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.

 

Fact Check: Trump Is Contradictory on Comey and Misleading on Russia


At a news conference on Thursday, President Trump exaggerated the scale of his proposed tax cut and made a dubious comparison between Israel’s West Bank barrier and his proposed border wall. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Trump defended his conduct related to the investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia and made several misleading claims on Thursday afternoon.

In a joint news conference with President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, Mr. Trump denied there was any collusion between his campaign and Russian officials, explained why he had fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director and trumpeted his legislative agenda. Here’s an assessment.

Mr. Trump contradicted Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein and his own earlier statement on firing Mr. Comey.

Explaining the ousting of Mr. Comey, Mr. Trump again pointed to Mr. Rosenstein’s “very, very strong recommendation,” adding that he believed it had resulted from Mr. Comey’s “poor, poor performance” in a congressional hearing this month.

But just hours earlier on Thursday, Mr. Rosenstein told the full Senate that Mr. Trump had made his decision before Mr. Rosenstein wrote the memo. Mr. Trump himself claimed full responsibility a week earlier.

“And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story,’” Mr. Trump told Lester Holt of NBC News on May 11. “It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.”

He misleadingly claimed that ‘everybody, even my enemies, has said there is no collusion.’

Mr. Trump may have been referring to testimony from James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence, but if so, he is distorting Mr. Clapper’s words.

In a March interview on NBC, Mr. Clapper said that, “to my knowledge,” there is no evidence of collusion by the Trump campaign with Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and stood by it in a congressional hearing on May 8. A few days later, he explained on MSNBC that “it’s not surprising or abnormal that I would not have known about the investigation, or even more importantly, the content of that investigation” because he always deferred to the F.B.I. on such matters.

He exaggerated his proposed tax cut as ‘the biggest tax cut in the history of our nation.’

The tax plan the Trump administration released on April 26 consisted of a single page with bullet points. More details may emerge, but for now, the publicly available proposal would not amount to the biggest tax cut ever by most measures.

Mr. Trump’s plan would reduce the highest marginal rate for individuals to 35 percent from 39.6 percent. This change pales in comparison to other rate reductions: 33 percentage points under President Calvin Coolidge, 22 points under President Ronald Reagan, 21 points under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, and 15 points under President Warren G. Harding.

Read the complete article on the New York Times web site.

Trump admits ‘this Russia thing’ part of reasoning for firing James Comey

Donald Trump has said he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he decided James Comey’s fate – contradicting the White House rationale that he fired the FBI director for mishandling the Clinton email investigation.

Comey had been leading an investigation into possible collusion between Trump advisers and Russian officials when he was dismissed by the president. Defending that decision in an interview on NBC News on Thursday, Trump said: “And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said: ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.’”

Trump also said there were three occasions on which Comey assured him he was not under investigation. The president said he called the director of the FBI to ask for an update on a possible criminal investigation into his ties with Russia.

In the NBC interview Trump also flatly contradicted his own vice-president and spokesman by saying he decided to fire James Comey before receiving a recommendation from the deputy attorney general.

Trump recalled three conversations with Comey about the FBI investigation into Russian interference in last year’s presidential election. First, he said, there was a dinner which was also about Comey’s future, raising the prospect that Trump could threaten his job.

“He wanted to stay on at the FBI,” Trump said, “and I said I’ll, you know, consider and see what happens … But we had a very nice dinner, and at that time he told me, ‘You are not under investigation.’’’

Matthew Miller, a former spokesman for the Department of Justice, told MSNBC: “It’s completely inappropriate for [Trump] to ask that question … It would also be a violation of DoJ rules for James Comey to answer it.”

Asked at Thursday’s White House press briefing if it was inappropriate for Trump to have asked Comey if he was under investigation, deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “No, I don’t believe it is.”

She added: “I don’t see it as a conflict of interest and neither do many of the legal scholars who’ve been commenting on it over the last hour.” Sanders did not identify which “legal scholars” that she was referring to.

When the president fired Comey on Tuesday, the White House released a memo from deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein that criticised Comey for mishandling last year’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Press secretary Sean Spicer claimed it was this memo that prompted Trump to remove Comey, a position backed by vice-president Mike Pence on Wednesday.

Pence said in an interview with CNN that Trump had “made a decision to accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general to remove Director Comey.”

But in the NBC interview, Trump said of Comey: “He’s a showboat, he’s a grandstander, the FBI has been in turmoil. You know that, I know that. Everybody knows that. You take a look at the FBI a year ago, it was in virtual turmoil, less than a year ago. It hasn’t recovered from that.”

He explained: “I was going to fire Comey. My decision. I was going to fire Comey. There’s no good time to do it, by the way. I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.”

The revelation came amid a flurry of reports suggesting that Trump had grown increasingly irate with Comey in recent weeks because of his high profile, his failure to stop leaks, his pursuit of the Russia investigation and his lack of support for the president’s claim that he was wiretapped by Barack Obama.

In the end, he fired Comey late on Tuesday afternoon, a move that seemed to take many White House staff by surprise. The official reason given was the FBI director’s mishandling of the investigation into Clinton’s emails.

The acting head of the FBI, meanwhile, said on Thursday that Comey enjoyed broad support among its staff – directly contradicting the White House assertion that he had lost the confidence of the FBI rank and file.

Read the complete article on the above story in The Guardian web site.

Read this The Guardian article for background on “What do we know about alleged links between Trump and Russia?

Read this New York Times articleFor Trump Supporters, the Real Outrage Is the Left’s Uproar Over Comey.

In Trump’s Firing of James Comey, Echoes of Watergate

In dramatically casting aside James B. Comey, President Trump fired the man who may have helped make him president — and the man who potentially most threatened the future of his presidency.

Not since Watergate has a president dismissed the person leading an investigation bearing on him, and Mr. Trump’s decision late Tuesday afternoon drew instant comparisons to the “Saturday Night Massacre” in October 1973, when President Richard M. Nixon ordered the firing of Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor looking into the so-called third-rate burglary that would eventually bring Nixon down.

In his letter firing Mr. Comey, the F.B.I. director, Mr. Trump made a point of noting that Mr. Comey had three times told the president that he was not under investigation, Mr. Trump’s way of pre-emptively denying that his action was self-interested. But in fact, he had plenty at stake, given that Mr. Comey had said publicly that the bureau was investigating Russia’s meddling in last year’s presidential election and whether any associates of Mr. Trump’s campaign were coordinating with Moscow.

The move exposed Mr. Trump to the suspicion that he has something to hide and could strain his relations with fellow Republicans who may be wary of defending him when they do not have all the facts. Many Republicans issued cautious statements on Tuesday, but a few expressed misgivings about Mr. Comey’s dismissal and called for a special congressional investigation or independent commission to take over from the House and Senate Intelligence Committees now looking into the Russia episode.

The appointment of a successor to Mr. Comey could touch off a furious fight since anyone Mr. Trump would choose would automatically come under suspicion. A confirmation fight could easily distract Mr. Trump’s White House at a time when it wants the Senate to focus on passing legislation to repeal former President Barack Obama’s health care law.

John D. Podesta, who was Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, noted that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recommended the dismissal. “The attorney general who said he recused himself on all the Russia matters recommended the firing of the F.B.I. director in charge of investigating the Russia matters,” he said.

While Mr. Trump said he acted at the urging of Mr. Sessions, he had left little doubt about his personal feelings toward Mr. Comey or the Russia investigation in recent days. “The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?” he wrote on Twitter on Monday.


Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor for the Watergate case, speaking to the news media outside the United States District Court in Washington in October 1973, the month President Richard M. Nixon ordered him fired. Credit Associated Press

The Watergate comparison was unavoidable. When Mr. Cox, the special prosecutor, subpoenaed Nixon for copies of White House tapes, the president ordered that he be fired. Both Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his deputy, William Ruckelshaus, refused and resigned instead. The third-ranking Justice Department official, Solicitor General Robert H. Bork, complied with Mr. Nixon’s order and fired Mr. Cox.

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

Trump presidency is in a hole

After 70 days in office Mr Trump is stuck in the sand.

DONALD TRUMP won the White House on the promise that government is easy. Unlike his Democratic opponent, whose career had been devoted to politics, Mr Trump stood as a businessman who could Get Things Done. Enough voters decided that boasting, mocking, lying and grabbing women were secondary. Some Trump fans even saw them as the credentials of an authentic, swamp-draining saviour.

After 70 days in office, however, Mr Trump is stuck in the sand. A health-care bill promised as one of his “first acts” suffered a humiliating collapse in the—Republican-controlled—Congress. His repeated attempts to draft curbs on travel to America from some Muslim countries are being blocked by the courts. And suspicions that his campaign collaborated with Russia have cost him his national security adviser and look likely to dog his administration (see article). Voters are not impressed. No other president so early in his first term has suffered such low approval ratings.

The business of government

Mr Trump is hardly the first tycoon to discover that business and politics work by different rules. If you fall out over a property deal, you can always find another sucker. In politics you cannot walk away so easily. Even if Mr Trump now despises the Republican factions that dared defy him over health care, Congress is the only place he can go to pass legislation.

The nature of political power is different, too. As owner and CEO of his business, Mr Trump had absolute control. The constitution sets out to block would-be autocrats. Where Mr Trump has acted appropriately—as with his nomination of a principled, conservative jurist to fill a Supreme Court vacancy—he deserves to prevail. But when the courts question the legality of his travel order they are only doing their job. Likewise, the Republican failure to muster a majority over health-care reflects not just divisions between the party’s moderates and hardliners, but also the defects of a bill that, by the end, would have led to worse protection, or none, for tens of millions of Americans without saving taxpayers much money.

Far from taking Washington by storm, America’s CEO is out of his depth. The art of political compromise is new to him. He blurs his own interests and the interests of the nation. The scrutiny of office grates. He chafes under the limitations of being the most powerful man in the world. You have only to follow his incontinent stream of tweets to grasp Mr Trump’s paranoia and vanity: the press lies about him; the election result fraudulently omitted millions of votes for him; the intelligence services are disloyal; his predecessor tapped his phones. It’s neither pretty nor presidential.

That the main victim of these slurs has so far been the tweeter-in-chief himself is testament to the strength of American democracy. But institutions can erode, and the country is wretchedly divided (see article). Unless Mr Trump changes course, the harm risks spreading. The next test will be the budget. If the Republican Party cannot pass a stop-gap measure, the government will start to shut down on April 29th. Recent jitters in the markets are a sign that investors are counting on Mr Trump and his party to pass legislation.

More than anything, they are looking for tax reform and an infrastructure plan. There is vast scope to make fiscal policy more efficient and fairer (see article). American firms face high tax rates and have a disincentive to repatriate profits. Personal taxes are a labyrinth of privileges and loopholes, most of which benefit the well-off. Likewise, the country’s cramped airports and potholed highways are a drain on productivity. Sure enough, Mr Trump has let it be known that he now wants to tackle tax. And, in a bid to win support from Democrats, he may deal with infrastructure at the same time.

Yet the politics of tax reform are as treacherous as the politics of health care, and not only because they will generate ferocious lobbying. Most Republican plans are shockingly regressive, despite Mr Trump’s blue-collar base. To win even a modest reform, Mr Trump and his team will have to show a mastery of detail and coalition-building that has so far eluded them. If Mr Trump’s popularity falls further, the job of winning over fractious Republicans will only become harder.

The character question

The Americans who voted for Mr Trump either overlooked his bombast, or they saw in him a tycoon with the self-belief to transform Washington. Although this presidency is still young, that already seems an error of judgment. His policies, from health-care reform to immigration, have been poor—they do not even pass the narrow test that they benefit Trump voters. Most worrying for America and the world is how fast the businessman in the Oval Office is proving unfit for the job.

Read the complete article on The Economist magazine web site.

Trump’s commerce secretary oversaw Russia deal while at Bank of Cyprus


Wilbur Ross was previously vice-chairman of the Bank Of Cyprus. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Wilbur Ross, the Trump administration’s new commerce secretary, presided over a deal with a Russian businessman with ties to Vladimir Putin while serving in his previous role as vice-chairman of the Bank of Cyprus.

The transaction raises questions about Ross’s tenure at the Cypriot bank and his ties to politically connected Russian oligarchs. It comes amid confirmation by the FBI that it is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow to influence the outcome of the presidential election.

In 2015, while he served as vice-chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, the bank’s Russia-based businesses were sold to a Russian banker and consultant, Artem Avetisyan, who had ties to both the Russian president and Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank. At the time, Sberbank was under US and EU sanctions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Avetisyan had earlier been selected by Putin to head a new business branch of the Russian president’s strategic initiative agency, which was tasked with improving business and government ties.

Avetisyan’s business partner, Oleg Gref, is the son of Herman Gref, Sberbank’s chief executive officer, and their consultancy has served as a “partner” to Sberbank, according to their website. Ross had described the Russian businesses – including 120 bank branches in Russia – as being worth “hundreds of millions of euros” in 2014 but they were sold with other assets to Avetisyan for €7m (£6m).

Ross has not been accused of wrongdoing and there is no indication the Russian deal violated US or EU sanctions. Ross resigned from the Bank of Cyprus board after he was confirmed as commerce secretary last month.

Ross, who had made billions of dollars years earlier by betting on bankrupt steel mills, was known for taking risky bets. But his decision to inject €400m into the bank with other investors encompassed a different kind of risk. It put him at the centre of the biggest financial institution in a country that was widely considered to be a tax haven for Russian oligarchs, even as the US and EU were imposing sanctions on Russia. In 2014, the year he made his investment, the US State Department considered Cyprus an area of “primary concern” for money laundering (pdf), according to its official assessment.

Ross was appointed vice-chairman at the bank after his investment in 2014, a post he shared with a deposit holder-turned-shareholder, Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, referred to in Russian media as a former KGB official and Putin ally. According to the bank’s annual reports, the two attended two board meetings together in 2014 and as many as five together in 2015 before Strzhalkovsky’s May 2015 resignation from the board. One of the questions that has been posed to Ross by Democratic senators is whether he ever had contact with Strzhalkovsky.

One of Ross’s first big decisions at the bank was the appointment of former Deutsche Bank chief executive Josef Ackermann as chairman, whom he chose in part because of Ackermann’s “huge Rolodex”, according to a 2014 Bloomberg interview.

Ackermann’s ties to Russia were especially strong, including a warm relationship with Putin and Herman Gref of Sberbank.

In a separate management decision under Ross’s watch, Bank of Cyprus gave Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest private bank, until 2019 – four more years than originally planned – to pay back a €100m debt it owed in connection to Alfa’s purchase of the bank’s Ukrainian assets. Alfa Bank still owed Bank of Cyprus €57m as of the end of September. Bank of Cyprus said the extension was provided because of the “worsening geopolitical situation in Ukraine”.

John Koenig, former US ambassador to Cyprus, told the Guardian he did not believe Ross had ever gone out of his way to favour Russian investors or the Kremlin. At the time, he recalled, officials were actively seeking investments from big US and European banks but nobody was interested until Ross came along.

Read the complete article on The Guardian web site.

Trump-Russia inquiry in ‘grave doubt’

The top Democrat on one of the congressional committees investigating ties between Donald Trump and Russia has raised “grave doubt” over the viability of the inquiry after its Republican chairman shared information with the White House and not their committee colleagues.

In the latest wild development surrounding the Russia inquiry that has created an air of scandal around Trump, Democrat Adam Schiff effectively called his GOP counterpart, Devin Nunes, a proxy for the White House, questioning his conduct.

“These actions raise enormous doubt about whether the committee can do its work,” Schiff said late Wednesday afternoon after speaking with Nunes, his fellow Californian, before telling MSNBC that evidence tying Trump to Russia now appeared “more than circumstantial”.

Two days after testimony from the directors of the FBI and NSA that dismissed any factual basis to Trump’s 4 March claim that Barack Obama had him placed under surveillance, Nunes publicly stated he was “alarmed” to learn that the intelligence agencies may have “incidentally” collected communications from Trump and his associates.

Nunes, who served on Trump’s national security transition team, said the surveillance “appears to be all legally collected” and masked the identities of Americans, but did so in such a way that Nunes could hazard a guess as to whom the intercepted communications discussed. Nunes added that the alleged intercepts did not actually concern Russia.

“Details about persons associated with the incoming administration, details with little apparent foreign intelligence value were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting,” said Nunes, who has shifted the focus of the inquiry onto leaks that Trump blames on the intelligence agencies.

Nunes went to the White House to brief the president, who seized on the chairman’s comments as vindication, even though there is little evidence even in Nunes’s vague and often conditional remarks that they revive Trump’s claim that Obama had Trump Tower wiretapped.

“I somewhat do. I must tell you I somewhat do. I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found, I somewhat do,” Trump said Wednesday afternoon.

Nunes took whatever material he had acquired to Trump before sharing it with the committee – a decision that represented nearly a final straw for Schiff, who called for an independent commission to investigate ties between Trump and Russia.

In language that stripped away any pretense of cordiality remaining on the committee, Schiff said Nunes would have to decide whether to helm a credible inquiry or whether to operate as a White House adjunct, complicit in what Schiff intimated was a “campaign by the White House to deflect from the [FBI] director’s testimony”.

Asked if Schiff was considering pulling out of the inquiry, Schiff said he would have to “analyze what this development means”, suggesting a potential Democratic departure from one of the most internationally watched congressional investigations in recent history.

“If you have a chairman who is interacting with the White House, sharing information with the White House, when the people around the White House are the subject of the investigation and doing it before sharing it with the committee, it puts a profound doubt over whether that can be done credibly,” Schiff said.

Schiff reiterated that from what he had gleaned from his conversation with Nunes, “there is still no evidence that the president was wiretapped by his predecessor”.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper website.