Trump cited Putin to push back on North Korea long-range missile reports

Former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe wrote in his new book that President Trump did not believe U.S. intelligence reports about North Korean missile advances because of claims he’d heard from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Washington Post reported that McCabe’s book, “The Threat,” details an instance in July 2017 where Trump did not believe information in an Oval Office briefing that North Korea test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time. 

McCabe wrote that Trump called the launch of the long-range missile a “hoax,” telling officials he knew North Korea did not have the ability to launch that type of missile “because Vladimir Putin had told him so.”

Asked for comment, the White House pointed to a statement earlier Thursday from press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders that said McCabe “has no credibility and is an embarrassment to the men and women of the FBI and our great country.”

Those remarks came in response to an interview in which McCabe revealed he opened a probe into whether Trump obstructed justice when the president fired James Comey as FBI chief in 2017 amid the Russia investigation.

Trump ripped McCabe on Thursday morning, tweeting that the former FBI official “pretends to be a ‘poor little Angel’ when in fact he was a big part of the Crooked Hillary Scandal & the Russia Hoax.”

McCabe was fired last year after an internal watchdog report found he had a “lack of candor” with investigators looking into FBI leaks about its probe into the Clinton Foundation during the 2016 presidential race.

The former deputy director’s account of the 2017 meeting is the latest instance calling into question Trump’s relationship with Putin. Democrats and critics of the president have repeatedly chastised Trump for his friendly rhetoric toward Russia and the Putin.

Special counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election has so far implicated six former Trump associates. The president has repeatedly decried the investigation as a “witch hunt,” and denied colluding with Russia.

The president’s defenders have argued that Trump has been tougher on Russia than past administrations, pointing to various sanctions.

[The Hill]

Donald Trump praises ‘economic rocket’ North Korea with summit announcement

In a pair of tweets, Mr Trump said his representatives had just left North Korea after a “productive meeting” about the February 27-28 summit which he revealed would held in Hanoi, Vietnam.

“I look forward to seeing Chairman Kim & advancing the cause of peace!” he tweeted.

“North Korea, under the leadership of Kim Jong-un, will become a great Economic Powerhouse. He may surprise some but he won’t surprise me, because I have gotten to know him & fully understand how capable he is.”

The President also appeared to reference his previous mocking of Mr Kim as the “Little Rocket Man”. 

The President had previously announced Vietnam as the summit location, but the city had not been identified. 

It will be the pair’s second summit, the first coming last June in Singapore. Mr Kim pledged then to work toward the “complete denuclearisation” of the Korean Peninsula, without providing a clear timetable or roadmap.

[ABC]

A Trump Call That Went Rogue Hands Erdogan a Surprise Win on Syria

Donald Trump was supposed to tell his Turkish counterpart to stop testing his patience with military threats in Syria. That is, if the American president stuck to the script.

Instead, during a lengthy phone call earlier this month, Trump shocked even those in his inner circle by yielding to a suggestion from Recep Tayyip Erdogan to reverse the Pentagon’s Syrian strategy, handing the Turkish president his biggest diplomatic victory ever.

Erdogan pressed Trump on the Dec. 14 call to explain why American forces were still in Syria even after they met their objective of defeating Islamic State, according to people with direct knowledge of the conversation.

Erdogan had a point about the defeat of ISIS, Trump said, repeating his long-held conviction that American troops should be out of Syria anyway, according to the people, including an American official who spoke on condition of anonymity while discussing the call.

Then the American president dropped a bombshell, asking National Security Adviser John Bolton — whom he addressed as “Johnny” — about the feasibility of an immediate pullout, according to two of the people. He got a reassuring “yes” in response and the ball started rolling, the people said.

Days later, Trump announced the pullout of all 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria, facing withering criticism from both sides of the political spectrum for leaving a key part of the Middle East exposed to Russian and Iranian influence. Then on Thursday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned.

While Trump faced political heat, Erdogan became a hero at home, seen as a leader who got his way with the world’s biggest superpower by convincing Washington to end its support for Turkey’s nemesis in Syria, a Kurdish militant group called the YPG. Erdogan says the group — which has allied with America for some of the toughest fighting in northern Syria — is linked to domestic terrorists he has long sought to wipe out.

The developments illustrate how Erdogan has managed to become a more central player in both Mideast politics and U.S. foreign policy, capitalizing on an American president eager to fulfill promises to extricate American troops from Middle East quagmires. They come just months after Trump and Erdogan were facing off over new American tariffs, Turkey’s refusal to release an American pastor and Erdogan’s demands that the U.S. extradite a cleric it views as behind a failed 2016 coup.

[Bloomberg]

President Trump orders all US troops out of Syria, declares victory over ISIS

President Donald Trump called Wednesday for a U.S. withdrawal from Syria over the apparent objections of military advisers and a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

The withdrawal of the more than 2,000 troops is based on Trump’s decision that the mission against ISIS is complete, a U.S. official told USA TODAY.

Trump tweeted out a video statement in which he said U.S. “heroes” should be brought home because they have accomplished the mission of defeating ISIS. “Now we’ve won,” Trump said. “It’s time to come back … they’re getting ready; you’re going to see them soon.”

Military leaders, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, in recent weeks and months have spoken of the need for U.S. troops to remain in the eastern part of the country to help stabilize it and allow for peace negotiations to proceed.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., derided Trump’s decision to withdraw, likening it to those made by former President Barack Obama to announce ahead of time plans to reduce forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Withdrawal of this small American force in Syria would be a huge Obama-like mistake,” Graham tweeted.

In a statement, Graham added that Trump’s action would represent a “big win for ISIS, Iran, Bashar al Assad of Syria, and Russia.”

“I fear it will lead to devastating consequences for our nation, the region, and throughout the world,” Graham said.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted that the move was a “major blunder” and against the Pentagon’s advice.

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, top Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel, called it a “dangerous decision” that would destabilize the region, endanger Kurdish allies and embolden America’s enemies.

“We’re leaving the Kurds at risk, we’re creating a vacuum, and we’re doing it in a way that puts Israel at risk” because of Iran’s presence in Syria, Menendez said.

In Russia, a foreign ministry spokesperson applauded Trump’s decision, saying it could help create “a real prospect for a political solution” in Syria, according to TASS, the Russian state-owned news agency.

Trump’s announcement should not surprise anybody because he has promised it, according to a senior administration official who was not authorized to speak publicly. The official would not say why Trump apparently didn’t inform high-ranking officials of his decision. The Pentagon is developing the timeline for the removal of troops.

The U.S. will continue to apply pressure on  Assad and his Iranian allies, the official said, but referred questions to the Pentagon about whether U.S. warplanes would continue to strike ISIS targets.

In statements later Wednesday, White House and Pentagon spokeswomen equivocated on the “defeat” of ISIS that Trump referred to.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday that the U.S. has “defeated the territorial caliphate.”

“These victories over ISIS in Syria do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign,” Sanders said in a statement. “We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign.” She did not offer details on what the next phase was.

Dana White, the chief Pentagon spokeswoman, went even further, saying the fight against ISIS continues.

“The Coalition has liberated the ISIS-held territory, but the campaign against ISIS is not over,” White said in a statement. “We have started the process of returning U.S. troops home from Syria as we transition to the next phase of the campaign.”

Yet in  his tweet earlier Wednesday, Trump declared victory.

“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” he wrote.

Despite Trump’s assertion, fighting by U.S.-led forces continues in Syria.

On Saturday, warplanes  struck ISIS targets 47 times, U.S. Central Command announced early Wednesday. The bombs struck 20 fighting units and destroyed petroleum tanks, a tunnel, a vehicle and a mortar-firing position, the military said.

According to a recent report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, ISIS is far from obliterated. The Washington-based think tank estimates 20,000 to 30,000 Islamic State militants may still be in Iraq and Syria.

As recently as last week, officials said U.S. troops may need a longer stay to ensure that the military’s accomplishments are “enduring.”

“I think it’s fair to say Americans will remain on the ground after the physical defeat of the caliphate, until we have the pieces in place to ensure that that defeat is enduring,” said Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declined earlier in December to put a timeline on withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, suggesting they would be needed for some time to establish conditions for a long-term peace agreement.

“We still have a long way to go, and so I’d be reluctant to give a fixed time,” Dunford said in a forum held by the Washington Post.

The U.S.-led coalition has been fighting ISIS in the countries since 2014.

U.S. troops, most of them special-operations units, have been training local security forces in eastern Syria.

In September, Mattis told reporters that declaring victory and leaving Syria would be a mistake.

“I think that getting rid of the caliphate doesn’t mean you then blindly say OK, we got rid of it, march out, and then wonder why the caliphate comes back and how many times have we seen – look at even Iraq where they’re still on the hunt for them.  And they’re still trying to come back.”

[USA Today]

Trump Says He Stands By MBS the Same Day Murdered Khashoggi Makes Time Person of the Year Cover

President Donald Trump sat down with Reuters’ White House reportersfor a robust Oval Office interview on the same day that the politically assassinated Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was featured on TIME’s Person of the Year issue.

Despite CIA findings that strongly suggest the Saudi Crown PrinceMohammed bin Salman was behind the murder, and a recently entered bipartisan Senate Resolution condemning MBS’s alleged role in Khashoggi’s death, Trump is standing by the burgeoning leader of the Saudi Royal family, close political ally and suspected business partner for the Trump family business.

Reuters journalists Roberta RamptonJeff Mason, and Steve Hollandsat with the Commander in Chief, and among the many news items to emerge is Trump’s steadfast support of MBS.

report with bylines of Rampton and Holland claimed: “Trump refused to comment on whether Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was complicit in the murder, but he provided perhaps his most explicit show of support for the prince since Khashoggi’s death more than two months ago.”

Trump is quoted as defending his position, saying “He’s the leader of Saudi Arabia. They’ve been a very good ally.”

The White House and State Department have shown consistent support of the Saudi leader despite political pressure from leaked CIA reports and Congressional leaders of both parties. The article reports that, when asked “if standing by the kingdom meant standing by”  the Crown Prince, Trump responded: “Well, at this moment, it certainly does.”

Reuters reporters followed by asking if Trump believes that his continued support is critical to MBS ascension to King, as some in the Saudi Royal family are reportedly “agitating to prevent MBS from becoming king, sources close to the royal court have told Reuters, and believe that the United States and Trump could play a determining role.”

Trump responded that he was unaware of that adding, “Honestly, I can’t comment on it because I had not heard that at all. In fact, if anything, I’ve heard that he’s very strongly in power.”

[Mediaite]

Saudi-Funded Lobbyists Paid For 500 Nights At Trump D.C. Hotel Right After Election

Saudi Arabia-funded lobbyists paid for rooms at President Donald Trump’s Washington hotel within a month of the 2016 presidential election and kept coming back, racking up more than 500 nights worth of rooms in three months, The Washington Post reported, citing documents and organizers of the stays.

The Saudi-backed organizers were putting up veterans who were offered a free trip to Washington to help lobby against a law that Saudi Arabia opposed, the Post reported.

(Read the full Washington Post story.)

The lobbyists at first were hosting veterans in northern Virginia, but switched to the Trump hotel in December 2016. One organizer said the move was because the Trump International Hotel offered a discount from the usual $768 a night rate, and denied it was to try to gain favor with Trump.

But some of the vets the Post interviewed said they felt like they were being used twice ― to lobby for Saudi Arabia, and then again to bring business to Trump.

“It made all the sense in the world, when we found out that the Saudis had paid for it,” said Navy veteran Henry Garcia. He went on three trips, and said that what made the Trump hotel trips different from trips with other veterans groups were the private rooms, open bars and free dinners.

“We’ve done hundreds of veterans events, and we’ve stayed in Holiday Inns and eaten Ritz Crackers and lemonade. And we’re staying in this hotel that costs $500 a night,” said Marine veteran Dan Cord.

Trump’s business interests are in the spotlight once again as the D.C. and Maryland attorneys general served subpoenas on the Trump Organization and a dozen related businesses on Wednesday, CNN reported.

The subpoenas are seeking business documents that may show foreign payments to the hotel.

The lawsuit alleges that Trump is profiting from foreign and state spending at his D.C. hotel, in violation of the Constitution’s ban on gifts from foreign governments. The Justice Department has signaled it may try to fight the evidence-gathering process.

Trump has defended the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, even after intelligence agencies fingered the prince in the slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Saudi royal family and its allies have spent tens of millions on Trump hotels and condos.

[Huffington Post]

Trump sent a love note to Kim Jong Un through South Korean president saying that he likes the dictator

According to a statement, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said that President Donald Trump asked him to pass a note to North Korea’s dictator.

According to CNN’s Manu Raju, the note said, “President Trump has a very amicable view of Chairman Kim and that he likes Chairman Kim… As much that he wishes to implement the rest of the agreement with Chairman Kim and that he will make true what Chairman Kim wishes.”

Trump hasn’t managed to get Kim Jong Un to agree

During a Minnesota rally in June, Trump told the audience, their agreement outlines denuclearization.

“Sentence one says ‘a total denuclearization of North Korea,’” Trump said. “There will be denuclearization. So that’s the real story.”

While it may have been a huge applause line for Trump, it isn’t true.

“President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) held a first, historic summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018,” the first sentence actually reads.

While it does deal with denuclearization, it doesn’t commit North Korea to anything.

“Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” the official statement said.

Not long after, however, it gives the true mandate: “[T]he DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

In April, Kim agreed to suspend nuclear tests, though he said it was because they didn’t need them anymore.

In August, however, it revealed North Korea was still developing nuclear weapons, despite the agreement to “work” on things.

Trump announced that he and Kim would be meeting in 2019 to continue their “talks.” It’s unclear the point of the note for the dictator, but at least it reaffirmed his feelings for the so-called “Chairman.”

“He wrote me beautiful letters and we fell in love, OK?” Trump told a West Virginia audience. “No really. He wrote me beautiful letters.

[Raw Story]

Trump Organization planned to give $50 million penthouse to Putin amid Moscow deal

The Trump Organization planned to offer a $50 million penthouse suite to Russian President Vladimir Putin amid negotiations over a real estate deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to a report by BuzzFeed News. 

The bombshell report includes Felix Sater, a longtime Donald Trump associate accused of having Russian mafia ties, telling BuzzFeed News that he and Michael Cohen, the president’s former attorney and fixer, thought giving the suite to Putin could help sell other apartments.

“In Russia, the oligarchs would bend over backwards to live in the same building as Vladimir Putin,” Sater told BuzzFeed News. “My idea was to give a $50 million penthouse to Putin and charge $250 million more for the rest of the units. All the oligarchs would line up to live in the same building as Putin.”

BuzzFeed notes other unnamed officials confirmed the existence of the plan and the officials said Cohen discussed the idea with a representative of Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary.

It’s unclear whether Trump was aware of the plan, which never came to fruition due to the Trump Tower deal in Russia falling through.

Sater, a Russian immigrant who spent a year in prison for a 1991 stabbing, told the news organization that Cohen, at the time, remarked that it was a “great idea.”

Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, declined to comment on the report when reached by USA TODAY. Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for President Trump, said the story was “unknown to the president.”

Giuliani added the project was “too premature for anything like that” and called the idea to give Putin a suite “crazy.”

The revelations come at a time where the president’s Trump Tower deal in Moscow has come under intense scrutiny by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is examining Russian interference in the 2016 election.

On Thursday, Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court in New York to lying to Congress about the plan to build a Trump Tower in Russia all in the hope of shielding Trump from criticism.

Court documents filed as part of Cohen’s plea deal detailed Trump’s business dealings in Russia lasted longer during his campaign than previously acknowledged.

Federal prosecutors said Cohen lied when he submitted an Aug. 28, 2017, letter to the Senate and House intelligence committees. The letter said the project had ended by January 2016, when planning continued months longer during the presidential campaign.

Prosecutors said that Cohen lied to the committees to “minimize links between the Moscow Project and (Trump) and give the false impression that the Moscow Project ended before the Iowa caucus and the very first primary in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations.”

Sater, who had a large role in developing the Trump SoHo Hotel in New York, is also under scrutiny in Mueller’s investigation.

He wrote an email to Cohen in 2015 bragging about his ties to Putin, according to the New York Times. “Our boy can be president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote in one of the emails. “I will get all of Putin’s team to buy in on this.”

The Times noted that Cohen never replied to the emails and viewed them as “puffery.” Sater, who spent a year in prison for stabbing a man and later scouted for Trump investments in Russia, said he was simply expressing “enthusiasm” for the Trump Organization.

[USA Today]

Trump disputes CIA findings in Khashoggi killing, says too much at stake to punish ally

Responding to questions about Saudi Arabia’s role in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, President Donald Trump suggested Thursday that the U.S. can’t afford to punish foreign nations for killing people.

“Do people really want me to give up hundreds of thousands of jobs?” he said. “And frankly, if we went by this standard, we wouldn’t be able to have anybody who’s an ally, because look at what happens all over the world.”

NBC and other outlets have reported that the CIA recently determined, reportedly with “high confidence,” that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey in early October.

Trump rejected that characterization in an exchange with reporters in Palm Beach, Fla., where he is spending the Thanksgiving holiday at his Mar-a-Lago resort, but said the American relationship with Riyadh wouldn’t be affected even if the crown prince is responsible for Khashoggi’s death.

“Whether he did or whether he didn’t, he denies it vehemently,” Trump said. “The CIA doesn’t say they did it. They do point out certain things, and in pointing out those things, you can conclude that maybe he did or maybe he didn’t.”

The aftermath of the killing bothered him, he said, but he argued the CIA gave him conflicting information about the act.

“I hate the cover-up. And I will tell you this, the crown prince hates it more than I do,” he said. “And they have vehemently deny it. The CIA points it both ways. As I said, maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. But I will say very strongly that it’s a very important ally.”

By design, intelligence community analyses don’t reach conclusions. Instead, analysts provide evidence and a degree of confidence about their judgments, along with information about any uncertainties.

After Trump tweeted a statement of support for Saudi rulers Wednesday, Washington Post publisher and CEO Fred Ryan slammed Trump in an op-ed.

“A clear and dangerous message has been sent to tyrants around the world: Flash enough money in front of the president of the United States, and you can literally get away with murder,” Ryan wrote.

Pressed Thursday on whether his message to foreign leaders is that they can act with impunity, Trump said “no.”

“Not at all,” he said. ” Saudi Arabia has been a longtime strategic partner. They’re investing hundreds of billions of dollars in our country. I mean hundreds of billions. They’re keeping the oil prices low.”

The U.S Bureau of Economic Analysis does not report figures for Saudi Arabia’s direct investment in the U.S. to avoid revealing information about specific companies. While overall data is not available, the office of the U.S. Trade Representative reports that “Saudi Arabia’s direct investment in the U.S. is led by real estate, information services, and retail trade.”

Financial transactions between the two countries amounted to a negative number in 2017 — about $161 million in Riyadh’s favor — according to BEA.

Saudi Arabia spent about $9 billion on U.S. arms between 2013 and 2017, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, but Trump has said erroneously that Saudi rulers are ready to spend many multiples of that in the coming years — up to $450 billion in goods, including $110 billion in military equipment. Saudi Arabia’s annual gross domestic product has been below $700 billion in each of the last three years.

[NBC News]

Trump Thanks Saudi Arabia for…Making America Great Again With Lower Oil Prices?

After more or less excusing Saudi Arabia’s alleged murder of a journalist, President Trump is showing praise on them over lower gas prices.

In his first tweets of the day, Trump celebrated the fact that oil prices are falling on the market amid fears of a global slowdown in economic growth. In any case, he’s giving thanks to the Saudis over this news and finishing it off with “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” for good measure.

Trump’s tweets come a day after he released a statement declaring he will take Saudi Arabia’s side over the controversy of whether their royal family was directly involved in Jamal Khashoggi‘s gruesome murder in Turkey. Trump justified his decision by declaring “America first,”embraced Saudi Arabia’s smears of Khashoggi for being a political dissident, and he also ignored reported evidence collected by the intelligence community that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s killing.

[Mediaite]

Reality

We only get 10% of our imported oil from Saudi Arabia, which is already a fraction of the oil we generate ourselves.

OPEC has recently called for a drop in oil production because of a looming glut on the market and a fear that oil prices were going to fall lower. There are also links to the economy that a possible slow down in economic growth has been signaled by a drop in oil prices.

These are things that have nothing to do with the US government’s relationship with Saudi Arabia.

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