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Trump-Russia Affair Page 2:







The White House reportedly had been told that Russia put bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan a year earlier than previously known—and even Republicans are demanding more information.
By Charlotte Klein

The White House has apparently known of possible Russian bounties on Americans in Afghanistan since early 2019, pushing the timeline back a full year earlier than when the administration was initially thought to have learned of the intelligence. The shocking findings that a Russian military intelligence agency offered rewards to Taliban-linked militants for attacks on U.S. and coalition forces is something that President Donald Trump was previously reported to have known and done nothing about since late March, despite claiming on Sunday that no one told him about such information. But the Associated Press reported on Tuesday that Trump was briefed at least twice on the matter in 2019, in his written daily intelligence briefings as well as by then-national security adviser John Bolton, who reportedly told colleagues in March 2019 that he had briefed the president on the intelligence assessment. Bolton declined to comment on this when asked by the outlet on Monday, but did suggest that Trump has a tendency to feign ignorance when trying to skirt accountability. “He can disown everything if nobody told him about it,” Bolton said on Sunday’s Meet the Press. *** Why does Trump continue to protect Putin and Russia at the expense of America and American lives? In addition, why does he get mad when he is told what Russia is up to?

Opinion by Greg Sargent

With President Trump, it’s often difficult to locate the point where his utter lack of self awareness blends into sheer shamelessness. This poses an urgent problem with the spin he is now offering amid revelations that U.S. intelligence indicated Russia may have paid bounties to Taliban-linked militias for the killing of U.S. troops. Trump is now defending himself not just by claiming he wasn’t briefed on that intelligence, or just by contesting the significance of that intelligence. Instead, he’s declaring that the entire story simply doesn’t exist — that is, he’s suggesting no intelligence ever actually indicated anything like this. Yet this defense is itself deeply self-incriminating. It only underscores what critics are saying — that at minimum, Trump should be taking this intelligence seriously and trying to get to the bottom of what it actually does indicate, even if the worst interpretation proves wrong.

Opinion by Max Boot

On Friday, the New York Times reported that “in the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests.” That investigation may well be continuing under the auspices of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. We don’t know what Mueller has learned. But we can look at the key, publicly available evidence that both supports and undercuts this explosive allegation. Here is some of the evidence suggesting “Individual 1” could be a Russian “asset”: — Trump has a long financial history with Russia. As summarized by Jonathan Chait in an invaluable New York magazine article: “From 2003 to 2017, people from the former USSR made 86 all-cash purchases — a red flag of potential money laundering — of Trump properties, totaling $109 million. In 2010, the private-wealth division of Deutsche Bank also loaned him hundreds of millions of dollars during the same period it was laundering billions in Russian money. ‘Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,’ said Donald Jr. in 2008. ‘We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia,’ boasted Eric Trump in 2014.” According to Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s guilty plea of lying to Congress, Trump was even pursuing his dream of building a Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign with the help of a Vladimir Putin aide. These are the kind of financial entanglements that intelligence services such as the FSB typically use to ensnare foreigners, and they could leave Trump vulnerable to blackmail.

President Trump’s obstructions of justice were broader than those of Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton, and the special counsel’s investigation proved it. How come the report didn’t say so?

By Jeffrey Toobin

Robert Mueller submitted his final report as the special counsel more than a year ago. But even now—in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and the Administration’s tragically bungled response to it, and the mass demonstrations following the killings by police of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others—President Trump remains obsessed with what he recently called, on Twitter, the “Greatest Political Crime in the History of the U.S., the Russian Witch-Hunt.” In the past several months, the President has mobilized his Administration and its supporters to prove that, from its inception, the F.B.I.’s investigation into possible ties between his 2016 campaign and the Russian government was flawed, or worse. Attorney General William Barr has directed John Durham, the United States Attorney in Connecticut, to conduct a criminal investigation into whether F.B.I. officials, or anyone else, engaged in misconduct at the outset. Senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has also convened hearings on the investigation’s origins. The President has tweeted about Mueller more than three hundred times, and has repeatedly referred to the special counsel’s investigation as a “scam” and a “hoax.” Barr and Graham agree that the Mueller investigation was illegitimate in conception and excessive in execution—in Barr’s words, “a grave injustice” that was “unprecedented in American history.” According to the Administration, Mueller and his team displayed an unseemly eagerness to uncover crimes that never existed. In fact, the opposite is true. Mueller had an abundance of legitimate targets to investigate, and his failures emerged from an excess of caution, not of zeal. Especially when it came to Trump, Mueller avoided confrontations that he should have welcomed. He never issued a grand-jury subpoena for the President’s testimony, and even though his office built a compelling case for Trump’s having committed obstruction of justice, Mueller came up with reasons not to say so in his report. In light of this, Trump shouldn’t be denouncing Mueller—he should be thanking him.

"And yet the president will not confront the Russians on this score, denies being briefed," Pelosi told ABC's "This Week."
By Allan Smith

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Sunday that President Donald Trump "wants to ignore any allegation against Russia" as he and his administration deny ever being briefed about intelligence that Russians have offered to pay bounties to Taliban fighters who kill Americans. Speaking with ABC's "This Week," Pelosi said, "This is as bad as it gets." "And yet the president will not confront the Russians on this score, denies being briefed," Pelosi said. "Whether he is or not, his administration knows and our allies — some of our allies who work with us in Afghanistan had been briefed and accept this report." "Just as I have said to the president: With him all roads lead to Putin," she added. "I don't know what the Russians have on the president, politically, personally, financially, or whatever it is, but he wants to ignore, he wants to bring them back to the G8 despite the annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine, despite what they yielded to him in Syria, despite his intervention into our election which is well documented by our intelligence community, and despite now possibly this allegation, which we should have been briefed on." The U.S gathered intelligence on the Russian bounty offers, three people briefed on the matter told NBC News. The New York Times was first to report on the intelligence, and other outlets have confirmed too.

Members of Congress seek answers on reports about Russian bounties on U.S. soldiers
By RISHIKA DUGYALA

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday blasted the president for being beholden to the Russian government, following a startling New York Times report that Russia secretly offered bounties to Taliban fighters to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan. “Just as I have said to the president: With him, all roads lead to Putin,” Pelosi said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin. “I don't know what the Russians have on the president, politically, personally, or financially.” The California Democrat, who is part of the so-called Gang of Eight that gets intelligence briefings, said she was not aware of the situation and has asked for a report to Congress. “This is as bad as it gets, and yet the president will not confront the Russians on this score,” Pelosi said. According to the Times report, published Friday, the bounties were offered amid peace talks to end the long-running war in Afghanistan. The report cites U.S. officials briefed on the intelligence, who also said President Donald Trump was made aware and the White House’s National Security Council discussed a response, but didn’t take action. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called for answers. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said he expects the administration to take these allegations seriously. Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez said the Senate should vote on new sanctions against Russia.

Situation Room

Russian intelligence officers for the military intelligence GRU recently offered money to Taliban militants in Afghanistan as rewards if they killed US or UK troops there, a European intelligence official told CNN. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement that the President and Vice President Mike Pence were not briefed "on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence." CNN national security analyst Samantha Vinograd discusses the latest developments with Wolf Blitzer. Source: CNN

Fierce response from top Democrats after US intelligence finding was reportedly briefed to Trump in March, but the White House has yet to act
Guardian staff

Outrage has greeted media reports that say American intelligence officials believe a Russian military intelligence unit offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing foreign soldiers in Afghanistan, including targeting Americans. The story first appeared in the New York Times, citing its sources as unnamed officials briefed on the matter, and followed up by the Washington Post. The reports said that the US had come to the conclusion about the operation several months ago and offered rewards for successful attacks last year. The Times wrote: “The intelligence finding was briefed to Trump, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March.” White House officials apparently drew up several possible options to retaliate against the Kremlin, ranging from a diplomatic reprimand right through to fresh sanctions. However, the White House has so far not taken any action. It is not clear if bounties were ever paid out for successfully killing American soldiers. As the news broke it triggered a fierce response from top Democrats, especially those who have long pointed to what they say is Trump’s overly close relationship to Russia’s autocratic leader, Vladimir Putin. Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, who was Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016, said: “Trump was cozying up to Putin and inviting him to the G7 all while his administration reportedly knew Russia was trying to kill US troops in Afghanistan and derail peace talks with the Taliban.” - Why does trump continue to protect Putin?

By Chas Danner

A Russian spy unit secretly offered bounties last year to Taliban-linked militants for the killing of U.S. coalition forces in Afghanistan, including American troops, the New York Times reported Friday. President Trump was briefed on the intelligence and the U.S. developed a range of possible responses to the significant Russian escalation, including diplomatic efforts and new sanctions, but the White House has not authorized any of them, according to U.S. intelligence officials who spoke with the Times. (The officials didn’t offer any explanation as to why.) The intelligence officials believe that militants did collect some of the bounty money after completing successful operations against coalition forces, but it’s not yet clear if any of the deaths of the 20 American servicemembers who were killed in combat in Afghanistan last year are linked to the Russian operation. The Washington Post added in its own subsequent report that “it was not immediately clear whether the militants approached by Russia as part of the initiative had succeeded in killing Americans or allied forces.” The National Security Council discussed the intelligence during an interagency meeting at the White House in March, but the Trump administration did not brief U.S. allies about it until this week. Neither the Times nor Post reported anything about what President Trump’s views are on the matter, but he has notoriously dismissed the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community regarding Russia in the past. According to the Post, the alleged Russian operation “has generated an intense debate within the Trump administration about how best to respond to a troubling new tactic” in light of Trump’s ongoing stance toward the country. - It has been several months since the Trump administration was notified that the Russians were paying bounty for dead Americans Trump has not responded to protect our American soldiers. However, he has attempted to get Russia back in the G7 after he found out about the bounties on our American soldiers.

By John Stoehr, The Editorial Board

I’m not one of those journalists who laments the news cycle as if the Washington press corps has no choice but to cover everything this president does as if everything he does were of equal importance. The Trump administration is indeed a dust devil of disaster, but some things are more important than others, and reporters should say so. This weekend saw wall-to-wall coverage of Donald Trump’s attempt to reboot his bid for reelection. The setting was Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the Covid-19 pandemic is surging, and where civic and business leaders said now’s the wrong time to gather 20-some thousand people in one place. The Trump campaign, meanwhile, crowed about how many people were going to show up only to be humiliated when less than half did. If this president, or any president, is shown to have cheated to get to where he is today, that means this president, or any president, is illegitimate. Empty seats evidently signal “vulnerabilities” heading into the election, according to the AP’s Steve Peoples and Jonathan Lemire. “Trump’s return to the campaign trail was designed to show strength and enthusiasm but instead highlighted growing vulnerabilities. It also crystallized a divisive reelection message that largely ignores broad swaths of voters, who could play a decisive role on Election Day, and the critical and dominant national issue of racial injustice. National unity was not mentioned.”

By Devlin Barrett

Newly released portions of Robert S. Mueller III’s report detailing his investigation of President Trump spell out how investigators considered the possibility Trump had lied to them about his conversations in 2016 about WikiLeaks. The material was released by the Justice Department on Friday as part of ongoing litigation over still-secret parts of the former special counsel’s findings. It details some of the evidence that was aired at last year’s trial of Trump associate Roger Stone, who was convicted of lying to Congress and is scheduled to report to prison later this month. At the time Mueller’s report was first issued, the parts related to Stone were redacted because his case had not yet gone to trial. The report’s newly released sections make clear that Mueller’s team was unable to determine if Stone’s claims of having advance knowledge of WikiLeaks’ plans ahead of the 2016 election were rooted in reality or fantasy. The report now says in more blunt language what became clear at Stone’s trial — that multiple Trump campaign aides told investigators then-candidate Trump had engaged in conversations during the 2016 race about what information WikiLeaks might release about his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. In written answers the president gave to Mueller, Trump said he did not recall discussing WikiLeaks with Stone. But multiple witnesses told Mueller’s team that he did have such discussions.

ABC News

The former national security adviser speaks to ABC News chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz about Trump’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Debrief: An occasional series offering a reporter’s insights
By Anne Gearan

The on-again, off-again saga of this year’s Group of Seven economic meeting has had several plotlines. To review: President Trump first announced he would host it himself at his Doral golf resort in Florida. Then, after criticism over his decision to use his private business as the site of a government event, the annual meeting was relocated to the woodsy Camp David retreat in Maryland. The coronavirus pandemic then led to it being rescheduled as a virtual event. But after a few weeks, Trump attempted to reverse that decision in favor of an in-person session at the White House in June. When that proposal was met with resistance from other G-7 nations, Trump said on Saturday that the whole thing is on hold until at least September. It wasn’t until that last plot twist that Trump raised what seemed the dormant, and fraught, question of whether Russia should again be included in the clubby annual meetings. The potential invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin to join the meeting would insert a poison pill into discussions about holding any meeting at all this year, when the United States is the G-7 host. Trump also proposed expanding the group’s membership to include South Korea, Australia and India, although the most he could do on his own is to invite those nations and Russia to attend this year as his guests. South Korean President Moon Jae-in accepted during a phone call Monday, White House spokesman Judd Deere said. If Trump did get his way and Putin came as his guest this fall, Trump could also be spotlighting his relationship with Russia just weeks before the 2020 election. Trump denies he received any help from Russia in the 2016 election, although U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that was one goal of Russian election interference. Those agencies have also warned Russia is likely to try again this year. - The real question is why does Trump continue to protect, promote and support Putin and Russia.

MUSHROOM CLOUDED

Now that Trump reportedly is toying with a resumption of nuclear testing, the Kremlin intends to take full advantage.
By Julia Davis

President Donald J. Trump has announced the U.S. intends to exit the “Open Skies” treaty. The 34-nation agreement allows the United States, Russia and other countries to conduct observation flights over each other’s territories in the interests of transparency and international security.

“An infectious disease specialist for the Russian Health Ministry said Trump must really be taking hydroxychloroquine, since it’s known to cause psychotic side effects. ”

Speaking to reporters, Trump said: “We’re going to pull out, and they’re going to come back and want to make a deal. We’ve had a very good relationship lately with Russia.” While the Trump administration is citing Russia’s various violations of the agreement as the main reason for the U.S. withdrawal, Russian experts and government officials believe that the abrupt decision is rooted in Trump’s desire to throw all international treaties out the window in pursuit of a bigger, better deal which he can claim to pursue during his election campaign even if it comes to nothing. Such flippant methods may work for reality television, but tend to backfire in real life. Case in point, Trump's gambit with Iran, where U.S withdrawal from the nuclear deal led to the expansion of Tehran’s nuclear stockpile. Now that Trump reportedly is toying with the idea of resuming nuclear testing as well, the Kremlin intends to take full advantage of that harebrained idea. Washington’s approach reportedly is rooted in the flawed assumption that renewed nuclear testing would prompt the Kremlin to pressure the Chinese into joining a trilateral agreement with the United States and Russia. This concept was dismissed out of hand by Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. During an online forum conducted by the Gorchakov Fund, a Russian think tank, Ryabkov asserted that the Kremlin didn’t intend to apply any pressure to China to please Washington.  

View the latest news on the Russia investigation and Trump's ties to Russia.
In his first extended interview since the completion of the special counsel probe, President Donald Trump repeated several false and misleading claims regarding the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
What The Trump Campaign Knew and When They Knew It
Latest news about the investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 election.
Morning Joe takes a deep dive into the Trump-Russia timeline, starting in September 2015, with discussions about a Trump tower project in Moscow.
Donald Trump Jr emails show Russia communication, Emails show he was offered "sensitive" information on Hillary Clinton and replied "I love it".
The Russians have infiltrated the Republican Party, the NRA, white evangelicals and white nationalist in attempt to sow division in America.

Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large

(CNN) On Thursday, President Donald Trump called the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election a "hoax." While on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "I said, 'You know, it's a very appropriate time, because things are falling out now and coming in line showing what a hoax this whole investigation was, it was a total disgrace, and I wouldn't be surprised if you see a lot of things happen over the next number of weeks,"' Trump told reporters about his conversation with Putin. "This is just one piece of a very dishonest puzzle." You don't have to think hard to imagine the huge smile on Putin's face when he heard those words from Trump. Because what it means is that Trump continues to be unable to decouple the findings that Russia actively sought to interfere in the last presidential election from the idea that admitting that fact somehow robs him of credit for winning. The two things, of course, aren't mutually exclusive. Russia did meddle in the election to help Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton, and Trump won. The President's inability to grasp that nuance means that he continues to reject the findings of the intelligence community, Robert Mueller's special counsel investigation and the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee -- all of which concluded that, yes, Russia ran a broad and deep campaign to interfere in the 2016 election and, yes, it was aimed at helping Trump, who they believed was better for their interests than Clinton. (To be clear: None of those investigations produced definitive proof that a singe vote had been changed by Russia's effort.)

A rare moment of bipartisanship of today’s hyper-partisan Washington — and what it means for Russia, President Trump and holding clean elections on November 3.
By Frank Vogl

Recently, Republicans and Democrats on the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee unanimously approved a report totally supporting the findings by U.S. intelligence agencies that there was widespread Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Unfortunately, in stark contrast to past times when bipartisanship was a regular occurrence in the U.S. capital, arriving at such shared judgments has become a matter of great rarity in today’s hyper-partisan political environment.

Burr’s big moment
The unanimous approval was all the more meaningful as Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence from North Carolina, is a staunch Trump supporter. The conclusions of this new report, published just a week ago on April 21, 2020, will be particularly distressing to Trump, as well as to Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell. The Senator from Kentucky has so far steadfastly refused to support special measures to counter Russian interference in this year’s election.

Senator Burr, speaking for the full committee noted:
"One of the ICA’s (Intelligence Community Assessment) most important conclusions was that Russia’s aggressive interference efforts should be considered ‘the new normal.’ That warning has been borne out by the events of the last three years, as Russia and its imitators increasingly use information warfare to sow societal chaos and discord. With the 2020 presidential election approaching, it’s more important than ever that we remain vigilant against the threat of interference from hostile foreign actors."

McConnell under increasing pressure
Given that stunningly clear statement by a leading Republican Senator and Trump trooper, McConnell will face mounting pressure within his own ranks in the Senate to allocate resources to protect the 2020 election. After all, one of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s prime conclusions is that the Russians are at it again, seeking to undermine the 2020 U.S. elections.

The president said the intelligence finding that Russia was again meddling in a coming presidential election in his favor was a partisan “misinformation campaign.”
By Katie Rogers

LAS VEGAS — President Trump said Friday that a disclosure by American intelligence officials that Russia was again meddling in a presidential election in his favor was merely another partisan campaign against him, dismissing the warning as a hoax cooked up by rivals. “Another misinformation campaign is being launched by Democrats in Congress saying that Russia prefers me to any of the Do Nothing Democrat candidates who still have been unable to, after two weeks, count their votes in Iowa,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter. “Hoax number 7!” The intelligence assessment, delivered last Thursday to lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee, determined that Russia is planning to interfere in the 2020 primaries as well as the general election. But the way it was delivered angered some Republicans, and the attendance of Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the committee who led the impeachment proceedings, particularly angered Mr. Trump. The president’s decision to remove Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, and install Richard Grenell, the ambassador to Germany and a fervent loyalist, was also seen as a direct outcome of the briefing. On Thursday evening, Mr. Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One that Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, an ally and a vocal opponent of impeachment, was one of the candidates under consideration as a permanent successor. By Friday morning, Mr. Collins said he was not interested. “This is not a job that interests me; at this time, it’s not one that I would accept because I’m running a Senate race down here in Georgia,” Mr. Collins said in an interview on Fox News. Mr. Trump has a long history of discarding assessments made by intelligence agencies that he has deemed unfair or unflattering. Multiple intelligence groups have determined that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, and, before the 2018 midterms, delivered warnings that Russia was prepared to do it again. Early in his presidency, Mr. Trump grudgingly accepted those assessments before falling back on personal assurances from President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. “He said he didn’t meddle,” Mr. Trump said in November 2017. “I asked him again. You can only ask so many times. Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ And I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it.” Since then, Mr. Trump, with the assistance of his Justice Department, has moved to retaliate against the intelligence community rather than Mr. Putin: A federal prosecutor is scrutinizing how the intelligence officials assessed Russia’s 2016 election interference, targeting the former C.I.A. director John O. Brennan in particular. - It is not a hoax Russia is meddling again. What is Trump trying to hide?

CBS This Morning

President Trump was furious that Joseph Maguire, the former acting director of national intelligence, allowed one of his subordinates to tell House lawmakers that Russia appears to favor him in the 2020 election. Democrats are now calling for additional hearings, while Republicans are questioning the evidence presented, Paula Reid reports. - It is not a hoax Russia is meddling again. What is Trump trying to hide?

Analysis by Nathan Hodge, CNN

Moscow (CNN) It's a familiar plot line: Top intelligence officials deliver a warning to lawmakers that Russia wants to interfere in the upcoming presidential election -- and that the Kremlin's preferred outcome is a win by President Donald Trump. But Russiagate 2 may not be a straightforward sequel for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Why would Putin want to put his finger on the scales of American democracy again? For starters, it's not clear that the Trump presidency has been a consistent foreign-policy win for Russia. The Trump administration delivered lethal aid to Ukraine, which is locked in a proxy war with Russian-backed separatists. Washington is at odds with Moscow in a range of foreign-policy crises, from the conflict in Syria to political turmoil in Venezuela. And Trump withdrew the US from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a move that drew condemnation from the Kremlin. Russia continues to bear the costs of confronting Washington. The Treasury Department under Trump has continued to aggressively sanction Russia for its election meddling in 2016 and the occupation of Crimea in 2014. And the US joined with its allies in booting out dozens of Russian diplomats in the wake of the poisoning of a former Russian spy living in the United Kingdom. It's worth remembering two things, however. In 2016, Russia had to contend with the prospect that Hillary Clinton would win the White House, not Donald Trump -- something of major concern for the Kremlin. And regardless of how frosty relations between Moscow and Washington may be, Trump still appears to have a warm spot in his heart for Putin. Putin's animus toward Clinton was a matter of public record. In 2011, then-Prime Minister Putin blamed the United States -- and then-Secretary of State Clinton -- for stirring up anti-government protests that followed allegations of widespread fraud in parliamentary elections. Clinton's general hawkishness on Russia also riled the Kremlin. Candidate Trump, by contrast, was an open admirer of Putin, even publicly expressing the hope on Twitter that the Kremlin leader would become his "new best friend." That pattern has not changed during Trump's presidency. Most famously, Trump suggested at the Helsinki summit in 2018 that he valued Putin's statements about election interference above that of his own intelligence officials. "I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today," Trump said during a joint news conference with Putin.

A classified briefing to House members is said to have angered the president, who complained that Democrats would “weaponize” the disclosure.
By Adam Goldman, Julian E. Barnes, Maggie Haberman and Nicholas Fandos

WASHINGTON — Intelligence officials warned House lawmakers last week that Russia was interfering in the 2020 campaign to try to get President Trump re-elected, five people familiar with the matter said, a disclosure to Congress that angered Mr. Trump, who complained that Democrats would use it against him. The day after the Feb. 13 briefing to lawmakers, the president berated Joseph Maguire, the outgoing acting director of national intelligence, for allowing it to take place, people familiar with the exchange said. Mr. Trump was particularly irritated that Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the leader of the impeachment proceedings, was at the briefing. During the briefing to the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. Trump’s allies challenged the conclusions, arguing that he had been tough on Russia and that he had strengthened European security. Some intelligence officials viewed the briefing as a tactical error, saying the conclusions could have been delivered in a less pointed manner or left out entirely to avoid angering Republicans. The intelligence official who delivered the briefing, Shelby Pierson, is an aide to Mr. Maguire and has a reputation for speaking bluntly. Though intelligence officials have previously told lawmakers that Russia’s interference campaign was continuing, last week’s briefing included what appeared to be new information: that Russia intended to interfere with the 2020 Democratic primaries as well as the general election. On Wednesday, the president announced that he was replacing Mr. Maguire with Richard Grenell, the ambassador to Germany and an aggressively vocal Trump supporter. And though some current and former officials speculated that the briefing might have played a role in that move, two administration officials said the timing was coincidental. Mr. Grenell had been in discussions with the administration about taking on new roles, they said, and Mr. Trump had never felt a kinship with Mr. Maguire.

Kash Patel, a former acolyte of Rep. Devin Nunes, is now a top adviser in the Office of National Intelligence.
By DANIEL LIPPMAN

Kash Patel, a former top National Security Council official who also played a key role as a Hill staffer in helping Republicans discredit the Russia probe, is now a senior adviser for new acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, according to four people familiar with the matter. It’s not clear what exact role Patel is playing in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the U.S. intelligence community. He started at ODNI on Thursday, according to an administration official. Patel, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, joined the National Security Council’s International Organizations and Alliances directorate last February and was promoted to a senior counterterrorism role at the NSC in mid-summer. He had previously worked as Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.)’s top staffer on the House Intelligence Committee and was the lead author of a report questioning the conduct of FBI and DOJ officials investigating Russia’s election interference. Republicans later used the report to bolster arguments that the probe was a plot to take down President Donald Trump. Grenell, who has not served in any U.S. intelligence agency and will also continue as the U.S. ambassador to Germany, will not require Senate confirmation to serve as acting director. Nor will Patel in his new role.

By Kristine Phillips, Kevin Johnson, Nicholas Wu USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — Roger Stone, a longtime friend and ally of President Donald Trump, was sentenced Thursday to 40 months in prison, a punishment that is likely to fuel criticism from the president and speculation that he'll pardon the flamboyant GOP operative. Though less than what prosecutors originally asked for, the sentence marks a stunning downfall for the longtime political consultant who has advised presidential campaigns stretching back to Richard Nixon. The 67-year-old was found guilty in November of repeatedly lying to the House Intelligence Committee and obstructing its investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential race. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said Stone "took it upon himself to lie, to impede, to obstruct before the investigation was complete, in an endeavor to influence the result." She continued: "The truth still exists, the truth still matters. Roger Stone insisted that it doesn’t." Stone stood expressionless next to his three defense attorneys. Jackson also sentenced Stone to two years of probation and ordered him to pay $20,000 in fines. Stone, wearing a dark pinstripe suit and blue tie, smiled briefly as he exited the courtroom. He declined to respond to questions shouted by a gauntlet of reporters.

Rep. Adam Schiff says Prince impaired the House Intelligence Committee investigation of Russian links to the 2016 Trump campaign.
By KYLE CHENEY

The Justice Department has begun reviewing a 10-month-old allegation by the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), that Erik Prince, an ally of President Donald Trump, repeatedly misled lawmakers during the panel’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. In a Feb. 4 letter to Schiff from Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd, obtained on Tuesday by POLITICO, Boyd expressed regret for the lengthy delay in responding to the chairman’s April 30, 2019, request. “We apologize for the delay in responding to your letter,” Boyd wrote, adding, “[T]he Department acknowledges receipt of your letter and will refer your request for investigation to the proper investigative agency or component for review.” Schiff initially referred Prince to the Justice Department and sought “prompt” action for what he described as a series of “manifest and substantial falsehoods.” In that letter, delivered to Attorney General William Barr, Schiff said that Prince, the billionaire founder of a military contracting firm, intentionally misled the House Intelligence Committee and impaired its investigation of Russian links to the 2016 Trump campaign. It’s unclear what led the Justice Department to return to Schiff’s request 10 months later on the eve of the Senate’s decision to acquit Trump on two impeachment charges. The department and a Prince attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment. U.S. Attorney John Durham has been tasked by Barr with reviewing the origins of the FBI’s Russia investigation, which later morphed into special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the election.
Lev Parnas pointed his finger at Dmytro Firtash.
By Franklin Foer

Somewhere near the heart of the Ukraine scandal is the oligarch Dmytro Firtash. Evidence has long suggested this fact. But over the past week, in a televised interview and in documents he supplied to Congress, Rudy Giuliani’s former business partner Lev Parnas pointed his finger at the Ukrainian oligarch. According to Parnas, Giuliani’s team had a deal with Firtash. Giuliani would get the Justice Department to drop its attempt to extradite the oligarch on bribery charges. In return, according to Parnas, the oligarch promised to pass along evidence that would supposedly discredit both Joe Biden and Robert Mueller.

Parnas’s account, of course, is hardly definitive. Throughout his career, he has attempted to inflate his importance to make money. (Firtash apparently paid him $1 million for his services, though it’s still not totally clear what those services were.) And his description of Firtash’s involvement raises as many questions as it settles. Still, the apparent centrality of Firtash should inform any assessment of Giuliani’s escapades and the entire Ukraine story.

By David Cho

President Donald Trump berated his former national security adviser Michael Flynn and other senior staff members for holding off on arranging a phone call with the Russian president soon after taking office, according to a new book on the Trump administration's contentious relationship with the Pentagon.

In "Trump and His Generals: The Cost of Chaos," the national security reporter Peter Bergen recounted the tenuous conversation between the US president and his staffers, one of many intimate talks whose details were sourced from dozens of interviews with current and former White House officials and military officers.

On January 27, 2017, weeks after winning the presidency, Trump had his first official visit from a foreign leader at the White House, with British Prime Minister Theresa May. During lunch, May asked Trump if he had talked to Putin, according to Bergen.

President Trump retweeted an article in which Putin derided impeachment, and added that the process has been a “witch hunt.”
By Katelyn Burns

Days after being impeached by the House of Representatives, President Donald Trump seemed to echo and endorse Russian President Vladimir Putin’s take on the impeachment process on Twitter. In his annual marathon press conference Thursday in Moscow, Putin argued Trump was impeached for “far-fetched” reasons. “It’s simply a continuation of internal political struggle,” Putin said. Echoing a Republican talking point, the Russian president continued, “The party that lost the [2016] election, the Democratic Party, is trying to achieve results by other means.”

Democrats, Putin claimed — again, as Republicans did during impeachment proceedings Wednesday — have always wanted to impeach Trump and had been looking for a reason to do so all year. “It turned out there was no collusion,” Putin said, referring to the conclusions of the Mueller report. “It could not form the basis for impeachment, and now there is this made-up pressure on Ukraine.”

The pressure on Ukraine is, of course, well documented, including in evidence released by the White House. Like Putin, however, Trump and his Republican allies have claimed the evidence does not show this.

President Trump retweeted an article in which Putin derided impeachment, and added that the process has been a “witch hunt.”
By Katelyn Burns

Days after being impeached by the House of Representatives, President Donald Trump seemed to echo and endorse Russian President Vladimir Putin’s take on the impeachment process on Twitter. In his annual marathon press conference Thursday in Moscow, Putin argued Trump was impeached for “far-fetched” reasons. “It’s simply a continuation of internal political struggle,” Putin said. Echoing a Republican talking point, the Russian president continued, “The party that lost the [2016] election, the Democratic Party, is trying to achieve results by other means.”

Democrats, Putin claimed — again, as Republicans did during impeachment proceedings Wednesday — have always wanted to impeach Trump and had been looking for a reason to do so all year. “It turned out there was no collusion,” Putin said, referring to the conclusions of the Mueller report. “It could not form the basis for impeachment, and now there is this made-up pressure on Ukraine.”

The pressure on Ukraine is, of course, well documented, including in evidence released by the White House. Like Putin, however, Trump and his Republican allies have claimed the evidence does not show this. Trump, for instance, wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Tuesday, that the articles of impeachment “include no crimes, no misdemeanors, no offenses whatsoever. You have cheapened the importance of the very ugly word, impeachment!”

By Shane Harris, Josh Dawsey and Carol D. Leonnig

Almost from the moment he took office, President Trump seized on a theory that troubled his senior aides: Ukraine, he told them on many occasions, had tried to stop him from winning the White House. After meeting privately in July 2017 with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Trump grew more insistent that Ukraine worked to defeat him, according to multiple former officials familiar with his assertions.

The president’s intense resistance to the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia systematically interfered in the 2016 campaign — and the blame he cast instead on a rival country — led many of his advisers to think that Putin himself helped spur the idea of Ukraine’s culpability, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.

One  former senior White House official said Trump even stated so explicitly  at one point, saying he knew Ukraine was the real culprit because  “Putin told me.” Two other former officials said the senior White House official described Trump’s comment to them.

By Jennifer Hansler and Zachary Cohen, CNN

(CNN) The Trump administration is pushing back on a wide-ranging piece of legislation meant to deter and punish Russian aggression and its interference in the 2016 election. In a 22-page letter to Congress dated Tuesday, a senior State Department official outlined a series of concerns about the bill, calling it "unnecessary" and in need of "significant changes."

"The Administration shares the goal of deterring and countering Russian subversion and aggression," Bureau of Legislative Affairs Assistant Secretary Mary Elizabeth Taylor wrote in the letter, which was obtained by CNN. However, she said the administration "strongly opposes" the bill in its current form. The Daily Beast was the first to report on the contents of the letter, sent exactly a week after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office.

Russia sanctions have been an ongoing source of contention between the Trump White House and Congress, where there has been strong bipartisan support for measures to punish Moscow since its 2014 annexation of Crimea. The US intelligence community's conclusion that Russia meddled in the 2016 election to bolster Trump, and former and current administration officials' warnings that it will meddle again in 2020, have lent urgency to congressional efforts.

Echoing Republican talking points, the Russian president mocked the moves against his U.S. counterpart as a baseless bid by Democrats to reverse their 2016 defeat.
By Andrew Higgins

MOSCOW — Besieged in Washington, President Trump found an eager friend in Moscow on Thursday. At his annual end-of-year news conference, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia parroted Mr. Trump’s talking points, mocking Wednesday’s impeachment vote as a partisan effort by Democrats to reverse their defeat in the 2016 presidential election.

He also took up Mr. Trump’s argument that there was no solid evidence to justify his removal from office. Offering an analysis of American political dynamics, Mr. Putin said that Mr. Trump was unlikely to be removed for “highly speculative reasons” by the Republican-controlled Senate.

“This is nothing but a continuation of an internal political struggle, with the party that lost the election, the Democratic Party, trying to reach its goal by different means,” Mr. Putin said during the 15th edition of a news conference that has often tended to be more a carnival of flattery.

By Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that U.S. Democrats had impeached President Donald Trump for "fabricated" reasons in order to reverse his 2016 election victory. Putin, speaking at his annual year-end news conference, said he expected Trump to survive the proceedings and stay in office. The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to impeach Trump, but Putin, like most observers, said he expected the Republican Senate to acquit him.

"It's unlikely they will want to remove from power a representative of their party based on what are, in my opinion, completely fabricated reasons," said Putin. "This is simply a continuation of the (U.S.) intra-political battle where one party that lost an election, the Democratic Party, is trying to achieve results using other methods and means. "They first accused Trump of a conspiracy with Russia. Then it turned out there wasn't a conspiracy and that it couldn't be the basis for impeachment. Now they have dreamt up (the idea) of some kind of pressure being exerted on Ukraine."

On Tuesday, President Trump claimed he was tougher on Russia than his predecessor. At the same time, his subordinates strongly opposed a bill imposing new sanctions on Moscow.
By Betsy Swan

The Trump administration is quietly fighting a new package of sanctions on Russia, The Daily Beast has learned. A Trump State Department official sent a 22-page letter to a top Senate chairman on Tuesday making a wide-ranging case against a new sanctions bill. Sen. Lindsey Graham—usually a staunch ally of the White House—introduced the legislation earlier this year. It’s designed to punish Russian individuals and companies over the Kremlin’s targeting of Ukraine, as well as its 2016 election interference in the U.S., its activities in Syria, and its attacks on dissidents.

Graham said the legislation’s aggressiveness means it is “the sanctions bill from hell,” per Yahoo Finance. Trump World, meanwhile, says it is a mess. The administration’s letter says it “strongly opposes” the bill unless it goes through a ton of changes. It argues the legislation is unnecessary and that it would harm America’s European allies–potentially fracturing transatlantic support for current U.S. sanctions on Russia. The bill “risks crippling the global energy, commodities, financial, and other markets,” the letter says, and would target “almost the entire range of foreign commercial activities with Russia.”

Russian commentators note, rightly, that “sooner or later, the Democrats will come back into power," and they’re already joking about offering Trump asylum.
By Julia Davis

Sometimes a picture doesn’t have to be worth a thousand words. Just a few will do. As Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov returned home from his visit with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office last week, Russian state media was gloating over the spectacle. TV channel Rossiya 1 aired a segment entitled “Puppet Master and ‘Agent’—How to Understand Lavrov’s Meeting With Trump.”

Vesti Nedeli, a Sunday news show on the same network, pointed out that it was Trump, personally, who asked Lavrov to pose standing near as Trump sat at his desk. It’s almost the literal image of a power behind the throne. And in the meantime, much to Russia’s satisfaction, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is still waiting for that critical White House meeting with the American president: the famous “quid pro quo” for Zelensky announcing an investigation that would smear Democratic challenger Joe Biden. As yet, Zelensky hasn’t done that, and as yet, no meeting has been set.

Russian state television still views the impending impeachment as a bump in the road that won’t lead to Trump’s removal from office. But President Vladimir Putin’s propaganda brigades enjoy watching the heightened divisions in the United States, and how it hurts relations between the U.S. and Ukraine. They’ve also added a cynical new a narrative filled with half-joking ironies as they look at the American president’s bleak prospects when he does leave office.

Appearing on Sunday Evening With Vladimir Soloviev, Mikhail Gusman, first deputy director general of ITAR-TASS, Russia’s oldest and largest news agency, predicted: “Sooner or later, the Democrats will come back into power. The next term or the term after that, it doesn’t matter... I have an even more unpleasant forecast for Trump. After the White House, he will face a very unhappy period.”

By Jonathan Chait

President Trump is facing impeachment primarily for abusing his power for political gain, extorting a foreign country to discredit his political rivals. The secondary aspect of the plot is that the target of his extortion is hardly random. Ukraine is the victim of Russian aggression, and Russia’s continuing incursions into Ukrainian territory is the muscle that gave Trump’s threats leverage. Trump’s domestic interests are one intended beneficiary of his scheme. The other is Vladimir Putin.

Trump and his allies insist he has actually pursued a hawkish line in Ukraine. “Mr. Trump didn’t withhold military aid to Ukraine, and even if he had he would have merely been returning to Barack Obama’s policy of denying lethal aid,” argues a Wall Street Journal editorial. “No one has done more to limit Russia’s ability to engage in mischief than President Trump,” insists Representative Matt Gaetz in a Fox News segment retweeted by the president.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors charged yesterday evening that Lev Parnas, an associate of President Trump who represented him in Ukraine, was wired $1 million from a Russian bank account weeks before his arrest. Which is to say, Trump’s Ukraine plot appears to have been financed by Russia.

Parnas met repeatedly with Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Parnas claims Trump pulled him aside at last year’s White House Hanukkah party and personally directed his activities in Ukraine. That allegation remains unproven. What is proven, though, is that Parnas met with Trump numerous times (there are photographs), was Giuliani’s official business partner, and represented himself to Ukrainians as an agent of both Trump and Giuliani.

Analysis by Stephen Collinson, CNN

(CNN) A virus of misinformation and mistrust rages in America. On a melodramatic Monday, an independent report debunked Donald Trump's claims that the FBI was biased in its investigation into his campaign's 2016 links to Moscow. But the US President nevertheless bent the facts to say his suspicions had been vindicated. And the US Attorney General William Barr -- who is supposed to be an independent arbiter of justice, not act as Trump's personal lawyer -- excoriated the bureau anyway.

Meanwhile, the day's impeachment hearing -- into a scandal partly spawned by Trump's bid to prove that it was in fact Ukraine that meddled in the election three years ago -- descended into choleric feuding. In the looking glass world of Capitol Hill, Republicans -- once the most hawkish of Cold warriors -- are now using Kremlin talking points to shield a President whom Moscow wanted to help elect.

Washington feels like a fever dream. There's no agreement on common facts or assumption of goodwill between political adversaries in the nation's capital, which makes an honest assessment of Trump's actions impossible. It also means America may never heal from the recriminations and infectious doubts that stained the last presidential election -- and are already threatening the next one.

With its meddling operation in 2016, Russia had planned to inject the nation with bad blood, setting Americans against one another, fanning divisions and undermining confidence in US democracy. It worked better than President Putin can have dared hope. - Trump is Putin man in the white house.

Briefed by American intelligence officials in recent weeks on Russia’s untrue smear campaign against Ukraine, Republicans continue to push the story
By Peter Wade

For years now, Russia has sought to frame Ukraine for its own actions interfering with the 2016 presidential election, the New York Times reported, citing three American officials. And, despite being briefed on Russia’s efforts, some in Congress are pushing these conspiracy theories, as seen in Republicans’ questions and speeches during the impeachment hearings.

The White House’s former top Russia advisor, Fiona Hill, backed up the intelligence community’s assertion in her impeachment testimony on Thursday, saying, “Some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country and that perhaps Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”

   Fiona Hill addressed Republican members of Congress promoting the conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election: "This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves." pic.twitter.com/1czUtCeWVT

   — BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) November 21, 2019

According to the Times, beginning in 2017, Russian intelligence agents spread misinformation that Ukraine was behind the 2016 election hacking, mixing facts — that a very small number Ukranians did try to stop Trump from being elected — with blatant conspiracy theories. These agents, trying to mask the source of this smear campaign, then used oligarchs and businessmen as intermediaries to spread the information to American politicians and journalists. American intelligence officials have briefed senators and their aides on this very issue in recent weeks.

But the success of the Russian smear campaign was evident in the impeachment inquiry hearings where Republicans, led by Rep. Devin Nunes, and backed up by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, were clearly ignoring intelligence officials’ warnings and pushing the conspiracy theories. Full Story

A watchdog report will portray the pursuit of a wiretap of an ex-Trump adviser as sloppy, but it also debunks some accusations by Trump allies of F.B.I. wrongdoing.
By Adam Goldman and Charlie Savage

WASHINGTON — A highly anticipated report by the Justice Department’s inspector general is expected to sharply criticize lower-level F.B.I. officials as well as bureau leaders involved in the early stages of the Trump-Russia investigation, but to absolve the top ranks of abusing their powers out of bias against President Trump, according to people briefed on a draft.

Investigators for the inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, uncovered errors and omissions in documents related to the wiretapping of a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page — including that a low-level lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, altered an email that officials used to prepare to seek court approval to renew the wiretap, the people said.

Mr. Horowitz referred his findings about Mr. Clinesmith to prosecutors for a potential criminal charge. Mr. Clinesmith left the Russia investigation in February 2018 after the inspector general identified him as one of a handful of F.B.I. officials who expressed animus toward Mr. Trump in text messages and resigned about two months ago, after the inspector general’s team interviewed him.

Though Mr. Trump’s allies have seized on the messages from Mr. Clinesmith and his colleagues as proof of anti-Trump bias, Mr. Clinesmith has not been a prominent figure in the partisan firefight over the investigation. His lawyer declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for Mr. Horowitz.

More broadly, Mr. Horowitz’s report, to be made public on Dec. 9, portrays the overall effort to seek the wiretap order and its renewals as sloppy and unprofessional, according to the people familiar with it. He will also sharply criticize as careless one of the F.B.I. case agents in New York handling the matter and say that the bureau and the Justice Department displayed poor coordination during the investigation, they said.

At the same time, however, the report debunks a series of conspiracy theories and insinuations about the F.B.I. that Mr. Trump and his allies have put forward over the past two years, the people said, though they cautioned that the report is not complete. The New York Times has not reviewed the draft, which could contain other significant findings. In particular, while Mr. Horowitz criticizes F.B.I. leadership for its handling of the highly fraught Russia investigation in some ways, he made no finding of politically biased actions by top officials Mr. Trump has vilified like the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey; Andrew G. McCabe, the former deputy who temporarily ran the bureau after the president fired Mr. Comey in 2017; and Peter Strzok, a former top counterintelligence agent. Full Story

Moscow has run a yearslong operation to blame Ukraine for its own 2016 election interference. Republicans have used similar talking points to defend President Trump in impeachment proceedings.
By Julian E. Barnes and Matthew Rosenberg

WASHINGTON — Republicans have sought for weeks amid the impeachment inquiry to shift attention to President Trump’s demands that Ukraine investigate any 2016 election meddling, defending it as a legitimate concern while Democrats accuse Mr. Trump of pursuing fringe theories for his benefit.

The Republican defense of Mr. Trump became central to the impeachment proceedings when Fiona Hill, a respected Russia scholar and former senior White House official, added a harsh critique during testimony on Thursday. She told some of Mr. Trump’s fiercest defenders in Congress that they were repeating “a fictional narrative” — and that it likely came from a disinformation campaign by Russian security services, which themselves propagated it.

In a briefing that closely aligned with Dr. Hill’s testimony, American intelligence officials informed senators and their aides in recent weeks that Russia had engaged in a yearslong campaign to essentially frame Ukraine as responsible for Moscow’s own hacking of the 2016 election, according to three American officials. The briefing came as Republicans stepped up their defenses of Mr. Trump in the Ukraine affair.

The revelations demonstrate Russia’s persistence in trying to sow discord among its adversaries — and show that the Kremlin apparently succeeded, as unfounded claims about Ukrainian interference seeped into Republican talking points. American intelligence agencies believe Moscow is likely to redouble its efforts as the 2020 presidential campaign intensifies. The classified briefing for senators also focused on Russia’s evolving influence tactics, including its growing ability to better disguise operations.

Russia has engaged in a “long pattern of deflection” to pin blame for its malevolent acts on other countries, Dr. Hill said, not least Ukraine, a former Soviet republic. Since Ukraine won independence in 1991, Russia has tried to reassert influence there, meddling in its politics, maligning pro-Western leaders and accusing Ukrainian critics of Moscow of fascist leanings.

“The Russians have a particular vested interest in putting Ukraine, Ukrainian leaders in a very bad light,” she told lawmakers. But the campaign by Russian intelligence in recent years has been even more complex as Moscow tries not only to undermine the government in Kyiv but also to use a disinformation campaign there to influence the American political debate. Full Story

CBS News - National Security Council expert Fiona Hill explained during her testimony on Thursday why the conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was responsible for the 2016 U.S. election interference is false. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff asked Hill how the theory served Russian interes. Video

Here's how Trump is keeping Putin in power
By Marshall Cohen, CNN

(CNN) President Donald Trump has an Achilles' heel when it comes to Russia. Over the years, he's made no secret that he has a soft spot for the country and its authoritarian leader, President Vladimir Putin. Trump has proved that he is willing to reject widely held US foreign policy views and align himself with the Kremlin on everything from Russian interference in US elections to the war in Syria. Trump's ties to Russians were so concerning that the FBI believed there was good reason to investigate potential collusion between his 2016 campaign and the Kremlin. Counterintelligence investigators also examined whether Trump himself was somehow a Russian asset. (Special counsel Robert Mueller did not establish a criminal conspiracy of collusion.)

In Trump's eyes, these allegations are proof of a conspiracy against him by Democratic lawmakers and other "deep state" enemies in the US government. He bombastically declared last year, "There's never been a president as tough on Russia as I have been." But that claim is simply false, based on Trump's actions over the last few years. Here's a full breakdown of 25 occasions when Trump was soft on Russia or gave Putin a boost.

Trump has repeatedly praised Putin
While he was a private citizen, during his 2016 campaign and throughout his presidency, Trump has showered Putin with praise. He said Putin was "so nice," he called Putin a "strong leader" and said Putin has done "a really great job outsmarting our country." Trump also claimed he'd "get along very well" with Putin. Few, if any, Western leaders have echoed these comments.

Trump hired Manafort to run his campaign
Trump raised eyebrows in spring 2016 when he hired GOP operative Paul Manafort to run his presidential campaign. Manafort spent a decade working for pro-Russian politicians and parties in Ukraine and cultivated close relationships with Putin-friendly oligarchs. Manafort is currently in prison for, among other things, evading taxes on the $60 million he made from his Ukraine consulting.

Trump suggested Russia can keep Crimea
Trump said Putin did "an amazing job of taking the mantle" when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. During the presidential campaign, Trump broke with US policy and suggested he was OK if Russia kept the Ukrainian territory. He repeated a Kremlin talking point, saying, "The people of Crimea, from what I've heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were."

Trump's team softened the GOP platform on Ukraine
Ahead of the 2016 Republican National Convention, Trump campaign aides blocked language from the party platform that called for the US government to send lethal weapons to Ukraine for its war against Russian proxies. Mueller investigated this for potential collusion but determined the change was not made "at the behest" of Russia. (The Trump administration ultimately gave lethal arms and anti-tank weapons to the Ukrainian military.)

Trump made light of Russian hacking
Throughout the 2016 campaign, Trump cast doubt on the US government assessment that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman. At a news conference in July 2016, he even asked Russia to hack more, saying, "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,"

Trump denied that Russia interfered in 2016
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Justice Department and the Senate Intelligence Committee all confirmed that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump. But Trump has repeatedly rejected this view, and publicly sided with Putin at the Helsinki summit in 2018, saying he accepted Putin's denials.

Trump transition undermined Russian sanctions
After the election, the Trump transition team asked Russia not to retaliate against new US sanctions imposed by then-President Barack Obama. The sanctions were meant to punish Russia for interfering in the election, but then-Trump aide Michael Flynn asked the Russian ambassador not to escalate the situation so they could have a good relationship once Trump took over. Full Story

By Geneva Sands, Katelyn Polantz and Veronica Stracqualursi, CNN

(CNN) - Longtime Trump associate Roger Stone was found guilty on Friday of lying to Congress and other charges in a case that has shed new light on President Donald Trump's anticipation of the release of stolen Democratic emails in 2016 by WikiLeaks. Stone, a political operative, was found guilty of all seven counts brought by the Justice Department, a victory for special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Stone was found guilty on five counts of lying to Congress, one of witness tampering, and one of obstructing a Congressional committee proceeding.

The verdict marks a stunning conclusion to one of the highest-profile prosecutions to emerge from special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation -- a case that began with one of Trump's most vocal supporters arrested during a pre-dawn raid as the special counsel's investigation wound down, and that since then has gradually revealed new information about the Trump campaign's positive reception to foreign interference in the 2016 election. Prosecutors asked the judge to take Stone into custody immediately. They alleged he violated his gag order and communicated with a member of the press last night. Judge Amy Berman Jackson declined, saying she" will release him on his current conditions pending the sentencing date."

Stone had no audible reaction as the jury's verdict was read. He kept his right hand steady on the table next to him as he looked forward, away from his defense and the courtroom. When the jury came in and each member said yes, Stone put his glasses on. His movements were slow and deliberate as he took a sip of water while each juror stated their position. According to prosecutors, Stone failed to turn over documents to Congress in 2017, showing he had sought to reach WikiLeaks the previous year, and lied about five facts, obscuring his attempt to use intermediaries to get information that could help then-candidate Trump in the election against Hillary Clinton. Full Story

Mr. Stone, a longtime informal adviser to President Trump, obstructed one of Congress’s Russia investigations and lied to lawmakers.
By Sharon LaFraniere and Zach Montague

WASHINGTON — Roger J. Stone Jr., a former aide and longtime friend of President Trump, was found guilty on Friday of obstructing a congressional investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election in what prosecutors said was an effort to protect Mr. Trump. Mr. Stone, 67, was charged with lying to the House Intelligence Committee, trying to block the testimony of another potential witness and concealing reams of evidence from investigators. Prosecutors claimed he tried to thwart the committee’s work because the truth would have “looked terrible” for both the president and his campaign. He was found guilty of all seven counts he was charged with.

The government built its case over the past week with testimony from a friend of Mr. Stone and two former Trump campaign officials, buttressed by hundreds of exhibits that exposed Mr. Stone’s disdain for congressional and criminal investigators. Confronted with his lies under oath by one associate, prosecutors said, Mr. Stone wrote back: “No one cares.” They asked the jurors to deliver a verdict proving him wrong.

The evidence showed that in the months leading up to the 2016 election, Mr. Stone strove to obtain emails that Russia had stolen from Democratic computers and funneled to WikiLeaks, which released them at strategic moments timed to damage Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponent. Mr. Stone briefed the Trump campaign about whatever he had picked up about WikiLeaks’ plans “every chance he got,” Jonathan Kravis, a lead prosecutor, said.

The trial revived the saga of Russia’s efforts to bolster Mr. Trump’s chances of winning the White House at the same time that House impeachment investigators are scrutinizing Mr. Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine, a foreign ally, for help with his 2020 election. Unfolding in a courtroom just blocks from the impeachment hearing room on Capitol Hill, the case resurrected a narrative that dogged Mr. Trump’s presidency until the two-year investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, ended last spring. Mr. Stone was accused of lying to the same House intelligence panel that is now leading the impeachment inquiry.

The jury of nine women and three men deliberated for about seven hours over two days before convicting Mr. Stone, a 40-year friend of Mr. Trump and well-known political provocateur. Mr. Stone listened impassively to the verdict, eyebrows arched and one hand in his pocket. He and his lawyers, still under a gag order imposed by the judge months ago, left the courthouse without comment. Within minutes of the verdict, Mr. Trump protested on Twitter that it was unfair. “So they now convict Roger Stone of lying and want to jail him for many years to come,” Mr. Trump wrote, though his own administration’s Justice Department waged the prosecution. Full Story
The revelation means the Trump campaign — and Donald Trump himself — were aware of WikiLeaks' plans earlier than previously understood.
By DARREN SAMUELSOHN and MATTHEW CHOI

Roger Stone first told one of Donald Trump’s top aides in April 2016 that WikiLeaks had plans to dump information in the heat of the presidential race, kickstarting a scramble inside the campaign to take advantage of the expected releases. And that plotting included at least one summertime call involving Trump himself, according to Rick Gates, the former Trump deputy campaign chairman, who was testifying Tuesday morning at Stone’s trial over lying to Congress about his efforts to contact WikiLeaks.

The revelation means the Trump campaign was aware of WikiLeaks' election-year plans much earlier than previously understood. And it also shows that the president was involved in conversations about the issue, something he has previously denied. Gates said he first heard from Stone, a longtime Trump confidant, about two months before Trump secured the GOP presidential nomination in mid-July. That's when Stone passed along initial, bare bones details about the potential Julian Assange-orchestrated releases that would benefit Trump's White House bid.

“Mr. Stone indicated that WikiLeaks would be submitting or dropping information, but no information on dates or anything of that nature,” Gates said in federal district court, where the trial against Stone entered its second week. Stone is also facing charges charges that he tampered with a witness as Congress investigated Russia’s 2016 election interference.

Federal prosecutors rested their case against Stone before lunch on Tuesday, and Stone's lawyers spent a little more than an hour in the afternoon playing aloud portions of their client’s September 2017 deposition before the House Intelligence Committee, during which prosecutors allege Stone lied. After that, Stone's team also rested its case without inviting any witnesses to the stand. Closing arguments are scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, with jury deliberations to begin shortly thereafter.

Before the government handed the reins of the trial over to Stone’s defense, it asked Gates detailed questions about his interactions throughout the spring and summer of 2016 with Stone, who is known for his decades-long relationship with Trump and a history dating back to Watergate of orchestrating “dirty tricks.” Full Story

By Mary Ilyushina and David McKenzie, CNN
 
Sochi, Russia (CNN) - For decades, the most visible link between Russia and the continent of Africa was the Kalashnikov. Rebel groups, national militaries and even police officers carried the Soviet-designed AK-47 rifle. They still do. But as Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted the vast majority of Africa's leaders at the Black Sea resort of Sochi this week, it seemed that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Fresh from signing a deal on the future of Syria, Putin told attendees at the inaugural Russia-Africa summit: "Russia has signed military-technical cooperation agreements with more that 30 countries, where we supply a large array of weaponry and hardware.

"Part of these supplies are done on a free-of-charge basis," he added. But analysts believe Russia's renewed interest in the continent is hardly altruistic. Guests arriving in Sochi were treated to an exhibit of Russian-made military hardware: military helicopters, fighter jets, and armored vehicles. The message is clear: the Kremlin is pitching itself to African governments as a reliable supplier of military expertise and modern weaponry -- with few strings attached. On the first day of the event, Russia announced plans to supply $4 billion worth of weaponry by the end of this year alone, and $14 billion more in the coming years. Russia is already the chief supplier of arms to both North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was heavily involved in backing African liberation movements with arms and training in their fight against colonial powers. It is still not uncommon to meet senior African officials who speak Russian from their time at military academies in Moscow or Leningrad. more... - Trump has taken America off the world stage and Putin is filling the vacuum. Is this another Trump concession to Putin for Putin’s help with the 2016 election?

Analysis by Nick Paton Walsh, CNN

Erbil, Iraq (CNN) - The Syrian Democratic Forces. It's a term that encapsulates the mess that awaited the US-led counter ISIS campaign when finally it wound down. The SDF -- as it was always clumsily known -- never really existed. At its inception, the Pentagon needed a force on the ground to fight ISIS. They tried for years to find disciplined, Sunni Arab fighters, but failed repeatedly. The Syrian Kurds, however, were both disciplined and pragmatic. But they could not be harnessed as a purely Kurdish force, plowing into Sunni Arab areas held by ISIS. So a fig leaf was created -- a new name for the Syrian Kurdish fighting units, normally called the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG.

So the SDF was born, with the exaggerated claim that there were many Arabs in their ranks, and the omission of Turkish Kurds -- the PKK, proscribed by Turkey -- fighting there too. The need for a fudge was a tell that the urgent anti-ISIS campaign would end up with some problems. Fast forward four years, and now the SDF means something entirely different. It's an acronym that spells betrayal. Reflecting how little the Trump administration cared for the details as it rushed to clean up its self-inflicted mess, Vice President Mike Pence mistakenly referred to the SDF as the "Syrian Defence Forces" several times as he announced a ceasefire that further betrayed them. And, earlier, President Donald Trump blurted out the poorly-kept secret that the PKK were in their ranks. America's imperfect pact with the Kurds was always going to fall apart one day.

But nobody could have imagined the SDF's 10,000-plus dead sons and daughters would have been betrayed by overwhelming ignorance, fealty to Turkish and Russian interests, and the toxic aversion to details that the Trump administration displayed. The window for Russian dominance in Syria was jammed open by the pitfalls of the US-brokered ceasefire. No deal works on a battlefield if the area covered by it isn't agreed upon. Turkey thought it got all the areas it wanted on the border. The Syrian Kurds thought they had to stop shooting and let Turkey keep the ground it already had -- the latter something it had little say over militarily. It was the perfect scene-setter for Russia to step in. Russian President Vladimir Putin's Sochi deal with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, took in the military reality on the ground. Turkey likely didn't want urban warfare in four to five cities on its border for months to come. To that, Putin added the Syrian regime with Russia at its back -- the keepers of an ugly peace. more... - You have to wonder if the reason Trump is doing what Putin wants is that Putin has something on him or for help in the 2016 election or both.

By James Walker
 
A former CIA official who oversaw the agency's Russia operations has claimed Vladimir Putin benefits the most from Donald Trump's latest foreign policy moves and suggested the Russian president wakes up in the middle of the night and thinks he must be dreaming. Steven L. Hall, a retired CIA chief of Russian operations and CNN national security analyst, told network anchor Anderson Cooper that Putin likely believed Trump's decisions around Syria and Ukraine have been "absolutely fabulous." He also criticised Trump for reportedly consulting with Putin and "two-bit autocrats" like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Ukraine, and described the U.S. president's overall dealings with Ukraine as a "veritable buffet of horribleness."

The Washington Post reported that President Trump's view on corruption in Ukraine was influenced by conversations about the country with Orban and Putin, according to unnamed officials. It also revealed that George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state, had made similar assertions at a closed-door testimony in front of the House impeachment inquiry. Asked by Cooper whether the decision to seek advice from the two leaders had jeopardized national security, Hall said: "You've got this veritable buffet of horribleness in front of us, and it's difficult for me to say which is the most horrible thing. "That is certainly a terrible, terrible thing when you've got the president of the United States of America reaching out to a foreign leader and asking for that help, regardless of whether there's a quid pro quo."

Retired CIA Chief of Russian Operations Steve Hall calls President Trump's recent foreign policy actions a “veritable buffet of horribleness." https://t.co/dOmRQN0Loa pic.twitter.com/hhtBLGWSHF — Anderson Cooper 360° (@AC360) October 22, 2019. The former CIA official went on to say there had been a "decimation" of Trump administration officials who understood Ukraine and Russia. After criticising Trump for reportedly consulting with Putin and Orban over Ukraine instead of State Department officials, and mockingly describing the leader and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani as "brain surgeons," Hall said: "[Trump] says, yeah I believe what Vladimir Putin tells me about this, and so I'll hold the [Ukraine aid money] money they need so badly. "Why? To thwart Russian invasions and for their annexation of Crimea. How is this good for U.S. security? I do not understand."

When Anderson Cooper tried to draw the former CIA official's thoughts on whether Trump was a "puppet" of Putin, Hall said "none other than Vladimir Putin" had benefitted from Trump's harsher view on Ukraine and his decision to pull U.S. troops from northeastern Syria. "Vladimir Putin is now running up and down the Syrian border with his military forces opposite Turkey with Russian flags, going into abandoned U.S. bases there and making a big propaganda deal of it," the retired CIA operative said. more...

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