Trump’s intelligence chief resigned after the White House repeatedly suppressed his warnings about Russian interference

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats repeatedly found his warnings about the threat posed by Russia suppressed by the White House, The New York Times reported Sunday amid his resignation from the post.

According to The Times, Coats has often found himself at odds with President Donald Trump over Russia, a situation that worsened in recent months.

Coats saw Russia as an adversary to the US, The Times wrote, and pushed for closer cooperation with European countries to counter it, but the White House did not agree.

Several times Coats saw his language on the Kremlin’s activities watered down by the White House, according to The Times.

A secret report by Coats on Russia’s attempt to interfere in the 2018 midterms by spreading disinformation was reportedly altered by the White House. A public statement on Coats’ conclusions contained less critical language than the original, The Times said.

A former senior intelligence official told The Washington Post that Coats felt marginalized on national security issues by the president and had come to see his departure as inevitable.

According to reports, Trump had been discussing replacing Coats for months.

Trump has long faced scrutiny for his warm comments on Russia and his changing positions on whether Russia interfered to help him secure his 2016 election victory.

Robert Mueller concluded in the special counsel’s Russia investigation that there was insufficient evidence to charge the president or his aides with criminally conspiring with Russia in 2016.

Trump in a tweet Sunday announced that Coats would step down in mid-August and nominated Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas as his replacement.

In his tweet, he thanked Coats for his service but offered him no praise.

“The intelligence community is stronger than ever and increasingly well prepared to meet new challenges and opportunities,” Coats wrote in his resignation letter, citing the recent appointment of an official charged with countering foreign election interference.

During his time as director of national intelligence, Coats had publicly contradicted Trump on the president’s claims regarding Russia and North Korea.

In a statement released after Trump’s summit in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin in July 2018, Coats rebutted the president’s apparent acceptance of Putin’s claim that Russia had not interfered in the 2016 election.

At a national security conference in Colorado last year, Coats reacted with incredulity when told Trump had invited Putin to the White House at the summit.

“That’s going to be special,” he remarked.

And in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee in January, Coats contradicted Trump’s claims that North Korea no longer posed a threat because of his summits with its leader, Kim Jong Un.

[Business Insider]

Trump gives Putin light-hearted warning: ‘Don’t meddle in the election’

President Donald Trump issued a breezy warning to his Russian counterpart Friday against meddling in US elections, laughing and smiling as he told his counterpart not to interfere.”Don’t meddle in the election, please,” Trump said, smirking and wagging his finger at Putin. He only raised the matter after being questioned by reporters whether he would issue a warning.”Yes, of course I will,” Trump said before making his joking aside.It was an off-hand moment that came at the start of the men’s first meeting since the conclusion of Robert Mueller’s investigation.Trump said he enjoyed a “very, very good relationship” with Putin, and said “many positive things are going to come out of the relationship.””We have many things to discuss, including trade and some disarmament, some little protectionism, in a very positive way,” Trump said.

When he made his playful admonishment against election interference, Putin sat beside him laughing. Trump’s aides, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, also smiled.It was hardly the serious confrontation that many of Trump’s critics — and even some officials in the US government — have been hoping he’d make ahead of the 2020 contest, which could be vulnerable again to foreign meddling efforts.Instead, it appeared to be Trump’s way of injecting levity into what remains a deeply fractured Washington-Moscow relationship.In the seven months since Trump last encountered his Russian counterpart, the Russians detained a former Marine on espionage charges and were accused by Mueller in his report of waging a “sweeping and systematic” influence campaign during the 2016 election.That’s a distant cry from the warmed-up relations with Russia that Trump entered office vowing to pursue. When he sat down with Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit here on Friday, ties between the two countries were near the lowest ebb since the Cold War.In Trump’s view, that’s the fault of Democrats and overzealous investigators intent on finding links between his campaign and Russian officials. As he greeted Putin for the first time since Mueller concluded his investigation and released a final report, there was little to indicate his view of Moscow’s influence efforts has changed or that his prickliness on the topic had waned.”I’ll have a very good conversation with him,” Trump told reporters at the White House as he was departing for Japan.But he declined to detail what he might say regarding election meddling, or whether he would raise it at all.”What I say to him is none of your business,” Trump said.

[CNN]

Trump: Tech companies, not Russia, trying to ‘rig the election’

President Donald Trump today suggested tech giants like Google and Twitter are the greatest threat to the integrity of the 2020 presidential election — and said anti-conservative bias among the companies had a greater impact in 2016 than Russian meddling.

“Let me tell you, they’re trying to rig the election,” Trump said in a phone interview on Fox Business. “That’s what we should be looking at, not that witch hunt, the phony witch hunt.”

Charging Google with being “totally biased” in favor of Democrats and fomenting “hatred for the Republicans,” Trump downplayed Russia’s 2016 social media manipulation: “You know, they talk about Russia because they had some bloggers—and by the way, those bloggers, some of them were going both ways. They were for Clinton and for Trump.”

Lawmakers, academics and U.S. intelligence officials are in broad agreement that Russia mounted a vast online disinformation campaign ahead of the 2016 election with the aim of inflaming American political and social tensions, supporting Trump’s candidacy and depressing Democratic voter turnout.

Trump’s comments reiterated claims that he and other prominent Republicans have made alleging that tech companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter are biased against conservatives and deliberately stifle their accounts and content. The companies flatly deny these allegations.

His criticisms came immediately after an extended broadside against Twitter for allegedly blocking people from following his account on the site, a claim the president has made repeatedly without evidence.

Twitter didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. A Google spokesperson said, “We build our products with extraordinary care and safeguards to be a trustworthy source of information for everyone, without any regard for political viewpoint,” noting the company’s publicly available criteria for determining the quality of search results.

[Politico]

Trump accuses NYT reporter of breaking the law by alerting FBI to Kushner meetings with Russians

President Donald Trump accused a New York Times reporter of breaking the law by tipping off the FBI to developments in the Russia investigation.

Times reporter Michael Schmidt alerted the FBI’s assistant director for public affairs in March 2017 that he and some colleagues had found out Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn had met in December 2016 with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, who then set up a meeting between Trump’s son-in-law and a Russian banker.

Schmidt’s email was then forwarded to FBI special agent Peter Strzok, who was leading the bureau’s Russia investigation, and Jonathan Moffa, an FBI counterintelligence officer, reported the Washington Examiner.

Trump reacted with a pair of tweets suggesting that Schmidt had fed false information to the FBI.

“Just revealed that the Failing and Desperate New York Times was feeding false stories about me, & those associated with me, to the FBI,” Trump tweeted. “This shows the kind of unprecedented hatred I have been putting up with for years with this Crooked newspaper. Is what they have done legal?”

[Raw Story]

Trump says he’d accept dirt from a foreign government to see ‘if it’s bad’

Fox & Friends knows President Trump’s got some explaining to do.

After Trump caught heat for telling ABC News that he’d be open to receiving dirt on an opponent from a foreign government, the subject inevitably came up when he called in to Fox & Friends on Friday. The hosts invited Trump to “clarify” his comments on Thursday, but his birthday-morning call didn’t do much to settle the dust.

While Trump told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that he would “maybe” report information from a foreign government to the FBI, he told Fox “of course” he’d present “anything bad” to the agency.

“I don’t think anyone would present me with anything bad because they know how much I love this country,” he began. But if he were hypothetically offered dirt by someone who momentarily forgot about his patriotism, he would definitely check it out. “Of course you have to look at it because, if you don’t look at it, you’re not going to know if it’s bad,” he explained, suggesting a foreign government could be reaching out to let him know how great his opponent is. “But of course you give it to the FBI or report it to the attorney general or somebody like that.”

While Trump previously conflated opposition research and interference from a foreign government, on Friday he only mentioned undefined “bad” information, leaving it up to interpretation exactly what would be worth reporting. He wouldn’t want “bad” things affecting an election, Trump concluded — “I thought that was made clear.” 

[The Week]

Trump tries to defend foreign dirt comments by noting he meets with world leaders all the time

President Trump is out with a defense of his foreign dirt comments, and it’s a real doozy.

Trump took to Twitter on Thursday after coming under fire for saying in an interview with ABC that he would accept dirt on an election opponent offered by a foreign government and wouldn’t necessarily alert the FBI.

Amid this firestorm, the president on Twitter suggested that taking dirt from a foreign government and holding meetings with heads of state are basically the same thing, sarcastically asking if he should call the FBI after meeting with Queen Elizabeth II or the Prince of Wales. Trump deleted and reposted the tweet after originally writing “Prince of Whales.”

Trump also complained about his “full answer” not being played on the news while not explaining what context or nuance is supposedly missing. In the interview, George Stephanopoulos specifically asked Trump whether 2020 candidates should accept information on their opponents from foreign governments, and he said that “I think I’d take it” and would only “maybe” go to the FBI if he “thought there was something wrong” while defending this as not being “interference.” ABC’s Meridith McGraw noted on Twitter that the network “did not edit” his answer.

[The Week]

Trump tests out new ‘no obstruction’ claims: ‘Facts that led to no obstruction’

President Donald Trump ended a day on the golf course Sunday with another attack on Democrats claiming “no collusion and no obstruction,” but with a unique twist.

This time around, Trump claims that the “facts led to no obstruction,” he tweeted. The facts actually led special counsel Robert Mueller to ten examples of obstruction that he handed over to Congress.

“And as set forth in the report, after that investigation, if we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so. We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime,” Mueller said during his press conference in May.

[Raw Story]

Reality

Donald Trump wrote the Democrats should “Go back to work” while on a golf course.

Kushner unsure whether he’d alert FBI if Russians request another meeting

On “Axios on HBO,” Jared Kushner said he doesn’t know whether he’d call the FBI if he were to receive an email today like the one before the campaign’s Trump Tower meeting, which had the subject line: “Re: Russia – Clinton – private and confidential.”

  • Kushner said this after a tense exchange about the email he received to set up the infamous Trump Tower meeting. 

Why this matters: Kushner is now in the West Wing as senior adviser to the president. Shouldn’t an email with an offer of help from Russians trigger a mental alarm? This bolsters the perception that President Trump’s inner circle still doesn’t fully recognize the ongoing threat of Russian interference in American elections. 

  • Kushner’s response comes after FBI Director Christopher Wray said in congressional testimony that he would recommend that in the future, people contact the FBI if a foreign government offers campaign support.

What he’s saying: Kushner said people are being “self-righteous” and playing “Monday morning quarterback” by asking him why he didn’t call the FBI when he saw the email offering help for the Trump campaign from Russia.

  • “Let me put you in my shoes at that time. OK, I’m running three companies, I’m helping run the campaign. I get an email that says show up at 4 instead of 3 to a meeting that I had been told about earlier that I didn’t know what the hell it was about.”

Asked if he’d call the FBI if it happened again, Kushner said: “I don’t know. It’s hard to do hypotheticals, but the reality is is that we were not given anything that was salacious.”

[Axios]

Media

Trump says Russia helped elect him – then quickly backtracks

Donald Trump has denied that Russia helped elect him president, less than an hour after he admitted Russia did help to elect him president.

In a flurry of tweets lashing out at people and concepts including the special counsel Robert Mueller, “fake news media” and “this phony crime”, Trump, for the first time, said Russia aided his 2016 presidential win.

“Russia, Russia, Russia!” the president tweeted on Thursday morning.

“That’s all you heard at the beginning of this Witch Hunt Hoax. And now Russia has disappeared because I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected.”

For a president who has previously denied Russia interfered in the 2016 election at all – despite the conclusions of US intelligence agencies – the admission of Russian help was startling.

But soon after Trump’s statement, he made a prompt about-turn.

“Russia did not help me get elected. You know who got me elected? You know who got me elected? I got me elected. Russia did not help me at all,” Trump said during a White House press conference.

On Wednesday Mueller said his two-year investigation had “established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome”.

Mueller’s report states that “the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion”.

The report also detailed 11 instances of potential obstruction of justice by Trump and his campaign. Mueller has said charging Trump with a crime was “not an option we could consider”, because of justice department policy.

Mueller added: “If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that.”

Trump was en route to Colorado on Thursday morning, to address a graduation ceremony for the US air force academy.

[The Guardian]

Trump Admits Donald Trump Jr Called Him Before the Trump Tower Meeting With Russian Lawyer

President Donald Trump’s Rose Garden speech on Wednesday was notable largely just because it was so absurd, but he also dropped a piece of information about the infamous Trump Tower meeting before the 2016 election for the first time.

The president suggested that an opposition research firm was behind the Trump Tower meeting, told the press that they should be “ashamed” of themselves and announced that he won’t work with Democrats until they stop investigating him.

But, at one moment, the president said that his son, Donald Trump Jr., called him just before the famous Trump Tower meeting in which he met with a Russian lawyer.

Trump was talking about the meeting and the phone calls that were made around the time that had been scrutinized by Mueller’s team. The president said, “[Donald Trump Jr.] had the meeting and he called me and he had the meeting after.”

This is just another revelation in the long string of disclosures about that meeting. At first, President Trump told Reuters that he didn’t know about the meeting until the New York Times broke a story on it.

When the Times wrote that story, Trump Jr. released a statement. At first, the president said that he had nothing to do with the statement but, finally, the White House admitted that he at least helped his son put the statement together.

Then, in the summer of 2018, Trump’s longtime attorney Michael Cohen said that the president knew about the meeting in advance.

The meeting is important because it took place in the summer of 2016, only a few months before the election and because Trump’s then-campaign manager Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner were both in the meeting. Kushner struggled to get a security clearance because he lied about his contacts with foreign officials

But, Wednesday is the first time that the president said that he talked to Donald Trump Jr. before he went into the meeting.

[IJR]

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