Flynn reportedly told Trump team he was under investigation before inauguration

Flynn

Weeks before President Trump’s inauguration, Michael Flynn told the transition team he was under federal investigation for working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign, the New York Times reported late Wednesday.

The disclosure by Flynn on Jan. 4 was first made to then-Trump transition team lawyer Donald F. McGahn II, who is now the White House counsel, two people familiar with the case told the newspaper.

Flynn’s conversation with the transition team came a month after the Justice Department notified Flynn he was under investigation, according to the Times.

The Justice Department investigation was not seen as disqualifying Flynn from the national security adviser position, people close to the retired Army lieutenant general told Fox News.

Flynn was fired as national security adviser by Trump on Feb. 13 after the White House said he misled Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials about his communications with Russia’s ambassador to the United States.

The White House had no immediate comment on the Times story Wednesday night.

Earlier Wednesday, people close to the former national security adviser told Fox News that Flynn never asked Trump to interfere or block federal probes.

“Flynn never spoke to the president about trying to end or influence any ongoing government investigations of him,” Fox News was told.

Separately, McClatchy reported Wednesday that Flynn declined a request from the Obama administration to approve a Pentagon plan to retake ISIS’ de facto capital, Raqqa, with the help of Syrian Kurdish forces — a plan that the government of Turkey had opposed.

The Trump administration eventually approved the offensive after Flynn’s dismissal. Weeks after his firing, Flynn retroactively registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent. He was ultimately paid more than $500,000 to advocate for the Turkish government.

The McClatchy report says Flynn’s explanation for the decision is not recorded and it was not immediately clear whether he consulted with other members of the transition team.

Source: foxnews

House majority leader to colleagues in 2016: ‘I think Putin pays’ Trump

house

KIEV, Ukraine — A month before Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination, one of his closest allies in Congress — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy — made a politically explosive assertion in a private conversation on Capitol Hill with his fellow GOP leaders: that Trump could be the beneficiary of payments from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, according to a recording of the June 15, 2016, exchange, which was listened to and verified by The Washington Post. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is a Californian Republican known in Congress as a fervent defender of Putin and Russia.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) immediately interjected, stopping the conversation from further exploring McCarthy’s assertion, and swore the Republicans present to secrecy.

Before the conversation, McCarthy and Ryan had emerged from separate talks at the Capitol with Ukrainian Prime Minister Vladi­mir Groysman, who had described a Kremlin tactic of financing populist politicians to undercut Eastern European democratic institutions.

News had just broken the day before in The Washington Post that Russian government hackers had penetrated the computer network of the Democratic National Committee, prompting McCarthy to shift the conversation from Russian meddling in Europe to events closer to home.

Some of the lawmakers laughed at McCarthy’s comment. Then McCarthy quickly added: “Swear to God.”

Ryan instructed his Republican lieutenants to keep the conversation private, saying: “No leaks. . . . This is how we know we’re a real family here.”

The remarks remained secret for nearly a year.

[Read the transcript of the conversation among GOP leaders obtained by The Post]

The conversation provides a glimpse at the internal views of GOP leaders who now find themselves under mounting pressure over the conduct of President Trump. The exchange shows that the Republican leadership in the House privately discussed Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and Trump’s relationship to Putin, but wanted to keep their concerns secret. It is difficult to tell from the recording the extent to which the remarks were meant to be taken literally.trump

The House leadership has so far stood by the White House as it has lurched from one crisis to another, much of the turmoil fueled by contacts between Trump or his associates with Russia.

House Republican leaders have so far resisted calls for the appointment of an independent commission or a special prosecutor to investigate Russian interference, though pressure has been mounting on them to do so after Trump’s firing of FBI Director James B. Comey and the disclosure that the president shared intelligence with Russian diplomats.

Late Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein announced he had appointed Robert S. Mueller III, a former prosecutor who served as the FBI director from 2001 to 2013, as special counsel to oversee the Russia probe.

[Deputy attorney general appoints special counsel to oversee probe of Russian interference in election]

Evan McMullin, who in his role as policy director to the House Republican Conference participated in the June 15 conversation, said: “It’s true that Majority Leader McCarthy said that he thought candidate Trump was on the Kremlin’s payroll. Speaker Ryan was concerned about that leaking.”

McMullin ran for president last year as an independent and has been a vocal critic of Trump.

When initially asked to comment on the exchange, Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Ryan, said: “That never happened,” and Matt Sparks, a spokesman for McCarthy, said: “The idea that McCarthy would assert this is absurd and false.”

After being told that The Post would cite a recording of the exchange, Buck, speaking for the GOP House leadership, said: “This entire year-old exchange was clearly an attempt at humor. No one believed the majority leader was seriously asserting that Donald Trump or any of our members were being paid by the Russians. What’s more, the speaker and leadership team have repeatedly spoken out against Russia’s interference in our election, and the House continues to investigate that activity.”

“This was a failed attempt at humor,” Sparks said.

Ken Grubbs, a spokesman for Rohrabacher, said the congressman has been a consistent advocate of “working closer with the Russians to combat radical Islamism. The congressman doesn’t need to be paid to come to such a necessary conclusion.”

When McCarthy voiced his assessment of whom Putin supports, suspicions were only beginning to swirl around Trump’s alleged Russia ties.

At the time, U.S. intelligence agencies knew that the Russians had hacked the DNC and other institutions, but Moscow had yet to start publicly releasing damaging emails through WikiLeaks to undermine Trump’s Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton. An FBI counterintelligence investigation into Russian efforts to influence the presidential election would open the following month, in late July, Comey has said in testimony to Congress.

Trump has sought to play down contacts between his campaign and the Russians, dismissing as a “witch hunt” the FBI and congressional investigations into Russian efforts to aid Trump and any possible coordination between the Kremlin and his associates. Trump denies any coordination with Moscow took place.

Source: washingtonpost

Inside the Oval Office with Trump and the Russians: Broad smiles and loose lips

Office

Comfortable chastising and cajoling in his fluent English, Sergei Lavrov has brought scowls and smiles to the faces of officials from four U.S. administrations during more than two decades as a senior statesman from Russia.

OfficeSo it was no surprise that when the Russian foreign minister paid a visit to President Trump last Wednesday, there were broad grins all around the Oval Office — just in time for Moscow’s official photographer to memorialize a chummy image of a tête-à-tête that Trump might now wish he could forget.

Lavrov — almost certainly aware of Trump’s proud indifference to the conventions of his office, especially when trying to impress visitors — listened as Trump bragged about the intelligence he receives and shared highly classified information from a U.S. partner with Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, who also attended, according to current and former U.S. officials.

The meeting that produced one of the biggest crises yet for a White House already well accustomed to tumult began as a favor from one president to another.

On May 2, eight days before Lavrov showed up at the White House, Russian President Vladi­mir Putin was on the phone with Trump and made a request. ­Putin had “new ideas” about stopping the civil war carnage in Syria, according to a senior U.S. official, and noted that his top diplomat, Lavrov, would soon be visiting the United States for a previously scheduled meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

“Will you see him?” Putin asked Trump, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private talks.

“Yes,” Trump replied.

Lavrov’s itinerary had him going nowhere near Washington — 4,100 miles away in Fairbanks, Alaska, where he and Tillerson would be attending a meeting of the Arctic Council, the group of countries that have territory in the Arctic region. Putin glossed over that detail with Trump, however, and once he agreed to a face-to-face meeting with Lavrov, the Russian minister changed his plans to jet first to Washington.

For the Kremlin, a private audience with the president was a major opportunity to show the world that U.S.-Russia relations were normalizing.

Since the crisis in Ukraine, when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and sent troops into breakaway eastern Ukraine, the United States has sought to show that it is not conducting “business as usual with Russian figures,” said Andrew Weiss, a Russia specialist who is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

[Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian foreign minister and ambassador]

But Putin and his deputies, Weiss said, have “sought whenever they could to lessen that international isolation and demonstrate, ‘See, we’re back in the family of nations, and we’re all going to get back to business again.’ ”

Trump on Tuesday said that his meeting with Lavrov was “very, very successful” and that it was a precursor to “a lot of great success over the next coming years” in fighting global terrorism.

Trump’s advisers insisted that the president did nothing wrong.

“What the president discussed with the foreign minister was wholly appropriate to that conversation and is consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leaders with whom he’s engaged,” national security adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters Tuesday.

In one important respect, the Trump administration’s hand might have been forced. After Putin received Tillerson in Moscow last month — meeting privately with the secretary of state for two hours at the Kremlin — the United States owed reciprocity to Russia in the form of an audience with Trump for Tillerson’s Russian counterpart, Lavrov. Rejecting Putin’s request for a Trump-Lavrov meeting would have represented a breach in diplomatic tradition.

Never mind the United States’ growing list of grievances with Russia — which includes the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election to help elect Trump, as well as Moscow’s refusal to rein in support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad amid that country’s civil war and humanitarian crisis.

U.S. officials moved forward regardless to orchestrate Lavrov’s meeting with Trump. Weiss said that “throws out the very limited leverage we have with the Russians, and makes it look like we’re softies.”

The meeting took place the morning of May 10 in the Oval Office, the very symbol of presidential power, and White House aides took pains to keep the plan from leaking to reporters. It was not until the president’s daily schedule was released about 10:30 p.m. on May 9 that the Lavrov meeting was confirmed.

The date was set before Trump knew he would be firing James B. Comey as FBI director on the afternoon of May 9. The president’s advisers knew the optics would be bad politically, one of them said, but calculated that the fallout would be just as bad if Trump abruptly canceled on Lavrov, so he kept the appointment.

There was no photo availability for Lavrov pulling up at the White House driveway, as is typical for arriving foreign dignitaries. The meeting was considered “closed press,” meaning that the White House press pool was not allowed to enter the Oval Office for what is known as a photo spray, which usually lasts for a minute or two.

Instead, the U.S. and Russian officials who negotiated the visit agreed in advance that the meeting would be documented only by one official photographer from each delegation. A few hours before the meeting, according to a White House official, some of Trump’s aides wondered why they could not bring in the press corps and were told it had been “predetermined” that there would be no access.

The two photographers took pictures at the start of the meeting and then left the room. White House aides said they were under the impression that the Russian photographer in attendance was on Lavrov’s staff, and were angry when they later saw the photos published online by Tass, the state-owned Russian news agency.

Source: washingtonpost

Pretend Clinton did what Trump has done

trump

Imagine what would have happened had a President Hillary Clinton abruptly fired the man overseeing an investigation of her campaign’s ties to a hostile foreign government.

Imagine if the firing came, according to The New York Times, weeks after Clinton had asked the man to drop a probe of a close associate who had lied about conversations with that nation’s ambassador.

TrumpImagine, further, what would have happened had she invited the ambassador and foreign minister of that hostile government to the Oval Office at the request of their autocratic leader, closed the meeting to U.S. journalists, and claimed to have been tricked when the foreign adversary’s media arm released chummy photos from the meeting.

And then imagine that she had used the meeting to share classified intelligence with the envoys.

Republicans in Congress and conservative news outlets would undoubtedly be clamoring for investigations, if not impeachment. After all, Clinton’s critics spent years trying to make a capital case out of the Benghazi tragedy, then pounded her careless handling of sensitive information through her use of a private server for State Department emails.

Let President Trump try to work with Russia
Now, many of those formerly apoplectic Republicans are shrugging off Trump’s behavior — his campaign’s suspicious ties to the Russian government, his dismissal of FBI Director James Comey and his sharing of classified information with two high-level Russian officials — with only a modest sense of annoyance.

Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., allowed that it would be nice to have “a little less drama” from the White House. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., compared the Trump White House to “kiddie soccer” (an insult to youth soccer leagues). “It is what it is,” added Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

What is it? How about a breathtaking degree of ignorance, incompetence, immaturity and impulsiveness? Trump’s disclosure of classified intelligence would put anyone but a president in legal jeopardy. He has harmed national security by raising questions among allies about whether they should cooperate with the United States and trust America to keep secrets. And he has used the powers of the presidency to attempt to impede a credible investigation into how he came to be president.

Rather than trying to make excuses for the president, Republicans should be providing leadership, staying true to their oaths of office, and serving as credible checks on Trump’s excesses. Even before getting briefed on the latest outrages, they should demand that the next FBI director be a non-partisan career professional, not a politician who could be co-opted by the administration.

They should also get serious about their own fact-finding investigations. Even before Trump’s disclosure of sensitive information and Tuesday’s report in The Times that the president asked Comey to close down an investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, their intelligence committees already had at least three angles to pursue: the degree to which Russia interfered with last year’s election, its coordination (if any) with the Trump campaign, and the circumstances surrounding Comey’s ouster.

The work of the House Intelligence Committee has been farcical. The Senate Intelligence Committee has shown more promise, but it might need to be replaced with a select committee with more resources and a higher profile.

The most credible criminal investigation would come from a Justice Department special counsel. The decision on whether to appoint such a person is up to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, but congressional Republicans should make clear that they would have no objection.

Had Clinton been elected and done a 10th of the things Trump has done, the calls from the right for her removal would be deafening, louder even than the “lock her up” shouts during the presidential campaign.

It’s time for GOP lawmakers to demand more accountability and more competence from their president, whose suitability for office grows ever more tenuous.

USA TODAY’s editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff. Most editorials are coupled with an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY feature.

Source: usatoday