Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon has described the Trump Tower meeting between the president’s son and a group of Russians during the 2016 election campaign as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic”, according to an explosive new book seen by the Guardian.
Bannon, speaking to author Michael Wolff, warned that the investigation into alleged collusion with the Kremlin will focus on money laundering and predicted: “They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.”
Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, reportedly based on more than 200 interviews with the president, his inner circle and players in and around the administration, is one of the most eagerly awaited political books of the year. In it, Wolff lifts the lid on a White House lurching from crisis to crisis amid internecine warfare, with even some of Trump’s closest allies expressing contempt for him.
Bannon, who was chief executive of the Trump campaign in its final three months, then White House chief strategist for seven months before returning to the rightwing Breitbart News, is a central figure in the nasty, cutthroat drama, quoted extensively, often in salty language.
He is particularly scathing about a June 2016 meeting involving Trump’s son Donald Jr, son-in-law Jared Kushner, then campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in New York. A trusted intermediary had promised documents that would “incriminate” rival Hillary Clinton but instead of alerting the FBI to a potential assault on American democracy by a foreign power, Trump Jr replied in an email: “I love it.”
The meeting was revealed by the New York Times in July last year, prompting Trump Jr to say no consequential material was produced. Soon after, Wolff writes, Bannon remarked mockingly: “The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor – with no lawyers. They didn’t have any lawyers.
“Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”
Bannon went on, Wolff writes, to say that if any such meeting had to take place, it should have been set up “in a Holiday Inn in Manchester, New Hampshire, with your lawyers who meet with these people”. Any information, he said, could then be “dump[ed] … down to Breitbart or something like that, or maybe some other more legitimate publication”.
Bannon added: “You never see it, you never know it, because you don’t need to … But that’s the brain trust that they had.”
Bannon also speculated that Trump Jr had involved his father in the meeting. “The chance that Don Jr did not walk these jumos up to his father’s office on the twenty-sixth floor is zero.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed last May, following Trump’s dismissal of FBI director James Comey, to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election. This has led to the indictments of four members of Trump’s inner circle, including Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to money laundering charges; Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. In recent weeks Bannon’s Breitbart News and other conservative outlets have accused Mueller’s team of bias against the president.
Trump predicted in an interview with the New York Times last week that the special counsel was “going to be fair”, though he also said the investigation “makes the country look very bad”. The president and his allies deny any collusion with Russia and the Kremlin has denied interfering.
Bannon has criticised Trump’s decision to fire Comey. In Wolff’s book, obtained by the Guardian ahead of publication from a bookseller in New England, he suggests White House hopes for a quick end to the Mueller investigation are gravely misplaced.
“You realise where this is going,” he is quoted as saying. “This is all about money laundering. Mueller chose [senior prosecutor Andrew] Weissmann first and he is a money-laundering guy. Their path to fucking Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr and Jared Kushner … It’s as plain as a hair on your face.”
Last month it was reported that federal prosecutors had subpoenaed records from Deutsche Bank, the German financial institution that has lent hundreds of millions of dollars to the Kushner property empire. Bannon continues: “It goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner shit. The Kushner shit is greasy. They’re going to go right through that. They’re going to roll those two guys up and say play me or trade me.”
Scorning apparent White House insouciance, Bannon reaches for a hurricane metaphor: “They’re sitting on a beach trying to stop a Category Five.”
He insists that he knows no Russians, will not be a witness, will not hire a lawyer and will not appear on national television answering questions.
Fire and Fury will be published next week. Wolff is a prominent media critic and columnist who has written for the Guardian and is a biographer of Rupert Murdoch. He previously conducted interviews for the Hollywood Reporter with Trump in June 2016 and Bannon a few months later.
He told the Guardian in November that to research the book, he showed up at the White House with no agenda but wanting to “find out what the insiders were really thinking and feeling”. He enjoyed extraordinary access to Trump and senior officials and advisers, he said, sometimes at critical moments of the fledgling presidency.
The rancour between Bannon and “Javanka” – Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump – is a recurring theme of the book. Kushner and Ivanka are Jewish. Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state, is quoted as saying: “It is a war between the Jews and the non-Jews.”
Trump is not spared. Wolff writes that Thomas Barrack Jr, a billionaire who is one of the president’s oldest associates, allegedly told a friend: “He’s not only crazy, he’s stupid.” Barrack denied that to the New York Times.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Justice Department plans to alert public to foreign operations targeting U.S. democracy
The Justice Department plans to alert the public to foreign operations targeting U.S. democracy under a new policy designed to counter hacking and disinformation campaigns such as the one Russia undertook in 2016 to disrupt the presidential election.
The government will inform American companies, private organizations and individuals that they are being covertly attacked by foreign actors attempting to affect elections or the political process.
“Exposing schemes to the public is an important way to neutralize them,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who announced the policy at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, according to prepared remarks. “The American people have a right to know if foreign governments are targeting them with propaganda.”
The Obama administration struggled in 2016 to decide whether and when to disclose the existence of the Russian intervention, fearing that it would be portrayed as a partisan move. Concerns about appearing to favor the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, weighed on President Obama, who was reluctant to give then GOP-nominee Donald Trump ammunition for his accusation that the election was rigged.
“The Russian effort to influence the 2016 presidential election is just one tree in a growing forest,” Rosenstein said. “Focusing merely on a single election misses the point.”
He cited Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, who last Friday said Russia’s actions continued. “As Director Coats made clear, “these actions are persistent, they are pervasive, and they are meant to undermine America’s democracy on a daily basis, regardless of whether it is election time or not,’ ” Rosenstein said.
At the Aspen Forum on Thursday, a Microsoft executive said that Russian military intelligence, known as the GRU, has targeted at least three candidates running for election this year. Tom Burt, the company’s Vice President for Customer Security and Trust, said that his team had discovered a spear-phishing campaign targeting the candidates. Spear-phishing is a technique hackers use to trick victims into clicking on malware-laced links in emails that enable access to the victims’ computers.
Twelve GRU officers were charged last week by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III with conspiracy for their role in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the transfer of thousands of emails to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, which published them at key moments in the campaign.
Pressure has been building on the Trump administration to commit to informing the public with lawmakers debating passage of a similar requirement, which would give it the force of law.
“It’s absolutely crucial that the intelligence community lean forward, push the envelope on sharing as much of that information as possible because one of the biggest challenges we have is on education of the public, of the electorate, on foreign, read Russian-influence operations,” said James R. Clapper Jr., former DNI, who last year at Aspen called for such transparency.
He called the move “quite significant” and said “making that a standard policy across the government is a good one.” Other agencies, he said, “will take a cue” from the Justice Department, which is part of the intelligence community and receives information from spy agencies.
The policy, which is part of a report issued on a new Cyber Digital Task Force set up by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in February, also specifies that in considering whether to disclose, the department must protect intelligence sources and methods, investigations and other government operations.
“Partisan political considerations must play no role in efforts to alert victims, other affected individuals or the American public to foreign influence operations against the United States,” the policy states. A foreign influence operation will be publicly disclosed “only when the government can attribute those activities to a foreign government with high confidence,” it said.
Rosenstein noted that influence operations are not new. The Soviet Union used them against the United States throughout the 20th century, including in 1963 paying an American to distribute a book claiming that the FBI and the CIA assassinated President Kennedy.
The new task force for the first time spelled out five different types of threats covered under foreign influence operations.
Hackers can target election systems, trying to get into voter registration databases and voting machines. Foreign operatives can pursue political organizations, campaigns and public officials. They can offer to assist political organizations or campaigns, while concealing their links to foreign governments. They can seek to covertly influence public opinion and sow division through the use of social media and other outlets. And they can try to employ lobbyists, foreign media outlets and other foreign organizations to influence policy-makers and the public.
“Public attribution of foreign influence operations can help to counter and mitigate the harm caused by foreign government-sponsored disinformation,” Rosenstein said. “When people are aware of the true sponsor, they can make better-informed decisions.”
The task force works closely with the FBI, whose director, Christopher Wray, last year established a Foreign Influence Task Force to focus on the same issue. The Justice Department task force is broader, but includes as a key component foreign influence activities.
To counter foreign influence, the department will aggressively investigate and prosecute such activities, and will work with other departments, such as the Department of Homeland Security, to share information about threats and vulnerabilities with state and local election officials, political organizations and other potential victims so they can take measures to detect or prevent harm, the report said.
It also noted that DOJ supports other agencies’ actions, such as financial or diplomatic sanctions and intelligence efforts. The department also is forming strategic relationships with social media providers to help them identify malign foreign influence activity.
This article was written by Ellen Nakashima from The Washington Post
Rudy Giuliani admits ‘Spygate’ is Trump PR tactic against Robert Mueller
- President’s lawyer gives meandering CNN interview
- ‘It’s for public opinion’, he says of claims of campaign informant
Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani said on Sunday that his repeated imputations of a supposed scandal at the heart of the Robert Mueller investigation – which Donald Trump calls “Spygate” – amounted to a tactic to sway public opinion and limit the risk of the president being impeached.
“Of course we have to do it to defend the president,” Trump’s lawyer told CNN State of the Union host Dana Bash, who accused him of being part of a campaign to undermine the Mueller investigation. Trump has repeatedly called the special counsel’s work a “witch hunt”, despite its producing five guilty pleas, including by three former Trump aides, and evidence of Russian tampering in US elections.
“It is for public opinion,” Giuliani said of his public campaign of dissimulation. “Because eventually the decision here is going to be impeach or not impeach. Members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, are going to be informed a lot by their constituents. And so our jury – and it should be – is the American people.
“So Republicans largely, many independents, even some Democrats now question the legitimacy of [the Mueller investigation],” Giuliani said. “Democrats I would suggest for their own self-interest, this is not a good issue to go into the midterms.”
As Giuliani acknowledged the political nature of his public campaign against Mueller, Trump advanced that campaign on Twitter, lamenting what he said were “young and beautiful lives … devastated and destroyed” by the investigation of alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
“They went back home in tatters!” Trump wrote. It was unclear who he was talking about.
Trump, Giuliani and other allies claim reports that an FBI informant monitored links between Trump aides and Russia show there was a “spy” on the Trump campaign. Senior figures in the intelligence community have rubbished such claims.
On ABC’s This Week on Sunday, the Democrat Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House intelligence committee, said: “This is part of the propaganda machine. Let’s spread a completely fallacious story and then say it needs to be investigated, and give it a life of its own.”
The Arizona senator Jeff Flake, a rare Republican critic of Trump, told NBC’s Meet the Press the “Spygate” claims were a “diversion tactic, obviously”.
He added: “There is concern that the president is laying the groundwork to [fire] Bob Mueller or [deputy attorney general Rod] Rosenstein. If that were to happen, obviously, that would cause a constitutional crisis.”
According to a CNN poll from 10 May, views of the Mueller investigation have shifted significantly among Republicans since March. The poll found that Republican approval of Mueller had declined to 17%, from 29%. Approval among Democrats had fallen slightly, from 69% to 64%. A majority of respondents from both parties disapproved of Trump’s handling of the Mueller investigation.
Giuliani is a former US attorney for the southern district of New York. In his CNN appearance, he called former CIA director John Brennan and former director of national intelligence James Clapper, both fierce critics of Trump, “two clowns”.
“I have no regard at all for Brennan or Clapper. I think they’re two clowns…” Giuliani said. “They’re not civil servants as far as I know.”
Clapper told the same show: “In the space of a week I’ve progressed from being the dumbest intelligence officer on the planet, from President Trump, to a clown. So it’s progress, I guess.”
Michael Hayden, another former director of the CIA, told ABC that Trump was “simply trying to delegitimize Mueller … and he’s willing to throw anything against the wall.
“From the outside looking in, from everything I know, everyone has handled this just about the way it should have been handled.”
Giuliani’s month-old job as a spokesman for the president has been marked by confusion, contradiction and scandal. He began by saying money used to seal a 2016 hush agreement with the porn actor Stormy Daniels had come from Trump, who had earlier flatly denied, on camera, any knowledge of the 0,000.
“We’re not changing any stories,” Trump told reporters. Trump has denied having an affair with Daniels.
Giuliani also said earlier this month Trump would have had his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pay off women in addition to Daniels “if necessary”. Giuliani told ABC he had “no knowledge” of any other payments to women.
Trump has repeatedly excused and praised Giuliani. “He started yesterday,” Trump said on 4 May. “He’ll get his facts straight. It’s actually very simple, there has been a lot of misinformation really.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Former Trump Lawyer: Mueller Raised Possibility of Trump Subpoena
Special Counsel Robert Mueller, in a meeting with President Donald Trump’s lawyers in March, raised the possibility of issuing a subpoena for Trump if he declines to talk to investigators in the Russia probe, a former lawyer for the president said on Tuesday.
John Dowd told Reuters that Mueller mentioned the possibility of a subpoena in the early March meeting. Mueller’s subpoena warning was first reported by the Washington Post, which cited four people familiar with the encounter.
“This isn’t some game. You are screwing with the work of the president of the United States,” Dowd said he told the investigators, who are probing possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Dowd left the president’s legal team about two weeks after the meeting.
The Post said Mueller had raised the possibility of a subpoena after Trump’s lawyers said the president had no obligation to talk with federal investigators involved in the probe.
After the March meeting, Mueller’s team agreed to provide the president’s lawyers with more specific information about the subjects they wished to ask Trump, the Post reported.
With that information, Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow compiled a list of 49 questions the president’s legal team believed he would be asked, according to the Post.
That list, first reported by the New York Times on Monday, includes questions on Trump’s ties to Russia and others to determine whether the president may have unlawfully tried to obstruct the investigation.
Trump on Tuesday criticized the leak of the questions.
“So disgraceful that the questions concerning the Russian Witch Hunt were ‘leaked’ to the media. No questions on Collusion,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “It would seem very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened!”
Russia has denied interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, as U.S. intelligence agencies allege, and Trump has denied there was any collusion between his campaign and Moscow.
Sekulow did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Mueller declined to comment.
Republished With Permission from VOA – Voice Of America
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