American Muslims noticed something missing from Trump’s speech — themselves

BuzzFeed reports: In the week before President Donald Trump’s Islam-focused speech in Saudi Arabia, American Muslims collectively cringed over the big question: Just how bad could it be?

Not as bad as imagined, it turns out, but still unimpressive.

US Muslims said Trump’s address Sunday at a summit in Riyadh was remarkable mainly for its blandness – shopworn lines about good versus evil from a president who once blamed his Saudi hosts for 9/11, who floated the idea of shutting down mosques, and who said, “I think Islam hates us.”

American Muslims also noted a glaring omission in the half-hour speech: themselves. There was no acknowledgment of the contributions of the athletes, doctors, actors and tech entrepreneurs who are among more than 3.3 million Muslims living in the United States.

“You don’t mention them once in your entire speech?” said Adnan Zulfiqar, a Philadelphia-based Truman National Security Project fellow who studies foreign policy in the Muslim world. “What that tells me is that Trump’s conception of America is not only Muslim-free but, in many respects, minority-free. He easily engages with Islam as a foreign ‘other,’ as opposed to Islam and Muslims as part of the American fabric.” [Continue reading…]

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The ‘Muslim world’ does not exist

Zareena Grewal writes: “I chose to make my first foreign visit a trip to the heart of the Muslim world,” President Trump said in Riyadh on Sunday, in a speech billed as a call to Muslims to promote a peaceful understanding of Islam and to unite against terrorists.

Riyadh is the capital of Saudi Arabia, but it is not the capital of the Muslim world. In fact, it’s worth remembering that “the Muslim world” is not actually a place. It’s a Western idea built on the faulty racial logic that Muslims live in a world of their own—that Islam is an eastern, foreign religion that properly belongs in a distant, faraway, dusty place. (This is arguably the logic that underlies Trump’s Muslim travel ban, currently held up in the courts: Islam is foreign, “Islam hates us,” Islam cannot possibly be a real American religion and that is why we can ban its adherents. Stephen Miller, an architect of the travel ban, was also reportedly among the writers of Trump’s Islam speech.)

If the Muslim world were the modern equivalent of the premodern concept of “Islamdom” (lands ruled by Muslims), it would refer only to Muslim-majority countries; countries where Muslims are national minorities, such as China and India, would be left out. If the Muslim world is a euphemism for the Middle East (sometimes Afghanistan and Pakistan are mistakenly lumped in, too), what to make of the fact that 80 percent of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims live outside the Middle East, including American Muslims like me?

Trump will also visit Jerusalem and the Vatican on his Abrahamic religions world tour, but we certainly do not imagine him addressing all Jews or all Christians from those cities. We understand Israel to be a modern, Zionist nation-state, not the representative of all Jews worldwide. Similarly, we understand the Vatican as the institutional center of a global Catholic network, not the heart of Christendom. [Continue reading…]

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‘I think Islam hates us’: A timeline of Trump’s comments about Islam and Muslims

The Washington Post reports: President Trump is in Saudi Arabia this weekend to meet with Arab leaders, visit the birthplace of Islam and give a speech about religious tolerance with the hope of resetting his reputation with the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims. But it’s unclear if a two-day visit is enough to overshadow his past statements about Islam and its faithful, with his rhetoric becoming more virulent as he campaigned for president.

Here’s a look back at some of the comments that he has made: [Continue reading…]

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Russia meeting revelation could trigger obstruction investigation

Politico reports: The new special counsel investigation into possible collusion between associates of President Donald Trump and Russia is just getting started — and it could take years to resolve.

But Trump’s Oval Office boast to Russian officials May 10 about why he fired FBI Director James Comey will almost certainly trigger a more immediate, and potentially perilous, legal development: an obstruction of justice investigation into whether the president intentionally engaged in a cover-up that warrants the filing of criminal charges, current and former Justice Department officials say.

Trump summarily terminated Comey one day earlier, just as it appeared that his FBI investigators were ramping up their investigation into the president’s associates — and possibly Trump himself. A day later, the president told Russian’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that, “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job.”

“I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off. … I’m not under investigation,” Trump added, according to an official White House document summarizing the meeting, as reported Friday by the New York Times.

The Times said that the White House document containing Trump’s comments was based on notes taken from inside the Oval Office, and then “circulated as the official account of the meeting.”

Renato Mariotti, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago, said special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of FBI investigators will home in Trump’s comments to the Russians, in part because there is reportedly an official White House document about it, and also because it appears to reference Trump’s possible intent in firing Comey.

To prove obstruction of justice, authorities must show that someone intentionally, or “corruptly endeavored to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law” in an investigation or other proceeding.

Mariotti, who prosecuted many federal obstruction of justice case, said that according to Justice Department practice and protocol, FBI agents would be expected to move quickly to secure the White House document and any related forensic evidence that exists, including original notes and other work product used to create it.

“There is no question that the President’s comments as reported will be examined by the special counsel and his team, to determine whether or not the president had a corrupt intent in his dealings with Comey,” Mariotti said. “There is no such thing as a magic telescope into someone’s mind. So the very best evidence of a person’s intent are their own words and actions.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump struts onto the world stage only to become a laughingstock

When the word from his own staff inside the White House is that Donald Trump is increasingly being viewed as “a complete moron,” it should come as no surprise that outside the U.S. he now commands just as little respect.

Having been duly flattered by the Saudis with a reception fit for a king, Trump not only showered them with weapons, but also added his own unexpected diplomatic touch by offering his host an impromptu curtsy:

 

Having proffered the deference that Trump obviously thought royalty expects, he then adjusted the gold bauble for comfort as though then wondering: did I get to keep this? I want to show it to Don King.

Had Trump followed Barack Obama’s example eight years ago, he would have realized that gold ornaments do not sit well on the shoulders of a dignified American president.

 

Susan Glasser writes: Many [of the European officials] I spoke with said they had made a fundamental mistake of viewing Trump primarily as an ideologue with whom they disagreed rather than what he increasingly appears to be: an ill-prepared newcomer to the world stage, with uninformed views and a largely untested team that will now be sorely tried by a 9-day, 5-stop world tour that would be wildly ambitious even for a seasoned global leader.

“People are less worried than they were six weeks ago, less afraid,” a senior German government official with extensive experience in the United States told me. “Now they see the clownish nature.” Or, as another German said on the sidelines of a meeting here devoted to taking stock of 70 years of U.S.-German relations, “People here think Trump is a laughingstock.”

“The dominant reaction to Trump right now is mockery,” Jacob Heilbrunn, the editor of the conservative journal the National Interest, told the meeting at the German Foreign Office here while moderating a panel on Trump’s foreign policy that dealt heavily on the difficulty of divining an actual policy amid the spectacle. Heilbrunn, whose publication hosted Trump’s inaugural foreign policy speech in Washington during last year’s campaign, used the ‘L’ word too. “The Trump administration is becoming an international laughingstock.” Michael Werz, a German expert from the liberal U.S. think tank Center for American Progress, agreed, adding he was struck by “how rapidly the American brand is depreciating over the last 20 weeks.” [Continue reading…]

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House inquiry turns attention to Trump campaign worker with Russia ties

The New York Times reports: Michael Caputo, who served as a communications adviser to the Trump campaign, has been asked by the House committee investigating Russian election meddling to submit to a voluntary interview and to provide any documents he may have that are related to the inquiry.

The House Intelligence Committee, which is examining possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, made its request in a letter on May 9. Mr. Caputo, who lives near Buffalo and spent six months on the Trump team, worked in Russia during the 1990s and came to know Kremlin officials. He also did work in the early 2000s for Gazprom Media, a Russian conglomerate that supported President Vladimir V. Putin.

Mr. Caputo has strongly denied that there was any collusion between him or anyone else on the campaign and Russian officials. He has also accused the committee of smearing him.

A Democratic member of the panel, Representative Jackie Speier of California, raised Mr. Caputo’s name during the March 20 hearing where James B. Comey, then the F.B.I. director, testified on Russia’s interference in the election. She noted Mr. Caputo’s work for Gazprom, and the fact that he met his second wife, who is Ukrainian, while working in 2007 on a parliamentary election in Kiev. [Continue reading…]

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‘The internet is broken,’ says pioneer of social media, Evan Williams

The New York Times reports: Evan Williams is the guy who opened up Pandora’s box. Until he came along, people had few places to go with their overflowing emotions and wild opinions, other than writing a letter to the newspaper or haranguing the neighbors.

Mr. Williams — a Twitter founder, a co-creator of Blogger — set everyone free, providing tools to address the world. In the history of communications technology, it was a development with echoes of Gutenberg.

And so here we are in 2017. How’s it going, Mr. Williams?

“I think the internet is broken,” he says. He has believed this for a few years, actually. But things are getting worse. “And it’s a lot more obvious to a lot of people that it’s broken.”

People are using Facebook to showcase suicides, beatings and murder, in real time. Twitter is a hive of trolling and abuse that it seems unable to stop. Fake news, whether created for ideology or profit, runs rampant. Four out of 10 adult internet users said in a Pew survey that they had been harassed online. And that was before the presidential campaign heated up last year.

“I thought once everybody could speak freely and exchange information and ideas, the world is automatically going to be a better place,” Mr. Williams says. “I was wrong about that.” [Continue reading…]

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Facebook could tell us how Russia interfered in our elections. Why won’t it?

Philip N. Howard and Robert Gorwa write: This month, one of the most important intelligence documents about Russian interference in the U.S. election emerged. But it didn’t come from the National Security Agency or the House Intelligence Committee. It was published by Facebook.

Facebook’s report on “Information Operations” was the company’s first public acknowledgment that political actors have been influencing public opinion through the social networking platform. The company says it will work to combat these information operations, and it has taken some positive steps. It removed some 30,000 fake accounts before the French election last month. It has purged thousands more ahead of the upcoming British election.

But more important, the report reveals that while we are all talking about “fake news,” we should also be talking about the algorithms and fake accounts that push bad information around. [Continue reading…]

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It’s becoming increasingly clear that Jared Kushner is part of Trump’s Russia problem

Vox reports: Jared Kushner: the young, pragmatic, hardheaded businessman out to modernize the US government and moderate the worst tendencies of his father-in-law — Donald Trump.

But what if, instead, Jared is not a panacea for the chaotic White House, but one of its biggest problems?

As the Trump administration’s been sent into a death spiral over the firing of FBI Director James Comey last week — a failed move to curtail the Justice Department investigation into contact between his campaign and the Russian government — Kushner hasn’t been the “adult in the room” urging caution and scrupulousness. To the contrary, he’s been urging aggression and retaliation.

And the White House’s reaction to the appointment of Robert Mueller as a special counsel in the Russia inquiry, including a possible attempt to use ethics rules to limit the scope of his investigation, shows that somebody in the White House is deeply worried about what might happen if Kushner were included in the probe. [Continue reading…]

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Comey now believes Trump was trying to influence him

CNN reports: Former FBI Director James Comey now believes that President Donald Trump was trying to influence his judgment about the Russia probe, a person familiar with his thinking says, but whether that influence amounts to obstruction of justice remains an open question.

“You have to have intent in order to obstruct justice in the criminal sense,” the source said, adding that “intent is hard to prove.”

Comey will testify publicly before the Senate intelligence committee after Memorial Day, the panel’s leaders announced Friday.

The central question at that blockbuster hearing will be whether Comey believed the President was trying to interfere with his investigation. [Continue reading…]

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Wikileaks: Inside the Farage-Assange-Trump connection

The Daily Beast reports: When Julian Assange sought refuge in 2011 at an embassy in the heart of London, only one of Britain’s political parties was willing to offer support to the exile in their midst.

Nigel Farage’s U.K. Independence Party, which seemed a fringe movement at the time but became the driving force behind Brexit, swung into action and campaigned against the demand that Assange be returned to Sweden for a police interview on allegations of rape.

Farage and his UKIP colleagues have spoken out publicly in support of Assange numerous times since 2011, but leaked emails seen by The Daily Beast reveal the true extent to which the party apparatus tried to assist the founder of WikiLeaks, which the head of the CIA has since described as a “hostile intelligence service” that cooperated with Russian agents.

The episode raises further questions about links between Farage, Assange and the Russian government. Farage, who is also a favored friend of U.S. President Donald Trump, was spotted emerging from a meeting with Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in March. [Continue reading…]

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What America’s new arms deal with Saudi Arabia says about the Trump administration

Vox reports: President Trump has just announced the sale of a whopping $110 billion to Saudi Arabia which includes “tanks and helicopters for border security, ships for coastal security, intelligence-gathering aircraft, a missile-defense radar system, and cybersecurity tools,” reports ABC News. It forms part of a 10-year, $350 billion agreement in a “strategic vision” between the two countries, reports the Washington Post.

The deal had been in the works for some time, but the White House evidently pushed hard to finalize the deal in time to announce it during the president’s trip to Saudi Arabia. It was meant to send a clear message: Trump isn’t going to do things the way his predecessor did.

Back in September, the Obama administration approved a more than $115 billion arms deal with the Saudis. But as the death toll and reports of human rights violations in the Saudi-led war on Yemen began to rise dramatically, the Obama administration nixed the sale of the precision-guided munitions it had originally agreed to put in the deal to try to coerce the Saudis into curbing those atrocities.

Now those munitions are back in the Trump arms package — which speaks volumes about this administration. [Continue reading…]

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White House looking at ethics rule to weaken special investigation

Reuters reports: The Trump administration is exploring whether it can use an obscure ethics rule to undermine the special counsel investigation into ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russia, two people familiar with White House thinking said on Friday.

Trump has said that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s hiring of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead the investigation “hurts our country terribly.”

Within hours of Mueller’s appointment on Wednesday, the White House began reviewing the Code of Federal Regulations, which restricts newly hired government lawyers from investigating their prior law firm’s clients for one year after their hiring, the sources said.

An executive order signed by Trump in January extended that period to two years.

Mueller’s former law firm, WilmerHale, represents Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who met with a Russian bank executive in December, and the president’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who is a subject of a federal investigation.

Legal experts said the ethics rule can be waived by the Justice Department, which appointed Mueller. He did not represent Kushner or Manafort directly at his former law firm. [Continue reading…]

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Russian officials bragged they could use Flynn to influence Trump

CNN reports: Russian officials bragged in conversations during the presidential campaign that they had cultivated a strong relationship with former Trump adviser retired Gen. Michael Flynn and believed they could use him to influence Donald Trump and his team, sources told CNN.

The conversations deeply concerned US intelligence officials, some of whom acted on their own to limit how much sensitive information they shared with Flynn, who was tapped to become Trump’s national security adviser, current and former governments officials said.

“This was a five-alarm fire from early on,” one former Obama administration official said, “the way the Russians were talking about him.” Another former administration official said Flynn was viewed as a potential national security problem.

The conversations picked up by US intelligence officials indicated the Russians regarded Flynn as an ally, sources said. That relationship developed throughout 2016, months before Flynn was caught on an intercepted call in December speaking with Russia’s ambassador in Washington, Sergey Kislyak. That call, and Flynn’s changing story about it, ultimately led to his firing as Trump’s first national security adviser.

Officials cautioned, however, that the Russians might have exaggerated their sway with Trump’s team during those conversations. [Continue reading…]

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Flynn’s Turkey connection is the case worth pursuing

Noah Feldman writes: What’s been missing so far in the scandals surrounding the Trump White House is a concrete act taken at the behest of foreign powers. Now there’s strong evidence of one: Michael Flynn reportedly stopped an attack on the Islamic State capital of Raqqa by Syrian Kurds, a military action strongly opposed by Turkey, after receiving more than $500,000 in payments from a Turkish source. The Kurds’ offensive had been greenlighted by Barack Obama’s administration, and is now back on track, reapproved by President Donald Trump sometime after Flynn was fired.

If this story proves accurate then it’s a game changer for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. It demonstrates that, at least while Flynn was national security adviser-designate and until he was fired after 24 days in office, U.S. government policy on a core matter of national security was open to the highest foreign bidder. That’s a form of bribery that could land Flynn in prison and, potentially, give Mueller leverage to get Flynn to testify about whatever else he knows. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli intelligence furious over Trump’s loose lips

Foreign Policy reports: Just days before President Donald Trump’s arrival in Tel Aviv, Israeli intelligence officials were shouting at their American counterparts in meetings, furious over news that the U.S. commander in chief may have compromised a vital source of information on the Islamic State and possibly Iran, according to a U.S. defense official in military planning.

“To them, it’s horrifying,” the official, who attended the meetings, told Foreign Policy. “Their first question was: ‘What is going on? What is this?’”

White House officials are touting Trump’s visit to Israel next week as a chance to show U.S. solidarity with its closest Middle East ally after eight years of friction between former President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But behind the public display of harmony, Israeli intelligence officers are angry and alarmed over the U.S. president revealing sensitive information in a May 10 meeting in the White House with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.

Trump divulged classified information gathered by Israel about specific terrorist plotting by the Islamic State. The information reportedly revealed Islamic State advances in bomb-making that could be used to mask an explosive device inside a laptop, and also referenced the city where the unfolding plot was being hatched.

The details Trump spilled likely came from a source that was also useful on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its Hezbollah proxies in Syria and Lebanon, which are much higher priorities for Israel, the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

“To the Israelis, ISIS is not that big of a concern,” the defense official said, using an alternate acronym for the Islamic State. “We have a partner that has done us a favor. They went out of their way to support us in a campaign against ISIS, that they have no real skin in.”

In the first 48 hours after the news broke, the Israelis saw little engagement from the Trump administration on the issue. Instead, the administration remained focused on planning for the president’s visit next week.

“There’s been no collaboration on this issue or any outreach. But it’s like a [public relations] circus,” the official said. [Continue reading…]

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