How Rosenstein gave Trump a no-win choice

Bloomberg reports:

President Donald Trump gave the go-ahead to announce new Russian election-hacking indictments before his meeting with Vladimir Putin rather than after — in the hopes it would strengthen his hand in the talks, according to accounts from people familiar with the decision.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein went to Trump last week and offered him the choice: before or after the Putin summit on Monday in Helsinki? Trump chose before, ultimately putting the issue into the spotlight just 72 hours before the high-stakes meeting, the people said.

In the end, Trump faced a torrent of bipartisan criticism for suggesting he was leaning toward accepting the Russian president’s denial that his government was behind hacking during the 2016 presidential election, even though Trump had hoped the indictment of 12 Russians on charges of meddling would give him the upper hand, one of the people said.

Even after Trump’s performance in Helsinki, dutiful White House staffers are trying to portray their boss as a cunning deal maker.

But the cunning came from Rosenstein (and Mueller) by showing Trump mock deference in the form of a choice between two unpalatable options: either have the indictments of Russians set the context of the summit, or offer the FBI investigation more evidence of Trump’s ongoing collusion with Russia by postponing the indictments.

Trump opted to multiply his loses by having the indictments frame a display of abject submission before his master.

Trump fist-bumped Turkish leader Erdogan, said he ‘does things the right way’

Erdogan’s security staff beating up peaceful protesters in Washington D.C., May 17, 2017:

 

CBS News reports:

In the days before his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki Monday, President Donald Trump upset relations with America’s allies during a visit to the United Kingdom and a contentious meeting with NATO leaders in Brussels.

In addition to calling the European Union a “foe” of the U.S. and criticizing British Prime Minister Theresa May for her handling of Brexit, Mr. Trump slammed fellow NATO countries for not contributing more towards defense spending.

On “CBS This Morning” Monday, Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group and a CBS News senior global affairs contributor, said that backstage at the NATO meeting there were elements that were even more eyebrow-raising than reports have suggested.

“One is that emergency session where they asked the Georgian and Ukrainian presidents to leave in the middle of their presentation. Apparently Trump said, ‘OK, we’re done with you now,'” Bremmer said.

“Trump was very frustrated; he wasn’t getting commitments from other leaders to spend more. Many of them said, ‘Well, we have to ask our parliaments. We have a process; we can’t just tell you we’re going to spend more, we have a legal process.’ Trump turns around to the Turkish president, Recep Erdogan, and says, ‘Except for Erdogan over here. He does things the right way,’ and then actually fist-bumps the Turkish president.” [Continue reading…]

Trump has subordinated himself to Putin

Margaret Sullivan writes:

It was press conference as national nightmare, summed up succinctly by the BBC on its home page minutes later with this headline: “Trump Sides With Russia Against FBI.”

And though Monday’s joint Trump-Putin post-summit appearance in Helsinki was a news conference — with some admirably tough questions from two experienced wire-service reporters — it also was a moment in which no media interpretation was really necessary.

Everything was right out there in the open. Believe your eyes and ears.

As my Washington Post colleague Mark Berman put it on Twitter: “I’m really struck by what a huge story it would be if it emerged that Trump was privately questioning the intel assessment re: Russian meddling and suggesting he buys Russia’s denial. Instead, he says it out loud, on TV, while standing next to Putin.”

Almost superfluous in the moment, the news media’s job became crucially important in the immediate aftermath.

What happened on that stage needs to be made undeniably clear to every American citizen who isn’t hopelessly lost in denial. (And clearly, many are.)

That job will fall, in part at least, to the American press, which will find itself in the uncomfortable position of calling a spade a spade, with none of the usual recourse to false equivalence or “both sides with equal weight” coverage.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper led the way with his immediate — and memorable — live assessment: “You have been watching perhaps one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president . . . .”

And others followed suit. [Continue reading…]

David Frum writes:

The reasons for Trump’s striking behavior—whether he was bribed or blackmailed or something else—remain to be ascertained. That he has publicly refused to defend his country’s independent electoral process—and did so jointly with the foreign dictator who perverted that process—is video-recorded fact.

And it’s a fact that has to be seen in the larger context of his actions in office: denouncing the EU as a “foe,” threatening to break up NATO, wrecking the U.S.-led world trading system, intervening in both U.K. and German politics in support of extremist and pro-Russian forces, and his continued refusal to act to protect the integrity of U.S. voting systems—it adds up to a political indictment whether or not it quite qualifies as a criminal one.

America is a very legalistic society, in which public discussion often deteriorates into lawyers arguing whether any statutes have been violated. But confronting the country in the wake of Helsinki is this question: Can it afford to wait to ascertain why Trump has subordinated himself to Putin after the president has so abjectly demonstrated that he has subordinated himself? Robert Mueller is leading a legal process. The United States faces a national-security emergency.

Ed Kilgore writes:

This is the aspect of the encounter with Putin that may haunt Trump long after the arguments over its substantive meaning — in terms of U.S.–Russia relations, U.S.–E.U. relations, and the investigations into Russian election meddling and alleged collusion with the Trump campaign — have either faded or given way to horrifying new revelations. In the brightest international spotlight side by side with the foreign leader he has most admired for his toughness, Donald Trump looked weak and submissive, incapable of expressing any sort of righteous indignation at even the most blatant bad behavior by Russia. His soon-to-be-infamous suggestion that he thought Putin might be more credible than U.S. intelligence agencies on the subject of Russia’s election interference is obviously disturbing in itself. But delivered in Putin’s own presence it came across as the act of a toady or at least someone who is extremely conflict-averse — which is exactly 180 degrees away from the persona Trump has worked so hard to present.

What Robert Mueller knows

Garrett M Graff writes:

When the history books are written, Rod Rosenstein might just be the most interesting figure of the Russia investigation—the beleaguered deputy attorney general whose memo in his first days on the job was used to justify the firing of James Comey.

After that he quickly appointed Robert Mueller as the special counsel and spent the following year supervising his investigation while under immense pressure from President Trump and congressional wolves seeking to undermine his credibility, even impeach him.

As congressional Republicans have sought to undermine the Justice Department’s integrity and independence, Rosenstein has made numerous short-term, tactical concessions to his critics, bending traditional rules and handing over documents to Congress about confidential sources and ongoing investigations—compromises that previous administrations would never have made.

Why would anyone put up with the abuse, vitriol, and daily haranguing from the president’s Twitter account that Rosenstein has endured? Why would Rosenstein seemingly set precedents that undermine the core principles of the Justice Department, an institution that he’s devoted nearly his entire career to serving?

I have a simple theory: In a world of hedgehogs and foxes, Rosenstein today is the ultimate hedgehog.

Rosenstein knows one very big, monumental, history-shaping thing—how Trump’s presidency will end—and he’s wagered that if he can hang on long enough, justice will be done and the good guys, in his eyes, will win. His early actions, around Comey’s firing, will be vindicated by history when seen by the light of his bravery and personal sacrifice and refusal to be bullied into quitting, a move that would almost surely lead to Mueller’s investigation being shut down or circumscribed by whichever Trump appointee takes over supervising it next. [Continue reading…]

Trump and Putin are clearly in cahoots — over propping up fossil fuels

Eric Holthaus writes:

Whether Russia meddled in the U.S. presidential election in 2016 is not up for serious debate — numerous intelligence agencies, both foreign and domestic, concluded it did.

During a joint press conference with President Donald Trump in Helsinki on Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin went a long way toward answering why.

“I did [want Trump to win] because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal,” Putin said.

That statement was widely covered, but I’m convinced something else Putin said during the press conference is more important.

“I think that we as a major oil and gas power, and the United States as a major oil and gas power, as well, we could work together on regulation of international markets,” he said. “We do have space for cooperation here.”

Some close observers have drawn this connection before, but it’s worth saying again explicitly: There’s no way to understand Trump’s relationship with Russia without putting oil and climate politics at its center. If you’re upset at Trump and Putin for undermining our democracy, just wait until you find out that they are likely colluding to destroy our planet’s climate system, too. [Continue reading…]

Mariia Butina, who sought ‘back channel’ meeting for Trump and Putin, is charged as Russian agent

The New York Times reports:

A Russian woman who tried to broker a secret meeting between Donald J. Trump and the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, during the 2016 presidential campaign was charged Monday and accused of working with Americans to carry out a secret Russian effort to influence American politics.

At the behest of a senior Russian government official, the woman, Mariia Butina, made connections through the National Rifle Association, religious organizations and the National Prayer Breakfast to try to steer the Republican Party toward more pro-Russia policies, court records show. Privately comparing herself to a Soviet Cold War propagandist, she worked to infiltrate American organizations and establish “back channel” lines of communication with American politicians.

“These lines could be used by the Russian Federation to penetrate the U.S. national decision-making apparatus to advance the agenda of the Russian Federation,” an F.B.I. agent wrote in court documents.

The charges were filed under seal on Saturday, the day after 12 Russian intelligence officers were indicted on a charge of hacking Democratic computers during the 2016 campaign. Ms. Butina, 29, was arrested Sunday and appeared Monday in court. The records were unsealed hours after Mr. Trump stood beside Mr. Putin in Helsinki and said that he saw no reason the Russian leader would try to influence the presidential election. [Continue reading…]

Kids, separated from their parents, are not even allowed to comfort one another

The New York Times reports:

Do not misbehave. Do not sit on the floor. Do not share your food. Do not use nicknames. Also, it is best not to cry. Doing so might hurt your case.

Lights out by 9 p.m. and lights on at dawn, after which make your bed according to the step-by-step instructions posted on the wall. Wash and mop the bathroom, scrubbing the sinks and toilets. Then it is time to form a line for the walk to breakfast.

“You had to get in line for everything,” recalled Leticia, a girl from Guatemala.

Small, slight and with long black hair, Leticia was separated from her mother after they illegally crossed the border in late May. She was sent to a shelter in South Texas — one of more than 100 government-contracted detention facilities for migrant children around the country that are a rough blend of boarding school, day care center and medium security lockup. They are reserved for the likes of Leticia, 12, and her brother, Walter, 10.

The facility’s list of no-no’s also included this: Do not touch another child, even if that child is your hermanito or hermanita — your little brother or sister.

Leticia had hoped to give her little brother a reassuring hug. But “they told me I couldn’t touch him,” she recalled. [Continue reading…]

How Israel torched its way to Iran’s nuclear secrets

The New York Times reports on Israel’s theft of Iran’s nuclear archive:

David Albright, a former inspector who runs the Institute for Science and International Security, said in an interview that the documents contained “great information.”

“Iran conducted many more high-explosive tests related to nuclear weapons development than previously known,” he told Congress last month.

But the archive also shows that after a burst of activity, a political mandate delivered at the end of 2003 slowed the program dramatically, just as American officials had concluded in a 2007 intelligence report.

Israel has long claimed that the program continued after 2003, and some documents show senior officials in the Iranian program — including two who were later assassinated, presumably by Israeli agents — debating how to split it into overt and covert elements.

One of the scientists warned that work on neutrons that create the chain reaction for a nuclear explosion must be hidden. “‘Neutrons’ research could not be considered ‘overt’ and needs to be concealed,” his notes read. “We cannot excuse such activities as defensive. Neutron activities are sensitive, and we have no explanation for them.” That caution, the documents show, came from Masoud Ali Mohammadi, an Iranian nuclear physicist at the University of Tehran, who was assassinated in January 2010.

Mr. Netanyahu argues that the trove proves that the 2015 agreement, with its sunset clauses allowing the Iranians to produce nuclear fuel again after 2030, was naïve. The fact that the Iranians went to such lengths to preserve what they had learned, and hid the archive’s contents from international inspectors in an undeclared site despite an agreement to reveal past research, is evidence of their future intent, he has said.

But the same material could also be interpreted as a strong argument for maintaining and extending the nuclear accord as long as possible. The deal deprived the Iranians of the nuclear fuel they would need to turn the designs into reality.

Former members of the Obama administration, who negotiated the deal, say the archive proves what they had suspected all along: that Iran had advanced fuel capability, warhead designs and a plan to build them rapidly. That was why they negotiated the accord, which forced the country to ship 97 percent of its nuclear fuel out of the country. Iran would never have agreed to a permanent ban, they said.

The warehouse the Israelis penetrated was put into use only after the 2015 accord was reached with the United States, European powers, Russia and China. That pact granted broad rights to the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit suspected nuclear sites, including on military bases.

So the Iranians, Israeli officials said in interviews, systematically went about collecting thousands of pages spread around the country documenting how to build a weapon, how to fit it on a missile and how to detonate it. They consolidated them at the warehouse, in a commercial district with no past relationship to the nuclear program, and far from the declared archives of the Ministry of Defense. There were no round-the-clock guards or anything else that would tip off neighbors, or spies, that something unusual was happening there. [Continue reading…]

The death of truth: How we gave up on facts and ended up with Trump

Michiko Kakutani writes:

Two of the most monstrous regimes in human history came to power in the 20th century, and both were predicated on the violation and despoiling of truth, on the knowledge that cynicism and weariness and fear can make people susceptible to the lies and false promises of leaders bent on unconditional power. As Hannah Arendt wrote in her 1951 book The Origins of Totalitarianism, “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (ie the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (ie the standards of thought) no longer exist.”

Arendt’s words increasingly sound less like a dispatch from another century than a chilling description of the political and cultural landscape we inhabit today – a world in which fake news and lies are pumped out in industrial volume by Russian troll factories, emitted in an endless stream from the mouth and Twitter feed of the president of the United States, and sent flying across the world through social media accounts at lightning speed. Nationalism, tribalism, dislocation, fear of social change and the hatred of outsiders are on the rise again as people, locked in their partisan silos and filter bubbles, are losing a sense of shared reality and the ability to communicate across social and sectarian lines.

This is not to draw a direct analogy between today’s circumstances and the overwhelming horrors of the second world war era, but to look at some of the conditions and attitudes – what Margaret Atwood has called the “danger flags” in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm – that make a people susceptible to demagoguery and political manipulation, and nations easy prey for would-be autocrats. To examine how a disregard for facts, the displacement of reason by emotion, and the corrosion of language are diminishing the value of truth, and what that means for the world. [Continue reading…]

Trump’s ambassador lobbied Britain on behalf of jailed far-right English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson

Reuters reports:

Sam Brownback, the U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, complained to the British ambassador in Washington D.C. about the treatment of an English right-wing activist who is in jail for disrupting a trial, according to three sources familiar with the discussion.

Brownback raised the case of the activist known as Tommy Robinson in a June meeting with Sir Kim Darroch, Britain’s Ambassador to the United States, according to a British official and two sources close to the organizers of a pro-Robinson demonstration planned for London on Saturday.

Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, though he also uses other aliases, is a founder of the English Defense League, which has organized violent demonstrations against Islamic immigrants in the UK in the past decade. More recently, Robinson has branded himself a journalist and campaigner against Islamic extremism, a move that won him contacts with American anti-Muslim activists. [Continue reading…]