Trump using campaign, RNC funds to pay legal bills from Russia probe

Reuters reports: U.S. President Donald Trump is using money donated to his re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee to pay for his lawyers in the probe of alleged Russian interference in the U.S. election, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Following Reuters exclusive report on Tuesday, CNN reported that the Republican National Committee paid in August more than $230,000 to cover some of Trump’s legal fees related to the probe.

RNC spokesperson Cassie Smedile confirmed to Reuters that Trump’s lead lawyer, John Dowd, received $100,000 from the RNC and that the RNC also paid $131,250 to the Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group, the law firm where Jay Sekulow, another of Trump’s lawyers, is a partner. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Michael Flynn prepping for a $1 million legal tab

The Daily Beast reports: Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn plans to spend more than a million dollars on his legal defense, a source familiar with the situation told The Daily Beast on Monday. But because of the structure of the fund he has set up to pay for it, the public won’t know who is footing the bills.

The retired Army lieutenant general is facing legal scrutiny as part of an ongoing federal probe into alleged Russian government meddling in the 2016 presidential election. He’s now searching for ways to pay the resulting legal bills, including through a crowdsourcing effort he announced on Twitter on Monday morning.

“We deeply appreciate the support of family and friends across this nation who have touched our lives,” Flynn wrote.

Flynn is dealing with a multitude of potentially complex legal problems stemming from the Russia investigation, which has expanded to examine the private business activities of a number of current and former Trump aides and associates, including Flynn’s advocacy on behalf of a Turkish government-linked company last year. He belatedly disclosed that work under a federal law governing domestic lobbying and public relations on behalf of foreign governments and political parties. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Mueller team’s focus on Manafort spans 11 years

CNN reports: Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team is reaching back more than a decade in its investigation of Paul Manafort, a sign of the pressure Mueller is placing on President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman.

The FBI’s warrant for a July search of Manafort’s Alexandria, Virginia, home said the investigation centered on possible crimes committed as far back as January 2006, according to a source briefed on the investigation.

The broad time frame is the latest indication that Mueller’s team is going well beyond Russian meddling during the campaign as part of its investigation of Trump campaign associates. Manafort, who has been the subject of an FBI investigation for three years, has emerged as a focal point for Mueller. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Trump offers a selective view of sovereignty in UN speech

The New York Times reports: President Trump, in declaring Tuesday that sovereignty should be the guiding principle of affairs between nations, sketched out a radically different vision of the world order than his forebears, who founded the United Nations after World War II to deal collectively with problems they believed would transcend borders.

Mr. Trump offered the General Assembly a strikingly selective definition of sovereignty, threatening to act aggressively against countries like North Korea, Iran and Venezuela, whose policies he opposes, yet saying almost nothing about Russia, which seized territory from its neighbor Ukraine, and meddled in the American presidential election.

But more important than how he defined sovereignty was Mr. Trump’s adoption of the word itself — language more familiar to small countries, guarding themselves against the incursions of larger neighbors or defying the judgments of a global elite, than to a superpower that fashioned a web of global institutions to enshrine its national interests.

“I will always put America first, just like you, as the leaders of your countries, will always and should always put your countries first,” Mr. Trump declared to a smattering of applause from an audience that included gimlet-eyed diplomats from some of the countries he criticized.

Mr. Trump rooted his philosophy in President Harry S. Truman, the Marshall Plan and the restoration of Europe. But the vision he articulated was smaller and more self-interested. America, he said, would no longer enter into “one-sided” alliances or agreements. It would no longer shoulder an unfair financial burden in bodies like the United Nations. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

What total destruction of North Korea means

Kori Schake writes: Speaking before the UN General Assembly today, President Donald Trump announced that, unless North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, “the United States will have no choice but to totally destroy” the country. He sounded almost excited as he threatened, “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”

North Korea is a serious problem, and not one of Trump’s making—the last four American presidents failed to impede North Korea’s progress towards a nuclear weapon. President George H.W. Bush took unilateral action, removing U.S. nuclear weapons and reducing America’s troop levels in the region, hoping to incentivize good behavior; Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush tried to negotiate restrictions; President Barack Obama mostly averted his eyes. North Korea defied them all.

Those four presidents hesitated to bring a forceful end to the North Korean nuclear program, because there is no good policy move for Washington to make. As Secretary of Defense James Mattis has repeatedly emphasized, a war on the Korean peninsula would be “tragic on an unbelievable scale.” The inescapable constraint on U.S. action is, of course, that the capital of South Korea lies in range of the 8,000 artillery pieces North Korea has aimed at its kin. Even if the United States could pull off a military campaign of exceptional virtuosity—identifying all of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, targeting dispersing mobile launchers, knocking hundreds of missiles out of the sky before they reach their targets in Korea, Japan, and America, and destroying North Korean conventional forces along the Demilitarized Zone in the first couple of hours of a preventative attack—hundreds of thousands of South Koreans would likely die. Americans, too, would perish, since more than 130,000 of them reside in South Korea. The more likely course, as Vipan Narang and Ankit Panda have argued, would be North Korea launching on warning—“fail deadly” (as opposed to fail safe) mode. That would drive the numbers much, much higher. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

There are an estimated 40 million slaves in the world. Where do they live and what do they do?

The Washington Post reports: Slavery is not a thing of the past. A report released Tuesday by the U.N.-affiliated International Labor Office (ILO) and the Walk Free Foundation estimates that there were 40.3 million people in some form of modern slavery around the world on any given day last year.

But by its very nature, the accuracy of that figure is hard to gauge. Slavery tends to be a hidden, illegal practice — one in which the victim’s ability to speak out is limited. The authors of the Global Estimates of Modern Slavery study admit there are gaps in the available information: Although extensive United Nations data has been used in the study, some countries and sub-national regions are missing.

“It’s difficult or even impossible to do research in areas of high conflict,” said Fiona David, Walk Free Foundation’s executive director of global research, pointing to areas such as Syria or northern Nigeria that had to be excluded from the study. Because of this, David said, the estimate of 40.3 million is probably conservative. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Undercover with the alt-right

The New York Times reports: Last September, Patrik Hermansson, a 25-year-old graduate student from Sweden, went undercover in the world of the extreme right. Posing as a student writing a thesis about the suppression of right-wing speech, he traveled from London to New York to Charlottesville, Va. — and into the heart of a dangerous movement that is experiencing a profound rejuvenation.

Mr. Hermansson, who was sent undercover by the British anti-racist watchdog group Hope Not Hate, spent months insinuating himself into the alt-right, using his Swedish nationality (many neo-Nazis are obsessed with Sweden because of its “Nordic” heritage) as a way in. It wasn’t always easy. “You want to punch them in the face,” he told me of the people he met undercover. “You want to scream and do whatever — leave. But you can’t do any of those things. You have to sit and smile.”

What he learned while undercover is one part of a shocking, comprehensive new report from Hope Not Hate that sheds light on the strange landscape of the alt-right, the much discussed, little understood and largely anonymous far-right movement that exists mostly online and that has come to national attention in part because of its support for Donald Trump.

As a result of the growing influence of the far-right social-media ecosystem, once-moribund hate groups in both the United States and Europe — groups that mostly existed long before “alt-right” entered the vernacular — are enjoying a striking uptick in recruitment. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Trump uses Putin’s arguments to undermine the world

Spencer Ackerman writes: The leader stepped to the podium of the United Nations General Assembly, as close to a literal world stage as exists, and issued a stringent defense of the principle of national sovereignty.

“What is the state sovereignty, after all, that has been mentioned by our colleagues here? It is basically about freedom and the right to choose freely one’s own future for every person, nation and state,” he said, attacking what he identified as the hypocrisy of those who seek to violate sovereignty in the name of stopping mass murder.

“Aggressive foreign interference,” the leader continued, “has resulted in a brazen destruction of national institutions and the lifestyle itself. Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress, we got violence, poverty and social disaster.”

The leader was not Donald Trump on Tuesday, but Vladimir Putin in 2015. Whatever nexus between Putin and Trump exists for Robert Mueller to discover, the evidence of their compatible visions of foreign affairs was on display at the United Nations clearer than ever, with Trump’s aggressive incantation of “sovereignty, security and prosperity” as the path to world peace. “There can be no substitute for strong, sovereign, and independent nations, nations that are rooted in the histories and invested in their destiny,” Trump said, hitting his familiar blood-and-soil themes that echo from the darker moments in European history. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Command and control in North Korea: What a nuclear launch might look like

Vipin Narang and Ankit Panda write: A new nuclear state, in a major crisis with a conventionally superior nuclear-armed adversary, contemplates and prepares to move nuclear assets in the event it has to use them. Who controls the nuclear forces? Who decides when they might be assembled, mated to delivery vehicles, moved, and launched? Who has nominal authority to order those decisions? Who has the physical ability to implement them even without proper authorization? How experienced are the relevant units in these operations? What could go wrong?

These were the questions that bedeviled Pakistan in the 1999 Kargil War and again in the 10-month standoff with India in 2001-2002. They are the same challenges and issues that confront North Korea today.

As the mountain of dust settles after North Korea’s purported thermonuclear bomb, intermediate-range ballistic missile, and intercontinental-range ballistic missile (ICBM) tests this summer and it becomes an increasingly operational nuclear state, one of the many deadly serious challenges it faces is how it manages its nuclear forces, or what command and control arrangement it erects. These arrangements are the transmission belt that makes a state’s nuclear strategy operational — how and when nuclear weapons are managed and might actually be employed. As a nuclear weapons power, North Korea now has to think about how precisely it wants to implement its “asymmetric escalation” strategy. And so does the United States, since these arrangements have very real implications for when nuclear weapons might be used intentionally — or unintentionally — in a conflict. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Why a freeze deal, despite its flaws, is the only remedy for North Korea’s nukes

Andrei Lankov writes: North Korea’s recent nuclear test, accompanied by July’s ICBM launches and Friday’s additional Hwasong-12 test, have confirmed that U.S.-led efforts from the international community have been largely unsuccessful. This, predictably, raises questions about what to do next. More of the same, or something new?

When it comes to the North Korean nuclear issue, the official position of the United States government has not changed much for nearly two decades, and in all probability, it’s not going to change in the foreseeable future.

From the official U.S. point of view, the only acceptable final outcome is the “complete, irreversible and verifiable and denuclearization” of North Korea.

This position is understandable, but it has one very serious shortcoming: it has been unrealistic from the very beginning and became completely unrealistic after the first North Korea nuclear test of 2006. This author, back in 2009 published an article (rather academic, I would admit) under the title “Why the United States will have to accept a nuclear North Korea.”

Back then, such a claim was somewhat of a heresy, but it seems that in the last two or three years, an understanding of the sad and, frankly, quite dangerous reality is beginning to settle in U.S. policy circles. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

What’s the U.S.’s best chance with North Korea? Russia

Dmitri Trenin writes: Sanctions, no matter how strict, will not stop Pyongyang from pursuing its program, which it sees as the key to its very survival; as Mr. Putin said recently, North Koreans will “eat grass” before they give up nuclear weapons. Pyongyang’s latest missile launch on Friday was a direct rebuke to the new sanctions, notably on oil imports, that the U.N. Security Council passed last Monday.

This is not to say that sanctions are a mistake. They remain a valuable expression of collective condemnation and reassert the goal of nuclear nonproliferation. But they will not halt North Korea’s nuclearization.

A total blockade of the country might, but it is too risky to even attempt. It could push North Korea to start a war or cause the country’s collapse, a prospect that China, for one, cannot tolerate.

And so the only viable strategy left is to convince the North Korean leadership that it already has the deterrent it needs, and that going beyond that — by developing more nuclear weapons and longer-range missiles — would only be counterproductive.

This is where Russia comes it: It can help nudge Pyongyang toward strategic restraint, and help defuse tensions in the meantime, by offering it new economic prospects. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Why foreign propaganda is more dangerous than it used to be

Samantha Power writes: In the Cold War era, Soviet attempts to meddle in American democracy were largely unsuccessful. In 1982 Yuri Andropov, then the K.G.B. chairman, told Soviet foreign intelligence officers to incorporate disinformation operations — the so-called active measures meant to discredit adversaries and influence public opinion — into their standard work. They had an ambitious aim: preventing Ronald Reagan’s re-election.

Soviet agents were instructed to infiltrate party and campaign staffs in the United States in search of embarrassing information to leak to the press, while Soviet propagandists pushed a set of anti-Reagan story lines to the Western media. Ultimately, they failed to influence the election. President Reagan defeated Walter F. Mondale, winning 49 states. Margaret Thatcher, who was similarly targeted, also won re-election in a landslide.

What exactly has changed since then to make foreign propaganda far more dangerous today?

During the Cold War, most Americans received their news and information via mediated platforms. Reporters and editors serving in the role of professional gatekeepers had almost full control over what appeared in the media. A foreign adversary seeking to reach American audiences did not have great options for bypassing these umpires, and Russian dezinformatsia rarely penetrated.

While television remains the main source of news for most Americans, viewers today tend to select a network in line with their political preferences. Even more significantly, The Pew Research Center has found that two-thirds of Americans are getting at least some of their news through social media.

After the election, around 84 percent of Americans polled by Pew described themselves as at least somewhat confident in their ability to discern real news from fake. This confidence may be misplaced. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Senate Intelligence Committee interview with Trump lawyer abruptly canceled

The Washington Post reports: The Senate Intelligence Committee has unexpectedly canceled a Tuesday session to interview Michael Cohen, a former lawyer for President Trump’s business and a close associate of the president.

The meeting was scheduled as part of the committee’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Cohen arrived for the interview with his attorney Tuesday morning, but left the closed door session after about an hour, informing reporters waiting outside that committee staff had suddenly informed him they did not wish the interview to go forward.

“We will come back for a voluntary interview whenever we can to meet with them, and we look forward to voluntarily cooperating with the House committee and with anyone else who has an inquiry in this area,” Cohen’s lawyer, Steve Ryan, told reporters after the aborted meeting.

In a joint statement, committee chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and ranking Democrat Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.) said the session was canceled because of public statements by Cohen before the interviews.

“We were disappointed that Mr. Cohen decided to pre-empt today’s interview by releasing a public statement prior to his engagement with Committee staff, in spite of the Committee’s requests that he refrain from public comment,” they said. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

New climate change calculations could buy the Earth some time — unless they’re miscalculations

The Washington Post reports: A group of prominent scientists on Monday created a potential whiplash moment for climate policy, suggesting that humanity could have considerably more time than previously thought to avoid a “dangerous” level of global warming.

The upward revision to the planet’s influential “carbon budget” was published by a number of researchers who have been deeply involved in studying the concept, making it all the more unexpected. But other outside researchers raised questions about the work, leaving it unclear whether the new analysis — which, if correct, would have very large implications — will stick.

In a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience, a team of 10 researchers, led by Richard Millar of the University of Oxford, recalculated the carbon budget for limiting the Earth’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above temperatures seen in the late 19th century. It had been widely assumed that this stringent target would prove unachievable — but the new study would appear to give us much more time to get our act together if we want to stay below it.

“What this paper means is that keeping warming to 1.5 degrees C still remains a geophysical possibility, contrary to quite widespread belief,” Millar said in a news briefing. He conducted the research with scientists from Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Austria, Switzerland and Norway.

But the new calculation diverged so much from what had gone before that other experts were still trying to figure out what to make of it.

“When it’s such a substantial difference, you really need to sit back and ponder what that actually means,” Glen Peters, an expert on climate and emissions trajectories at the Center for International Climate Research in Oslo, said of the paper. He was not involved in the research.

“The implications are pretty profound,” Peters continued. “But because of that, you’re going to have some extra eyes really scrutinizing that this is a robust result.”

That may have already begun, with at least one prominent climate scientist confessing he had a hard time believing the result. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

A chilling study shows how hostile college students are toward free speech

Catherine Rampell writes: Here’s the problem with suggesting that upsetting speech warrants “safe spaces,” or otherwise conflating mere words with physical assault: If speech is violence, then violence becomes a justifiable response to speech.

Just ask college students. A fifth of undergrads now say it’s acceptable to use physical force to silence a speaker who makes “offensive and hurtful statements.”

That’s one finding from a disturbing new survey of students conducted by John Villasenor, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and University of California at Los Angeles professor. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

‘Isn’t that the Trump lawyer?’: A reporter’s accidental scoop

Kenneth P Vogel writes: I have always thought of overhearing conversations as an underappreciated journalistic tool.

When political donors, lobbyists and politicians gather at hotels for meetings and strategy sessions, they often keep out reporters. But they usually can’t keep us out of the lobby bars and restaurants where they gather afterward to gossip. And I’ve picked up all manner of tantalizing nuggets — from U.S. senators, billionaire donors and influential operatives, among others — by positioning myself within earshot of those conversations while nursing a beer at the bar.

Sometimes, those nuggets have been featured in my journalism, including in my behind-the-scenes reporting on how major donors have influenced politics; more often, they’ve merely helped me add texture to my reporting on money and influence.

But I’ve never overheard a conversation quite like the one I accidentally encountered last Tuesday, when I met a source for lunch at BLT Steak, a downtown Washington steakhouse frequented by the capital’s expense-account set. My source chose the restaurant, but I didn’t protest, since BLT is on the same block as The New York Times’s Washington bureau and has a delightful tuna niçoise salad with fingerling potatoes and green beans.

Being a rare temperate day in Washington with tolerable humidity, we requested a table in the restaurant’s outdoor section, which abuts a busy sidewalk. Not long after we’d ordered, my source noticed someone he thought he recognized being seated at the table behind me.

“Isn’t that the Trump lawyer?” he asked. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Trump administration hopes to flood the world with American guns

Reuters reports: The Trump administration is preparing to make it easier for American gun makers to sell small arms, including assault rifles and ammunition, to foreign buyers, according to senior U.S. officials.

Aides to President Donald Trump are completing a plan to shift oversight of international non-military firearms sales from the State Department to the Commerce Department, four officials told Reuters.

While the State Department is primarily concerned about international threats to stability and maintains tight restrictions on weapons deals, the Commerce Department typically focuses more on facilitating trade.

The officials from multiple agencies, speaking on condition of anonymity, say the new rules will cut government red tape and regulatory costs, boosting U.S. exports of small arms and creating jobs at home.

“There will be more leeway to do arms sales,” one senior administration official said. “You could really turn the spigot on if you do it the right way.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

A new statue honors the inventor of the AK-47, the creation that haunted him

Quartz reports: As high-ranking officials and Russian Orthodox priests looked on, a 30-foot statue of Mikhail Kalashnikov was unveiled today (Sept.19), in central Moscow. The monument depicts Kalashnikov clutching his creation, the AK-47— the world’s most famous assault rifle—and sits on one of the busiest streets in the city. The unveiling featured much pomp and ritual—a priest sprinkled holy water on the statue, onlookers crossed themselves, and a former spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church took to social and wrote, “our weapon is a holy weapon.”
All of the piety would have likely made Kalashnikov’s skin crawl.

A year before he died at age 94 in 2013, the inventor wrote a tortured letter to the head of the church. As reported by Ivestia, the pro-Kremlin newspaper, Kalashnikov insisted his “spiritual pain is unbearable.” “I keep having the same unsolved question: if my rifle claimed people’s lives, then can it be that I…a Christian and an Orthodox believer, was to blame for their deaths?” To be clear, Kalashnikov did not always feel this way. In 2007, he said, “I sleep well. It’s the politicians who are to blame for failing to come to an agreement and resorting to violence.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Music: Fareed Ayaz & Abu Muhammad — ‘Khabaram Raseeda’

 

Facebooktwittermail