Al Gore Has One Word for President Trump: ‘Resign’

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore is shown at the premiere of his new climate-change film, "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power," in London on Aug. 10.

Former vice president and climate change warrior Al Gore has a single word for Donald Trump in the wake of the president’s bungled attempt to unite Americans after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville turned violent last weekend.

When asked by Britain’s Lad Bible to give Trump one piece of advice on Thursday, Gore said: “Resign.”

He did not elaborate on why he thought the president should step down, but a number of bipartisan political figures — including members of the Republican leadership — have strongly criticized Trump’s response to the neo-Nazi rally.

Gore has been promoting his new film — An Inconvenient Sequel, a companion to his 2006 climate change awareness film “An Inconvenient Truth” — in the United Kingdom. He spoke with Newsweek last week in an interview before the Charlottesville rally.

Gore is the most prominent political figure to call for Trump’s resignation. After losing the 2000 election to George W. Bush, the former vice president has devoted his life to activism on climate change.

On Wednesday, Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter of Trump’s 1987 book, The Art of the Dealsaid thathe believes that Trump will resign soon in an effort to save face before the completion of the Russia investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.

The president has also faced scathing criticisms this week from corporate America, civil rights groups, and a bipartisan band of politicians for his attitude toward neo-Nazis and white supremacists, whom he equated with being on par with counterprotesters in Charlottesville who opposed them.

“Trump’s presidency is effectively over. Would be amazed if he survives till end of the year. More likely resigns by fall, if not sooner,” the author tweeted.

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Trump makes false claims about US nuclear arsenal

KOREAN PENINSULA, SOUTH KOREA - JULY 08: In this handout photo released by the South Korean Defense Ministry, A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber (top) fly with South Korean jets over the Korean Peninsula during a South Korea-U.S. joint live fire drill on July 8, 2017 in Korean Peninsula, South Korea.

Hours after warning North Korea that it will meet “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if its leader, Kim Jong Un, continued to provoke the United States, President Donald Trump said the U.S. nuclear arsenal is “stronger than ever before.”

“My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before,” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning.

 

He did not order the modernization of the nuclear arsenal. President Barack Obama did that in 2014, despite calling for a “vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons” just five years earlier.

The plan, expected to cost $400 billion through 2024, would upgrade nuclear weapon production facilities, refurbish warheads and build new submarines, bombers and ground-based missiles. It will likely cost more than $1 trillion over the next 30 years, according to outside estimates.

Because the sprawling nuclear enterprise will take so long to rebuild, the arsenal is more or less at the same level of strength than when Trump took office seven months ago.

Trump did launch a top-to-bottom Nuclear Posture Review to determine what the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. security strategy should be, just like each of his recent predecessors did when they took office.

The review has not yet been completed, and it wasn’t Trump’s first order. The directive was issued a week after Trump took office, and was preceded by more than a dozen orders on other topics.

The U.S. nuclear weapons strategy rests on a triad of delivery systems — bombers, submarines and land-based missiles — developed early in the Cold War. The three legs of the triad were designed to ensure that even in a massive surprise attack, at least one leg would survive to deliver a retaliatory strike.

In addition to the review of the nuclear force, the White House has also proposed a $1.4 billion budget increase for the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the nuclear weapons enterprise. That money has yet to be allocated.

It’s unclear what Trump meant when he said that the nuclear arsenal is stronger than before. The Los Angeles Times/Tribune Washington Bureau has written at length on the deteriorating state of various aspects of the nuclear enterprise.

In addition, the U.S. military is limited in how many weapons can be deployed under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed in 2010. That agreement requires Russia and the U.S. to reduce deployed intercontinental missiles to 700 and the overall number of warheads to 1,550, each by 2018.

Russia and the U.S. currently meet those limits, according to the latest data released by the State Department.

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Mueller Is Said to Be in Talks With White House About Interviewing Officials

Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in last year’s election, visited Capitol Hill in June.

In a sign that the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election will remain a continuing distraction for the White House, the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, is in talks with the West Wing about interviewing current and former senior administration officials, including the recently ousted White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, according to three people briefed on the discussions.

Mr. Mueller has asked the White House about specific meetings, who attended them and whether there are any notes, transcripts or documents about them, two of the people said. Among the matters Mr. Mueller wants to ask the officials about is President Trump’s decision in May to fire the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, the two people said.

That line of questioning will be important as Mr. Mueller continues to investigate whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice in the dismissal of Mr. Comey.

Legal Expert Says Trump’s Texts to Mueller Could Be Construed as Intimidation

No interviews have been scheduled, but in recent weeks Mr. Mueller’s investigation has appeared to intensify. Late last month, he took the aggressive step of executing a search warrant at the home of Paul J. Manafort, Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, in Alexandria, Va. Legal experts say Mr. Mueller may be trying to put pressure on Mr. Manafort to cooperate with the investigation.

Although it has been clear for months that Mr. Mueller would interview Mr. Trump’s closest advisers, Mr. Mueller’s recent inquiries come as Mr. Trump is heading into the fall pushing his priorities in Congress, including a tax overhaul, with the constant distraction of a federal investigation.

Ty Cobb, a special counsel to the president, declined to comment, saying only that the White House would “continue to fully cooperate” with Mr. Mueller’s inquiry. He has frequently said that the White House will cooperate with Mr. Mueller’s investigation and that he hopes it will be completed quickly. Mr. Priebus did not return messages seeking comment.

Mr. Mueller has expressed interest in speaking with other administration officials, including members of the communications team. But Mr. Trump’s allies are particularly concerned about Mr. Mueller’s interest in talking to Mr. Priebus, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee who worked closely with Mr. Trump during the presidential campaign. Mr. Trump’s confidants at the White House say Mr. Trump was never fully convinced that Mr. Priebus would be loyal to him.

Shortly after the November election, Mr. Priebus was made chief of staff, and he was involved in the major decisions the president made during the transition and in the first six months of the administration. Mr. Priebus made a point of being in most meetings and tried to be aware of what the president was doing. Mr. Trump fired him last month.

Mr. Priebus can potentially answer many questions Mr. Mueller has about what occurred during the campaign and in the White House. Mr. Priebus appears on the calendar of Mr. Manafort on the same day in June 2016 that Mr. Manafort and other campaign officials — including Mr. Trump’s eldest son and son-in-law — attended a meeting with Russians who claimed to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton, according to two people briefed on the matter. It is not clear whether Mr. Priebus and Mr. Manafort did meet that day.

According to a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation, Mr. Comey met with Mr. Priebus at the White House on Feb. 8 — a week before Mr. Comey said Mr. Trump cornered him in the Oval Office and asked him to end an investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn. In Mr. Comey’s meeting with Mr. Priebus, Mr. Comey told Mr. Priebus about a Justice Department policy that largely bars discussions between White House officials and the F.B.I. about continuing investigations in order to prevent political meddling — or at least the appearance of it — in the bureau’s work, according to the law enforcement official.

It is not clear whether Mr. Priebus ever relayed that message to the president. Mr. Trump’s Republican allies — including the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan — have said Mr. Trump may have asked Mr. Comey to end the investigation because he was a new president who did not understand the subtleties of how the commander in chief should interact with the F.B.I.

Mr. Priebus may also be able to help prosecutors verify crucial details about Mr. Trump’s interactions with Mr. Comey. According to testimony Mr. Comey provided to Congress, Mr. Priebus knows that Mr. Comey had the one-on-one encounter with Mr. Trump on Feb. 14, when Mr. Comey has said Mr. Trump asked him to end the Flynn investigation. Mr. Trump has said that the meeting did not occur and that he did not ask Mr. Comey to end the inquiry.

Mr. Comey said in his testimony to Congress that on Feb. 14, Mr. Trump had Mr. Priebus, the attorney general, the vice president and other senior administration officials removed from the Oval Office after a counterterrorism briefing.

“The president began by saying Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong in speaking with the Russians, but he had to let him go because he had misled the vice president,” Mr. Comey said.

“The president then made a long series of comments about the problem with leaks of classified information — a concern I shared and still share. After he had spoken for a few minutes about leaks, Reince Priebus leaned in through the door by the grandfather clock and I could see a group of people waiting behind him. The president waved at him to close the door, saying he would be done shortly. The door closed.”

Right after the door closed, Mr. Comey said, Mr. Trump asked him to end the Flynn investigation.

Mr. Trump and his lawyers have tried to cast the search warrant on Mr. Manafort as an unusual measure and an abuse of power. The president said he was surprised to learn about the search, saying it was something federal authorities “very seldom” do. John Dowd, a lawyer for Mr. Trump, said the search was similar to tactics used in Russia.

“The search warrant here was obtained by a gross abuse of the judicial process by the special counsel’s office,” Mr. Dowd told The Wall Street Journal in an email. “In addition, given the obvious unlawful deficiencies, this extraordinary invasive tool was employed for its shock value to try to intimidate Mr. Manafort.”

He added, “These methods are normally found and employed in Russia not America.”

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The standoff between Trump and Sessions escalates

In this March 6, 2017 file photo, Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks in Washington. Christopher Anders, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a complaint against Sessions with the Alabama State Bar over his testimony during his Senate confirmation process regarding contact he had with Russia. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

The public standoff between the White House and the nation’s senior law enforcement official took another strange turn Tuesday as President Trump escalated his verbal attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was urged by fellow conservatives to stand his ground.

Trump was asked at a Rose Garden news conference if he would fire the attorney general, who angered the president by recusing himself from the criminal probe into possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russia.

“We’ll see what happens,’’ said Trump — a potentially ominous choice of phrase, considering the president used the same expression when talking to FBI Director James B. Comey before he was fired.

“I’m disappointed in the attorney general,’’ Trump said. “If he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me prior to taking office, and I would have picked somebody else. It’s a bad thing not just for the president, but also for the presidency. I think it’s unfair to the presidency.”

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He said he wanted Sessions “to be much tougher on leaks in the intelligence agencies that are leaking like they never have before. . . . You can’t let that happen.’’

It is unheard of for a Cabinet-level official to be subjected to such visceral and public criticism, which has now gone on for a week. But Sessions showed no sign of buckling Tuesday, and in fact his position was bolstered by support from prominent conservatives taking his side in the fight with Trump.

In a recent conversation, Sessions’s chief of staff, Jody Hunt, told White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus that the attorney general had no intention of stepping down. Hunt, according to people familiar with the conversation, made it clear to Priebus that Sessions “plans to move forward with his agenda in the department and he has no plans for resigning,’’ according to one person familiar with the exchange. Priebus, for his part, did not say Trump planned to fire Sessions if he did not leave, these people said.

Trump’s reluctance to act on his anger and fire Sessions may be based in part on the lack of an immediate plan for a successor at the Justice Department. While Trump has discussed potential candidates to replace Sessions, senior White House officials have not settled on anyone, and may not anytime soon, administration officials said. If Sessions were to be fired without even a temporary replacement lined up, the deputy attorney general who oversees the Russia probe, Rod J. Rosenstein, would assume authority over the entire Justice Department.

One Republican close to the White House said a number of senior aides, including newly hired communications director Anthony Scaramucci, have urged Trump to sit down with Sessions and work through their differences. So far, there has been little enthusiasm for that suggestion, the Republican said.

One informal adviser to the Trump White House said there is another reason Trump has yet to fire Sessions: “The president doesn’t want to be seen as firing another law enforcement official.’’

After Trump fired Comey, one unintended consequence was the appointment of Robert S. Mueller III as special counsel overseeing the Russia probe.

Earlier Tuesday, Trump had tweeted that Sessions was “very weak’’ on investigating Hillary Clinton’s “crimes’’ and had not aggressively hunted those who have leaked intelligence secrets since he has been in office.

The president’s insistence that Clinton be investigated runs contrary to his own past statements, and the decision by the Justice Department and the FBI last year to close the investigation into her use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. Sessions has recused himself from Clinton-related matters, citing his involvement with the presidential campaign as one of Trump’s major advisers.

The public humiliation of Sessions at the hands of the president he helped get elected was galling to many conservatives, who see Sessions as the Cabinet official who has most assiduously pursued Trump’s policy goals, from cracking down on illegal immigration to targeting street gangs.

Officials said Sessions is due to announce in coming days a number of criminal leak investigations based on news accounts of sensitive intelligence information. And within hours of Trump’s public broadside, the Justice Department announced it would change a police funding program to add new requirements that cities help federal agents find undocumented immigrants to receive grants.

On Tuesday, Republicans publicly rallied to Sessions’s defense. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said Sessions “is among the most honorable men in government today … I have full confidence in Jeff’s ability to perform the duties of his office and, above all, uphold the rule of law.’’

And Breitbart, the conservative website, posted an article saying the president’s public attack on Sessions “only serves to highlight Trump’s own hypocrisy” and it warned that the president’s stance could “fuel concerns from his base [which sees] Sessions as the best hope to fulfill Trump’s immigration policies.’’

Even among Democrats, Trump’s treatment of Sessions raised concerns. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, “What’s happening is just terrible. The attorney general did the right thing. The attorney general was nothing but loyal to Donald Trump. He took an oath of office to represent the Constitution, the law and the people.’’

Current and former Justice Department officials said they hope Sessions holds out, refusing to resign as a means of defending the department’s independence.

One former Justice Department official said the president’s anger seems to stem from a misunderstanding about how the department actually works. The White House, he said, should not be interfering with criminal investigations.

“For those of us that want this administration to succeed, this is incredibly self-destructive behavior,’’ the official said.

Justice Department employees said the president’s comments are damaging the reputation and morale of the department.

“It’s just insanity,’’ said one employee who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly. Another official said there was still hope in the building that Sessions could survive, and that Trump’s fury might abate. “This might be the one instance where everyone else just kind of rolls their eyes and moves on,’’ the official said.

The surge of support for Sessions is remarkable, considering how isolated he has been within the government. Sessions is viewed warily by many at the FBI for his role in Comey’s firing, and he is increasingly distant from the White House, despite the fact that some of his former Senate staffers serve there.

Administration officials said the president and his staff are also upset that Sessions held a news conference last Friday, in which he said he planned to remain on the job. Some in the White House saw that statement as unnecessarily antagonizing the president.

“Can you imagine any other president having to go this far to tell someone you need to go?’’ said a person informally advising the White House. “When Sessions said he wouldn’t resign, it’s like poking fire. You know who you’re dealing with.”

Yet within the Justice Department, that reaction was viewed as another indication of how little White House officials appear to understand what the Justice Department does. The news conference had been scheduled a week earlier based on an arrest overseas, and a senior European law enforcement official had flown in to participate.

Canceling the news conference, Justice Department officials reasoned at the time, would be a bigger problem than going forward. Sessions tried to keep his answers low-key, they added.

Officials at Justice said the standoff is beginning to affect the department’s work. One official said the pace of meetings with senior leaders has slowed, and the dust-up has distracted from some policy goals.

At a confirmation hearing Tuesday, Brian Benczkowski, a former Sessions aide and a nominee for assistant attorney general, said he had “every confidence” that his ex-boss made the right decision to recuse himself on the Russia investigation, and forcefully asserted that Mueller — whose work he said he did not consider a “witch hunt” — would do the right thing.

“He is someone who is widely understood to be a man of integrity, a man of independence, and someone who I believe will conduct his investigation with those characteristics right at the forefront, and I also believe he’ll insist on those same things from the people who work for him,” Benczkowski said.

Matt Zapotosky, Robert Costa and Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.

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Top Senate Intel Dem fears Trump will pardon those convicted in Russia probe

Top Senate Intel Dem fears Trump will pardon those convicted in Russia probeThe top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner (Va.), said one of his big fears in the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election is that President Trump would issue pardons should anyone be convicted.

“I asked Attorney General Sessions what I thought would be the ultimate softball when he testified. I said – I may not have said it this way – at least you got to tell us that there has been no discussion of pardons at this point. And he did not answer,” Warner told Vox in an interview.

“The possibility of presidential pardons in this process concerns me and also would be, I think, a really, really bad move,” he added.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has an ongoing investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow during the election.

Warner’s interview comes after Donald Trump Jr. released a stunning chain of emails this week detailing his conversations about setting up a campaign meeting with a Russian lawyer.

The information “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” reads one of the emails from Rob Goldstone, who acted as an intermediary to set up the meeting.

The New York Times first reported the meeting on Saturday.

Warner said earlier this week that emails published by Trump Jr. showed “black and white” that the Trump campaign was involved in Russian efforts to influence the presidential election.

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Trump Jr meeting controversy: The key players

Emin Agalarov, Donald Trump and Aras Agalarov attend the red carpet at Miss Universe Pageant Competition 2013 on November 9, 2013 in Moscow
Emin (left) and Aras Agalarov with Mr Trump during a Miss Universe event in Moscow in 2013

It is the meeting everyone is talking about: Donald Trump Junior, his brother-in-law and the chairman of Donald Trump Senior’s election campaign talking to a Russian lawyer who had allegedly offered damaging material about Hillary Clinton.

It was an encounter proposed by a British music publicist and allegedly arranged by an Azerbaijani-Russian businessman, whose pop star son once featured Mr Trump Sr in a music video.

Feeling lost? Here are the key players explained.


Donald Trump Jr

Donald Trump Jr speaks at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland on 19 July 2016

The center piece of it all is Donald Trump’s eldest son from his first marriage to Ivana, who is now executive vice-president of the Trump Organization.

Here is how it unfolded: he received an email from British music publicist Rob Goldstone promising documents from Russia that would incriminate Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

The meeting was allegedly arranged by Azerbaijani-Russian billionaire Aras Agalarov, whose son Emin is a pop star who was managed for a time by Mr Goldstone (more on all of them later).

One email from Mr Goldstone said the information they had been promised was “obviously very high-level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump”.

Mr Trump Jr’s response to it was: “If it’s what you say I love it”.

The meeting took place in June 2016 at Trump Tower in New York. When news of it emerged, he denied that the meeting had anything to do with the campaign (we explain what he said below).

He then told Fox News Ms Veselnitskaya had provided them with nothing of use and it had only lasted 20 minutes.


Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s father-in-law and White House adviser

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner during a meeting on 30 June 2016

The husband of Ivanka, the president’s eldest daughter, and a long-time adviser to Mr Trump, who played a key role in his campaign.

Despite having no diplomatic credentials, he has found power with Mr Trump at the White House, being tasked with resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He also serves as the president’s lead adviser on relations with China, Mexico and Canada.

He has yet to comment on the case.

Who is who in the Trump clan


Paul Manafort, Trump ex-campaign chairman

Paul Manafort takes part in meeting on 17 August 2016

At the time of the meeting, he was a newcomer to the Trump team, brought in to professionalist the campaign. He quit in August, under fire for his ties to Russian interests and a former Ukrainian president.

He has also not commented on the case. But Politico website, citing an unidentified source close to him, said that Mr Manafort had not read the email exchanges to the end on his phone and that he had not even known who was going to be in the meeting.


Natalia Veselnitskaya, Russian lawyer

Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya speaks during an interview in Moscow on 8 November 2016

Known for her campaign against the Magnitsky Act, which enables the US to withhold visas and freeze financial assets of Russian officials thought to have been involved with human rights violations. In reaction to this controversial act, Russia barred Americans from adopting Russian orphans.

Mr Trump Jr had initially said the discussion of this ban was the subject of their meeting. That was before his email exchange with Mr Goldstone was revealed.

Ms Veselnitskaya was married to a former deputy transportation minister of the Moscow region, the New York Times says. Her clients included state-owned companies and a senior government official’s son, whose company was under investigation in the US when the meeting took place.

Her work and connections had drawn the FBI’s attention, an unnamed former senior law enforcement official was quoted by the Times as saying.

She told the paper: “Nothing at all was discussed about the presidential campaign… I have never acted on behalf of the Russian government and have never discussed any of these matters with any representative of the Russian government.”

Trump-Russia inquiry: How did we get here?

Russian cloud hangs over White House


Rob Goldstone, publicist

Publicist Goldstone attends the Miss Universe 2013 pageant in Moscow

The man who set up the meeting.

The publicist has worked closely with world-renowned stars such as Michael Jackson, BB King and Richard Branson. But, despite all of those big names, he was little known to the world until now.

Mr Goldstone’s posts on social media suggest he has spent several days in Russia and Azerbaijan on different trips in recent years, including in the months before last year’s US presidential election.

Media outlets report that shortly after Mr Trump’s win, he posted a picture on his Instagram account in which he wore a T-shirt with “Russia” in big letters on it. The account was made private after the reports emerged.

He is a former journalist – media reports say he used to work in tabloids. Most recently, he managed pop star Emin Agalarov.

He has not commented.

Why is this British guy emailing Trump Jr?


Aras Agalarov, billionaire

Often called the “Donald Trump of Russia”, with an estimated fortune of about $1.9bn (£1.4bn), according to Forbes.

Born in Baku, Azerbaijan, he is the owner of Crocus Group, a major Russian property development company, and was Mr Trump’s business partner in taking the Miss Universe competition to Moscow in 2013.

He was also working to partner with Mr Trump in bringing Trump Tower to Russia, a project that never materialised. Crocus, meanwhile, is currently building two stadiums in preparation for the 2018 World Cup hosted by Russia.

Reacting to the news, the billionaire denied any intention to damage Mrs Clinton.

“These are just fantasies! I do not know who invents them and what Hillary Clinton has to do with it. I do not know, I don’t even properly know Rob Goldstone. He worked with Emin, probably, as a manager for a certain period of time, or he may have promoted something in the USA, I don’t know.”


Emin Agalarov, singer

Singer Emin Agalarov, son-of-law of the president, performs during the Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2012 in Baku, Azerbaijan, 26 May 2012

The Baku-born singer is a music star in Russia and Azerbaijan. In 2013, Mr Trump featured in one of his music videos with that year’s Miss Universe contestants – the clip has been watched almost 2m times on YouTube.

In 2006, he married Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev’s daughter, Leyla. The couple had two boys and adopted a girl, but have since divorced.

Mr Goldstone said in the emails that the meeting was set up at the request of the singer. Emin Agalarov has not commented.

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Trump’s plan to work with Putin on cyber security makes no sense. Here’s why.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a press conference after the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 8, 2017.President Trump announced Sunday on Twitter that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin were talking about forming an “impenetrable Cyber Security unit” to prevent election hacking in the future.

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Other U.S. politicians, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), have reacted with consternation. Rubio suggests that partnering with Putin on cybersecurity would be like partnering with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on a “Chemical Weapons Unit” (Assad is widely believed to have carried out chemical weapons attacks on his own people). The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has defended Trump, saying that the United States doesn’t trust Russia but that “you keep those that you don’t trust closer, so that you can always keep an eye on them and keep them in check.” So why are Rubio and many others so critical of Trump, and does Haley’s defense make any sense?

Sometimes, it makes sense to cooperate with states that you don’t trust on cybersecurity

There is some precedent for working with states that you don’t trust on cyber security issues. During the Obama administration, the United States and China reached an agreement on how to deal with contentious issues in cyber security. Both the United States and China hack into each other’s systems on a regular basis. The agreement was not intended to stop this but to prevent it from getting out of control in ways that might damage bilateral arrangements. Thus, the agreement created a kind of hotline for communication and information sharing about potentially problematic behavior, as well as a continuing dialogue on cyber issues. It also ruled out efforts by state actors to steal intellectual property (the United States had persistently complained that Chinese state hackers stole U.S. companies’ secrets and passed them on to Chinese competitor firms). To the surprise of many in the United States, the agreement seems to have helped moderate Chinese efforts to steal commercial secrets, although there is disagreement over whether this was because China was shamed and wanted to preserve honor, or alternatively used the agreement to impose control over unruly hackers.

Former U.S. attorney: ‘Absolutely evidence’ to begin obstruction of justice case

Either way, this deal worked — to the extent it did work — because both states had roughly convergent interests over a very limited set of issues. It did not involve the exchange of truly sensitive information — China does not trust the United States with details of its defenses against cyberattacks, and the United States does not trust China. Instead, the two sides have looked to manage their disagreement, rather than engage in deep and extensive cooperation.

That doesn’t appear to be what Trump wants

As Trump has described his discussions with Putin, both want something much more far-reaching than the deal that Obama reached with China. Instead of setting up dialogue, Trump wants to engage in true cooperation. He wants to set up a joint “unit” that would handle election security issues so as to prevent hacking. This unit would, furthermore, be “impenetrable.”

Critics in the United States have unsurprisingly interpreted this proposal as a transparent ploy by Trump to sideline accusations that Russian hackers helped him win the presidential election. However, even if Trump’s proposal is taken at face value, it doesn’t make much sense.

U.S. officials don’t trust the Russians

If the proposed cybersecurity unit were to work effectively, the United States would need to share extensive information with Russia on how U.S. officials defend elections against foreign tampering. The problem is, however, that information that is valuable for defending U.S. systems is, almost by definition, information that is valuable for attacking them, too. This is one reason U.S. officials have not previously proposed any far-reaching arrangement with Russia on cybersecurity. Providing such information would almost certainly give the Russians a map of vulnerabilities and insecurities in the system that they could then exploit for their own purposes.

It would not only provide the fox with a map of the henhouse, but give him the security code, the backdoor key, and a wheelbarrow to make off with the carcasses. U.S. officials have determined that Russian hackers have probed U.S. election systems, presumably to discover vulnerabilities that they could exploit. Although there is no evidence that Russia actually manipulated machines to alter the vote in the 2016 election, there is excellent reason to believe that Russia has carefully considered the pros and cons of direct intervention, as well as the hacking and leaking that it did engage in.

Furthermore, when Trump says that this unit would be “impenetrable,” he implies that Russia and the United States would cooperate on making it secure against outside hacking by third parties. Again, such cooperation is wildly unlikely to work well. To make it work, the United States would have to share sensitive methods with Russia, as well as vice versa. Neither side is going to want to do this, because again it would provide potential adversaries with a deep understanding of protective measures, which might allow those adversaries to penetrate them.

In short, the kind of cooperation that Trump is proposing would be very hard to accomplish between close allies with deeply shared security interests (the United States shares a lot of secrets with select allies — but it does not share everything, for the same reasons that they do not share their deepest defensive secrets with the United States). It is more or less impossible to carry off with a state that not only is often an adversary but has recently demonstrated its desire to hack U.S. elections, if only it could get away with it.

Any arrangement would be a win for Putin

If Trump’s tweet reflects a change in U.S. policy, it is potentially a big win for Russia’s government. One of the reasons that U.S.-Russia relations deteriorated during the Obama presidency was Putin’s belief that the U.S. was interfering in other countries’ elections and that he was going to be the next target. Russia today is a ‘managed democracy,’ which allows some electoral competition, as long as it does not threaten the power of the government. This means that the Russian government saw the various pro-democracy movements supported by the U.S. during the “Arab Spring” and in Ukraine as an existential threat. The U.S. was not only encroaching in countries that Russia thought of as part of its sphere of influence. It was perhaps threatening to support a ‘pro-democracy’ movement in Russia itself, which would topple Putin and his allies from power. Hence, Russia has insisted in various international debates that cybersecurity be defined so as to prevent foreign interference in Russia’s electoral process.

Trump’s willingness to play ball with Russia on elections may or may not stem from his domestic problems. From Putin’s perspective, however, it is an unmitigated win. If the United States is willing to cooperate with Russia on election security, it suggests that the United States is willing to treat Russian elections as legitimate and is perhaps beginning to accept Russia’s understanding of democracy promotion as an unacceptable form of interference in other countries’ domestic politics.

Any deal will see massive pushback from U.S. intelligence services

As is often the case with Trump’s tweets, it is unclear whether they reflect any real policy process. Trump is not noted for his fine grasp of the niceties of policy, and he deliberately excluded other senior officials from his discussions with Putin.

However, if he is contemplating a deal that even slightly resembles the one described in his tweet, it will probably lead to enormous resistance from U.S. intelligence and security officials, and from Congress. Such a deal would represent an extraordinary departure from existing U.S. practices and the U.S. understanding of its national security. Haley’s defense of Trump’s actions is a version of the old dictum that you should keep your friends close and your enemies closer. However, this doesn’t really describe what Trump has suggested, which is less about keeping an eye on Russia and more about providing Russia with a detailed map of America’s core vulnerabilities.

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With 40 months to go, Trump holds re-election fundraiser

Protesters yell at patrons at the outdoor seating area at the Trump International Hotel, Wednesday, June 28, 2017, in Washington. President Donald Trump is attending a fundraiser at the hotel. President Donald Trump is attending a fundraiser at the hotel. President Donald Trump was whisked a few blocks from the White House to his hotel on Wednesday night for his first re-election fundraiser. But reporters were barred from hearing his remarks

Security was tight at the Trump International Hotel, where guests in long gowns and sharp suits started arriving around five.

The president’s motorcade was greeted by do

zens of protesters outside hoisting signs with slogans like “Health care not tax cuts” and chanting “Shame! Shame!”

First-time candidate Donald Trump got a late start on fundraising in 2016, holding his first big-ticket donor event only five months before Election Day. That won’t be the case this time.

Some 40 months ahead of his next election, the president holds court at a $35,000-per-plate donor event Wednesday night at his hotel in Washington. About 300 people are expected to attend an event that will pull in about $10 million, said Lindsay Jancek, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.

Breaking the tradition of his predecessor, Trump isn’t allowing reporters to hear his remarks to the group of donors — despite an announcement earlier in the day that a pool of reporters would be allowed in to hear the president’s remarks.

“It’s a political event and they’ve chosen to keep that separate,” White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said when asked why the event is closed to the media.

After reporters complained, Sanders announced that the president’s remarks would be opened to the press — only to reverse herself hours later.

“Unfortunately there was some confusion with the RNC, and due to the logistical challenges bringing in the press at this late moment is not going to be possible,” she said in an email. Sanders also said there was nothing unusual about raising political cash so early.

“He’s raising money for the party,” she said. “I don’t think that’s abnormal for any president.”

Sanders’ statement that Trump is raising cash for the GOP tells only part of the story, though.

The first cut of the money raised goes to Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign. The rest gets spread among the RNC and other various Republican entities. Having multiple beneficiaries is what allows Trump to ask for well above the usual $5,400 per-donor maximum for each election cycle.

Those contribution limits are likely to change because this fundraiser is so early that new donation limits for 2020 have not been set by the Federal Election Commission.

Trump’s historically early campaigning comes with benefits and challenges.

In the first three months of this year, the Trump campaign raised more than $7 million, through small donations and the sale of Trump-themed merchandise such as the ubiquitous, red “Make America Great Again” ball caps.

The RNC also is benefiting from the new president’s active campaigning, having raised about $62 million through the end of last month. The party has raised more online this year than it did in all of 2016 — a testament to Trump’s success in reaching small donors.

Trump’s re-election money helps pay for his political rallies. He’s held five so far, and campaign director Michael Glassner says those events help keep him connected to his base of voters.

The constant politicking, however, means it is challenging for government employees to avoid inappropriately crossing ethical lines. Some watchdog groups have flagged White House employee tweets that veer into campaign territory. White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters says the employees work closely with lawyers to avoid pitfalls.

Walters also says the White House takes care to make sure that Trump’s political events and travel — including the Wednesday fundraiser — are paid for by the campaign and other political entities.

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Former U.S. attorney: ‘Absolutely evidence’ to begin obstruction of justice case

Former U.S. attorney: 'Absolutely evidence' to begin obstruction of justice case

Former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara on Sunday said he thinks there is evidence to start a case for obstruction of justice against President Trump.

“I think there’s absolutely evidence to begin a case — I think it’s very important for all sorts of armchair speculators in the law, to be clear that no one knows right now whether there is a provable case of obstruction,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

7 takeaways from Comey’s extraordinary testimony about what Trump told him to do

“It’s also true…that there’s no basis to say there’s no obstruction.”

Bharara also said during the interview that there is evidence from someone who is under oath that “on at least one occasion, the president of the United States, cleared the room of his vice president and his attorney general and told his director of the FBI that he should essentially drop the case against his former national security adviser.”

“Whether or not that is impeachable or that’s indictable, that’s a very serious thing and I’m not sure that people fully get that the standard is not just whether something is a crime or not,” Bharara said.

“Whether or not it can be charged as a crime or Congress will impeach, it is a very serious thing.”

He said there is a lot to be “frightened” and “outraged” about.

“That’s an incredibly serious thing if people think that the president of the United States can tell heads of law enforcement agencies, based on his own whim or his own personal preferences or friendships, that they should or should not pursue particular criminal cases against individuals,” he said.

“That’s not how America works.”

Not a shy guy, President Donald Trump is claiming he didn’t know James Comey well enough to ask for his allegiance. But Trump had had more dealings with his FBI chief in a few months than President Barack Obama had with Comey in three years. Trump also says he found vindication in Comey’s testimony to the Senate this past week, though none was offered.

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7 takeaways from Comey’s extraordinary testimony about what Trump told him to do

James Comey is expected to testify on Thursday about discussions he had with President Trump, including one about the Michael Flynn investigation.

 

Fired FBI director James B. Comey’s testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee about his conversations with President Trump on Russia can be summed up in one word: Newsworthy. Here are seven major takeaways from his testimony.

Trump Appears Unlikely to Hinder Comey’s Testimony About Russia Inquiry

Here are six major takeaways from his testimony so far.

1) Comey is pretty sure Trump inappropriately interfered in the investigation — but he didn’t ask the FBI to drop it entirely

The way Comey understood his conversations with the president, Trump asked Comey for three things:

  1. His loyalty while appearing to threaten his job security
  2. To “lift the cloud” of any perception the president was under investigation
  3. To drop the FBI’s investigation into Trump’s fired national security adviser Michael Flynn.

“The ask was to get it out that I, the president, am not personally under investigation,” Comey said. But, Comey testified, Trump did NOT ask him to drop the FBI’s broader investigation into Russia meddling in the 2016 election and whether Trump’s campaign helped.

Comey also declined to give a legal judgment on whether Trump obstructed justice or whether he colluded with Russia, saying that’s up for the FBI and special counsel to investigate.

2) Comey thinks the president is a liar

Comey knocked the Trump administration in an opening statement at the hearing. Comey said the Trump administration “chose to defame” him and the FBI after he was fired. (Reuters)

The way Comey tells it, the first time he met Trump — to brief him on all things Russia shortly before Trump’s inauguration —  Comey got the heebie-jeebies, for a whole bunch of small reasons but nothing in particular.

“I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting,” Comey said, as to why he left Trump Tower, hopped in an FBI car, opened a laptop and started writing down every detail he could recall about his first meeting with the president. “It led me to believe that I gotta write it down, and I gotta write it down in a detailed way. … I knew that there might come a day where I might need a record of what happened, not just to defend myself and FBI and the integrity of our situation, and the independence of our function.”

Comey also said the president lied about why he fired him:

“The administration then chose to defame me — and, more importantly — the FBI by saying the organization was in disarray and that it was poorly led, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader. Those were lies, plain and simple.”

 

3) The way Trump handled Comey’s firing is what prompted Comey to speak out

First, Comey found out he was fired by watching TV.

Second, Comey said he was confused about why he was fired. The president changed his narrative several times, ultimately settling on “that Russia thing.” Then, Comey read in the press that the president told Russians Comey was a “nut job.”

Then, Trump tweeted this:

James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!

Up until then, Comey said he and senior leaders in the FBI had decided to “keep … in a box” everything they had learned about the president’s inappropriate questions about the investigation. But after Trump’s tweet, Comey said he couldn’t stay silent.

“I woke up in the middle of the night Monday (thinking) that there might be corroboration for our conversation,” Comey testified. “And my judgment was that I needed to get that out in the public square. So I asked a friend of mine to share the content of [my memos] with a reporter.”

4) Democrats are pretty sure Comey’s firing is the key to what the president did wrong

“I believe the timing of your firing stinks,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, called Comey’s firing “ultimately shocking.”

“As director of the FBI, Comey was ultimately responsible for conducting the investigation, which might explain why you’re sitting down as a private citizen,” Warner said.

Comey agreed that he thinks his firing was tied to the president’s frustrations with how Comey was handling the Russia investigation.

“Something about the way I was conducting, it created pressure, and he wanted me to leave,” Comey said.

5) Republicans aren’t really trying to defend the president

As close as they got was one GOP senator trying to argue that: Okay, what Trump did was wrong, but is it really obstruction of justice?

“He said: ‘I hope’ (when he asked you to drop the Flynn investigation),” said Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho), a Trump ally.

“You don’t know of anyone that’s ever been charged for hoping something?”

Comey said he didn’t.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) made the point that the Trump’s third ask — for Comey to “lift the cloud” by saying publicly the president was not under investigation — is a reasonable one. Comey agreed but said the president didn’t seem to understand it could create a “boomerang effect” where if Trump ever was under investigation, the FBI would have to retract its public statement.

6) Republicans are critical of why Comey didn’t speak up sooner

“The president never should have cleared the room,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said of a key Oval Office private meeting between Comey and Trump.

“And he never should have asked you to let (the investigation into Flynn) go.”

“But I remain puzzled by your response. Your response was: ‘I agree that Michael Flynn was a good guy.’ You could have said: ‘Mr. President, this meeting is inappropriate, this response could compromise the investigation.'”

Comey testified that he was “stunned” the president was asking him to drop an investigation and, in retrospect, he probably should have been more firm with the president.

But he just wanted to say something — anything — to end the “awkward” conversations. And, Comey said, he doesn’t regret keeping the president’s conversations within a tight circle: “No action was the most important thing I could do to make sure there was no interference in the investigation.”

7) No side comes off well in Comey’s telling of events

To hear Comey tell it, when Republicans are in charge and the FBI was investigating Republicans, he was pressured by Republicans to shape his investigation.

And when Democrats were in charge and he was investigating Democrats, he was pressured by Democrats to shape his investigation. This is new — and significant. It suggests that no side was immune to meddling in the FBI’s independent investigations.

Comey testified that when he was investigating Hillary Clinton’s emails during the 2016 presidential campaign, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch (a President Barack Obama appointee) “directed me not to call it an investigation but instead to call it a matter.”

That, plus Lynch’s private tarmac meeting with former president Bill Clinton ahead of the FBI’s impending decision on whether Clinton may have criminally mishandled classified information, raised Comey’s ethics radar and persuaded him to announce the FBI’s findings ahead of schedule.

“That was one of the bricks in the load that led me to conclude: I have to step away from the department if we’re to close this case credibly,” Comey said.

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