Lazy Saturday Reads: “Puppet Meets Puppet Master.”

C

Good Morning!!

Look at the photo above with Trump standing next to Putin at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam. That is the closest thing to a genuine smile I have ever seen on Trump’s ugly face.

Trump is literally enraptured by the murderous dictator of Russia. And today Trump made it clear that he believes Putin’s denials a interfering in the 2016 election over the unanimous conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies.

Axios: Trump sides with Putin over intelligence agencies on Russian meddling.

President Trump told reporters on Air Force One that he believes Vladimir Putin’s denials about election meddling, and doesn’t want to press further because he thinks the U.S. and Russia can work together on issues that include North Korea, Syria and Ukraine. But the Kremlin reportedly said they did not discuss this issue during their brief conversation.

Axios provides the full transcript:

Reporter: Did Russia’s attempts to meddle in US elections come up in the conversations?

Trump: “He said he didn’t meddle, he said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times.”

Reporter: Today?

Trump: “I just asked him again. He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election, he did not do what they are saying he did.”

Reporter: Do you believe him?

Trump: “Well, look, I can’t stand there and argue with him, I would rather have him get out of Syria, I would rather get to work with him on the Ukraine rather than arguing about whether or not… that whole thing was set up by the Democrats. Look at Podesta, look at all the things that they have done with the phony dossier. Those are the big events. But Putin said he did not do what they said he did. But we have a good feeling toward getting things done. If we had a relationship with Russia, that would be a good thing. In fact it would be a great thing, not a bad thing, because he could really help us on North Korea. We have a big problem with North Korea and China is helping us. And because of the lack of the relationship that we have with Russia, because of this artificial thing that’s happening with this Democratic-inspired thing. We could really be helped a lot with Russia having to do with North Korea. You know you are talking about millions and millions of lives. This isn’t baby stuff, this is the real deal. And if Russia helped us in addition to China, that problem would go away a lot faster.”

Reporter: On election meddling, did you ask him the question?

Trump: “Every time he sees me he says I didn’t do that and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it. But he says I didn’t do that. I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country. Because again, if we had a relationship with Russia, North Korea which is our single biggest problem right now, it would help a lot. I think they are doing very well with respect to China, they have cut off financing, they have cut off lots of oil and lots of other things, lots of trade and it’s having a big impact. But Russia on the other hand may be making up the difference. And if they are, that’s not a good thing. So having a relationship with Russia would be a great thing especially as it relates to North Korea.”

“Hillary had her stupid reset button that she spelled the word wrong, but she does not have what it takes to have that kind of relationship where you could call or you could do something. But this is really an artificial barrier that’s put in front of us for solving problems with Russia. He says that very strongly, he really seems to be insulted by it and he says he didn’t do it. He is very, very strong in the fact that he didn’t do it. You have President Putin very strongly, vehemently says he has nothing to do with that. Now, you are not going to get into an argument, you are going to start talking about Syria and the Ukraine.”

Trump is a traitor to our country. There is just no way to deny it at this point.

More from Politico:

Trump dismissed the meddling allegations as driven by Democrats, warning that the heavy focus on the issue threatens the United States’ ability to partner with Russia on key issues. He asserted that the allegations could fray the U.S.-Russia relationship so badly that the country could be less willing to cooperate on North Korea, Syria and other international crises — an outcome that would put lives at risk.

“This artificial Democratic hit job gets in the way and that’s a shame because people will die because of it,” he said. “And it’s a pure hit job.”

“Everybody knows there was no collusion,” he continued. “I think it’s a shame that something like this can destroy a very important potential relationship between two countries that are very important countries Russia could really help us.”

(Emphasis added.)

From the NYT, Here’s  a full transcript of all of Trump’s remarks on Air Force One between Danang and Hanoi. It’s just unbelievable.

From Twitter:

 

Meanwhile, back in the USA, there is plenty of news on the Russia investigation front.

The New York Times: A London Meeting of an Unlikely Group: How a Trump Adviser Came to Learn of Clinton ‘Dirt.’

At midday on March 24, 2016, an improbable group gathered in a London cafe to discuss setting up a meeting between Donald J. Trump, then a candidate, and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

There was George Papadopoulos, a 28-year-old from Chicago with an inflated résumé who just days earlier had been publicly named as a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Trump’s campaign. There was Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese academic in his mid-50s with a faltering career who boasted of having high-level contacts in the Russian government.

And, perhaps most mysteriously, there was Olga Polonskaya, a 30-year-old Russian from St. Petersburg and the former manager of a wine distribution company. Mr. Mifsud introduced her to Mr. Papadopoulos as Mr. Putin’s niece, according to court papers. Mr. Putin has no niece.

The interactions between the three players and a fourth man with contacts inside Russia’s Foreign Ministry have become a central part of the inquiry by the special prosecutor, Robert S. Mueller III, into the Kremlin’s efforts to interfere with the presidential election. Recently released court documents suggest that the F.B.I. suspected that some of the people who showed interest in Mr. Papadopoulos were participants in a Russian intelligence operation.

The March 2016 meeting was followed by a breakfast the next month at a London hotel during which Mr. Mifsud revealed to Mr. Papadopoulos that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.” That was months before the theft of a trove of emails from the Democratic National Committee by Russian-sponsored hackers became public.

Please go read the whole thing. And there is further evidence that George Papadopoulos was not just a “low level” “coffee boy” in the Trump campaign (summarized from the NYT story quoted above).

George Papadopoulos

The Hill: Papadopoulos was in regular contact with Stephen Miller, helped edit Trump speech: report.

The campaign aide who suggested that President Trump journey to Russia to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the campaign was in regular contact with now-White House aide Stephen Miller, The New York Times reported Friday.

George Papadopoulos was in regular contact with Miller during the spring of 2016, a period during which Papadopoulos also helped edit a major foreign policy speech Trump delivered, according to the Times.

The speech in question was the one at the Mayflower Hotel, the one attended by Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and at which Kislyak and Jeff Sessions discussed “campaign-related matters.” On July 21, 2017, The Washington Post reported:

Russia’s ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general, according to current and former U.S. officials.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s accounts of two conversations with Sessions — then a top foreign policy adviser to Republican candidate Donald Trump — were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies, which monitor the communications of senior Russian officials in the United States and in Russia. Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak and then said that the meetings were not about the Trump campaign.

One U.S. official said that Sessions — who testified that he had no recollection of an April encounter — has provided “misleading” statements that are “contradicted by other evidence.” A former official said that the intelligence indicates that Sessions and Kislyak had “substantive” discussions on matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for U.S.-Russia relations in a Trump administration.

Sam Clovis with Trump

New this morning from Reuters: Investigators probe Trump knowledge of campaign’s Russia dealings: sources.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has questioned Sam Clovis, co-chairman of President Donald Trump’s election campaign, to determine if Trump or top aides knew of the extent of the campaign team’s contacts with Russia, two sources familiar with the investigation said on Friday.

The focus of the questions put to Clovis by Mueller’s team has not been previously reported.

“The ultimate question Mueller is after is whether candidate Trump and then President-elect Trump knew of the discussions going on with Russia, and who approved or even directed them,” said one source. “That is still just a question.” [….]

One of the sources described Clovis as “another domino” after former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI over his own contacts with Russians during the 2016 election campaign.“

The investigators now know what Papadopoulos was doing on the Russian front, which he initially tried to conceal, and who he told that to,” said the other source. “Now [they] want to know whether Clovis and others reported these activities and others related to Russia, and if so, to whom,” this source said.

Read the rest at Reuters.

One more before I wrap this up:

Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine: Cambridge Analytica Denies Working With Russia, Unconvincingly.

Alexander Nix

There are several channels through which Donald Trump’s campaign apparently cooperated with Russian efforts to help him win the presidency. The first, and best known, is a Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 to pursue Russian promises of providing dirt on Hillary Clinton. A second is Roger Stone, a frequent Trump adviser who had clear advance notice of the publication of stolen emails. A third is Trump himself openly asking Russia to obtain Clinton’s State Department emails. The final channel is the efforts by Cambridge Analytica, the campaign’s data firm. This channel is less well known to the public, in part because reporting about it has been dominated by The Wall Street Journal, and its stories hidden behind a paywall. But Cambridge Analytica’s role has come into much clearer focus.

Two weeks ago, the Journal reported that Alexander Nix, the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, reached out to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to help him better organize the stolen Democratic emails his site was publishing. On Friday, the Journal found that this contact came as Cambridge Analytica was joining the Trump campaign.

Nix denies the allegation: “We did not work with Russia in this election, and moreover we would never work with a third-party state actor in another country’s campaign.” But Nix also denies Russia had anything to do with the campaign at all. (“On Thursday, Mr. Nix called the notion that Russians “significantly interfered” in the U.S. election “frankly absurd,” the Journalnotes.) That second denial, which is silly, saps the other denials of some of their credibility.

Please go read the rest. It’s not long.

Now what stories are you following today?

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Friday Reads

Good Morning!!

I finally got around to reading Donna Brazile’s nutty screed at Politico, and I still have no idea what she’s going on about. Basically, she says that Obama bankrupted the DNC and Clinton bailed it out. The Clinton campaign signed an agreement to raise money for the DNC and in return the DNC would have to live within its budget.

Hillary also raised millions for down-ballot Democrats, but the money couldn’t be released to the states until Bernie admitted he’d lost, and he refused to do so until the bitter end. We know that Bernie raised zero money for the DNC, so I don’t get what the accusation is. Hillary tried to rescue the party, and now they are busily working on self-destructing again.

Here’s what Elizabeth Warren had to say about this yesterday:

“This is a real problem,” Warren said. “But what we’ve got to do as Democrats now, is we’ve got to hold this party accountable.”

Warren said the moment is a test of DNC Chair Tom Perez’s leadership.

“And either he’s going to succeed by bringing Bernie Sanders and Bernie Sanders representatives into this process and they’re going to say, ‘It’s fair, it works, we all believe it.’ Or, he’s going to fail, and I very much hope he succeeds,” Warren said. “I hope for Democrats everywhere, I hope for Bernie and for all of Bernie’s supporters that he’s going to succeed.”

As far as I can tell Bernie Sanders supporters are already controlling the direction of the party with their constant whining and caterwauling. But since Bernie refuses to join the party or raise money for it, I fail to see how handing him control of the DNC will lead to success in 2018–particularly since Bernie is determined to ignore women and people of color and focus on winning Trump-supporting white men.

But what do I know? I only know this: I’m done with the DNC and I still don’t regret changing my registration to unenrolled after 2008.

Unfortunately, Brazile and Warren have handed a huge gift to Trump and his gang; and he is reveling in it. His tweets are crazier than ever this morning.

Apparently Trump is focused on the Mueller inquiry in and prosecuting his political enemies rather than on his upcoming foreign trip. Because everything is always and only about him. Check this out:

ShareBlue: Donald Trump to Fox News: “The one that matters is me. I’m the only one that matters.”

In what barely passes for an interview — with almost no questions, but plenty of praise — Donald Trump told new Fox News host Laura Ingraham why he hasn’t bothered to fill a number of empty positions at the State Department….

INGRAHAM: Your state department still has some unfilled positions. Are you worried that the state department doesn’t have enough Donald Trump nominees in there to push your vision through? Because other state departments, including Reagan’s at times, undermined agendas. There is a concern that the State Department is currently undermining your agenda.

TRUMP: So we don’t need all the people that they want. You know, don’t forget, I’m a business person and I tell my people, when you don’t need to fill slots, don’t fill them. But we have some people that I’m not happy with there.

INGRAHAM: But assistant secretary of state – you’re not getting rid of that position.

TRUMP: Let me tell you — the one that matters is me. I am the only one that matters. Because when it comes to it, that’s what the policy will be. You have seen that strongly. We are filling up.

Remember how Trump and Huckabee Sanders claimed that George Papadopoulos was just a “low level volunteer” who only attended one meeting during the campaign? Scott Dworkin has been hunting down the truth and posting photos of Papadopoulos’ campaign activities:

Papadopoulos was pretty busy for a low-level volunteer coffee boy; and as a result of the focus on his campaign activities, Jeff Sessions is now in trouble. CNN: Sessions under renewed scrutiny on Capitol Hill.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is once again under scrutiny on Capitol Hill regarding his candor about Russia and the Trump campaign amid revelations that he rejected a suggestion to convene a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump last year.

According to court filings unsealed this week, Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos suggested at a March 2016 meeting that he could use his connections to set up a meeting between Putin and Trump with the then-GOP candidate’s national security team. An Instagram picture on Trump’s account shows Sessions attended the meeting at which Papadopoulos made the suggestion.

I posted that photo at the top of my Tuesday post. Here it is again.

Back to the CNN article:

After Trump declined to rule out the idea, Sessions weighed in and rejected the proposed meeting, according to a person who attended.

But Sessions, who was a top surrogate for Trump during the campaign, did not disclose these discussions despite a persistent set of questions from Democrats and some Republicans about Russia during multiple hearings on Capitol Hill. The new information is renewing attention to how forthcoming Sessions has been with Congress.

There is interest from Democrats on both the Senate intelligence and judiciary committees for Sessions to formally clarify his remarks made before both committees given what’s now known about his interactions with Papadopoulos, a Senate aide told CNN. The source said the request for clarification could take several forms, such as having Sessions testify again or submitting a clarification in writing, but that has not yet been determined.

Lock him up!

This from The New York Times is even more damning: Trump and Sessions Denied Knowing About Russian Contacts. Records Suggest Otherwise.

At a March 31, 2016, meeting between Mr. Trump and his foreign policy team, Mr. Papadopoulos introduced himself and said “that he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin,” according to court records.

“He went into the pitch right away,” said J. D. Gordon, a campaign adviser who attended the meeting. “He said he had a friend in London, the Russian ambassador, who could help set up a meeting with Putin.”

Mr. Trump listened with interest. Mr. Sessions vehemently opposed the idea, Mr. Gordon recalled. “And he said that no one should talk about it,” because Mr. Sessions thought it was a bad idea that he did not want associated with the campaign, he said.

In other words, because it might leak out.

Lock him up!

Sam Clovis with Trump during campaign.

Is it possible that George Papadopoulos’s supervisor on the Trump campaign, Sam Clovis, could also be cooperating with Special Counsel Mueller? Why else would he have failed to tell the administration he had been questioned?

ABC News: White House was unaware top adviser testified before grand jury.

The White House first learned one of its senior staffers met with the grand jury hearing the case presented by the special counsel into alleged Russian meddling into the 2016 election not from the staffer but from media reports, sources with knowledge of the investigation tell ABC News.

Former Trump campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis recently testified before that grand jury into his role on President Donald Trump’s campaign. Clovis currently serves as the senior White House adviser to the Department of Agriculture.

Clovis’ testimony comes on the heels of another Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, pleading guilty to lying to federal authorities. As part of Papadopoulos’ admission of guilt, details of emails were disclosed that showed him describing to top Trump campaign officials communications he had with contacts in Russia.

The correspondence between Papadopoulos and a group of foreign nationals detail that within weeks of being described by Trump as an important part of his national security team, Papadopoulos was in London meeting with people who said they could deliver “dirt” on rival candidate Hillary Clinton, including “thousands of emails.”

The emails indicate multiple top level campaign officials that Papadopoulos communicated with including one listed as a “campaign supervisor”.

Sources familiar with the emails tell ABC News the “campaign supervisor” was Sam Clovis.

Clovis appeared to encourage Papadopoulos to engage with Russian contacts; in one instance Clovis responded directly to Papadopoulos, hailing him for his “great work” and saying “I would encourage you” to “make the trip, if it is feasible”, referring to a trip the young campaign adviser pitched to go abroad.

Since it’s Friday, there could be new breaking stories coming. I’m hoping for another indictment.

I’ll end with this: Allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault by powerful men are still coming thick and fast. Here are the latest, links only:

Vulture: Man Comes Forward to Describe an Alleged Extended Sexual Relationship He Had at Age 14 With Kevin Spacey.

Radar: Kevin Spacey Accused Of Groping Filmmaker In Bar: ‘He Grabbed My Whole Package.’

People: Kevin Spacey Accused of Sexual Misconduct by Eight House of Cards Employees: Report.

Hollywood Reporter: Dustin Hoffman Sexually Harassed Me When I Was 17 (Guest Column).

Slate: Meryl Streep Once Said Dustin Hoffman GropedHer Breast the First Time They Met.

Variety: ‘Genius’ Producer Accuses Dustin Hoffman of Sexually Harassing Her in 1991 (EXCLUSIVE).

Politico: David Corn investigated for inappropriate workplace behavior.

AP: Female lawmakers allege harassment by colleagues in House.

In my state: On Beacon Hill, Female Reps Press Action In Wake Of Sexual Harassment Report. (NPR)

What else is happening? What stories are you following today?