TPM News

President Donald Trump on Tuesday backtracked on what was considered a major offense a day earlier, when he said during a press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin that “I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia who meddled in the 2016 U.S. elections.

“Wouldn’t” Trump corrected himself Tuesday, speaking to reporters from the Cabinet Room: “I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t — or, why it wouldn’t be Russia.”

“So you can put that in,” he told reporters. “I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.”

It doesn’t.

That remark was one of many in which Trump distanced himself from the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence agencies. In fact, he muddied the waters even more just minutes later on Tuesday.

“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took pace. It could be other people also,” he said. “There’s a lot of people out there.”

A day earlier, Trump said he held “both countries responsible” for Russia’s election interference. (He told CBS News’ Jeff Glor recently that “the DNC should be ashamed of themselves for allowing themselves to be hacked.”)

“I think that the United States has been foolish,” he said Monday. “I think we’ve all been foolish. We should have had this dialogue a long time ago, a long time frankly before I got to office. And I think we’re all to blame.”

Trump on Monday called the Mueller probe into Russian meddling “a disaster for our country.”

“I think it’s kept us apart, it’s kept us separated,” Trump said.

He also inaccurately said Monday that “the whole concept of that [Russian election interference] came up perhaps a little bit before but it came out as a reason why the Democrats lost an election.”

In fact, Russian hacking efforts were widely reported before Election Day.

The President also seemed to show some deference to Putin’s denial Monday.

“He just said it’s not Russia,” Trump said of Putin during the press conference, adding later: “I have great confidence in my intelligence people but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today and what he did is an incredible offer.”

“I have confidence in both parties,” he said separately, referring to the U.S. intelligence agencies and Putin, though the two parties have completely opposing accounts of Russia’s actions in 2016.

That remark, just like all of Trump’s comments Monday aside from a single word, went unamended Tuesday.

Read More →

Special counsel Robert Mueller revealed in court filings Tuesday that he is seeking immunity for five potential witnesses in next week’s criminal trial of Paul Manafort.

The court filing was a request by Mueller that he be allowed to keep secret, for now, the identity of the five possible witnesses, unless and until they are called to testify publicly at the trial.

“The five individuals identified in the motions at issue are third parties who have not been charged in this matter, and who have not been identified publicly with the case,” Mueller said in the court document. “Disclosing the motions would reveal those individuals’ involvement in the investigation and the trial, thereby creating the risk of their undue harassment. Such concern potentially would be heightened by the additional revelation that they have invoked their privilege against self-incrimination and may be granted immunity from the use against them of any compelled testimony.”

He also raised the concern that “the witnesses’ invocation of their privilege against self-incrimination and the Court’s subsequent grant of immunity could lead to reputational harm for the witnesses.”

Manafort faces trial in Virginia, where the former Trump campaign chairman has been charged with bank fraud and tax fraud. U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis has scheduled the trial to begin on July 25.

“The government recognizes that if any of the five individuals are called to testify, their identity and receipt of use immunity likely will become public, and thus the concerns raised in this motion no longer would apply,” Mueller said. “Accordingly, in order to narrowly tailor its request, the government proposes that the information remain sealed unless and until the individuals testify in this case.”

Mueller said that while he is seeking to file the motions for immunity for the judge’s eyes only, any corresponding orders handed down by the judge would be provided to defense counsel by prosecutors ahead of the trial.

Read the filing below:

Read More →

The lights dimmed in the White House Tuesday just as President Donald Trump said he had “full faith in our intelligence agencies.”

That sentiment, a reversal of the comments he made Monday while standing beside Russian President Vladimir Putin, was accompanied by an eerie blackout of the Cabinet Room.

“Woops, they just turned off the lights,” he said.

“That must be the intelligence agencies,” Trump added. “That was strange.”

Read More →

President Donald Trump on Tuesday attempted to walk back his public support of Vladimir Putin’s denials of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, by correcting one word he from his press conference on Monday.

“In a key sentence in my remarks said the word would instead of wouldn’t,” he said. “The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t or why it wouldn’t be Russia.’ … Sort of a double negative. So you can put that in, and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.”

Trump said he realized he need to clarify that word choice after reading through the transcript of the press conference, which he requested because he couldn’t figure out why the media was being so critical.

“I came back and I said, ‘What is going on? What’s the big deal?'” he said. “I thought it would be obvious, but I would just like to clarify just in case it wasn’t.”

The rare correction from Trump comes one day after his joint presser with Putin, where he blamed both the U.S. and Russia for a deterioration of relations between the two countries and appeared to embrace Putin’s denial that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

Read More →

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) asserted Tuesday that there is “indisputable” evidence that Russians hacked the 2016 U.S. election, a position in direct contradiction to the uncertainty President Donald Trump expressed on the subject at his joint presser with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday.

“Over the last few years, there is the annexation of Crimea, the invasion of eastern Ukraine, not to mention the indisputable evidence that they tried to impact the 2016 election,” McConnell said. “So make no mistake about it, I would say to our friends in Europe, we understand the Russian threat and I think that is a widespread view here in the United States Senate among members of both parties.”

McConnell also emphasized the importance of America’s NATO allies, another quiet repudiation of the President who spend his European trip insulting many of those countries.

“I want them to understand that in this country there are a lot of people in both parties who believe that these alliances painstakingly built in the wake of the end of World War II are important and we want to maintain them,” he said.

He concluded by commenting on measures Congress could take to prevent further Russian election hacking.

“Well, I mean, there’s some possibilities. Sen. Rubio, for example, has got a bill that targets the 2018 elections, the cycle we’re right in now with, as I understand it, potential penalties if the Russians do it again,” he said. “There’s a possibility we might well take up legislation related to this. In the meantime, I think the Russians need to know that there are a lot of us who fully understand what happened in 2016 and it really better not happen again in 2018.”

Watch below:

Read More →

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is lifting requirements for some tax-exempt groups to disclose the identities of their donors to federal tax authorities.

The change benefits groups that spend millions of dollars on political ads, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and an organization tied to the billionaire Koch brothers.

Republicans accused the IRS during President Barack Obama’s tenure of liberal bias and unfair targeting of conservative tax-exempt groups. Now those groups figure among the organizations allowed to withhold names of their donors under the new IRS policy announced late Monday.

Treasury Department officials portrayed the changes as important free-speech and privacy protections for donors, while also preserving government transparency. But critics see the easing of disclosure requirements as opening the door to more dark money in political campaigns.

Read More →

NEW YORK (AP) — Sen. Kamala Harris, a rising star in the Democratic Party who is sometimes cited as a possible presidential contender in 2020, has a book deal.

Penguin Press announced Tuesday that Harris’ “The Truths We Hold: An American Journey” will come out Jan. 8, 2019. According to Penguin, Harris will write about “the core truths” in American life and how to learn what they are.

The 53-year-old Harris was formerly California’s attorney general. She was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016.

For politicians, books have long been a standard part of developing a national profile, from John F. Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage” to Barack Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope.”

Read More →

The Russian woman who was charged Monday for acting as an agent of the Russian government is actually just a high-performing graduate student, according to her  American attorney.

“Maria Butina is not an agent of the Russian Federation,” Robert N. Driscoll said in a lengthy statement issued late Monday. “She is a Russian national in the United States on a student visa who recently graduated from American University in Washington, D.C. with a Masters Degree in International Relations and 4.0 grade point average.”

Butina, 29, was arrested by the FBI on Sunday and charged with “conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government.” The criminal complaint and accompanying affidavit allege that she spent years cultivating ties to high-level Republicans, using connections she forged through associates of the National Rifle Association.

Allegedly acting on the orders of Alexander Torshin, a high-level Russian politician and lifelong NRA member, Butina also sought a “back channel” meeting between Presidents Trump and Vladimir Putin during the 2016 election, the New York Times reported last year.

Butina is being held without bond ahead of her Wednesday hearing in a Washington, D.C. federal court.

According to Driscoll, the FBI’s allegations are “overblown.” All Butina wanted, per his statement, was to “promote a better relationship between the two nations”—a goal she sought to achieve through “open and public networking,” rather than “covert propaganda.”

Driscoll said Butina has been “cooperating with various government entities for months,” voluntarily sitting for an eight-hour closed-door testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He said she was rebuffed when she offered interviews to special counsel Robert Mueller’s team.

Butina’s case is being handled by the Justice Department’s National Security Division rather than the special counsel. According to the Washington Post, “the investigative work began before [Mueller] was appointed” and continues to be handled by FBI agents and prosecutors outside of his office.

Butina will have some high-powered assistance mounting her defense. Driscoll served as former deputy assistant attorney general under the George W. Bush administration, and as chief of staff of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. A member of the Federalist Society and regular contributor to the National Review, the conservative attorney now leads the Washington D.C. office of the law firm McGlinchey Stafford.

Read More →

The chairman for Ohio’s Belmont County Republicans was sitting in his law firm’s office on Monday when the press conference between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin began.

At the time the local GOP official, Chris Gagin, an attorney with McCamic, Sacco & McCoid, was still satisfied with his political role in rural Belmont County: working to get Republicans who support the economic growth of southeast Ohio’s coal country elected to public office.

He’d turned on the coverage of the press conference to “see how the President handled himself” on the global stage, not necessarily expecting to feel particularly jarred or mobilized to leave the county position he has held since April 2016.

“When there was that final question that was directly posed to Trump, ‘Do you believe the intelligence community or Putin?’ and when he wouldn’t say that he believes our intelligence community over the Russian president and when he said that Putin had been ‘very strong’ and forceful in his denials, something just snapped,” Gagin told TPM Tuesday. “When (Trump’s) most fundamental obligation is to represent the security interest of the United States, that was my last straw.”

Gagin emailed a resignation letter to the rest of his committee “immediately” after the press conference, feeling that as a county party chairman, whose job is “purely political,” he couldn’t continue in the role, especially leading up to a midterm and presidential election cycle that’s bound to be dominated by Trump-aligned candidates.

“Heading into 2020, if you’re not fully committed to the President and his policy — I mean, our objective is to get candidates elected,” he said.

Trump unilaterally shocked the masses, including his own staff, on Monday when he went off the rails during the freewheeling presser with Putin. When asked point-blank “who do you believe” regarding the U.S. intelligence community’s sweeping assessment that Russian interfered in the 2016 election, Trump waffled. He said he didn’t see “any reason why it would be (Russia)” in the same breath that he touted his “great confidence in my intelligence people,” while seconds later praising Putin for being “extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

Trump’s behavior sparked immediate outrage. Current and former government officials and lawmakers reacted with disbelief. Former intelligence officials labeling Trump as Putin’s puppet. Even his most ardent supporters in conservative media were deeply critical.

Despite a staggering amount of calls for “patriots” to resign in objection to Trump’s performance at the summit Monday, Gagin said he might be “the only one in the country” who felt he couldn’t stay in his position with good conscience. One former Iowa state lawmaker — Ken Rizer — did announce in a Facebook post after the summit on Monday that he had left the Republican Party over Trump’s “misguided leadership” on the foreign policy front.

While he anticipates being “ostracized locally,” Gagin’s “pretty sure” he will be one of the few who quits in objection to what some are calling the darkest moment in American history, especially given he’s a more moderate Republican who switched to the GOP in 2013 after feeling that Democrats had “moved too far left.”

“Unless you have an attack of conscience, there’s nothing forcing you to do anything. … Unless someone in the intelligence community makes that decision, I don’t think you’ll see (more). There’s too many fearful of going against the President in the Republican Party and, quite frankly, there is nowhere else to go,” he said.

Read More →

More Russians than previously reported participated in a meetings in the Seychelles days before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, according to a report from New Jersey Advance Media.

One meeting on the Indian Ocean archipelago — between Blackwater founder Erik Prince, de facto United Arab Emirates leader Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and Putin-connected Russian sovereign wealth fund director Kirill Dmitriev (pictured above) — has attracted special counsel Robert Mueller’s attention.

Around the same time, according to the Monday afternoon report, “several Russians” participated in meetings in the Seychelles that have also earned Mueller’s scrutiny. The outlet, which publishes several New Jersey newspapers including The Star-Ledger, cited flight logs and several unnamed sources with knowledge of the meetings.

The other meetings “focused generally on Syria, energy and sanctions,” the report said, and included participants from “Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and the U.S.,” according to three unnamed sources and flight logs. Citing several unnamed sources, the report states that “several” Russians participated in meetings on lifting U.S. sanctions against the country, a top priority of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s, as well as a large group of sanctioned Russian government officials, oligarchs and others in the country’s elite.

The report specifically examined an aircraft supposedly owned by Russian lawmaker and billionaire Andrei Skoch.

According to the report, on Jan. 10, Skoch’s plane departed from Moscow, stopped in Dubai, landed in the Seychelles and then flew back to Dubai. “Several days later,” it landed again in the Seychelles and then departed with 16 passengers on Jan. 19.

Two unnamed sources “with knowledge of the meetings” said “several” of the individuals on that final flight “participated directly in meetings that focused on international trade and sanctions,” in the report’s words. The outlet previously reported that passengers on the plane stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel where the meetings took place.

Read New Jersey Advance Media’s full report here.

Read More →

LiveWire