How Flynn — and the Russia scandal — landed in the West Wing

Politico reports: Michael Flynn wasn’t even on the shortlist of potential national security advisers.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the early transition chief for a newly elected Donald Trump, and his team had deep reservations about Flynn, fearing the retired three-star Army general who had been ousted from the Obama administration suffered from poor judgment and espoused far-out ideas on foreign policy.

Instead, their list for the NSA slot included marquee military leaders such as now-Secretary of Defense James Mattis; General Peter Pace, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Bush; and Admiral William McRaven, who oversaw the Osama bin Laden raid, according to two people familiar with the transition.

But when Christie was fired from his transition perch on Nov. 11 — replaced by soon-to-be Vice President Mike Pence — Flynn and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon celebrated by tossing binders full of potential personnel picks, carefully culled by Christie’s team, into trash bins with a sense of ceremonial glee.

They did this before an audience of other transition officials, according to the two people close to the transition and a campaign official — though another former transition official disputed the idea that the binders and picks were not considered by the Pence-led transition team.

Ultimately it was Trump himself who made the decision to ditch Christie’s recommendation against hiring Flynn for national security adviser, according to two former transition officials, rewarding one of his most loyal campaign surrogates. [Continue reading…]

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Boris Johnson met ‘London professor’ linked to FBI’s Russia investigation

The Guardian reports: Boris Johnson is facing questions about the government’s links to key individuals named by the FBI in its Trump-Russia investigation, following the emergence of a photo of him with Joseph Mifsud, the “London professor” with high-level Kremlin contacts.

The foreign secretary is facing accusations of a potential security breach following the emergence of the photo of him with Mifsud, whose identity emerged as part of investigations into alleged links between Donald Trump’s election campaign and Russia.

This development comes less than a week after Johnson denied meeting the professor, and at a time when concern is growing about possible Russian interference in the Brexit campaign, in which the foreign secretary played a crucial role.

Although the FBI had known about Mifsud’s role as a high-level go-between linking the Trump campaign and the Russian government since at least July, it appears British intelligence did not warn the foreign secretary about the potential embarrassment or security implications before he attended a fundraising dinner with Mifsud on 19 October. [Continue reading…]

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Collusion: Trump sides with Putin on issue of election meddling by Russia

CNN reports: President Donald Trump suggested on Saturday he’s done confronting Russian President Vladimir Putin over his country’s election meddling since it’s insulting to the Russian leader.

Trump said he took Putin at his word that Russia did not seek to interfere in the US presidential election last year, despite a finding from US intelligence agencies that it did. The fraught relations between the two leaders was underscored anew when Putin’s spokesman said election meddling did not come up when they spoke, even though Trump said it did.

And he stressed that bigger issues persist between the United States and Russia that require the two leaders to move on.

“He said he didn’t meddle. He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One as he flew from Da Nang to Hanoi in Vietnam. Trump spoke to Putin three times on the sidelines of summit here, where the Russia meddling issue arose.

“Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that,'” Trump said. “And I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it.”

“I think he is very insulted by it,” Trump added.

His remarks, which came near the end of Trump’s marathon swing through Asia, amounted to the clearest statement yet of Trump’s views about last year’s election meddling issue. [Continue reading…]

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A London meeting of an unlikely group: How a Trump adviser came to learn of Clinton ‘dirt’

The New York Times reports: At midday on March 24, 2016, an improbable group gathered in a London cafe to discuss setting up a meeting between Donald J. Trump, then a candidate, and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

There was George Papadopoulos, a 28-year-old from Chicago with an inflated résumé who just days earlier had been publicly named as a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Trump’s campaign. There was Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese academic in his mid-50s with a faltering career who boasted of having high-level contacts in the Russian government.

And, perhaps most mysteriously, there was Olga Polonskaya, a 30-year-old Russian from St. Petersburg and the former manager of a wine distribution company. Mr. Mifsud introduced her to Mr. Papadopoulos as Mr. Putin’s niece, according to court papers. Mr. Putin has no niece.

The interactions between the three players and a fourth man with contacts inside Russia’s Foreign Ministry have become a central part of the inquiry by the special prosecutor, Robert S. Mueller III, into the Kremlin’s efforts to interfere with the presidential election. Recently released court documents suggest that the F.B.I. suspected that some of the people who showed interest in Mr. Papadopoulos were participants in a Russian intelligence operation. [Continue reading…]

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Russia Twitter trolls deflected Trump bad news

The Associated Press reports: Disguised Russian agents on Twitter rushed to deflect scandalous news about Donald Trump just before last year’s presidential election while straining to refocus criticism on the mainstream media and Hillary Clinton’s campaign, according to an Associated Press analysis of since-deleted accounts.

Tweets by Russia-backed accounts such as “America_1st_” and “BatonRougeVoice” on Oct. 7, 2016, actively pivoted away from news of an audio recording in which Trump made crude comments about groping women, and instead touted damaging emails hacked from Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.

Since early this year, the extent of Russian intrusion to help Trump and hurt Clinton in the election has been the subject of both congressional scrutiny and a criminal investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. In particular, those investigations are looking into the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

AP’s analysis illuminates the obvious strategy behind the Russian cyber meddling: swiftly react, distort and distract attention from any negative Trump news. [Continue reading…]

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Mueller interviews top White House aide, Stephen Miller

CNN reports: White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller has been interviewed as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

The interview brings the special counsel investigation into President Donald Trump’s inner circle in the White House. Miller is the highest-level aide still working at the White House known to have talked to investigators.

Miller’s role in the firing of FBI Director James Comey was among the topics discussed during the interview as part of the probe into possible obstruction of justice, according to one of the sources. [Continue reading…]

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Kiev is buzzing about the Manafort indictment

Politico reports: Last week, as the news of Paul Manafort’s indictment on 12 counts of money laundering, tax evasion and lobbying violations rocketed through Washington D.C., a small group quietly celebrated in a nondescript Soviet-era building near the Dnieper River in the Ukrainian capital.

“It showed we’re on the right track,” Serhiy Gorbatyuk, head of a special investigations unit in the Ukrainian general prosecutor’s office, told POLITICO. Gorbatyuk and his team are tasked with digging into alleged illegal, under-the-table payments by Ukraine’s pro-Russian former president, Viktor Yanukovych, who was deposed in a pro-Western revolution three years ago. Manafort, whose work as political advisor to Yanukovych for nearly a decade provided the bulk of material for the U.S. indictment, figures in two of their Ukrainian investigations.

The first, referred to locally as the “black ledgers” case, concerns some $2 billion of allegedly off-the-books disbursements by Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. Last year the New York Times revealed that Manafort’s name appeared 22 times among the hundreds of pages of handwritten entries, for alleged payments totaling $12.7 million. (Though Manafort denied receiving the money, the revelations contributed to his resignation as Trump’s campaign manager in August 2016.) [Continue reading…]

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Academic at heart of Clinton ‘dirt’ claim vanishes, leaving trail of questions

CNN reports: Joseph Mifsud, the Maltese academic suspected of being a link between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, was once a regular on the foreign policy circuit, attending conferences the world over.

Now, after being identified as a key figure in the US special counsel investigation into Russian influence over the 2016 US presidential election, Mifsud has gone to ground.

Last Thursday he disappeared from the private university in Rome where he teaches. Repeated attempts to reach him since have been unsuccessful, though he appears to have read some messages from CNN.

But more details are emerging of the background and contacts of the man who emerged last week as “Foreign Contact 1” in court filings relating to charges brought against former Trump aide George Papadopoulos. [Continue reading…]

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The ‘Paradise Papers’ expose Trump’s fake populism

Ishaan Tharoor writes: President Trump entered the White House on a platform of populist rage. He channeled ire against the perceived perfidy and corruption of a shadowy world of cosmopolitan elites. He labeled his opponent Hillary Clinton a “globalist” — an establishment apparatchik supposedly motivated more by her ties to wealthy concerns elsewhere than by true patriotic sentiment.

“We will no longer surrender this country, or its people, to the false song of globalism,” Trump declared in a campaign speech in 2016, setting the stage for his “America First” agenda. The message was effective, winning over voters who felt they had lost out in an age defined by globalization, free trade and powerful multinational corporations.

Fast-forward a year, though, and it’s worth asking whether Trump — a scion of metropolitan privilege and a jet-setting tycoon who has long basked in his private world of gilded excess — ever seriously believed any of his own populist screeds. Little he has done since coming to power suggests a meaningful interest in uplifting the working class or addressing widening social inequities. Indeed, much of the legislation that he and his Republican allies are seeking to push through suggests the exact opposite. [Continue reading…]

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Offshore cash helped fund Steve Bannon’s attacks on Hillary Clinton

The Guardian reports: Eighteen months before guiding Donald Trump to election victory, Steve Bannon delivered the opening shot in the ruthless Republican campaign to paint their Democratic opponent as corrupt.

The future White House chief strategist produced a book in May 2015 accusing Hillary Clinton of trading favours for donations to her charitable foundation. Its questionable central charge, on the sale of a uranium company to Russia, recently became the subject of a House inquiry and feverish talk on conservative media.

But the financial arrangements of another foundation, which bankrolled Bannon’s creation of the book, Clinton Cash, have received less scrutiny.

Leaked documents and newly obtained public filings show how the billionaire Mercer family built a $60m war chest for conservative causes inside their family foundation by using an offshore investment vehicle to avoid US tax.

The offshore vehicle was part of a network of companies in the Atlantic tax haven of Bermuda led by Robert Mercer, the wealthy hedge-fund executive and Bannon patron whose spending helped put Trump in the White House and aided a resurgence of the Republican right. [Continue reading…]

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My travels in white America – a land of anxiety, division and pockets of pain

Gary Younge writes: Jeff Baxter’s enduring memory, from childhood, is the glow. Coming down over the hill overlooking the coke plant in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the molten iron would make itself known – both as a vision and an aspiration. “It’s like the sun landed there,” says Baxter, a burly, bearded retiree, who achieved his boyhood dream of becoming a steelworker.

Today, the plant, like the one Baxter worked in for 30 years, stands derelict – a shell that represents a hollowing out not just of the local economy but of culture and hope – as though someone extinguished Baxter’s sun and left the place in darkness. Buildings in the centre of town that were once testament to the industrial wealth produced here stand abandoned. More than 40% of the population now live below the poverty line; 9.1% are unemployed.

Cambria County, where Johnstown sits, was once a swing county. Al Gore won it in 2000; George W Bush took it in 2004; it went to Barack Obama in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 – each time by fairly narrow margins. Last year, Donald Trump won it in a landslide.

Baxter, who once backed Obama, voted for Trump, the first time he had ever voted Republican. “I liked [Obama’s] message of hope, but he didn’t bring any jobs in … Trump said he was going to make America great. And I figured: ‘That’s what we need. We need somebody like that to change it.’”

Over at the century-old Coney Island Lunch, this once-bustling institution famous for its chilli dogs and sundowners is virtually empty. “A lot of people have left town,” explains Peggy, who has been serving at the diner for nine years. “There are no jobs. If you’re going to have a life or a steady income, you know, you need to get out of here, because there’s nothing here. I expect a lot of towns go this way. You know, when the steel mills died and the coal died. It’s sad, it’s very sad.”

Across from the counter, Ted sits in a T-shirt emblazoned with a Native American in full headdress. He thinks white America is getting a rough deal and will soon be extinct. “There’s not many white Americans left. They’re a dying breed. It’s going to be yellow-white Americans, African-American white Americans, you know what I’m saying? The cultures are coming together,” he says, with more than a hint of melancholy. “Blending and blending, and pretty soon we’ll just be one colour.”

Ted also voted for Trump. “I liked him on TV. I voted for him, alright, but it was because he was supposedly going to make America great, and what’s he done so far? He hasn’t done anything.”

Two days after I spoke to Ted and Peggy, Coney Island Lunch closed down.

In the 12 years I reported from the US I saw no end of white journalists opine on black America. This summer, I took a trip through white America, driving from Maine (the whitest state) to Mississippi (the blackest), to flip the script. Talking only to white people, I attended a white supremacist conference, accompanied an emergency health worker who sought to revive people who had overdosed, and went to a comedy club in the French Quarter of New Orleans to see the “Liberal Redneck” perform. I was told the Ku Klux Klan were liberals (they weren’t), that Confederate general Robert E Lee didn’t own slaves (he did) and that I could not be British because I’m black (I am).

It was a few weeks before the disturbances in Charlottesville, when a mob of white supremacists, including neo-Nazis and Klansmen, converged on a college town in Virginia, terrorising protesters and leaving one dead and many injured. Just seven months after the US had bid farewell to its first black president, his successor said there were “some very fine people” marching with the neo-Nazis who chanted: “Jews will not replace us.” A poll shortly afterwards showed that almost half of white Americans thought they were “under attack” and one in three thought the country needs to do more to preserve its white European heritage.

Any reckoning with how the US got to this point, politically, demands some interrogation of how white America got to this place economically and culturally; that takes into account both their relative privilege and their huge pockets of pain. [Continue reading…]

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Mueller has enough evidence to bring charges in Flynn investigation

NBC News reports: Federal investigators have gathered enough evidence to bring charges in their investigation of President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser and his son as part of the probe into Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election, according to multiple sources familiar with the investigation.

Michael T. Flynn, who was fired after just 24 days on the job, was one of the first Trump associates to come under scrutiny in the federal probe now led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

Mueller is applying renewed pressure on Flynn following his indictment of Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, three sources familiar with the investigation told NBC News.

The investigators are speaking to multiple witnesses in coming days to gain more information surrounding Flynn’s lobbying work, including whether he laundered money or lied to federal agents about his overseas contacts, according to three sources familiar with the investigation. [Continue reading…]

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Mueller braces for challenges to his authority

Politico reports: Robert Mueller is on an early winning streak.

Stacked with some of the country’s premier prosecutors, the special counsel has beaten back a pair of preliminary attempts to block his subpoena power and limit who he can question as a potential witness. In July, Mueller’s team also managed to win approval to execute a no-knock search warrant—unusual in a white-collar case.

But as the criminal case against former Donald Trump campaign officials Paul Manafort and Rick Gates speeds toward a possible spring 2018 trial, Mueller’s team is bracing for an array of challenges to its authority.

The battle lines are already taking shape.

Kevin Downing, Manafort’s lead attorney, submitted a document Friday indicating that he anticipates filing pre-trial motions that question “the legal basis for and sufficiency of the charges, the suppression of evidence improperly obtained by search warrant, subpoena or otherwise.” Downing also said he may try to prevent Mueller’s prosecutors from presenting some of their evidence during the criminal trial.

Mueller’s team responded to the court Friday with a brief note saying they would need three weeks to present their case, side stepping what will be an intense round of legal jockeying and attempts to undermine the way the special counsel has conducted its investigation.

“’Distort, detract, deny’ is a common playbook for defense lawyers,” said Julie Myers Wood, a former Whitewater prosecutor. “And if the allegations are serious here, I wouldn’t expect the lawyers to sit back or withhold any tool in a quest to undermine the perception of Mueller’s legitimacy.” [Continue reading…]

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Donna Brazile: I considered replacing Clinton with Biden as 2016 Democratic nominee

The Washington Post reports: Former Democratic National Committee head Donna Brazile writes in a new book that she seriously contemplated replacing Hillary Clinton as the party’s 2016 presidential nominee with then-Vice President Biden in the aftermath of Clinton’s fainting spell, in part because Clinton’s campaign was “anemic” and had taken on “the odor of failure.”

In an explosive new memoir, Brazile details widespread dysfunction and dissension throughout the Democratic Party, including secret deliberations over using her powers as interim DNC chair to initiate the process of removing Clinton and running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.) from the ticket after Clinton’s Sept. 11, 2016, collapse in New York City.

Brazile writes that she considered a dozen combinations to replace the nominees and settled on Biden and Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), the duo she felt most certain would win over enough working-class voters to defeat Republican Donald Trump. But then, she writes, “I thought of Hillary, and all the women in the country who were so proud of and excited about her. I could not do this to them.”

Brazile paints a scathing portrait of Clinton as a well-intentioned, historic candidate whose campaign was badly mismanaged, took minority constituencies for granted and made blunders with “stiff” and “stupid” messages. The campaign was so lacking in passion for the candidate, she writes, that its New York headquarters felt like a sterile hospital ward where “someone had died.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump campaign adviser met with Russian officials in 2016

The New York Times reports: Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump presidential campaign, met Russian government officials during a July 2016 trip he took to Moscow, according to testimony he gave on Thursday to the House Intelligence Committee.

Shortly after the trip, Mr. Page sent an email to at least one Trump campaign aide describing insights he had after conversations with government officials, legislators and business executives during his time in Moscow, according to one person familiar with the contents of the message. The email was read aloud during the closed-door testimony.

The new details of the trip present a different picture than the account Mr. Page has given during numerous appearances in the news media in recent months and are yet another example of a Trump adviser meeting with Russians officials during the 2016 campaign. In multiple interviews with The New York Times, he had either denied meeting with any Russian government officials during the July 2016 visit or sidestepped the question, saying he met with “mostly scholars.”

Mr. Page confirmed the meetings in an interview on Friday evening, but played down their significance. [Continue reading…]

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‘It’s every man for himself,’ says one target of Mueller investigation

CBS News reports: Less than a week after two top former Trump campaign officials were indicted and another adviser to the campaign had already pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, the pressure on others under scrutiny appears to be growing. One source whose actions during the 2016 election are being examined by the special counsel’s office and who is reluctant to talk publicly tells CBS News, “It’s every man for himself.”

That remark suggests that some of the former campaign officials and associates in legal jeopardy may be rushing to offer their cooperation in an effort to get a better deal from prosecutors. The source maintains that he is innocent and is frustrated that he has so far failed to clear his name in the ongoing probe. Over the last few months the source seems to have evolved in his thinking about Russian involvement in the presidential election.

Earlier this year this individual dismissed any suggestion that there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.

Now, days after former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates were indicted, the source acknowledged to CBS News something he’d been reluctant to admit in the past: “I do believe the Russians interfered or tried to interfere,” he said. But he pointed to others associated with the campaign, “I don’t know what they were doing” and “whatever those people did, that’s on them.” [Continue reading…]

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Conservatives introduce measure demanding Mueller’s resignation

Politico reports: Three House Republicans on Friday moved to pressure special counsel Robert Mueller to resign over what they contend are “obvious conflicts of interest,” the latest instance of rising GOP resistance to his Russia probe.

Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), introduced a measure that, while nonbinding, would put the House on record describing Mueller, a former FBI director, as unfit to lead the probe because of his relationship with James Comey, his successor at the bureau.

“[B]e it Resolved, That House of Representatives expresses its sense that Robert Mueller is compromised and should resign from his special counsel position immediately,” the resolution states. [Continue reading…]

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