Ongoing Trump migraine: His initial foreign policy team

The New York Times reports: One lasted only 24 days as President Trump’s national security adviser, done in by his lack of candor about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador. Another has been hauled in front of a federal grand jury investigating Russia’s interference in the election.

A third has pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about his own contacts with Russians.

Such is the fate of some of the earliest foreign policy advisers that Donald J. Trump announced with great fanfare in early 2016, a time when he was closing in on the Republican presidential nomination. It was a team born out of a political problem: Mr. Trump’s surprise march to the nomination had left the party’s establishment openly questioning whether he had the foreign policy experience and was too much of a loose cannon to be entrusted with the presidency.

Mr. Trump’s solution was to cobble together a list of men who were almost immediately written off as a collection of fringe thinkers and has-beens and unknowns in Washington foreign policy circles. Some from that group have now created far deeper problems for Mr. Trump, providing federal and congressional investigators with evidence of suspicious interactions with Russian officials and their emissaries.

Court documents and interviews with some of the advisers themselves revealed that many on the team embraced a common view: that the United States ought to seek a rapprochement with Russia after years of worsening relations during the Obama administration. Now, however, their suspected links to Russia have put them under legal scrutiny and cast a shadow over the Trump presidency.

White House officials and former campaign aides insist that two of the three foreign policy advisers now under scrutiny by federal authorities had very little influence on Mr. Trump’s campaign. They say that George Papadopoulos, who secretly pleaded guilty to charges of lying to federal agents in early October, was a young, low-level volunteer who served the campaign for only a few months.

They have described Carter Page, an energy executive who F.B.I. agents suspected had once been marked for recruitment by Russian spies, as a gadfly who had been “put on notice” by the campaign and whom Mr. Trump “does not know.” Mr. Page’s trip to Moscow in July 2016 was one of the triggers leading the F.B.I. to open a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign, and he has appeared before a grand jury in the investigation led by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel.

It is harder for the White House to distance itself from Michael T. Flynn, a retired military intelligence officer who was forced out in February after less than a month as Mr. Trump’s national security adviser. The White House has said Mr. Flynn resigned after it became clear he had not been forthright about conversations he had in late December with Sergey I. Kislyak, who was then the Russian ambassador.

The fact that so many of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy aides from that period have now acknowledged contacts with Russian officials or their intermediaries hints at Moscow’s eagerness to establish links to his campaign. [Continue reading…]

Politico reports: Former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page invoked his Fifth Amendment rights Thursday when asked by House Intelligence Committee members why he hadn’t turned over documents for their probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, lawmakers said.

“I’m helping to the greatest extent I can,” Page told reporters after exiting his interview, which was held in a secure Capitol hearing room. The committee is slated to release a transcript of his testimony in three days at Page’s request. [Continue reading…]

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