskov and Ivanka Trump’s October 2015 exchange with Dmitry Klokov — was ostensibly about efforts to construct a Trump-branded building in Moscow. Some of it, including the various escapades of George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, involved relatively peripheral players in Trumpworld, who didn’t have strong pre-campaign ties to Trump or play a post-campaign role in the administration.
But some of it was quite high-level and explicitly about the campaign. Donald Trump Jr., for example, took a meeting with the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank while attending the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Kentucky in May 2016. The meeting was arranged by a US conservative activist named Paul Erickson, who got in touch with senior Trump campaign aide Rick Dearborn to set it up, explicitly as a step toward creating back-channel communications between Russia and the campaign.
And, of course, Trump Jr., along with Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, attended the infamous Trump Tower meeting whose purpose was explicitly described as “part of Russia and its support for Mr Trump” and was said to involve incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.
That Trumpworld was clearly open to both political collusion and financial dealmaking with the Russian government doesn’t demonstrate that either actually occurred. But it’s unquestionably evidence in favor of the possibility. The fact that all of this was lied about and swept under the rug is further evidence (though, again, not proof) that there was Russia-related wrongdoing that is being covered up. And it’s striking that we continue to learn new things about contacts between Trump and Russia — the Ivanka story is new this week — rather than there having been a moment at which everyone got religion and decided to come clean.
And then there’s Paul Manafort.

The Manafort-Deripaska nexus is very suspicious

Paul Manafort had worked for years in Republican Party politics in the 1970s and ’80s, but by the second decade of the 21st century, he was primarily working in Ukraine. Then in March 2016, Donald Trump hired him to run his presidential campaign and smooth over badly frayed relations with the GOP establishment.
Two weeks after he boarded the Trump train, Manafort emailed Konstantin Kilimnik, who’d been his key lieutenant in Kiev for years:
“I assume you have shown our friends my media coverage, right?” Manafort wrote.
“Absolutely,” Kilimnik responded a few hours later from Kiev. “Every article.”
“How do we use to get whole,” Manafort asks. “Has OVD operation seen?”
OVD, in this context, is Oleg Deripaska, a wealthy Russian oligarch to whom Manafort was deeply in debt. Critically, despite the debts, Manafort agreed to go work for Trump for free. But he wanted to know how he could use his unpaid work for Trump to “get whole” with Deripaska.
Manafort, in other words, clearly saw his work for Trump as directly linked to his work for pro-Russian forces. Manafort is also currently preparing to stand trial for a broad array of financial crimes related to this work. It’s conventional for both the Trump camp and Manafort’s legal team to say that the charges are unrelated to the 2016 campaign, but that is merely assuming the conclusion. If Manafort did in fact use his US activities to “get whole” with his former client, then the two issues are clearly quite linked.
The truth in this matter is, as with much of the rest of the story, unclear. But, again, there is clearly evidence here.

The collusion in plain sight

Last but by no means least, it’s worth recalling that there’s something fundamentally odd about the entire framing of the collusion question.
A political candidate’s relationship to a hostile foreign power would normally be framed differently. The discovery of covert collusion would be used as evidence that the candidate harbored a secret desire to repay the foreign power. But in Trump’s case, there was absolutely no secret! Trump quite openly ran on a pro-Russia platform, adopting Russian views on the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, defending Putin’s character, and vowing to break up the NATO alliance.
It’s of course not illegal for a candidate for office to espouse pro-Russian foreign policy views. But to an extent, there was plenty of “collusion” in plain view throughout 2016 — crimes were committed and Trump openly praised them; he offered pro-Russia policy in exchange for Russian assistance, received the assistance that he sought, and has labored ever since to avoid investigating or punishing Russia’s crimes.
Here, ultimately, is where Paul Ryan’s argument completely falls apart. The speaker says “there’s no evidence of collusion” but also isn’t willing to go full Trump, denounce the investigation as a fraud, and call for its end. Instead, he says, “this is about Russia and what they did and making sure they don’t do it again.” But Trump has always been clear that he doesn’t think Russia did anything wrong, doesn’t want the full details to become known, doesn’t want anyone punished, and has no particular interest in making sure they don’t do it again. And that, itself, is perhaps the most powerful evidence of collusion.
Read the whole story
 
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Hanson: Mueller investigation stirring up more trouble than it’s finding - The Mercury News

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Hanson: Mueller investigation stirring up more trouble than it’s finding  The Mercury News
Special counsel Robert Mueller's probe has charged myriad people with almost every conceivable sin — except collusion.

Donald Trump | The Guardian: John Kelly: judge me on what Trump didn't do while I was chief of staff 

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  • Retired general gives interview to Los Angeles Times
  • Statements on immigration and more likely to anger president
As Donald Trump attracted criticism for blaming the deaths of children in US custody on Democrats opposed to his demands for a border wall, outgoing White House chief of staff John Kelly said he had “nothing but compassion” for migrants attempting to enter the US without documentation.
Continue reading...

 Donald Trump | The Guardian

"trump as danger to National Security" - Google News: Top moments in American politics in 2018: A topsy-turvy year in Washington - The Jerusalem Post

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Top moments in American politics in 2018: A topsy-turvy year in Washington  The Jerusalem Post
WASHINGTON – The administration of US President Donald Trump had a mixed year in the Middle East: making new enemies, forging seedy alliances, sowing ...


 "trump as danger to National Security" - Google News
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The New "Germany’s Strategic Repositioning", also as a propaganda piece, and the New Abwehr Hypothesis of the Trump Crisis and the so called Trump Russia Affair. - M.N. - 9:58 AM 12/30/2018 

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The New "Germany’s Strategic Repositioning", also as a propaganda piece, and the New Abwehr Hypothesis of the Trump Crisis and the so called Trump Russia Affair. - M.N. 


Germany’s Strategic Repositioning - Lawfare

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Editor’s Note: For many years, Germany and the United States cooperated to advance mutual foreign policy goals while Germany embedded itself in the European Union. This mutually beneficial arrangement is now in crisis as the Trump administration questions the German alliance and as Europe turns on itself. Gunther Hellmann of the University of Frankfurt gives us a picture of Germany at a crossroads and discusses the perils of each possible path.
Daniel Byman
***
German foreign policy is currently undergoing its most dramatic strategic repositioning since the 1950s. The “idea of a balanced partnership,” which German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas laid out recently in a widely discussed newspaper article, is the most articulate expression of a fundamental reorientation vis-à-vis the United States. Never before has a German foreign minister advocated a role for Germany to serve as a soft balancer that would “form a counterweight when the U.S. crosses the line.” This reorientation coincides with an increasingly prominent role for Germany in European affairs with the European Union facing an increasingly assertive Russia and continuing internal divisions. For Germany (and Europe) this boils down to a dramatic realignment of the European balance of power. It also carries risks.
Adjustments in German foreign policy have been occurring since unification in 1990 due to the fundamental transformation in East-West relations and European politics. However, until early 2014, the central parameters of Germany’s strategic outlook remained essentially unaltered. The institutional framework of Germany’s embedded role in the West, the EU, and NATO continued to provide a reliable developmental trajectory to integrate Germany’s Eastern neighbors while expanding cooperative relations with Russia in the context of the NATO-Russia Council and the EU-Russia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA).
Russia’s annexation of Crimea in early 2014 and the escalating war in Eastern Ukraine have shattered German hopes of building a strategic “modernization partnership” with Russia, which was intended to essentially extend and expand what had begun in the early 1970s in the context of German “Ostpolitik.” More importantly, the other two essential pillars of Germany’s post-World War II integration in a dense Western network of multilateral cooperation, the EU, and NATO, were shattered in the aftermath of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. For Germans, Brexit was a shock because it undermined two foundational beliefs of the European integration project: that the EU could only move “forward” by “deepening” integration, and that it was inconceivable that a rational public would opt in a referendum to leave the Union.
The consequences of the election of Donald Trump turned out to be even more disturbing for Germans, not only because the U.S. president pursued a consistent line of singling out Germany as a peer competitor to (and a free-rider at the expense of) the United States, but even more so because of his derogatory remarks about the EU and NATO. When President Trump said in an interview in early 2017that the European Union was “basically a vehicle for Germany,” that it was formed, at least in part, “to beat the United States on trade,” and that he, therefore, didn’t “really care whether it’s separate or together,” he essentially removed the equivalent of the U.S. “nuclear umbrella” in NATO on the EU side—the U.S. strategic support for European integration on which Germany and its European allies had been able to rely since the 1950s.
President Trump’s unwillingness to reaffirm the United States’ Article 5 commitments in the context of his first visit to Brussels in May 2017 (despite earlier indications that he would) was a similarly devastating blow for Germans. It essentially removed the foundation of trust on which German (and European) reliance on the United States had been built in previous decades. Chancellor Merkel’s public statement afterwards that “the times in which we could rely fully on others are somewhat over” and that “we Europeans ought to take our fate into our own hands” was a stunning public acknowledgement of this realization. The battering of Germany by President Trump during the following year, most recently in the July 2018 NATO summit meeting in Brussels, only reinforced the impression in Berlin that Germany had to prepare for a different future. As Maas put it recently: “The US and Europe have been drifting apart for years. The overlapping of values and interests that shaped our relationship for two generations is decreasing. The binding force of the East-West conflict is history. These changes began well before Trump’s election—and will survive his presidency well into the future.”
In sum, Germany’s strategic situation has been turned upside down: The commander in chief of its hitherto most important ally now treats it as one of the United States’ key competitors, while Russia seeks to undermine the EU at its Eastern flank. In the EU, member states are preparing for Brexit while struggling with rising popular dissent at home and sustained division across the Union. Under these circumstances calls on Germany to lead no longer fall on deaf ears in Berlin. Even on defense issues, Germany has expressed its readiness “to accept responsibility and to assume leadership” in the government’s most important official document on German security, the 2016 “White Paper.”
However, Germany’s strategic repositioning also carries risks. Two such risks in the military field stand out. First, the Trump administration’s perspective that the European theater in general and the European Union in particular is just another “arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage” removes an essential reassurance for Europeans that the United States is fundamentally interested in fostering cooperative relations among EU members. This reassurance was already critical for both Germany and its neighbors before unification, and it has become an ever more critical factor as German power has grown in recent years. In this context, President Trump’s incessant push for Germany to increase defense spending even beyond the 2 percent commitment agreed upon at the Wales NATO Summit is particularly counterproductive because it would turn Germany into the most powerful military actor in Europe besides Russia at a time when binding ties are loosened. Recent calculations showed that Germany would not only have to increase defense spending by 129 percent in 2024 (from a defense budget of €37 billion in 2017 to a budget of €85 billion in 2024) to meet the 2 percent target from the Wales Summit, it would also have to outspend both Britain and France by €30 billion and €27 billion respectively to do so, prompting a classic security dilemma situation. It is not surprising that Chancellor Merkel herself warned about a potential backlash against German “militarization” from abroad at a recent conference of the German Bundeswehr as a result of a 2 percent increase.
A second risk is associated with the decline of multilateralism within the European Union that is loosening the ties that bind EU member states together. This decline may be slow and sometimes difficult to pin down, but incentives to enter new and genuinely multilateral arrangements within the Union have been declining gradually for years (as they have around the globe more broadly). This loosening multilateral collaboration further highlights German power, and what is more, Germany itself contributes to this trend in its strategic positioning in the White Paper 2016. To be sure, Germany still “embraces mutual interdependence” in principle. However, three new conceptual highlights in the White Paper might cause problems. First, the emphasis on Germany’s willingness to serve as lead nation in the context of the so-called “Framework Nations Concept” (FNC) is mostly welcome in NATO and the EU because few nations have the capacity (at least in principle) to serve in such a leadership role. However, Germany’s emphasis that it will be a “partner across the entire range of security instruments” while at the same time expecting its partners to specialize militarily creates asymmetries which may become problematic in the long term. These dependencies may become lopsided, producing distinct advantages for the German military at a time when the differential in military prowess between Germany and its allies is already increasing. Second, Germany expressed for the first time its readiness to not only contribute to “ad hoc coalitions,” but also to initiate them under its own leadership. Third, the more recent so-called “Conception of the Bundeswehr” (which details the tasks of the White Paper at the military level) specifies the necessity of building capabilities for “autarkic national missions.” Although Germany’s precise intent is unclear, the language of these strategic formulas serve as an indication that Germany is neither very confident that multilateral cooperation can be safely relied upon, nor that Germany itself should enhance the likelihood of it succeeding by offering symmetrical self-binding arrangements to its partners.
Currently, there is no reason to fear Germany’s military power. To the contrary, the Bundeswehr faces dire straits due to lagging investments in basic capacities over the past 20 years. However, the medium- to long-term outlook reveals a few risks for Germany and Europe if current trends continue and it continues to stake out a role as a rising power in Europe. Germany can counter such tendencies by reassuring its partners via self-binding arrangements in all fields of EU collaboration. The United States can also help by providing reassurance to its European allies and reemphasizing its support for a strong EU. But Germany’s strategic outlook reflects an unseen level of concern regarding the credibility of U.S. commitments and the continuity of U.S. policy. It will take time and effort to rebuild trust lost since early 2017.
Read the whole story

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Trump Russia affair: Key questions answered

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For nearly two years the Trump-Russia affair has dominated front pages and mired the president's administration in conflict and controversy. But what is it exactly? How did it begin? And where is it going?
The inquiry is being led by Robert Mueller, a widely respected former director of the FBI. Holed up in an unremarkable office in Washington DC, Mr Mueller's team is quietly going about one of the most high-profile political inquiries in US history.
Five people connected with Donald Trump's campaign and presidency have been charged with criminal offences.
One of them, his former lawyer Michael Cohen, could be jailed on Wednesday on several charges, making him the first member of the president's inner circle to be imprisoned in relation to the inquiry.
President Trump denies any wrongdoing and says the charges against his former staff are "peanuts".
We've put together a straightforward guide to what we know, what we don't know, and what Mr Mueller may know that we don't.

What's it all about?

President Trump's campaign and transition teams have been accused of colluding with Russian agents to influence the US election in the then Republican candidate's favour.
US intelligence agencies concluded in 2016 that Russia was behind an effort to tip the scales of the US election against Hillary Clinton, with a state-authorised campaign of cyber attacks and fake news stories planted on social media.
Both the Russian and US presidents have poured scorn on suggestions of collusion, with Mr Trump calling it "the greatest political witch hunt in history".

What contact do we know about?

At least 12 Trump associates had contacts with Russians during the campaign or transition, according to an analysis of public records by CNN, with at least 19 face-to-face interactions with Russians or Kremlin-linked figures and at least 51 individual communications.
Trump aides known to have had contact with Russians include the president's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, his son Donald Trump Jr, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and the Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The president's supporters point out that interactions with foreign nationals are routine during any White House campaign, but three Trump aides have now admitted lying about these encounters.

Who's been charged?

The special counsel has indicted more than 30 people, including four members of Mr Trump's campaign team or administration and 25 Russians, as well as three Russian companies.
Mr Manafort was convicted of financial crimes in his first criminal trial and then reached a plea deal in the second trial. However, Mr Mueller has since said Mr Manafort breached that plea agreement by lying to the FBI at least five times - including about his interaction with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate who Mr Mueller says is tied to Russian intelligence.
Mr Papadopoulos is said to have attempted to set up meetings between Mr Trump and Russian representatives, and in November 2018 he went to prison after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians. He was jailed for 12 days.
Mr Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI over meetings he had with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak.
And in late November, the president's former lawyer Michael Cohen admitted lying to Congress about a Trump real estate project in Moscow.
Then, in December, a taste of what he had told Mr Mueller's investigation in return for a less jail time was revealed in a memo advising the court on sentencing.
It included details about Michael Cohen's own contacts with "Russian interests" during the 2016 campaign, including one who said they were "trusted" in the Russian Federation and went on to suggest a meeting between Mr Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Thirteen Russians connected to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian "troll factory", were charged with spreading fake news stories through US social media. Among them was Yevgeny Prigozhin, an associate of Mr Putin
And 12 Russian intelligence officers were charged with hacking the Democratic National Committee, using spear phishing emails and malicious software

Why are the Flynn charges important?

The most senior member of the Trump team to be indicted is Mr Flynn, who admitted one count of making false statements. This was a much lesser charge than analysts say he might have faced for conducting business as a private citizen with a foreign power. Such plea deals are only offered when a witness has incriminating evidence on someone more senior than themselves.
This was again hinted at in a heavily-redacted sentencing memo released in December in which Mr Mueller said Mr Flynn had provided "substantial" details about links between the Trump election team and Russian officials.
It also advised they were not seeking a jail sentence for Mr Flynn.
Mr Trump sacked Mr Flynn last February, saying he had lied to Vice-President Mike Pence about meeting the Russian envoy to the US. Questions have been raised over how much Mr Trump knew about Mr Flynn's contacts with the Russian ambassador and when. The answers to those questions could form part of Mr Flynn's plea bargain.

How many investigations have been conducted?

As well as the special counsel inquiry by Mr Mueller under the aegis of the Justice Department there have been four congressional investigations:
  • The Senate and House Intelligence Committees and the Senate Judiciary Committee are investigating alleged Kremlin meddling and any collusion with Trump aides
  • The House Oversight Committee is scrutinising links between Trump associates and Russian officials
All of the House inquiries were plagued by political squabbling amongst lawmakers, and closed without leading to any charges or claims of Russian collusion.
The Senate committee has yet to release its findings.

Who is special counsel Robert Mueller?

A former prosecutor, Mr Mueller went on to become the second-longest serving FBI director in history, after J Edgar Hoover. His Senate confirmation vote as FBI director went 98-0 in his favour. A special Senate vote to extend his term beyond the usual 10 years to 12 passed 100-0.
With a team of experienced lawyers drawn from private practice and from the justice department, as well as FBI officers, Mr Mueller has worked quietly from an unassuming building in south-west Washington, not issuing any public comment on his investigation.

Can't Trump just sack Mueller?

Reports have swirled that the president might fire the special counsel and confer a presidential pardon on Mr Flynn, in an attempt to gut the investigation.
The rumours began after one of the president's lawyers accused the special counsel of illegally obtaining emails from the Trump transition team. The Mueller investigation said all material was obtained legally.
Firing Mr Mueller would be seen by Democrats as a brazen attempt to obstruct justice and could trigger an effort to impeach the president.
He cannot directly fire the special counsel but when he fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions a day after November's mid-term elections, the issue was back on the table.

How does sacking of Sessions affect Mueller?

Mr Sessions recused himself early on from overseeing the special counsel investigation - a move that deeply irked the president.
His deputy Rod Rosenstein took on that role and appointed Mr Mueller.
But Mr Sessions' replacement in charge of the Department of Justice will have the power to sack Mr Mueller or end the investigation.
Mr Trump's nominee, conservative William Barr, who was attorney general under the late George HW Bush between 1991 and 1993, has previously voiced some disapproval of parts of the investigation.

What happened with James Comey?

Back in February 2017, before Mr Mueller was appointed as special counsel, the FBI was investigating Michael Flynn over his contacts with Russian officials.
Then-head of the FBI, James Comey, attended a briefing in the Oval Office at the White House, along with Vice-President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. According to a detailed account of the meeting written by Mr Comey immediately afterwards, the president asked Mr Pence and Mr Sessions to leave the room before suggesting Mr Comey end the Flynn investigation.
The FBI director's notes quote the president as saying: "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."
Mr Comey prepared memos from his notes and shared them with other senior FBI officials, saying he was concerned about the nature of the meeting.
A few months later, in May, the president sacked Mr Comey, citing "this Russia thing", a move that shocked Washington and led to talk of a cover-up.

What about the Don Jr meeting?

Another focal point investigation is a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York City involving Mr Trump's son, Donald Jr, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and an influential Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya.
The meeting occurred after a Russian intermediary contacted Mr Trump Jr with a promise to provide material that would "incriminate" Hillary Clinton - the Democratic candidate - and be "very useful to your father". Mr Trump Jr replied: "I love it."
Mr Trump Jr later defended the meeting, saying Ms Veselnitskaya offered only "inane nonsense" and nothing came of it, but he also told Fox News' Sean Hannity "in retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently".
In an initial statement to explain the meeting one year after it occurred, Mr Trump Jr claimed that it had been held to discuss Russian adoptions. But in a follow-up statement he said that the actual purpose had been about political opposition research.
In June 2018 Mr Trump tweeted that the meeting was "to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics".
President Trump's lawyers say he dictated his son's first misleading explanation, leading to questions of whether the president sought to obstruct a Justice Department inquiry.
See our full Russia timeline.

What is the Christopher Steele dossier?

In January 2017, a secret dossier was leaked to the press. It had been compiled by a former British intelligence official and Russia expert, Christopher Steele, who had been paid to investigate Mr Trump's ties to Russia.
The dossier alleged Moscow had compromising material on Mr Trump, including claims he was once recorded with prostitutes at a Moscow hotel during a 2013 trip for one of his Miss Universe pageants. Mr Trump emphatically denies this.
The file purported to show financial and personal links between Mr Trump, his advisers and Moscow. It also suggested the Kremlin had cultivated Mr Trump for years before he ran for president.
Mr Trump dismissed the dossier, arguing its contents were based largely on unnamed sources. It was later reported that Mr Steele's report was funded as opposition research by the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee.
Fusion GPS, the Washington-based firm that was hired to commission the dossier, had previously been paid via a conservative website to dig up dirt on Mr Trump.

Who is 'coffee boy' George Papadopoulos?

Mr Papadopoulos's role in the drama begins with a May 2016 drink in a London bar with an Australian diplomat. He told the envoy that Russia had "political dirt" on Hillary Clinton - a conversation which was later reported by Australian authorities to the FBI and may have prompted the bureau's investigation into the campaign.
In late October 2017, court documents emerged showing Mr Papadopoulos had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about the timing of meetings with alleged go-betweens for Russia.
He falsely claimed he had met two figures with Russian connections before joining the Trump campaign in March 2016. In fact, he met them after joining the campaign. After lying to the FBI, he deleted an incriminating Facebook account and destroyed a phone.
Emails reveal that he communicated with high-level figures in the Trump campaign. He was pictured in March 2016 seated at a foreign policy meeting with Mr Trump, Jeff Sessions and others, a photo Mr Trump shared on Twitter.
Just before he began a two-week sentence in a Wisconsin prison in late November 2018 however, he sent a tweet saying he had "never met a single Russian official". On his release, he announced he was publishing a book entitled "Deep State Target: How I got caught in the crosshairs of the plot to bring down President Trump".

How did Russia (allegedly) hack a US election?

It didn't, exactly. Hacking voter machines, and rigging elections generally, is very, very difficult. Hacking people? That would be easier.
The special counsel charges show that Russia effectively ran a two-pronged operation. The first prong in mid-2016 allegedly involved sending rafts of so-called "phishing" emails to figures in the Democratic Party - an unsophisticated method used by everyone from state-sponsored actors to low-level scammers for duping people into giving up their passwords.
Hackers gained access to the Democratic National Committee's systems and leaked tens of thousands of emails revealing the inner workings of the Clinton campaign and the party's operations, along with mundane, embarrassing details.
The second prong allegedly involved flooding social media networks, especially Facebook, with bogus stories designed to smear the Democrats and undermine the Clinton campaign.
According to testimony by Facebook before Congress, Russia-backed content reached as many as 126 million Americans on the social network during and after election.

What did Obama know and when?

In August 2016, an envelope arrived at the White House marked for the eyes of President Barack Obama and three senior aides.
According to the Washington Post, the envelope had come by courier from the CIA, and contained a bombshell revelation - Mr Putin was directing a state-sponsored effort to interfere with the US election.
The FBI was already looking at ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, but the CIA memo seemed to confirm Russian efforts to throw the election Mr Trump's way.
According to reporting in the Post and elsewhere, the Obama administration agonised over whether to divulge the alleged operations. Reportedly fearful of appearing to attempt to interfere politically, they stayed relatively quiet.
Other intelligence agencies were slow in reaching the same conclusion as the CIA, and congressional Republicans were reluctant to offer support to a public condemnation of Moscow.
Warnings were issued to Russian officials, but it wasn't until the main US intelligence agencies agreed, in late September, that President Obama directed them to make a public statement. To avoid appearing partisan, the statement would not carry his name.

How far will the inquiry go?

The special counsel investigation could potentially extend into 2019, which would infuriate a White House that is eager to draw a line under the affair.
After Mr Trump's legal team spoke to federal investigators about the president himself being questioned by Mr Mueller, the president submitted written answers to investigators in November, saying he had done so "very easily".
Mr Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said he had provided "unprecedented co-operation" and that it was time to "bring this inquiry to a conclusion".

What about obstruction of justice?

There's been a lot of speculation that Mr Mueller is considering an obstruction of justice case against the president. It's hard to say if the sacking of Mr Comey alone constitutes a case, legal experts differ on this point. The hitch is that the charge carries a fairly high threshold - proof of "corrupt intent".
If the president intentionally pressed Mr Comey to drop the investigation into Mr Flynn, that could be considered a corrupt attempt to obstruct justice, but it is not clear cut. And even if it were, bringing charges against a sitting president is far from straightforward.
A controversial book by the journalist Michael Wolff claims Mr Trump went to some lengths to stop Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the justice department's investigation, another possible case of obstruction. But the veracity of several parts of Mr Wolff's book has been called into question.

How does impeachment work?

It is effectively impossible to bring criminal charges against a sitting president - any case would have to be brought by the executive branch, of which Mr Trump is the boss.
As for impeachment, there is political resonance to obstruction of justice charges - it factored in the impeachment of Bill Clinton and the resignation of Richard Nixon, prior to near-certain impeachment.
But it remains highly unlikely at this stage. A majority in the House of Representatives is first required to approve an article of impeachment, and the Republican Party controls both houses of Congress.
In the event of a successful House vote, the Senate holds a trial presided over by the Supreme Court chief justice, and a two-thirds majority vote is required in the Senate to convict the president.
That's a high bar - two presidents, Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson, have been acquitted at this stage.

What does the American public think?

Polls suggest that most people are taking it seriously.
A Pew Research Center poll in March 2018 found that 59% of people believed Trump officials definitely or probably had improper contact with Russia during the election campaign.
Earlier, in November 2017, 49% of people surveyed in a joint ABC News /Washington Post poll thought Donald Trump was likely to have committed a crime, compared with 44% who said it was unlikely, and 53% who said they thought the charges against Mr Manafort, Mr Gates, and Mr Papadopoulos indicated a broader conspiracy.
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German Hypothesis of Trump Russia Affair - Google Search

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In Trump's America, it's important to remember: this isn't normal | Michael H Fuchs | Opinion

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This is not normal.
In the age of President Donald Trump, it is necessary to repeat this mantra constantly. The ways in which Trump breaks norms and shocks the conscience overwhelm America’s capacity to process each event with the appropriate level of outrage and accountability. America’s attention too often moves from one story to the next like sports highlights. Slowly, surely, America’s norms are stripped away.
The legal system is beginning to hold Trump and his associates accountable, evidenced by the guilty pleas, convictions and indictments emanating from the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigationinto Russian election interference in 2016. Other Trump actions and policies have sparked countless lawsuits, from those challenging emoluments to the travel and asylum bans. However imperfect the system, breaking the law can have consequences.
The penalty for breaking norms, however, isn’t so simple. Presidents are not supposed to continue their private business while in office, attack the media as the “enemy of the people” or talk about throwing political opponents in jail. None of this is normal. But it’s not necessarily illegal.
When it comes to national security, it is much easier to discard norms. There are laws governing the conduct of US national security policy, but norms are an essential part of the glue that keeps America safe. Trump has taken aim at those norms.
US foreign policy has long recognized that alliances with democracies advance US interests, and that grudging partnerships with autocracies are to be managed. But Trump treats autocrats like friends, and friends like enemies. He defends Russia’s President Vladimir Putin against the US intelligence community; defends the Saudi Arabian autocrat Mohammed bin Salman, who is accused of ordering the murder of a journalist; and defends the systematic human rights abuses of the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, even saying he wishes the American people would treat Trump with the same deference the North Korean people are forced to show Kim. Meanwhile, Trump picks fights with the leaders of Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom.
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This is not normal. America should debate how best to uphold its values in its foreign policy, not whether those values have a role to play.
Despite periods of xenophobia, America at its best is a country welcoming of foreigners – the Statue of Liberty greets immigrants with the words: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” But Trump is closing America to those yearning to breathe free. Trump has drastically reduced the number of refugees allowed to enter the US, imposed an arbitrary travel ban, is attempting to curb legal immigration, and sent the US military to the border with Mexico to respond to a group of desperate people fleeing violence and poverty.
This is not normal. America can debate the contours of the best immigration policy, but it should not undermine America’s spirit as a land of opportunity.
While climate change has become a partisan issue – with conservatives often denying its existence or extent – US policy should be driven by facts, and facts make clear that manmade climate change is imperiling life on earth. The entire world agrees – except for Trump. Climate change is one of the only existential threats the world faces, and Trump is actively working to make it worse.
This is not normal. America should debate the best way to tackle climate change, not its existence.
America has never had to question whether its president prioritized the country’s interests above all else. But with Trump, it increasingly looks like the president is compromised by Russia. While laws may have been broken (Mueller is on the case), the very idea of a compromised president is shocking. We already know that: Trump asked Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s emails in 2016; Trump attempted to do business with Vladimir Putin during the campaign; Trump regularly takes Putin’s side over US intelligence agencies; a number of Trump’s senior aides are guilty of crimes related to dealings with Russia; and Trump regularly attacks US law enforcement for investigating Trump’s connections to Russia. Trump is acting like he is compromised.
This is not normal. America should debate the best way to protect itself from Russia – it should not have to debate whether the president is in Russia’s pocket.
And no national security decisions should be made on the fly by tweet. Decisions about how to safeguard America require extensive deliberation within the US government and public. But Trump often makes major national security decisions – such as removing US troops from Syria or meeting with Kim – on a whim, surprising US officials and endangering US interests.
This is not normal. America needs substantive debate about policies and should not have to wonder whether decisions are made on a whim by Trump’s “very, very large brain”.
American history is filled with dark periods, from the wars against Native Americans to slavery, the internment of Japanese Americans to the oppression of women and minorities. But America has also been a beacon to the world, as evidenced by the large numbers of people who have sacrificed much to come to these shores. America has continually worked to improve itself, over time building norms and laws that help protect this country.
The breakdown of norms at home undermines democracy. The breakdown of norms in foreign affairs undermines American security. That is why Americans must continue to remind themselves that what they are seeing right now is not normal and hold Trump to account with vigorous congressional oversight and vocal public pushback.
The breakdown of norms at home undermines democracy. The breakdown of norms in foreign affairs undermines American security. That is why Americans must continue to remind themselves that what they are seeing right now is not normal and hold Trump to account with vigorous congressional oversight and vocal public pushback.
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How fake news eclipsed social media impact of genuine news scoops

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In their book on election rigging, Nic Cheeseman and Brian Klaas write fake news factories were the unwitting accomplices of the most high-profile election interference in modern history. Here’s an excerpt:
In February 2016, a young Macedonian teenager posted a false story on his website. Its premise was salacious, its ‘facts’ completely wrong. The story claimed that Donald Trump had accosted someone in the audience at a campaign rally and slapped him. This was not true. But the story took off on social media, and the young teenager made $150 in ad revenues from all the clicks he was generating. In that instant, he decided to quit high school and become a full-time producer and distributor of fake news on America’s elections. Soon, he was raking in large sums of money by generating made-up viral stories.
By October, Veles was home to more than 100 pro-Trump websites. They ran stories such as ‘Pope Francis forbids Catholics from voting for Hillary’ and ‘Proof surfaces that Obama was born in Kenya – Trump was right all along!’ One seventeen year-old involved in the fake news factories of Veles told BuzzFeed News that he did not care about Trump, Clinton or politics in general. Instead, he wanted to buy music equipment. Duping voters in America made that possible: ‘I started the site for an easy way to make money. In Macedonia the economy is very weak and teenagers are not allowed to work, so we need to find creative ways to make some money. I’m a musician but I can’t afford music gear. Here in Macedonia the revenue from a small site is enough to afford many things.’ It is impossible to say precisely how many people read the fake stories that may have been penned by a Macedonian teen in order to finance his desire for musical instruments, but the number is said to be enormous – as high as 126 million on Facebook alone.
Of course, not all the fabricated stories were being produced by youths in Macedonia. Some were written by men in their twenties in Romania. Others by young students in Georgia (the country, not the US state) like Beqa Latsabidze. One of his articles, claiming that Mexico would close its border to Americans if Trump won the election, went viral and earned him some much-needed money to help fund his studies. And, of course, not all the fake stories were coming from outside the United States. One American media company called Disinfomedia, for example, registered domain names like washingtonpost.com.co and usatoday.com.co, in order to try to masquerade as the legitimate news outlets. They published debunked stories too, although some of these American efforts were ideologically rather than financially driven. But wherever the stories came from, the conveyor belt of disinformation likely had a significant impact on voter perceptions of the election campaign and the candidates contesting it.
Sixty-two per cent of American adults reported getting at least some of their news from social media in 2016.That is not necessarily worrying. After all, new media replace old media in cycles, in the same way that mass printing in the nineteenth century drove citizens towards newspapers, and would later face new competition from radio and then television and now the internet. But social media present a new and much more uncontrollable challenge. In 2016, the most viral fake stories were shared more times than the most viral real stories. Furthermore, the sheer scale of the spread of misinformation is astonishing. One 2017 study examined 115 fabricated stories that were pro-Trump and 41 fabricated stories that were pro-Clinton. They found that those 156 stories were shared on Facebook a combined total of 37.6 million times. Each of those shares would be visible to the user’s network of Facebook friends, greatly amplifying its potential reach. A thorough BuzzFeed analysis of social media during the campaign found that several fake news stories eclipsed the social media impact of many genuine news scoops, such as when the New York Times revealed that Donald Trump had actually declared the loss of nearly $1 billion in an unreleased tax return.
All this raises the question of whether the fake ads benefited one side or the other, or cancelled themselves out. Of the twenty most shared fake news articles during the final stages of the residential campaign, seventeen were explicitly pro-Trump or anti-Clinton. As multiple investigations after the election documented, pro-Trump messages were most effective – partly because of the demographics of Trump voters and partly because they had help from Russia to spread the news (of which more shortly). Topping the list of pro-Trump fake news was an absurd story claiming that Pope Francis had endorsed him, followed closely by another fabricated tale suggesting that Hillary Clinton sold weapons to ISIS. Both stories had nearly a million engagements on Facebook, and both were completely made up. Of course, many people would have known that these articles were not to be trusted, but some did not, and many equally false stories were more believable in tone.
Despite appearances, the viral nature of these fake stories was not really organic. Instead, the incentives of impoverished teenagers in Macedonia aligned with the geopolitical machinations of the Kremlin. Fake news factories were the unwitting accomplices of the most high-profile digital election interference campaign by a major state power in modern history. If the analysis of the United States intelligence community is correct, Vladimir Putin sought to influence the election to help elect Donald Trump. This verdict was reached despite Trump’s nonsensical reaction that it ‘could have been anybody’, even, as he suggested, an obese man lying in bed in New Jersey. In the midst of the campaign, inadvertent digital bedfellows ended up forming a potent team against Hillary Clinton.
Whilst some of the false stories are crude, the way in which they are shared is not. Computer algorithms can be used to identify which messages would be most powerful to which users. If you search the internet daily for a job, you are more likely to get economic messages. If your profiles indicate a greater cultural malaise, you might get messages about immigration or ISIS. What you clicked on in the past dictates how digital manipulators may try to influence you in the future.
This excerpt was taken with permission from the book ‘How to Rig An Election: Tricks Despots Play’ by Nic Cheeseman and Brian Klaas. It was published by Harper Collins India in 2018.
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Exclusive: Russian Ex-Spy Pressured Manafort Over Debts to an Oligarch - TIME

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Exclusive: Russian Ex-Spy Pressured Manafort Over Debts to an Oligarch  TIME
A TIME investigation reveals ex-spy Victor Boyarkin was a key link between former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and a powerful ally of Russian ...


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Week 84: This Was the Year Mueller Made the Liars Writhe - POLITICO

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Week 84: This Was the Year Mueller Made the Liars Writhe  POLITICO
There's so much we don't know about what Robert S. Mueller III knows about Trump and the Russians. Governed by its own rhythms, the Mueller black box ...

Identity of Russian ex-spy who served as Manafort's main foreign contact during 2016 election revealed - Business Insider

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Identity of Russian ex-spy who served as Manafort's main foreign contact during 2016 election revealed  Business Insider
One of Manafort's Russian contacts has been revealed as ex-spy Victor Boyarkin, who acted as a link between Manafort and billionaire Oleg Deripaska.

Trump-Russia: Republican probe of alleged FBI bias ends 'with a whimper' - The Guardian

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Trump-Russia: Republican probe of alleged FBI bias ends 'with a whimper'  The Guardian
Committee chairs issue just a letter rather than final report after inquiry that was condemned as ploy to undermine Robert Mueller. Staff and agencies. Fri 28 Dec ...

'He’s still in prison': Trump lifts Turkey sanctions but Americans remain detained - POLITICO

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'He’s still in prison': Trump lifts Turkey sanctions but Americans remain detained  POLITICO
The move baffled those who say the U.S. has otherwise been working hard behind the scenes to free those still held in Turkey.

Reps. end House probe into FBI, but call for scrutiny to continue

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Dec. 29 (UPI) -- Two outgoing senior House Republicans Friday called for a continued investigation into the FBI and Justice Department's handling of the Russia investigation and Hillary Clinton's emails while renewing a request for a second independent counsel.
In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker and the Justice Department's Inspector General Michael Horowitz, U.S. Reps. Bob Goodlatte and Trey Gowdy encouraged federal law enforcement leaders to "investigate these matters, consistent with your jurisdiction, so the final definitive accounting can be made to the American people."
While the letter signaled an end to the House investigation into the handling of Clinton's emails and Donald Trump's ties to Russia, Goodlatte, the outgoing chair of the House judiciary committee, and Gowdy, the House oversight committee chair, charged that their work was stymied.
"Regrettably, our joint investigation was impacted by institutional protectionism on the part of the DOJ and FBI," Goodlatte and Gowdy wrote. "For example, the agencies delayed the production of relevant documents and failed to provide witnesses in a timely manner.
"DOJ continues to refuse to declassify documents necessary to the investigation despite the President's request [that] the documents be declassified," the letter continued.
The Democrats take over House leadership in January and have long been critical of the Republicans investigating the FBI. They charged that Republicans were doing the bidding of the president to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
"Our Republican colleagues seem intent on spending their final days in power attempting to provide cover to President Trump and attempting to re-litigate the Department of Justice's decision not to prosecute Secretary Clinton," Reps. Jerry Nadler and Elijah Cummings said in a statement earlier this month after former FBI Director James Comey's testimony to a House committee, CNN reported.
Gowdy and Goodlatte denied their investigation was an attempt to undermine Mueller.
"Quite the opposite, whatever product is produced by the special counsel must be trusted by Americans that requires asking tough but fair questions about investigative techniques both employed and not employed," the letter said.

Mueller opened the floodgates on Cohen and Manafort

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Trump administration tries to present united front over Syria troop withdrawal amid storm of criticism
Chat with us in Facebook Messenger. Find out what's happening in the world as it unfolds.
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"Donald Trump" - Google News: President Trump immoral, doesn't tell the truth: Retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal - ABC News

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President Trump immoral, doesn't tell the truth: Retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal  ABC News
Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who recently published a book on leadership styles throughout history, criticized President Trump for not embodying effective ...


 "Donald Trump" - Google News

Oligarch's 'bag man' pressuring Paul Manafort is 'missing link' between Putin and Trump: Author Seth Hettena

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On Saturday, Time magazine reported that President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign chair, Paul Manafort, was pressured by a Russian oligarch over his debts.
The reporting named oligarch Victor Boyarkin as the “key figure” in a deal with Manafort. Boyarkin recently fell under sanctions by the U.S. government.
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But Seth Hettena, the author of Trump/Russia: A Definitive History, said on CNN Saturday that Boyarkin was likely just the “bag man” for a more powerful oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, who the Trump administration lifted sanctions on earlier this month.
“It is a complex picture, but here’s how to explain it,” Hettena said. “Oleg Deripaska is one of a few oligarchs who are extremely close to Putin and the Kremlin. He said on a couple of occasions he doesn’t separate himself from the state and he would basically do anything when asked by Putin to do. So, you know, what we have is a Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, in deep debt to a man like Deripaska. Victor Boyarkin was the bag man.”
That’s not to say that the new reporting isn’t important, Hettena said, as we now know that Boyarkin collected debts for Deripaska.
“Victor Boyarkin was the missing link here,” he said. “We knew that Deripaska was involved. We didn’t know how they were connected. Boyarkin was the go-between. He was hammering Manafort for money while the campaign was going on, and, as you mentioned, one of the ways Manafort may have been suggesting paying it off was to offer private briefings on the campaign. So, you know, you have a campaign manager in debt to a Russian oligarch who’s connected to Putin, who’s been pressured for money in the middle of a campaign that he’s running on behalf of the Republican nominee for president.”
Hettena said that the significance of this development will be more clear once we know what Trump knew and when he knew it.
“What did Trump know?” he asked. “The best case for Trump here is that he didn’t know that there was any Boyarkin connection or Deripaska connection with his campaign chairman. The worst-case scenario, the darker scenario, is that he knew and that’s why he chose Paul Manafort to be his campaign chairman.”
The fact that Trump pushed hard to lift sanctions on Deripaska’s companies, by brokering a deal in which the oligarch agreed to “sell off” control of the world’s second-largest aluminum maker, is suspicious to Hettena.
“To me, that looks like a sweetheart deal,” he said. “Deripaska runs one of the world’s biggest aluminum companies, and those sanctions bit hard, and almost as soon as they were implemented, the Trump administration has been trying to soften the blow, the sanctions were delayed, Deripaska hired lobbyists… Deripaska was supposed to cut his ownership in half, so now half of the shares are owned by his charity, by a Russian bank, and it doesn’t look like control has been really given up at all.”
Watch the interview below.
Read the whole story
 
· · · ·

Paul Manafort pressured by Russians to pay back debt while Trump's campaign chair, Time magazine says

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Former Russian intelligence officer Victor Boyarkin was in touch with Manafort during the 2016 US presidential campaign on behalf of Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, who has close ties to the Kremlin, the magazine reported Saturday.
Boyarkin told 
Time magazine
 that he contacted Manafort to collect the debt he owed to Deripaska.
"He owed us a lot of money," Boyarkin told Time this past fall. "And he was offering ways to pay it back."
"I came down on him hard," Boyarkin added.
Less than two weeks before Trump accepted the Republican nomination, Manafort offered in emails to a middleman
his former business associate Konstantin Kilimnik, to brief Deripaska on the 2016 presidential race, 
The Washington Post
 and 
The Atlantic 
reported last year. In the emails, Kilimnik wrote to Manafort about an associate "our friend V" with ties to Deripaska, The Atlantic reported. According to Time, Boyarkin was the "friend."
Former Russian intelligence officer Victor Boyarkin
Former Russian intelligence officer Victor Boyarkin
A spokesman for Manafort declined to comment to CNN on Time's report.
The alleged connection shows the leverage that powerful Russians had over Manafort at the time he was Trump's campaign chair between May and August of 2016, Time noted. Boyarkin also told Time that he has been approached by special counsel Robert Mueller's office, which is investigating ties between Trump campaign associates and Russia, but he told investigators "to go dig a ditch."
Special counsel spokesman Peter Carr declined to comment to Time.
Both Boyarkin and Deripaska, meanwhile, have been 
sanctioned 
by the US Treasury Department.
In its December 19 announcement of new Russia sanctions, the Treasury Department referred to Boyarkin as "a former GRU officer who reports directly to Deripaska and has led business negotiations on Deripaska's behalf." The GRU is Russia's military intelligence agency.

Deripaska connection

Manafort worked for Deripaska about a decade ago, providing investment and consulting services to the Russian billionaire, 
according to both men.
But in 2014, lawyers for Deripaska filed a petition in a Cayman Islands court accusing Manafort of having "simply disappeared" with about $19 million of his money, Time reported. In 
a lawsuit earlier this year
, Deripaska also accused Manafort and others of "vanishing" $26 million he gave them a decade ago. The lawsuit, which Deripaska filed in New York state following Manafort's indictment by special counsel Robert Mueller, 
is now paused 
because of the criminal matter.
Boyarkin told Time that his connection to Manafort dates back to 2006. Manafort had a $10 million annual contract with Deripaska that began in 2006, 
the Associated Press reported last year
, citing several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP. The contract came after Manafort pitched a confidential proposal to Deripaska "that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and former Soviet republics to benefit (Russian) President Vladimir Putin's government," the AP reported.
Manafort told AP at the time that the contract was not pro-Russian in nature, and a representative of Deripaska told the news organization that the contract was for "investment consulting services related to business interests of Mr. Deripaska."
Manafort was found 
guilty in August
 of eight counts of financial crimes, including tax fraud, bank fraud, and hiding foreign bank accounts. He pleaded guilty in 
September
 to one count of conspiracy against the US and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department.
But 
earlier this month
, Mueller accused Manafort of lying about several issues after agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors, including his "contact with administration officials" --- violating his plea agreement.
Manafort is scheduled to receive his first sentence, for the eight financial convictions decided by a Virginia jury, in early February.
His second sentencing date, before the judge who's handling the breach of his plea agreement, is tentatively set for early March.
Read the whole story
 
· · ·

Donald Trump: Paul Manafort 'worked with ex-Russian spy while running campaign for White House' | The Independent

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