For two hours on Monday, President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in private, with only interpreters there to hear their conversation. No aides, no media — just the two leaders and their translators, discussing who knows what.
This tete-a-tete was viewed as problematic well before it took place. When it was announced the two leaders would meet alone, it immediately struck many observers as unusual, particularly given the outstanding questions about the relationship between the two during the 2016 election. The White House told CNN there were a few reasons Trump wanted it this way: to assess Putin better, to avoid interjections from more hard-line staffers and because “he didn’t want details of their conversation to leak.”
So far, they have not. We have only hints of what the two leaders discussed in private, gleaned from their news conference and from interviews with each that followed. Tweets like this from the Russian Embassy in Washington are particularly cryptic:
The Russian Defense Ministry @MoD_Russiais ready for the practical implementation of agreements in the area of global security reached in Helsinki between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump
— Russia in USA (@RusEmbUSA) July 17, 2018
We looked at three transcripts to suss out what has been made public. They are:
The Bloomberg Government transcript of the post-meeting news conference The transcript of Fox News’s Chris Wallace’s interview with Putin The transcript of Fox News’s Sean Hannity’s interview with Trump.
They are identified below as [CONF], [WALLACE] and [HANNITY]. (Trump’s interview with Fox News’s Tucker Carlson that aired Tuesday did not address the conversations between the two leaders to a large extent.) We are taking at face value the presentations each leader made: If Putin said something at the news conference that was not challenged by Trump, in other words, we are assuming it was discussed and agreed upon.
What we know Trump and Putin discussed Interference in the 2016 election. [CONF] “[S]trategic stability and global security and nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” according to Putin, who said he gave the United States “a note with a number of specific suggestions.” [CONF] Extension of the “Strategic Offensive Arms Limitation Treaty,” meaning New START, which expires in 2021. [CONF] The two didn’t finalize terms on an extension. [WALLACE, HANNITY] Non-placement of weapons in space, per Putin — probably a response to Trump’s push for a “space force.” [CONF] Reestablishment of a joint working group on terrorism. [CONF] Establishment of a “joint working group on cybersecurity,” first discussed last year in Europe. [CONF] “A plethora of regional crises,” including Syria, North Korea and Ukraine. Putin suggested that the United States should push Ukrainian leaders to implement the Minsk Agreements of 2016. [CONF] The Iran nuclear deal and the U.S. withdrawal from the agreement. Trump said he emphasized the importance of putting pressure on Iran. [CONF] Creation of “an expert council that would include political scientists, prominent diplomats and former military experts from both countries who would look for points of contact between the two countries and would look for ways on putting the relationship on the trajectory of growth,” per Putin. [CONF] Sales of natural gas from Russia to Europe, including the transit of gas through Ukrainian pipelines. [CONF] The humanitarian crisis in Syria and the two countries’ joint efforts there. [CONF] The annexation of Crimea, which Trump asserted was illegal (according, oddly, to Putin). [CONF]
The broader and more important question, of course, is what the two leaders agreed to. Take Iran, for example. We know the two leaders discussed Iran, but to what end?
That list is shorter.
What we know Trump and Putin agreed to Protection of the border between Syria and Israel and a return to the 1974 agreement on disengagement. [CONF] Creation of “a high-level working group” of business leaders from each country. [CONF] Maintenance of lines of communication aimed at combating terrorism. [CONF] This included the eradication of the Islamic State. [HANNITY] A commitment by Putin to work with the United States on North Korea. [CONF] A follow-up meeting including members of each country’s security councils. [CONF] Putin will “look into” the allegations against 12 intelligence officers, indicted by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s grand jury. [CONF] Trump embraced Putin’s suggestion that Mueller be allowed to come interview those individuals — though Putin said, in exchange, Russia should be allowed to interview Americans it accuses of crimes. [CONF] Trump did not commit to that but said he was “fascinated by it.” [HANNITY]
In the days since that summit, Russia has moved forward on this contentious idea, including announcing plans to charge several Americans, including former ambassador Michael McFaul, with financial crimes. During the news conference after the summit, Putin made reference to his longtime nemesis Bill Browder — a reminder that those the Russian government most wants to charge with crimes are often those who are the sharpest critics.
Speaking of the treatment of critics of Russia, it is also worth noting what was not discussed during the two-hour private conversation, according to those later reports.
What was not discussed or was not mentioned The two did not discuss NATO’s upcoming military exercises. [WALLACE] No mention was made of any discussion about the poisoning of former Russian intelligence official Sergei Skripal and his daughter. The attack, which took place on British soil, is seen by the U.S. allies as an egregious event. It spurred the expulsion of Russian officers from the United States and other Western countries earlier this year. No mention was made of any discussion about the sanctions imposed by the United States after the annexation of Crimea.
That Trump reiterated the U.S. position on Crimea suggests the subject was unnecessary. But this is a critically important question: Discussion of lifting those sanctions has been an undercurrent to the question of whether the Trump presidential campaign colluded with Russia’s interference efforts in 2016.
With no one else in the room for those two hours, we may never know whether and how the subject was broached.
This article was written by Philip Bump from The Washington Post_
Trump May Pardon Military Men Accused Or Convicted Of War Crimes
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump has asked for files to be prepared on pardoning several U.S. military members accused of or convicted of war crimes, including one slated to stand trial on charges of shooting unarmed civilians while in Iraq, the New York Times reported on Saturday.
Trump requested the immediate preparation of paperwork needed, indicating he is considering pardons for the men around Memorial Day on May 27, the report said, citing two unnamed U.S. officials. Assembling pardon files normally takes months, but the Justice Department has pressed for the work to be completed before that holiday weekend, one of the officials said.
One request is for Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher of the Navy SEALs, scheduled to stand trial in coming weeks on charges of shooting unarmed civilians and killing an enemy captive with a knife while deployed in Iraq.
Also believed to be included is the case of Major Mathew Golsteyn, an Army Green Beret accused of killing an unarmed Afghan in 2010, the Times said.
Reuters could not immediately identify a way to contact Gallagher and Golsteyn.
The newspaper reported that the cases of other men are believed to be included in the paperwork, without naming them.
The Department of Justice declined to comment on the report, while the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Legal experts cited in the report said that pardoning several accused and convicted war criminals, including some who have not yet gone to trial, has not been done in recent history, and some worried such pardons could erode the legitimacy of military law.
Trump Administration Considers Flying Migrants Across Country to Relieve Border Crowding
The Trump administration may begin flying asylum-seeking families at the southern U.S. border across the country to have their initial claims processed, a Customs and Border Protection official said Friday.
For months, immigration authorities have been shuttling newly arrested migrants—mostly families and children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador—between border stations as facilities have become overwhelmed. Migrants have routinely been bussed hundreds of miles from the border in Southern California or El Paso, Texas, to as far away as Tucson, Ariz., before authorities process and then release them to aid groups.
Now, plans are being laid for the air transportation of parents and children out of overcrowded stations to other locations in the U.S., including northern and coastal states with Border Patrol offices that have capacity, if the flow of families doesn’t diminish, the CBP official said.
“This is an emergency. The entire system is overwhelmed,” the official said. “We are just trying to safely get them out of our facilities as quickly as possible.”
Border Patrol officials have flown nearly 1,000 migrants from overcrowded processing centers and stations in the Rio Grande Valley to nearby Del Rio, Texas, and San Diego since last Friday, another U.S. official said Friday.
The private, contracted flights have cost between $21,000 and $65,000 each and can carry a maximum of 135 people, that official said.
Mark Bogen, the mayor of Broward County in South Florida said Friday that he was told by local law-enforcement to expect as many as 135 migrants to be flown to the area and released by the Border Patrol after their asylum claims are processed.
Mr. Bogen said Broward County doesn’t have the resources to manage such an influx and that its shelters are already crowded with homeless local residents.
“We don’t know if these are seniors or kids,” he said of the potential migrant arrivals. “We were provided one thing: the number 135.”
The CBP official said no migrants were currently being flown to Florida. “We are in preliminary planning stages,” the official said.
The Trump administration contends that the record number of adults with children presenting themselves for asylum has brought the border infrastructure to a breaking point. CBP said on Friday that the agency had averaged 4,500 apprehensions per day over the preceding week. Some 248,000 migrants travelling as families illegally entered the U.S. between October, the start of the federal fiscal year, and April—more than in any prior full year.
Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, have blamed President Trump for exacerbating the flood of families to the southern border by cutting aid to Central America and threatening to close the border altogether.
The White House is seeking $4.5 billion in emergency border funding from Congress along with changes to asylum laws that the Trump administration says would make it easier to detain families longer, process applications more quickly, and deter more people from making the journey to the U.S.
Democratic lawmakers have refused to fund asylum policies they consider inhumane, but indicated late Thursday that they would consider funding some of the administration’s requests, making a counteroffer that excludes funding for detention beds, a Congressional aide said.
(Reporting by Wall Street Journal)
Trump Administration Rejects Subpoena For Tax Returns
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is missing another deadline to produce President Donald Trump’s tax returns. A top House Democrat says he expects to take the administration to court as early as next week over the matter.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (mih-NOO’-shin) says in a letter Friday that he will not comply with the subpoena from the House Ways and Means Committee for six years of Trump’s tax returns because the request “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.”
Mnuchin’s rejection of the subpoena had been expected. Earlier Friday, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal had said, “We will likely proceed to court as quickly as next week.”
Democrats are seeking Trump’s tax returns under a 1924 law that directs the IRS to furnish such information to the chairs of Congress’ tax-writing committees.
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