GOP takes up Russia-aligned attack on Soros

Politico reports: A group of congressional Republicans is teaming up with Russia-backed politicians in Eastern Europe with the shared goal of stopping a common enemy: billionaire financier George Soros.

Led by Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, the conservative lawmakers have signed on to a volley of letters accusing Soros of using his philanthropic spending to project his liberal sensibilities onto European politics. As Lee and other senators put it in a March 14 letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Soros’ Open Society Foundations are trying “to push a progressive agenda and invigorate the political left.”

It’s an accusation that’s being fomented and championed by Moscow.

Soros, who survived the Nazi occupation of his native Hungary and fled after World War II when it was under Soviet control, has been long a bête noire of the Kremlin, which sees his funding for civil society groups in former Soviet satellite states as part of a plot to install pro-Western governments.

For years, those complaints had generally fallen on deaf ears in Washington.

While Republicans have long regarded Soros as a mortal enemy when it comes to domestic politics (where he has spent tens of millions of dollars backing Democratic candidates and liberal causes), their politics were more aligned on the international stage. Soros’ efforts to boost democracy and root out corruption in former Eastern Bloc countries dovetailed with traditional Republican foreign policy objectives.

But things may have started changing after Donald Trump’s stunning victory in a presidential campaign during which he emphasized nationalist themes. Politicians with nationalist constituencies in several former Eastern Bloc states have become increasingly aggressive in seeking international support for their crusade against Soros, and they seem to have found at least some takers in the GOP. [Continue reading…]

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‘There’s a smell of treason in the air’

The Washington Post reports: On the 60th day of his presidency came the hardest truth for Donald Trump.

He was wrong.

James B. Comey — the FBI director whom Trump celebrated on the campaign trail as a gutsy and honorable “Crooked Hillary” truth-teller — testified under oath Monday what many Americans had already assumed: Trump had falsely accused his predecessor of wiretapping his headquarters during last year’s campaign.

Trump did not merely allege that former president Barack Obama ordered surveillance on Trump Tower, of course. He asserted it as fact, and then reasserted it, and then insisted that forthcoming evidence would prove him right.

But in Monday’s remarkable, marathon hearing of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Comey said there was no such evidence. Trump’s claim, first made in a series of tweets on March 4 at a moment when associates said he was feeling under siege and stewing over the struggles of his young presidency, remains unfounded.

Comey did not stop there. He confirmed publicly that the FBI was investigating possible collusion between Trump campaign officials and associates with Russia, part of an extraordinary effort by an adversary to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election in Trump’s favor.

Questions about Russia have hung over Trump for months, but the president always has dismissed them as “fake news.” That became much harder Monday after the FBI director proclaimed the Russia probe to be anything but fake.

“There’s a smell of treason in the air,” presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said. “Imagine if J. Edgar Hoover or any other FBI director would have testified against a sitting president? It would have been a mind-boggling event.” [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: A Gallup poll released Monday found Mr. Trump with an abysmal 37 percent approval rating; other recent polls place his popularity in the mid-40s, but even that level is among the lowest ever recorded for a president this early in his first term.

Over the past several weeks, Republicans in Congress and members of their staffs have privately complained that Mr. Trump’s Twitter comment on March 4 — the one where he called Barack Obama “sick” and suggested that the former president had ordered a “tapp” on his phone — had done more to undermine anything he’s done as president because it called into question his seriousness about governing.

The problem, from the perspective of Mr. Trump’s beleaguered political fire brigade, is that the president insists on dealing with crises by creating new ones — so surrogates, repeating talking points the president himself ignores, say they often feel like human shields. [Continue reading…]

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The Mercers and Stephen Bannon: How a populist power base was funded and built

Matea Gold reports: The champagne was flowing as hedge fund executive Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah hosted a reception during the Cannes Film Festival last May to promote “Clinton Cash,” a film by their political adviser Stephen K. Bannon and the production company they co-founded, Glittering Steel.

The Mercers, Republican mega-donors who had spent millions on the failed presidential bid of Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, and Bannon, then executive chairman of Breitbart News Network, were still weeks from formally aligning with Donald Trump’s campaign. But the festivities that balmy evening aboard the Sea Owl, the Mercers’ luxurious yacht, marked the growing influence of their financial and political partnership in shaping the 2016 campaign — and in encouraging the populist surge now reverberating around the world.

The Mercers’ approach is far different from that of other big donors. While better-known players such as the Koch brothers on the right and George Soros on the left focus on mobilizing activists and voters, the Mercers have exerted pressure on the political system by helping erect an alternative media ecosystem, whose storylines dominated the 2016 race.

Their alliance with Bannon provided fuel for the narrative that drove Trump’s victory: that dangerous immigrants are ruining the country and corrupt power brokers are sabotaging Washington.

The wealthy New York family and the former investment banker-turned-media executive collaborated on at least five ventures between 2011 and 2016, according to a Washington Post review of public filings and multiple people familiar with their relationship. The extent of their partnership has not previously been reported.

Through those projects, the Mercers and Bannon, now chief White House strategist, quietly built a power base aimed at sowing distrust of big government and eroding the dominance of the major news media. [Continue reading…]

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Why religiously unaffiliated Republicans flocked to Trump

Peter Beinart writes: When pundits describe the Americans who sleep in on Sundays, they often conjure left-leaning hipsters. But religious attendance is down among Republicans, too. According to data assembled for me by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), the percentage of white Republicans with no religious affiliation has nearly tripled since 1990. This shift helped Trump win the GOP nomination. During the campaign, commentators had a hard time reconciling Trump’s apparent ignorance of Christianity and his history of pro-choice and pro-gay-rights statements with his support from evangelicals. But as Notre Dame’s Geoffrey Layman noted, “Trump does best among evangelicals with one key trait: They don’t really go to church.” A Pew Research Center poll last March found that Trump trailed Ted Cruz by 15 points among Republicans who attended religious services every week. But he led Cruz by a whopping 27 points among those who did not.

Why did these religiously unaffiliated Republicans embrace Trump’s bleak view of America more readily than their churchgoing peers? Has the absence of church made their lives worse? Or are people with troubled lives more likely to stop attending services in the first place? Establishing causation is difficult, but we know that culturally conservative white Americans who are disengaged from church experience less economic success and more family breakdown than those who remain connected, and they grow more pessimistic and resentful. Since the early 1970s, according to W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia, rates of religious attendance have fallen more than twice as much among whites without a college degree as among those who graduated college. And even within the white working class, those who don’t regularly attend church are more likely to suffer from divorce, addiction, and financial distress. As Wilcox explains, “Many conservative, Protestant white men who are only nominally attached to a church struggle in today’s world. They have traditional aspirations but often have difficulty holding down a job, getting and staying married, and otherwise forging real and abiding ties in their community. The culture and economy have shifted in ways that have marooned them with traditional aspirations unrealized in their real-world lives.”

The worse Americans fare in their own lives, the darker their view of the country. According to PRRI, white Republicans who seldom or never attend religious services are 19 points less likely than white Republicans who attend at least once a week to say that the American dream “still holds true.”

But non-churchgoing conservatives didn’t flock to Trump only because he articulated their despair. He also articulated their resentments. For decades, liberals have called the Christian right intolerant. When conservatives disengage from organized religion, however, they don’t become more tolerant. They become intolerant in different ways. Research shows that evangelicals who don’t regularly attend church are less hostile to gay people than those who do. But they’re more hostile to African Americans, Latinos, and Muslims. In 2008, the University of Iowa’s Benjamin Knoll noted that among Catholics, mainline Protestants, and born-again Protestants, the less you attended church, the more anti-immigration you were. (This may be true in Europe as well. A recent thesis at Sweden’s Uppsala University, by an undergraduate named Ludvig Bromé, compared supporters of the far-right Swedish Democrats with people who voted for mainstream candidates. The former were less likely to attend church, or belong to any other community organization.)

How might religious nonattendance lead to intolerance? Although American churches are heavily segregated, it’s possible that the modest level of integration they provide promotes cross-racial bonds. In their book, Religion and Politics in the United States, Kenneth D. Wald and Allison Calhoun-Brown reference a different theory: that the most-committed members of a church are more likely than those who are casually involved to let its message of universal love erode their prejudices.

Whatever the reason, when cultural conservatives disengage from organized religion, they tend to redraw the boundaries of identity, de-emphasizing morality and religion and emphasizing race and nation. Trump is both a beneficiary and a driver of that shift. [Continue reading…]

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Yes, Trump is being held accountable

Jack Goldsmith writes: In the second month of a new presidency, several bodies in a Congress controlled by the president’s party are conducting high-profile, politically fraught and hard-to-control investigations that potentially implicate current and former administration officials and former campaign officials.

All of these actors and institutions are holding the Trump presidency to account. They are endeavoring to uncover the truth about the manifold Russian mysteries. And they can, if they see fit, take action with effects ranging from publicity and embarrassment to political damage with electoral consequences to criminal prosecution to impeachment if appropriate.

It’s true that the process of accountability is halting and frustratingly slow. But this is as it should be. The stakes could not be higher for our democracy. Ascertaining the truth is vital, and respect for the innocent is as important as identification of wrongdoing. It is thus crucial that the complex and elusive facts be sorted out in a fair and procedurally rigorous manner, and that the law be applied with deliberation and good judgment.

Justice seems elusive here because it is so plodding. But plodding justice is our best chance for a legitimate resolution to this mess. [Continue reading…]

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John McCain: Rand Paul ‘is now working for Vladimir Putin’

The Daily Beast reports: The long-simmering war between Sens. John McCain and Rand Paul boiled over on Wednesday when the Arizona lawmaker directly accused his colleague of working for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

While speaking from the Senate floor in support of a bill advancing Montenegro’s bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), McCain noted objection from his Kentucky colleague, saying that if you oppose the measure, “You are achieving the objectives of Vladimir Putin… trying to dismember this small country which has already been the subject an attempted coup.”

McCain continued: “If they object, they are now carrying out the desires and ambitions of Vladimir Putin and I do not say that lightly.”

Several moments later, after the 80-year-old senator asked for unanimous consent to move the bill forward, Paul took the mic to raise his objection before dramatically exiting the room.

In response, McCain began railing against Paul, his voice trembling with anger: “I note the senator from Kentucky leaving the floor without justification or any rationale for the action he has just taken. That is really remarkable, that a senator blocking a treaty that is supported by the overwhelming number—perhaps 98, at least, of his colleagues—would come to the floor and object and walk away.”

He then directly connected Paul to the Russian government: “The only conclusion you can draw when he walks away is he has no justification for his objection to having a small nation be part of NATO that is under assault from the Russians.

“So I repeat again, the senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin.” [Continue reading…]

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Republicans are threatening to expose Trump as the emperor with no clothes

Aaron Blake writes: It’s almost as though Republicans are tired of having President Trump’s evidence-free allegations laid at their feet. Almost.

Late Monday, a spokesman for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) threatened to subpoena the Trump administration to produce evidence of Trump’s claim that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the campaign. The White House has declined to produce this evidence publicly, offering various excuses, including the Constitution’s separation of powers and — most recently on Monday — arguing that Trump wasn’t speaking literally when he made the claim.

The Justice Department missed Nunes’s deadline to provide evidence Monday, which drew Nunes’s subpoena threat.

“If the committee does not receive a response, the committee will ask for this information during the March 20 hearing and may resort to a compulsory process if our questions continue to go unanswered,” Nunes spokesman Jack Langer said.

Then, on Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) made his own threat. Last week, Graham — who is clearly skeptical of the wiretapping claim and chairs a subcommittee looking into it — asked the Justice Department and the FBI to provide copies of any warrants or court orders related to the alleged wiretapping. Having not received anything, Graham said Tuesday that he would announce his next steps Wednesday and may push for a special committee. [Continue reading…]

Reuters reports: A UK spy agency did not eavesdrop on Donald Trump during and after last year’s U.S. presidential election, a British security official said on Tuesday, denying an allegation by a U.S. television analyst.

The official, who is familiar with British government policy and security operations, told Reuters that the charge made on Tuesday by Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano, was “totally untrue and quite frankly absurd.” [Continue reading…]

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Steve King, the nativist who just comes right out and says it

Ed Kilgore writes: Nothing upsets conservative “nationalists” like Stephen Bannon more than the charge that bigotry is at the center of the movement that gave us President Trump. While Bannon admits there is racism and anti-Semitism at the fringes of the alt-right, with which his old journalistic perch at Breibart has associated, he insists on treating such influences as marginal.

It is worth remembering that this is a persistent claim among right-bent political activists who may or may not themselves be bigoted, but who are clearly trafficking in appeals to bigots. When George Wallace shifted his focus from defending segregation to attacking unpopular desegregation methods like school busing, he argued he was just favoring the color-blind posture of his old enemies in the civil-rights movement. But he — and we — knew better when it came to the visceral politics of race he espoused.

The effort to marginalize the role of racial or religious bigots in cultural conservatism works best when everybody’s got the memo and is refusing to say things that cross the line. But right there in Washington, within close proximity of the cameras, is at least one member of Congress who, to use a phrase sometimes said of Wallace in his heyday, just comes right out and says it: Iowa’s Steve King. No, King doesn’t admit to racially or religiously discriminatory sentiments, as much as he flirts with them. But for years he has been closely associated (along with his very close friend, former Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado) with a brand of nativism that views both illegal and legal immigration as threats to what can only be described as European-American “civilization,” and who is willing to trade in crude stereotypes of people of color. [Continue reading…]

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Congressman Steve King endorses ‘Dutch Trump,’ Geert Wilders, in battle over ‘civilization’

The Daily Beast reports: The Republican Party has long been a comfortable home for anti-Europeanism, from the “America First” opponents of U.S. participation in World War II to the “let them eat Freedom Fries” movement responsible for renaming French fries in congressional cafeterias during the lead-up to the Iraq War in 2003.

But as far-right political parties gain power and prominence on the Continent, many members of the Grand Old Party are cozying up to European politicos with unprecedented enthusiasm — well, nearly unprecedented.

Among the most fawning of the newly Europositive wing of the Republican party: Rep. Steve King (R-IA), a nativist hawk from the heartland with a long and unapologetic history of making incendiary statements regarding immigrants, Islam, and racial “sub-groups.” On Sunday, however, King surprised even his sharpest critics by tweeting what amounts to an endorsement of Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders, founder and leader of the right-wing Party for Freedom who is days away from his potential election as prime minister of the Netherlands. [Continue reading…]

 

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CIA providing raw intelligence as Trump-Russia probes heat up

Politico reports: Lawmakers are trekking to CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., to review classified evidence on Russia’s involvement in the presidential election. The House has scheduled its first public hearing on the issue. And the Senate is preparing to interview witnesses.

The congressional investigations into ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian officials are in full swing.

For months, the leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees said their investigations into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election were in their “initial” stages. On Tuesday, it became clear that the probes had moved into a new phase.

The CIA is now providing raw intelligence documents to committee members, according to multiple senators. Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) visited CIA headquarters on Monday to view the documents underlying the intelligence community’s unclassified assessment that Russia sought to sway the election in favor of Trump.

At Langley, Cornyn said Tuesday, he viewed “four large binders full of classified information that’s been made available to the committee to conduct” its wide-ranging investigation. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: The FBI has begun preparing for a major mole hunt to determine how anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks got an alleged arsenal of hacking tools the CIA has used to spy on espionage targets, according to people familiar with the matter.

The leak rattled government and technology industry officials, who spent Tuesday scrambling to determine the accuracy and scope of the thousands of documents released by the group. They were also trying to assess the damage the revelations may cause, and what damage may come from future releases promised by WikiLeaks, these people said. [Continue reading…]

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Knives are out for Reince

Politico reports: With the White House struggling to gain its footing almost two months into Donald Trump’s presidency, administration officials are increasingly putting the blame on one person: Reince Priebus.

In interviews, over a dozen Trump aides, allies, and others close to the White House said that Priebus, the 44-year-old chief of staff, was becoming a singular target of criticism within the White House.

They described a micro-manager who sprints from one West Wing meeting to another, inserting himself into conversations big and small and leaving many staffers feeling as if he’s trying to block their access to Trump. They vented about his determination to fill the administration with his political allies. And they expressed alarm at what they say are directionless morning staff meetings Priebus oversees that could otherwise be used to rigorously set the day’s agenda and counterbalance the president’s own unpredictability.

The finger-pointing further complicates life in an already turmoil-filled West Wing, one that has been hobbled by dueling power centers and unclear lines of command. [Continue reading…]

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The EPA used to enjoy bipartisan support

Kendra Pierre-Louis reports: The White House is preparing to reduce the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 25 percent, according to reports published earlier this week by Reuters and The Washington Post. In addition to targeting climate change related programs by 70 percent, the administration plans to eliminate 20 percent of EPA employees.

An agency whose total operating budget is .2 percent of the federal budget—and whose mandate is protecting human health and the environment—doesn’t seem like an obvious choice for fiscal reduction. After all, most Americans, regardless of political affiliation, tend to support environmental protections. Increasingly, Americans even agree on climate change, with 70 percent of Americans believing that climate change is real, according to Yale’s Program on Climate Change Communication. In fact, there are only two counties in the country—Grant County, West Virginia and Emery County, Utah—where less than half of residents believe in climate change.

But while the depths of the White House’s proposed cuts are unusual, that a Republican administration would move to curtail the EPA surprises no one who has paid even casual attention to 21st century American politics. Yes, the EPA was created by a Republican president, but bipartisan support of clean air and water proved to be a 20th century trend. Increasingly, the EPA’s mission of protecting human health and the environment has been bifurcated along political lines. So much so, in fact, that you might assume that support of the EPA has always been a liberal battlecry. But you’d be wrong.

“Under Reagan,” said former EPA employee Eric Schaeffer, “environmental issues were more regional than partisan. If you were John Dingell from Detroit, well, you were dragging your feet on car and truck standards. On the other hand, Dingell was great on enforcement and on hazardous waste legislation.”

“There was Guy Molonari, a Republican from Westchester,” Schaeffer added, “if you’ve ever seen pictures of Frankie Vallens and the Four Seasons, he looked like him. He always had this kind of satiny jacket, big white hair. He was very green—the environment was a big issue for him.”

Schaffer joined the EPA under George H.W. Bush and served through both of Clinton’s terms into George W. Bush’s administration. In 2001, Attorney John Ashcroft awarded Schaeffer, then the director of the EPA’s office of regulatory enforcement, the Justice Department’s John Marshall Award for public service for his work on settling oil refinery cases. And yet, this dedicated public servant only lasted a short time into George W. Bush’s administration. He wasn’t the only one. [Continue reading…]

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Jeff Sessions used political funds for RNC convention expenses

ABC News reports: While at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in August, then-U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions — who was confirmed as Attorney General in early February — used political funds from his reelection account to pay for campaign expenses at the RNC, where he met with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, ABC News confirmed Thursday. [Continue reading…]

Richard W Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer from 2005 to 2007, writes: The Cold War may be over, but Russia in the past few years has once again sought to destabilize the democratic process not only in the United States, but also in much of Europe. Russian support for Communist parties is gone, but Russian support for far right and nationalist movements globally is on the rise, as is Russian spying.

President Trump has already fired his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, for misleading Vice President Pence about his conversations with the Russians. Misleading the United States Senate in testimony under oath is at least as serious. We do not yet know all the facts, but we know enough to see that Attorney General Sessions has to go as well. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: Jeff Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump at a time when few Republican lawmakers supported the candidate. His early and fierce loyalty — and his ability to translate Trump’s nationalist instincts into policy — helped him forge a bond with the president, and he now enjoys access whenever he wants it, a privilege that few get, an official said.

Two of Sessions’s former Senate advisers — Stephen Miller and Rick Dearborn — hold key White House roles, and one official said Sessions still talks to them regularly. The attorney general also is friendly with Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist and a powerful player in the administration who promoted Sessions for years on the Breitbart website. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: [Sergey I. Kislyak] was appointed ambassador to Washington in 2008.

“He is a brilliant, highly professional diplomat — affable, pleasant, unbelievably good at arms control and Russian-American relations for decades,” said Sergei A. Karaganov, a periodic Kremlin adviser on foreign policy.

Some Russian foreign policy experts compared him to Anatoly F. Dobrynin, the Soviet ambassador to Washington from 1962 to 1986 and a political player in both capitals. Until recently, at least, Mr. Kislyak played a more discreet, quiet role in Washington and was even less visible in Moscow.

“I would describe him as Russia’s top authority on the United States,” said Vladimir Frolov, a foreign policy analyst.

The questions about contacts between Mr. Trump’s circle and Russian officials have revealed what both sides presumably knew, that American intelligence agencies closely track Mr. Kislyak’s movements and tap his phone calls. Russian officials on Thursday expressed anger that their ambassador’s actions were being questioned and that some news reports suggested he might be an intelligence operative.

Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, delivered an extended diatribe during her weekly briefing against what she called the low professional standards of the American news media.

“I will reveal a military secret to you: Diplomats work, and their work consists of carrying out contacts in the country where they are present,” she said. “This is on record everywhere. If they do not carry out these contacts, do not participate in negotiations, then they are not diplomats.”

Until Vladimir V. Putin returned to the Russian presidency in 2012 and tensions between Washington and Moscow rose again, Mr. Kislyak was a popular host, especially for weekend events at the estate at Pioneer Point in Maryland, which the Obama administration ordered closed last December over the hacking allegations. He invited the Americans who negotiated the New Start nuclear arms treaty and their families to a party at the estate. Russian security guards took the children of his guests tubing on the ambassador’s boat.

During the treaty negotiations, Mr. McFaul remembered, Mr. Kislyak frequently telephoned the secretary of defense or others involved, thwarting the American desire to limit his channels of communication. “He was actively pushing to try to find fissures and disagreements among us,” Mr. McFaul said.

“He is very smart, very experienced, always well prepared,” said R. Nicholas Burns, a former under secretary of state who negotiated three Iran sanctions resolutions at the United Nations with Mr. Kislyak. “But he could be cynical, obstreperous and inflexible, and had a Soviet mentality. He was very aggressive toward the United States.” [Continue reading…]

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Will Republicans break with Trump over Russia?

Susan B Glasser writes: President Donald Trump is “dangerously naïve.”

He has a “pathological unwillingness to criticize anything the Kremlin does.” He is discrediting U.S. intelligence agencies and “telling the world they can’t be believed.”

As for Trump’s refusal to disavow Russian President Vladimir Putin and the murders and poisonings of Putin critics in recent years because, as Trump put it, America has “killers” too? “I don’t think we’ve ever had a more harmful statement come out of the Oval Office than that one,” says Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House intelligence committee, in an extensive interview for our new podcast, The Global Politico.

Schiff, a Harvard-trained lawyer who made his career by prosecuting an FBI agent caught in a sex-for-secrets trap by the Soviet Union, has been one of the leading Democrats calling for a more serious investigation of Trump’s mysterious ties to Russia. Last week, when national security adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign after misleading the vice president about his December phone call with the Russian ambassador, Schiff quickly demanded an expansion of the House intel panel’s probe of the 2016 election hacking to include the Flynn matter, an expansion Chairman Devin Nunes reluctantly agreed to late last week. [Continue reading…]

Bloomberg reports: U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham promised that Congress will press ahead with a bill to sanction Russia for interfering in the U.S. presidential election, and investigate the methods it used, to make sure other countries don’t fall victim to similar hacking attacks.

Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, called on President Donald Trump to make a clear statement that Russia must pay a price for interfering with the election even though Democrats suffered most from the hacking. A Senate bill to sanction Russia is likely to get more than 75 votes and Trump should sign it, he told the Munich Security Conference on Sunday. [Continue reading…]

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Republicans are failing to protect the nation

Evan McMullin, a former CIA officer and chief policy director of the House Republican Conference from January 2015 until August 2016, when he left to run as an independent candidate in the presidential election, writes: President Trump’s disturbing Russian connections present an acute danger to American national security. According to reports this week, Mr. Trump’s team maintained frequent contact with Russian officials, including senior intelligence officers, during the campaign. This led to concerns about possible collusion with one of America’s principal strategic adversaries as it tried to influence the election in Mr. Trump’s favor. On Monday, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, was forced to resign after details of his communications with the Russian ambassador emerged.

Republican leaders in Congress now bear the most responsibility for holding the president accountable and protecting the nation. They can’t say they didn’t see the Russian interference coming. They knew all along.

Early in 2015, senior Republican congressional leaders visited Ukraine and returned full of praise for its fight for independence in spite of Russia’s efforts to destabilize the country and annex some of its regions. And in June, coincidentally just before Mr. Trump announced his campaign for the Republican nomination, they met with Ukraine’s prime minister in Washington — one of many meetings I attended as a senior aide to the House Republican Conference.

As the presidential race wore on, some of those leaders began to see parallels between Russia’s disinformation operations in Ukraine and Europe and its activities in the United States. They were alarmed by the Kremlin-backed cable network RT America, which was running stories intended, they judged, to undermine Americans’ trust in democratic institutions and promote Mr. Trump’s candidacy. Deeply unsettled, the leaders discussed these concerns privately on several occasions I witnessed. [Continue reading…]

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Top Republican senators say Congress should probe Flynn situation

The Washington Post reports: Top Republican senators said Tuesday that Congress should probe the circumstances leading up to the resignation of Michael Flynn as President Trump’s national security adviser, opening a new and potentially uncomfortable chapter in the uneasy relationship between Trump and congressional Republicans.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), vice chairman of the Senate GOP Conference and a member of the Intelligence Committee, said lawmakers ought to look at the matter as part of an existing probe into Russian meddling in the United States political system — a sensitive topic that has lingered over Republicans since Trump’s election win.

“I think in all likelihood it should be part of the intel committee’s review of what’s happened with Russia, yes,” said Blunt. He added that he “certainly wasn’t kept informed” about the situation surrounding Flynn.

Blunt’s comments came at a tense moment when congressional Republicans are finding it increasingly difficult to defend Trump after a tempestuous start to his term has stoked frustration, fatigue and fear on Capitol Hill. [Continue reading…]

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