Trump lawyer ‘paid by Ukraine’ to arrange White House talks

Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, received a secret payment of at least $400,000 (£300,000) to fix talks between the Ukrainian president and President Trump, according to sources in Kiev close to those involved.

The payment was arranged by intermediaries acting for Ukraine’s leader, Petro Poroshenko, the sources said, though Mr Cohen was not registered as a representative of Ukraine as required by US law.

Mr Cohen denies the allegation.

The meeting at the White House was last June. Shortly after the Ukrainian president returned home, his country’s anti-corruption agency stopped its investigation into Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

A high-ranking Ukrainian intelligence officer in Mr Poroshenko’s administration described what happened before the visit to the White House.

Mr Cohen was brought in, he said, because Ukraine’s registered lobbyists and embassy in Washington DC could get Mr Poroshenko little more than a brief photo-op with Mr Trump. Mr Poroshenko needed something that could be portrayed as “talks”.

This senior official’s account is as follows – Mr Poroshenko decided to establish a back channel to Mr Trump. The task was given to a former aide, who asked a loyal Ukrainian MP for help.

He in turn used personal contacts who attended a Jewish charity in New York state, Chabad of Port Washington. (A spokeman for the Chabad has asked us to make clear that officials there were not involved.)

This eventually led to Michael Cohen, the president’s lawyer and trusted fixer. Mr Cohen was paid $400,000.

There is no suggestion that Mr Trump knew about the payment.

A second source in Kiev gave the same details, except that the total paid to Mr Cohen was $600,000.

There was also support for the account from a lawyer in the US who has uncovered details of Mr Cohen’s finances, Michael Avenatti. He represents a porn actress, Stormy Daniels, in legal action against President Trump.

Avenatti said that Suspicious Activity Reports filed by Mr Cohen’s bank to the US Treasury showed he had received money from “Ukrainian interests”.

As well as Mr Cohen, the two Ukrainians said to have opened the backchannel for their president also denied the story.

The senior intelligence official in Kiev said Mr Cohen had been helped by Felix Sater, a convicted former mobster who was once Trump’s business partner. Mr Sater’s lawyer, too, denied the allegations.

The Ukrainian president’s office initially refused to comment but, asked by a local journalist to respond, a statement was issued calling the story a “blatant lie, slander and fake”.

As was widely reported last June, Mr Poroshenko was still guessing at how much time he would have with Mr Trump even as he flew to Washington.

The White House schedule said only that Mr Poroshenko would “drop in” to the Oval Office while Mr Trump was having staff meetings.

That had been agreed through official channels. Mr Cohen’s fee was for getting Mr Poroshenko more than just an embarrassingly brief few minutes of small talk and a handshake, the senior official said. But negotiations continued until the early hours of the day of the visit.

The Ukrainian side were angry, the official went on, because Mr Cohen had taken “hundreds of thousands” of dollars from them for something it seemed he could not deliver.

Right up until the last moment, the Ukrainian leader was uncertain if he would avoid humiliation.

“Poroshenko’s inner circle were shocked by how dirty this whole arrangement [with Cohen] was.”

Mr Poroshenko was desperate to meet Mr Trump because of what had happened in the US presidential election campaign.

In August 2016, the New York Times published a document that appeared to show Mr Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, getting millions of dollars from pro-Russian interests in Ukraine.

It was a page of the so-called “black ledger” belonging to the Party of the Regions, the pro-Russian party that employed Mr Manafort when he ran a political consultancy in Ukraine.

The page appeared to have come from Ukraine’s National Anti Corruption Bureau, which was investigating him. Mr Manafort had to resign.

Several sources in Ukraine said Mr Poroshenko authorised the leak, believing that Hillary Clinton was certain to win the presidency.

If so, this was a disastrous mistake – Ukraine had backed the losing candidate in the US election. Regardless of how the leak came about, it hurt Mr Trump, the eventual winner.

Ukraine was (and remains) at war with Russia and Russian-backed separatists and could not afford to make an enemy of the new US president.

So Mr Poroshenko appeared relieved as he beamed and paid tribute to Mr Trump in the Oval Office.

He boasted that he had seen the new president before Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin. He called it a “substantial visit”. He held a triumphant news conference in front of the north portico of the White House.

A week after Mr Poroshenko returned home to Kiev, Ukraine’s National Anti Corruption Bureau announced that it was no longer investigating Mr Manafort.

At the time, an official there explained to me that Mr Manafort had not signed the “black ledger” acknowledging receipt of the money. And anyway, he went on, Mr Manafort was American and the law allowed the bureau only to investigate Ukrainians.

[BBC]

Trump says China agreed to good deal for American farmers

President Trump touted in a tweet on Monday China’s promise to buy more US agricultural products following trade talks between the two countries, calling it a good deal for American farmers.

“China has agreed to buy massive amounts of ADDITIONAL Farm/Agricultural Products – would be one of the best things to happen to our farmers in many years!,” the president posted on his account, one of three tweets about China.

In another tweet, he questioned why former President Barack Obama failed to take action against China for the trade imbalance and suggested that he would work with Senate Democrats on developing fair trade policies.

“I ask Senator Chuck Schumer, why didn’t President Obama & the Democrats do something about Trade with China, including Theft of Intellectual Property etc.?,” Trump wrote. “They did NOTHING! With that being said, Chuck & I have long agreed on this issue! Fair Trade, plus, with China will happen!”

A third tweet said: “On China, Barriers and Tariffs to come down for first time. ”

About two hours later, he reiterated his earlier tweet that American farmers would benefit.

“Under our potential deal with China, they will purchase from our Great American Farmers practically as much as our Farmers can produce,” Trump said.

The final tweet said: “On China, Barriers and Tariffs to come down for first time. ”

In the joint US-China statement issued Saturday, China pledged to “significantly increase purchases of United States goods and services.”

“This will help support growth and employment in the United States. Both sides agreed on meaningful increases in United States agriculture and energy exports. The United States will send a team to China to work out the details,” it said.

The statement followed two days of talks involving Chinese Vice Premier Liu He and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

On Sunday, Mnuchin said the US was putting a trade war with China on hold by not imposing major tariffs after the concessions by Beijing.

“We’re putting the trade war on hold. So right now, we have agreed to put the tariffs on hold while we try to execute the framework,” Mnuchin said on “Fox News Sunday.” But Mnuchin and Lighthizer said that could change if China doesn’t follow through on its commitments.

“As this process continues, the United States may use all of its legal tools to protect our technology through tariffs, investment restrictions and export regulations,” Lighthizer said in a statement.

Trump during the presidential campaign railed about how China’s trade policies hurt American business, and his administration has been trying to get Beijing to take steps to lower its trade deficit with the US by at least $200 billion by the end of 2020.

[New York Post]

Reality

China agreed to the same deal we had before, with no commitment to buy a specific amount of any goods, and their “concession” was to buy the same products it was going to buy anyway.

Trump claimed he could easily win a trade war, yet got nothing he wanted, the trade gap hasn’t shrunk, and we just spent months harming US agriculture so we can be back to where we were before.

In extraordinary meeting, Trump gets involved in congressional oversight of Russia probe

President Trump met with top law enforcement and intelligence officials Monday to pressure them to turn over to Congress information about the origins of the FBI investigation into his own campaign.

The hour-long meeting in the Oval Office ended with an agreement to have the Justice Department’s inspector general investigate any “irregularities” in the investigation into the Trump campaign, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly will also meet with congressional leaders and administration officials to mediate the dispute over documents, she said.

The White House characterized the meeting as routine, and said it was scheduled last week. But it came a day after Trump demanded that the Justice Department investigate whether the FBI spied on his campaign for president in 2016.

The episode underscores the unique position Trump finds himself in: As president, he has the constitutional power to give orders to officials overseeing the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election — even though his own campaign is the subject of that investigation.

Trump’s lead lawyer in the probe, Rudy Giuliani, said Monday that Trump called the meeting in his official capacity as president.

“He wants to make sure that the relevant members of Congress get a chance to see what they are entitled to see,” he told USA TODAY. But he also said that whether Trump agrees to an interview with investigators could turn on the release of those documents, which would show the original sources of information that led to the probe.

“I think they could help us, if they show there is no original basis for the investigation,” Giuliani said.

He added, “Every time we move in the direction of an interview, something weird happens.”

Law enforcement and intelligence officials have resisted, saying it could compromise their investigation and imperil covert sources.

In the Oval Office Monday, Trump met with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Sanders said. The meeting lasted less than an hour.

The meeting was scheduled last week, Sanders said — before Trump made his demand Sunday.

“I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes – and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!” Trump tweeted.

Trump’s demand was a reference to a New York Times report that a secret FBI source met with Trump campaign official several times during the 2016 campaign. The informant was working for the FBI as part of its ongoing investigation into Russian interference with the American election.

Following that demand, the Justice Department announced that it was referring the matter to Justice’s inspector general to determine whether there was “any impropriety or political motivation in how the FBI conducted it counterintelligence investigation of persons suspected of involvement with the Russian agents who interfered in the 2016 presidential election.”

[USA Today]

Reality

We have never had before an american president who has used the Justice Department as his own private investigators.

Not even Nixon went this far. This is your democracy.

All this over a Fox News conspiracy theory that we know is false.

Trump Throws Chuck Schumer a Shoutout on China Trade Talks: We ‘Have Long Agreed’

The White House announced over the weekend that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping had come to an agreement that would see China reduce its trade deficit with the US, and in exchange the US would remove tariffs.

The halt on tariffs cooled off a potential trade war between the two countries, but it’s not clear that the new agreement is much of a win for Trump.

“I ask Senator Chuck Schumer, why didn’t President Obama & the Democrats do something about Trade with China, including Theft of Intellectual Property etc.?” Trump tweeted on Monday morning. “They did NOTHING!”

“With that being said, Chuck & I have long agreed on this issue!” he added. “Fair Trade, plus, with China will happen!”

[Mediaite]

Reality

China intellectual property theft was actually a big deal with Obama.

Trump even continued with Obama’s anti-hacking policies toward China.
(https://www.politico.com/story/2017/11/08/trump-obama-china-hacking-deal-244658)

Trump Jr. Met With Foreign Group Offering to Help Trump Win Election

Donald Trump Jr. met with an Israeli social media expert who pitched a multimillion dollar campaign to help his father win the 2016 presidential election just months before the vote, The New York Times reports. Blackwater founder Erik Prince reportedly arranged the August 2016 meeting, which was also attended by George Nader, an adviser to the United Arab Emirates who is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in the Russia probe. Nader is said to have informed Trump Jr. that the crown princes in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates wanted to offer as much support as they could to help the older Trump win.

The social media expert, Joel Zamel, reportedly attended the meeting at Trump Tower on behalf of a company that specializes in online manipulation and had already drawn up a massive campaign to elect Trump that involved using thousands of fake social media accounts. The company, Psy-Group, whose motto is “Shape Reality,” reportedly went so far as to consult an American law firm about the legality of its proposal. The meeting has come under scrutiny by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, with investigators now trying to determine whether these offers were connected to Russia in any way.

[The Daily Beast]

Trump urged postmaster general to double rates on Amazon

President Trump has reportedly urged the U.S. postmaster general to double shipping rates for Amazon.com and other companies amid months of his continued criticism that the online retailer is costing the Postal Service “billions” of dollars in revenue.

Trump has personally met with Postmaster General Megan Brennan multiple times since 2017 to petition her for a hike on rates for Amazon and other firms that ship packages, The Washington Post reported Friday, citing officials familiar with the conversations.

The president’s demands came despite counsel from close advisers and top Postal Service employees that Amazon, the largest shipper of packages through USPS, actually helps keep it afloat financially.

According to the Post, Brennan explained to Trump in their conversations that the Postal Service is bound by its contracts with retail companies, noting that to change them would require a review by the independent regulatory agency that oversees the USPS.

Trump signed an executive order last month to create a task force to look into the Postal Service’s “unsustainable financial path.”

USPS has given Amazon a shipping discount due to the volume of packages it ships, but has not released details on its agreement with the retailer. Analysts have estimated that the company uses the Postal Service for about 40 percent of its shipping.

Trump also reportedly met with different groups of senior advisers including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and former National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn on the service’s financial dealings and whether Amazon was in fact costing the USPS “massive amounts of money,” as he once claimed in a tweet.

The president has frequently taken aim at The Washington Post, which Amazon owner Jeff Bezos purchased in 2013.

[The Hill]

Leak of Mueller Russia probe questions ‘disgraceful’, Trump tweets

President Trump said Tuesday it’s “disgraceful” that a list of questions that the special counsel investigating Russian election interference wants to ask him was “leaked” to the news media.

The New York Times late Monday published the nearly four dozen questions given to Trump’s attorneys, covering Trump’s motivations for firing FBI Director James Comey last May and contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russians.

“It is so disgraceful that the questions concerning the Russian Witch Hunt were ‘leaked’ to the media,” Trump tweeted Tuesday. “No questions on Collusion. Oh, I see…you have a made up, phony crime, Collusion, that never existed, and an investigation begun with illegally leaked classified information. Nice!”

In a second tweet, Trump said: “It would seem very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened.”

Trump repeatedly has called the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller a “witch hunt” and insists there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia. Trump has also accused Comey of leaking classified information. Mueller was appointed to oversee the investigation by the deputy attorney general after Trump fired Comey in May 2017.

Although Mueller’s team has indicated to Trump’s lawyers that he’s not considered a target, investigators remain interested in whether the president’s actions constitute obstruction of justice and want to interview him about several episodes in office.
Many of the questions obtained by the Times center on the obstruction issue, including his reaction to Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions’ recusal from the Russia investigation, a decision Trump has angrily criticized.

Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow declined to comment to the Associated Press on Monday night, as did White House lawyer Ty Cobb.

The questions also touch on Russian meddling and whether the Trump campaign coordinated in any way with the Kremlin. In one question obtained by the Times, Mueller asks what Trump knew about campaign staff, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, reaching out to Moscow.

[Los Angeles Times]

Trump declares unemployment problem solved and announces plan to let low-skill guest workers in

At his Saturday night rally in Michigan, Donald Trump said that the nation’s employment problems are solved and announced that he is let low-skill workers come into the country to do agriculture work.

“And for the farmers, OK, it is going to get good. And we’re going to let your guest workers come in,” he said. “We’re going to have strong borders, but we have to have your workers come in… The employment picture is so good, so strong, that we have to let people in.

While talking a lot about the wall, Trump said that he would allow guest workers to come in. But, he said, he would then want them to leave.

“Guest workers. Don’t we agree? We have to have ’em,” he said.

The line got tepid applause.

[Raw Story]

Media

President Trump threatens political repercussions over 2026 World Cup bid

President Donald Trump waded into the campaign aimed at bringing the 2026 FIFA World Cup to the United States on Thursday, tweeting out a veiled threat to withdraw political support from nations who vote against the bid.

In a wildly surprising development, Trump, who previously has shown little appetite for soccer, appeared to throw his full backing behind the three-pronged bid that would see the U.S., Mexico and Canada potentially act as co-hosts of soccer’s biggest tournament.

“The U.S. has put together a STRONG bid w/ Canada & Mexico for the 2026 World Cup,” Trump wrote. “It would be a shame if countries that we always support were to lobby against the U.S. bid. Why should we be supporting these countries when they don’t support us (including at the United Nations)?”

The business mogul turned politician did not specify which countries he was referring to, but the only other contender in the race to be host is Morocco. Due to the political nature of FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, and the tactical nature of voting in such matters, it is widely expected that Morocco will have the support of virtually the entire African continent.

Other voting blocks, including those from Europe and Asia, still are seen as very much up for grabs, with the vote due to be finalized June 13, just before the start of this summer’s World Cup in Russia.

“From the beginning, we have received strong support from the Canadian, Mexican and United States governments,” a statement from the bid committee read, in response to Trump’s remarks. “We are grateful for that support and together our three countries are ready to welcome players and fans from around the world to an extraordinary FIFA World Cup in 2026.”

[USA Today]

Reality

FIFA pointed to its rules governing the selection of the 2026 World Cup hosts on Friday, one day after U.S. President Donald Trump questioned supporting countries that lobby against a joint North American bid.

The governing body’s code of ethics prohibits government interference in all member countries’ respective national soccer federations, and the bidding regulations also warn against “any undue influence on the outcome.”

Trump Thanks Mary Matalin for Praising His Job Performance by Saying ‘I Can Die Happy Now’

President Trump took to Twitter this morning to thank political commentator Mary Matalinfor recent comments she made praising him.

In an interview last month with PJ Media, Matalin said she can “die happy now” because of how well he’s doing.

She offered him specific praise on tax reform.

It’s unclear why Trump is only just now bringing up the comment from a month ago, but he thanked Matalin for it all the same:

[Mediaite]

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