12:31 PM 12/14/2017 – FBI Plot Against Trump – A PLAGUE A’ BOTH YOUR HOUSES!

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Mike Nova’s Shared NewsLinks

Mike Nova’s Shared NewsLinks

Donald Trump Told Of Putin’s ‘Specific’ Orders For Russia To Hack Election, Ignored CIA Intel, New Report Says – The Inquisitr

How Trumps skepticism of U.S. intelligence on Russia left an election threat unchecked

Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election-meddling divides America – The Economist

Is John Kelly plotting to take Donald Trump down?

The Early Edition: December 14, 2017 – Just Security

Trump’s Lies vs. Obama’s – New York Times
Doubting the intelligence, Trump pursues Putin and leaves a Russian threat unchecked
The Early Edition: December 14, 2017
Putin’s Syria victory lap is premature, experts say
“Drunk Fox News Anchor Gregg Jarrett Arrested During Airport Fight” VIDEO “Fox News Anchor Arrested” – YouTube
Gregg Jarrett – Google Search
Pills possible factor in Fox News anchor’s arrest
Has the FBI ‘become America’s secret police,’ like the KGB?
Handcuffs are the solution to the FBI problems! Not for the criminals but for themselves Mike Novas Shared NewsLinks 2:48 PM 12/12/2017
Trump – Google News: Omarosa Manigault’s departure highlights lack of diversity in Trump White House – Washington Post
Handcuffs for the FBI: This is the best solution for their problems!
Sanctions trial witness says he got $50,000 from FBI
Report: Turkish Police Summon FBI Official – Voice of America
6:56 AM 11/20/2017 Should The FBI Be Abolished?
In Major Shift, Putin Pushing Russia’s Military Leadership Into Foreign Policy Role – Haaretz
‘Unfit to clean toilets’: USA Today’s unusually forceful editorial about Trump – Washington Post
Tyrrell: Russia’s influence spreads throughout the capital – News Chief
Donald Trumps demise just became assured
Russia, China make gains globally as US influence wanes – CBC.ca

 

Mike Nova’s Shared NewsLinks
Donald Trump Told Of Putin’s ‘Specific’ Orders For Russia To Hack Election, Ignored CIA Intel, New Report Says – The Inquisitr
 

mikenova shared this story from Elections 2016 Investigation videos – Google News.


The Inquisitr
Donald Trump Told Of Putin’s ‘Specific’ Orders For Russia To Hack Election, Ignored CIA Intel, New Report Says
The Inquisitr
Two weeks before his inauguration, Donald Trump was told in a top-secret briefing that the CIA had extraordinary intelligence proving Russian president Vladimir Putin gave specific instructions on how Russia would hack the United States 2016 and more »
How Trumps skepticism of U.S. intelligence on Russia left an election threat unchecked
 

mikenova shared this story .

In the final days before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, members of his inner circle pleaded with him to acknowledge publicly what U.S. intelligence agencies had already concluded — that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was real.

Holding impromptu interventions in Trump’s 26th-floor corner office at Trump Tower, advisers — including Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and designated chief of staff, Reince Priebus — prodded the president-elect to accept the findings that the nation’s spy chiefs had personally presented to him on Jan. 6.

They sought to convince Trump that he could affirm the validity of the intelligence without diminishing his electoral win, according to three officials involved in the sessions. More important, they said that doing so was the only way to put the matter behind him politically and free him to pursue his goal of closer ties with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin.

“This was part of the normalization process,” one participant said. “There was a big effort to get him to be a standard president.”

But as aides persisted, Trump became agitated. He railed that the intelligence couldn’t be trusted and scoffed at the suggestion that his candidacy had been propelled by forces other than his own strategy, message and charisma.

How Trump fought the intelligence on Russia and left an election threat unchecked

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The Washington Post examines how, nearly a year into his presidency, Trump continues to reject evidence that Russia supported his run for the White House. (Dalton Bennett, Thomas LeGro, John Parks, Jesse Mesner-Hage/The Washington Post)

The Washington Post examines how, nearly a year into his presidency, Trump continues to reject evidence that Russia supported his run for the White House as part of an unprecedented assault on a pillar of American democracy. (Dalton Bennett,Thomas LeGro,John Parks,Jesse Mesner-Hage/The Washington Post)

Told that members of his incoming Cabinet had already publicly backed the intelligence report on Russia, Trump shot back, “So what?” Admitting that the Kremlin had hacked Democratic Party emails, he said, was a “trap.”

As Trump addressed journalists on Jan. 11 in the lobby of Trump Tower, he came as close as he ever would to grudging acceptance. “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia,” he said, adding that “we also get hacked by other countries and other people.”

As hedged as those words were, Trump regretted them almost immediately. “It’s not me,” he said to aides afterward. “It wasn’t right.”

Nearly a year into his presidency, Trump continues to reject the evidence that Russia waged an assault on a pillar of American democracy and supported his run for the White House.

The result is without obvious parallel in U.S. history, a situation in which the personal insecurities of the president — and his refusal to accept what even many in his administration regard as objective reality — have impaired the government’s response to a national security threat. The repercussions radiate across the government.

Rather than search for ways to deter Kremlin attacks or safeguard U.S. elections, Trump has waged his own campaign to discredit the case that Russia poses any threat and he has resisted or attempted to roll back efforts to hold Moscow to account.

His administration has moved to undo at least some of the sanctions the previous administration imposed on Russia for its election interference, exploring the return of two Russian compounds in the United States that President Barack Obama had seized — the measure that had most galled Moscow. Months later, when Congress moved to impose additional penalties on Moscow, Trump opposed the measures fiercely.

President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at Trump Tower in New York on Jan. 11. (Photo by Jabin Botsford; photo illustration by Nick Kirkpatrick/The Washington Post)

Trump has never convened a Cabinet-level meeting on Russian interference or what to do about it, administration officials said. Although the issue has been discussed at lower levels at the National Security Council, one former high-ranking Trump administration official said there is an unspoken understanding within the NSC that to raise the matter is to acknowledge its validity, which the president would see as an affront.

Trump’s stance on the election is part of a broader entanglement with Moscow that has defined the first year of his presidency. He continues to pursue an elusive bond with Putin, which he sees as critical to dealing with North Korea, Iran and other issues. “Having Russia in a friendly posture,” he said last month, “is an asset to the world and an asset to our country.”

His position has alienated close American allies and often undercut members of his Cabinet — all against the backdrop of a criminal probe into possible ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

This account of the Trump administration’s reaction to Russia’s interference and policies toward Moscow is based on interviews with more than 50 current and former U.S. officials, many of whom had senior roles in the Trump campaign and transition team or have been in high-level positions at the White House or at national security agencies. Most agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the subject.

Trump administration officials defended the approach with Russia, insisting that their policies and actions have been tougher than those pursued by Obama but without unnecessarily combative language or posture. “Our approach is that we don’t irritate Russia, we deter Russia,” a senior administration official said. “The last administration had it exactly backwards.”

White House officials cast the president’s refusal to acknowledge Russian interference in the election as an understandably human reaction. “The president obviously feels . . . that the idea that he’s been put into office by Vladi­mir Putin is pretty insulting,” said a second senior administration official. But his views are “not a constraint” on the government’s ability to respond to future election threats, the official said. “Our first order in dealing with Russia is trying to counter a lot of the destabilizing activity that Russia engages in.”

Others questioned how such an effort could succeed when the rationale for that objective is routinely rejected by the president. Michael V. Hayden, who served as CIA director under President George W. Bush, has described the Russian interference as the political equivalent of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, an event that exposed a previously unimagined vulnerability and required a unified American response.

“What the president has to say is, ‘We know the Russians did it, they know they did it, I know they did it, and we will not rest until we learn everything there is to know about how and do everything possible to prevent it from happening again,’ ” Hayden said in an interview. Trump “has never said anything close to that and will never say anything close to that.”

‘More than worth the effort’

The feeble American response has registered with the Kremlin.

U.S. officials said that a stream of intelligence from sources inside the Russian government indicates that Putin and his lieutenants regard the 2016 “active measures” campaign — as the Russians describe such covert propaganda operations — as a resounding, if incomplete, success.

Moscow has not achieved some its most narrow and immediate goals. The annexation of Crimea from Ukraine has not been recognized. Sanctions imposed for Russian intervention in Ukraine remain in place. Additional penalties have been mandated by Congress. And a wave of diplomatic retaliation has cost Russia access to additional diplomatic facilities, including its San Francisco consulate.

But overall, U.S. officials said, the Kremlin believes it got a staggering return on an operation that by some estimates cost less than $500,000 to execute and was organized around two main objectives — destabilizing U.S. democracy and preventing Hillary Clinton, who is despised by Putin, from reaching the White House.

The bottom line for Putin, said one U.S. official briefed on the stream of post-election intelligence, is that the operation was “more than worth the effort.”

The Kremlin’s Building One. U.S. officials say the Kremlin sees its 2016 election interference campaign as a success, if an incomplete one. (Photo by Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images; photo illustration by Nick Kirkpatrick/The Washington Post)

The Russian operation seemed intended to aggravate political polarization and racial tensions and to diminish U.S. influence abroad. The United States’ closest alliances are frayed, and the Oval Office is occupied by a disruptive politician who frequently praises his counterpart in Russia.

“Putin has to believe this was the most successful intelligence operation in the history of Russian or Soviet intelligence,” said Andrew Weiss, a former adviser on Russia in the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations who is now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “It has driven the American political system into a crisis that will last years.”

U.S. officials declined to discuss whether the stream of recent intelligence on Russia has been shared with Trump. Current and former officials said that his daily intelligence update — known as the president’s daily brief, or PDB — is often structured to avoid upsetting him.

Russia-related intelligence that might draw Trump’s ire is in some cases included only in the written assessment and not raised orally, said a former senior intelligence official familiar with the matter. In other cases, Trump’s main briefer — a veteran CIA analyst — adjusts the order of his presentation and text, aiming to soften the impact.

“If you talk about Russia, meddling, interference — that takes the PDB off the rails,” said a second former senior U.S. intelligence official.

Brian Hale, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said the briefing is “written by senior-level, career intelligence officers,” and that the intelligence community “always provides objective intelligence — including on Russia — to the president and his staff.”

Trump’s aversion to the intelligence, and the dilemma that poses for top spies, has created a confusing dissonance on issues related to Russia. The CIA continues to stand by its conclusions about the election, for example, even as the agency’s director, Mike Pompeo, frequently makes comments that seem to diminish or distort those findings.

In October, Pompeo declared the intelligence community had concluded that Russia’s meddling “did not affect the outcome of the election.” In fact, spy agencies intentionally steered clear of addressing that question.

Presenting the intelligence

Obama administration intelligence chiefs

brief president-elect and

Director of

national

intelligence

National

security

adviser

JAN. 6

Comey briefs Trump privately on the

salacious allegations in the dossier

JAN. 7 TO 11

Trump aides try to persuade him

to accept the intelligence

community’s consensus

Obama administration intelligence chiefs brief

president-elect and transition-team members

Director of

national

intelligence

National

security

adviser

JAN. 6

Comey briefs Trump privately on the salacious allegations in the dossier

Trump aides try to persuade him to accept the intelligence community’s consensus

Obama administration intelligence chiefs brief

president-elect and transition-team members

Director of

national

intelligence

Incoming

national

security

adviser

JAN. 6

Comey briefs Trump

privately on the

salacious allegations

in the dossier

JAN. 7 TO 11

Trump aides try

to persuade him to

accept the

intelligence

community’s

consensus

On Jan. 6, two weeks before Trump was sworn in as president, the nation’s top intelligence officials boarded an aircraft at Joint Base Andrews on the outskirts of Washington to travel to New York for one of the most delicate briefings they would deliver in their decades-long careers.

Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., CIA Director John Brennan and National Security Agency chief Michael S. Rogers flew together aboard an Air Force 737. FBI Director James B. Comey traveled separately on an FBI Gulfstream aircraft, planning to extend his stay for meetings with bureau officials.

The mood was heavy. The four men had convened a virtual meeting the previous evening, speaking by secure videoconference to plan their presentation to the incoming president of a classified report on Russia’s election interference and its pro-Trump objective.

During the campaign, Trump had alternately dismissed the idea of Russian involvement — saying a hack of the Democratic National Committee was just as likely carried out by “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds” — and prodded the Kremlin to double down on its operation and unearth additional Clinton emails.

The officials had already briefed Obama and members of Congress. As they made their way across Manhattan in separate convoys of black SUVs, they braced for a blowup.

“We were prepared to be thrown out,” Clapper said in an interview.

Instead, the session was oddly serene.

The officials were escorted into a spacious conference room on the 14th floor of Trump Tower. Trump took a seat at one end of a large table, with Vice President-elect Mike Pence at the other. Among the others present were Priebus, Pompeo and designated national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Following a rehearsed plan, Clapper functioned as moderator, yielding to Brennan and others on key points in the briefing, which covered the most highly classified information U.S. spy agencies had assembled, including an extraordinary CIA stream of intelligence that had captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation.

Trump seemed, at least for the moment, to acquiesce.

“He was affable, courteous, complimentary,” Clapper said. “He didn’t bring up the 400-pound guy.”

A copy of the report was left with Trump’s designated intelligence briefer. But there was another, more sensitive matter left to cover.

President Trump with then-FBI Director James B. Comey at a White House gathering on Jan. 22. (Pool photo by Andrew Harrer/Getty Images; photo illustration by Nick Kirkpatrick/The Washington Post)

Clapper and Comey had initially planned to remain together with Trump while discussing an infamous dossier that included salacious allegations about the incoming president.

It had been commissioned by an opposition research firm in Washington that had enlisted a former British intelligence officer to gather material. As The Washington Post reported in October, the research was paid for by the Clinton campaign and the DNC.

But in the end, Comey felt he should handle the matter with Trump alone, saying that the dossier was being scrutinized exclusively by the FBI. After the room emptied, Comey explained that the dossier had not been corroborated and that its contents had not influenced the intelligence community’s findings — but that the president needed to know it was in wide circulation in Washington.

Senior officials would subsequently wonder whether the decision to leave that conversation to Comey helped poison his relationship with the incoming president. When the dossier was posted online four days later by the news site BuzzFeed, Trump lashed out the next morning in a 4:48 a.m. Twitter blast.

“Intelligence agencies never should have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public,” Trump said. “One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?” The Post was one of several news organizations that had been briefed on key allegations included in the dossier months earlier and had been attempting to verify them.

After leaving the Jan. 6 meeting at Trump Tower, Comey had climbed into his car and began composing a memo.

“I knew there might come a day when I would need a record of what happened, not just to defend myself but to defend the FBI and our integrity as an institution,” he testified to Congress in June. It was the first of multiple memos he would write documenting his interactions with Trump.

Clapper’s office released an abbreviated public version of the intelligence report later that day. Trump issued a statement saying that “Russia, China” and “other countries” had sought to penetrate the cyberdefenses of U.S. institutions, including the DNC.

In their Trump Tower interventions, senior aides had sought to cement his seeming acceptance of the intelligence. But as the first year of his presidency progressed, Trump became only more adamant in his rejections of it.

In November, during a 12-day trip to Asia, Trump signaled that he believed Putin’s word over that of U.S. intelligence.

“He said he didn’t meddle,” Trump said to reporters aboard Air Force One after he and Putin spoke on the sidelines of a summit in Vietnam. “Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it.”

As those remarks roiled Washington, Trump sought to calm the controversy without fully conceding the accuracy of the intelligence on Russia. He also aimed a parting shot at the spy chiefs who had visited him in January in New York.

“As to whether I believe it or not,” he said the next day, “I’m with our agencies, especially as currently constituted with their leadership.”

‘Don’t walk that last 5½ feet’

In the early days of his presidency, Trump surrounded himself with aides and advisers who reinforced his affinity for Russia and Putin, though for disparate reasons not always connected to the views of the president.

Flynn, the national security adviser, saw Russia as an unfairly maligned world power and believed that the United States should set aside its differences with Moscow so the two could focus on higher priorities, including battling Islamist terrorism.

Some on the NSC, including Middle East adviser Derek Harvey, urged pursuing a “grand bargain” with Russia in Syria as part of an effort to drive a wedge into Moscow’s relationship with Iran. Harvey is no longer in the administration.

Others had more idiosyncratic impulses. Kevin Harrington, a former associate of Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel brought in to shape national security strategy, saw close ties with oil- and gas-rich Russia as critical to surviving an energy apocalypse — a fate that officials who worked with him said he discussed frequently and depicted as inevitable.

The tilt of the staff began to change when Flynn was forced to resign after just 24 days on the job for falsehoods about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. His replacement, Army Gen. H.R. McMaster, had more conventional foreign policy views that included significant skepticism of Moscow.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster at the White House in September. (Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu, photo illustration by Nick Kirkpatrick/The Washington Post)

The change helped ease the turmoil that had characterized the NSC but set up internal conflicts on Russia-related issues that seemed to interfere with Trump’s pursuit of a friendship with Putin. Among them was the administration’s position on NATO.

The alliance, built around a pledge of mutual defense against Soviet or Russian aggression among the United States and its European allies, became a flash point in internal White House battles. McMaster, an ardent NATO supporter, struggled to fend off attacks on the alliance and its members by Trump’s political advisers.

The president’s chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, moved to undermine support for NATO within weeks of arriving at the White House. After securing a position on the NSC, Bannon ordered officials to compile a table of arrears — alleged deficits on defense spending by every NATO member going back 67 years. Officials protested that such a calculation was impractical, and they persuaded Bannon to accept a partial list documenting underspending dating from 2007.

Bannon and McMaster clashed in front of Trump during an Oval Office discussion about NATO in the spring, officials said. Trump, sitting behind his desk, was voicing frustration that NATO member states were not meeting their defense spending obligations under the treaty. Bannon went further, describing Europe as “nothing more than a glorified protectorate.”

McMaster, an ardent supporter of NATO, snapped at Bannon. “Why are you such an apologist for Russia?” he asked, according to two officials with knowledge of the exchange. Bannon shot back that his position had “nothing to do with Russians” and later told colleagues how much he relished such confrontations with McMaster, saying, “I love living rent-free in his head.”

Bannon and his allies also maneuvered to sabotage displays of unity with the alliance. As NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg arrived for an April visit at the White House, McMaster’s team prepared remarks for Trump that included an endorsement of Article 5 — the core NATO provision calling for members to come to one another’s defense.

But the language was stripped out at the last minute by NATO critics inside the administration who argued that “it didn’t sound presidential enough,” one senior U.S. official said. A month later, Stephen Miller, a White House adviser close to Bannon, carried out a similar editing operation in Brussels where Trump spoke at a dedication ceremony for NATO’s gleaming new headquarters.

Standing before twisted steel wreckage from the World Trade Center that memorialized NATO’s commitment to defend the United States after the 9/11 attacks, Trump made no mention of any U.S. commitment to mutual defense.

Trump finally did so in June during a meeting with the president of Romania. Officials said that in that case, McMaster clung to the president’s side until a joint news conference was underway, blocking Miller from Trump and the text. A senior White House official said that Trump has developed a good relationship with Stoltenberg and often praises him in private.

On sensitive matters related to Russia, senior advisers have at times adopted what one official described as a policy of “don’t walk that last 5½feet” — meaning to avoid entering the Oval Office and giving Trump a chance to erupt or overrule on issues that can be resolved by subordinates.

Another former U.S. official described being enlisted to contact the German government before Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit at the White House in March. The outreach had two aims, the official said — to warn Merkel that her encounter with Trump would probably be acrimonious because of their diverging views on refugees, trade and other issues, but also to urge her to press Trump on U.S. support for NATO.

The signature moment of the trip came during a brief photo appearance in which Trump wore a dour expression and appeared to spurn Merkel’s effort to shake his hand, though Trump later said he had not noticed the gesture.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Trump at a joint White House news conference in March. (Photo by Jabin Botsford, photo illustration by Nick Kirkpatrick/The Washington Post)

His demeanor with the German leader was in striking contrast with his encounters with Putin and other authoritarian figures. “Who are the three guys in the world he most admires? President Xi [Jinping] of China, [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan and Putin,” one Trump adviser said. “They’re all the same guy.”

Merkel has never fit into that Trump pantheon. Before her arrival, senior White House aides witnessed an odd scene that some saw as an omen for the visit. As McMaster and a dozen other top aides met with Trump in the Oval Office to outline issues Merkel was likely to raise, the president grew impatient, stood up and walked into an adjoining bathroom.

Trump left the bathroom door open, according to officials familiar with the incident, instructing McMaster to raise his voice and keep talking. A senior White House official said the president entered the restroom and merely “took a glance in the mirror, as this was before a public event.”

TRUMP’S

RELATIONSHIP WITH NATO

President-elect Trump calls NATO

“obsolete,” alarming European allies.

Trump repeats the claim that NATO is not

focused on terrorism, an assertion

disputed by U.S. partners. NATO has sent

troops to Afghanistan and has an

established counterterrorism agenda.

President Trump says NATO is “no longer

obsolete” during a joint news conference

with NATO Secretary General Jens

Stoltenberg. NATO critics in the

administration remove language that

endorses Article 5 of the alliance’s

founding treaty, which states an attack

on one country is an attack on all.

Trump, standing alongside Romanian

President Klaus Iohannis at the White

House, publicly endorses Article 5.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster

blocked Trump adviser Stephen Miller

from Trump and the speech until the

news conference began.

TRUMP’S CONTENTIOUS RELATIONSHIP WITH NATO

President-elect Trump calls NATO

“obsolete,” alarming European allies.

Trump repeats the claim that NATO is not

focused on terrorism, an assertion

disputed by U.S. partners. NATO has sent

troops to Afghanistan and has an

established counterterrorism agenda.

President Trump says NATO is “no longer

obsolete” during a joint news conference

with NATO Secretary General Jens

Stoltenberg. NATO critics in the

administration remove language that

endorses Article 5 of the alliance’s

founding treaty, which states an attack

on one country is an attack on all.

Trump, standing alongside Romanian

President Klaus Iohannis at the White

House, publicly endorses Article 5.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster

blocked Trump adviser Stephen Miller

from Trump and the speech until the

news conference began.

TRUMP’S CONTENTIOUS RELATIONSHIP WITH NATO

President Trump says NATO is “no longer

obsolete” during a joint news conference

with NATO Secretary General Jens

Stoltenberg. NATO critics in the

administration remove language that

endorses Article 5 of the alliance’s

founding treaty, which states an attack

on one country is an attack on all.

President-elect Trump calls NATO

“obsolete,” alarming European allies.

Trump repeats the claim that NATO is not

focused on terrorism, an assertion

disputed by U.S. partners. NATO has sent

troops to Afghanistan and has an

established counterterrorism agenda.

Trump, standing alongside Romanian

President Klaus Iohannis at the White

House, publicly endorses Article 5.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster

blocked Trump adviser Stephen Miller

from Trump and the speech until the

news conference began.

The campaign

March 21, 2016

Questioning NATO

In an interview with The Washington Post, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump calls NATO outdated and says allies should spend more on defense. “I think NATO as a concept is good, but it is not as good as it was when it first evolved,” Trump says.

July 21, 2016

Trump says U.S. won’t rush to defend NATO

Trump sets off alarm bells with a suggestion that his administration would not automatically defend fellow members of NATO from an attack if they have not lived up to their financial obligations. His remarks provoke a swift rebuke from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

The transition

Jan. 15

NATO is ‘obsolete’

President-elect Trump calls NATO “obsolete,” alarming European allies. Trump repeats the claim that NATO is not focused on terrorism, an assertion disputed by U.S. partners. NATO has sent troops to Afghanistan and has an established counterterrorism agenda.

Jan. 18

Leader responds

Stoltenberg, in response to Trump’s criticisms, says the defense organization is constantly evolving to meet modern security threats, including terrorism.

The administration

Feb. 6

Trump wants more

President Trump says he supports NATO but asks that members “make their full and proper financial contribution to the NATO alliance.”

March 17

German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits the White House

March 18

‘Vast sums of money’

Trump says Germany owes the United States “vast sums of money” for NATO. The statement is inaccurate. All NATO countries have committed to spending 2 percent of their GDP on defense by 2024, but they do not owe the United States money.

March 19

Germany responds

Germany rejects Trump’s NATO claim. Germany’s defense minister says the country has “no debt account in NATO.”

April 12

Trump reverses NATO stance

Trump, during a joint news conference with Stoltenberg, says NATO is “no longer obsolete.” NATO critics in the administration remove language that endorses Article 5 of the alliance’s founding treaty, which states an attack on one country is an attack on all.

May 25

Trump chastises NATO members

Trump criticizes NATO leaders in Brussels, saying they are not spending enough money on their own defense. There is widespread disappointment among NATO leaders when Trump does not explicitly reaffirm the U.S. commitment to Article 5.

May 28

Merkel: Europe can’t rely on others

Merkel says Europe “really must take our fate into our own hands,” offering a stark view of U.S.-European relations.

May 30

Trump tweets back

Trump fans the dispute with Merkel by tweeting: “We have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO & military. Very bad for U.S. This will change.”

June 9

Trump backs collective defense commitment

Trump, standing alongside the president of Romania at the White House, publicly endorses Article 5.

June 28

NATO allies boost defense spending

NATO allies announce plans to boost defense spending by 4.3 percent this year, partly a response to Trump’s pressure. “We have really shifted gears,” NATO’s secretary general says.

McMaster gained an internal ally on Russia in March with the hiring of Fiona Hill as the top Russia adviser on the NSC. A frequent critic of the Kremlin, Hill was best known as the author of a respected biography of Putin and was seen as a reassuring selection among Russia hard-liners.

Her relationship with Trump, however, was strained from the start.

In one of her first encounters with the president, an Oval Office meeting in preparation for a call with Putin on Syria, Trump appeared to mistake Hill for a member of the clerical staff, handing her a memo he had marked up and instructing her to rewrite it.

When Hill responded with a perplexed look, Trump became irritated with what he interpreted as insubordination, according to officials who witnessed the exchange. As she walked away in confusion, Trump exploded and motioned for McMaster to intervene.

McMaster followed Hill out the door and scolded her, officials said. Later he and a few close staffers met to explore ways to repair Hill’s damaged relationship with the president.

Hill’s standing was further damaged when she was forced to defend members of her staff suspected of disloyalty after details about Trump’s Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak — in which the president revealed highly classified informationto his Russian guests — were leaked to The Post.

The White House subsequently tightened the circle of aides involved in meetings with Russian officials. Trump was accompanied only by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during a meeting with Putin at a July summit of Group of 20 nations in Hamburg. In prior administrations, the president’s top aide on Russia was typically present for such encounters, but Hill has frequently been excluded.

A senior administration official said that the NSC “was not sidelined as a result” of Hill’s difficult encounters with Trump, that Hill is regularly included in briefings with the president and that she and her staff “continue to play an important role on Russia policy.”

An insult to Moscow

White House officials insist that the Trump administration has adopted a tougher stance toward Moscow than the Obama administration on important fronts.

They point to Trump’s decision, after a chemical weapons attack in Syria, to approve a U.S. military strike on a base where Russian personnel and equipment were present. They cite Trump’s decision in early August to sign legislation imposing additional economic sanctions on Moscow and steps taken by the State Department at the end of that month ordering three Russian diplomatic facilities — two trade offices and the consulate in San Francisco — closed. They also said that the NSC is preparing options for the president to deal with the threat of Russian interference in American elections.

“Look at our actions,” a senior administration official said in an interview. “We’re pushing back against the Russians.”

Senior Trump officials have struggled to explain how. In congressional testimony in October, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was pressed on whether the administration had done enough to prevent Russian interference in the future. “Probably not,” Sessions said. “And the matter is so complex that for most of us we are not able to fully grasp the technical dangers that are out there.”

The administration’s accomplishments are to a large measure offset by complicating factors — Trump had little choice but to sign the sanctions — and competing examples. Among them is the administration’s persistent exploration of proposals to lift one of the most effective penalties that Obama imposed for Russia’s election interference — the seizure of two Russian compounds.

Russia used those sprawling estates in Maryland and New York as retreats for its spies and diplomats but also — according to CIA and FBI officials — as platforms for espionage. The loss of those sites became a major grievance for Moscow.

Lavrov has raised the confiscation of those properties in nearly every meeting with his American counterparts, officials said, accusing the United States of having “stolen our dachas,” using the Russian word for country houses.

Putin may have had reason to expect that Russia would soon regain access to the compounds after Trump took office. In his recent guilty plea, Flynn admitted lying to the FBI about a conversation with the Russian ambassador in late December. During the call, which came as Obama was announcing sanctions on Russia, Flynn urged the ambassador not to overreact, suggesting the penalties would be short-lived.

After a report in late May by The Post that the administration was considering returning the compounds, hard-liners in the administration mobilized to head off any formal offer.

Several weeks later, the FBI organized an elaborate briefing for Trump in the Oval Office, officials said. E.W. “Bill” Priestap, the assistant director of the counterintelligence division at the FBI, brought three-dimensional models of the properties, as well as maps showing their proximity to sensitive U.S. military or intelligence installations.

Appealing to Trump’s “America first” impulse, officials made the case that Russia had used the facilities to steal U.S. secrets. Trump seemed convinced, officials said.

Smoke rises from a chimney at the Russian Consulate in San Francisco on Sept. 1, a day after the Trump administration ordered its closure. (Photo by Eric Risberg/AP; photo illustration by Nick Kirkpatrick/The Washington Post)

“I told Rex we’re not giving the real estate back to the Russians,” Trump said at one point, referring to Tillerson, according to participants. Later, Trump marveled at the potential of the two sites and asked, “Should we sell this off and keep the money?”

But on July 6, Tillerson sent an informal communication to the Kremlin proposing the return of the two compounds, a gesture that he hoped would help the two sides pull out of a diplomatic tailspin. Under the proposed terms, Russia would regain access to the compounds but without diplomatic status that for years had rendered them outside the jurisdiction of U.S. law enforcement.

The FBI and some White House officials, including Hill, were livid when they learned that the plan had been communicated to Russia through a “non-paper” — an informal, nonbinding format. But “Tillerson never does anything without Trump’s approval,” a senior U.S. official said, making clear that the president knew in advance.

Administration officials provided conflicting accounts of what came next. Two officials indicated that there were additional communications with the Kremlin about the plan. One senior official said that Tillerson made a last-minute change in the terms, proposing that the Maryland site be returned “status quo ante,” meaning with full diplomatic protections. It would again be off-limits to law enforcement agencies, including the FBI.

State Department officials disputed that account, however, saying that no such offer was ever contemplated and that the final proposal shared with the Kremlin was the non-paper sent on July 6 — one day before Trump met with Putin in Hamburg.

Tillerson “never directed anyone to draft” a revised proposal to the Kremlin, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a written statement. “We considered possible options for restoring Russian access for recreational purposes in a way that would meet the security concerns of the U.S. government.” By the end of July, Congress had passed a new sanctions bill that “imposed specific conditions for the return of the dachas,” she said, “and the Russians have so far not been willing to meet them.”

Moscow made clear through Lavrov and others in mid-July that it regarded the overture, and the idea that any conditions would be placed on the return of the sites, as an insult. State Department officials interpreted that response as evidence that Russia’s real purpose was the resumption of espionage.

‘He was raging. He was raging mad.’

With no deal on the dachas, U.S.-Russia relations plunged into diplomatic free fall.

Even before Trump was sworn in, a group of senators including John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) had begun drafting legislation to impose further sanctions on Russia.

In the ensuing months, McCain’s office began getting private warnings from a White House insider. “We were told that a big announcement was coming regarding Russia sanctions,” a senior congressional aide said. “We all kind of assumed the worst.”

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had blocked the sanctions bill from moving forward at the behest of Tillerson, who kept appealing for more time to negotiate with Moscow.

But after Comey’s firing in early May, and months of damaging headlines about Trump and Russia, an alarmed Senate approved new sanctions on Russia in a 98-to-2 vote.

Trump at times seemed not to understand how his actions and behavior intensified congressional concern. After he emerged from a meeting in Hamburg with Putin, Trump said he and the Russian leader had agreed upon the outlines of a cooperative cybersecurity plan.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) described the proposed pact as “pretty close” to “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard” and introduced additional provisions to the sanctions bill that would strip Trump of much of his power to undo them — a remarkable slap at presidential prerogative.

Then, in late July, new information surfaced about the extent of Trump’s interactions with Putin in Hamburg that sent another wave of anxiety across Capitol Hill.

At the end of a lavish banquet for world leaders, Trump wandered away from his assigned seat for a private conversation with the Russian leader — without a single U.S. witness, only a Kremlin interpreter.

A Trump administration official described the reaction to the encounter as overblown, saying that Trump had merely left his seat to join the first lady, Melania Trump, who had been seated for the dinner next to Putin. Whatever the reason, little over a week later both chambers of Congress passed the sanctions measure with overwhelming margins that would withstand any Trump veto.

Trump’s frustration had been building as the measure approached a final vote. He saw the bill as validation of the case that Russia had interfered, as an encroachment on his executive authority and as a potentially fatal blow to his aspirations for friendship with Putin, according to his advisers.

In the final days before passage, Trump watched MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program and stewed as hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski declared that the bill would be a slap in the face to the president.

“He was raging,” one adviser said. “He was raging mad.”

After final passage, Trump was “apoplectic,” the adviser recalled. It took four days for aides to persuade him to sign the bill, arguing that if he vetoed it and Congress overturned that veto, his standing would be permanently weakened.

“Hey, here are the votes,” aides told the president, according to a second Trump adviser. “If you veto it, they’ll override you and then you’re f—ed and you look like you’re weak.”

Trump signed but made his displeasure known. His signing statement asserted that the measure included “clearly unconstitutional provisions.” Trump had routinely made a show of bill signings, but in this case no media was allowed to attend.

The reaction from Russia was withering. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev taunted the president in a Facebook post that echoed Trump’s style, saying that the president had shown “complete impotence, in the most humiliating manner, transferring executive power to Congress.”

Putin, who had shown such restraint in late December 2016, reacted to the new sanctions with fury, ordering the United States to close two diplomatic properties and slash 755 people from its staff — most of them Russian nationals working for the United States.

Rather than voice any support for the dozens of State Department and CIA employees being forced back to Washington, Trump expressed gratitude to Putin.

“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down on payroll,” Trump told reporters during an outing at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. — remarks his aides would later claim were meant as a joke. “We’ll save a lot of money.”

President Barack Obama announces

sanctions meant to punish Russia for its

election interference. Michael Flynn, the

incoming national security adviser, asks

Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak to

have Moscow withhold a strong

diplomatic response. The next day, Putin

announces he will not retaliate.

During the Group of 20 summit,

President Trump says he “strongly

pressed” Russian President Vladimir

Putin twice about Russia’s election

meddling. Afterward, Trump promises to

“move forward in working constructively

with Russia.” The two leaders have a

second meeting that was not

immediately disclosed by the

White House.

After Trump said he agreed with Putin on

a cooperative cybersecurity plan, Sen.

Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) introduced

additional provisions to a sanctions bill

that would strip Trump of much of his

power to undo them. The bill passes, and

Trump reluctantly signs it on Aug. 2 —

setting off a diplomatic fight between the

United States and Russia.

President Barack Obama announces

sanctions meant to punish Russia for its

election interference. Michael Flynn, the

incoming national security adviser, asks

Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak to

have Moscow withhold a strong

diplomatic response. The next day, Putin

announces he will not retaliate.

During the Group of 20 summit, President

Trump says he “strongly pressed” Russian

President Vladimir Putin twice about

Russia’s election meddling. Afterward,

Trump promises to “move forward in

working constructively with Russia.” The

two leaders have a second meeting that

was not immediately disclosed by the

White House.

After Trump said he agreed with Putin on

a cooperative cybersecurity plan, Sen.

Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) introduced

additional provisions to a sanctions bill

that would strip Trump of much of his

power to undo them. The bill passes, and

Trump reluctantly signs it on Aug. 2 —

setting off a diplomatic fight between the

United States and Russia.

President Barack Obama announces

sanctions meant to punish Russia for its

election interference. Michael Flynn, the

incoming national security adviser, asks

Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak to

have Moscow withhold a strong

diplomatic response. The next day, Putin

announces he will not retaliate.

During the Group of 20 summit, President

Trump says he “strongly pressed” Russian

President Vladimir Putin twice about

Russia’s election meddling. Afterward,

Trump promises to “move forward in

working constructively with Russia.” The

two leaders have a second meeting that

was not immediately disclosed by the

White House.

After Trump said he agreed with Putin on

a cooperative cybersecurity plan, Sen.

Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) introduced

additional provisions to a sanctions bill

that would strip Trump of much of his

power to undo them. The bill passes, and

Trump reluctantly signs it on Aug. 2 —

setting off a diplomatic fight between the

United States and Russia.

The transition

Nov. 10, 2016

Obama’s warning

President Barack Obama warns President-elect Donald Trump about choosing Michael Flynn as his national security adviser.

Dec. 1, 2016

Trump Tower meeting

Flynn and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, meet with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at Trump Tower. At this meeting, they discuss setting up a secret communications system between Trump’s team and Moscow.

Dec. 13, 2016

Kushner meets Russian banker

Kushner, apparently at Kislyak’s urging, meets with Sergey Gorkov, head of the Russian bank VEB, which is under sanctions.

Dec. 29, 2016

Obama announces sanctions

Obama announces sanctions meant to punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 presidential election. Obama expels dozens of Russian officials and orders two Russian compounds in New York and Maryland to be closed.

Dec. 29, 2016

Flynn calls Kislyak

Kislyak contacts Flynn and they talk on the phone. Flynn asks Kislyak to have the Russian government withhold a strong diplomatic response.

Dec. 30, 2016

Putin is quiet

Surprisingly, Russian President Vladimir Putin chooses not to retaliate against the United States — choosing to wait and see what the new administration will do

Dec. 30, 2016

Trump praises Putin’s response

Trump tweets: “Great move on delay (by V. Putin). I always knew he was very smart!”

Jan. 6

Intel chiefs meet with Trump

The nation’s top intelligence officials present Trump a classified report on Russia’s election interference and its pro-Trump objective. Trump seems to accept the report’s conclusions.

Jan. 16

Trump’s faith in Merkel and Putin

Trump says he will trust German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Putin at the start of his presidency. “I start off trusting both,” he said. “But let’s see how long that lasts. It may not last long at all.”

The administration

Feb. 2

Haley calls out Russia

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley declares to the U.N. Security Council that sanctions against Russia for its intervention in Ukraine will not be lifted until Russia reverses its annexation of Crimea.

Feb. 3

Moral question

Trump declines to condemn a record of violence against Putin’s opponents, telling Fox News interviewer Bill O’Reilly, “You think our country is so innocent?”

April 10

Chemical attacks in Syria

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says Russia bears at least partial responsibility for a chemical attack on villagers in Idlib province.

April 11

White House releases records discrediting Russia

The White House accuses Russia of attempting to cover up a Syrian chemical attack with the use of disinformation tactics.

April 13

Trump hopes for peace

Trump tweets: “Things will work out fine between the U.S.A. and Russia. At the right time everyone will come to their senses & there will be lasting peace!” His optimistic tone runs counter to the sentiments of senior members of his national security team.

May 3

Trump speaks by phone with Putin

The two leaders discuss the Syrian civil war, terrorism and North Korea. A day later, Putin says Trump told him that he supports establishing safe zones in Syria. “As far as I understood, the American administration supports these ideas,” Putin says.

May 10

White House meeting

Trump meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Kislyak in the Oval Office. The Post reports that Trump revealed highly classified information in the meeting.

May 16

McMaster defends Trump

National security adviser H.R. McMaster describes Trump’s conversation with Lavrov and Kislyak as “wholly appropriate.”

June 15

Senate approves sanctions bill

The Senate approves tougher sanctions against Iran and Russia, setting up a potential showdown with Trump. The measures include language that would prevent Trump from scaling back sanctions against Moscow without seeking congressional approval.

June 20

Poroshenko at the White House

Trump meets with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko as expanded sanctions against Russia are announced.

July 7

Trump meets Putin at the G-20

Trump said he “strongly pressed” Putin twice about Russia’s interference in the U.S. election and said Putin denied it. Trump promises to “move forward in working constructively with Russia.”

July 9

Trump denies sanctions talk

Trump tweets: “Sanctions were not discussed at my meeting with President Putin. Nothing will be done until the Ukrainian & Syrian problems are solved!”

July 18

Russia continues to demand the return of compounds

Lavrov calls the closure of Russian compounds in the United States as “robbery in broad daylight.”

July 18

Revelation that Trump met Putin for an additional hour at G-20

Trump left his seat at a Group of 20 dinner to sit next to Putin, who was with his official interpreter. The meeting was not immediately disclosed by the White House.

July 25

House approves sanctions bill

The sanctions bill preserves Congress’s power to block the president from unilaterally lifting its provisions. The sanctions include measures targeting Russia’s defense, intelligence, energy, railway, metals and mining sectors.

July 27

The measure is passed

The Senate passes the Russia-Iran-North Korea sanctions bill.

July 28

Russia responds

Moscow says it plans to seize two U.S. properties in Russia and orders a significant reduction of U.S. diplomatic staff in the country in retaliation for the Russia sanctions bill.

July 31

White House largely silent on Russian action

Trump remains largely quiet on the explusion of U.S. diplomats.

Aug. 2

Trump reluctantly signs the sanctions bill

In a statement, Trump calls the bill “seriously flawed.”

Aug. 21

U.S. halts visas

The U.S. Embassy says it will temporarily stop issuing non-immigrant visas in Russia as the diplomatic spat worsens.

Aug. 22

Treasury sanctions related to North Korea

The Treasury Department, in an effort to further isolate Pyongyang, places sanctions on Chinese and Russian individuals and companies it says had conducted business with North Korea.

Aug. 31

White House answers

The Trump administration orders three Russian diplomatic and trade facilities in San Francisco, New York and Washington closed following the expulsion of American diplomats from Russia.

Oct. 27

No business with Russia

The State Department warns 39 companies and government organizations that they could be hit with sanctions for doing significant business with Russia.

Nov. 11

Trump meets Putin in Vietnam

Trump says he believes Putin is sincere when he denies that Moscow meddled in the presidential election. “He said he didn’t meddle,” Trump says.

Nov. 21

Trump talks to Putin about Syria

Putin tells Trump that he has secured a commitment from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to cooperate with Russia’s new initiatives in Syria, including constitutional changes and presidential and parliamentary elections, the Kremlin says.

‘Scream bloody murder’

Trump has never explained why he so frequently seems to side with Putin.

To critics, the answer is assumed to exist in the unproven allegations of coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, or the claim that Putin has some compromising information about the American president.

Aides attribute Trump’s affection for Putin to the president’s tendency to personalize matters of foreign policy and his unshakable belief that his bond with Putin is the key to fixing world problems.

“When will all the haters and fools out there realize that having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,” Trump tweeted last month. “There always playing politics – bad for our country. I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, terrorism, and Russia can greatly help!”

White House officials present Trump as the latest in a long line of presidents who began their tenures seeking better relations with Moscow, and they argue that the persistent questions about Russia and the election only advance the Kremlin’s aims and damage the president. “This makes me pissed because we’re letting these guys win,” a senior administration official said of the Russians. Referring to the disputed Florida tallies in the 2000 presidential election, the official said: “What if the Russians had created the hanging chads? How would that have been for George Bush?”

The allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, which the president has denied categorically, also contribute to his resistance to endorse the intelligence, another senior White House official said. Acknowledging Russian interference, Trump believes, would give ammunition to his critics.

Still others close to Trump explain his aversion to the intelligence findings in more psychological terms. The president, who burns with resentment over perceived disrespect from the Washington establishment, sees the Russia inquiry as a conspiracy to undermine his election accomplishment — “a witch hunt,” as he often calls it.

“If you say ‘Russian interference,’ to him it’s all about him,” said a senior Republican strategist who has discussed the matter with Trump’s confidants. “He judges everything as about him.”

Recent months have been marked by further erosion of the U.S.-Russia relationship and troubling developments for the White House, including the indictment of Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and the guilty plea of Flynn.

Trump remains defiant about the special counsel’s probe, maintaining that he will be cleared of any wrongdoing and describing the matter as a “hoax” and a “hit job.”

Some of Trump’s most senior advisers support that view. One senior official said that Trump is right to portray the investigations and news reports as politically motivated attacks that have hurt the United States’ ability to work with Russia on real problems.

“We were looking to create some kind of bargain that would help us negotiate a very dangerous world,” said a senior White House official. “But if we do anything, Congress and the media will scream bloody murder.”

Putin expressed his own exasperation in early September, responding to a question about Trump with a quip that mocked the idea of a Trump-Putin bond while aiming a gender-related taunt at the American president. Trump “is not my bride,” Putin said, “and I am not his groom.”

The remark underscored the frustration and disenchantment that have taken hold on both sides amid the failure to achieve the breakthrough in U.S.-Russian relations that Trump and Putin both envisioned a year ago.

As a result, rather than shaping U.S. policy toward Russia, Trump at times appears to function as an outlier in his own administration, unable to pursue the relationship with Putin he envisioned but unwilling to embrace tougher policies favored by some in his Cabinet.

A Pentagon proposal that would pose a direct challenge to Moscow — a plan to deliver lethal arms to Ukrainian forces battling Russia-backed separatists — has languished in internal debates for months.

From left, national security adviser H.R. McMaster; then-White House chief of staff Reince Priebus; then-Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly; Secretary of State Rex Tillerson; and Vice President Pence at President Trump’s news conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in May. (Photo by Jabin Botsford; photo illustration by Nick Kirkpatrick/The Washington Post)

The plan is backed by senior members of Trump’s Cabinet, including Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who voiced support for arming Ukrainian forces in meetings with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in August. Mattis “believes that you should help people who are fighting our potential adversaries,” said a senior U.S. official involved in the deliberations.

A decision to send arms has to be made by the president, and officials said Trump has been reluctant even to engage.

“Every conversation I’ve had with people on this subject has been logical,” the senior U.S. official said. “But there’s no logical conclusion to the process, and that tells me the bottleneck is in the White House.”

In July, the administration appointed former NATO ambassador Kurt Volker to serve as special envoy to Ukraine, putting him in charge of the delicate U.S. relationship with a former Soviet republic eager for closer ties with the West.

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Putin has taken extraordinary measures to block that path, sending Russian commandos and arms into Ukraine to support pro-Russian separatists. And Putin is bitter about U.S. and European sanctions imposed on Russia for its aggression. A decision by Trump to send arms would probably rupture U.S.-Russian relations beyond immediate repair.

Trump was forced to grapple with these complexities in September, when he met with Poroshenko at the United Nations. Volker met with Trump to prepare him for the encounter. Tillerson, McMaster and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, who had replaced Priebus, were also on hand.

Trump pressed Volker on why it was in the United States’ interests to support Ukraine and why U.S. taxpayers’ money should be spent doing so, Volker said in an interview. “Why is it worth it?” Volker said Trump asked. As Volker outlined the rationale for U.S. involvement, Trump seemed satisfied.

“I believe that what he wants is to settle the issue, he wants a better, more constructive U.S.-Russia relationship,” Volker said. “I think he would like [the Ukraine conflict] to be solved . . . get this fixed so we can get to a better place.”

The conversation was about Ukraine but seemed to capture Trump’s frustration on so many Russia-related fronts — the election, the investigations, the complications that had undermined his relationship with Putin.

Volker said that the president repeated a single phrase at least five times, saying, “I want peace.”

Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Julie Tate contributed to this report.

This story has been updated to note that The Post had been briefed on the dossier, but did not receive a copy until a couple of weeks before it was first published by BuzzFeed.

Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election-meddling divides America – The Economist
 

mikenova shared this story from trump money laundering – Google News.


South China Morning Post
Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election-meddling divides America
The Economist
Read Trump-sceptic newspapers or watch such cable networks as MSNBC or CNN, and the evidence is stacking up of Russian collusion with the president. This story comes with villains and prime suspects. Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser to 
Bill Press: Flynn proves Russian investigation not going awayBaltimore Sun
As Mueller’s Russia Probe Forges Ahead, Potential Legal Endgames Begin to Take ShapeNPR
FBI agents on Russia probe called Trump an ‘idiot’, ‘loathsome human being’South China Morning Post
The Hill –New York Daily News –Los Angeles Times –Twitter
all 1,093 news articles »
Is John Kelly plotting to take Donald Trump down?
 

mikenova shared this story from Palmer Report.

Today we saw the ouster of yet another of Donald Trump’s personal allies from the White House, when former Apprentice contestant Omarosa was fired. Her job in the White House was a joke, and she did nothing. As we explained earlier), the controversial nature of her departure looks like it may have been mutually staged. But nonetheless, General John Kelly has managed to dispense with yet another of Trump’s pals. It’s time to start asking why, and it’s time to start looking at the bigger picture when it comes to Trump’s other allies that aren’t truly allies.

Anyone who has been paying close attention has been able to see that Trump’s personal attorneys in the Russia scandal aren’t really playing on his team. They keep telling him that the investigation is almost over, and that Special Counsel Robert Mueller isn’t even really investigating him. They’re misleading him because they know its what he wants to hear, which means they’re not even bothering to put him in a position to help understand his own best defense options. They’re either doing this because they just want to get paid, and they figure it’s the best way to remain on the job for as long as possible, or because they truly believe Trump should be ousted.

This seems incredible: the personal attorneys for the “President” of the United States are misleading him in a scandal that’s going to end his presidency and ruin his family, and he can’t figure it out. Yet all the evidence says that’s precisely what’s happening. If Trump is that far removed from coherence or reality, it’s very easy to believe that John Kelly might be getting away with doing the same thing to him, and perhaps for the same reason: Kelly thinks Trump is unstable and wants him ousted. So let’s look at what Kelly has done here.

Upon taking the White House Chief of Staff job, Kelly immediately began ousting every adviser Trump personally liked: Anthony Scaramucci. Steve Bannon. Sebastian Gorka. And now Omarosa. These were Trump’s jesters, the ones he talks to, the ones he seeks advice from, the ones he likes and trusts. They’re all gone. Other than perhaps Kellyanne Conway, it’s no longer clear that Trump has anyone in the White House who’s truly on his team (the way things are playing out with them, Ivanka and Jared no longer count). That may be the point.

John Kelly has managed to physically separate Donald Trump from all the people he likes to rely on, the personal allies who have probably been doing the most to keep him upright as everything else continues to fail for him. Kelly hasn’t stopped Trump from continuing to post self-defeating tweets. Kelly hasn’t tried to reel in Trump’s racism, and has instead seemingly tried to steer Trump further in that direction. The case can be made that Kelly isn’t doing anything to improve Trump’s prospects; all he’s done is to isolate Trump from his own people and make him even more miserable and less able to function.

Perhaps John Kelly is merely incompetent at this job. It’s difficult to imagine anyone being particularly competent at the task of turning a mentally unstable buffoon into a successful President of the United States. But if Kelly’s goal has been to help Trump succeed, he’s consistently failed in stunning fashion, and in fact has marched Trump closer to catastrophic failure and thus closer to ouster. It’s time to ask if Kelly might be doing it on purpose, because he knows better than anyone that Trump is a mortal danger to the United States of America.

The post Is John Kelly plotting to take Donald Trump down? appeared first on Palmer Report.

FBI Plot Against Trump – FrontPage Magazine
 

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FrontPage Magazine
FBI Plot Against Trump
FrontPage Magazine
DoJ investigations must not be tainted by individuals imposing their own political prejudices. Committee members learned that Peter Strzok, the principal investigator in the Hillary Clinton email scandal, was exchanging pro-Clinton and anti-Trump 
Rosenstein sees no cause to fire MuellerThe Detroit News
Rosenstein says he sees no cause to fire MuellerMiddletown Press
Michael Flynn Pleads Guilty To Lying To FBINPRall 1,119 news articles »
The Early Edition: December 14, 2017 – Just Security
 

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The Early Edition: December 14, 2017
Just Security
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein defended the Justice Department and special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election during testimony before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday, making the and more »
Trump’s Lies vs. Obama’s – New York Times
 

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New York Times
Trump’s Lies vs. Obama’s
New York Times
But they thought he was no worse than other recent presidents, and they challenged The Times to do the same exercise for a president other than Trump. Today, we’re publishing the results of that challenge. We analyzed every statement of President and more »
Doubting the intelligence, Trump pursues Putin and leaves a Russian threat unchecked
 

mikenova shared this story from | INFORUM.

Holding impromptu interventions in Trump’s 26th-floor corner office at Trump Tower, advisers – including Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and designated chief of staff, Reince Priebus – prodded the president-elect to accept the findings that the nation’s spy chiefs had personally presented to him on Jan. 6.

They sought to convince Trump that he could affirm the validity of the intelligence without diminishing his electoral win, according to three officials involved in the sessions. More important, they said that doing so was the only way to put the matter behind him politically and free him to pursue his goal of closer ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“This was part of the normalization process,” one participant said. “There was a big effort to get him to be a standard president.”

But as aides persisted, Trump became agitated. He railed that the intelligence couldn’t be trusted and scoffed at the suggestion that his candidacy had been propelled by forces other than his own strategy, message and charisma.

Told that members of his incoming Cabinet had already publicly backed the intelligence report on Russia, Trump shot back, “So what?” Admitting that the Kremlin had hacked Democratic Party emails, he said, was a “trap.”

As Trump addressed journalists on Jan. 11 in the lobby of Trump Tower, he came as close as he ever would to grudging acceptance. “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia,” he said, adding that “we also get hacked by other countries and other people.”

As hedged as those words were, Trump regretted them almost immediately. “It’s not me,” he said to aides afterward. “It wasn’t right.”

Nearly a year into his presidency, Trump continues to reject the evidence that Russia waged an assault on a pillar of American democracy and supported his run for the White House.

The result is without obvious parallel in U.S. history, a situation in which the personal insecurities of the president – and his refusal to accept what even many in his administration regard as objective reality – have impaired the government’s response to a national security threat. The repercussions radiate across the government.

Rather than search for ways to deter Kremlin attacks or safeguard U.S. elections, Trump has waged his own campaign to discredit the case that Russia poses any threat and he has resisted or attempted to roll back efforts to hold Moscow to account.

His administration has moved to undo at least some of the sanctions the previous administration imposed on Russia for its election interference, exploring the return of two Russian compounds in the United States that President Barack Obama had seized – the measure that had most galled Moscow. Months later, when Congress moved to impose additional penalties on Moscow, Trump opposed the measures fiercely.

Intelligence officials who brief the president play down information about Russia they fear might displease him, current and former officials said. Plans for the State Department to counter Russian propaganda remain stalled. And while Trump has formed a commission to investigate widely discredited claims of U.S. voter fraud, there is no task force focused on the election peril that security officials regard as a certainty – future Russian attacks.

Trump has never convened a Cabinet-level meeting on Russian interference or what to do about it, administration officials said. Although the issue has been discussed at lower levels at the National Security Council, one former high-ranking Trump administration official said there is an unspoken understanding within the NSC that to raise the matter is to acknowledge its validity, which the president would see as an affront.

Trump’s stance on the election is part of a broader entanglement with Moscow that has defined the first year of his presidency. He continues to pursue an elusive bond with Putin, which he sees as critical to dealing with North Korea, Iran and other issues. “Having Russia in a friendly posture,” he said last month, “is an asset to the world and an asset to our country.”

His position has alienated close American allies and often undercut members of his Cabinet – all against the backdrop of a criminal probe into possible ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

This account of the Trump administration’s reaction to Russia’s interference and policies toward Moscow is based on interviews with more than 50 current and former U.S. officials, many of whom had senior roles in the Trump campaign and transition team or have been in high-level positions at the White House or at national security agencies. Most agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the subject.

Trump administration officials defended the approach with Russia, insisting that their policies and actions have been tougher than those pursued by Obama but without unnecessarily combative language or posture. “Our approach is that we don’t irritate Russia, we deter Russia,” a senior administration official said. “The last administration had it exactly backwards.”

White House officials cast the president’s refusal to acknowledge Russian interference in the election as an understandably human reaction. “The president obviously feels . . . that the idea that he’s been put into office by Vladimir Putin is pretty insulting,” said a second senior administration official. But his views are “not a constraint” on the government’s ability to respond to future election threats, the official said. “Our first order in dealing with Russia is trying to counter a lot of the destabilizing activity that Russia engages in.”

Others questioned how such an effort could succeed when the rationale for that objective is routinely rejected by the president. Michael V. Hayden, who served as CIA director under President George W. Bush, has described the Russian interference as the political equivalent of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, an event that exposed a previously unimagined vulnerability and required a unified American response.

“What the president has to say is, ‘We know the Russians did it, they know they did it, I know they did it, and we will not rest until we learn everything there is to know about how and do everything possible to prevent it from happening again,’ ” Hayden said in an interview. Trump “has never said anything close to that and will never say anything close to that.”

The feeble American response has registered with the Kremlin.

U.S. officials said that a stream of intelligence from sources inside the Russian government indicates that Putin and his lieutenants regard the 2016 “active measures” campaign – as the Russians describe such covert propaganda operations – as a resounding, if incomplete, success.

Moscow has not achieved some its most narrow and immediate goals. The annexation of Crimea from Ukraine has not been recognized. Sanctions imposed for Russian intervention in Ukraine remain in place. Additional penalties have been mandated by Congress. And a wave of diplomatic retaliation has cost Russia access to additional diplomatic facilities, including its San Francisco consulate.

But overall, U.S. officials said, the Kremlin believes it got a staggering return on an operation that by some estimates cost less than $500,000 to execute and was organized around two main objectives – destabilizing U.S. democracy and preventing Hillary Clinton, who is despised by Putin, from reaching the White House.

The bottom line for Putin, said one U.S. official briefed on the stream of post-election intelligence, is that the operation was “more than worth the effort.”

The Russian operation seemed intended to aggravate political polarization and racial tensions and to diminish U.S. influence abroad. The United States’ closest alliances are frayed, and the Oval Office is occupied by a disruptive politician who frequently praises his counterpart in Russia.

“Putin has to believe this was the most successful intelligence operation in the history of Russian or Soviet intelligence,” said Andrew Weiss, a former adviser on Russia in the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations who is now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “It has driven the American political system into a crisis that will last years.”

U.S. officials declined to discuss whether the stream of recent intelligence on Russia has been shared with Trump. Current and former officials said that his daily intelligence update – known as the president’s daily brief, or PDB – is often structured to avoid upsetting him.

Russia-related intelligence that might draw Trump’s ire is in some cases included only in the written assessment and not raised orally, said a former senior intelligence official familiar with the matter. In other cases, Trump’s main briefer – a veteran CIA analyst – adjusts the order of his presentation and text, aiming to soften the impact.

“If you talk about Russia, meddling, interference – that takes the PDB off the rails,” said a second former senior U.S. intelligence official.

Brian Hale, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said the briefing is “written by senior-level, career intelligence officers,” and that the intelligence community “always provides objective intelligence – including on Russia – to the president and his staff.”

Trump’s aversion to the intelligence, and the dilemma that poses for top spies, has created a confusing dissonance on issues related to Russia. The CIA continues to stand by its conclusions about the election, for example, even as the agency’s director, Mike Pompeo, frequently makes comments that seem to diminish or distort those findings.

In October, Pompeo declared the intelligence community had concluded that Russia’s meddling “did not affect the outcome of the election.” In fact, spy agencies intentionally steered clear of addressing that question.

On Jan. 6, two weeks before Trump was sworn in as president, the nation’s top intelligence officials boarded an aircraft at Joint Base Andrews on the outskirts of Washington to travel to New York for one of the most delicate briefings they would deliver in their decades-long careers.

Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., CIA Director John Brennan and National Security Agency chief Michael S. Rogers flew together aboard an Air Force 737. FBI Director James B. Comey traveled separately on an FBI Gulfstream aircraft, planning to extend his stay for meetings with bureau officials.

The mood was heavy. The four men had convened a virtual meeting the previous evening, speaking by secure videoconference to plan their presentation to the incoming president of a classified report on Russia’s election interference and its pro-Trump objective.

During the campaign, Trump had alternately dismissed the idea of Russian involvement – saying a hack of the Democratic National Committee was just as likely carried out by “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds” – and prodded the Kremlin to double down on its operation and unearth additional Clinton emails.

The officials had already briefed Obama and members of Congress. As they made their way across Manhattan in separate convoys of black SUVs, they braced for a blowup.

“We were prepared to be thrown out,” Clapper said in an interview.

Instead, the session was oddly serene.

The officials were escorted into a spacious conference room on the 14th floor of Trump Tower. Trump took a seat at one end of a large table, with Vice President-elect Mike Pence at the other. Among the others present were Priebus, Pompeo and designated national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Following a rehearsed plan, Clapper functioned as moderator, yielding to Brennan and others on key points in the briefing, which covered the most highly classified information U.S. spy agencies had assembled, including an extraordinary CIA stream of intelligence that had captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation.

Trump seemed, at least for the moment, to acquiesce.

“He was affable, courteous, complimentary,” Clapper said. “He didn’t bring up the 400-pound guy.”

A copy of the report was left with Trump’s designated intelligence briefer. But there was another, more sensitive matter left to cover.

Clapper and Comey had initially planned to remain together with Trump while discussing an infamous dossier that included salacious allegations about the incoming president.

It had been commissioned by an opposition research firm in Washington that had enlisted a former British intelligence officer to gather material. As The Washington Post reported in October, the research was paid for by the Clinton campaign and the DNC.

But in the end, Comey felt he should handle the matter with Trump alone, saying that the dossier was being scrutinized exclusively by the FBI. After the room emptied, Comey explained that the dossier had not been corroborated and that its contents had not influenced the intelligence community’s findings – but that the president needed to know it was in wide circulation in Washington.

Senior officials would subsequently wonder whether the decision to leave that conversation to Comey helped poison his relationship with the incoming president. When the dossier was posted online four days later by the news site BuzzFeed, Trump lashed out the next morning in a 4:48 a.m. Twitter blast.

“Intelligence agencies never should have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public,” Trump said. “One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?” The Post was one of several news organizations that had received the dossier months earlier, had been attempting to verify its claims and had not published it.

After leaving the Jan. 6 meeting at Trump Tower, Comey had climbed into his car and began composing a memo.

“I knew there might come a day when I would need a record of what happened, not just to defend myself but to defend the FBI and our integrity as an institution,” he testified to Congress in June. It was the first of multiple memos he would write documenting his interactions with Trump.

Clapper’s office released an abbreviated public version of the intelligence report later that day. Trump issued a statement saying that “Russia, China” and “other countries” had sought to penetrate the cyberdefenses of U.S. institutions, including the DNC.

In their Trump Tower interventions, senior aides had sought to cement his seeming acceptance of the intelligence. But as the first year of his presidency progressed, Trump became only more adamant in his rejections of it.

In November, during a 12-day trip to Asia, Trump signaled that he believed Putin’s word over that of U.S. intelligence.

“He said he didn’t meddle,” Trump said to reporters aboard Air Force One after he and Putin spoke on the sidelines of a summit in Vietnam. “Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it.”

As those remarks roiled Washington, Trump sought to calm the controversy without fully conceding the accuracy of the intelligence on Russia. He also aimed a parting shot at the spy chiefs who had visited him in January in New York.

“As to whether I believe it or not,” he said the next day, “I’m with our agencies, especially as currently constituted with their leadership.”

In the early days of his presidency, Trump surrounded himself with aides and advisers who reinforced his affinity for Russia and Putin, though for disparate reasons not always connected to the views of the president.

Flynn, the national security adviser, saw Russia as an unfairly maligned world power and believed that the United States should set aside its differences with Moscow so the two could focus on higher priorities, including battling Islamist terrorism.

Some on the NSC, including Middle East adviser Derek Harvey, urged pursuing a “grand bargain” with Russia in Syria as part of an effort to drive a wedge into Moscow’s relationship with Iran. Harvey is no longer in the administration.

Others had more idiosyncratic impulses. Kevin Harrington, a former associate of Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel brought in to shape national security strategy, saw close ties with oil- and gas-rich Russia as critical to surviving an energy apocalypse – a fate that officials who worked with him said he discussed frequently and depicted as inevitable.

The tilt of the staff began to change when Flynn was forced to resign after just 24 days on the job for falsehoods about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. His replacement, Army Gen. H.R. McMaster, had more conventional foreign policy views that included significant skepticism of Moscow.

The change helped ease the turmoil that had characterized the NSC but set up internal conflicts on Russia-related issues that seemed to interfere with Trump’s pursuit of a friendship with Putin. Among them was the administration’s position on NATO.

The alliance, built around a pledge of mutual defense against Soviet or Russian aggression among the United States and its European allies, became a flash point in internal White House battles. McMaster, an ardent NATO supporter, struggled to fend off attacks on the alliance and its members by Trump’s political advisers.

The president’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, moved to undermine support for NATO within weeks of arriving at the White House. After securing a position on the NSC, Bannon ordered officials to compile a table of arrears – alleged deficits on defense spending by every NATO member going back 67 years. Officials protested that such a calculation was impractical, and they persuaded Bannon to accept a partial list documenting underspending dating from 2007.

Bannon and McMaster clashed in front of Trump during an Oval Office discussion about NATO in the spring, officials said. Trump, sitting behind his desk, was voicing frustration that NATO member states were not meeting their defense spending obligations under the treaty. Bannon went further, describing Europe as “nothing more than a glorified protectorate.”

McMaster, an ardent supporter of NATO, snapped at Bannon. “Why are you such an apologist for Russia?” he asked, according to two officials with knowledge of the exchange. Bannon shot back that his position had “nothing to do with Russians” and later told colleagues how much he relished such confrontations with McMaster, saying, “I love living rent-free in his head.”

Bannon and his allies also maneuvered to sabotage displays of unity with the alliance. As NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg arrived for an April visit at the White House, McMaster’s team prepared remarks for Trump that included an endorsement of Article 5 – the core NATO provision calling for members to come to one another’s defense.

But the language was stripped out at the last minute by NATO critics inside the administration who argued that “it didn’t sound presidential enough,” one senior U.S. official said. A month later, Stephen Miller, a White House adviser close to Bannon, carried out a similar editing operation in Brussels where Trump spoke at a dedication ceremony for NATO’s gleaming new headquarters.

Standing before twisted steel wreckage from the World Trade Center that memorialized NATO’s commitment to defend the United States after the 9/11 attacks, Trump made no mention of any U.S. commitment to mutual defense.

Trump finally did so in June during a meeting with the president of Romania. Officials said that in that case, McMaster clung to the president’s side until a joint news conference was underway, blocking Miller from Trump and the text. A senior White House official said that Trump has developed a good relationship with Stoltenberg and often praises him in private.

On sensitive matters related to Russia, senior advisers have at times adopted what one official described as a policy of “don’t walk that last 5½feet” – meaning to avoid entering the Oval Office and giving Trump a chance to erupt or overrule on issues that can be resolved by subordinates.

Another former U.S. official described being enlisted to contact the German government before Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit at the White House in March. The outreach had two aims, the official said – to warn Merkel that her encounter with Trump would probably be acrimonious because of their diverging views on refugees, trade and other issues, but also to urge her to press Trump on U.S. support for NATO.

The signature moment of the trip came during a brief photo appearance in which Trump wore a dour expression and appeared to spurn Merkel’s effort to shake his hand, though Trump later said he had not noticed the gesture.

His demeanor with the German leader was in striking contrast with his encounters with Putin and other authoritarian figures. “Who are the three guys in the world he most admires? President Xi [Jinping] of China, [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan and Putin,” one Trump adviser said. “They’re all the same guy.”

Merkel has never fit into that Trump pantheon. Before her arrival, senior White House aides witnessed an odd scene that some saw as an omen for the visit. As McMaster and a dozen other top aides met with Trump in the Oval Office to outline issues Merkel was likely to raise, the president grew impatient, stood up and walked into an adjoining bathroom.

Trump left the bathroom door open, according to officials familiar with the incident, instructing McMaster to raise his voice and keep talking. A senior White House official said the president entered the restroom and merely “took a glance in the mirror, as this was before a public event.”

McMaster gained an internal ally on Russia in March with the hiring of Fiona Hill as the top Russia adviser on the NSC. A frequent critic of the Kremlin, Hill was best known as the author of a respected biography of Putin and was seen as a reassuring selection among Russia hard-liners.

Her relationship with Trump, however, was strained from the start.

In one of her first encounters with the president, an Oval Office meeting in preparation for a call with Putin on Syria, Trump appeared to mistake Hill for a member of the clerical staff, handing her a memo he had marked up and instructing her to rewrite it.

When Hill responded with a perplexed look, Trump became irritated with what he interpreted as insubordination, according to officials who witnessed the exchange. As she walked away in confusion, Trump exploded and motioned for McMaster to intervene.

McMaster followed Hill out the door and scolded her, officials said. Later he and a few close staffers met to explore ways to repair Hill’s damaged relationship with the president.

Hill’s standing was further damaged when she was forced to defend members of her staff suspected of disloyalty after details about Trump’s Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak – in which the president revealed highly classified information to his Russian guests – were leaked to The Post.

The White House subsequently tightened the circle of aides involved in meetings with Russian officials. Trump was accompanied only by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during a meeting with Putin at a July summit of Group of 20 nations in Hamburg. In prior administrations, the president’s top aide on Russia was typically present for such encounters, but Hill has frequently been excluded.

A senior administration official said that the NSC “was not sidelined as a result” of Hill’s difficult encounters with Trump, that Hill is regularly included in briefings with the president and that she and her staff “continue to play an important role on Russia policy.”

White House officials insist that the Trump administration has adopted a tougher stance toward Moscow than the Obama administration on important fronts.

They point to Trump’s decision, after a chemical weapons attack in Syria, to approve a U.S. military strike on a base where Russian personnel and equipment were present. They cite Trump’s decision in early August to sign legislation imposing additional economic sanctions on Moscow and steps taken by the State Department at the end of that month ordering three Russian diplomatic facilities – two trade offices and the consulate in San Francisco – closed. They also said that the NSC is preparing options for the president to deal with the threat of Russian interference in American elections.

“Look at our actions,” a senior administration official said in an interview. “We’re pushing back against the Russians.”

Senior Trump officials have struggled to explain how. In congressional testimony in October, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was pressed on whether the administration had done enough to prevent Russian interference in the future. “Probably not,” Sessions said. “And the matter is so complex that for most of us we are not able to fully grasp the technical dangers that are out there.”

The administration’s accomplishments are to a large measure offset by complicating factors – Trump had little choice but to sign the sanctions – and competing examples. Among them is the administration’s persistent exploration of proposals to lift one of the most effective penalties that Obama imposed for Russia’s election interference – the seizure of two Russian compounds.

Russia used those sprawling estates in Maryland and New York as retreats for its spies and diplomats but also – according to CIA and FBI officials – as platforms for espionage. The loss of those sites became a major grievance for Moscow.

Lavrov has raised the confiscation of those properties in nearly every meeting with his American counterparts, officials said, accusing the United States of having “stolen our dachas,” using the Russian word for country houses.

Putin may have had reason to expect that Russia would soon regain access to the compounds after Trump took office. In his recent guilty plea, Flynn admitted lying to the FBI about a conversation with the Russian ambassador in late December. During the call, which came as Obama was announcing sanctions on Russia, Flynn urged the ambassador not to overreact, suggesting the penalties would be short-lived.

After a report in late May by The Post that the administration was considering returning the compounds, hard-liners in the administration mobilized to head off any formal offer.

Several weeks later, the FBI organized an elaborate briefing for Trump in the Oval Office, officials said. E.W. “Bill” Priestap, the assistant director of the counterintelligence division at the FBI, brought three-dimensional models of the properties, as well as maps showing their proximity to sensitive U.S. military or intelligence installations.

Appealing to Trump’s “America first” impulse, officials made the case that Russia had used the facilities to steal U.S. secrets. Trump seemed convinced, officials said.

“I told Rex we’re not giving the real estate back to the Russians,” Trump said at one point, referring to Tillerson, according to participants. Later, Trump marveled at the potential of the two sites and asked, “Should we sell this off and keep the money?”

But on July 6, Tillerson sent an informal communication to the Kremlin proposing the return of the two compounds, a gesture that he hoped would help the two sides pull out of a diplomatic tailspin. Under the proposed terms, Russia would regain access to the compounds but without diplomatic status that for years had rendered them outside the jurisdiction of U.S. law enforcement.

The FBI and some White House officials, including Hill, were livid when they learned that the plan had been communicated to Russia through a “non-paper” – an informal, nonbinding format. But “Tillerson never does anything without Trump’s approval,” a senior U.S. official said, making clear that the president knew in advance.

Administration officials provided conflicting accounts of what came next. Two officials indicated that there were additional communications with the Kremlin about the plan. One senior official said that Tillerson made a last-minute change in the terms, proposing that the Maryland site be returned “status quo ante,” meaning with full diplomatic protections. It would again be off-limits to law enforcement agencies, including the FBI.

State Department officials disputed that account, however, saying that no such offer was ever contemplated and that the final proposal shared with the Kremlin was the non-paper sent on July 6 – one day before Trump met with Putin in Hamburg.

Tillerson “never directed anyone to draft” a revised proposal to the Kremlin, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a written statement. “We considered possible options for restoring Russian access for recreational purposes in a way that would meet the security concerns of the U.S. government.” By the end of July, Congress had passed a new sanctions bill that “imposed specific conditions for the return of the dachas,” she said, “and the Russians have so far not been willing to meet them.”

Moscow made clear through Lavrov and others in mid-July that it regarded the overture, and the idea that any conditions would be placed on the return of the sites, as an insult. State Department officials interpreted that response as evidence that Russia’s real purpose was the resumption of espionage.

With no deal on the dachas, U.S.-Russia relations plunged into diplomatic free fall.

Even before Trump was sworn in, a group of senators including John McCain, R-Ariz., and Ben Cardin, D-Md., had begun drafting legislation to impose further sanctions on Russia.

In the ensuing months, McCain’s office began getting private warnings from a White House insider. “We were told that a big announcement was coming regarding Russia sanctions,” a senior congressional aide said. “We all kind of assumed the worst.”

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had blocked the sanctions bill from moving forward at the behest of Tillerson, who kept appealing for more time to negotiate with Moscow.

But after Comey’s firing in early May, and months of damaging headlines about Trump and Russia, an alarmed Senate approved new sanctions on Russia in a 98-to-2 vote.

Trump at times seemed not to understand how his actions and behavior intensified congressional concern. After he emerged from a meeting in Hamburg with Putin, Trump said he and the Russian leader had agreed upon the outlines of a cooperative cybersecurity plan.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., described the proposed pact as “pretty close” to “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard” and introduced additional provisions to the sanctions bill that would strip Trump of much of his power to undo them – a remarkable slap at presidential prerogative.

Then, in late July, new information surfaced about the extent of Trump’s interactions with Putin in Hamburg that sent another wave of anxiety across Capitol Hill.

At the end of a lavish banquet for world leaders, Trump wandered away from his assigned seat for a private conversation with the Russian leader – without a single U.S. witness, only a Kremlin interpreter.

A Trump administration official described the reaction to the encounter as overblown, saying that Trump had merely left his seat to join the first lady, Melania Trump, who had been seated for the dinner next to Putin. Whatever the reason, little over a week later both chambers of Congress passed the sanctions measure with overwhelming margins that would withstand any Trump veto.

Trump’s frustration had been building as the measure approached a final vote. He saw the bill as validation of the case that Russia had interfered, as an encroachment on his executive authority and as a potentially fatal blow to his aspirations for friendship with Putin, according to his advisers.

In the final days before passage, Trump watched MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program and stewed as hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski declared that the bill would be a slap in the face to the president.

“He was raging,” one adviser said. “He was raging mad.”

After final passage, Trump was “apoplectic,” the adviser recalled. It took four days for aides to persuade him to sign the bill, arguing that if he vetoed it and Congress overturned that veto, his standing would be permanently weakened.

“Hey, here are the votes,” aides told the president, according to a second Trump adviser. “If you veto it, they’ll override you and then you’re f—ed and you look like you’re weak.”

Trump signed but made his displeasure known. His signing statement asserted that the measure included “clearly unconstitutional provisions.” Trump had routinely made a show of bill signings, but in this case no media was allowed to attend.

The reaction from Russia was withering. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev taunted the president in a Facebook post that echoed Trump’s style, saying that the president had shown “complete impotence, in the most humiliating manner, transferring executive power to Congress.”

Putin, who had shown such restraint in late December 2016, reacted to the new sanctions with fury, ordering the United States to close two diplomatic properties and slash 755 people from its staff – most of them Russian nationals working for the United States.

Rather than voice any support for the dozens of State Department and CIA employees being forced back to Washington, Trump expressed gratitude to Putin.

“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down on payroll,” Trump told reporters during an outing at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey – remarks his aides would later claim were meant as a joke. “We’ll save a lot of money.”

Trump has never explained why he so frequently seems to side with Putin.

To critics, the answer is assumed to exist in the unproven allegations of coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, or the claim that Putin has some compromising information about the American president.

Aides attribute Trump’s affection for Putin to the president’s tendency to personalize matters of foreign policy and his unshakable belief that his bond with Putin is the key to fixing world problems.

“When will all the haters and fools out there realize that having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,” Trump tweeted last month. “There always playing politics – bad for our country. I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, terrorism, and Russia can greatly help!”

White House officials present Trump as the latest in a long line of presidents who began their tenures seeking better relations with Moscow, and they argue that the persistent questions about Russia and the election only advance the Kremlin’s aims and damage the president. “This makes me pissed because we’re letting these guys win,” a senior administration official said of the Russians. Referring to the disputed Florida tallies in the 2000 presidential election, the official said: “What if the Russians had created the hanging chads? How would that have been for George Bush?”

The allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, which the president has denied categorically, also contribute to his resistance to endorse the intelligence, another senior White House official said. Acknowledging Russian interference, Trump believes, would give ammunition to his critics.

Still others close to Trump explain his aversion to the intelligence findings in more psychological terms. The president, who burns with resentment over perceived disrespect from the Washington establishment, sees the Russia inquiry as a conspiracy to undermine his election accomplishment – “a witch hunt,” as he often calls it.

“If you say ‘Russian interference,’ to him it’s all about him,” said a senior Republican strategist who has discussed the matter with Trump’s confidants. “He judges everything as about him.”

Recent months have been marked by further erosion of the U.S.-Russia relationship and troubling developments for the White House, including the indictment of Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and the guilty plea of Flynn.

Trump remains defiant about the special counsel’s probe, maintaining that he will be cleared of any wrongdoing and describing the matter as a “hoax” and a “hit job.”

Some of Trump’s most senior advisers support that view. One senior official said that Trump is right to portray the investigations and news reports as politically motivated attacks that have hurt the United States’ ability to work with Russia on real problems.

“We were looking to create some kind of bargain that would help us negotiate a very dangerous world,” said a senior White House official. “But if we do anything, Congress and the media will scream bloody murder.”

Putin expressed his own exasperation in early September, responding to a question about Trump with a quip that mocked the idea of a Trump-Putin bond while aiming a gender-related taunt at the American president. Trump “is not my bride,” Putin said, “and I am not his groom.”

The remark underscored the frustration and disenchantment that have taken hold on both sides amid the failure to achieve the breakthrough in U.S.-Russian relations that Trump and Putin both envisioned a year ago.

As a result, rather than shaping U.S. policy toward Russia, Trump at times appears to function as an outlier in his own administration, unable to pursue the relationship with Putin he envisioned but unwilling to embrace tougher policies favored by some in his Cabinet.

A Pentagon proposal that would pose a direct challenge to Moscow – a plan to deliver lethal arms to Ukrainian forces battling Russia-backed separatists – has languished in internal debates for months.

The plan is backed by senior members of Trump’s Cabinet, including Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who voiced support for arming Ukrainian forces in meetings with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in August. Mattis “believes that you should help people who are fighting our potential adversaries,” said a senior U.S. official involved in the deliberations.

A decision to send arms has to be made by the president, and officials said Trump has been reluctant even to engage.

“Every conversation I’ve had with people on this subject has been logical,” the senior U.S. official said. “But there’s no logical conclusion to the process, and that tells me the bottleneck is in the White House.”

In July, the administration appointed former NATO ambassador Kurt Volker to serve as special envoy to Ukraine, putting him in charge of the delicate U.S. relationship with a former Soviet republic eager for closer ties with the West.

Putin has taken extraordinary measures to block that path, sending Russian commandos and arms into Ukraine to support pro-Russian separatists. And Putin is bitter about U.S. and European sanctions imposed on Russia for its aggression. A decision by Trump to send arms would probably rupture U.S.-Russian relations beyond immediate repair.

Trump was forced to grapple with these complexities in September, when he met with Poroshenko at the United Nations. Volker met with Trump to prepare him for the encounter. Tillerson, McMaster and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, who had replaced Priebus, were also on hand.

Trump pressed Volker on why it was in the United States’ interests to support Ukraine and why U.S. taxpayers’ money should be spent doing so, Volker said in an interview. “Why is it worth it?” Volker said Trump asked. As Volker outlined the rationale for U.S. involvement, Trump seemed satisfied.

“I believe that what he wants is to settle the issue, he wants a better, more constructive U.S.-Russia relationship,” Volker said. “I think he would like [the Ukraine conflict] to be solved . . . get this fixed so we can get to a better place.”

The conversation was about Ukraine but seemed to capture Trump’s frustration on so many Russia-related fronts – the election, the investigations, the complications that had undermined his relationship with Putin.

Volker said that the president repeated a single phrase at least five times, saying, “I want peace.”

Authors Information: Greg Jaffe is a national security reporter for The Washington Post, where he has been since March 2009. Greg Miller is a national security correspondent for The Washington Post. Philip Rucker is the White House Bureau Chief for The Washington Post. The Washington Post’s Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Julie Tate contributed to this report.

The Early Edition: December 14, 2017
 

mikenova shared this story from Just Security.

Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Heres todays news.

 

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

The leaders gathered at the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (O.I.C.) declared East Jerusalem to be the capital of Palestine yesterday in response to Trumps decision last week to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the meeting also considered Trumps announcement to be a violation of U.N. resolutions and illegal under international law. Carlotta Gall reports at the New York Times.

The U.N. should replace the U.S. as the mediator of Middle East peace talks, the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas said yesterday, signaling a possible refusal to engage with the U.S. following Trumps announcement. Karin Laub and Zeynep Bilginsoy report at the AP.

The U.S. can no longer act impartially, the Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan said at the O.I.C. meeting, Isil Sariyuce and Arwa Damon and Tamara Qiblawi report at CNN.

All these statements fail to impress us, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in response to the O.I.C. communiqué recognizing East Jerusalem as Palestines capital. Al Jazeera reports.

Trump remains as committed to peace as ever, a senior White House official said in response to Abbass comments that the Palestinians would no longer accept a U.S. role in the peace process, adding that the Trump administration would unveil its plan for peace when it is ready and the time is right. The APreports.

The Israeli military carried out overnight airstrikes on facilities belonging to the Palestinian Hamas militant group in the Gaza Strip in response to rockets being fired from the territory, the AP reports.

Israel announced the closure of its Gaza border crossing today in response to daily rocket fire over the past week, Reuters reports.

The Islamic State group today threatened attacks on U.S. soil in response to the Trumps Jerusalem decision, but did not give any details. Reuters reports.

Trumps announcement has angered Christians in the region and the pope of the Egyptian Coptic Church has called off a scheduled meeting with Vice President Mike Pence when he visits the region next week. Loveday Morris reports at the Washington Post.

A video has emerged of plain clothes Israeli troops infiltrating a Palestinian demonstration in Ramallah near the military checkpoint in the occupied West Bank, the undercover soldiers arrested Palestinians throwing stones yesterday. Peter Beaumont reports at the Guardian.

The Israeli government should be wary of aligning itself too closely with Trump as it has the potential to undermine the bipartisan support for Israel and ultimately undermine the U.S.-Israel relationship. Derek Chollet writes at Foreign Policy.

NORTH KOREA

Given North Koreas most recent missile test, clearly right now is not the time to engage in dialogue, a White House official said yesterday after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the U.S. is ready to talk without preconditions. Zachary Cohen and Brian Todd report at CNN.

The time for dialogue with North Korea is not now, the State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said yesterday, emphasizing that the Trump administrations policy on North Korea has not changed: talks with North Korea must be based on a commitment to denuclearize. The BBC reports.

The Security Council must be united in implementing sanctions on North Korea, the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said today during a visit to Japan, adding that diplomatic engagement must be permitted to achieve a peaceful resolution to the crisis. The AP reports.

Tillerson is scheduled to participate in a Security Council Ministerial Briefing tomorrow and reiterate the Trump administrations efforts for maximum pressure to be exerted on North Korea. Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.

The South Korean President Moon Jae-in landed in Beijing yesterday for an official trip aimed at improving ties with China, which have been strained due to the deployment of the U.S.-made T.H.A.A.D. anti-missile system in South Korea. The threat posed by North Korea and a resolution to the crisis on the Korean Peninsula are set to feature high on the agenda, Christopher Bodeen reports at the AP.

The Russian-North Korean military commission have gathered to discuss a 2015 agreement preventing dangerous military activities, Russias embassy to North Korea said today, Reuters reporting.

The U.S. reneged on its pledge to engage in talks with North Korea if it paused all nuclear and missile tests for 60 days and imposed new sanctions instead, North Korean officials have complained, raising skepticism in Pyongyang about the value of diplomatic engagement. Colym Lynch and Dan De Luce explain at Foreign Policy.

The apparent shift in U.S. policy on North Korea in light of Secretary of State Rex Tillersons comments on engaging in talks without preconditions, is analyzed by Adam Taylor at the Washington Post.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein defended the Justice Department and special counsel Robert Muellers investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election during testimony before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday, making the comments following revelations of alleged bias in text messages between top F.B.I. agent Peter Strzok and F.B.I. lawyer Lisa Page. Aruna Viswanatha and Del Quentin Wilber report at the Wall Street Journal.

Republicans on the Committee called for investigations into former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, the Justice Departments handling of the controversial dossier compiled by former British Intelligence officer Christopher Steele, and some called for an investigation into Mueller himself, however Rosenstein defended Mueller from the attacks and noted that Strzok was removed from Muellers team as soon as the special counsel learned of the text messages. Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein report at POLITICO.

Rosenstein said he would only fire the special counsel if there was good cause and called Mueller a dedicated, respected and heroic public servant, Spencer Ackerman reports at The Daily Beast.

Donald Trump Jr. appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday as part of their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Reuters reports.

There are causes of concern regarding Muellers investigation, the results till now suggest that his probe is free of political taint, but the special counsel must be mindful that the appearance of fairness is as important as the reality, therefore he should remove Andrew Weissmann from his team because he does not appear to be objective. Andrew C. McCarthy writes at the Washington Post.

Mueller has undermined his own credibility, his team have been revealed to have been biased, the talk of anti-Trump insurance policy among F.B.I. officials suggest potential nefarious activity, and the Justice Department and the F.B.I. have damaged public confidence by refusing to cooperate with Congress. The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.

IRAN

Iran may be defying a U.N. resolution calling on it to halt ballistic missile development, the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has said in a report to the Security Council, which said that the U.N. was investigating the possible transfer of ballistic missiles to the Houthi Shiite rebels in Yemen. However, the report emphasized that the 2015 Iran nuclear deal remains the best way to ensure that Irans nuclear program remains exclusively peaceful in nature. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

The Trump administration has been turning its focus to Iran as its military campaign against the Islamic State group winds down, with some sources saying that the national security adviser H.R. McMaster is considering giving a policy speech on Syria that would outline a new administration strategy and may address the issue of whether U.S. troops in Syria should be used as a bulwark against Iranian expansionism. Dion Nissenbaum reports at the Wall Street Journal.

GUANTÁNAMO BAY

The U.N. special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, claimed that the U.S. has been torturing a detainee at Guantánamo Bay despite banning so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, Melzer made the statement yesterday based on information he has received, however the Pentagon has denied the allegation with a spokesperson saying that no credible evidence has been found to substantiate his claims. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

The president signed a statement this week saying that he was keeping the prison at Guantánamo Bay open, but added that he had authority under the constitution as commander-in-chief to release captives, an action that bears similarity to the authority asserted by President Barack Obama, but the statement differed by explicitly saying that the president fully intends to keep open that detention facility and to use it for detention operations.  Carol Rosenberg reports at the Miami Herald.

CHINA

Visits by the U.S. navy vessels to Taiwan would constitute an interference in Chinas internal affairs, Chinas foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said today, after Trump signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act, which lays the groundwork for possible mutual visits. Michael Martina and Jess Macy Yu report at Reuters.

The longer-term concerns of U.S. strategists may turn to the influence exerted by China, while the current focus has been on Russia, China has been developing its soft power, economic interests, possibly interfering in the politics of other countries and using its reach to shape norms and narratives. Ishaan Tharoor writes at the Washington Post.

SYRIA

Russian President Vladimir Putins declaration of impending victory in Syria was an over-simplification that does not take into account the vast swaths of territory beyond the control of Putins ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Alexander Smith provides an analysis at NBC News.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 18 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between December 4 and December 7. [Central Command]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Islamist al-Shabaab group claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack on a police training camp in Somalias capital of Mogadishu today, the explosion killed at least 15 officers, according to officials. Abdi Sheikh and Feisal Omar report at Reuters.

A U.S. citizen who has been held as an enemy combatant in Iraq also hold Saudi Arabian citizenship, the detainee was captured in mid-September and surrendered to the U.S. military having apparently fought with the Islamic State group in Syria. Katie Bo Williams reports at the Hill.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee does not expect to pass a new Authorization on the Use of Military Force (A.U.M.F.) before the end of the year, the chairman of the committee Bob Coker (R-Tenn.) said yesterday, adding that there has, however, been progress on the measure and five principles on the authorization have been circulated. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

The closeness between the Russia-based cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab and Russias F.S.B. security service appears to be unusually close according to a court document revealed by suspected cybercriminal from his jail in Moscow. Ellen Nakashima reports at the Washington Post.

The nearly $700bn allocated to the Pentagon in the annual defense policy bill ignores Americas other urgent needs, some of the budget process has been influence by lobbyists who woo lawmakers to back unneeded or extravagant weapons. While the military is critical to national security, it should not have a license to gobble up tax dollars at the expense of other programs, the New York Times editorial boardwrites.

Putin’s Syria victory lap is premature, experts say
 

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Standing under clear skies at an air base in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin told his troops the good news: They had all but secured victory in the Middle East country’s six-year civil war.

“The task of combating armed gangs here in Syria … has been largely resolved — brilliantly resolved,” he said during a surprise announcement Monday.

Image: Russian President Vladimir PutinBut many experts say Putin’s victory lap is premature with huge swaths of the country still out of the control of his ally, President Bashar Assad.

“It’s an over-simplification when people say the war is ending,” said Haid Haid, a consulting research fellow at London’s Chatham House think tank. “This conflict will most likely go on for some time.”

Assad has been fighting a patchwork rebel force since 2011 — a conflict that the hyper-violent Islamic State entered three years later.

His regime was losing ground until Russia joined the fray in 2015, launching what many say has been an indiscriminate bombing campaign that turned the tide in Assad’s favor.

An estimated 400,000 people have died in the conflict and 11 million have been displaced from their homes. During the battle for Aleppo, perhaps the war’s most notorious chokepoint, United Nations investigators found that all sides were guilty of war crimes.

For its part, the Assad’s regime has been accused of chemical attacks on its own people, laying sieges that cut off civilians from essential supplies, and torturing or arbitrarily killing thousands of prison inmates.

This campaign has put Assad in a commanding position.

Supported by Russian airstrikes, as well as Iran, Lebanese Hezbollah and Shiite militias, Syrian forces have squeezed most of the rebels into a relatively small pocket in Idlib Province.

ISIS has been routed from its strongholds of Raqqa and Deir el-Zour and currently controls a sliver of land along the Euphrates River and Syria’s border with Iraq, as well as other low-population desert areas.

Heralding these achievements during his victory speech Monday, Putin also announced he would withdraw some of his forces from Syria because they were no longer necessary.

And the drawdown may not mean that Russia is looking to end its involvement in the conflict anytime soon, according to the Institute for the Study of War. According to a recent report by the Washington think tank, in the past these have been used to “reinsert alternative weapons systems better suited for the next phase of pro-regime operations.”

Image: Syrian airstrikeWhatever Putin’s next motive, most experts agree that a complete victory for his Syrian allies is some way off.

Although precise estimates vary, some say Assad only controls 60 percent of the country, and his forces are still fighting ISIS in the east and other rebels in the west.

The parts of the country not governed by the regime are under the command of a web of different actors, each with their own agendas and demands that experts say could lead to more bloodshed.

“Syria and Russia have obtained the upper hand but that doesn’t mean there won’t continue to be violence between these other groups,” according to Robert Lowe, the deputy director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics. “It’s hard to see any end to the war in sight.”

And it’s not just the forces that Assad is fighting directly whose presence he may have to worry about.

Kurdish-led fighters backed by the United States were central to the liberation of Raqqa and areas along the Euphrates river. The Syrian Kurds also control a huge chunk of northeastern Syria and their long-held ambitions for statehood are vehemently opposed by Turkey.

“Tensions between Turkey and Kurdish forces could escalate into armed conflict,” according to Ziad Majed, an associate professor at the American University in Paris, writing for the Carnegie Middle East Center last month.

The U.S. has some 4,000 troops in Syria. And although President Donald Trump’s focus is apparently elsewhere, namely North Korea, U.S. officials cast doubt on Putin’s claims of victory.

“We think the Russian declarations of ISIS’ defeat are premature,” a White House National Security Council spokeswoman told Reuters on Tuesday. “We have repeatedly seen in recent history that a premature declaration of victory was followed by a failure to consolidate military gains, stabilize the situation and create the conditions that prevent terrorists from reemerging.”

In Idlib Province, the al Qaeda-linked group Tahrir al-Sham is now the dominant force. And ISIS may be squeezed, but earlier this month the group claimed a car bomb attack in the city of Homs that killed 11 members of the Syrian army.

One arena where Assad does appear to hold all the cards is the ongoing peace talks.

The eighth round of negotiations began in Geneva last week but there is still little sign of progress. Assad’s representative suggested at one point that he might not even return to the summit because of the opposition’s demand that the president play no role in any interim administration.

“The regime does not have a reason to negotiate,” said Haid at Chatham House.

The only thing keeping Assad’s representatives engaged at all, according to Lowe at LSE, is international recognition. While Assad has emerged from the past six years still in charge, his supporters hope a peace deal could see Western powers accept his presidency as legitimate.

“If a deal can be done that keeps the regime in power, then that’s in Assad’s interests,” Lowe said. “It’s true that power is what he has now, but it’s not recognized internationally and there’s lots of opposition to him around the world.”

“Drunk Fox News Anchor Gregg Jarrett Arrested During Airport Fight” VIDEO “Fox News Anchor Arrested” – YouTube
 

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Gregg Jarrett: FBI Has Become “America’s Secret Police,” Mueller …

RealClearPoliticsDec 7, 2017
GREGG JARRETT, FOX NEWS: I think we now know that the Mueller investigation is illegitimate and corrupt. And Mueller has been using the FBI as a political weapon. And the FBI has become America’s secret police. Secret surveillance, wiretapping, intimidation, harassment, and threats. It’s like the old …

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Gregg Jarrett: Robert Mueller and his politically biased team of prosecutors need to go. Gregg Jarrett. By Gregg Jarrett | Fox News. Facebook; Twitter …. Gregg Jarrett joined FOX News Channel (FNC) in 2002 and is based in New York. He currently serves as legal analyst and offers commentary across both …

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Discussing that testimony, Fox News’ Gregg Jarrett told host Sean Hannity why the investigation—defended by Rosenstein—is “all manufactured” by the FBI. “It was always a myth that collusion in a political campaign is a crime,” Jarrett insisted. “It’s not. And there was never a scintilla of evidence that …
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Pills possible factor in Fox News anchor’s arrest
 

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CLOSE

FOX News weekend anchor Gregg Jarrett was arrested Wednesday and charged with a misdemeanor at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. He was on a leave of absence from the station for ‘personal reasons.’ VPC

Fox News anchor Gregg Jarrett. Authorities say Jarrett was charged with a misdemeanor following his arrest May 21, 2014, at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.(Photo: Hennepin County Sherriff’s Office via AP)

Fox News Network anchor Gregg Jarrett, who was arrested in a bar at Minneapolis-St.Paul Airport, may have been under the influence of medication that did not mix well with alcohol, a police report says, according to the Associated Press.

The 59-year-old Jarrett was arrested Wednesday afternoon at Northern Lights Grill in Terminal One, according to Metropolitan Airports Commission spokesman Patrick Hogan, KARE-TV reports.

Airport police, who were called to the bar, reported that Jarrett seemed intoxicated, acted belligerently and refused to follow their orders.

A bar employee said Jarrett became intoxicated after only one drink, AP reported. He allegedly told a customer he took medication before his flight, but Jarrett denied the statement when questioned by police.

Police found gabapentin pills in his pocket, according to the report. When officers searched Jarrett’s bag it was revealed he was recently released from an alcohol and chemical dependency treatment facility.

Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant used to treat conditions ranging from epilepsy to restless leg syndrome, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Strange or unusual thoughts” and drowsiness are listed as potential side effects of the medication. Alcohol may add to the drowsiness, the Library of Medicine adds.

In some cases people taking gabapentin may become suicidal, and there is a risk a user may experience changes in their mental health, including “aggressive, angry, or violent behavior.”

According to the Star-Tribune, the police report also said that Jarrett, at one point, became increasingly agitated and swore as the arresting officer as fire department personnel began evaluating his medical condition.

As the officer was trying to re-handcuff the newsman, Jarrett allegedly grabbed the officer’s arm. Struggling to get Jarrett cuffed, other officers helped subdue the inmate, who was then driven to jail in downtown Minneapolis, the newspaper reports.

A Fox News spokeswoman said Jarrett, who has not been on the air since mid-April, is dealing with “serious personal issues” and his return to the air has yet to be determined.

Gregg Jarrett is seen in a frame grab from his appearance on Fox News Network’s The Kelly File. (Photo: YouTube via Fox News Network)

“We were made aware late last night that Gregg Jarrett was arrested in Minneapolis yesterday and charged with a misdemeanor,” the statement says. “He is dealing with serious personal issues at this time. A date at which Gregg might return to air has yet to be determined.”

The newsman was booked into Hennepin County Jail and charged with interfering with a peace officer, a misdemeanor.

County jail records show that Jarrett posted $300 bail and is scheduled for a court appearance on June 6. He was released at 1:30 a.m. Thursday.

The website TVNEWSER reported this month that Jarrett, a weekend co-anchor, was taken off the air recently after requesting a leave of absence for personal reasons.

The veteran newsman, who was born in Los Angeles, worked at MSNBC before joining Fox in 2002.

Jarrett, who also worked at CNBC and Court TV, has covered stories ranging from the Iraq War to the O.J. Simpson trial.

Contributing: KARE-TV; the Associated Press

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Has the FBI ‘become America’s secret police,’ like the KGB?
 

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A Fox News legal commentator argued the FBI has become the new KGB, the Soviet-era secret police, during a segment of Hannity.

Here’s the exchange between Gregg Jarrett and the show’s host, Sean Hannity, during the Dec. 6, 2017, edition:

Jarrett: “I think we now know that the (Robert) Mueller investigation is illegitimate and corrupt. And Mueller has been using the FBI as a political weapon. And the FBI has become America’s secret police. Secret surveillance, wiretapping, intimidation, harassment and threats. It’s like the old KGB that comes for you in the dark of the night banging through your door.”

Hannity: “By the way, this is not a game. This is not hyperbole you are using here.”

Jarrett: “No. Ask Paul Manafort, they came for him and broke through his front door.”

Hannity: “And if it can happen to him, Gregg….”

Jarrett: “It can happen to all of us. Absolutely. The FBI is a shadow government now.”

Are today’s FBI and yesterday’s KGB really interchangeable? Jarrett and Hannity said it wasn’t hyperbole.

We checked with a range of experts in the history of both agencies, and even those who are no fans of past and present FBI practices say the comparison is wrongheaded.

Fox News legal analyst Gregg Jarrett

The statement “is over the top and ridiculous,” said Douglas Charles, a historian at Penn State University Greater Allegheny and author of three books on the FBI, including J. Edgar Hoover and the Anti-interventionists: FBI Political Surveillance and the Rise of the Domestic Security State. “And I say this as an FBI historian who has long been critical of the bureau’s history, its political surveillance, its use of illegal wiretaps, its harassment of the LGBT community, and its promotion of ‘morality’ issues.”

To be sure, some of the tactics Jarrett cited are used by the FBI, or more broadly by law enforcement agencies in the United States.

The pre-dawn, break-down-the-door raid ordered at a house owned by Manafort — President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman now under indictment on several counts involving his foreign lobbying business — is not especially unusual. Such raids are more common in drug investigations than in white collar crime, according to Radley Balko, a criminal justice blogger for the Washington Post and author of Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.

Meanwhile, law enforcement has the ability to conduct warrantless wiretaps under certain circumstances, despite the longstanding opposition of civil liberties groups.

A category of subpoena called a “national security letter” provides “a law-enforcement officer with broad discretion or authority to search and seize unspecified places or persons,” said John Pike, director of <a href=”http://globalsecurity.org” rel=”nofollow”>globalsecurity.org</a>.

National security letters have been used to trawl through “customer records held by banks, telephone companies, Internet service providers, and others,” who are then prevented from telling anyone about these searches, according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

However, the use of such tools does not make the FBI, or any other U.S. law enforcement agency, the same as a secret police agency such as the old KGB. For one thing, those tactics sometimes may be needed.

“Breaking down front doors in the dark of night is a bit melodramatic, but it is probably necessary to avoid destruction of evidence,” Pike said. (Preventing destruction of evidence was the reported justification for the Manafort raid.)

“Legitimate concerns about the increase in law enforcement’s surveillance capacity over the last decade or so are de-legitimized by such a specious pairing of agencies,” said Victor E. Kappeler, a criminologist at Eastern Kentucky University and co-author of Policing in America and Homeland Security.

Here are some of the reasons why any comparison between the two agencies is problematic.

• Just because the FBI sometimes operates in secret does not mean that it’s a “secret police.”

“By ‘secret police,’ we do not mean ‘police activity that is secret’ any more than by ‘public interest’ we mean ‘what the public is interested in,’ ” said Anthony Glees, director of the Center for Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham and the author of The Stasi Files: The UK Operations of the East German Intelligence and Security Service.

Indeed, the very fact that a legal analyst can criticize the FBI on a national television broadcast is a significant departure from anything that would be possible in a country with a true secret police.

• The FBI is run by laws, not by whim. The KGB — which translates from the Russian acronym for Committee for State Security — answered to and served the interests of the Communist Party, not any system of law.

Put simply, “the FBI is subject to the laws limiting police powers,” said Joseph Wippl, a former clandestine Central Intelligence Agency officer who now teaches at Boston University. “These laws were passed by a Congress elected by the U.S. population. These laws can be changed, either restricting or expanding police powers.”

Robert Mueller, the special counsel, “needs to work within an independent judicial system to get search warrants and to indict suspects, whereas in the Soviet Union, there was generally no meaningful judicial oversight of the secret police,” said Edward Cohn, a Grinnell College historian and author of The High Title of a Communist. “And KGB efforts at intimidation and surveillance often went beyond anything the FBI is accused of doing.”

Simon Ball, the chair of international history and politics at the University of Leeds and author of The Cold War: An International History 1947-1991, agreed. “The contemporary U.S. political system and the Soviet political system of 1954, when the KGB was formed, are not comparable in any sensible analytical scheme,” he said.

• The FBI doesn’t torture or carry out extrajudicial executions. “The KGB carried out the repression of a totalitarian state that murdered tens of millions of innocent people in the name of a political ideology,” said Gregory Feifer a journalist and author of Russians: The People Behind the Power. “Whatever one thinks about the FBI — with its many faults and occasional moves toward KGB-like surveillance of government critics over the years — it is an integral part of our rule-of-law society.”

A secret police like the KGB operates “through the institutionalised use of torture,” Glees said. By contrast, “any use of unnecessary violence, let alone torture, would be met with the full force of the criminal law.”

Even as bad as the Hoover-era FBI was about civil liberties and abuse of power, Charles said, “it was still no KGB-like organization coming for people in the dead of night who were then ‘disappeared.’ ” Indeed, he said, the excesses of Hoover’s tenure were, to a large extent, curbed after his death by the ordinary workings of the democratic process.

Pike of <a href=”http://globalsecurity.org” rel=”nofollow”>globalsecurity.org</a> said that, while there’s a need for vigilance, “there does seem to have been a remarkable absence of abuses of these far-reaching powers.”

He added, “Whatever happens to you down at the J.Edgar Hoover building, you are pretty confident it will not entail a bullet to the back of the head.”

A Fox News representative did not respond to an inquiry for this article.

Our ruling

Jarrett said that “the FBI has become America’s secret police … “The FBI has become America’s secret police …  like the old KGB.” He also agreed with Hannity that the statement was not an exaggeration.

Numerous historians of the FBI and the KGB say the comparison is ridiculous. The KGB implemented the goals of the Communist Party leadership, including countless examples of tortures and summary executions. The FBI, by contrast, is subject to the rule of law and is democratically accountable. We rate the statement Pants on Fire.

Gregg Jarrett

Fox legal analyst

“The FBI has become America’s secret police … like the old KGB.”

an interview on “Hannity” – Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Handcuffs are the solution to the FBI problems! Not for the criminals but for themselves Mike Novas Shared NewsLinks 2:48 PM 12/12/2017
 

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Mike Nova’s Shared NewsLinks Handcuffs are the solution to the FBI problems! Not for the criminals whom they cannot catch because they are not capable of solving their crimes, but for themselves, for the years of abuse of power, lying to the American people… pic.twitter.com/nVviEklIuq Putin Ordered Theft Of Clinton’s Emails From DNC, Russian Hacker … Continue reading“Handcuffs are the solution to the FBI problems! Not for the criminals but for themselves – Mike Novas Shared NewsLinks – 2:48 PM 12/12/2017”

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Handcuffs for the FBI: This is the best solution for their problems!
Sanctions trial witness says he got $50,000 from FBI
 

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Sanctions trial witness says he got $50,000 from FBIA fugitive police officer sought over links to the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) said he received financial aid from the FBI during a trial into a former Turkish bank executive held in the United States.

Former police officer Hüseyin Korkmaz acknowledged receiving financial assistance from the U.S. government, including $50,000 from the FBI and housing assistance from prosecutors, Courthouse News reported on Dec. 12.

Cooperating with the prosecutors, Korkmaz has been testifying against the former Halkbank deputy general manager Mehmet Hakan Atilla.

Another name cooperating with the prosecutor is Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, who was arrested in the Miami last year over violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Zarrab’s name was involved in the corruption probes in Turkey from Dec. 17-25, 2013, which also embroiled four former ministers and other state officials. Zarrab was accused of paying bribes to senior government figures but eventually the charges were quashed by the government, which said the probe was masterminded by followers of the U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen.

After getting arrested in the U.S., Zarrab become the prosecution’s top witness in the trial, leaving Atilla as the sole man on the dock accused of violating sanctions, bribery and money laundering.

Atilla’s trial continued on Dec. 12 with the testimony of Korkmaz, who said he received financial aid from the U.S. authorities but had not asked for it.

Along the way, Korkmaz claimed that Turkish police were watching Halkbank’s former general manager Süleyman Aslan, former Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan and former Interior Minister Muammer Güler.

On Dec. 12, Korkmaz turned his sights to the man on trial, referring to evidence that he said he found on Zarrab’s cellphone.

“I spoke to Hakan,” Zarrab said in a transcript of a phone conversation, according to Korkmaz. “They’re going to transfer soon.”

Korkmaz added later that he recognized the last four digits of two phone numbers: Atilla’s and Zarrab’s.

Such testimony could prove crucial for prosecutors to prove that Atilla played an important role in a scheme in which his attorneys contend he was at best, a minor player.

Before fleeing Turkey, Korkmaz said, he gathered all of the evidence of the cases he had been building and prosecutors entered more of that evidence into the record.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ has blasted the New York trial as a “plot against Turkey,” saying Zarrab was “forced to confess” in a case “that includes FETÖ members.”

“Zarrab was put under pressure either with the threat of punishment or on the hope of being released. Would you seek justice in this case?” Bozdağ told parliament during 2018 budget talks on Dec. 12.

“FETÖ terrorists are witnesses in the trial,” he said.

“Recent testimonies have surfaced. The FETÖ terrorist who carried out the Dec. 17 investigation is there and says he ‘brought the documents and pieces of paper.’ He is a witness. Another witness is a fugitive FETÖ banker and his signature is on a piece of paper that is a so-called report there. An official expert was appointed from a non-governmental organization financially supported by FETÖ,” Bozdağ said, noting that the case’s judge Richard Berman visited Turkey in 2014.

“The judge carrying out the trial was brought to Turkey in May 2014 by FETÖ members. This judge released a statement of support regarding the Dec. 17-25 process here,” he added.

“But it is impossible for them to finish a plot in the U.S. that started in Turkey,” Bozdağ said, decrying “lies and smears” in the trial.

“This is a plot and all of those [allegations] were investigated by prosecutors in Turkey. They were also investigated by parliament and decisions were given. So there is nothing new. No one has the right to tire Turkey with these smears and lies. Our stance in this regard is very clear and we will continue to maintain our stance on the side of the people,” he said.

FETÖFethullah GülenReza ZarrabBekir BozdağHüseyin KorkmazSüleyman Aslan

Report: Turkish Police Summon FBI Official – Voice of America
 

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Voice of America
Report: Turkish Police Summon FBI Official
Voice of America
Turkish police summoned a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) official on Wednesday over statements made in a U.S. court by a former Turkish police investigator who fled the country last year, the state-run Anadolu Agency said. Anadolu said the FBI
FBI’s Turkey representative summoned to the Directorate General of SecurityDaily Sabah
Sanctions trial witness says he got $50000 from FBIHurriyet Daily News
Turkish security HQ summons FBI representativeAnadolu Agencyall 22 news articles »
6:56 AM 11/20/2017 Should The FBI Be Abolished?
 

mikenova shared this story from FBI News Review.

Investigate the investigators! Save America! Reform the FBI now! Should The FBI Be Abolished? Monday November 20th, 2017 at 6:34 AM 1 Share For the last few years, the media has been dominated by a number of sensational stories: that Trump colluded with Russia to influence the presidential election; that the Trump team was wiretapped by Obama … Continue reading“6:56 AM 11/20/2017 – Should The FBI Be Abolished?”

In Major Shift, Putin Pushing Russia’s Military Leadership Into Foreign Policy Role – Haaretz
 

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Haaretz
In Major Shift, Putin Pushing Russia’s Military Leadership Into Foreign Policy Role
Haaretz
During the visit, Haftar spoke to Shoigu via video link about fighting terrorism in the Middle East. One Western official told Reuters such incidents were fuelling fears that Russia plans to expand its footprint beyond Syria, where it has an air base 
Russian sale of anti-missile system to Turkey: A dagger in the heart of NatoThe Straits Timesall 314 news articles »
‘Unfit to clean toilets’: USA Today’s unusually forceful editorial about Trump – Washington Post
 

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Washington Post
‘Unfit to clean toilets’: USA Today’s unusually forceful editorial about Trump
Washington Post
Hot takes aren’t really USA Today’s thing, but the newspaper’s editorial board delivered a pillar of fire to hotel rooms across the country Wednesday. Writing about President Trump’s sexually suggestive statement that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y 
A good day for decency is a bad day for TrumpCNN
USA Today editorial says Trump unfit to clean Obama’s toiletBBC News
Trump Blames Democrats for ‘False Accusations’ From WomenNew York Times
NPR –Politico –CNN
all 804 news articles »
Tyrrell: Russia’s influence spreads throughout the capital – News Chief
 

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News Chief
Tyrrell: Russia’s influence spreads throughout the capital
News Chief
The FBI has a lot to answer for, and it ought to be investigated itself. As for the Russians, they now have more say in Washington than at any time I can remember. Those in Official Washington who have adopted Clinton’s strategy have made Kislyak a and more »
Donald Trumps demise just became assured
 

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Donald Trumps demise just became assured

Donald Trumps demise just became assured

For some time now, Donald Trump’s demise has been nearly inevitable, and anyone who has paid close attention has been able to see it. However, no matter how thoroughly Special Counsel Robert Mueller proves that

Russia, China make gains globally as US influence wanes – CBC.ca
 

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CBC.ca
Russia, China make gains globally as US influence wanes
CBC.ca
And then the Russian President carried on to Cairo, where he signed a $21 billion US deal to build a nuclear plant for the Egyptian government, rekindling a Cold War alliance. Putin also spent some time in Ankara, cozying up to President Recep Tayyip 

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