Donald Trump thinks not clapping for him is ‘treasonous’

President Donald Trump wasn’t — and, apparently, still isn’t — happy that Democrats in Congress didn’t stand to applaud him in his State of the Union address last week.

Here’s what Trump told a crowd in Cincinnati in a speech on Monday afternoon:

“They were like death and un-American. Un-American. Somebody said, ‘treasonous.’ I mean, Yeah, I guess why not? Can we call that treason? Why not? I mean they certainly didn’t seem to love our country that much.”

So, here we are. Again.

Let’s quickly define “treason,” shall we?

Here’s how Merriam-Webster does it:

“The offense of attempting by overt acts to overthrow the government of the state to which the offender owes allegiance or to kill or personally injure the sovereign or the sovereign’s family.”

Trump loyalists will dismiss all of this as much ado over nothing. He was joking! He didn’t even say that it was treasonous! He was just agreeing with people who said it was treasonous!

Fine. Also, wrong. And missing the point in a major way.

The point? It’s this: Not standing during applause lines for the State of the Union isn’t treasonous or un-American. Not even close.

If it was, all of the Republicans in that chamber are treasonous and un-American as well because when former President Barack Obama would tout his accomplishments in office — as Trump was doing last Tuesday night — lots and lots of Republican legislators would sit on their hands while the Democratic side of the aisle erupted in cheers. And so on and so forth for every president before him (and after).

Then there is the fact that the specific “treasonous” instance Trump was referring to had to do with his touting of historically low African-American unemployment — a bit of a cherry-picked fact based off of a single month’s economic report. By the time the new report for January came out last Friday, black unemployment had ticked up almost a point and was no longer close to a historic low.

Treason is Benedict Arnold. (Side bar: Read Nathaniel Philbrick’s “Valiant Ambition” about Arnold and George Washington.) Treason isn’t refusing to applaud when the President of the United States thinks you should.

Like with many things Trump says or tweets, there’s a natural tendency to just shrug it off. To do that, however, is to miss something very important — and concerning — at work here.

What Trump is saying is that dissent — which is what Democrats are doing when they choose not to clap for a line in his speech — is traitorous and/or un-American. That if these non-clappers really loved the country, they would be applauding when he touted how low black unemployment had dipped under his tenure.

If you think that’s totally OK, flip the script. Put a Democratic president in office. And have him or her chastise Republicans as treasonous because they didn’t applaud for the fact that something close to universal health care has been achieved. Would that be a reasonable charge? Or is it possible that while Republicans agree that more people having health insurance is a good thing, they fundamentally disagree with the way in which it was implemented?

You don’t have to imagine it. Because that’s what happened during several of President Obama’s State of the Union addresses. Except that Obama never suggested those non-clapping Republicans didn’t love America.

Even the suggestion of criminalizing dissent should send a chill down the spine of anyone who counts themselves as a fan of democracy. The right to dissent — without fear of retribution — sits at the heart of what differentiates America from authoritarian countries around the world.

When you have a president float the idea that not clapping at moments when he believes clapping is appropriate sends a very powerful message to the country about how we do (and should) deal with those who disagree with us. And that goes for whether he was “joking” or not.

It’s a very bad message — no matter whether you agree with Trump or not.

[CNN]

Media

Trump says he trusts Putin’s denials of election meddling

U.S. President Donald Trump said he believed President Vladimir Putin when he denied accusations Russia meddled in last year’s U.S. election despite U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion of Russian interference.

Trump made the comment after he and Putin met briefly at a summit in Vietnam on Saturday and agreed on a statement supporting a political solution for Syria.

It was their first encounter since July and came during a low in U.S.-Russia relations and at a time Trump is haunted by an investigation into accusations that Putin influenced the election that brought him to the White House.

Putin reiterated the denials of interference, Trump said.

“Every time he sees me he says I didn’t do that, and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One after leaving the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in the resort of Danang.

“I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country,” Trump said.

Trump, who has called allegations of campaign collusion with Moscow a hoax, has faced questions from Democrats about the matter since he took office. A special counsel, Robert Mueller, is conducting a probe that has led to charges against Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates.

U.S. intelligence agencies have also concluded Russians interfered to tip the election in Trump’s favor through hacking and releasing emails to embarrass Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and spreading social media propaganda.

Russia has repeatedly denied meddling.

The top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives intelligence committee, which is investigating the issue, harshly criticized Trump’s comments and accused him of siding with Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies.

“The President fools no one. He understands that the Russians intervened through the hacking and dumping of his opponent’s emails, the fruits of which he exploited time and again on the campaign trail,” Adam Schiff said in a statement.

“He understands all this and more. He just doesn’t understand how to put country over self. Or to put it in terms he is more familiar with – Mr. Trump simply can’t bring himself to put America first,” the Democrat said.

[Reuters]

Donald Trump calls for NFL to create rule mandating players stand for national anthem

An NFL spokesperson declined to address President Donald Trump’s latest tweet on Tuesday, which called for the league to create a rule that mandates players stand for the national anthem.

“I am little behind on his tweets,” NFL spokesperson Joe Lockhart told reporters on Tuesday. “I may catch up by the end of the day.”

Around 9 a.m. ET, Trump tweeted: “The NFL has all sorts of rules and regulations. The only way out for them is to set a rule that you can’t kneel during our National Anthem!”

Earlier on Tuesday morning, Trump was tweeting about the Cowboys’ protest on Monday night, as well as NFL ratings. The Cowboys and owner Jerry Jones took a knee before the national anthem played for a Monday Night Football matchup against the Cardinals in Arizona.

The Cowboys’ gesture took place after a Sunday of protests throughout the NFL.

Asked again about Trump calling for a rule change, Lockhart — on a conference call where he highlighted the NFL’s “Unity” message in response to the protests — didn’t engage.

“I guess I’d say he’s exercising his freedom to speak, and I’m exercising my freedom not to react,” Lockhart said.

[USA Today]

Reality

If you want to live in a country where patriotism is compulsory, to borrow a term from the right, then you should find another country. North Korea may be of your liking.

Here in America we value freedom of speech and each individuals ability to criticize their government. Trump did it for eight years as he lead the racist “birther” movement.

The 1943 Supreme Court decision in “West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette” found mandatory flag rituals to violate the constitutional requirements of democratic self-government.

“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation,” ruled the Court, “it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

Trump – Once Again – Fails to Condemn White Supremacists

President Donald Trump, a man known for his bluntness, was anything but on Saturday, failing to name the white supremacists or alt-right groups at the center of violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Instead, the man whose vicious attacks against Hillary Clinton, John McCain, federal judges, fellow Republican leaders and journalists helped define him both in and out of the White House simply blamed “many sides.”

Trump stepped to the podium at his New Jersey golf resort and read a statement on the clashes, pinning the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. “It has been going on for a long time in our country — not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama,” he said. “It has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America.”

Fellow Republicans slammed Trump’s lack of directness and attempt to inject moral equivalence into the situation of chaos and terror.

“We should call evil by its name,” tweeted Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, the most senior Republican in the Senate. “My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.”

“Very important for the nation to hear @POTUS describe events in #Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by #whitesupremacists,” tweeted Sen. Marco Rubio, a competitor for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.

“Mr. President – we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism,” tweeted Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican.

Scott Jennings, a former special assistant to President George W. Bush, said Trump’s speech was not his “best effort,” and faulted the President for “failure to acknowledge the racism, failure to acknowledge the white supremacy, failure to acknowledge the people who are marching around with Nazi flags on American soil.”

In his decades of public life, Trump has never been one to hold back his thoughts, and that has continued in the White House, where in his seven months as President it has become clear that he views conflicts as primarily black-and-white.

Trump’s Twitter account has become synonymous for blunt burns, regularly using someone’s name when he feels they slighted him or let him down. Trump, in just the last week, has used his Twitter account to call out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell by name, charge Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal with crying “like a baby” and needle media outlets by name.

His campaign was defined by his direct attacks. He pointedly attacked Khizr Khan, the father of a Muslim U.S. soldier killed in Iraq in 2004, for his speech at the Democratic National Committee that challenged his understanding of the Constitution, suggested federal Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel was unable to be impartial because of his Mexican heritage and said in a CNN interview that Fox News’ Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever” after she questioned him at a debate.

Even before Trump was a presidential candidate, he was driven by a guiding principle imparted on him by Roy Cohn, his lawyer-turned-mentor: “If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard.”

“What happens is they hit me and I hit them back harder,” he told Fox News in 2016. “That’s what we want to lead the country.”

Criticized others for not quickly calling attacks ‘terrorism’

On Saturday at his Bedminster resort, Trump’s bluntness gave way to vagueness as he failed to mention the impetus behind the violence that left at least one person dead in the streets of Charlottesville.

In doing so, Trump left it to anonymous White House officials to explain his remarks, leaving the door open to questions about his sincerity and why he won’t talk about the racists at the heart of the protests.

“The President was condemning hatred, bigotry and violence from all sources and all sides,” a White House official said. “There was violence between protesters and counter protesters today.”

By being equivocal, Trump also failed to follow the same self-proclaimed rules he used to hammer other politicians.

Trump constantly slammed Obama and Clinton during his run for the presidency for failing to label terrorist attacks as such. He called out the two Democrats for failing to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism.”

“These are radical Islamic terrorists and she won’t even mention the word, and nor will President Obama,” Trump said during an October 9 presidential debate. “Now, to solve a problem, you have to be able to state what the problem is or at least say the name.”
Trump declined to do just that on Saturday, as video of white nationalists flooded TV screens across the country hours after a smaller group marched through Charlottesville at night holding tiki torches and chanted, “You will not replace us.”

Instead, Trump called for “a swift restoration of law and order” and said the federal government was “ready, willing and able” to provide “whatever other assistance is needed.” He saluted law enforcement for their response and said he spoke with Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, about the attack.

But the businessman-turned-president also touted his own economic achievements during his brief speech, mentioning employment numbers and recent companies that decided to relocate to the United States.

“We have so many incredible things happening in our country, so when I watch Charlottesville, to me it is very, very sad,” he said.

White nationalists tie themselves to Trump

The reality for Trump is that his presidency helped white nationalists gain national attention, with groups drafting off his insurgent candidacy by tying themselves to the President and everything he stood for.

After the election, in a November 2016 interview with The New York Times, Trump disavowed the movement and said he did not intend to energize the alt-right.

“I don’t want to energize the group, and I disavow the group,” Trump told a group of Times reporters and columnists during a meeting at the newspaper’s headquarters in New York.

He added: “It’s not a group I want to energize, and if they are energized, I want to look into it and find out why.”

But men like David Duke, possibly the most famous white nationalist, directly tied Saturday’s protests to Trump.

“We are determined to take this country back. We’re gonna fulfill the promises of Donald Trump,” Duke said in an interview with The Indianapolis Star on Saturday in Charlottesville. “That’s why we voted for Donald Trump because he said he’s going to take our country back.”

When Trump tweeted earlier on Saturday that everyone “must be united & condemn all that hate stands for,” Duke grew angry, feeling that the man who help bring white nationalist to this point was slamming them. He urged Trump — via Twitter — to “take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists.”

Though earlier in the day Trump billed Saturday’s event as a press conference, the President declined to respond to shouted question that would have allowed him to directly take on white nationalists.

“Mr. President, do you want the support of these white nationalist groups who say they support you, Mr. President? Have you denounced them strongly enough,” one reporter shouted.

“A car plowing into people, would you call that terrorism sir?” another asked.
Trump walked out of the room.

[CNN]

Trump Thanks Putin for Expelling U.S. Diplomats to Dismay of State Department

President Donald Trump on Thursday thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for expelling American diplomats from Russia on the grounds that “we’re going to save a lot of money,” prompting dismay among some of the rank-and-file at the State Department.

“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll, and as far as I’m concerned I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll,” Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, according to a pool report.

“There’s no real reason for them to go back,” he added. “I greatly appreciate the fact that we’ve been able to cut our payroll of the United States. We’re going to save a lot of money.”

Russia recently announced that it would expel hundreds of American diplomats from Russia in retaliation for new sanctions the U.S. put on the Kremlin. Those sanctions are in response to Russia’s suspected attempts to meddle in last year’s U.S. presidential election through a disinformation campaign and cyberattacks on Democratic Party officials.

Trump, whose campaign’s relationship with Russia is the subject of an ongoing federal investigation, had pushed back against the sanctions bill, but signed it into law after it passed Congress with veto-proof majorities in both chambers.

The State Department has not yet released the details of how it will handle the drawdown. But many, if not most, of the positions cut will likely be those of locally hired Russian staffers, though the local staff who are let go will likely get severance payments. Cost savings are possible in the long run.

The U.S. diplomats forced to leave Moscow will in most cases be sent to other posts, sources said.

Trump’s remarks did not go down well among the rank-and-file at the State Department, some of whom noted that the people who would be most affected are locally hired staff crucial to American diplomats’ work overseas.

A senior U.S. diplomat serving overseas called Trump’s remarks “outrageous” and said it could lead more State Department staffers to head for the exits.

“This is so incredibly demoralizing and disrespectful to people serving their country in harm’s way,” the diplomat said.

“I kid you not, I have heard from three different people in the last five minutes,” one State Department official told POLITICO shortly after Trump’s comments. “Everyone seems pretty amazed. This statement is naive and shortsighted. It sends a terrible signal to local employees everywhere.”

“THANK Putin?” another bewildered State Department official responded. “I don’t have words that are printable to describe my reaction.”

The reaction to Trump’s comments on social media was equally as withering, with many suggesting he simply didn’t understand how the U.S. Foreign Service is structured and others shocked by his gesture to Putin.

Nicholas Burns, who served as undersecretary of state for political affairs during the second Bush administration, called Trump’s statement “shameful.”

“He justifies mistreatment of U.S. diplomats by Putin,” Burns wrote on Twitter.

Ever since Trump won the election, the State Department has felt sidelined by the president and his aides. Trump largely ignored U.S. diplomats who were ready and willing to offer him briefings when he talked to foreign leaders during the transition period. Since taking office, Trump has proposed cutting the State Department’s budget by a third, and his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is considered isolated and aloof from many of the diplomats he oversees.

[Politico]

Trump Thinks the ‘White House is a Real Dump’

President Trump told members at his Trump National Bedminster golf club he has spent so much time there recently because “that White House is a real dump,” Golf magazine reported Tuesday.

According to the in-depth look at the president and his relationship to golf, Bedminster has become one of Trump’s favorite escapes. It served as a “permanent campaign rally site” in the months leading up to the election and Trump has visited the club four times since taking office.

“He has his own cottage adjacent to the pool; it was recently given a secure perimeter by the Secret Service, leading to the inevitable joke that it’s the only wall Trump has successfully built,” Golf magazine reported. “Chatting with some members before a recent round of golf, he explained his frequent appearances: ‘That White House is a real dump.'”
By contrast, people who’ve played with Trump on his courses say he praises every detail of his clubs.

“‘Is this not the most beautiful asphalt you’ve ever seen in your life?'” he’ll say of an ordinary cart path,” Golf reported. “At the turn he’ll ask, “‘Have you ever had a better burger?'”

Though Trump may take a lot of “floating mulligans” — ignoring a bad shot, or dropping a new ball without taking a penalty — and though he may have a nasty habit of driving his cart onto greens and tee boxes, Golf writes that no president has ever played the sport better.

Trump “clearly loves the game, and even at 71 is easily the best golfer who has ever lived in the White House,” the magazine said.

[USA Today]

Reality

Many of Trump’s supports are fighting to hold onto their homes, living paycheck to paycheck, and Trump calls his historic home a dump and spends weekends at his own golf resorts at their expense.

Trump’s Cabinet Extols the ‘Blessing’ of Serving Him

One by one, they praised President Trump, taking turns complimenting his integrity, his message, his strength, his policies. Their leader sat smiling, nodding his approval.

“The greatest privilege of my life is to serve as vice president to the president who’s keeping his word to the American people,” Mike Pence said, starting things off.

“I am privileged to be here — deeply honored — and I want to thank you for your commitment to the American workers,” said Alexander Acosta, the secretary of labor.

Sonny Perdue, the agriculture secretary, had just returned from Mississippi and had a message to deliver. “They love you there,” he offered, grinning across the antique table at Mr. Trump.

Reince Priebus, the chief of staff whose job insecurity has been the subject of endless speculation, outdid them all, telling the president — and the assembled news cameras — “We thank you for the opportunity and the blessing to serve your agenda.”

So it went on Monday in the Cabinet Room of the White House, as Mr. Trump transformed a routine meeting of senior members of his government into a mood-boosting, ego-stroking display of support for himself and his agenda. While the president never explicitly asked to be praised, Mr. Pence set the worshipful tone, and Mr. Trump made it clear he liked what he heard.

“Thank you, Mick,” he told Mick Mulvaney, his budget director. “Good job,” he told Scott Pruitt, his E.P.A. chief. “Very good, Daniel,” he said to Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence.

The commander in chief, who has been known for decades as a fan of flattery and who speaks of himself in superlatives, even indulged in a bit of self-congratulation. He declared himself one of the most productive presidents in American history — perhaps Franklin D. Roosevelt could come close, he conceded — and proclaimed that he had led a “record-setting pace” of accomplishment.

Never mind that Mr. Trump has yet to sign any major legislation, or that his White House has been buffeted by legal and ethical questions surrounding the investigation into his campaign’s possible links to Russia and his firing of the F.B.I. director who had been leading that inquiry.

The highly unusual spectacle before the cabinet meeting got down to business and the TV cameras were banished seemed designed to deflect attention from the president’s faltering agenda and the accusations leveled against him last week by the fired F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, which are threatening to further overshadow his agenda and haunt his presidency.

Days before, Mr. Comey had charged that Mr. Trump had lied about his firing and inappropriately sought to influence the Russia investigation. On Monday, the president said the country was “seeing amazing results” from his leadership.

“I will say that never has there been a president, with few exceptions — in the case of F.D.R. he had a major Depression to handle — who’s passed more legislation, who’s done more things than what we’ve done,” Mr. Trump said. “We’ve been about as active as you can possibly be, and at a just about record-setting pace.”

The tableau in the Cabinet Room drew instant derision from critics. And within hours, Democrats had pounced.

In a video posted with the tweet, Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader, sat at a table with young staff members who, at his prompting, praised his performance on Sunday talk shows and the appearance of his hair. One repeated Mr. Priebus’s quotation word for word, prompting the senator and his aides to erupt into laughter.

Mr. Trump has been struggling with his legislative agenda. His effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act passed the House on a second try, but senators are toiling to put together their own version. And his administration is months away from unveiling either a major tax cut package or the sweeping infrastructure plan he has promised.

The endorsements from the administration’s highest officials may have served as a comforting counterpoint to Mr. Trump’s sinking poll numbers. Fifty-nine percent disapprove of the job he is doing as president, according to a June 11 Gallup tracking survey, with only 36 percent approving.

After his upbeat introductory remarks on Monday, the president went around the table asking for a statement from each cabinet member. One by one, they said their names and — as if working to outdo one another — paid homage to Mr. Trump, describing how honored they were to serve in his administration.

“Thank you for the opportunity to serve at S.B.A.,” said Linda McMahon, the administrator of the Small Business Administration, trumpeting “a new optimism” for small businesses.

Ben Carson, the housing secretary, called it “a great honor” to work for Mr. Trump, while Mr. Perdue offered congratulations for “the men and women you have gathered around this table.”

Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, told Mr. Trump, “It was a great honor traveling with you around the country for the last year, and an even greater honor to be here serving on your cabinet.”

A few cabinet members diverged from the apparent script. Jim Mattis, the secretary of defense — whose reputation for independence has been a comfort to Mr. Trump’s critics — refrained from personally praising the president, instead aiming his comments at American troops fighting and dying for their country.

“Mr. President, it’s an honor to represent the men and women of the Department of Defense, and we are grateful for the sacrifices our people are making in order to strengthen our military so our diplomats always negotiate from a position of strength,” Mr. Mattis said as Mr. Trump sat, stern-faced.

But the meeting still struck White House officials of past administrations as odd.

“I ran 16 Cabinet meetings during Obama’s 1st term,” Chris Lu, former President Barack Obama’s cabinet secretary, wrote on Twitter. “Our Cabinet was never told to sing Obama’s praises. He wanted candid advice not adulation.”

The show of support for the president was in keeping with an intense effort by the White House to boost Mr. Trump’s mood and change the subject from Mr. Comey’s damaging testimony last week.

In a television interview on Monday morning, the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump said her father “felt vindicated” and was eager to move on and talk about the rest of his agenda. Appearing on “Fox & Friends,” she said that “he feels incredibly optimistic.”

Reporters who witnessed the cabinet meeting’s prelude tried in vain to ask the president about his comments about Mr. Comey — specifically, whether he has tapes of their conversations, as he has hinted.

But Mr. Trump was in no mood to allow such questions to rain on his parade, and he dismissed the news media with a curt “thank you.”

“Finally held our first full @Cabinet meeting today,” he tweeted later, along with a video of the meeting-turned-pep-rally. “With this great team, we can restore American prosperity and bring real change to D.C.”

[The New York Times]

Reality

Also included in this North-Korean style meeting was a huge list of outright lies.

“I will say that never has there been a president — with few exceptions; in the case of FDR, he had a major Depression to handle — who’s passed more legislation, who’s done more things than what we’ve done, between the executive orders and the job-killing regulations that have been terminated. Many bills; I guess over 34 bills that Congress signed. A Supreme Court justice who’s going to be a great one … We’ve achieved tremendous success.”

Yet Trump has sign no major pieces of legislation, only a pile of Executive Orders and a few bills naming government buildings.

Media

Flynn, Paid by Turkey, Delayed ISIS Attack Plan That Turkey Opposed

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn pushed to delay a plan to retake Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) stronghold Raqqa that Turkey opposed, according to a new report.

McClatchy reports that former President Barack Obama and his national security adviser, Susan Rice, informed then President-elect Trump of a Pentagon plan to retake the city of Raqqa, an ISIS stronghold, with the help of Syrian Kurdish forces. Obama’s team informed Trump because while the plan would be approved under Obama, it would likely be executed after Trump took office.

Flynn told Rice to delay approving the mission. His explanation for the delay was not recorded, according to McClatchy, but the decision to delay approval lined up with Turkey’s interests in the region. Turkey has been a staunch opponent of the United States partnering with Kurdish forces in the region.

The recommendation to delay the mission approval took place during the Trump team’s transition period, ahead of Trump’s inauguration.

Flynn was under investigation for lobbying for Turkey during the presidential campaign without declaring it. He admitted earlier this year he lobbied on behalf of the Turkish government — and received payment of more than $500,000.

The report follows the revelation that Trump knew about Flynn being under investigation weeks before his inauguration, but appointed him at national security adviser anyway.

Flynn resigned from his post after it was revealed he discussed U.S. sanctions with the Russian ambassador before Trump took office and misled top administration officials, including Vice President Pence, about the nature of the talks.

[The Hill]

Former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort ‘Offered to Help Putin’

Paul Manafort is said to have proposed a strategy to nullify anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics a decade ago.

AP says documents and interviews support its claims about Mr Manafort.

Mr Manafort has insisted that he never worked for Russian interests.

He worked as Mr Trump’s unpaid campaign chairman from March until August last year, including the period during which the flamboyant New York billionaire clinched the Republican nomination.

He resigned after AP revealed that he had co-ordinated a secret Washington lobbying operation on behalf of Ukraine’s ruling pro-Russian political party until 2014.

Newly obtained business records link Mr Manafort more directly to Mr Putin’s interests in the region, AP says.

It comes as Trump campaign advisers are the subject of an FBI investigation and two congressional inquiries.

Investigators are reviewing whether the Trump campaign and its associates co-ordinated with Moscow to interfere in the 2016 presidential election campaign to damage Mr Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, a stern critic of Mr Putin.

Mr Manafort is said to have pitched the plans to aluminium magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Putin.

In a confidential strategy plan in 2005, AP reports, Mr Manafort proposed to influence politics, business dealings and news coverage in the US, Europe and the ex-Soviet republics to advance the interests of the Putin government.

At this time, US-Russia relations were deteriorating.

“We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success,” Mr Manafort is said to have written, adding that it would be offering “a great service that can refocus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government”.

Mr Manafort signed a $10m-a-year contract beginning in 2006, AP reports. How much work he did under this contract was unclear.

Mr Manafort and Mr Deripaska reportedly maintained a business relationship until at least 2009.

When Donald Trump picked Paul Manafort to be his campaign chair last March, the political operative was a relatively minor player in Washington, consigned to working for deep-pocketed foreign benefactors. That those benefactors have turned out to include Russian oligarchs and Ukrainian politicians with ties to Vladimir Putin is sure to cause growing concern in the Trump White House.

Now it appears increasingly likely that Mr Manafort is one of the “individuals associated with the Trump campaign”, in Director James Comey’s words, at the heart of an ongoing FBI investigation.

This would explain why White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer recently downplayed Mr Manafort’s connections to the Trump team, saying he “played a very limited role” in the campaign for “a very limited amount of time”.

Mr Manafort could face legal consequences if the FBI concludes that he did not properly disclose his work for foreign leaders. That would at the very least prove embarrassing for Mr Trump, given the power he delegated to Mr Manafort last summer.

If it turns out that Mr Manafort’s contacts with foreign interests continued during his time at the top of the Trump campaign, the situation for the White House could go from embarrassing to full-blown scandal.

In a statement to AP, Mr Manafort confirmed that he had worked for Mr Deripaska in several countries but insisted the work was being unfairly cast as “inappropriate or nefarious” as part of a “smear campaign”.

“I worked with Oleg Deripaska almost a decade ago representing him on business and personal matters in countries where he had investments,” Mr Manafort said in the statement.

“My work for Mr Deripaska did not involve representing Russian political interests.”

A spokesman for Mr Deripaska in Moscow declined to answer questions from AP.

Further allegations have been made in Ukraine about secret funds said to have been paid to Mr Manafort.

Lawmaker Serhiy Leshchenko said he had evidence that Mr Manafort had tried to hide a payment of $750,000 (£600,800) by a pro-Russian party in 2009.

Mr Manafort’s spokesman said the claim was “baseless”.

Mr Manafort was an adviser to Ukraine’s ex-President Viktor Yanukovych, but denies receiving any cash payments.

(h/t BBC)

Trump Takes Another Jab at Ex-49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick

President Donald Trump on Monday reprised his attacks on former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, telling supporters in Kentucky that “they like when people actually stand for the American flag.”

Standing before a cheering throng at the Exposition Center in Louisville, Trump referenced a report published Friday that anonymously quoted National Football League officials discussing Kaepernick’s slumping prospects as a free agent. Some loathed the police brutality-fueled protest that saw Kaepernick — and others — take a knee during the national anthem last season.

Others feared a backlash from their fans. Still others feared the president himself.

Or, as Trump put it during his Louisville rally: “They don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump. Do you believe that?”

The crowd roared and Trump, grinning, continued.

“I said, if I remember that one, I’m going to the people of Kentucky because they like when people actually stand for the American flag.”

This is well-trod territory for Trump. During the campaign, he described Kaepernick as disrespectful, the protest as “a sad thing” and suggested that the quarterback move abroad.

“Maybe he should find a country that works better for him,” he told a radio host in August, according to The Hill.

Director Spike Lee, meanwhile, has come to the quarterback’s defense. In an Instagram post on Sunday, the two posed for a selfie while Lee described the league’s apparent disinterest as “subterfuge” and “skullduggery.”

“What Crime Has Colin Committed?” Lee wrote. “Look At The QB’s Of All 32 Teams. This Is Some Straight Up Shenanigans, Subterfuge, Skullduggery And BS.”

(h/t NBC News)

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