The attorney-general’s amnesia

The Economist magazine writes “Millions of Americans who watched or listened to Mr Sessions’s testimony, which was broadcast live on National Public Radio and all major cable-news channels, heard his version of the truth. But he did not provide much enlightenment for those who followed the saga of Russia’s alleged meddling in the election in 2016 closely. In response to numerous questions, the attorney-general said that he could not remember or was unable to reply. He insisted he would not discuss his conversations with Mr Trump even though the president had not invoked his executive privilege to prevent such testimony. “Consistent with longstanding Department of Justice practice, I cannot and will not violate my duty to protect confidential communications with the president,” he said.

Mr Sessions then specifically addressed an allegation that he had met with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, at an event at the Mayflower hotel in Washington in April 2016:

I did not have any private meetings nor do I recall any conversations with any Russian officials at the Mayflower Hotel. I did not attend any meetings at that event. Prior to the speech, I attended a reception with my staff that included at least two dozen people and President Trump. Though I do recall several conversations I had during that pre-speech reception, I do not have any recollection of meeting or talking to the Russian ambassador or any other Russian officials.

The attorney-general’s denial of a meeting with the Russian envoy matters because, during his confirmation hearing, Mr Sessions had testified under oath that he did not communicate with the Russians in 2016. It later emerged that he had had at least two encounters with Mr Kislyak. This created many negative headlines, which is why many assumed that Mr Sessions swiftly recused himself from the probe into Russia’s interference in the election. But in his testimony Mr Sessions claimed that he stepped aside not because of any wrongdoing on his part, but because a regulation of the Department of Justice mandated it. The regulation, 28 CFR 45.2, notes that an employee of the Department of Justice shall not participate in a criminal investigation or prosecution if he has a personal or political relationship with an elected official.

Mr Sessions’s refusal to talk about his discussions with Mr Trump meant that he was unable to answer some of the hearing’s most salient questions. He would not say whether he ever talked with the president about the FBI’s probe of Russian interference into the election. And he told Marco Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida who ran for president last year, that he could not comment on Mr Comey’s account that Mr Trump asked everyone to leave the Oval Office after a meeting on February 14th so he could lean on the former FBI director who was then in charge of the Russia probe.

Read the complete article on The Economist web site.

Trump’s state visit to Britain put on hold

Anti-Trump protests in London in January. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

How might President Trump react to a world leader who, afraid for his image, perhaps afraid for himself, refused to fulfil a promise to visit a loyal ally. He might fire off a tweet: “RAN from critics. A gift for crooked MSM. TOTAL pathetic loser!”

But he won’t, because the loser is him. He got to hold hands with Theresa May when she visited Washington, but alas, that may be the high point of his cuddle-fest with her, and with the UK – because Trump, it now appears, is not keen on making his proposed state visit to Britain any time soon.

Donald Trump has told Theresa May in a phone call he does not want to go ahead with a state visit to Britain until the British public supports him coming.

The US president said he did not want to come if there were large-scale protests and his remarks in effect put the visit on hold for some time.

The call was made in recent weeks, according to a Downing Street adviser who was in the room. The statement surprised May, according to those present.

The conversation in part explains why there has been little public discussion about a visit.

May invited Trump to Britain seven days after his inauguration when she became the first foreign leader to visit him in the White House. She told a joint press conference she had extended an invitation from the Queen to Trump and his wife Melania to make a state visit later in the year and was “delighted that the president has accepted that invitation”.

Many senior diplomats, including Lord Ricketts, the former national security adviser, said the invitation was premature, but impossible to rescind once made.

Trump has named Woody Johnson, a Republican donor and owner of the New York Jets, as the new ambassador to the UK but has yet to nominate him formally. A large number of US ambassadorial positions remain unfilled worldwide largely due to the Trump team failing to make any formal nominations.

The acting US ambassador to the UK, Lewis Lukens, a career diplomat, clashed with Trump last week by praising Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, for his strong leadership over the London Bridge and Borough Market terror attack.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said it would not comment. “We aren’t going to comment on speculation about the contents of private phone conversations. The Queen extended an invitation to President Trump to visit the UK and there is no change to those plans.”

The White House said in statement: “The President has tremendous respect for Prime Minister May. That subject never came up on the call.”

Jenna Johnson, a Washington Post reporter tweeted to say that the White House press secretary had told her the Guardian’s report was “false” but added that the White House “won’t say when Trump plans to go to the UK”.

Later, The New York Times, citing two unnamed administration officials, reported that Trump was considering scrapping or postponing the trip. The officials stressed that he might yet “warm to the idea” but that keeping it off the schedule was the best approach.

And what do we learn from this? Once again we see what it is to deal with someone who has such high office and such thin skin. Just the notion of turbulence that might be seen around the world seems to be enough to scare him off. If he can’t bomb it or tweet against it, the cupboard of responses seems bare.

But, for the more important message, look to ourselves. It is easy to question the efficacy of protest. Millions marched against the war in Iraq, but couldn’t stop it. Millions more marched against Brexit and cuts in the NHS. There is rarely such a direct link to be drawn between public action and response from those with power, but each public protest speaks to the strength and tenor of opinion. Every one sets out a position and raises the stakes. Here the stakes became too high for a brittle, image-conscious president in Washington. What do we want? Not Trump. When do we want him? Never.

The Guardian online newspaper source for this article here and here.

Trump Grows Discontented With Attorney General Jeff Sessions

President Trump with Attorney General Jeff Sessions at an event on Capitol Hill last month. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

Few Republicans were quicker to embrace President Trump’s campaign last year than Jeff Sessions, and his reward was one of the most prestigious jobs in America. But more than four months into his presidency, Mr. Trump has grown sour on Mr. Sessions, now his attorney general, blaming him for various troubles that have plagued the White House.

The discontent was on display on Monday in a series of stark early-morning postings on Twitter in which the president faulted his own Justice Department for its defense of his travel ban on visitors from certain predominantly Muslim countries. Mr. Trump accused Mr. Sessions’s department of devising a “politically correct” version of the ban — as if the president had nothing to do with it.

In private, the president’s exasperation has been even sharper. He has intermittently fumed for months over Mr. Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election, according to people close to Mr. Trump who insisted on anonymity to describe internal conversations. In Mr. Trump’s view, they said, it was that recusal that eventually led to the appointment of a special counsel who took over the investigation.

Behind-the-scenes frustration would not be unprecedented in the Oval Office. Other presidents have become estranged from the Justice Department over time, notably President Bill Clinton, who bristled at Attorney General Janet Reno’s decisions to authorize investigations into him and his administration, among other things. But Mr. Trump’s tweets on Monday made his feelings evident for all to see and raised questions about how he is managing his own administration.

Read the complete article on The New York Times news site.

 

Russian agents hacked US voting system manufacturer before US election – report

The NSA is convinced that the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate was responsible for interfering in the 2016 presidential election. Photograph: Larry W. Smith/EPA

Russian intelligence agents hacked a US voting systems manufacturer in the weeks leading up to last year’s presidential election, according to the Intercept, citing what it said was a highly classified National Security Agency (NSA) report.

The revelation coincided with the arrest of Reality Leigh Winner, 25, a federal contractor from Augusta, Georgia, who was charged with removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet.

The hacking of senior Democrats’ email accounts during the campaign has been well chronicled, but vote-counting was thought to have been unaffected, despite concerted Russian efforts to penetrate it.

Russian military intelligence carried out a cyber-attack on at least one US voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than a hundred local election officials days before the poll, the Intercept reported on Monday.

The website, which specialises in national security issues, said the NSA document had been provided to it anonymously and independently authenticated. “The report, dated May 5, 2017, is the most detailed US government account of Russian interference in the election that has yet come to light,” it continued.

On Monday afternoon, the justice department said Winner had been arrested by the FBI at her home on Saturday and appeared in federal court in Augusta on Monday. She is a contractor with Pluribus International Corporation, assigned to a US government agency facility in Georgia, it added. She has been employed at the facility since on or about 13 February and held a top-secret clearance during that time.

Winner’s mother, Billie Winner-Davis, told the Guardian that her daughter was a former linguist in the US air force who spoke Farsi, Pashto and Dari.

“I never thought this would be something she would do,” said Winner-Davis. “She’s expressed to me that she’s not a fan of Trump, but she’s not someone that goes and riots and pickets or stuff.”

The NSA report makes clear that, despite recent denials by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, the NSA is convinced that the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) was responsible for interfering in the 2016 presidential election.

The document reportedly states: “Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate actors … executed cyber espionage operations against a named U.S. company in August 2016, evidently to obtain information on elections-related software and hardware solutions. … The actors likely used data obtained from that operation to … launch a voter registration-themed spear-phishing campaign targeting U.S. local government organizations.”

The intelligence assessment acknowledges that there is still a great deal of uncertainty over how successful the Russian operatives were and does not reach a conclusion about whether it affected the outcome of the election, in which Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton hinged on three closely contested states.

But the suggestion that Russian hackers may gained at least a foothold in electronic voting systems is likely to add even more pressure to special counsel and congressional investigations. The Obama administration maintained that it took preventive measures to successfully guard against breaches of the systems in all 50 states.

The former FBI director James Comey is set to testify before the Senate intelligence committee on Thursday regarding Russian meddling in the election.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site.

Tuscon, Arizona after Trump

Donald Trump is a well-known property developer and licensor of his brand name. Property developers know the greatest value of real esate and greatest demand for real estated is waterfront properties.

Thanks to Donald Trump dumping the Paris Accord more and more of America will soon become much more valuable as waterfront properties.

The Republicans who urged Trump to pull out of Paris deal are big oil darlings

James Inhofe: climate change’s biggest enemy in the Senate, and the co-author of the letter. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A withdrawal by Donald Trump from the Paris climate accord would go down as a hallmark of his presidency. It would be unilateral, reckless and splashy – trademark Trump. The president has said he will announce his decision at 3pm ET (8pm BST) on Thursday.

But while Trump has often stood on a range of issues as a maverick outlier from mainstream Republican politics, on climate change he is at the centre of the party’s orthodoxy. Trump’s disbelief in climate change and imminent decision on whether to support the Paris agreement reflects an area of unusual agreement between the president and elected Republicans, whose track record of climate change denialism is plain and long.

Unmissable behind the elected Republicans stand other interests: the oil, gas and coal industries, which together are some of the most influential donors to Republican candidates.

The big-money supporters got a return on their investment last week, when 22 Republican senators whose campaigns have collected more than $10m in oil, gas and coal money since 2012 sent a letter from the president urging him to withdraw from the Paris deal.

Donations from oil, gas and coal interests to the signatories of the letter are Open Secrets that seemed ready for a new review. A Guardian survey of Federal Elections Commission data organized by the Center for Responsive Politics found that the industries gave a total of $10,694,284 to the 22 senators over the past three election cycles.

Visible donations to Republicans from those industries exceeded donations to Democrats in the 2016 election cycle by a ratio of 15-to-1, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And that does not include so-called dark money passed from oil interests such as Koch industries to general slush funds to re-elect Republicans such as the Senate leadership fund.

At least $90m in untraceable money has been funneled to Republican candidates from oil, gas and coal interests in the past three election cycles, according to Federal Election Commission disclosures analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Here is a breakdown for the past three election cycles (2012, 2014 and 2016).

James Inhofe, Oklahoma

Oil & gas: $465,950

Coal: $63,600

Total: $529,550

John Barrasso, Wyoming

Oil & gas: $458,466

Coal: $127,356

Total: $585,822

Mitch McConnell, Kentucky

Oil & gas: $1,180,384

Coal: $361,700

Total: $1,542,084

John Cornyn, Texas

Oil & gas: $1,101,456

Coal: $33,050

Total: $1,134,506

Roy Blunt, Missouri

Oil & gas: $353,864

Coal: $96,000

Total: $449,864

Roger Wicker, Mississippi

Oil & gas: $198,816

Coal: $25,376

Total: $224,192

Michael Enzi, Wyoming

Oil & gas: $211,083

Coal: $63,300

Total: $274,383

Mike Crapo, Idaho

Oil & gas: $110,250

Coal: $26,756

Total: $137,006

Jim Risch, Idaho

Oil & gas: $123,850

Coal: $25,680

Total: $149,530

Thad Cochran, Mississippi

Oil & gas: $276,905

Coal: $15,000

Total: $291,905

Mike Rounds, South Dakota

Oil & gas: $201,900

Coal: none

Total: $201,900

Rand Paul, Kentucky

Oil & gas: $170,215

Coal: $82,571

Total: $252,786

John Boozman, Arkansas

Oil & gas: $147,930

Coal: $2,000

Total: $149,930

Richard Shelby, Alabama

Oil & gas: $60,150

Coal: $2,500

Total: $62,650

Luther Strange, Alabama

(Appointed in 2017, running in 2017 special election)

Total: NA

Orrin Hatch, Utah

Oil & gas: $446,250

Coal: $25,000

Total: $471,250

Mike Lee, Utah

Oil & gas: $231,520

Coal: $21,895

Total: $253,415

Ted Cruz, Texas

Oil & gas: $2,465,910

Coal: $103,900

Total: $2,569,810

David Perdue, Georgia

Oil & gas: $184,250

Coal: $0

Total: $184,250

Thom Tillis, North Carolina

Oil & gas: $263,400

Coal: $0

Total: $263,400

Tim Scott, South Carolina

Oil & gas: $490,076

Coal: $58,200

Total: $548,276

Pat Roberts, Kansas

Oil & gas: $388,950

Coal: $28,825

Total: $417,775

Sum total for all 22 Republican signatories: $10,694,284

Perhaps the only reason Donald Trump promoted ‘Drain The Swamp’ was to make it easier for oil & gas companies to drill.

Read the complete story on The Guardian web site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump had been said to be on the fence about the deal. Members of his inner circle, including his daughter, were reported to favor staying in.

“We strongly encourage you to make a clean break from the Paris Agreement,” read the letter, drafted by Wyoming’s John Barrasso, chairman of the Senate committee on environment and public works, and Oklahoma’s Jim Inhofe, a longtime climate change denier and senior member of that committee.

The letter argued that the Paris deal threatened Trump’s efforts to rescind the clean power plan, an Obama-era set of regulations and guidelines that include emissions caps and other rules deemed onerous by the fossil fuel industries.

It was not as if Trump wanted for advisers urging him to withdraw from the Paris deal even before the letter was sent. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt and chief strategist Stephen Bannon urged withdrawal, while energy secretary Rick Perry favored renegotiation.

Activists investigating Ivanka Trump’s China shoe factory detained or missing

Workers at the Huajian shoe factory, where about 100,000 pairs of Ivanka Trump-branded shoes have been made over the years among other brands. Photograph: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

A labour activist working undercover investigating abuses at a Chinese factory that makes Ivanka Trump shoes has been detained by police and two others are missing, raising concerns the company’s ties to the US president’s family may have led to harsher treatment.

Hua Haifeng was being held by police on suspicion of illegal surveillance, his wife Deng Guilian said. Hua had worked for labour rights organisations for more than a decade and was investigating a factory in southern Guangdong province for New York-based rights group China Labor Watch.

Hua, 36, attempted to travel to Hong Kong last week but was stopped at the border. He was later questioned by police in Shenzhen, a city on the border with Hong Kong, and was released. He then traveled to Jiangxi province and disappeared, before his wife was notified by police.

“I was scared when the police called me, I was shaking with a mix of fear and anger,” Deng told the Guardian, adding she was worried she would be unable to support their two young children as well as three elderly relatives without his income.

The case highlights the political sensitivity of a brand associated with the family of Donald Trump, who repeatedly bashed China for taking American jobs on the campaign trail but has since cosied up to president Xi Jinping.

Trump himself has been granted dozens of trademarks in China since becoming president, and relatives of Jared Kushner, an advisor to the president, were recently caught trying to entice wealthy investors into luxury developments, with the prospect of receiving US green cards in return.

Two other men, Li Zhao and Su Heng, had investigated a factory in Jiangxi province that assembles Ivanka Trump shoes and were still missing on Wednesday, said Li Qiang, executive director of China Labor Watch. He believes they have been detained by police or are being held at the factory.

“I think they were detained because this factory makes products for Ivanka Trump, so now this situation has become political and very complicated,” said Li. “I appeal to President Trump, Ivanka Trump herself, and to her brand to advocate and press for the release our activists.”

The undercover activists were to allege a host of labour violations at the plant, Li said, including paying below China’s legal minimum wage, managers verbally abusing workers and “violations of women’s rights”.

Li said he contacted the Ivanka Trump brand on April 27 to inform them of the labour violations, and urged them to ensure their suppliers were complying with Chinese law, but no changes were made.

The Ivanka Trump brand declined to comment when contacted by the Guardian. A woman who answered the phone at the Ganzhou, Jiangxi public security bureau said only, “I’m busy now,” before hanging up.

Calls to Huajian Group, the owner of the factory, went unanswered and staff at the factory where the three activists had gone undercover said they were not aware of the case.

Huajian also manufactures products for Coach, Karl Lagerfeld and Kendall + Kylie at the factory where the activists went undercover.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper website.