Yeah. Trump is going rogue and it is dangerous:

President Trump did not follow specific warnings from his national security advisers Tuesday when he congratulated Russian President Vladi­mir Putin on his reelection — including a section in his briefing materials in all-capital letters stating “DO NOT CONGRATULATE,” according to officials familiar with the call.

Trump also chose not to heed talking points from aides instructing him to condemn the recent poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain with a powerful nerve agent, a case that both the British and U.S. governments have blamed on Moscow.

The president’s conversation with Putin, which Trump described as a “very good call,” prompted fresh criticism of his muted tone toward one of the United States’ biggest geopolitical rivals amid the special counsel investigation into Russia’s election interference and the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian officials.

Although the Trump administration has taken a tougher stance toward Russia recently — including new sanctions last week on some entities for election meddling and cyberattacks — the president has declined to forcefully join London in denouncing Moscow for the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England, this month. They remain critically ill.

Trump told reporters that he had offered his well wishes on Putin’s new six-year term during a conversation that covered a range of topics, including arms control and the security situations in Syria and North Korea. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that Skripal’s case was not discussed. Information on Syria and North Korea was also provided to the president in writing before the call, officials said.

Yeah, and when she was asked about the validity of the Russian election, in which Putin won 76 percent of the vote, and which foreign-policy experts have dismissed as rigged, Sanders responded, “We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate.”

Unbelievable. We get to have opinions on how other countries operate (and occasionally we bomb them or expect them to pay for a wall). But with Russia, we’re totally cool?

McCain weighed in:

“An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections. And by doing so with Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election to determine their country’s future, including the countless Russian patriots who have risked so much to protest and resist Putin’s regime.”

Trump is supposedly furious about this.  Kelly too.

President Donald Trump was infuriated after it quickly leaked that he had been directly instructed by his national security advisers in briefing materials not to congratulate Russian President Vladimir Putin on his recent election victory during their call Tuesday morning, a source familiar with the President’s thinking said.

Trump was fuming Tuesday night, asking his allies and outside advisers who they thought had leaked the information, noting that only a small group of staffers have access to those materials and would have known what guidance was included for the Putin call, the source said.

According to the source, the incident resurfaces his long-held belief there are individuals inside his administration — especially in the national security realm — who are actively working to undermine him.

White House chief of staff John Kelly also is furious that a confidential presidential briefing became public knowledge, a White House official said, and intends to address the matter Wednesday as aides try to figure out who disclosed the warning.
“If this story is accurate, that means someone leaked the President’s briefing papers. Leaking such information is a fireable offense and likely illegal,” another senior White House official told CNN Wednesday.
I don’t think it is illegal. Certainly fireable. But in honesty, I hope there ARE people in the administration trying to undermine the president, especially when he does ill-advised things like this.

Trump Administration (Finally) Imposes Sanctions On Russia

… although the President himself remains mute.

The Trump administration announced today it is enacting new sanctions on Russia, including individuals indicted last month by special counsel Robert Mueller, in a sweeping new effort to punish Moscow for its attempts to interfere in the 2016 US election.

The measures come a month-and-a-half after the administration missed a congressionally mandated deadline to impose the new sanctions, which led to questions over President Donald Trump’s willingness to punish Moscow for its cyber intrusion. The new measures, however delayed, amount to the most stringent punishment yet by Trump for Russia’s election interference.

In announcing the measures, the administration also disclosed a Russian attempt to penetrate the US energy grid, and said the new sanctions would punish actors for their participation in other major cyberattacks.

The new punishments include sanctions on the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm that produced divisive political posts on American social media platforms during the 2016 presidential election. Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, a financial backer to the Internet Research Agency with deep ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, is also included.

Known as “Putin’s chef,” Prigozhin was indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller earlier this year for his involvement with the Russian troll farm. Sanctions were also applied on 13 other individuals who were indicted by Mueller for their participation in the election meddling efforts.

“The administration is confronting and countering malign Russian cyber activity, including their attempted interference in US elections, destructive cyber-attacks, and intrusions targeting critical infrastructure,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a statement.

In total, the administration applied new sanctions on five entities and 19 individuals on Thursday, including Russians who posed as Americans and posted content online as part of the IRA’s attempts to sow discord ahead of the presidential contest. They came as the US joined European allies in blaming Russia for a nerve agent attack in Britain, deeming the action a “clear violation” of international law.

“The recent use of a military-grade nerve agent in an attempt to murder two UK citizens further demonstrate the reckless and conduct of its government,” a senior US national security official said on Thursday.

That’s all well and good (albeit waaay late), but it’s time for the president to address the Russian attack in his own words on and off camera. If Trump doesn’t take this opportunity to show a bare minimum of presidential leadership, then he will be proving his most virulent opponents correct when they say the president has something to hide about his relationship to Russia.

In the back of my mind, I have this tweet kicking around:

Are the sanctions on Russia going to be a way to mute criticism when Mueller is fired?

Soothsayer: Beware the ides of March.
Caesar: What man is that?
Brutus: A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March…
Caesar: What say’st thou to me now? Speak once again.
Soothsayer: Beware the ides of March.
Caesar: He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass.”

UPDATE — Well, this is a start:

President Donald Trump said Thursday it “certainly looks like” the Kremlin was behind the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in England last week, adding that the U.S. takes the matter “very seriously.”

“It certainly looks like the Russians were behind it, something that should never ever happen and we’re taking it very seriously as I think are many others,” Trump said of the attack during a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Leo Varadkar of Ireland in the Oval Office.

Trump added that he was in “deep discussions” with British Prime Minister Theresa May over how to respond to the attack on Sergei Skripal, an ex-spy, and his daughter in Salisbury last week.

Trump To Send Missiles to Ukraine

The news services are reporting that the United States plans to arm Ukraine with Javelin armor-piercing missiles and other lethal military equipment to help Kiev battle Russian-backed separatists in the east.

The Trump administration wants to approve a $47 million military aid package to Ukraine, including 210 anti-tank missiles and 35 Javelin launchers. Russia has warned that the plan, a departure from the previous administration’s commitment to non-lethal aid, would “directly push Ukrainian forces to war.”

The thing that I found curious? You could have read this story last week in the Moscow Times.

Russia wants to escalate the fighting against Ukraine and even occupy it. Trump just gave him a reason.

Is The NRA In Bed With Russia?

Earlier this month, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) issued a pair of letters demanding information on any financial links between the NRA and Moscow, or between the NRA and Russian nationals. The questions came after McClatchy reported:

January 18, 2018 05:00 AM 

WASHINGTON — The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency, two sources familiar with the matter have told McClatchy.

FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA, the sources said.

It is illegal to use foreign money to influence federal elections.

It’s unclear how long the Torshin inquiry has been ongoing, but the news comes as Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sweeping investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including whether the Kremlin colluded with Trump’s campaign, has been heating up.

All of the sources spoke on condition of anonymity because Mueller’s investigation is confidential and mostly involves classified information.

A spokesman for Mueller’s office declined comment.

Disclosure of the Torshin investigation signals a new dimension in the 18-month-old FBI probe of Russia’s interference. McClatchy reported a year ago that a multi-agency U.S. law enforcement and counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s intervention, begun even before the start of the 2016 general election campaign, initially included a focus on whether the Kremlin secretly helped fund efforts to boost Trump, but little has been said about that possibility in recent months.

The extent to which the FBI has evidence of money flowing from Torshin to the NRA, or of the NRA’s participation in the transfer of funds, could not be learned.

Torshin, described by The Daily Beast as a “Putin ally,” has a history of laundering Russian money in Europe, according to Spanish investigators.

The NRA sent this response:

This strikes me as a non-denial. The NRA talks about its policy, rather than giving a specific answer to the question.

We’re going to watch this.

National Threat Assessment

It may not be in the news much today, but there is an important open hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, where the directors of the all the intelligence agencies testify:

Director Daniel R. Coats – Director of National Intelligence (DNI)
Director Michael Pompeo – Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
Director Admiral Michael Rogers – Director of the National Security Agency (NSA)
Director Lieutenant General Robert Ashley – Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)
Director Chris Wray – Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
Director Robert Cardillo – Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA)

I imagine the closed hearing that follows will be even more important.

Already there is news. Coats calls cyber threats “one of my greatest concerns and top priorities.” “Frankly,” he adds, “the United States is under attack” in cyberspace. In fact, every single intelligence agency head has said that there is no change in Russia’s interference in American politics. They are just as active now as they were over the last year.

This is DNi Coats’s “opening statement”:

This is troubling…

This is very interesting…

The Rob Porter issue continues to plague the White House — he did not have security clearance (because of the ex-wife abuse), yet he was handling documents to and from the President.  There are many questions to be raised about this. The White House’s position on the Porter background check was that it was an on-going process, so in key ways out of their hands. FBI Director Christopher Wray just confirmed that that is not true – that the check was mainly completed last year and that the file was officially closed in January, before any of the scandal broke. Here’s Dana Bash explaining.

Senator Angus King lashes out —

Speaking of things spy-like, three Russian intelligence chiefs came to US a couple of weeks ago.  This was mentioned in the American press, like the New York Times….

The two Russian officials who came to Washington were Alexander V. Bortnikov, who runs the Federal Security Bureau, the domestic intelligence service that is the successor to the K.G.B., and Sergey Naryshkin, the chief of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, who was placed under sanctions by the American government under President Barack Obama.

…but in the RUSSIAN press, we learned that the head of the Russian GRU agency — they are the ones who hacked into the DNC data and stole data that had a massive affect on our election — also came.  He apparently wasn’t at the meeting with CIA Chief Pompeo. Why he was here and where he went is also a mystery.

Some think that the meeting was about terrorism which affects both countries.  Others think that the reason of terrorism was a pretext, and the Naryshkin delegation was likely sent to give info to help coordinate efforts to discredit Mueller’s Russia investigation.

No questions were asked about this by the Senate Intelligence Committee today in open session.  I HOPE it will be raised in closed session.

Lot Of Hypocrisy About Leaks

The Pentagon Papers was a leak from Daniel Ellsberg. It helped de-legitimize the Vietnam War.

Deep Throat was Mark Felt, a top FBI official. He gave Woodward and Bernstein the deep background on the Watergate scandal.

Edward Snowden leaked information about US government surveillance programs.

Chelsea Manning leaked documents and video relating to Iraqi air strikes, diplomatic cables, and Gitmo, most of which did not put the US in good light.

Vice President Cheney outed Valerie Plame as a CIA operative in order to exact revenge on her husband, a critic of the Bush Iraq War policy.

To most people, one of more of these people are heroes — one of the “good guys”.  But they were all leakers.

Everybody constructs reasons for leaks they like and leaks they don’t like. But it is hard to come up with a non-hypocritical reason for distinguishing “good leaks” from “bad leaks”.

We’re at a remarkable point in history where the president accuses his own intelligence community of working against him, as exhibited by his tweetstorm this morning:

What sounds hollow about all this is that Trump was totally fine — in fact he PRAISED — Wikileaks when it printed the John Podesta emails.

I know, I know. The Podesta emails weren’t technically leaks.  They were hacks by the Russians.  But doesn’t that make it WORSE?  Think about it.  The President is fine with Russian intelligence stealing secured information and making it public — in fact he encouraged it! — but he’s upset about “illegal” leaks from American intelligence sources?

It really does beg the question — whose side is the President on?  At best, it cements the notion that he is in the pocket of Russia.

The Bombshell Report That Russia Can Blackmail Trump, Explained

There’s an enormous amount we don’t yet know about CNN’s bombshell report that US intelligence agencies believe Russia has “compromising personal and financial information” on President-elect Donald Trump and that his campaign was in direct contact with with Russian intermediaries before the election.

We don’t know who CNN’s sources are or if those people’s information is accurate. We don’t know which Trump aides were allegedly dealing with the Russians or whether those Russians worked for Vladimir Putin’s government. And we don’t know the answer to the biggest question of them all: just what does Russia have on Trump?

“So while people are being delicate about discussing wholly unproven allegations, the document is at the front of everyone’s minds as they ponder the question: Why is Trump so insistent about vindicating Russia from the hacking charges that everyone else seems to accept?” Benjamin Wittes, Susan Hennessey, and Quina Jurecic wrote in a post for the Lawfare blog.

There is one thing, though, that we can say with absolute certainty. If the allegations are true, they will spark criminal investigations and the types of Congressional probes that could end Trump’s presidency before it fully begins. If the allegations are false, Trump will accurately be able to say that he’d been slandered by a politicized intelligence community looking for ways of undermining his legitimacy.

Trump’s weeks-long war with the CIA means that this kind of moment may have been inevitable: after weeks of quiet sniping, sources inside the agency or familiar with its work have responded by leaking something truly and genuinely explosive.

This is “news” NOT because of the actual allegation in the memos, but because Trump and Obama were briefed on them last week after US intelligence looked into it, suggesting some credibility.  Furthermore, the Guardian is reporting that the FBI applied for a warrant from the foreign intelligence surveillance (FISA) court over the summer in order to monitor four members of the Trump team suspected of irregular contacts with Russian officials. The Fisa court turned down the application asking FBI counter-intelligence investigators to narrow its focus. According to one report, the FBI was finally granted a warrant in October, but that has not been confirmed, and it is not clear whether any warrant led to a full investigation. But again, the news is that at least the FBI thought there was enough credibility in the memos to go to the FISA court in the first place.

A lot of people have joked about whether Russia had something on Trump. Turns out that it might

Here’s what we know. Late on Tuesday afternoon, CNN reported that the heads of America’s top intelligence agencies had showed Trump evidence that the Russians had compromising information on him. The allegations came from unsubstantiated memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative that had been in circulation since last summer but that US spy agencies had only recently deemed “credible.”

According to CNN, Sen. John McCain passed a full set of the memos to FBI Director Jim Comey last month. The New York Times reported that top intelligence officials have also briefed President Obama, the top leaders of the House and Senate, and the chairman and ranking member of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees on the information from the memos even though none of it has been proven true:

The decision of top intelligence officials to give the president, the president-elect and the so-called Gang of Eight — Republican and Democratic leaders of Congress and the intelligence committees — what they know to be unverified, defamatory material was extremely unusual.

After the CNN report, Buzzfeed published the actual dossier, which includes the allegation that Russia’s FSB, the successor to the KGB, believed it had “compromised Trump through his activities in Moscow sufficiently to be able to blackmail him.” More specifically, the dossier alleges that Russia had information that Trump engaged in “perverted sexual acts which have been arranged/monitored by the FSB” and had been recorded having sex with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel.

Zack Beauchamp at Vox notes that there are three other less salacious but potentially more damaging explanations of what Russia may have on Trump, and of why the president-elect would have have been so worried about its release. First, proof that Trump isn’t as rich as he claims. Second, evidence that Trump’s campaign directly coordinated with a Russian government hell-bent on ensuring his election. And third, that Trump’s business dealings with Russia — and the amount he may owe Russian investors in his company — is far, far greater than we think.

Trump took to Twitter Tuesday night to flatly deny the CNN report (and later take a shot at BuzzFeed):

It may be a while until we know if Trump is right or if the CNN report is accurate. In the meantime, the president-elect has a different problem entirely: He’s taken so many jarringly pro-Kremlin positions that something that would seem too ludicrous for Hollywood — Russian spies preparing to potentially blackmail an American president — seems like a semi-plausible explanation.

Astute readers will note that nobody has suggested what the “compromising information” actually is.  That is because only Buzzfeed published the actual dossier.  Other news outlets are not doing so, saying (correctly) that the allegations are unverified (I don’t recall them being so queasy when it came to leaked John Podesta emails, but that’s another commentary).

Since *I* am not a journalist, I am happy to include the dossier with this post, and let the reader read all the salacious “compromising information” that Russia has on Trump, allegedly.  I say again, ALLEGEDLY.  Those who have read it focus on the “golden showers” aspect of it, because kink.  But there are far more serious allegations in there, including one in which Trump and members of his campaign staff colluded with Russia on the hacking and Wikileaks in exchange for a non-interventionist policy on Russia and the Ukraine invasion.  That’s treason.

Anyway, dossier is below the fold.  Back to the issue at hand.

Trump’s embrace of Vladimir Putin — and war on the CIA — starts to make sense if you believe he was worried about being blackmailed by Russia

One of the enduring mysteries of the 2016 election is how Republican voters who have for decades venerated Ronald Reagan for defeating the Soviet Union got so strongly behind a pro-Russian candidate like Trump.

During the campaign, the president-elect praised Putin’s strength as a leader, brushed aside concerns about Putin’s abysmal human rights record, hinted that he might recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea and talked about leaving NATO entirely or opting to ignore America’s legal obligation to defend any NATO member who comes under Russian attack.

Trump’s pro-Russian positioning goes all the way back to the Republican convention, when his campaign softened the party platform’s language on Ukraine to remove all reference about providing weapons to Kiev so it could protect itself from Russia. A short time later, Trump hinted to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that he was fine with Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.

“The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were,” Trump said.

One of Trump’s former campaign managers, meanwhile, had been a paid consultant for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine like its former president, Viktor Yanukovych. The campaign manager, Paul Manafort, later resigned as part of an internal campaign shakeup.

Trump himself has spent months praising Putin. “I will tell you that, in terms of leadership, he’s getting an ‘A’ and our president is not doing so well,” Trump said during an NBC forum in September.

He has also effusively praised Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria: “What’s wrong with Russia bombing the hell out of ISIS and these other crazies so we don’t have to spend a million dollars a bomb?” Never mind that Russian bombs have targeted the relatively moderate opposition more than ISIS, and that the point has been to prop up Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. With Russian help, Assad’s forces just finished reconquering the rebel stronghold of Aleppo.

Trump’s rhetoric about Russia has been even more startling since November 8. He has spent weeks mocking the CIA’s conclusion that Putin tried to interfere in the election to help him win the White House by pointing to the spy agency’s faulty intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq War. When US spies personally briefed Trump on their findings about Russia, he issued a remarkable statement that barely mentioned Russia. Instead, Trump lumped it in with China and other unnamed countries and outside groups as potential perpetrators.

Trump’s complete refusal to admit that Russia interfered in the election has baffled and infuriated many Republican lawmakers, who have called for Congressional investigations into Moscow’s activities during the campaign and condemned Putin as a quasi-dictator. Just this week, five Republican senators said they’d back a Democratic bill that would make it harder for Trump to lift the punishing US sanctions on Russia.

It would make a bit more sense if Russia did in fact have something on Trump that was so big and so embarrassing that he would do Putin’s bidding to ensure it never became public. Given that Trump has survived the release of an audio recording of him bragging about sexual assault, it would presumably have to be something huge.

It’s hard to predict exactly what will come next. Congressional Republicans say they want to probe Russia’s interference in the election, but it’s not clear if this will be enough to make them stop consistently rejecting Democratic calls to create bipartisan investigative panels modeled on the 9/11 commission. Regardless of whether the CNN story holds up, the leak is sure to further fuel Trump’s war with the nation’s intelligence agencies. Given the array of threats facing the US, that may be one of the most dangerous outcomes of all.

UPDATE:  NBC is reporting that Trump never got the briefing and did NOT receive the two-page summary:

A senior U.S. intelligence official with knowledge of the preparation for the meeting with Trump told NBC News that the president-elect was not briefed on the so-called two-page addendum to the dossier originally generated as part of anti-Trump Republican opposition research.

Multiple officials say that the summary was included in the material prepared for the briefers, but the senior official told NBC News that the briefing was oral and no actual documents were handed to the Trump team.

“Intel and law enforcement officials agree that none of the investigations have found any conclusive or direct link between Trump and the Russian government period,” the senior official said.

According to the official, the two-page summary about the unsubstantiated material made available to the briefers was to provide context, should they need it, to draw the distinction for Trump between analyzed intelligence and unvetted “disinformation.”

The briefers also had available to them unvetted “disinformation” about the Clinton Foundation, although that was not shared with Trump.

Obama (Belatedly) Takes Action Against Russian Hackers

Moments ago, the Obama administration struck back at Russia, imposing sanctions against its intelligence apparatus and expelling 35 diplomats in retaliation for the alleged orchestration of hacking attacks designed to interfere in the presidential election.

The sweeping actions outlined by the White House three weeks before the new administration takes office include:

  • Shutting down two compounds, one in in Maryland and one in New York, “used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes.”
  • Sanctions against the Russian intelligence services GRU and FSB, and four high-ranking officers of the GRU. The sanctions are also aimed at two suspected hackers, including one wanted by the FBI in two other cases, and three companies that allegedly provided support to the GRU’s cyber operations.
  • Releasing technical information about Russian cyber activity, “to help network defenders in the United States and abroad identify, detect, and disrupt Russia’s global campaign of malicious cyber activities.”

“These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government, and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior,” President Obama said in a statement.

In his statement, Obama said the U.S. had declared 35 Russian “intelligence operatives” persona non grata. The State Department said the 35 are diplomats “who were acting in a manner inconsistent with their diplomatic or consular status” and accused Russia of harassing U.S. diplomats overseas.

As of noon on Friday, the U.S. also will bar Russian access to two Moscow-owned “recreational compounds,” the White House said. No further detail was provided, but since 1972, the Russians have owned a historic estate overlooking the Chester River in eastern Maryland. They also own a recreation facility in Glen Cove, Long Island.

The White House said the actions will go beyond those announced Thursday.

“We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized,” Obama said in his statement.  Meaning, covert stuff.

Here’s a poster:

And here’s the FBI White Paper on the issue:

Paul Ryan throws in muted support saying, “While today’s action by the administration is overdue, it is an appropriate way to end eight years of failed policy with Russia. And it serves as a prime example of this administration’s ineffective foreign policy that has left America weaker in the eyes of the world.”

Moscow was quick to respond:

And whose side will President-elect Trump take? Obama’s?  Unlikely.  Ryan’s (“About time you terrible Obama person!”)?  Or Russia’s (“Nyet!!”)?

Anyone want to guess?

He’s quiet now but I doubt that’ll last.


Republicans Will Like Anything As Long As It Helps Republicans

This graph says it all:

Republican opinion on Putin seems to have moved not because Trump is pro-Russia or because there’s suddenly an opportunity for better relations with Moscow. It moved because Russia interfered in the election to the Democrats’ detriment, whether that was the core motive or not. That’s the point we’ve reached in partisan polarization, apparently. Want better relations with the U.S.? Then do what you can, legal or not, to make the eventual winning party’s path to electoral victory easier.

To put that another way, the surge in favorability among Republicans for a Russian fascist and kleptocrat who’s used anti-American propaganda relentlessly to consolidate power at home may be a more or less straightforward byproduct of partisan politics.

If widespread murder helped Republicans win political offices,.Republican voters would start favoring widespread murder.

Apologizing For America

We’re watching the downfall of the Trump candidacy in real time, as women are coming from everywhere to contradict Trump’s claim at the last debate that he never ACTUALLY groped women — he only BRAGGED that he groped women.

Only seven have come out so far to say “Nope he ACTUALLY groped me”, and I expect there to be more.

But something caught my eye in Newsweek which I thought I would share:

U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump has issued an apology for his country’s decision to bomb Serbia during Bill Clinton’s tenure at the White House.

U.S. and NATO allies launched aerial campaigns against the faltering Yugoslav regime, targeting ethnic Serb troops in 1995 and 1999. The first attack was carried out in support of groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina, seeking independence from Belgrade, while the second was in support of similar forces in Kosovo.

“The bombing of Serbs, who were our allies in both world wars, was a big mistake,” Trump told Serbian weekly magazine Nedeljnik. “Serbians are very good people. Unfortunately, the Clinton administration caused them a lot of harm, but also throughout the Balkans, which they made a mess out of.”

Bill Clinton, husband and supporter of Trump’s rival in the presidential race, Hillary Clinton, was president of the U.S. throughout the violent collapse of Yugoslavia, which saw ethnic Serb militias engage in ethnic cleansing against predominantly Muslim groups in the former Yugoslavia. The bombings caused hundreds of civilian casualties but also stopped the advance of Serb troops.

Trump did not specify how he would have handled the situation differently, but vowed to have “a new policy with the Balkans if (he) won” the election.

The NATO bombings are still a controversial issue in Serbia, which has been transformed since the collapse of the Communist Yugoslav Federation, into an EU candidate country.

Eric Gordy, professor in Southeast European Politics at University College London told Newsweek Trump’s words echo the tactic used by the Russian government to cultivate support among Serbs.

“The most obvious interpretation of his statement is that it is another sign of alignment with Russia,” he says. “To be honest, this kind of statement is usually more a symbolic attempt for Russian politicians to drum up resentment towards the U.S.,” Gordy explains.

“I expect this is probably just rhetoric by Trump as U.S. policy in the Balkans has been pretty consistently supportive of Serbia since they waged the aerial campaign in the 1990s,” Gordy adds. “Otherwise it is hard to imagine that the U.S. could be more pro-Serbia at the moment.”

First of all — it was the Republicans including Trump who chastised Obama for going around the world on an “apology tour”. Of course, this has been debunked over and over – Obama never did any such thing.

Secondly, I seriously doubt that Trump can speak intelligently to the Bosnia-Serbia Crisis of the 1990s.  He didn’t even know that Russia invaded the Crimea recently. This supposed “interview” with a Serbian weekly newsmagazine is, I expect, an email exchange where the magazine sends in questions, and someone on Trump’s staff — likely someone with Russian connections — responds.

But however it occurred, it is just another troubling link between Trump and Putin.

UPDATE: While I am loathe to believe the Trump camp, they did put out the following statement denying the interview took place, and that seems to be the only thing that makes sense:



The topic of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia is a recurring theme in this campaign.

Trump has spoken well of Putin.  He seems ignorant that Russia invaded the Ukraine.  When criticized for being soft on Russia, Trump responds with the simplistic, “Wouldn’t it be nice if the US got along with Russia?”

All of the above, I could dismiss as ignorance or naivete from a man who has no business running foreign policy.  But what troubles me is this:

On Monday, portions of the latest Wikileaks discharge were published by the Russian news service Sputnik, including what seemed to be a particularly damning sequence in an email from long-time adviser Sidney Blumenthal.

The email was amazing—it linked Boogie Man Blumenthal, Podesta and the topic of conservative political fevered dreams, Benghazi. This, it seemed, was the smoking gun finally proving Clinton bore total responsibility for the terrorist attack on the American outpost in Libya in 2012.

Here’s how that email was reported in Sputnik.

In an email titled "The Truth" from Hillary's top confidante Sidney Blumenthal, the adviser writing to undisclosed recipients said that "one important point that has been universally acknowledged by nine previous reports about Benghazi: The attack was almost certainly preventable" in what may turn out to be the big October surprise from the WikiLeaks released of emails hacked from the account of Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta.

And by evening, what had started the day with Russian intelligence had gone from them, to Wikileaks, to Sputnik, to Donald Trump.

At a rally in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, Trump spoke while holding a document in his hand. He told the assembled crowd that it was an email from Blumenthal, whom he called “sleazy Sidney.”

The whole thing was a lie, composed by carefully clipping the email to find the damning phrase. But Donald Trump did his job. He spread the message from Russian intelligence to his followers, where it can fester and do the most damage to America.

And this:

ON FRIDAY, while much of the country was preoccupied with the latest revelations about Donald Trump, the U.S. intelligence community made an alarming and unprecedented announcement: Russia was seeking “to interfere with the U.S. election process” through the hacking of political organizations and individuals, including the Democratic National Committee. The statement rightly alarmed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who said in Sunday night’s debate that “we have never in the history of our country been in a situation where an adversary, a foreign power, is working so hard to influence the outcome of the election.”

And Mr. Trump? Once again, the GOP nominee played the part of Vladi­mir Putin’s lawyer. “She doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking,” he said of Ms. Clinton. “Maybe there is no hacking.” Mr. Trump is receiving classified intelligence briefings, so he is certainly aware of the evidence that hackers backed by Moscow have stolen email and other records from the DNC and tried to penetrate state electoral systems. So why does he deny it? Mr. Trump’s advocacy on behalf of an aggressive U.S. rival, and the opaqueness of his motivation, is one of the most troubling aspects of his thoroughly toxic campaign.

And this:

Is Trump a “willful idiot” (in Lenin’s words) of Putin?  If so, this adds another level of danger to a Trump presidency.


High Level CIA Guy Endorses Clinton In Devastating NYT Op-Ed

Michael J. Morell, long-time CIA professional who was acting director and deputy director of the agency from 2010 to 2013, wrote a NYT op-ed endorsing Clinton. He has served under 3 Republican and 3 Democratic administrations and has voted for both parties. He praises Clinton….

I never saw her bring politics into the Situation Room. In fact, I saw the opposite. When some wanted to delay the Bin Laden raid by one day because the White House Correspondents Dinner might be disrupted, she said, “Screw the White House Correspondents Dinner.”

…. and then really sticks it to Trump:

In sharp contrast to Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Trump has no experience on national security. Even more important, the character traits he has exhibited during the primary season suggest he would be a poor, even dangerous, commander in chief.

These traits include his obvious need for self-aggrandizement, his overreaction to perceived slights, his tendency to make decisions based on intuition, his refusal to change his views based on new information, his routine carelessness with the facts, his unwillingness to listen to others and his lack of respect for the rule of law.

The dangers that flow from Mr. Trump’s character are not just risks that would emerge if he became president. It is already damaging our national security.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was a career intelligence officer, trained to identify vulnerabilities in an individual and to exploit them. That is exactly what he did early in the primaries. Mr. Putin played upon Mr. Trump’s vulnerabilities by complimenting him. He responded just as Mr. Putin had calculated.

Mr. Putin is a great leader, Mr. Trump says, ignoring that he has killed and jailed journalists and political opponents, has invaded two of his neighbors and is driving his economy to ruin. Mr. Trump has also taken policy positions consistent with Russian, not American, interests — endorsing Russian espionage against the United States, supporting Russia’s annexation of Crimea and giving a green light to a possible Russian invasion of the Baltic States.

In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.

Calling Trump an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation isn’t hyperbole.

Clinton is seizing on this:

Trump Tries To Bluff His Way Through Foreign Policy

In an interview on ABC’s “This Week” that aired Sunday, Trump asserted that Russian President Vladimir Putin was not going to invade Ukraine, where pro-Russian rebels — and some Russian special forces — have been operating for several years despite Putin’s reluctance to acknowledge any role.

“He’s not going into Ukraine, just so you understand. He’s not going to go to Ukraine,” Trump said.

“Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?” Stephanopoulos replied.

Trump responded by simultaneously criticizing the US’s decision not to intervene to stop the annexation of Crimea, a former Ukrainian territory seized by Russia in 2014, and noting that many citizens of Crimea were allegedly supportive of Russia’s decision to invade.

“Well, he’s there in a certain way, but I’m not there. You have Obama there,” Trump said. “And frankly that part of the world is mess, under Obama. With all the strength that you’re talking about, and with all the power of NATO, and all of this, in the mean time, [Putin] takes Crimea.”

He added: “You know the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were, and you have to look at that also.”

Earlier in the interview, the real-estate magnate shrugged off his campaign’s influence in removing a provision of the Republican Party platform that would’ve advocated providing arms to Ukraine to defend itself from Russian aggression.

“I was not involved in that. I’d have to take a look at it, but I was not involved in that,” Trump said of the decision to alter the platform.

Trump tries to clarify things this morning, but still didn’t get it.

The United States considers Crimea to be a region of the Ukraine.  It’s not a separate thing!

Nnnnnoo. That’s not what you said. It’s on video.

Of course, the bigger news of all this may not be Trump’s ignorance about Ukraine/Crimea, but the odd fact the somebody in the Trump campaign caused the GOP to change its party platform with respect to Russia/Ukraine.  Trump denies it; his campaign manager Paul Manfort denies it.  But GOP delegates insist it was the Trump campaign.  And Manafort’s connections to the Ukraine are, as they say, yuge.

The Case For Trump’s Kremlin Connection

Yeah. It sounds like something out of a movie.  Very Manchurian Candidate-ish.  But over at Kos, they’ve compiled the facts:

[W]ith apparently clear evidence that Russia hacked the DNC and released information designed to harm the Clinton campaign, there’s a question that has to be asked: Why? 

Why would Russia hack into the emails of one American political party and push out selected information on the brink of that party’s convention? Just why would Russia want to harm the chances of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton?

Increasingly, the answer seems clear: Because the Kremlin wants Trump.

The theory that Moscow orchestrated the leaks to help Trump—who has repeatedly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and practically called for the end of NATO—is fast gaining currency within the Obama administration because of the timing of the leaks and Trump’s own connections to the Russian government, the sources said on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing and developing quickly.

The connections between Trump and Putin go beyond a mutual admiration society and dip deeply into Trump’s hidden finances. And it certainly looks like the Russians are getting a good return on their Trump investment.

Trump deliberately rewrote sections of the Republican Party platform to make the Republican position on the Ukraine more Russia-friendly.

… the Trump campaign, which generally took no interest in the Republican Party’s official platform, took special care to add language about U.S. policy towards Ukraine – a new position that contradicts GOP foreign-policy orthodoxy – that brings the platform in line with the policies of the Russian government. 

Trump has repeatedly attacked the NATO alliance, hinting that he would refuse to come to the aid of states he found less than worthy.

… asked about Russia’s threatening activities that have unnerved the small Baltic States that are among the more recent entrants into NATO, Mr. Trump said that if Russia attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing whether those nations “have fulfilled their obligations to us.”

Trump has frequently made statements about Putin, going beyond even the bizarre levels of Republican admiration for an anti-democratic dictator and into defending Putin for invading other countries and murdering journalists.

SCARBOROUGH: … and invades countries, obviously that would be a concern, would it not?

TRUMP: He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country.

SCARBOROUGH: But, again: He kills journalists that don’t agree with him.

TRUMP: Well, I think that our country does plenty of killing, too, Joe.

Meanwhile, Putin also had good things to say about Trump.

Officials also noted Trump’s own connections to the Russian government. Putin has publicly praised the nominee, who said he was “honored” by the compliment. 

On the Ukraine issue, the connection between Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin is very clear.

Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was a consultant for Viktor Yanukovych, the former president of Ukraine who was ousted for his pro-Moscow orientation (and now lives in Russia). 

The financial links between Trump and Moscow are more than just a beauty pageant.

1. All the other discussions of Trump’s finances aside, his debt load has grown dramatically over the last year, from $350 million to $630 million. This is in just one year while his liquid assets have also decreased. Trump has been blackballed by all major US banks.

2. Post-bankruptcy Trump has been highly reliant on money from Russia, most of which has over the years become increasingly concentrated among oligarchs and sub-garchs close to Vladimir Putin. 

Trump is in deep to Russian oligarchs under the thumb of Putin. How deep? We don’t know. Because Trump won’t release his financial information.

Meanwhile, while speaking to the Russian press service, Tass, Putin’s spokesman cited Donald Trump Jr.

“They (democrats) spoke about hackers (who allegedly have ties to Russia),” Peskov said. “Mr. Trump Jr. has already strongly responded to them denying all this.”

At the very least, Trump and Putin have demonstrated a twisted relationship based around a mutual disdain for human rights, free speech, and international law. At the same time, Russian forces are already directly intervening in an American election in an attempt to alter the outcome. That’s perhaps the most extraordinary and disturbing aspect of an election season already marked by deep threats to the continuation of democracy. Pile on top of that Trump’s financial dependence on Russian oligarchs to prop up his crumbling empire.

Vladimir Putin is clearly in Donald Trump’s corner and working for his election. Donald Trump is clearly an admirer of Putin … and quite possibly more than just an admirer.

The Daily Beast is reporting:

The FBI suspects that Russian government hackers breached the networks of the Democratic National Committee and stole emails that were posted to the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks on Friday. It’s an operation that several U.S. officials now suspect was a deliberate attempt to influence the presidential election in favor of Donald Trump, according to five individuals familiar with the investigation of the breach.