TPM News

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats had an interesting reaction Thursday when NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell told him, live on stage at the Aspen Security Forum, that President Donald Trump had insisted Russian President Vladimir Putin be invited to Washington, D.C. for a meeting.

“Say that again?” Coats responded, to laughter from the crowd.

“Okay, that’s going to be special.”

Elsewhere in the wide-ranging discussion Thursday, Coats said he wished Trump had said something else while standing next to Putin at a press conference in Helsinki Monday.

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Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said Thursday that “obviously” he wished President Donald Trump had made a different statement about Russian election meddling while Trump stood next to the Russian president at a press conference earlier this week.

“What was your gut reaction watching him validate Vladimir Putin’s assessment over yours?” NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell asked Coats at the Aspen Security Forum.

“My thoughts there were that I believed I needed to correct the record for that, and that this is the job I signed up for, and that was my responsibility,” Coats replied. “Obviously, I wished he had made a different statement. But I think that now that has been clarified, based on his late reactions to this, and so I don’t think I want to go any further than that.”

Hours after Trump had equated his own intelligence community’s long-held assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and Putin’s denial thereof, Coats issued a statement reasserting the U.S. government’s position.

“We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy,” he said. “We will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security.”

Asked separately about Trump’s claim on Tuesday — while purportedly back-tracking from his Monday comment — that “it could be other people also,” Coats was dismissive.

“We know others have the potential capability,” Coats said. “But it’s undeniable that the Russians are taking the lead on this.”

“I don’t know what happened in that meeting,” he said of Trump’s one-on-one meeting Monday, before the press conference, with Putin.

Coats said it was Trump’s “prerogative” not to have other American officials in the room with him, but “if he had asked me how that ought to be conducted I would have suggested a different way, but that’s not my role.”

“That’s not my job. So it is what it is,” he said, adding in response to another question that “the risk is always there” that Putin recorded the meeting.

Separately, Coats said it was “probably not the best thing to do” for Trump to have invited the Russian foreign minister and ambassador into the Oval Office. He said he wasn’t aware ahead of time that Trump would invite them in.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has asked national security adviser John Bolton to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to Washington in the fall.

That’s the latest update Thursday from White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders following Trump’s meeting with Putin earlier this week in Finland.

Sanders says “those discussions are already underway” for a fall meeting between the two presidents.

It presumably would take place at the White House, but Sanders did not say where Trump and Putin would meet.

In a tweet about Putin earlier Thursday, Trump said, “I look forward to our second meeting.”

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WASHINGTON (AP) — In a stunning move, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has withdrawn one of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees just minutes before he was set for a confirmation vote.

McConnell announced Thursday on the Senate floor that he was pulling the nomination of Ryan Bounds. Trump had nominated the assistant U.S. attorney in Oregon to be a judge on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The withdrawal of the nomination is a blow to the White House. Judicial nominations are rarely pulled back at such a late stage in the process unless a nominee does not have the support to pass.

Republicans have been able to use their thin majority to push several of the president’s nominees through despite overwhelming Democratic opposition. Sen. John McCain’s absence due to his battle with brain cancer has given the GOP even less cushion, with Republicans holding a 50-49 voting edge.

That cushion evaporated when Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina said he needed more information about Bounds.

“After talking with the nominee last night and meeting with him today, I had unanswered questions that led to me being unable to support him,” Scott said.

The two senators from Bounds’ home state, Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, had both objected to his nomination, saying they were not consulted by the Trump administration before the choice. They highlighted writings from Bounds’ years at Stanford University that they said revealed alarming views on race, the rights of workers and the gay community.

The Senate gives lawmakers a chance to weigh in on a judicial nominee from their home state by submitting a blue-colored form called the “blue slip.” A positive blue slip signals the Senate can move forward with the nomination process. The blue slip courtesy is designed to generate consultation between the executive branch and Congress. The two Oregon senators signaled their objections by returning a negative blue slip, which in the past has generally stalled a nomination.

This time, Republicans opted to move forward anyway, which meant that if Bounds had been confirmed, it would have been the first time since at least 1956 that a nominee had been confirmed with both home state senators returning negative blue slips.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate has overwhelmingly approved a resolution against allowing Russia to question former U.S. ambassador Michael McFaul or other U.S. officials. It was a formal rebuke to President Donald Trump, who touted the offer at the Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hastily arranged the vote on the nonbinding resolution after Democrats proposed the measure in response to what Trump had called Putin’s “incredible offer.”

Putin offered to allow the U.S. to question 12 Russians accused of interfering in the 2016 election in exchange for permitting Russia to interview Americans the Kremlin accuses of unspecified crimes.

Facing a backlash of bipartisan criticism, the White House on Thursday said Trump “disagrees” with Putin’s offer. That statement came moments before the Senate vote.

Senators voted 98-0, with all Democrats and most Republicans supporting the resolution.

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The Trump administration’s uneven, foot-dragging compliance with court rulings against its immigration policies is having a ripple effect across the federal judiciary,  prompting judges that previously gave the administration the benefit of the doubt to issue injunctions forcing the administration to speed up the reunification of the families it forcibly and unconstitutionally separated.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement Thursday that President Donald Trump “disagrees” with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s proposal to haul in a list of Americans for questioning in exchange for giving the U.S. access to the 12 indicted Russian hackers.

“It is a proposal that was made in sincerity by President Putin, but President Trump disagrees with it,” Sanders said in a written statement. “Hopefully President Putin will have the 12 identified Russians come to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt.”

On Monday during the press conference after the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki, Trump called the idea an “incredible offer.” On Wednesday, Sanders said that the team was still debating whether or not they’d made the trade.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, one of the Americans on the list, has been outspoken in his anger that Trump did not outrightly reject the deal, and has been backed up by many State Department officials.

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NEW YORK (AP) — Comcast is dropping its bid for Fox’s entertainment businesses, paving the way for Disney to boost its upcoming streaming service by buying the studios behind “The Simpsons” and X-Men.

Comcast can now focus on its pursuit of European pay-TV operator Sky, a deal that would give the Philadelphia-based cable and media company a larger presence outside the U.S.

The moves come as the media landscape is shifting dramatically. Cable and telecom companies are buying content makers to compete with popular streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon. AT&T bought Time Warner last month for $81 billion.

Comcast had been dueling with Disney for Twenty-First Century Fox, but Comcast said Thursday that it would not raise its $66 billion offer for Fox. The Walt Disney Co. had topped Comcast’s bid by offering $71 billion.

The U.S. Department of Justice has approved Disney’s bid as long as Disney, which owns the national sports network ESPN, sells Fox’s 22 regional sports networks. Fox shareholders are set to vote on Disney’s offer July 27.

Disney CEO Bob Iger said he was “extremely pleased” with Comcast’s announcement.

“Our focus now is on completing the regulatory process and ultimately moving toward integrating our businesses,” he said in a statement.

If the deal closes, Disney would get a controlling stake in streaming service Hulu and Twentieth Century Fox film and TV studios. Disney owns Marvel Studios, but some characters including the X-Men had already been licensed to Fox. A sale means the X-Men and the Avengers could reunite in future movies. With Fox, Disney would also have a larger library of movies and shows for a streaming service set to debut next year.

“This was the final chapter in this soap opera,” GBH Insights analyst Daniel Ives said.

Ives said Comcast’s focus now is on getting Sky “to build a strong beachhead content strategy in Europe.”

Sky operates in Austria, Germany, Ireland, Italy and the U.K. It has 22.5 million customers, attracted by offerings such as English Premier League soccer and “Game of Thrones.”

Fox has been trying to buy the 61 percent of Sky it doesn’t already own. The idea was to sell Sky to Disney as part of the broader deal. Last week, Comcast made a bid that values Sky at $34 billion, compared with $32.5 billion in Fox’s offer.

Disney said in a regulatory filing last week that Fox might not raise its bid to compete with Comcast’s offer, meaning Comcast is likely to end up with Sky and Disney the rest of Fox that’s up for sale. That includes other international properties, including the Star India satellite service. Some Fox businesses, including Fox News Channel and the Fox television network, will remain with media mogul Rupert Murdoch and his family.

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Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) dramatically called President Donald Trump’s press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin “Orwellian” on Thursday, in an effort to pass a non-binding Senate resolution that’s little more than a pat on the back for law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and which was ultimately blocked.

“We saw earlier this week in Helsinki what was truly an Orwellian moment,” he said from the Senate floor. “What we saw earlier this week in Helsinki is what happens when you wage war on objective reality for nearly two solid years, calling real things fake and fake things real, as if conditioning others to embrace the same confusion.”

After congratulating the Justice Department and intelligence community for their work, the three-page resolution “calls upon relevant committees of the Senate to exercise congressional oversight, including prompt hearings and the release of relevant notes and information” on Trump and Putin’s Helsinki meeting, and “calls for the immediate and full implementation of mandatory sanctions provided for in the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act,” which Trump signed into law after overwhelming congressional support last year. (Read the full resolution below.)

“Ultimately,” Flake continued, “you’re rendered unable to tell the difference between the two and are at critical times seemingly rendered incapable of thinking clearly, your mind a hash of conspiracy theory and fragments of old talking points deployed in response to a question no one even asked. Ultimately you fail to summon reality in the face of a despot in defense of your country.”

He added later: “When the American government offers an onslaught on unreality, it puts the whole world at risk. That is the lesson of Helsinki. That is the dose of reality that hit hard. We have indulged myths and fabrications, pretended that it wasn’t so bad and our indulgence got us the capitulation in Helsinki.”

When Flake asked for the Senate’s unanimous consent to adopt the measure, Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) objected to it as a “symbolic act,” blocking it. Flake said he and Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) would bring it up again in the future.

Earlier, Coons began his remarks, just before Flake’s, by saying the resolution would send a bipartisan message that “we stand with the men and women of the Department of Justice, the men and women of the U.S. intelligence community. We sport the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in our elections and we must act, and act unequivocally, to hold Russia accountable for its actions.”

“Today’s resolution is a first step, and an important one,” he added later, calling the resolution “very basic.”

“We should stand and be counted in defense of our democracy,” he concluded.

Read Flake and Coons’ resolution below:

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In a remarkable break with U.S. intelligence agencies, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen insisted Thursday that there was no evidence that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election with the express purpose of helping then-candidate Donald Trump win.

At first, Nielsen distinguished between efforts targeted at election infrastructure in the U.S. and other attempts to meddle.

“I haven’t seen any evidence that the attempts to interfere in our election infrastructure was to favor a particular political party,” she said at the Aspen Institute’s Security Forum in Colorado. “I think what we’ve seen on the foreign influence side is they were attempting to intervene and cause chaos on both sides.”

She also mentioned that Russia continued to sow discord after Trump’s election, citing activity related to the white nationalist rally and attack on counter-protesters in Charlottesville, after which Trump blamed “both sides.”

When pushed about intelligence agencies’ findings—in three separate assessments from the intelligence community, Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the Senate Intelligence Committee—that the Russians definitively did hack the election to help Trump win, Nielsen danced around the issue and would not name Trump himself.

“It was in an effort to attack certain political parties that we know about more than others, so we’ll continue to look and see what that means and be prepared for the next time,” she said.

This is not the first time Nielsen declined to state that Russian’s election meddling was aimed at helping Trump — she made similar comments in May.

Nielsen also refused to name Russian Vladimir Putin as part of the hacking effort, placing the blame broadly with “Russian government actors.”

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