U.S. Politics

Questions surround Team Trump’s pre-election talks with Russia

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to his mobile phone during a lunch stop, Feb. 18, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (Photo by Matt Rourke/AP)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to his mobile phone during a lunch stop, Feb. 18, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C.| Photo by Matt Rourke/AP

The MaddowBlog

White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s alleged talks with Russia in December are the basis for an important ongoing scandal. But the latest revelations also shed light on a separate, parallel controversy that may end up being every bit as important.
As part of its reporting on Flynn’s communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, the Washington Post noted on Friday:
The talks were part of a series of contacts between Flynn and Kislyak that began before the Nov. 8 election and continued during the transition, officials said. [Emphasis added]
A New York Times report added:
[C]urrent and former American officials said that conversation – which took place the day before the Obama administration imposed sanctions on Russia over accusations that it used cyberattacks to help sway the election in Mr. Trump’s favor – ranged far beyond the logistics of a post-inauguration phone call. And they said it was only one in a series of contacts between the two men that began before the election and also included talk of cooperating in the fight against the Islamic State, along with other issues. [Emphasis added]
It’s hard to overstate the significance of this detail, which risks doing real harm to Donald Trump’s White House.

Let’s back up a minute to provide some context.

Practically everyone in both parties now agrees that Russian officials, acting on Vladimir Putin’s orders, launched an espionage operation to undermine the U.S. presidential election in 2016, at least in part to help put Trump in the White House. What’s unclear is whether Team Trump colluded with Moscow during the election crimes.

On Nov. 10, just two days after the U.S. election, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said “there were contacts” between the Russian government and Trump’s campaign team before the U.S. presidential election. In fact, Ryabkov said “quite a few” members of Trump’s team had been “staying in touch with Russian representatives” before Americans cast their ballots.

Trump World have long insisted the opposite was true. Kellyanne Conway, asked if there were pre-election communications between the Republican campaign and Putin’s government, said, “Absolutely not.” She added the conversations “never happened” and any suggestions to the contrary “undermine our democracy.”

Though it’s unclear why the Russian deputy foreign minister would lie about this, Conway wasn’t the only member of Team Trump who emphatically denied the talks. At a pre-inaugural press conference, the president himself said no one from the Trump campaign was in contact with Russia during the campaign.

Those denials are apparently in conflict with the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies.

Why is this so important? Because we’re faced with the very real possibility that a foreign adversary attacked America’s democracy to help put Donald Trump in the Oval Office, and while those attacks were under way, Trump aides were in communications with Putin’s government and then Team Trump repeatedly misled the American public about what transpired.

Based on what’s been reported thus far, that’s precisely what happened.

Postscript: The idea that no one on Team Trump spoke to Putin’s government before the election was already suspect. One of the people Trump singled out as a top foreign policy advisor, Carter Page, had repeated contacts with Moscow during the campaign – right up until Team Trump decided to disown Page and pretend he had no role in the operation.

That said, Michael Flynn is a far more prominent, more powerful, and more influential figure in the president’s orbit. If the White House national security advisor was also engaged in pre-election talks with Putin’s government during the campaign, it’s a qualitatively more important revelation.

Second Postscript: The list of questions for the White House isn’t short, but I’d start with, “What did Trump know about Flynn’s pre-election communications with Russia? When did the president first learn of the back-channel messages? If Trump didn’t know what his top national security advisor was up to for months, what does that say about the president’s ability to lead? And if he did know, why did the president lie to the public?”

U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: February 13, 2017

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. Nearly 200,000 evacuated near California dam
California authorities on Sunday ordered 188,000 people to evacuate their homes after an emergency spillway at the Oroville Dam, the nation’s tallest dam, threatened to fail and cause massive flooding downstream. “This is not a drill. Repeat, this is not a drill,” the National Weather Service said. The evacuation was ordered after engineers spotted a hole in the secondary spillway for the 770-foot-tall dam and warned it could fail within an hour. The water level in Lake Oroville, about 150 miles northeast of San Francisco, dropped overnight under the level where it flows over the auxiliary spillway, but officials left the evacuation order in place early Monday.

Source: Los Angeles Times, The Associated Press

2. Adele sweeps top Grammys
Adele swept the Grammys’ top categories on Sunday night, winning Album of the Year for 25 and Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Solo Performance for “Hello.” Beyonce, who went into the ceremony with a leading nine nominations, won Best Urban Contemporary Album for Lemonade, and her sister, Solange, won Best R&B Performance for “Cranes in the Sky.” Chance the Rapper won his first Grammy, for Best Rap Performance, and picked up two more for Best New Artist and Best Rap Album for Coloring Book. David Bowie won four posthumous Grammys for his last album, Blackstar, which was released just days before he died of cancer in January 2016. Bowie never won a Grammy for an individual album or song while he was alive. Band-mate Donny McCaslin accepted the rock performance award on Bowie’s behalf, calling him “an artistic genius and a funny-as-hell guy.”

Source: Reuters, NPR

3. Top White House aide accuses judges of usurping Trump’s power on immigration
White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller said on Sunday news talk shows that the blocking of President Trump’s executive order on immigration and refugees amounted to a “judicial usurpation of power.” Miller, the author of the controversial order to temporarily suspend a refugee program and travel from seven majority-Muslim nations, said the White House is considering a broad menu of options, from appealing last week’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision rejecting a request to reinstate the ban, to writing a new executive order. Cornell University law professor Jens David Ohlin said that accusing judges of usurping presidential authority shows “an absurd lack of appreciation for the separation of powers.”

Source: Reuters, The Washington Post

4. U.N. Security Council holding emergency meeting on North Korea
The U.S., Japan, and South Korea have requested a United Nations Security Council meeting, expected to take place Monday, on North Korea’s latest ballistic missile launch. South Korea says it expects more such tests, which it calls “serious military and security threats.” North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, was on site to supervise the test, which his government declared a success. The banned missile launch, conducted early Sunday, was interpreted as an early test of President Trump, who has vowed to be tough on Pyongyang. Trump had a restrained reaction, appearing with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Palm Beach and reaffirming America’s commitment to stand by Japan, without mentioning North Korea. Abe called the launch “absolutely intolerable.”

Source: The Associated Press

5. Flynn apologizes under mounting pressure over Russia contact
National Security Adviser Michael Flynn reportedly is under pressure that could jeopardize his job due to his pre-inaugural conversations with Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak, administration officials said Sunday. Flynn had said he and Kislyak never discussed sanctions imposed over Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials backed him up on that. Flynn now admits he did speak with the ambassador about sanctions, multiple times, and there are transcripts of his phone calls, officials say. Flynn reportedly has apologized to Pence. Trump has not commented on the matter, but he told reporters he would look into it.

Source: Reuters, The Washington Post

6. Anti-Trump protests break out in Mexico
Thousands of people in more than a dozen Mexican cities on Sundayprotested against President Trump, criticizing the U.S. leader for insulting Mexican immigrants and accusing their own president, Enrique Pena Nieto, of failing to stand up to him. In an extraordinary show of unity, people from across the country turned out waving Mexican flags, carrying signs in English and Spanish, and hoisting pinatas resembling Trump bearing pro-Mexico slogans. “He’s such a bad man and he shouldn’t act the way he does,” said one marcher, 62-year-old Jorge Ruiz.

Source: Reuters

7. Trump ally says Reince Priebus ‘in way over his head’
A longtime friend of President Trump, Newsmax Media chief executive Christopher Ruddy, said on Sunday that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus was “in way over his head.” Two days earlier, Ruddy had spoken privately with Trump over drinks. Ruddy said Trump should replace Priebus. “A lot of people have been saying, ‘Look, Donald has some problems,’ and I think he realizes that he’s got to make some changes going forward,” Ruddy told The Washington Post. Ruddy said “Reince is the problem,” because the former Republican National Committee chairman is “not knowledgeable of how federal agencies work, how the communications operations work. He botched this whole immigration rollout. This should’ve been a win for Donald, not two or three weeks of negative publicity.” Ruddy said he was speaking for himself, not Trump.

Source: The Washington Post

8. Missouri KKK leader found dead
Frank Ancona, an outspoken Missouri Ku Klux Klan leader, was found dead on a river bank over the weekend. An autopsy reportedly determined he had been shot in the head. Ancona, 51, was found near the Big River by a family on a fishing outing. He was last seen by his family on Wednesday, and a Forestry Service employee found his vehicle on a service road. Washington County Sheriff Zach Jacobsen said on Sunday that nobody had been arrested in connection with Ancona’s death yet, “but that may change tomorrow.”

Source: Park Hills Daily Journal, ABC News

9. Germany rules out terrorism after dozens sickened at airport
Authorities evacuated hundreds of people from Germany’s Hamburg Airport on Sunday after dozens of people were affected by an airborne irritant. A spokesman for the federal police in the northern German city said 68 people had suffered eye pain and coughing, but investigators had found “no evidence” the incident was a terrorist attack. He said it was probably caused by a cartridge of pepper spray found in a bin in which travelers discard liquids before boarding.

Source: Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post

10. Jazz singer Al Jarreau dies at 76
Grammy-winning jazz singer Al Jarreau died Sunday, after canceling the rest of his 2017 concert dates and retiring from touring due to exhaustion. He was 76. A Feb. 8 post to his official Twitter account said it was with “complete sorrow” that Jarreau had decided to stop traveling to perform on orders from his doctors. A post on his website last week said he was receiving treatment for exhaustion in a Los Angeles hospital and “improving slowly.” The Milwaukee native won seven Grammys over a half-century career. His biggest hit was “We’re in This Love Together” from the 1981 album Breakin’ Away.

Source: Entertainment Weekly, The Detroit News

U.S. Politics

John Oliver Has A Genius Plan To Force Trump To Learn Some Actual Facts

WARNINGSome [ADULT] material in the following video may be too sensitive for some

THE HUFFINGTON POST

Brilliant!

John Oliver is back, and he’s launched his most challenging investigation yet.

On Sunday’s “Last Week Tonight” on HBO, the comic looked into reality itself, which is under assault by President Donald Trump and a White House that accepts “alternative facts.”

So what can you do when the president himself doesn’t seem to care what the facts are?

Try to teach him anyway… secretly.

Oliver is going to start running ads on some of Trump’s favorite TV shows that look a lot like some of the commercials already airing ― but with a slight difference.

Check it out above.

 

U.S. Politics

US intelligence community operating under presumption Russia has “ears” on the Trump team

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 28: President Donald Trump speaks on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Oval Office of the White House, January 28, 2017 in Washington, DC. Also pictured, from left, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Vice President Mike Pence, White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, Press Secretary Sean Spicer and National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. On Saturday, President Trump is making several phone calls with world leaders from Japan, Germany, Russia, France and Australia. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)attribution: Getty Images 

Is there a mole?

DAILY KOS

The American intelligence community is quite certain that the Donald Trump campaign was aided, whether knowingly or not, by a Russian government-sponsored espionage and propaganda effort aimed at boosting Trump’s chances for the presidency. The Trump campaign was staffed with so many Russia-linked figures that newspapers took to designing charts to show them all, from Paul Manafort to Carter Page to Michael Flynn. The new Secretary of State comes to the role from a position orchestrating an oil deal between his company and Russia so massive that, if sanctions preventing it are lifted, it would reshape the Russian government’s own finances for years to come.

The intelligence community knows of contact between Trump staffers and the Russian government before the inauguration. The intelligence community verified that despite Trump adviser Michael Flynn insisting he did not discuss the hacking-related sanctions imposed by the Obama administration on the Russian government with a Russian official, he in fact did. The intelligence community has now verified parts of the infamous and salacious “dossier” on Trump-Russia ties, though not the most alarming and damning bits.

And the American intelligence community is now operating under the suspicion that the new White House may include, somewhere within its top ranks a Russian mole.

A senior National Security Agency official explained that NSA was systematically holding back some of the “good stuff” from the White House, in an unprecedented move. For decades, NSA has prepared special reports for the president’s eyes only, containing enormously sensitive intelligence. In the last three weeks, however, NSA has ceased doing this, fearing Trump and his staff cannot keep their best SIGINT secrets. […]What’s going on was explained lucidly by a senior Pentagon intelligence official, who stated that “since January 20, we’ve assumed that the Kremlin has ears inside the SITROOM,” meaning the White House Situation Room, the 5,500 square-foot conference room in the West Wing where the president and his top staffers get intelligence briefings. “There’s not much the Russians don’t know at this point,” the official added in wry frustration.

We don’t know what led the CIA to reject a required security clearance for Michael Flynn aide Rob Townley. The White House insists that was a political move by the CIA against Flynn—but the CIA is now led by Trump’s own appointed director, Mike Pompeo, who himself approved the rejection. We also don’t know to what extent Trump might simply order the intelligence community to reveal information they’re not keen on revealing to his staff.

But no, this is not normal. This is a very, very far way from normal. And we’re just in the opening act.

By Hunter

U.S. Politics

NASA scientist Sidd Bikkannavar says he was forced to unlock phone at airport

NASA scientist Sidd Bikkannavar says he was forced to unlock phone at airport

Image Credit: Getty Images

NEWS.MIC

Before it was temporarily halted by federal judges, President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban affected thousands of people worldwide. While much of the focus has rightly been on the refugees and immigrants whose lives were affected by the ban, it’s also affected U.S. citizens — including a NASA scientist.

Sidd Bikkannavar, who works in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol on Jan. 30 upon returning to the United States from Santiago, Chile, the Verge reported.

Bikkannavar is a natural-born U.S. citizen enrolled in CBP’s Global Entry program, which allows participants who have undergone a background check to expedite their entry into the U.S. and select other countries. He also has not visited any of the countries mentioned in Trump’s Muslim ban, meaning there’s no reason why he should have been detained under the executive order — though customs officials may have taken notice of his southern Indian surname, Bikkannavar said to the Verge.

Upon arriving at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Bikkannavar was detained by CBP officials, who asked him questions about his background — which are already provided through Global Entry — and demanded access to his work cell phone, which was officially NASA property.

“I was cautiously telling him I wasn’t allowed to give it out, because I didn’t want to seem like I was not cooperating,” Bikkannavar told the Verge. “I told him I’m not really allowed to give the passcode; I have to protect access. But he insisted they had the authority to search it.”

Manually searching devices on the basis of someone’s race or natural origin is illegal, the Verge noted, and though travelers may be detained if they decline to give their phone’s PIN to a customs agent, they are not legally required to do so.

“In each incident that I’ve seen, the subjects have been shown a Blue Paper that says CBP has legal authority to search phones at the border, which gives them the impression that they’re obligated to unlock the phone, which isn’t true,” Hassan Shibly, chief executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Florida, said to the Verge. “They’re not obligated to unlock the phone.”

Ultimately, however, Bikkannavar did unlock his phone, which was returned to him after the customs official spent 30 minutes with the phone out of Bikkannavar’s view. Bikkannavar is unsure about what was done to his phone during that time, and reports that his lab’s cybersecurity team is similarly unhappy about the breach of privacy. Bikkannavar has since received a new phone from his employer with a new phone number.

Though he was ultimately able to leave, Bikkannavar said he remains shaken by the experience. The scientist told the Verge he was “caught off guard by the whole thing,” and remains unsure why he was singled out.

“It was not that they were concerned with me bringing something dangerous in, because they didn’t even touch the bags,”  Bikkannavar told the Verge. “They had no way of knowing I could have had something in there. You can say, ‘Okay well maybe it’s about making sure I’m not a dangerous person,’ but they have all the information to verify that.”

Alison Durkee

U.S. Politics

Cummings: It Would Be ‘Appropriate’ To Revoke Flynn’s Security Clearance

Lauren Victoria Burke

TPM LIVEWIRE

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said on Sunday that it would be “appropriate” to revoke the security clearance of President Donald Trump’s national security advisor Michael Flynn.

On ABC’s “This Week” George Stephanopoulos referenced an interview with Trump’s senior policy advisor Stephen Miller earlier on the show. Miller said that he did not “have any news to make” with regard to Flynn’s reported conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States about sanctions before Trump took office.

“Mr. Miller didn’t want to take questions about General Flynn, who’s under criticism for those contacts with the Russian ambassador, perhaps misleading the Vice President as well,” Stephanopoulos asked. “Do you agree with the Democratic leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi, that his security clearance should be revoked, pending the completion of the investigation?”

“I think that’s an appropriate action,” Cummings replied. “But, George, there’s something else that needs to be asked. That is, did the President instruct General Flynn to talk to the ambassador? And did he know about it? And if he knew about this conversation, when did he know it?”

He said that Flynn put Vice President Mike Pence in “a very awkward and a very sad position.”

“To have him go out on national media and say that these were just some casual conversations that had nothing to do with the sanctions, and then for General Flynn to be walking that back, that’s not good enough,” Cummings said.

He said that Flynn is supposed to “make sure that these kinds of things don’t happen” as part of his role as national security advisor.

“And here he is, embroiled in all of this. So I think it’s going to be very interesting to see what happens over the next week,” Cummings said. “I would be very interested to know how the Vice President feels after he was basically thrown under the bus.”

On Friday, multiple news outlets reported that Flynn spoke about sanctions in a call before Trump’s inauguration with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

The Trump team acknowledged that Flynn did make contact with Kislyak before Trump took office, but Pence denied in January that Flynn discussed sanctions with Kislyak during those calls.

In an interview on “Meet the Press” earlier Sunday, Miller told NBC News’ Chuck Todd that he couldn’t say whether the President still has confidence in Flynn.

 

ESME CRIBB

U.S. Politics

Trump’s chief policy advisor says the president’s power ‘will not be questioned’ by the courts

Stephen Miller, policy adviser to President-elect Donald Trump arrives at Trump Tower in New York, Monday, Jan. 9, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

THINK PROGRESS

Senior White House Policy Advisor Stephen Miller raised plenty of eyebrows on Sunday as the perused the talk-show circuit talking about cases of voter fraud (that don’t exist) and Steve Bannon’s lack of involvement in drafting executive orders (which, according to most reports, is the exact opposite of the truth).

But perhaps his most alarming statement was in reference to the federal judges in Washington rejecting President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban.

“I think that it’s been an important reminder to all Americans that we have a judiciary that has taken far too much power and become in many cases a supreme branch of government,” Miller told John Dickerson of CBS News, as first noted by Will Saletan of Slate. “The end result of this, though, is that our opponents, the media, and the whole world will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

Miller’s boss was, unsurprisingly, watching his performance, and gave the 31-year-old rave reviews.

Trump has been livid ever since a federal judge first blocked his Muslim ban, and he has taken his anger out on the nation’s court system by consistently undermining and questioning its power.

Last weekend, to kick off another volatile week of the Trump presidency, the White House called the judge’s order “outrageous” and Trump tweeted on Saturday that the “so-called judge” had made a “ridiculous” ruling. He went on to say that the judge would now be responsible if there were any acts of terrorism in the country.

On Thursday evening, when the Ninth Circuit upheld the block of the ban, Trump seemed determined to take more legal actions. However, the ban is not currently being appealed to the Supreme Court; instead, it has been reported that the ban will be rewritten.

Trump’s frequent belittling of the court system has reminded many prominent officials of authoritarian rule.

Lindsay Gibbs

U.S. Politics

Sen. Al Franken: Dems should have called Trump a racist – to his face

alan.com

… because of his racist slur of Elizabeth Warren:

In a so-called “listening session” with 10 Democratic senators last week, Trump reportedly got no pushback when he repeatedly called Warren “Pocahontas” while making the point that she had become the face of “your party.”

“I heard this from a couple of my colleagues who were there,” Franken told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday. “And I — I would have said something.”

“I would have said, ‘Mr. President, with due respect, that’s racist. Please stop doing that. I’m on Indian Affairs [subcommittee]. This is completely unacceptable. You really should stop doing this. It doesn’t serve anybody.’”

Franken also told CNN that there are Republican legislators who question Trump’s mental health:

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said early Sunday that Republican colleagues have expressed concern to him about President Trump’s mental health.

“A few, yeah,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“We all have this suspicion that, you know, he lies a lot. He says things that aren’t true. That’s the same as lying, I guess,” Franken, who’s mentioned as a possible 2020 presidential candidate, added.

“You know, 3 [million] to 5 million people voted illegally,” Franken said, referencing Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that widespread voter fraud cost him the popular vote.

That is not the norm for a president of the United States or actually for a human being.”

By: dave-dr-gonzo