September 21, 2018

Trump Downplays Russia Election Meddling in Press Conference With Putin

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

President Trump held a press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, after the two met face-to-face. During the press conference, Trump expressed warmth toward Putin and downplayed Russia’s meddling of the 2016 election.

Trump said that relations between the United States and Russia were at an all-time low because “we’ve all been foolish,” stating that both the United States and Russia were at fault. He proceeded to attack Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and, collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, calling the probe a “disaster.”

Trump went on to suggest that Russia did not interfere in the election at all.

“My people came to me; [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia,” Trump said. “I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

Trump added that Putin made him “an incredible offer” to work with the investigators on the Mueller probe into the 12 Russian nationals that were indicted by the Department of Justice on July 13 over U.S. election hacking.

Coats issued a statement responding to Trump’s assertion that Russia didn’t interfere into the 2016 election.

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

Trump has been criticized by members of both political parties over his Russian meddling comments.

“Coming close on the heels of President Trump’s bombastic and erratic conduct towards our closest friends and allies in Brussels and Britain, today’s press conference marks a recent low point in the history of the American Presidency,” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said in a statement. “That the president was attended in Helsinki by a team of competent and patriotic advisors makes his blunders and capitulations all the more painful and inexplicable.”

Mueller Indicts Former Trump Campaign Manager Over Alleged Financial Crimes

FILE PHOTO - Paul Manafort, former campaign chairman for U.S. President Donald Trump, departs after a bond hearing as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing Russia investigation, at U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

Special Counsel Robert Mueller handed down a new indictment against President Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates on multiple counts of tax and bank fraud.

The indictment alleges that from 2006-2015, Manafort and Gates avoided paying taxes on the money they earned from working on behalf of the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian political parties by concealing it as “loans”; the money was then used to refinance their mortgages, among other uses.

Additionally, the indictment claims that the pair funneled over $75 million from offshore bank accounts to directly purchase various goods without paying taxes on that money. Manafort and Gates also allegedly defrauded banks out of over $20 million in loans by overstating Manafort’s income and concealing debts they owed.

The indictment levies a total of 32 charges against Manafort and Gates; the initial indictments from October consisted of 12 charges.

Manafort is pleading not guilty. On Feb. 18, it was reported that Gates will eventually plead guilty and testify against Manafort.

The significance of all this is that the batch of charges could coerce Manafort into a plea deal where he testifies against members of the Trump campaign on any possible Russian collusion. The indictment itself does not mention anything related to any possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, which is what Mueller was appointed to investigate.

The full indictment can be read here.

Flynn Pleads Guilty to Lying to FBI About Discussions With Russian Ambassador

Former U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn departs after a plea hearing at U.S. District Court, in Washington, U.S., December 1, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Retired Lt. General Mike Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, is pleading guilty to lying to the FBI and is willing to testify against Trump in the Russia investigation.

Flynn faced charges of lying to the FBI that he didn’t tell Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak to vote against a United Nations resolution in December declaring all Israeli settlements in Jerusalem to be illegal. He also faced charges of lying about telling Kislyak to hold off any retaliation against sanctions and that he didn’t remember Kislyak telling him that Russia would indeed “moderate its response.”

Flynn refused to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller at first due to his loyalty to Trump, but eventually acquiesced due to increasing legal bills and the feeling that Trump was leaving him out to dry.

The former national security adviser issued a statement that read, “It has been extraordinarily painful to endure these many months of false accusations of ‘treason’ and other outrageous acts. Such false accusations are contrary to everything I have ever done and stood for. But I recognize that the actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong, and, through my faith in God, I am working to set things right.”

The charges Flynn plead guilty to have a maximum sentence of five years in prison, however given Flynn’s cooperation with Mueller it’s unlikely that he’ll receive significant jail time.

Flynn is expected to testify that Trump told him to talk to the Russians about cooperation between the two countries on Syria and ISIS. It is also being reported that Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, was the one who ordered Flynn to contact every foreign representative and lobby against the anti-Israel U.N. resolution.

Ty Cobb, Trump’s lawyer, claimed that Flynn’s plea is of no significance.

“Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn,” said Cobb. “The conclusion of this phase of the Special Counsel’s work demonstrates again that the Special Counsel is moving with all deliberate speed and clears the way for a prompt and reasonable conclusion.”

However, the White House was reportedly “caught off guard” at the news of Flynn’s guilty plea.

“What they’re freaked out about is that there are no leaks,” a source told Politico. “[George] Papadopoulos didn’t leak. Flynn didn’t leak. They feel like they can’t trust anyone. Their own counsel didn’t know.”

Robert Mueller indicts three former Trump campaign staffers as part of Russia investigation

FILE PHOTO: FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Federal Bureau of Investigation oversight on Capitol Hill in Washington June 13, 2013. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

Robert Mueller, the independent special counsel in the investigation on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, has handed down indictments to three former staffers in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

The three men who have been indicted are Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his former business associate Rick Gates as well former foreign policy campaign adviser George Papadopoulos. Manafort and Gates are facing charges of money laundering from a Ukrainian political party that has ties to the Russian government as well as failure to report that they were foreign agents. Both have currently been placed on home confinement; they are both pleading not guilty.

Kevin Downing, Manafort’s attorney, issued the following statement:

Papadopoulos plead guilty for lying to the FBI about his correspondences with the Russians. Emails show that Papadopoulos was in contact with the Russians about possibly securing a meeting with Trump to receive some opposition research on Hillary Clinton; the indictment alleges that Papadopoulos lied about those correspondences.

Papadopoulos’ attorneys issued a statement that they wouldn’t comment on the matter until the case reaches court:

Trump tweeted that the indictments didn’t reveal any evidence of collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia:

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders downplayed the indictments.

“Today’s announcement has nothing to do with the President, has nothing to do with the President’s campaign or campaign activity,” said Sanders. “The real collusion scandal, as we have said several times before, has everything to do with the Clinton campaign, Fusion GPS, and Russia.”

The White House has also stated that they expect Mueller’s investigation to wrap up soon.

WSJ: Mueller Should Step Down from Russia Investigation

Screenshot from YouTube.

The Wall Street Journal editorial page has called on former FBI director Robert Mueller to step down from his role as special counsel in the Russia investigation.

The editorial recapped the news that broke earlier in the week that Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) paid Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm, to unearth information against then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. The firm produced a dossier comprising allegations against the president, including the claim that the Russians were blackmailing Trump with videos of him with Russian prostitutes. The editorial noted that the dossier was “based on largely anonymous, Kremlin-based sources.”

The editorial then pivoted to the FBI, pointing out that they were paying Christopher Steele, the former British spy who authored the dossier, “to continue his work in the run-up to the election.”

“Did the dossier trigger the FBI probe of the Trump campaign, and did Mr. Comey or his agents use it as evidence to seek wiretapping approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Trump campaign aides?” the editors asked.

The FBI’s role in regards to Fusion GPS and the Russian investigation needs to be investigated, which is why the Journal’s editors believe Mueller should step aside.

“Mr. Mueller is a former FBI director, and for years he worked closely with Mr. Comey,” the editors wrote. “It is no slur against Mr. Mueller’s integrity to say that he lacks the critical distance to conduct a credible probe of the bureau he ran for a dozen years. He could best serve the country by resigning to prevent further political turmoil over that conflict of interest.”

Mueller was appointed as an independent special counsel to oversee the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Others who have called on Mueller to step aside include New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ).

The Russia probe: Let’s wait and see

Special Counsel Robert Mueller (R) departs after briefing members of the U.S. Senate on his investigation into potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign on Capitol Hill. June 21, 2017. Photo by Joshua Roberts/REUTERS.

There hasn’t been this much talk about Russia in the United States since the fall of the Soviet Union. From May 17 to June 20, ABC, CBS and NBC spent 353 minutes of airtime talking about federal probes into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, according to the Media Research Center. CNN has spent an inordinate amount of time on coverage of the Russia investigation. The mainstream media seemingly break a piece a day based on leaks regarding the investigation. An ABC News/Washington Post poll from July found that 64 percent of Democrats believed that the Russians had attempted to influence the election, and that the Trump campaign had worked with the Russians to do so.

Meanwhile, President Trump travels the land calling the investigation a fraud, fulminating at special counsel Robert Mueller, and nagging his own attorney general for a perceived failure to protect him; Fox News hosts like Sean Hannity spend time nightly talking about the supposed “coup” against Trump in the press; and just 9 percent of Republicans polled say they believe the Trump campaign worked with the Russians to disrupt the election.

So, what’s driving the divide between left and right on the Russia investigation? After all, the evidence is mixed. There’s certainly evidence of an attempt to collude to impact the election from Donald Trump Jr. Last month, Trump Jr. released an email chain with publicist Rob Goldstone in which Goldstone proposed to set up a meeting with a “Russian government attorney” who would “provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia” as part of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Trump Jr. responded, “If it’s what you say, I love it.” He then dragged in campaign manager Paul Manafort and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.

But an attempt to collude is not in and of itself evidence of collusion. No actual information apparently changed hands. And there’s no evidence of any follow-up. There’s also no evidence of coordination in weaponization of material acquired by Wikileaks, which has ties to Russia, from the Democratic National Committee. In fact, watching the campaign, it appeared that Wikileaks would simply dump large amounts of material and then members of the internet community would sift through it for damaging information — there didn’t seem to be any quick-response unit in the Trump campaign beating everyone else to the punch.

Furthermore, even collusion among members of the Trump campaign and the Russian government wouldn’t necessarily implicate Trump himself. Members of the Trump campaign could have been involved in bad action without telling Trump — and in fact, that’s highly likely given Trump’s penchant for uncontrollable outbursts on the national stage. If you were going to rig a complex conspiracy with the help of the Russians, would you tell the guy with the biggest mouth in the history of politics?

It’s also true that the Russian government apparently forged connections with Fusion GPS, a Democrat-linked opposition research group that came up with the infamous Trump dossier later exposed by BuzzFeed. According to Bill Browder, a financier targeted by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime, the Russian-connected lawyer who met with Trump Jr., Natalia Veselnitskaya, “hired Glenn Simpson of the firm Fusion GPS.” As Lee Smith wrote at Tablet, “Add Fusion GPS’s contracts with Russian and Russian-linked entities together with the company’s role in compiling and distributing a defamatory dossier sourced to the Kremlin, and the idea that the Trump Dossier was a Kremlin information operation becomes quite plausible.”

This scenario wouldn’t be particularly surprising.  While the CIA, NSA, FBI and the Director of National Intelligence universally agree that the Russian government attempted to meddle in the election, they differ regarding Russia’s intent: Some members of the intelligence community think Russia wanted Trump to win or simply wanted to cast doubt on election transparency.

So, here’s the story boiled down: Russia wanted to meddle in the election; it’s unclear if it wanted Trump to win, or simply to screw with Americans more generally.

So, here’s the story boiled down: Russia wanted to meddle in the election; it’s unclear if it wanted Trump to win, or simply to screw with Americans more generally; there’s evidence of willingness to collude but no hard evidence of collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.

But those reasonable conclusions are now being ignored by both sides. Democrats have been shrieking for months that the election was stolen. In return, Trump has seized on that wild overstatement, fixated on it, and produced his own overstatement: “The Russia story is a total fabrication. It’s just an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics. It just makes them feel better when they have nothing else to talk about.” That overstatement reinforces Democratic determination to write off the Trump win as an act of thievery – he knows he cheated and now he’s lying about it!  Which, of course, prompts Republican voters to respond by stating that Democrats are exaggerating their claims, and that the current investigation is a politically motivated witch hunt.

This leads to a radical impasse: No matter what the evidence, many Democrats will now suggest that Trump must be impeached; no matter what the evidence, many Republicans will now suggest that he must not be, and that the investigation should actively be killed. No matter what happens from here, it won’t be good.

The only solution: Let’s wait for the facts to come out. Let’s make a call once we know them. Until then, let’s let President Trump do his job. 

BEN SHAPIRO is editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire, host of the most listened-to conservative podcast in the nation, “The Ben Shapiro Show,” and author of The New York Times best-seller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear Silences Americans.”