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

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

President Trump does not plan to invoke executive privilege to try to prevent James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, from providing potentially damaging testimony to Congress on statements the president made about an investigation into his former national security adviser, two senior administration officials said on Friday.

Mr. Trump could still move to block the testimony next week, given his history of changing his mind at the last minute about major decisions. But legal experts have said Mr. Trump has a weak case to invoke executive privilege because he has publicly addressed his conversations with Mr. Comey, and any such move could carry serious political risks.

One of the administration officials said Friday evening that Mr. Trump wanted Mr. Comey to testify because the president had nothing to hide and wanted Mr. Comey’s statements to be publicly aired. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing a decision that had not been announced.

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A White House spokesman did not respond to a message seeking comment. Earlier on Friday, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, would not say what Mr. Trump planned to do.

“The date for the hearing was just set,” Mr. Spicer said. “I haven’t spoken to counsel yet; I don’t know how they’ll respond.”

Mr. Comey, who was fired by Mr. Trump last month, has been called to testify Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting a wide-ranging investigation into how the Russian government meddled in the presidential election and whether Mr. Trump’s associates colluded with the Russians.

On Friday evening, House Democrats sent a letter to the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, saying there was no case for the president to exert the privilege on Mr. Comey.

Invoking executive privilege can be a politically treacherous move, recalling past scandals like Watergate, in which President Richard M. Nixon asserted the power in efforts to block congressional investigations. President Barack Obama used the legal authority once, during congressional inquiries after weapons ended up in the possession of Mexican gun cartels.

Presidents have often moved to keep their records and other communications with senior officials private until they leave office, on the theory that confidentiality is crucial to their ability to receive unvarnished advice on sensitive matters. But seeking a restraining order barring testimony by Mr. Comey, who is now a private citizen, would be unprecedented.

Mr. Comey is expected to testify about several conversations he had with the president, including one in which Mr. Trump encouraged him to stop investigating his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, according to a memo by Mr. Comey. In another conversation during a one-on-one dinner at the White House, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Comey to pledge his loyalty, and Mr. Comey declined to do so, according to Mr. Comey’s associates.

Mr. Comey, according to people close to him, recorded his discussions with Mr. Trump in memos he wrote shortly after each interaction.

Democrats have said Mr. Trump’s conversations with Mr. Comey show that the president was trying to obstruct the F.B.I.’s investigation into Mr. Flynn, who is under scrutiny for calls he had with the Russian ambassador and for work he did for a firm that had ties to the Turkish government.

Legal experts have said Mr. Trump’s tweets about Mr. Comey would damage any claim of executive privilege.

“James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Mr. Trump said in one post, shortly after The New York Times reported the request for the loyalty pledge.


Flynn agrees to provide documents to Senate panel

FILE - In this Feb. 10, 2017 file photo, then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn sits in the East Room of the White House in Washington. A member of Donald Trump's transition team asked national security officials in the Obama White House for the classified CIA profile on Russia's ambassador to the United States. The unusual request appears to signal that Trump's own team had concerns about whether his pick for national security adviser, Mike Flynn, fully understood that he was dealing with a man rumored to have ties to Russian intelligence agencies. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File) Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn will provide documents to the Senate intelligence committee as part of its probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, The Associated Press has learned.

Flynn’s decision Tuesday came as President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, rejected a House intelligence committee request for information, and former White House staffer Boris Epshteyn confirmed he has been contacted for information as part of the House investigation.

Meanwhile, Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin sounded similar tones as they criticized the ongoing U.S. scrutiny of Russia’s attempts to sway the presidential election.

Flynn’s cooperation was the first signal that he and the Senate panel have found common ground. Congressional investigators continue to press for key documents in the ongoing investigation, and the retired lieutenant general is trying to limit damaging disclosures that hostile Democratic lawmakers could use against him.

Flynn had previously invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination in declining an earlier subpoena from the committee, which sought a wide array of documents and information related to his contacts with Russia. Flynn’s attorneys had argued the request was too broad and would have required Flynn to turn over information that could have been used against him.

In response, the Senate panel narrowed the scope of its request. It also issued subpoenas seeking records from Flynn’s businesses.

One of the businesses, Flynn Intel Group Inc., did consulting work for a Turkish businessman that required Flynn to register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent earlier this year. The other, Flynn Intel Group LLC, was used to accept money from Flynn’s paid speeches. Among the payments was more than $33,000 Flynn received from RT, the Russian state-sponsored television network that U.S. intelligence officials have branded as a propaganda arm of the Kremlin.

On Tuesday, a person close to Flynn said he will turn over documents related to the two businesses as well as some personal documents the committee sought in the narrower request. Flynn plans to produce some of the documents by next week, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss Flynn’s private interactions with the committee.

While the Senate committee awaits documents from Flynn, Putin and Trump both dismissed the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election by hacking Democratic emails.

In an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro, Putin reaffirmed his strong denial of Russian involvement in the hacking. The interview was recorded during Putin’s Monday trip to Paris and released Tuesday. Putin also said the allegations are “fiction” invented by the Democrats in order to explain their loss.

Trump made a similar claim in a tweet early Tuesday: “Russian officials must be laughing at the U.S. & how a lame excuse for why the Dems lost the election has taken over the Fake News.”

Meanwhile, Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney, told the AP that he turned down a request for information from the House intelligence committee looking into the Russian interference.

“I declined the invitation to participate as the request was poorly phrased, overly broad and not capable of being answered,” Cohen said. “I find it irresponsible and improper that the request sent to me was leaked by those working on the committee.”

Earlier Tuesday, the AP reported, citing a congressional aide, that the House intelligence committee had subpoenaed Cohen. The aide later retracted the statement. Cohen said if he is subpoenaed, he will comply.

Cohen, a longtime attorney for the Trump Organization, remains a personal lawyer for Trump. He served as a cable television surrogate for the Republican during the presidential campaign.

Cohen told ABC News that he had been asked by both the House and Senate intelligence committees to provide information and testimony about contacts he had with Russian officials.

Cohen’s ties with Russian interests came up in February when The New York Times reported that Cohen helped to broker a Ukraine peace plan that would call for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine and a referendum to let Ukrainians decide whether the part of the country seized by Russia in 2014 should be leased to Moscow. The Russian government denied knowing anything about such a plan.

The Times reported that the peace plan was the work of Felix Sater, a business associate who has helped Trump try to find business in Russia, and Cohen.

Cohen was a fierce defender of Trump during the campaign, often haranguing probing reporters and famously challenging a CNN reporter live on-air to name the specific polls that showed then-candidate Trump behind his rival, Hillary Clinton.

In the early 2000s, he formed his own firm working on a range of legal matters, including malpractice cases, business law and work on an ethanol business in Ukraine. Cohen also owned and operated a handful of taxi medallions, managing a fleet of cabs in New York.

Cohen’s business associates in the taxi enterprise included a number of men from the former Soviet Union, including his Ukrainian-born father-in-law.

Cohen has made his own unsuccessful attempts at public office, losing a city council race and briefly running for state assembly in New York.

The House intelligence committee has also sought information from Epshteyn, a former staffer in the Trump White House.

Epshteyn said in a statement that he has asked the committee questions to better understand what information it is seeking and will determine whether he can reasonably provide it.

Epshteyn, who grew up in Moscow, worked a short time in the White House press office. He left in March and now works as a political analyst for right-leaning Sinclair Broadcasting.


Jared Kushner defended by Trump amid ‘secret Russia line’ questions

White House senior advisor Jared Kushner (C) sits alongside U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross (2nd L)

Donald Trump has come out in support of his son-in-law Jared Kushner, following reports the aide tried to set up a secret communication line with Moscow.

In a statement given to the New York Times, Mr Trump praised the “great job” Mr Kushner is doing.

But he did not directly address allegations made against the man married to his eldest daughter, Ivanka.

It is claimed Mr Kushner discussed setting up a back channel with the Russian ambassador in December.

The New York Times and Washington Post said he wanted to use Russian facilities to avoid US interception of discussions with Moscow. He is reported to have done so before Mr Trump assumed the presidency, so would have been a private citizen at the time.

The allegations came after Mr Kushner was said to be under scrutiny as part of the FBI inquiry into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Reports in the US say investigators believe he has relevant information, but is not necessarily suspected of a crime.

Ivanka Trump, daughter of US President Donald Trump, her husband Jared Kushner, senior adviser to Trump arrive at Rome
Mr Kushner is married to Mr Trump’s daughter, Ivanka

Mr Trump – who is said to have met with attorneys at the White House on Sunday – did not falter in his support for Mr Kushner, who has taken a role as a senior White House aide.

“Jared is doing a great job for the country. I have total confidence in him,” he said in the statement to the New York Times.

“He is respected by virtually everyone and is working on programs that will save our country billions of dollars. In addition to that, and perhaps more importantly, he is a very good person.”

Mr Trump’s comments came after senior administration officials had moved to play down the allegations, without addressing whether or not they were true.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told ABC News on Sunday it was “normal” and “acceptable” to establish back channels with foreign powers.

“Any way that you can communicate with people, particularly organisations that are maybe not particularly friendly to us, is a good thing and, again, it comes back to whatever the communication is, comes back into the government and shared across the government.”

Meanwhile, Mr Trump’s National Security Advisor HR McMaster said, generally speaking, “we have back-channel communication with a number of countries”.

Mr Trump had earlier taken to Twitter to vent his frustrations with the “fake news media”.

“It is my opinion that many of the leaks coming out of the White House are fabricated lies made up by the #FakeNews media,” he wrote.

“Whenever you see the words ‘sources say’ in the fake news media, and they don’t mention names it is very possible that those sources don’t exist but are made up by fake news writers. #Fake News is the enemy!”


Top Senate Intel Republican ‘Troubled’ By Comey Firing

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., ranking member on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee listens to testimony on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014.

The top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), released one of the most critical statements yet from any member of his party on Tuesday’s shocking announcement that President Donald Trump had fired FBI Director James Comey.

Burr, who is leading the Senate’s investigation into alleged coordination between members of the Trump campaign and the Russian government, called Comey a “public servant of the highest order,” and said his firing was “a loss for the Bureau and the nation.”

Burr said he was “troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey’s termination,” and noted that he “has been more forthcoming with information than any FBI Director I can recall in my tenure on the congressional intel committees.”

Like many other lawmakers, Burr expressed concern about the future of the investigation into Russian influence in the U.S. election that Comey was leading at the time he was fired.

Trump has been sued 134 times in federal court since inauguration

This article was written by Alice Ollstein from Talking Points Memo and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) says he told President Trump that his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey was a “big mistake.”

“Earlier this afternoon President Trump called me and informed me he was firing Director Comey,” Schumer told reporters on Tuesday. “I told the president, ‘Mr. President with all due respect you are making a big mistake.'”

During an appearance on MSNBC, Senator Elizabeth Warren made her opinion of Donald Trump firing James Comey very clear.

She took aim at the Trump administration’s claims that it was Comey’s mishandling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation that led to his ouster, making mention of how he praised Comey for it a few months ago. Comey was helming an investigation into Trump’s possible Russian ties.

“Comey was not fired because of Hillary. Comey was fired because of the Russians,” she asserted. “The timing makes this, I think, entirely clear. The fact that all during the campaign, Donald Trump kept citing Comey and using Comey — once he was elected, he embraced Comey — and now to turn around months later and say, ‘Oh yeah, that was just terrible.’ There’s nobody left in America who believes Donald Trump fired James Comey in order to try — because James Comey was mean to Hillary Clinton.”

She’s not alone in being suspicious, either. Twitter users, government officials, and political commentators have all spent the last few hours opining about the shocking events out of the White House.


North Korea tensions: US installs missile defence system in S Korea

Protesters and police stand by as trailers carrying US THAAD missile defence equipment enter a deployment site in Seongju, early 26 April 2017.
Missile defense equipment was transported to a former golf club in Seongju on Wednesday

The US military has started installing a controversial missile defense system at a site in South Korea, amid high tensions over neighbouring North Korea’s nuclear and missile ambitions.

The Thaad system is designed to protect against threats from North Korea.

Hundreds of local residents protested against the deployment, as vehicles carrying equipment arrived at the site in the south of the country.

China argues Thaad will destabilise security in the region.

The US has in recent days deployed warships and a submarine to the Korean peninsula, amid fears North Korea could be planning further missile or nuclear tests.

The Trump administration, which has been urging China to rein in its ally, North Korea, is due to hold a classified briefing for senators on the situation at the White House later on Wednesday.

The Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system is designed to intercept and destroy short and medium-range ballistic missiles during their final phase of flight.

“South Korea and the United States have been working to secure an early operational capability of the Thaad system in response to North Korea’s advancing nuclear and missile threat,” South Korea’s defence ministry said in a statement.

The system – agreed last year under the Obama administration – is not expected to be operational until the end of 2017, it added.

The development coincides with China launching a new aircraft carrier – the first to be made domestically – in a bid to boost its own military presence in the region.

Protests at home

Television footage showed military trailers carrying what appeared to be defence equipment to a disused golf course some 250km (155 miles) south of the South Korean capital Seoul on Wednesday morning.

South Korean protesters shout slogans such as
There were protests last week as US Vice-President Mike Pence met with South Korea’s acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn

Dozens of police lined the road, trying to block hundreds of protesters, some of whom were hurling water bottles at the vehicles.

More than 10 people were injured in the clashes with police, activists said. Many of the protesters were local residents of the two towns closest to the military site.

“We will continue our fight and there’s still time for Thaad to be actually up and running so we will fight until equipment is withdrawn from the site and ask South Korea’s new government to reconsider the plan,” protester Kim Jong-kyung told Reuters news agency.

Police were unable to confirm the casualties.

What is the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (Thaad)?

What impact will S Korea’s expanded missile defence system have?

China has expressed “serious concern” over the Thaad deployment and is urging the US and South Korea to withdraw the system, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters on Wednesday.

The deployment has caused significant tension with China – South Korea’s largest trading partner – and coincided with a number of economic measures imposed by China, including a ban on tour groups which saw a 40% drop in the number of Chinese visitors in the past month.

South Korea last month lodged a complaint with the World Trade Organization, but China denies its recent moves are related to the Thaad deployment.

War of words

With tensions high in the region, North Korea and the US are continuing to exchange heated rhetoric over the scale of Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear programme.

US Vice-President Mike Pence warned North Korea not to “test” President Donald Trump, after it conducted a failed ballistic missile test on 16 April.

Media captionThe USS Michigan arrived in South Korea on Tuesday

On Tuesday, a US submarine – the USS Michigan – joined a group of warships in the Korean peninsula led by aircraft carrier Carl Vinson.

US President Donald Trump had earlier vowed to send an “armada” to the region over North Korea’s missile tests.

North Korea meanwhile threatened to sink the aircraft carrier and launch a “super-mighty pre-emptive strike” against what it called US aggression.

Chinese President Xi Jinping urged “restraint” on North Korea in a telephone call with President Trump on Monday.


State removes post highlighting Trump Mar-a-Lago resort

State Dept. website highlights history of Trump's Mar-a-LagoA State Department website has removed a blog post about President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort following criticism over ethical concerns.

The blog, initially posted on ShareAmerica, a State Department platform used for sharing what it describes as “compelling stories” detailed the history of Trump’s “Winter White House.”

FACT CHECK: Trump ignores 100-day high achievers

It immediately led to concerns that the U.S. government was promoting Trump’s private resort.

“The intention of the article was to inform the public about where the President has been hosting world leaders,” the web page now reads. “We regret any misperception and have removed the post.”

Ethics groups have warned about the potential conflict of interest presented by the private Florida resort.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) tweeted asking the State Department on Monday, asking, “Why are taxpayer $$ promoting the President’s private country club?”

“Well, they’re just shamelessly promoting his products on U.S. government, taxpayer-financed websites. And we know that Mar-a-Lago has benefited from President Trump being elected president,” he said on CNN’s “The Lead” on Monday.

The blog post was still live on the site for the State Department’s embassy and consulates in the United Kingdom as of Monday evening




Ryan promises to keep government open — and makes no promises on health care

President Trump appeared at the Treasury Department this week.House leaders told GOP lawmakers Saturday that they plan to devote their energy this week to keeping the federal government open, conspicuously avoiding an immediate commitment to take up health care despite pledges to do so by conservatives and the White House.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), speaking on a conference call with GOP members, offered no specific plan on how or when lawmakers might see details of a new proposal to revise the Affordable Care Act, which White House officials promised would receive a vote by Wednesday.

Ryan also made clear that his top priority was to pass a stopgap spending bill to keep government open past April 28, an objective that requires Democratic support. “Wherever we land will be a product the president can and will support.” Ryan said, according to a senior GOP aide on the call.

The call comes as GOP leaders find themselves trapped between proving that they can complete basic tasks of governing such as funding the government, while also meeting the demands of President Trump, who is looking for a legislative win ahead of his 100th day in office next Saturday.

Ryan’s comments suggested that he and other House Republicans have made the choice to focus on the former. He said, for instance, that the House will vote on a health-care bill when Republicans are sure they have the support to pass it, according to several GOP aides on the call — suggesting that he does not believe that to be the case currently, despite renewed negotiations between House conservatives, moderates and the White House.

Ryan encouraged members to continue discussing ideas, but he did not open the call for questions, leaving members to wait until Wednesday morning before they can weigh in on spending or health care.

Trump and his top aides have been calling on Congress to take dramatic action in the coming week: vote on health care, take up tax reform and demand that Democrats agree to a stopgap spending measure that includes funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Ryan attempted to calm the disorder Saturday by telling members that repealing the Affordable Care Act remains a priority but urging them to focus on the immediate task of the budget negotiations, according to the aides on the call. Ryan has vowed for weeks that there will be no government shutdown, and many Republicans and Democrats have said in recent days that negotiations are proceeding apace.

At the same time, Trump has publicly downplayed the significance of achieving a victory in the coming week. He dismissed the symbolism of the 100-day mark — despite his repeated promises on the campaign trail that he would meet many of his goals by that date.

He also began walking back the health-care promise after signs emerged that GOP leaders were not prepared to take it up because of the risk that it would anger Democrats.

“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said on Friday. “No particular rush, but we’ll see what happens.”

Then, on Saturday, Trump added to the confusion with a promise to release details of a tax overhaul next week.

“Big TAX REFORM AND TAX REDUCTION will be announced next Wednesday,” he tweeted.

Less clear was what will come of Trump’s desire to include funding for a border wall in the stopgap measure.

On Saturday, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly suggested in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper scheduled to air Sunday morning that Trump may demand the funding.

“I think it goes without saying that the president has been pretty straightforward about his desire and the need for a border wall,” Kelly said. “So I would suspect, he’ll do the right thing for sure, but I would suspect he will be insistent on the funding.”

The comment is likely to further threaten bipartisan budget talks, which were jostled after Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, announced last week that the White House would demand border wall funding in the upcoming spending bill. Such a demand would almost certainly prompt Democrats, whose support is needed to pass the budget bill in the Senate, to vote no.

Aides on the Hill and inside the White House, who spoke candidly on condition of anonymity, said they believe Trump sees a demand for wall money as the best way to prove that his most controversial proposals can be fulfilled.

“This president should be allowed to have his highest priorities funded even though the Democrats rightly have a seat at the table because of the Senate rules,” Mulvaney said Friday in an interview with Bloomberg Live. “You cannot expect a president who just won election to give up very easily on his highest priority.”

That demand came as a surprise to Democrats who have been working for more than a month with GOP leaders to craft a bipartisan spending bill that would keep the government open through the end of the fiscal year on September 30. The bipartisan talks were seen as a rare bright spot in an otherwise acrimonious, bitter relationship between Republicans and Democrats in Washington. One particular area of agreement was not to include border-protection funds in the stopgap budget, which, it was agreed, should be debated separately, after government is kept open.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said leaders in Congress could reach a spending agreement, but only the White House stays out of the negotiations.

“I want to come up with an agreement,” Schumer said Tuesday on a conference call with reporters. “Our Republican colleagues know that since they control, you know, the House, the Senate and the White House, that a shutdown would fall on their shoulders, and they don’t want it.”


Report: Russia tried to infiltrate Trump campaign through advisers

Report: Russia tried to infiltrate Trump campaign through advisers Russia tried to infiltrate Trump campaign through advisersMoscow attempted to infiltrate President Trump’s 2016 campaign by using his advisers, CNN reported on Friday.

U.S. officials told the news network that the Russian government attempted to use advisers, including Carter Page, in their strategy to infiltrate Trump’s political team during the campaign season.

The officials underscored that they were not aware of whether Page knew that he was communicating with Russian intelligence officials given the manner in which Russian operatives operate.

According to the report, Page could have made contact with the Russian intelligence officials without knowing their real identity.

The officials told CNN that Page’ s conversations with suspected Russian operatives are being analyzed as part of a broader Russia-related intelligence-gathering probe by U.S. authorities.

The officials also would not specify the content of the conversations.

Page has disputed the claims that he worked for the Russian intelligence services, maintaining that he always assumed that Russians might share information with Moscow.

“My assumption throughout the last 26 years I’ve been going there has always been that any Russian person might share information with the Russian government … as I have similarly done with the CIA, the FBI and other government agencies in the past,” he said, according to CNN.


Russian bombers again fly near Alaska

For the second consecutive night, Russia flew two long-range bombers off the coast of Alaska on Tuesday, this time coming within 36 miles of the mainland while flying north of the Aleutian Islands, two U.S. officials told Fox News.

The two nuclear-capable Tu-95H bombers were spotted by U.S. military radar at 5 p.m. local time.

Unlike a similar incident Monday night, this time the U.S. Air Force did not scramble any fighter jets.

Instead, it launched a single E-3 Sentry early warning aircraft, known as AWACS, to make sure there were only the two Russian bombers flying near Alaska, and not other aircraft flying underneath the large bombers.

U.S. territorial waters extend 12 nautical miles from shore.

U.S. Air Force scrambled F-22 stealth fighters; Jennifer Griffin reports from the Pentagon© U.S. Air Force scrambled F-22 stealth fighters; Jennifer Griffin reports from the PentagonTwo Russian bombers flew within 100 miles of Alaska on Monday night.

The Russian bombers took off from an airbase in Petropavlovsk, Russia and returned five hours later to an airbase in Anadyr. Both locations are in eastern Russia, some 1,000 miles away.

Last week in Moscow, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said U.S.-Russian relations were at a “low point” during a news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

While Tillerson was in Moscow, a trio of Russian bombers flew near the east coast of Japan, forcing the Japanese military to scramble 14 fighter jets at various times to intercept the bombers. A Russian spy plane traversed Japan’s west coast.

Before Monday’s flight near Alaska, the last time Russian bombers flew near the U.S. was July 4, 2015, when a pair of Russian bombers flew off the coasts of Alaska and California, coming as close as 40 miles to Mendocino, Calif.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called then-President Barack Obama to wish him a happy Independence Day while the bombers cruised the California coastline.

In February, a Russian spy ship sailed up and down the East Coast of the U.S. while remaining in international waters.


On Russia, Trump and his top national security aides seem to be at odds

A combination picture made shows President Trump at the White House on Feb. 9, and Russian President Vladimir Putin in St.Petersburg on April 3.The message was defiantly optimistic, like a suitor determined to hold a relationship together despite mounting obstacles.

“Things will work out fine between the U.S.A. and Russia,” ­President Trump declared on his Twitter account last week. “At the right time everyone will come to their senses & there will be lasting peace!”

Trump’s interest in achieving warm relations with Moscow has been a consistent theme since the earliest days of his campaign, and it stands now as one of the few major foreign policy positions that he has not discarded or revised since taking office.

But in his devotion to this outcome, Trump appears increasingly isolated within his own administration. Over the past several weeks, senior members of Trump’s national security team have issued blistering critiques of Moscow, using harsh terms that have led to escalating tensions between the countries and seem at odds with the president.

The harsh rhetoric — and the apparent lack of any rebuke from Trump — suggests that Russian skeptics have gained influence in the administration, making the rapprochement that Trump envisioned seem increasingly remote.

In a speech at the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley lashed out at Russia for its role in Syria, asking “how many more children have to die before Russia cares” enough to prevent Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from committing further atrocities.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson accused Russia of being “incompetent or complicit” in the chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of Syrian civilians.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo went even further in an appearance at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington last week, depicting Moscow as an unredeemable adversary. Though Trump has repeatedly praised Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, Pompeo described him as “a man for whom veracity doesn’t translate into English.”

The statements have created confusion about the Trump administration’s posture toward Russia and put senior officials, including Haley, in the awkward position of having to explain why Trump has yet to echo any of their harsh words.

The White House did not respond to requests for comment.

Foreign policy experts close to the administration played down the apparent disconnect between Trump’s statements and those of his national security subordinates, saying that Trump’s words about Russia were often misinterpreted to signal he intended to be soft.

“There was never anything in the plan about being nice to the Russians,” said James Carafano, the vice president of foreign and defense policy at the Heritage Foundation, who served as an adviser to Trump during the campaign and post-election transition.

“I don’t think any of this is a U-turn, a reversal or a shift,” Carafano said. He noted that Trump’s decision to bomb an airstrip in Syria where the Russian military had worked with Assad’s forces and Trump’s recent vocal support for NATO demonstrate his willingness to defy Putin.

“Trump doesn’t have to do Russia bashing” and is probably seeking to leave an opening for Putin to pursue better relations with the United States, Carafano said. “The fact that [Trump’s officials] are not mimicking the exact same words doesn’t mean they’re not on the same sheet of music.”

In recent weeks, Trump has had opportunities to reinforce the messages of his subordinates. In a news conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg this month, Trump said relations with Moscow “may be at an all-time low” but described Russia as “a strong country” and said, “We’re going to see how that all works out.”

Asked about mounting concerns in Europe over alleged Moscow interference in elections and calls for bolstering Europe’s military defenses, Trump had no words of caution for the Kremlin.

“Right now there is a fear, and there are problems,” Trump said. “But ultimately, I hope that there won’t be a fear and there won’t be problems and the world can get along. That would be the ideal situation.”

Trump’s tack with Russia seems at odds with his approach toward other global powers and issues. He threatened to label China a currency manipulator and to cut off U.S. support for NATO, for example, before retreating from those positions in recent weeks.

His posture toward Moscow is also seen as a reflection of Trump’s reluctance to acknowledge that Russia interfered in the U.S. election and, based on the consensus view of U.S. intelligence agencies, sought to help him win.

Critics said the administration’s competing messages have caused concern overseas. Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said that he recently attended a security conference in Munich where there were “profound questions among our allies about just where this administration is coming from.”

“They don’t see the president yet willing to take on Putin or to criticize him directly,” Schiff said. “It doesn’t mater what others in his Cabinet said. If they didn’t hear it from the president they didn’t really believe it was administration policy.”

Senior administration officials have struggled to explain the disparity in their comments — including statements suggesting that Russia may have known that Assad was about to launch a chemical weapons attack — with those of the president.

“I think we’re both saying the same thing, it’s just being reported differently,” Haley said during an interview on ABC News this month. Pressed on why Trump has not condemned Moscow, Haley said, “This is what I can tell you: The president has not once called me and said, ‘Don’t beat up on Russia,’ has not once called me and told me what to say.”

Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, faced similar questions in a separate ABC interview this week when asked how the president could be so confident that “things will work out fine” and predict “lasting peace.”

“Well,” McMaster quipped, “when relations are at the lowest point, there’s nowhere to go but up.”

McMaster has helped form the administration’s more combative stance toward Moscow. He replaced Michael Flynn, who seemed to share Trump’s interest in pursuing closer relations with Moscow before Flynn was fired for his misleading statements about his contacts with the Russian ambassador.

Juan Zarate, a former national security official who advised Pompeo during his confirmation as CIA chief, said that he sees Trump’s continued conciliatory messages toward Moscow as a means of preserving options for the administration in its dealings with Russia.

“I worry less about what appears to be some discordance because I think you can have flexibility in messaging,” Zarate said. “But you do have to have consistency in policy. For now it seems like we do. In fact the policy seems to be getting more vigorous and confrontational.”

But Zarate also noted Trump’s tendency to “double down on positions.” Trump was criticized for seeming lenient toward Moscow, “and low and behold he’s going to stick to his line.”

Moscow has also noticed the administration’s competing messages. After a series of sharp exchanges with senior U.S. officials, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said this week that Moscow would focus on signals from the president.

“We will be guided by what President Donald Trump once again confirmed . . . that he wants to improve relations with the Russian Federation,” Lavrov said. “We are also ready for that.”