TPM News

Primarily due to business-related international trips, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump have racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer-funded Secret Service costs, including one month so expensive it came close to a quarter million dollars, according to a Wednesday Politico report.

In documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by D.C. watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, a February 2017 trip for the brothers to Dubai to open a Trump-branded golf club included $125,000 for airfare, $75,000 for hotel rooms and $15,000 for other costs like car service.

The same month, Eric Trump took a solo journey to the Dominican Republic to look into reviving a Trump resort, an effort that cost the taxpayer $30,000.

Later, the two also attended a 2018 Dubai wedding coming in at $73,000 in total security costs.

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Russia’s ambassador to the United States told the media in Moscow on Wednesday that Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin had reached several “verbal agreements” on weapons treaties and Syria.

But U.S. officials are scrambling to figure out what those agreements might have been, according to the Washington Post.

The Pentagon and State Department both reportedly did not have a clear idea of what Trump and Putin had agreed to, according to the Post. The State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told the Post that the Department was still “assessing … three takeaways” from the discussion.

While both White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and counselor Kellyanne Conway gave reporters on Wednesday a list of topics the two had discussed, no official has provided any specifics on what was achieved, as the Post noted.

Read the Post’s full report here.   

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Former first lady Michelle Obama will jump into the midterm fray–but in a strictly nonpartisan way that worries Democrats but satisfies her dislike of partisan politics, according to a Wednesday Politico report.

The voter registration initiative, “When We All Vote,” is set to launch Thursday, and will see Obama alongside stars like Tom Hanks and Lin-Manuel Miranda featured in PSAs to encourage participation.

As elections near, there will reportedly be rallies and trainings, following by weeks of concentrated efforts to get people registered.

Her endeavor is worrying some candidates and operatives that she’ll run the nonpartisan organization in lieu of actively campaigning for candidates in a crucially important midterm election.

This causes particular dread since Obama is widely seen as one of the most effective and charismatic campaign trail surrogates, possessing all of her husband’s fame and likability without his political baggage.

Per Politico, Michelle Obama’s staff has been vacillating on whether she’ll also do campaign trail appearances.

However, she has another motive, less tied to personal preference, informing why she may opt to stay apolitical: her memoir “Becoming” is due out shortly after election day, with an accompanying book tour that her staff would reportedly prefer to be untainted by politics.

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Despite messaging that would suggest otherwise, President Donald Trump has known since January 2017 that Russian President Vladimir Putin orchestrated the Kremlin-backed attacks on the 2016 election, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

Just before his inauguration, Trump was shown texts and email proof of Russia’s hacking efforts and disinformation campaign. During that Jan. 6, 2017 meeting, Trump was briefed by then-CIA Director John Brennan — who he now regularly criticizes and just recently called a “bad guy” — former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Director of the National Security Agency Michael Rogers, former FBI Director James Comey and the head of the U.S. Cyber Command.

Trump was shown evidence of the hacked Democratic National Committee emails on Russian intelligence networks and was told about several sources close to Putin who corroborated his role in the hacking, according to several people who attended or were briefed on the meeting, who spoke with the Times.

According to three people who were in attendance, Trump was “grudgingly convinced” of the meddling, in the Times’ words.

Those findings have all been corroborated by his own intelligence officials.

Read the Times’ full story here.

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) signaled through his counsel Wednesday that he is ready and willing to okay a criminal investigation into the Trump Foundation, if state prosecutors want to take up the case alongside their ongoing civil lawsuit, according to a Wednesday CNN report.

“At Gov. Cuomo’s direction, the state stands ready to provide the Attorney General with the appropriate criminal referral on this matter if and when she asks for it,” the statement reads.

However, per CNN, a criminal case would likely mean a halt in the civil one, which has been running since June and includes allegations of illegal misconduct and coordination between the foundation and the Trump campaign. Thus, prosecutors would likely choose to wait on the criminal action until the civil lawsuit runs its course.

“As our lawsuit against the Trump Foundation illustrates, we intend to hold the Foundation and its directors accountable for all violations of state law,” Amy Spitalnick, a New York attorney general spokeswoman, told CNN. “We continue to evaluate the evidence to determine what additional actions may be warranted, and will seek a criminal referral from the appropriate state agency as necessary. We’ve already referred apparent violations of federal law to the IRS and FEC.”

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In the past four days, President Donald Trump has waffled between appearing to support Vladimir Putin’s denial of meddling in the 2016 election and claiming he holds the Russian president personally responsible for the interference.

During an interview with CBS News’ Jeff Glor at the White House Wednesday, Trump was asked about his stance on whether the Kremlin meddled — “Yeah and I’ve said that before, Jeff, I have said that numerous times before and I would say that that is true, yeah” — and whether he held Putin responsible for it.

“Well I would, because he’s in charge of the country,” he said. “Just like I consider myself to be responsible for things that happen in this country. So, certainly as the leader of a country you would have to hold him responsible, yes.”

Since Trump’s press conference with Putin on Monday, the White House has scrambled to keep Trump’s message on Russian interference in the 2016 election accurate. Trump made a rare personal correction on Tuesday, telling reporters he misspoke and meant to say “wouldn’t” instead of saying he didn’t see any reason why Russia “would” interfere.

On Wednesday, Trump appeared to tell a reporter that “no,” the U.S. is not facing any current attacks from Russia, despite widespread knowledge to the contrary from his Justice Department and intelligence community. Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Wednesday that Trump was just saying “no” to taking more questions from journalists.

Trump also told Glor that he was “very strong” when he spoke with Putin about butting out of U.S. elections, but said “we’re also living in a grown-up world” and questioned whether a “strong statement” would do much of anything.

But I let him know we can’t have this, we’re not going to have it, and that’s the way it’s going to be,” he said.

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President Donald Trump’s clumsy attempt to walk back his disastrous performance at the joint presser with Russian President Vladimir Putin has fallen short for many skittish Republicans who are on the record criticizing his initial remarks, according to a Wednesday Politico report.

Many have yet to hear from chief of staff John Kelly, who often plays cleanup after Trump’s mishits, and have reportedly chosen to surge forward in their attempts to pass legislation blocking Russia from or punishing Russia for future election interference.

“In the end, we can present people with information. But you can’t force anyone to say what you want them to say, especially the President of the United States,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) told Politico. “Our job is to pass laws and do things that are for the good of the country … and one of those things should be [imposing] strong deterrence measures with pre-positioned penalties should [Russian meddling] ever happen again.”

Many feel that they have no other option but to press on alone, as Trump has displayed such a clear unwillingness to genuinely change his tune on Putin.

“You could see it was very painful,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) told Politico of Trump’s attempted walk-back where he said he “misspoke” during the presser.

For many Republicans, Trump’s nonchalant throwing of the FBI under the bus was a bridge too far.

Trump’s bungled retraction is “probably the best we’re going to be able to get, right?” Sen. John Thune (R-SD) told Politico. “He attempted to clarify it, but ineffectively. The last couple days certainly haven’t been an example of a willingness to express support for what the intelligence community is clearly telling us.”

“He’s got to acknowledge that there’s a consensus among our intelligence agencies, including our committees here on Capitol Hill, not only that the Russians interfered and meddled with our elections in 2016, but are doing it again in 2018,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) added. “And that’s why we need to take action.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) voiced a common sentiment that Trump looks weak and feckless in his refusal to believably condemn Putin for the hackers’ actions to undermine America’s democracy.

“I think [Trump] sent very conflicting, mixed messages to someone who is clearly our adversary, about whom there is absolutely no doubt that he attempted to interfere in our elections,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) strongly feels he needs to tell Putin “no more. Knock it off. Stay away. Get out. And demand that Russia stay away when it comes to our elections. And I didn’t hear that in his walk-back,” she added. “I’m still waiting.”

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats are happy to say President Donald Trump undermined American democracy. That he patted Vladimir Putin on the back for interfering in U.S. elections. That he’s being blackmailed by Russia.

But that he committed treason? That’s too far for some leading Democrats worried about sending the wrong message during an election year.

“The bottom line is, different people will characterize it differently,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer told reporters this week of Trump’s conduct toward Russia. He slammed Trump in every way but that one, accusing him of weakness and lame and contradictory walk backs. “President Trump undercut our intelligence, elevated a brutal dictator who’s taking advantage of the United States. And maybe, most importantly, refused to confront President Putin.”

A debate has raged in Democratic circles this week over how strongly to condemn Trump’s comments in Helsinki, where, standing by Putin’s side, the U.S. president refused to say he believed American intelligence over Putin’s denials about Russian election interference. Trump later sought to walk back his stance, saying he misspoke using a double negative.

There was a burst of condemnation in the 48 hours after Trump’s performance that elevated the discussion of “treason” by a president to a level not seen in generations.

Former CIA Director John Brennan, who has worked in both Democratic and Republican administrations, quickly tweeted that Trump’s conduct in Helsinki was “nothing short of treasonous.” Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., used #TreasonSummit in her post about the meeting. Protesters gathered in front of the White House on Tuesday chanted, “Traitor! Traitor! Traitor!”

But Democratic leaders, along with some activists and strategists, warn that such rhetoric could backfire.

Trump responded Wednesday by casting his critics as victims of “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” a term coined to describe a fury so deep it renders the afflicted blind to the president’s accomplishments. It’s a theme he’s set out before, when he labeled critical comments by Democratic women “crazy rants” and other unflattering analysis as “hysterical.” And it’s designed to undermine the Democrats’ midterm election argument that they can govern more steadily than the Republican majorities of the House and Senate.

The legal definition of treason is providing “aid and comfort” to enemies of the U.S., a high crime. If Democrats align behind the term, it raises the question of what they plan to do about it. The party, according to two congressional aides who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss strategy, doesn’t have an answer.

The language also risks alienating swing voters who don’t appreciate over-the-top rhetoric. After all, treason is a crime so serious that the convicted can be executed.

Polls taken before the Helsinki summit suggest the public is split over how each party is treating Trump. A Washington Post-Schar School poll conducted in late June and early July found that nearly half of registered voters — 48 percent — think Democrats running for Congress have been too critical of Trump. Forty-four percent think Democrats are striking the right balance and 7 percent think they’ve been too supportive.

Other strategists say Democrats generally are better off backing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of whether Trump or his associates colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 elections in Trump’s favor.

“I’m not sure it’s going to be beneficial to get into a political argument over whether Trump’s behavior meets the legal standard of treason,” said Democratic pollster Geoff Garin. “What’s important about this is it burnishes other things that people worried about regarding Trump, including how he is focused always on what’s in it for him as opposed to what’s in it for the country. That’s a framework that applies to a whole host of things Democrats can be talking about between now and the election.”

Jim Kessler, the senior vice president for policy at Third Way, a think tank that backs center-left ideas, said Democrats are “getting toward 100 percent unity between likely Democratic and swing voters that the Mueller investigation must go forward in full force.”

Michael Avenatti, the outspoken lawyer for adult-film actress Stormy Daniels who is suing Trump, said he deliberately did not use the word “treason” or “traitor” when he spoke at the White House protest Tuesday night.

“The reason why I did not use that word is because it may be a bridge too far,” Avenatti said Wednesday in a telephone interview. “My role revolves around evidence and facts that then lead me to conclusions. And I don’t have yet enough facts and evidence to use the word ‘treason.'”

But not all Democrats see the treason charge as necessarily harmful to their election-year prospects. Indeed, there’s evidence of some ambivalence. Though Watson Coleman used the #TreasonSummit hashtag, she has chosen not to say the word in public yet, her spokeswoman said.

And Rep. Jan Shakowsky, D-Ill., was the only one of 10 Democrats at a Tuesday news conference on Trump’s Helsinki summit to mention the word “treason.” But even she didn’t directly accuse Trump of that offense. Instead, she thanked Brennan for “using the word that is starting to pop up now, and that word is treason.” She noted that her own statement said Trump’s conduct “borders on treason.”

Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, called Trump a “traitor” at Tuesday’s protest in front of the White House.

“I believe that (Trump’s) behavior is commonly understood as treasonous,” said Tanden, who served as policy aide to President Barack Obama.

And several Democrats quoted Brennan’s statement.

“I agree with John Brennan, who said that it was ‘nothing short of treasonous,'” House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer told reporters Wednesday. “It is the duty of every patriot who loves their country to stand up and speak out against this dangerous and dishonest behavior.”

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House and the State Department are at odds over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s offer to allow the U.S. access to Russians accused of election meddling in return for interviews of Americans accused by the Kremlin of unspecified crimes.

Even as the White House said the offer, made by Putin to President Donald Trump at their summit in Helsinki on Monday, was under consideration, the State Department called Russia’s allegations against the Americans “absurd,” suggesting that any questioning of them would not be countenanced by the U.S. The Russian claims against the Americans, including former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, relate to allegations of fraud and corruption.

“The overall assertions that have come out of the Russian government are absolutely absurd: the fact that they want to question 11 American citizens and the assertions that the Russian government is making about those American citizens,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters.

McFaul tweeted Wednesday: “I hope the White House corrects the record and denounces in categorical terms this ridiculous request from Putin. Not doing so creates moral equivalency between a legitimacy US indictment of Russian intelligence officers and a crazy, completely fabricated story invented by Putin.”

Nauert noted that a U.S. federal court had already rejected Russia’s charges regarding British businessman and vocal Kremlin critic Bill Browder. She said Russian authorities already know the U.S. position. Browder was a driving force behind a U.S. law targeting Russian officials over human rights abuses.

“We do not stand by those assertions that the Russian government makes,” Nauert said. “The Prosecutor General in Russia is well aware that the United States has rejected Russian allegations in this regard. … We continue to urge Russian authorities to work with the U.S. Department of Justice to pursue those in Russia who in fact perpetrated the fraudulent scheme that Russia refers to that targeted not only Mr. Browder, but also his company and … the Russian people as a whole.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray was similarly dismissive. Speaking Wednesday at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, he said Putin’s offer was “not high on our list of investigative techniques.”

Wray and Nauert’s comments stood in sharp contrast to those of White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who held open the possibility that what Trump called “an incredible offer” is being weighed.

“The president’s going to meet with his team, and we’ll let you know when we have an announcement on that,” she said, adding that neither Trump nor anyone else in the administration had committed to accepting the offer.

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