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  1. #4996

    Re: A Chronicle of our Descent to Hades

    AP sources: White House aware of Russian bounties in 2019
    By JAMES LaPORTA
    today

    Top officials in the White House were aware in early 2019 of classified intelligence indicating Russia was secretly offering bounties to the Taliban for the deaths of Americans, a full year earlier than has been previously reported, according to U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the intelligence.

    The assessment was included in at least one of President Donald Trump’s written daily intelligence briefings at the time, according to the officials. Then-national security adviser John Bolton also told colleagues he briefed Trump on the intelligence assessment in March 2019.

    The White House did not respond to questions about Trump or other officials’ awareness of Russia’s provocations in 2019. The White House has said Trump was not — and still has not been — briefed on the intelligence assessments because they have not been fully verified. However, it is rare for intelligence to be confirmed without a shadow of a doubt before it is presented to top officials.

    Bolton declined to comment Monday when asked by the AP if he had briefed Trump about the matter in 2019. On Sunday, he suggested to NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Trump was claiming ignorance of Russia’s provocations to justify his administration’s lack of a response.


    “He can disown everything if nobody ever told him about it,” Bolton said.

    The revelations cast new doubt on the White House’s efforts to distance Trump from the Russian intelligence assessments. The AP reported Sunday that concerns about Russian bounties were also included in a second written presidential daily briefing earlier this year and that current national security adviser Robert O’Brien had discussed the matter with Trump. O’Brien denies he did so.

    On Monday night, O’Brien said that while the intelligence assessments regarding Russian bounties “have not been verified,” the administration has “been preparing should the situation warrant action.”

    The administration’s earlier awareness of the Russian efforts raises additional questions about why Trump did not take any punitive action against Moscow for efforts that put the lives of Americans servicemembers at risk. Trump has sought throughout his time in office to improve relations with Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, moving earlier this year to try to reinstate Russia as part of a group of world leaders it had been kicked out of.

    Officials said they did not consider the intelligence assessments in 2019 to be particularly urgent, given that Russian meddling in Afghanistan is not a new occurrence. The officials with knowledge of Bolton’s apparent briefing for Trump said it contained no “actionable intelligence,” meaning the intelligence community did not have enough information to form a strategic plan or response. However, the classified assessment of Russian bounties was the sole purpose of the meeting.

    The officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the highly sensitive information.

    The intelligence that surfaced in early 2019 indicated Russian operatives had become more aggressive in their desire to contract with the Taliban and members of the Haqqani Network, a militant group aligned with the Taliban in Afghanistan and designated a foreign terrorist organization in 2012 during the Obama administration.

    The National Security Council and the undersecretary of defense for intelligence did hold meetings regarding the intelligence. The Pentagon declined to comment and the NSC did not respond to questions about the meetings.

    Concerns about Russian bounties flared anew this year after members of the elite Naval Special Warfare Development Group, known to the public as SEAL Team Six, raided a Taliban outpost and recovered roughly $500,000 in U.S. currency. The funds bolstered the suspicions of the American intelligence community that the Russians had offered money to Taliban militants and other linked associations.

    The White House contends the president was unaware of this development as well.

    The officials told the AP that career government officials developed potential options for the White House to respond to the Russian aggression in Afghanistan, which was first reported by The New York Times. However, the Trump administration has yet to authorize any action.

    The intelligence in 2019 and 2020 surrounding Russian bounties was derived in part from debriefings of captured Taliban militants. Officials with knowledge of the matter told the AP that Taliban operatives from opposite ends of the country and from separate tribes offered similar accounts.

    The officials would not name the specific groups or give specific locations in Afghanistan or time frames for when they were detained.

    Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Putin, denied that Russian intelligence officers had offered payments to the Taliban in exchange for targeting U.S. and coalition forces.

    The U.S. is investigating whether any Americans died as a result of the Russian bounties. Officials are focused in particular on an April 2019 attack on an American convoy. Three U.S. Marines were killed after a car rigged with explosives detonated near their armored vehicles as they returned to Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military installation in Afghanistan.

    The Marines exchanged gunfire with the vehicle at some point; however, it’s not known if the gunfire occurred before or after the car exploded.

    Abdul Raqib Kohistani, the Bagram district police chief, said at the time that at least five Afghan civilians were wounded after the attack on the convoy, according to previous reporting by the AP. It is not known if the civilians were injured by the car bomb or the gunfire from U.S. Marines.

    The Defense Department identified Marine Staff Sgt. Christopher Slutman, 43, of Newark, Delaware; Sgt. Benjamin Hines, 31, of York, Pennsylvania; and Cpl. Robert Hendriks, 25, of Locust Valley, New York, as the Marines killed in April 2019. The three Marines were all infantrymen assigned to 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines, a reserve infantry unit headquartered out of Garden City, New York.

    Hendriks’ father told the AP that even a rumor of Russian bounties should have been immediately addressed.

    “If this was kind of swept under the carpet as to not make it a bigger issue with Russia, and one ounce of blood was spilled when they knew this, I lost all respect for this administration and everything,” Erik Hendriks said.


    Marine Maj. Roger Hollenbeck said at the time that the reserve unit was a part of the Georgia Deployment Program-Resolute Support Mission, a recurring six-month rotation between U.S. Marines and Georgian Armed Forces. The unit first deployed to Afghanistan in October 2018.

    Three other service members and an Afghan contractor were also wounded in the attack. As of April 2019, the attack was under a separate investigation, unrelated to the Russian bounties, to determine how it unfolded.

    The officials who spoke to the AP also said they were looking closely at insider attacks — sometimes called “green-on-blue” incidents — from 2019 to determine if they are also linked to Russian bounties.

    https://apnews.com/425e43fa0ffdd6e126c5171653ec47d1

    ___

    Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Deb Riechmann in Washington, Deepti Hajela in New York and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.
    “No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up.” – Lily Tomlin.




  2. #4997

    Re: A Chronicle of our Descent to Hades

    Data on Financial Transfers Bolstered Suspicions That Russia Offered Bounties
    Analysts have used other evidence to conclude that the transfers were likely part of an effort to offer payments to Taliban-linked militants to kill American and coalition troops in Afghanistan.

    By Charlie Savage, Mujib Mashal, Rukmini Callimachi, Eric Schmitt and Adam Goldman
    June 30, 2020, 1:20 p.m. ET

    American officials intercepted electronic data showing large financial transfers from a bank account controlled by Russia’s military intelligence agency to a Taliban-linked account, which was among the evidence that supported their conclusion that Russia covertly offered bounties for killing U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan, according to three officials familiar with the intelligence.

    Though the United States has accused Russia of providing general support to the Taliban before, analysts concluded from other intelligence that the transfers were most likely part of a bounty program that detainees described during interrogations. Investigators also identified by name numerous Afghans in a network linked to the suspected Russian operation, the officials said — including, two of them added, a man believed to have served as an intermediary for distributing some of the funds and who is now thought to be in Russia.

    The intercepts bolstered the findings gleaned from the interrogations, helping reduce an earlier disagreement among intelligence analysts and agencies over the reliability of the detainees. The disclosures further undercut White House officials’ claim that the intelligence was too uncertain to brief President Trump. In fact, the information was provided to him in his daily written brief in late February, two officials have said.

    Afghan officials this week described a sequence of events that dovetails with the account of the intelligence. They said that several businessmen who transfer money through the informal “hawala” system were arrested in Afghanistan over the past six months and are suspected of being part of a ring of middlemen who operated between the Russian intelligence agency, known as the G.R.U., and Taliban-linked militants. The businessmen were arrested in what the officials described as sweeping raids in the north of Afghanistan, as well as in Kabul.

    A half-million dollars was seized from the home of one of the men, added a provincial official. The New York Times had previously reported that the recovery of an unusually large amount of cash in a raid was an early piece in the puzzle that investigators put together.

    The three American officials who described and confirmed details about the basis for the intelligence assessment spoke on condition of anonymity amid swelling turmoil over the Trump administration’s failure to authorize any response to Russia’s suspected proxy targeting of American troops and downplaying of the issue after it came to light four days ago.

    White House and National Security Council officials declined to comment, as did the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe. They pointed to statements late Monday from Mr. Ratcliffe; the national security adviser, Robert C. O’Brien; and the Pentagon’s top spokesman, Jonathan Hoffman. All of them said that recent news reports about Afghanistan remained unsubstantiated.

    On Monday, the administration invited several House Republicans to the White House to discuss the intelligence. The briefing was mostly carried out by three Trump administration officials: Mr. Ratcliffe, Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, and Mr. O’Brien. Until recently, both Mr. Meadows and Mr. Ratcliffe were Republican congressmen known for being outspoken supporters of Mr. Trump.

    NOTE: In other words no foreign policy experience. I'm we get it but the subtlety may be lost on some.

    That briefing focused on intelligence information that supported the conclusion that Russia was running a covert bounty operation and other information that did not support it, according to two people familiar with the meeting. For example, the briefing focused in part on the interrogated detainees’ accounts and the earlier analysts’ disagreement over it.

    Both people said the intent of the briefing seemed to be to make the point that the intelligence on the suspected Russian bounty plot was not clear cut. For example, one of the people said, the White House also cited some interrogations by Afghan intelligence officials of other detainees, downplaying their credibility by describing them as low-level.

    The administration officials did not mention anything in the House Republican briefing about intercepted data tracking financial transfers, both of the people familiar with it said.

    Democrats and Senate Republicans were also separately briefed at the White House on Tuesday morning. Democrats emerged saying that the issue was clearly not, as Mr. Trump has suggested, a “hoax.” They demanded to hear directly from intelligence officials, rather than from Mr. Trump’s political appointees, but conceded they had not secured a commitment for such a briefing.


    Based on the intelligence they saw, the lawmakers said they were deeply troubled by Mr. Trump’s insistence he did not know about the plot and his subsequent obfuscation when it became public.

    “I find it inexplicable in light of these very public allegations that the president hasn’t come before the country and assured the American people that he will get to the bottom of whether Russia is putting bounties on American troops and that he will do everything in his power to make sure that we protect American troops,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

    He added: “I do not understand for a moment why the president is not saying this to the American people right now and is relying on ‘I don’t know,’ ‘I haven’t heard,’ ‘I haven’t been briefed.’ That is just not excusable.”


    Mr. Ratcliffe was scheduled to go to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to meet privately with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, an official familiar with the planning said.

    The Times reported last week that intelligence officials believed that a unit of the G.R.U. had offered and paid bounties for killing American troops and other coalition forces and that the White House had not authorized a response after the National Security Council convened an interagency meeting about the problem in late March.

    Investigators are said to be focused on at least two deadly attacks on American soldiers in Afghanistan. One is an April 2019 bombing outside Bagram Air Base that killed three Marines: Staff Sgt. Christopher Slutman, 43, of Newark, Del.; Cpl. Robert A. Hendriks, 25, of Locust Valley, N.Y.; and Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, of York, Pa.

    On Monday, Felicia Arculeo, the mother of Corporal Hendriks, told CNBC that she was upset to learn from news reports of the suspicions that her son’s death arose from a Russian bounty operation. She said she wanted an investigation, adding that “the parties who are responsible should be held accountable, if that’s even possible.”

    Officials did not say which other attack is under scrutiny.

    In claiming that the information was not provided to him, Mr. Trump has also dismissed the intelligence assessment as “so-called” and claimed he was told that it was “not credible.” The White House subsequently issued statements in the names of several subordinates denying that he had been briefed.

    The White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, reiterated that claim on Monday and said that the information had not been elevated to Mr. Trump because there was a dissenting view about it within the intelligence community.

    But she and other administration officials demurred when pressed to say whether their denials encompassed the president’s daily written briefing, a compendium of the most significant intelligence and analysis that the intelligence community writes for presidents to read. Mr. Trump is known to often neglect reading his written briefings.


    Intelligence about the suspected Russian plot was included in Mr. Trump’s written President’s Daily Brief in late February, according to two officials, contrasting Mr. Trump’s claim on Sunday that he was never “briefed or told” about the matter.

    The information was also considered solid enough to be distributed to the broader intelligence community in a May 4 article in the C.I.A.’s World Intelligence Review, commonly called The Wire, according to several officials.

    A spokesman for the Taliban has also denied that it accepted Russian-paid bounties to carry out attacks on Americans and other coalition soldiers, saying the group needed no such encouragement for its operations. But one American official said the focus has been on criminals closely associated with the Taliban.

    In a raid in Kunduz City in the north about six months ago, 13 people were arrested in a joint operation by American forces and the Afghan intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, according to Safiullah Amiry, the deputy provincial council chief there. Two of the main targets of the raid had already fled — one to Tajikistan and one to Russia, Mr. Amiry said — but it was in the Kabul home of one of them where security forces found a half-million dollars. He said the Afghan intelligence agency had told him the raids were related to Russian money being dispersed to militants.

    Two former Afghan officials said Monday that members of local criminal networks have carried out attacks for the Taliban in the past — not because they share the Taliban’s ideology or goals, but in exchange for money.

    In Parwan Province, where Bagram Airfield is, the Taliban are known to have hired local criminals as freelancers, said Gen. Zaman Mamozai, the former police chief of the province. He said the Taliban’s commanders are based in two districts of the province, Seyagird and Shinwari, and that from there they coordinate a network that commissions criminals to carry out attacks.

    And Haseeba Efat, a former member of Parwan’s provincial council, also said the Taliban have hired freelancers in Bagram district — including one of his own distant relatives in one case.

    “They agree with these criminals that they won’t have monthly salary, but they will get paid for the work they do when the Taliban need them,” Mr. Efat said.

    Twenty American service members were killed in combat-related operations in Afghanistan last year, the most since 2014.


    Fahim Abed, Najim Rahim, Helene Cooper and Nicholas Fandos contributed reporting.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/30/u...elligence.html
    “No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up.” – Lily Tomlin.




  3. #4998

    Re: A Chronicle of our Descent to Hades

    Samuel Oakford @samueloakford
    Top officials in the White House were aware in early 2019 of classified intelligence indicating Russia was secretly offering bounties to the Taliban for the deaths of Americans, a full year earlier than has been previously reported.
    AP sources: White House aware of Russian bounties in 2019
    Top officials in the White House were aware in early 2019 of classified intelligence indicating Russia was secretly offering bounties to the Taliban for the deaths of Americans, a full year...
    apnews.com (Post #4996 above)

    Vote, Organize, Do Good
    @MelissaHBuckner
    Replying to
    @samueloakford
    So now we’re looking at March 2019? Trump received written report on Russian bounty in his daily briefings AND was briefed by John Bolton? AND other WH administration officials were aware of situation? Was Gang of Eight briefed? Did Republican Senators know? Was info suppressed?
    “No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up.” – Lily Tomlin.




  4. #4999

    Re: A Chronicle of our Descent to Hades

    Kaitlan Collins
    @kaitlancollins
    The White House says Trump has now been briefed on what was in his daily written intelligence briefing back in February, per the NYT.
    “No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up.” – Lily Tomlin.




  5. #5000

    Re: A Chronicle of our Descent to Hades

    From pandering to Putin to abusing allies and ignoring his own advisers, Trump's phone calls alarm US officials
    By Carl Bernstein, CNN

    Updated 12:49 PM ET, Tue June 30, 2020

    (CNN)In hundreds of highly classified phone calls with foreign heads of state, President Donald Trump was so consistently unprepared for discussion of serious issues, so often outplayed in his conversations with powerful leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan, and so abusive to leaders of America's principal allies, that the calls helped convince some senior US officials -- including his former secretaries of state and defense, two national security advisers and his longest-serving chief of staff -- that the President himself posed a danger to the national security of the United States, according to White House and intelligence officials intimately familiar with the contents of the conversations.

    The calls caused former top Trump deputies -- including national security advisers H.R. McMaster and John Bolton, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and White House chief of staff John Kelly, as well as intelligence officials -- to conclude that the President was often "delusional," as two sources put it, in his dealings with foreign leaders. The sources said there was little evidence that the President became more skillful or competent in his telephone conversations with most heads of state over time. Rather, he continued to believe that he could either charm, jawbone or bully almost any foreign leader into capitulating to his will, and often pursued goals more attuned to his own agenda than what many of his senior advisers considered the national interest.

    (...)

    By far the greatest number of Trump's telephone discussions with an individual head of state were with Erdogan, who sometimes phoned the White House at least twice a week and was put through directly to the President on standing orders from Trump, according to the sources. Meanwhile, the President regularly bullied and demeaned the leaders of America's principal allies, especially two women: telling Prime Minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom she was weak and lacked courage; and telling German Chancellor Angela Merkel that she was "stupid."

    Trump incessantly boasted to his fellow heads of state, including Saudi Arabia's autocratic royal heir Mohammed bin Salman and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, about his own wealth, genius, "great" accomplishments as President, and the "idiocy" of his Oval Office predecessors, according to the sources.

    In his conversations with both Putin and Erdogan, Trump took special delight in trashing former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and suggested that dealing directly with him -- Trump -- would be far more fruitful than during previous administrations. "They didn't know BS," he said of Bush and Obama -- one of several derisive tropes the sources said he favored when discussing his predecessors with the Turkish and Russian leaders.


    P1
    “No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up.” – Lily Tomlin.




  6. #5001

    Re: A Chronicle of our Descent to Hades

    From pandering to Putin to abusing allies and ignoring his own advisers, Trump's phone calls alarm US officials
    By Carl Bernstein, CNN
    P2

    The full, detailed picture drawn by CNN's sources of Trump's phone calls with foreign leaders is consistent with the basic tenor and some substantive elements of a limited number of calls described by former national security adviser John Bolton in his book, "The Room Where It Happened." But the calls described to CNN cover a far longer period than Bolton's tenure, are much more comprehensive — and seemingly more damning -- in their sweep.

    Like Bolton, CNN's sources said that the President seemed to continually conflate his own personal interests -- especially for purposes of re-election and revenge against perceived critics and political enemies -- with the national interest.

    To protect the anonymity of those describing the calls for this report, CNN will not reveal their job titles nor quote them at length directly. More than a dozen officials either listened to the President's phone calls in real time or were provided detailed summaries and rough-text recording printouts of the calls soon after their completion, CNN's sources said. The sources were interviewed by CNN repeatedly over a four-month period extending into June.

    The sources did cite some instances in which they said Trump acted responsibly and in the national interest during telephone discussions with some foreign leaders. CNN reached out to Kelly, McMaster and Tillerson for comment and received no response as of Monday afternoon. Mattis did not comment.

    The White House did not respond to a request for comment before this story published. After publication, White House deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews said, "President Trump is a world class negotiator who has consistently furthered America's interests on the world stage. From negotiating the phase one China deal and the USMCA to NATO allies contributing more and defeating ISIS, President Trump has shown his ability to advance America's strategic interests."

    One person familiar with almost all the conversations with the leaders of Russia, Turkey, Canada, Australia and western Europe described the calls cumulatively as 'abominations' so grievous to US national security interests that if members of Congress heard from witnesses to the actual conversations or read the texts and contemporaneous notes, even many senior Republican members would no longer be able to retain confidence in the President.
    “No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up.” – Lily Tomlin.




  7. #5002

    Re: A Chronicle of our Descent to Hades

    From pandering to Putin to abusing allies and ignoring his own advisers, Trump's phone calls alarm US officials
    By Carl Bernstein, CNN
    P3

    Attacking key ally leaders -- especially women

    The insidious effect of the conversations comes from Trump's tone, his raging outbursts at allies while fawning over authoritarian strongmen, his ignorance of history and lack of preparation as much as it does from the troubling substance, according to the sources. While in office, then- Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats expressed worry to subordinates that Trump's telephone discussions were undermining the coherent conduct of foreign relations and American objectives around the globe, one of CNN's sources said. And in recent weeks, former chief of staff Kelly has mentioned the damaging impact of the President's calls on US national security to several individuals in private.

    Two sources compared many of the President's conversations with foreign leaders to Trump's recent press "briefings" on the coronavirus pandemic: free form, fact-deficient stream-of-consciousness ramblings, full of fantasy and off-the-wall pronouncements based on his intuitions, guesswork, the opinions of Fox News TV hosts and social media misinformation.

    In addition to Merkel and May, the sources said, Trump regularly bullied and disparaged other leaders of the western alliance during his phone conversations -- including French President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison -- in the same hostile and aggressive way he discussed the coronavirus with some of America's governors.

    Next to Erdogan, no foreign leader initiated more calls with Trump than Macron, the sources said, with the French President often trying to convince Trump to change course on environmental and security policy matters -- including climate change and US withdrawal from the Iranian multilateral nuclear accord.

    Macron usually got "nowhere" on substantive matters, while Trump became irritated at the French President's stream of requests and subjected him to self-serving harangues and lectures that were described by one source as personalized verbal "whippings," especially about France and other countries not meeting NATO spending targets, their liberal immigration policies or their trade imbalances with the US.

    But his most vicious attacks, said the sources, were aimed at women heads of state. In conversations with both May and Merkel, the President demeaned and denigrated them in diatribes described as "near-sadistic" by one of the sources and confirmed by others. "Some of the things he said to Angela Merkel are just unbelievable: he called her 'stupid,' and accused her of being in the pocket of the Russians ... He's toughest [in the phone calls] with those he looks at as weaklings and weakest with the ones he ought to be tough with."

    The calls "are so unusual," confirmed a German official, that special measures were taken in Berlin to ensure that their contents remained secret. The official described Trump's behavior with Merkel in the calls as "very aggressive" and said that the circle of German officials involved in monitoring Merkel's calls with Trump has shrunk: "It's just a small circle of people who are involved and the reason, the main reason, is that they are indeed problematic."

    Trump's conversations with May, the UK Prime Minister from 2016 to 2019, were described as "humiliating and bullying," with Trump attacking her as "a fool" and spineless in her approach to Brexit, NATO and immigration matters.

    "He'd get agitated about something with Theresa May, then he'd get nasty with her on the phone call," One source said. "It's the same interaction in every setting -- coronavirus or Brexit -- with just no filter applied."


    Merkel remained calm and outwardly unruffled in the face of Trump's attacks —"like water off a duck's back," in the words of one source -- and she regularly countered his bluster with recitations of fact. The German official quoted above said that during Merkel's visit to the White House two years ago, Trump displayed "very questionable behavior" that "was quite aggressive ... [T]he Chancellor indeed stayed calm, and that's what she does on the phone."

    Prime Minister May, in contrast, became "flustered and nervous" in her conversations with the President. "He clearly intimidated her and meant to," said one of CNN's sources. In response to a request for comment about Trump's behavior in calls with May, the UK's Downing Street referred CNN to its website. The site lists brief descriptions of the content of some calls and avoids any mention of tone or tension. The French embassy in Washington declined to comment, while the Russian and Turkish embassies did not respond to requests for comment.
    “No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up.” – Lily Tomlin.




  8. #5003

    Re: A Chronicle of our Descent to Hades

    From pandering to Putin to abusing allies and ignoring his own advisers, Trump's phone calls alarm US officials
    By Carl Bernstein, CNN
    P4

    Concerns over calls with Putin and Erdogan

    The calls with Putin and Erdogan were particularly egregious in terms of Trump almost never being prepared substantively and thus leaving him susceptible to being taken advantage of in various ways, according to the sources -- in part because those conversations (as with most heads of state), were almost certainly recorded by the security services and other agencies of their countries.

    In his phone exchanges with Putin, the sources reported, the President talked mostly about himself, frequently in over-the-top, self-aggrandizing terms: touting his "unprecedented" success in building the US economy; asserting in derisive language how much smarter and "stronger" he is than "the imbeciles" and "weaklings" who came before him in the presidency (especially Obama); reveling in his experience running the Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow, and obsequiously courting Putin's admiration and approval. Putin "just outplays" him, said a high-level administration official -- comparing the Russian leader to a chess grandmaster and Trump to an occasional player of checkers. While Putin "destabilizes the West," said this source, the President of the United States "sits there and thinks he can build himself up enough as a businessman and tough guy that Putin will respect him." (At times, the Putin-Trump conversations sounded like "two guys in a steam bath," a source added.)

    In numerous calls with Putin that were described to CNN, Trump left top national security aides and his chiefs of staff flabbergasted, less because of specific concessions he made than because of his manner -- inordinately solicitous of Putin's admiration and seemingly seeking his approval -- while usually ignoring substantive policy expertise and important matters on the standing bilateral agenda, including human rights; and an arms control agreement, which never got dealt with in a way that advanced shared Russian and American goals that both Putin and Trump professed to favor, CNN's sources said.

    Throughout his presidency, Trump has touted the theme of "America First" as his north star in foreign policy, advancing the view that America's allies and adversaries have taken economic advantage of US goodwill in trade. And that America's closest allies need to increase their share of collective defense spending. He frequently justifies his seeming deference to Putin by arguing that Russia is a major world player and that it is in the United States' interest to have a constructive and friendly relationship -- requiring a reset with Moscow through his personal dialogue with Putin.

    In separate interviews, two high-level administration officials familiar with most of the Trump-Putin calls said the President naively elevated Russia -- a second-rate totalitarian state with less than 4% of the world's GDP -- and its authoritarian leader almost to parity with the United States and its President by undermining the tougher, more realistic view of Russia expressed by the US Congress, American intelligence agencies and the long-standing post-war policy consensus of the US and its European allies. "He [Trump] gives away the advantage that was hard won in the Cold War," said one of the officials -- in part by "giving Putin and Russia a legitimacy they never had," the official said. "He's given Russia a lifeline -- because there is no doubt that they're a declining power ... He's playing with something he doesn't understand and he's giving them power that they would use [aggressively]."

    Both officials cited Trump's decision to pull US troops out of Syria -- a move that benefited Turkey as well as Russia -- as perhaps the most grievous example. "He gave away the store," one of them said.
    The frequency of the calls with Erdogan -- in which the Turkish president continually pressed Trump for policy concessions and other favors -- was especially worrisome to McMaster, Bolton and Kelly, the more so because of the ease with which Erdogan bypassed normal National Security Council protocols and procedures to reach the President, said two of the sources.

    Erdogan became so adept at knowing when to reach the President directly that some White House aides became convinced that Turkey's security services in Washington were using Trump's schedule and whereabouts to provide Erdogan with information about when the President would be available for a call.
    On some occasions Erdogan reached him on the golf course and Trump would delay play while the two spoke at length.


    Two sources described the President as woefully uninformed about the history of the Syrian conflict and the Middle East generally, and said he was often caught off guard, and lacked sufficient knowledge to engage on equal terms in nuanced policy discussion with Erdogan. "Erdogan took him to the cleaners," said one of the sources.

    The sources said that deleterious US policy decisions on Syria -- including the President's directive to pull US forces out of the country, which then allowed Turkey to attack Kurds who had helped the US fight ISIS and weakened NATO's role in the conflict -- were directly linked to Erdogan's ability to get his way with Trump on the phone calls.
    “No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up.” – Lily Tomlin.




  9. #5004

    Re: A Chronicle of our Descent to Hades

    From pandering to Putin to abusing allies and ignoring his own advisers, Trump's phone calls alarm US officials
    By Carl Bernstein, CNN
    P5

    Trump occasionally became angry at Erdogan -- sometimes because of demands that Turkey be granted preferential trade status, and because the Turkish leader would not release an imprisoned American evangelical pastor, Andrew Brunson, accused of 'aiding terrorism' in the 2016 coup that attempted to overthrow Erdogan. Brunson was eventually released in October 2018.

    Despite the lack of advance notice for many of Erdogan's calls, full sets of contemporaneous notes from designated notetakers at the White House exist, as well as rough voice-generated computer texts of the conversations, the sources said.

    According to one high-level source, there are also existing summaries and conversation-readouts of the President's discussions with Erdogan that might reinforce Bolton's allegations against Trump in the so-called "Halkbank case," involving a major Turkish bank with suspected ties to Erdogan and his family. That source said the matter was raised in more than one telephone conversation between Erdogan and Trump.

    Bolton wrote in his book that in December 2018, at Erdogan's urging, Trump offered to interfere in an investigation by then-US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman into the Turkish bank, which was accused of violating US sanctions on Iran.

    "Trump then told Erdogan he would take care of things, explaining that the Southern District prosecutors were not his people, but were Obama people, a problem that would be fixed when they were replaced by his people," Bolton wrote. Berman's office eventually brought an indictment against the bank in October 2019 for fraud, money laundering and other offenses related to participation in a multibillion-dollar scheme to evade the US sanctions on Iran. On June 20, Trump fired Berman -- whose office is also investigating Rudy Giuliani, the President's personal lawyer -- after the prosecutor refused to resign at Attorney General William Barr's direction.

    Unlike Bolton, CNN's sources did not assert or suggest specifically that Trump's calls with Erdogan might have been grounds for impeachment because of possible evidence of unlawful conduct by the President. Rather, they characterized Trump's calls with heads of state in the aggregate as evidence of Trump's general "unfitness" for the presidency on grounds of temperament and incompetence, an assertion Bolton made as well in an interview to promote his book with ABC News last week: "I don't think he's fit for office. I don't think he has the competence to carry out the job," Bolton said.
    “No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up.” – Lily Tomlin.




  10. #5005

    Re: A Chronicle of our Descent to Hades

    From pandering to Putin to abusing allies and ignoring his own advisers, Trump's phone calls alarm US officials
    By Carl Bernstein, CNN
    P6

    Family feedback and grievances fuel Trump's approach

    CNN spoke to sources familiar with the President's phone calls repeatedly over a four-month period. In their interviews, the sources took great care not to disclose specific national security information and classified details -- but rather described the broad contents of many of the calls, and the overall tenor and methodology of Trump's approach to his telephone discussions with foreign leaders.

    In addition to rough, voice-generated software transcription, almost all of Trump's telephone conversations with Putin, Erdogan and leaders of the western alliance were supplemented and documented by extensive contemporaneous note-taking (and, often, summaries) prepared by Fiona Hill, deputy assistant to the President and senior NSC director for Europe and Russia until her resignation last year. Hill listened to most of the President's calls with Putin, Erdogan and the European leaders, according to her closed-door testimony before the House Intelligence Committee last November.


    Elements of that testimony by Hill, if re-examined by Congressional investigators, might provide a detailed road-map of the President's extensively-documented conversations, the sources said. White House and intelligence officials familiar with the voice-generated transcriptions and underlying documents agreed that their contents could be devastating to the President's standing with members of the Congress of both parties -- and the public -- if revealed in great detail.
    (There is little doubt that Trump would invoke executive privilege to keep the conversations private. However, some former officials with detailed knowledge of many of the conversations might be willing to testify about them, sources said.)

    In one of the earliest calls between Putin and Trump, the President's son-in-law Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump were in the room to listen — joining McMaster, Tillerson, Hill, and a State Department aide to Tillerson.

    "The call was all over the place," said an NSC deputy who read a detailed summary of the conversation -- with Putin speaking substantively and at length, and Trump propping himself up in short autobiographical bursts of bragging, self-congratulation and flattery toward Putin. As described to CNN, Kushner and Ivanka Trump were immediately effusive in their praise of how Trump had handled the call -- while Tillerson (who knew Putin well from his years in Russia as an oil executive), Hill and McMaster were skeptical.

    Hill — author of a definitive biography of Putin -- started to explain some of the nuances she perceived from the call, according to CNN's sources — offering insight into Putin's psychology, his typical "smooth-talking" and linear approach and what the Russian leader was trying to achieve in the call. Hill was cut off by Trump, and the President continued discussing the call with Jared and Ivanka, making clear he wanted to hear the congratulatory evaluation of his daughter and her husband, rather than how Hill, Tillerson or McMaster judged the conversation.


    McMaster viewed that early phone call with Putin as indicative of the conduct of the whole relationship between Russia and the Trump administration, according to the sources -- a conclusion subsequent national security advisers and chiefs of staff, and numerous high-ranking intelligence officials also reached: unlike in previous administrations, there were relatively few meaningful dealings between military and diplomatic professionals, even at the highest levels, because Trump -- distrustful of the experts and dismissive of their attempts to brief him -- conducted the relationship largely ad hoc with Putin and almost totally by himself. Ultimately, Putin and the Russians learned that "nobody has the authority to do anything" -- and the Russian leader used that insight to his advantage, as one of CNN's sources said.

    The Kushners were also present for other important calls with foreign leaders and made their primacy apparent, encouraged by the President even on matters of foreign policy in which his daughter and her husband had no experience. Almost never, according to CNN's sources, would Trump read the briefing materials prepared for him by the CIA and NSC staff in advance of his calls with heads of state.
    "He won't consult them, he won't even get their wisdom," said one of the sources, who cited Saudi Arabia's bin Salman as near the top of a list of leaders whom Trump "picks up and calls without anybody being prepared," a scenario that frequently confronted NSC and intelligence aides. The source added that the aides' helpless reaction "would frequently be, 'Oh my God, don't make that phone call.'"
    “No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up.” – Lily Tomlin.




  11. #5006

    Re: A Chronicle of our Descent to Hades

    From pandering to Putin to abusing allies and ignoring his own advisers, Trump's phone calls alarm US officials
    By Carl Bernstein, CNN
    P7

    "Trump's view is that he is a better judge of character than anyone else," said one of CNN's sources. The President consistently rejected advice from US defense, intelligence and national security principals that the Russian president be approached more firmly and with less trust. CNN's sources pointed to the most notable public example as "emblematic": Trump, standing next to the Russian President at their meeting in Helsinki, Finland, in June 2018, and saying he "didn't see any reason why" Russia would have interfered in the 2016 presidential election -- despite the findings of the entire US intelligence community that Moscow had. "President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today," Trump said.

    The common, overwhelming dynamic that characterizes Trump's conversations with both authoritarian dictators and leaders of the world's greatest democracies is his consistent assertion of himself as the defining subject and subtext of the calls -- almost never the United States and its historic place and leadership in the world, according to sources intimately familiar with the calls.

    In numerous calls with the leaders of the UK, France, Germany, Australia and Canada -- America's closest allies of the past 75 years, the whole postwar era -- Trump typically established a grievance almost as a default or leitmotif of the conversation, whatever the supposed agenda, according to those sources.

    "Everything was always personalized, with everybody doing terrible things to rip us off — which meant ripping 'me' — Trump — off. He couldn't -- or wouldn't -- see or focus on the larger picture," said one US official.


    The source cited a conspicuously demonstrable instance in which Trump resisted asking Angela Merkel (at the UK's urging) to publicly hold Russia accountable for the so-called 'Salisbury' poisonings of a former Russian spy and his daughter with Novichok, a nerve agent developed in what was then the Soviet Union, in which Putin had denied any Russian involvement despite voluminous evidence to the contrary.

    "It took a lot of effort" to get Trump to bring up the subject, said one source. Instead of addressing Russia's responsibility for the poisonings and holding it to international account, Trump made the focus of the call -- in personally demeaning terms -- Germany's and Merkel's supposedly deadbeat approach to allied burden-sharing. Eventually, said the sources, as urged by his NSC staff, Trump at last addressed the matter of the poisonings, almost grudgingly.

    "With almost every problem, all it takes [in his phone calls] is someone asking him to do something as President on behalf of the United States and he doesn't see it that way; he goes to being ripped off; he's not interested in cooperative issues or working on them together; instead he's deflecting things or pushing real issues off into a corner," said a US official.

    "There was no sense of 'Team America' in the conversations," or of the United States as an historic force with certain democratic principles and leadership of the free world, said the official. "The opposite. It was like the United States had disappeared. It was always 'Just me'."


    UPDATE: This story has been updated with comment from the White House.
    CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the kind of poison used to attack a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury, England.

    CNN's Nicole Gaouette contributed to this report.

    https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/29/polit...rns/index.html
    “No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up.” – Lily Tomlin.




  12. #5007

    Re: A Chronicle of our Descent to Hades

    There is AT LEAST enough material in the last 7 posts to justify another impeachment. Is it time yet to do it again, so that the Republicans must again show how loyal they are to him and how there is nothing he can't get by with as long as the Republican-controlled Senate protects him? If I were a Democrat opposing an incumbent Republican in this election, I would love for my opponent to have to vote on another impeachment.

    GH

  13. #5008

    Re: A Chronicle of our Descent to Hades

    Yamiche Alcindor
    @Yamiche
    The WH says President Trump has been briefed on the alleged Russian bounties to kill U.S. soldiers. And, the WH is planning to brief the Gang of Eight on the issue today. But, Trump is calling it all a hoax.
    “No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up.” – Lily Tomlin.




  14. #5009

    Re: A Chronicle of our Descent to Hades

    Michael McFaul @McFaul
    According to reporting including @MeetThePress, Trump called Putin 6 times in 2 months - March 30th, April 9th, April 10th, April 12, May 7th, June 1 ! That would be a crazy number of calls to any foreign leader. But to Putin? What on earth were they discussing? So strange.
    “No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up.” – Lily Tomlin.




  15. #5010
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    Re: A Chronicle of our Descent to Hades

    Quote Originally Posted by Ti-Amie View Post
    Michael McFaul @McFaul
    According to reporting including @MeetThePress, Trump called Putin 6 times in 2 months - March 30th, April 9th, April 10th, April 12, May 7th, June 1 ! That would be a crazy number of calls to any foreign leader. But to Putin? What on earth were they discussing? So strange.
    I'm betting Vlad demanded phone sex.
    Winston, a.k.a. Alvena Rae Risley Hiatt (1944-2019), RIP

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