Trump: America first after Putin

Here’s one direct consequence of President Trump’s America First policy:

A group of 11 countries announced Saturday that they had committed to resurrecting a sweeping multinational trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, without the United States.

Other countries are slowly but surely making progress on their own sweeping trade deals, without any participation from the United States. China is negotiating a potential deal with 16 Asia-Pacific countries, including Japan, India, and South Korea.

The European Union and Japan hope to strike separate trade pacts with a group of South American countries, Brazil and Argentina among them.

The rest of the world seems to have decided that they can make deals without the US which will put the US at a disadvantage.

But Trump backs away from the America First policy in some key places:

Trump heaped disdain on the former leaders of three US intelligence agencies — John O. Brennan, the former CIA director; James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence; and James Comey, the FBI director he fired this year — appearing to suggest that they were less trustworthy than Putin.
“I mean, give me a break — they’re political hacks,” Trump said. “You have Brennan, you have Clapper, and you have Comey. Comey’s proven now to be a liar, and he’s proven to be a leaker, so you look at that. And you have President Putin very strongly, vehemently says he had nothing to do with that.”

Putin has spoken nicely about Trump and, in general, Trump likes people who speak nicely about him … even if that person tried to disrupt elections in the US.

 

Donald Trump Jr. seems to tweet evidence that he committed a crime

The NY Times was ready to publish emails from Donald Jr, so he put them out himself and it’s not pretty (I reversed the order so they are in order they were sent):

Good morning

Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting.

The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.

This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government‘s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin.

What do you think is the best way to handle this information and would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly?

I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.

Best
Rob Goldstone

Thanks Rob I appreciate that. I am on the road at the moment but perhaps I just speak to Emin first. Seems we have some time and if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer. Could we do a call first thing next week when I am back?

Best,
Don

Hope all is well

Emin asked that l schedule a meeting with you and The Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow for this Thursday.

I believe you are aware of the meeting – and so wondered if 3pm or later on Thursday works for you?

i assume it would be at your office.

Best
Rob Goldstone

How about 3 at our offices? Thanks rob appreciate you helping set it up.

D

Perfect… I won’t sit in on the meeting, but will bring them at 3pm and introduce you etc.

I will send the names of the two people meeting with you for security when l have them later today.

Best
Rob

Great.  It will likely be Paul Manafort (campaign boss) my brother in law and me. 725 Fifth Ave 25th floor.

Now let’s look at the law on campaign finance at Election Law Blog:

It is illegal for a person to solicit a contribution to a campaign from a foreign individual or entity.

Hard to see how there is not a serious case here of solicitation. Trump Jr. appears to have knowledge of the foreign source and is asking to see it. As I explained earlier, such information can be considered a “thing of value” for purposes of the campaign finance law.

And it’s not just Jr, Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort also went to the meeting.

How stupid are these people? I wonder how much money they sent to those nice Nigerians?

Trump associates talk about the weather with Russian intelligence

It’s getting even more ridiculous with the Trump administration:

Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.

American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time that they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.

The officials interviewed in recent weeks said that, so far, they had seen no evidence of such cooperation.

The intercepted calls are different from the wiretapped conversations last year between Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States. During those calls, which led to Mr. Flynn’s resignation on Monday night, the two men discussed sanctions that the Obama administration imposed on Russia in December.

Gee, I wonder why Russia wanted Trump to win the election? Of course you have to trust the NSA and the anonymous officials to fully believe this, but the fact that this is believable tells us exactly what type of world we’re living in. Still, at least we didn’t elect someone who had a private email server.

Interesting point

So, it seems that Michael T. Flynn likes calling up Russia:

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s choice for national security adviser, cultivates close Russian contacts. He has appeared on Russia Today and received a speaking fee from the cable network, which was described in last week’s unclassified intelligence briefing on Russian hacking as “the Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet.”

According to a senior U.S. government official, Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the hacking. What did Flynn say, and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions? The Logan Act (though never enforced) bars U.S. citizens from correspondence intending to influence a foreign government about “disputes” with the United States. Was its spirit violated? The Trump campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

It seems the Trump administration has commented on this:

A first Trump official confirmed that Flynn had spoken with Kislyak by phone, but said the calls were before sanctions were announced and didn’t cover that topic. This official later added that Flynn’s initial call was to express condolences to Kislyak after the terrorist killing of the Russian ambassador to Ankara Dec. 19, and that Flynn made a second call Dec. 28 to express condolences for the shoot-down of a Russian plane carrying a choir to Syria. In that second call, Flynn also discussed plans for a Trump-Putin conversation sometime after the inauguration. In addition, a second Trump official said the Dec. 28 call included an invitation from Kislyak for a Trump administration official to visit Kazakhstan for a conference in late January.

Nancy Letourneau makes an interesting point:

But it also reminded me of this from Julian Borger a few days ago:

The Guardian has learned that the FBI applied for a warrant from the foreign intelligence surveillance (Fisa) court over the summer in order to monitor four members of the Trump team suspected of irregular contacts with Russian officials. The Fisa court turned down the application asking FBI counter-intelligence investigators to narrow its focus. According to one report, the FBI was finally granted a warrant in October, but that has not been confirmed, and it is not clear whether any warrant led to a full investigation.

It is very likely that the four members of Trump’s team that are referred to include Flynn, Manafort, Page and Cohen. Given that a U.S. official knows that Flynn had telephone contact with the Russian ambassador on Dec. 29th, it appears that the FBI got the warrant approved and has been surveilling these four men as recently as two weeks ago. That indicates that an investigation into the allegations made in the dossier is very much alive and ongoing. What happens to it after January 20th remains to be seen.

It could be that Flynn’s phone was being tapped. If so, we very well might soon know if the Trump official was telling the truth.

Update: It seems the Trump team is backtracking already:

Gen. Michael Flynn, President-elect Trump’s pick to be national security adviser, did speak to Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak by telephone on Dec. 29, the same day the Obama administration announced measures retaliating against Russia for interfering in the 2016 presidential campaign, two Trump transition officials confirm to NPR.

And there were multiple calls:

Michael Flynn, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for national security adviser, held five phone calls with Russia’s ambassador to Washington on the day the United States retaliated for Moscow’s interference in the U.S. presidential election, three sources familiar with the matter said.

That’s a lot of calls to set up a conversation.

Republicans don’t like democracy

It seems Russia is trying to undermine our democracy:

FBI Director James Comey and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Jr. are in agreement with a CIA assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to help Donald Trump win the White House, officials disclosed Friday, as President Obama issued a public warning to Moscow that it could face retaliation.

In the closed-door Senate briefing, CIA officials said it was now ‘‘quite clear’’ that electing Trump was one of Russia’s goals, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

CIA and FBI officials do not think Russia had a ‘‘single purpose’’ by intervening during the presidential campaign, officials said. In addition to the goal of helping elect Trump, Putin aimed to undermine confidence in the US electoral system, intelligence officials have told lawmakers.

Donald Trump is having none of it:

‘‘I think it’s ridiculous,’’ Trump said in an interview with ‘‘Fox News Sunday,’’ his first Sunday news-show appearance since the Nov. 8 election. ‘‘I think it’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it. . . . No, I don’t believe it at all.’’

He knows better than the CIA, NSA, and FBI. He’s probably getting messages through his fillings.

In North Carolina Republicans are taking a stand:

Having lost the governorship of North Carolina, Republicans there are resorting to a novel strategy to subvert the will of the voters: They are trying to strip the new governor of some of his powers.

First, for weeks after the close election, Gov. Pat McCrory refused to concede to Attorney General Roy Cooper, demanding recounts and alleging, without evidence, widespread voting fraud. It didn’t get him anywhere. So on Wednesday, during a hastily convened special session, Republican lawmakers introduced bills to, among other things, require State Senate confirmation of cabinet appointments; slash the number of employees who report to the governor to 300 from 1,500; and give Republicans greater clout on the Board of Elections, the body that sets the rules for North Carolina’s notoriously burdensome balloting.

and:

In North Carolina, the federal court also struck down some state House and Senate districts, and those judges recently ordered new districts drawn and special elections held next year.

North Carolina Republicans have used the current districts to achieve veto-proof majorities in both chambers. In addition, they hold 10 of the state’s 13 congressional seats. By contrast, statewide contests suggest a narrower gap between the parties. Two Republicans won statewide elections last month — President-elect Donald Trump with just under 50 percent of the vote and Sen. Richard Burr with 51 percent.

Expect more of this type of thing in the future. Our democracy is wandering in the wilderness.

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Republicans want to cut, Medicare, ACA, Medicaid, and Social Security

Let’s see what Republicans plan now that they hold the three parts of government:

Amid all the hand-wringing over Republican plans to eviscerate Medicare and Medicaid and repeal the Affordable Care Act, it shouldn’t be overlooked that the GOP has the knives out for Social Security too.

Johnson’s “Social Security Reform Act” changes the program’s benefit formula to provide modest benefit increases for the lowest-earning workers in the system— those who earned up to an annual average of about $22,105 over their lifetimes in inflation-indexed pay — with cuts for everyone else ranging from 17% to as much as 43%, compared with currently scheduled benefits, by 2080.

The act would cut way back on cost-of-living increases for retirees. It would do this by cutting out cost-of-living raises entirely for retirees earning adjusted gross income of more than $85,000 ($170,000 for couples) starting in December 2018, and using the chained consumer price index to calculate the COLA for all others. (The income threshold would be adjusted for inflation.)

Finally, the measure also raises the full retirement age, which is now pegged to reach 67 by 2022, to 69 by 2030. this means that workers taking early retirement, which is permitted as soon as age 62, would face a steeper cut in annual benefits for starting early.

Hey, that’s great news for all the working-class people that were so upset that they voted for Trump … if they wanted to make their lives worse.

Anyway, let’s move on to Russia:

Trump’s team lashed out at the agencies after The Washington Post reported that the CIA believed that Russia had intervened to undercut Clinton and lift Trump, and The New York Times reported that Russia had broken into Republican National Committee computer networks just as they had broken into Democratic ones, but had released documents only on the Democrats.

There are even some Republicans who say this is a bad thing:

The Republicans who lead the congressional committees overseeing intelligence, the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security take the opposite view. They say that Russia was behind the election meddling, but that the scope and intent of the operation need deep investigation, hearings and public reports.

“We cannot allow foreign governments to interfere in our democracy,” Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who is the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee and was considered by Trump for secretary of Homeland Security, said at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “When they do, we must respond forcefully, publicly and decisively.”

Of course Trump hasn’t been going to many of the intelligence briefings so he knows more about what’s going on than those that actually go. I assume that’s his argument.

Fun time to be an American and Trump isn’t even President yet.

Sweden rethinks neutrality

Things like this are making Sweden rethink its neutrality:

The Russian planes flew above southern parts of the Baltic Sea and east of Gotland.

A military spokesman told The Local that the planes had stayed in international airspace and that the Swedish air force had followed them only to inspect them more closely.

The past year has been one of heightened tensions between Sweden and its eastern neighbour, riddled with spy allegationssubmarine hunts and claims Russia rehearsed a military invasion of Gotland, strategically located in the middle of the Baltic Sea, back in March.

In September 2014 two SU-24 fighter-bombers allegedly entered Swedish airspace in what the former Foreign Minister Carl Bildt called “the most serious aerial incursion by the Russians” in almost a decade.

The following month a foreign submarine was spotted in Swedish waters, although the Swedish military was unable to determine where it came from.

Well, they’re rethinking it a bit:

Since the Kremlin seized and annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March 2014, public opinion has shifted from broad opposition to Swedish membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to one in three Swedes now telling pollsters they favor joining.

How does Russia react?

After Swedish media gave broad coverage to rising pro-NATO sentiments, Russia’s ambassador to Sweden, Viktor Tatarintsev, warned that Moscow might react militarily if Stockholm were to abandon neutrality and join the alliance.

“I don’t think it will become relevant in the near future, even though there has been a certain swing in public opinion. But if it happens there will be counter measures,” Tatarintsev told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper in June. “Putin pointed out that there will be consequences, that Russia will have to resort to a response of the military kind and reorientate our troops and missiles. The country that joins NATO needs to be aware of the risks it is exposing itself to.”

Ah, that will help.

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