Posts Tagged ‘Jared Kushner’

Trump Administration Plans to Reveal Middle East Peace Plan Next Month

May 19, 2018

Sources say Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblat are briefing various partners on the plan’s details and aim to roll it out after Ramadan

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U.S. President Donald Trump speaking at the White House in Washington on May 18, 2018,
U.S. President Donald Trump speaking at the White House in Washington on May 18, 2018, Susan Walsh/AP

The Trump administration is aiming to roll out its much-hyped but long-delayed Middle East peace plan next month amid signs it may further alienate the Palestinians by slashing millions of dollars in funding for humanitarian and development projects in the West Bank and Gaza.

Five U.S. officials and a congressional aide say the administration intends to release the peace plan in mid- to late-June, shortly after the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, although they cautioned that the timing could slip depending on developments in the region. They say the plan’s main authors — President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and Trump’s special envoy for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt — have already begun quietly briefing select allies and partners on elements of the proposal.

Yet any Palestinian willingness to even consider the plan would require conditions to improve and anger to subside considerably in the coming weeks, an unlikely scenario as the Palestinians say evidence of one-sided Trump giveaways to Israel continues to pile up. U.S. allies in Europe and the Persian Gulf also have felt compelled to criticize the administration for its approach. Ostensibly, Trump would need buy-in from those same countries to build enough momentum for any peace plan to succeed.

The administration has been resisting congressional demands to fully close the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington because Greenblatt and Kushner want to keep that channel open in case the Palestinians are open to re-entering negotiations with Israel based on the plan. The office was ordered closed by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last November, but has been allowed to stay open for limited purposes under the administration’s interpretation of the law requiring it to be shut down in the absence of peace talks.

The prospect of Palestinian interest in the peace proposal appears dim, however, particularly since Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas recalled the mission’s chief earlier this week to protest Monday’s opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. The embassy move is said to have contributed to violent protests in Gaza that were met with deadly force from Israel. Nearly 60 Palestinians were killed Monday by Israeli forces, drawing condemnations and calls for restraint from Europe and elsewhere. The U.S. declined to join those calls and, while regretting the loss of life, opposed efforts at the U.N. to open an international investigation into the violence.

Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the embassy move and the administration’s unreserved defense of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies have alienated and angered the Palestinian leadership, which accuses the administration of abandoning its role as a neutral arbiter in the conflict. Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said any deal needs to be between the Palestinians and Israel — not the United States.

“I don’t need Jason Greenblatt. I don’t need Kushner,” Erekat said. “It’s our lives.”

That sense of betrayal may deepen significantly this summer as millions of dollars in U.S. assistance to the Palestinians appears likely to be cut and the funds re-allocated to other regions. That money has been on hold since last year and existing funding for some projects will start to run out in just months if it is not approved in the next two weeks. If that does not happen, the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development will have to notify aid recipients that continued U.S. funding is not forthcoming and those programs will begin to be shut down. Local staffers would be laid off and U.S. officials running the projects would be reassigned elsewhere.

Of $251 million in U.S. aid planned for the Palestinians in 2018, only $50.5 million has been reported spent, according to the government’s online tracker, http://www.foreignassistance.gov. The remaining more than $200 million is currently on hold, a figure that does not include an additional $65 million in frozen U.S. assistance to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which provides services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan and Lebanon. The U.S. aid pays for programs on education, health, good governance and democracy promotion as well as disaster preparedness and security.

For several months the White House has been sitting on State Department and USAID recommendations to spend at least some of the money, according to the officials. Three officials said there is no indication those recommendations will be acted upon any time soon despite appeals from lawmakers and even expressions of concern from Israel, which sees value in the assistance especially in the security sector. One official said there was “an overwhelming lack of urgency” about making a decision on the funding. The other two said there was no sign that the end-of-May timeframe would be met.

“The administration is currently reviewing U.S. assistance to the Palestinians,” USAID said in a statement to The Associated Press. “USAID is in discussions with all affected implementing partners on the status of the review, and is working closely with the interagency, as the administration concludes its review.”

At immediate risk are between five and 10 of the some 20 USAID projects in the West Bank and Gaza, along with proposed new initiatives, the officials said. Without a quick decision those will run out of money by the end of 2018, they said. Nearly all of the others will run out of money in early 2019 unless the U.S. funding is unblocked, they said.

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Did China Just Bribe Trump to Undermine National Security?

May 18, 2018

Did the president of the United States just betray the nation’s security in return for a bribe from the Chinese government?

Don’t say that this suggestion is ridiculous: Given everything we know about Donald Trump, it’s well within the bounds of possibility, even plausibility.

Don’t say there’s no proof: We’re not talking about a court of law, where the accused are presumed innocent until proved guilty. Where the behavior of high officials is concerned, the standard is very nearly the opposite: They’re supposed to avoid situations in which there is even a hint that their actions might be motivated by personal gain.

By Paul Krugman
The New York Times

President Trump announced this week that he was working with President Xi of China to help save ZTE.CreditJohannes Eisele/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Oh, and don’t say that it doesn’t matter one way or the other, because the Republicans who control Congress won’t do anything about it. That in itself is a key part of the story: An entire political party — a party that has historically wrapped itself in the flag and questioned the patriotism of its opponents — has become entirely complaisant in the possibility of raw corruption, even if it involves payoffs from hostile foreign powers.

The story so far: In the past few years ZTE, a Chinese electronics company that, among other things, makes cheap smartphones, has gotten into repeated trouble with the U.S. government. Many of its products contain U.S. technology — technology that, by law, must not be exported to embargoed nations, including North Korea and Iran. But ZTE was circumventing the ban.

Initially, the company was fined $1.2 billion. Then, when it became clear that the company had rewarded rather than punished the executives involved, the Commerce Department forbade U.S. technology companies from selling components to ZTE for the next seven years.

And two weeks ago the Pentagon banned sales of ZTE phones on military bases, following warnings from intelligence agencies that the Chinese government may be using the company’s products to conduct espionage.

All of which made it very strange indeed to see Trump suddenly declare that he was working with President Xi of China to help save ZTE — “Too many jobs in China lost” — and that he was ordering the Commerce Department to make it happen.

It’s possible that Trump was just trying to offer an olive branch amid what looks like a possible trade war. But why choose such a flagrant example of Chinese misbehavior? Which was why many eyes turned to Indonesia, where a Chinese state-owned company just announced a big investmentin a project in which the Trump Organization has a substantial stake.

That investment, by the way, is part of the Belt and Road project, a multinational infrastructure initiative China is using to reinforce its economic centrality — and geopolitical influence — across Eurasia. Meanwhile, whatever happened to that Trump infrastructure plan?

Back to ZTE: Was there a quid pro quo? We may never know. But this wasn’t the first time the Trump administration made a peculiar foreign policy move that seems associated with Trump family business interests. Last year the administration, bizarrely, backed a Saudi blockade of Qatar, a Middle Eastern nation that also happens to be the site of a major U.S. military base. Why? Well, the move came shortly after the Qataris refused to invest $500 million in 666 Fifth Avenue, a troubled property owned by the family of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.

Qatar may be about to make a deal on 666 Fifth Avenue, a troubled property owned by the family of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.Credit  Karsten Moran for The New York Times

And now it looks as if Qatar may be about to make a deal on 666 Fifth Avenue after all. I wonder why?

Step back from the details and consider the general picture. High officials have the power to reward or punish both businesses and other governments, so that undue influence is always a problem, even if it takes the form of campaign contributions or indirect financial rewards via the revolving door.

But the problem becomes vastly worse if interested parties can simply funnel money to officials through their business holdings — and Trump and his family, by failing to divest from their international business dealings, have basically hung a sign out declaring themselves open to bribery (and also set the standard for the rest of the administration).

And the problem of undue influence is especially severe when it comes to authoritarian foreign governments. Democracies have ethical rules of their own: Justin Trudeau would be in big trouble if Canada were caught funneling money to the Trump Organization. Corporations can be shamed or sued. But if Xi Jinping or Vladimir Putin make payoffs to U.S. politicians, who’s going to stop them?

The main answer is supposed to be congressional oversight, which used to mean something. If there had been even a whiff of foreign payoffs to, say, Gerald Ford or Jimmy Carter, there would have been bipartisan demands for an investigation — and a high likelihood of impeachment.

But today’s Republicans have made it clear that they won’t hold Trump accountable for anything, even if it borders on treason.

All of which is to say that Trump’s corruption is only a symptom of a bigger problem: a G.O.P. that will do anything, even betray the nation, in its pursuit of partisan advantage.

Follow me on Twitter (@PaulKrugman).

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A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A27 of the New York edition with the headline: Belts, Roads, Emoluments, Espionage.

Israel to boost Gaza border, West Bank forces for US embassy move

May 13, 2018

The Israeli army said it would almost double the number of troops surrounding the Gaza Strip and in the occupied West Bank to tackle Palestinian protests against Monday’s controversial opening of a US embassy in Jerusalem.

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AFP

Three additional infantry brigades will be deployed next week, two around the Gaza Strip and one in the West Bank, army spokesman Jonathan Conricus told reporters on Saturday.

The move nearly doubles the number of fighting units currently serving, he said, without giving specific figures on troops to be deployed.

The announcement does not concern Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, where responding to protests is the responsibility of the police.

US President Donald Trump will not attend the opening of the new embassy in Jerusalem on Monday, but his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law and key adviser Jared Kushner will.

A signature campaign promise, Trump’s December announcement of the embassy move led to major protests in Gaza and the West Bank.

Palestinians consider the eastern part of the city as their capital.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians are expected to protest along the Gaza border Monday, with the strip’s Islamist rulers Hamas voicing support in recent days for attempts to breach the fence into Israel.

“What’s the problem with hundreds of thousands breaking through a fence that is not a border?” the organisation’s Gaza head Yahya Sinwar said, arguing Israel has never defined its borders.

Palestinians in Gaza have been protesting for seven weeks to be able to return to their historic homes they fled in 1948 and which later became part of Israel.

A 15-year-old teenager who was shot in the head Friday succumbed to his wounds on Saturday evening, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said.

The death brought to 54 the number of Palestinians killed since clashes began on March 30, with hundreds of others injured.

No Israelis have been injured.

Israel has vowed to use the necessary force to prevent any breach on Monday and has accused Hamas of using the protests as a pretext to carry out attacks.

On Saturday Conricus said the rules of engagement had not been changed.

The United Nations and the European Union have called for an independent investigation into the deaths, but the Jewish state has rebuffed them.

The United States has defended its ally and accused Hamas of using Palestinians, including children, as human shields by encouraging them to protest along the border.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.

Separately Saturday Israeli aircraft carried out a number of strikes against what the army said was a Hamas attack tunnel near the Gaza border.

AFP

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Israel: Jerusalem Embassy, Gaza, Palestinian Protesters, Hamas, Iran — a Busy Week

May 13, 2018
The Islamic State issues calls to show devotion to religion through violent action — Hamas plans a mass storming of the Gaza border with Israel on Nakba Day, just hours after the United States moves its embassy to Jerusalem. Israel is a busy place again this week….

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Israeli firefighters try to extinguish a fire near Gaza on May 8, 2018 after it was caused by incendiaries tied to kites flown by Palestinians.
Israeli firefighters try to extinguish a fire near Gaza on May 8, 2018 after it was caused by incendiaries tied to kites flown by Palestinians. Menahem Kahana / AFP

Israelis are no strangers to short stretches packed with historic and transformative events. But even for a country that has experienced turbulent times, the potential highs and lows of the upcoming week feel unprecedented.

Much of what will happen has been planned carefully, though surely no one behind the planning expected that the festivities and commemorations would follow the first significant exchanges of fire across the Syrian border in 40 years — which also marked the first military aggression on Israel directly attributable to Iran.

The drama on Israel’s border has yet to play out fully — neither has the previous week’s figurative bombshell — President Donald Trump’s announcement of the United States’ withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal and the reestablishment of economic sanctions.

The next chapter in this eventful week — and month — begins when the Jewish Sabbath ends Saturday evening and continues through Sunday: Jerusalem Day, the holiday marking the victory in the 1967 Six-Day War in which Israel gained territory including the Old City of Jerusalem and the rest of East Jerusalem.

Increasingly, Jerusalem Day events have become a rallying point for the religious-Zionist community. In the Flag March, thousands pass through the Old City, entering from the Damascus Gate and Jaffa Gate and gathering at the Western Wall. The growth of the event has been accompanied by unrest between the marchers and Palestinian residents of the Old City, including racist chants and physical harassment by the marchers as well as stone-throwing and scuffling between the two sides.

On Sunday evening, Jerusalem Day will transition into the celebration of the move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The guest list for the Foreign Ministry reception includes Trump’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump, his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and other U.S. officials.

Israeli attendees will include the cabinet, the heads of Knesset committees, members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and members of the governing coalition. Also on hand will be some 30 foreign diplomats — out of 86 who were invited. Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the embassy there drew sharp criticism from the Arab world and U.S. allies, who said the unilateral step could spark violence and damage peace prospects.

Men gather at the Western Wall on May 11, 2018 after the U.S. withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal and to celebrate the moving of the embassy.
Men gather at the Western Wall on May 11, 2018 after the U.S. withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal and to celebrate the moving of the embassy. Thomas Coex / AFP

Peace Now prepares

The embassy move is slated for Monday at 4 P.M. Israel time; 800 guests received gold-edged invitations from U.S. Ambassador David Friedman and his wife Tammy. The event marks the relocation of a limited number of offices from the Tel Aviv embassy, including Friedman’s office. The event will be attended by President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with Ivanka Trump, Kushner and Mnuchin. Other attendees include Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, and members of Congress.

At least one major demonstration is expected. Peace Now plans to gather outside the dedication ceremony for the new embassy, protesting the move and warning that it may harm Israeli security and chances for peace, given that the Palestinians want their future capital in Jerusalem as well.

On Tuesday, Nakba Day events begin. Nakba is the Arabic word for catastrophe; the Palestinians mark Nakba Day every year on May 15 — Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948. The embassy move was deliberately set for this 70th anniversary. Israel celebrates its Independence Day according to the Hebrew calendar, so its festivities took place on April 18, leaving May 14 free for the embassy fest.

For Palestinians, Nakba Day is a day of mourning and anger, lamenting the more than 700,000 Arabs who fled or were expelled from their homes during the 1947-49 war. Nakba Day commemorations locally and internationally often call for a full return of the refugees, and in some cases, Israel’s destruction.

Hamas threatens the border

Events are scheduled to take place across the West Bank and Israel itself, including a large march in Nablus, several events in Ramallah and a ceremony in front of Tel Aviv University. But this year the spotlight will be on Gaza, where Hamas’ leaders have threatened a mass storming of the border to destroy the border fence, symbolizing the suffering in Gaza and the Palestinian refugees’ claim to a right of return to Israel. Israel is bracing for a mass eventthat day that could lead to more deaths; more than 40 people have been killed in clashes with the Israeli army since March 30.

The announcement in February that the United States had chosen the day before Nakba Day for the embassy move angered Palestinians.

A demonstrator uses a racket to return a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops at the border in southern Gaza, May 11, 2018.
A demonstrator uses a racket to return a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops at the border in southern Gaza, May 11, 2018.Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters

“They deliberately chose a tragic day in Palestinian history, the Nakba, as an act of gratuitous cruelty adding insult to injury,” tweeted a Palestinian official, Hanan Ashrawi, when the date was first announced. Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat has said it would “provoke the feelings of the Palestinian people, as well as of all Arabs, Muslims and Christians around the globe.”

As if the scheduling weren’t potentially explosive enough, the evening of Nakba Day — Tuesday — also marks the beginning of the month-long observance of Ramadan, when Muslims embark on a month of intense prayer, dawn-to-dusk fasting and nightly feasts. In recent years, encouraged by calls from the Islamic State to show devotion to religion through violent action, Ramadan has seen an increase in Islamist-inspired terrorist incidents around the world.

Last year’s Ramadan, while starting peacefully in Israel and the West Bank, was marred by an attack that killed a woman in the Border Police, Hadas Malka, and wounded a number of others. Israel then revoked permits letting Palestinians visit Israel for the holiday. Normally, during the month-long observance, Israel gives thousands of Palestinians special permission to enter Israel to visit family on weekdays, allowing them greater access to the Temple Mount.

Finally, following Nakba Day, there will be another embassy move to mark. Although technically Guatemala moved its embassy to Jerusalem’s Malha Technology Park last week, the ceremony celebrating the event is set for Wednesday — two days after the U.S. ceremony. Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales is expected to be on hand.

Paraguay also announced plans last week to move its embassy to Jerusalem. President Horacio Cartes will attend the ceremony, which the country says will take place by the end of May — though presumably not during the already action-packed upcoming week.

Trump Expected to Ask Israel to Move Out of Four East Jerusalem Neighborhoods — Sources

May 4, 2018

Move is part of administration’s peace plan expected to be unveiled after embassy relocation.

BY YANIR COZIN / MAARIV HASHAVUA
 MAY 4, 2018 02:01

Sources: Trump to ask Israel to withdraw from 4 east J'lem neighborhoods

A general view of Jerusalem shows the Dome of the Rock, located in Jerusalem’s Old City on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount December 6, 2017.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The Trump administration will ask Israel to withdraw from four Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, which will likely become the capital of a future Palestinian state, US officials told Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman during his visit to Washington last week.

The transfer of control over the neighborhoods – Jebl Mukabar, Isawiya, Shuafat and Abu Dis – was presented to Liberman as just one piece of the larger peace plan the administration has been working on over the last year. Israel, the officials indicated, would be expected to accept the plan once it is presented despite the potentially painful concessions.

News of the demand come less than two weeks before the US Embassy officially moves to Jerusalem on May 14.

The full plan is expected to be unveiled shortly after the embassy moves.

US officials categorically denied the report, speaking to The Jerusalem Post. President Donald Trump’s plan has not yet been completed but has entered its final stages of development.

During his visit to Washington, Liberman met with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, National Security Adviser John Bolton, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and the president’s Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt.

“We do not comment on the content of the minister’s meetings,” Liberman’s office said in response to the report.

Kushner and Greenblatt have been working on a peace plan together with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman for the last year, and few details have leaked out.

Alongside the concessions expected of Israel, the administration has promised its full support in the event of a widespread conflict with Iran or Syria. The administration has told Israel it would supply the IDF with significant support, including advanced weaponry, if a war broke out with Iran, even one instigated by Israeli action against Iran’s presence in Syria.

Last month, PA President Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinians will not accept any US plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We honestly will not wait for anything from them, and we will not accept anything from them,” Abbas said at a conference in Ramallah last month.

Michael Wilner contributed to this report.
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Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani hatched a plan to change the narrative: And it did just that

May 4, 2018

Trump Gambit Stuns Staff

President and Giuliani devised surprise TV disclosure about porn actress’s payment

Trump’s Responses to the Stormy Daniels Allegations
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President Donald Trump said his lawyer Michael Cohen was reimbursed for a payment Mr. Cohen made to Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about an alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump. Here are some of Mr. Trump and the White House’s responses to the allegations over the past few months. Photo: Getty

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump hatched with Rudy Giuliani the high-risk plan to disclose on live television that he had reimbursed his longtime attorney for buying a porn actress’s silence, leaving senior aides in the White House and the rest of his legal team stunned.

Mr. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and recent addition to the president’s legal team for the Russia investigation, said Wednesday on Fox News that the president had reimbursed his lawyer, Michael Cohen, for the October 2016 payment of $130,000 to Stephanie Clifford, professionally known as Stormy Daniels, in exchange for her signing a nondisclosure agreement about an alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump in 2006.

Image result for Rudy Giuliani, photos

Rudy Giuliani

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who has for months told reporters that Mr. Trump had no knowledge of the payment, said Thursday that the first time she learned the president had reimbursed Mr. Cohen was from Mr. Giuliani’s interview Wednesday.

Several White House aides were alarmed by Mr. Giuliani’s move and concerned that he is operating outside the White House staff structure, taking cues from the president and using the television platform he commands as a celebrity in his own right.

“People in the White House are a little concerned about what looks like the roller coaster ride ahead,” one White House official said.

Election-law experts said Mr. Giuliani’s revelation places the president at the center of questions about possible campaign-finance violations. Mr. Trump’s reimbursement of his lawyer for the payment could violate election law, since Mr. Cohen likely would have been required to report the funds he spent upfront as an in-kind donation, if investigators determine the payment was made to help Mr. Trump win the election. Mr. Giuliani on Wednesday suggested it was.

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

Mr. Cohen, an attorney, received a monthly retainer, not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaign, from which he entered into, through reimbursement, a private contract between two parties, known as a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA. These agreements are…..

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

…very common among celebrities and people of wealth. In this case it is in full force and effect and will be used in Arbitration for damages against Ms. Clifford (Daniels). The agreement was used to stop the false and extortionist accusations made by her about an affair,……

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

…despite already having signed a detailed letter admitting that there was no affair. Prior to its violation by Ms. Clifford and her attorney, this was a private agreement. Money from the campaign, or campaign contributions, played no roll in this transaction.

Mr. Giuliani’s comments departed from the more measured remarks previously made by the president’s legal team. They have spent months trying to draw a distinction—and a hard line—between the Russia probe and the more salacious Stormy Daniels scandal that has largely swirled around Mr. Cohen. In his comments, Mr. Giuliani conflated them.

Mr. Giuliani said in a Wall Street Journal interview Wednesday that the president had expressly authorized the disclosure and was “very pleased” with how the Fox News interview had gone.

Mr. Trump, in a series of early morning tweets Thursday, confirmed that Mr. Cohen had been reimbursed for his payment to Ms. Clifford, though he didn’t say explicitly who had reimbursed him. The president said the agreement with Ms. Clifford was made “to stop the false and extortionist accusations made by her about an affair.”

The disclosure comes at a tense time for the investigations into whether Trump associates colluded with Russia—which both the president and Moscow deny—and into whether Mr. Cohen committed bank fraud or campaign-finance violations, which he has denied.

The president and his lawyers have attacked the investigations in recent weeks, and Mr. Giuliani in a Journal interview referred to a potential sit-down between Mr. Trump and special counsel Robert Mueller as a “bulls—interview that should never be taking place.”

Several White House aides didn’t learn that Mr. Giuliani planned to speak to Fox News until he was live on the air. One official said the interview left the West Wing “completely frozen.”

Other aides said they had learned to become accustomed to unforeseen developments. “You try to do the best you can under the circumstances,” one official said. Another official, asked about the thinking behind Wednesday’s announcement, responded by text only an emoji of a man shrugging.

Mr. Trump last month denied any knowledge of the payment to Ms. Clifford, telling reporters aboard Air Force One that he was unaware of it or of where the money came from.

The White House on Thursday sought to explain that denial by saying Mr. Trump wasn’t aware at the time that he had reimbursed Mr. Cohen. Mr. Giuliani said the president first realized he had reimbursed his lawyer—through a monthly retainer starting in 2017—last week when they discussed the payment, which the Journal first reported in January.

While some White House officials were kept out of the loop on Wednesday’s announcement, Mr. Giuliani dined that same evening with Corey Lewandowski, the president’s former campaign manager, who has been in increasing contact with Mr. Trump in recent months.

Mr. Lewandowski is one of a handful of the president’s associates who have recently been granted the ability to call Mr. Trump directly, rather than being routed through the switchboard, according to an administration official—a new protocol that White House chief of staff John Kelly put in place when he started last summer.

Mr. Trump added Mr. Giuliani to his legal team because he wanted a stronger TV presence who could adopt a more aggressive approach to the Mueller investigation, according to people familiar with the decision.

Some viewed Mr. Giuliani’s TV blitz—in which he not only revealed the reimbursement but also described Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, as “disposable,” and said North Korea planned to release three U.S. prisoners on Thursday—as the lawyer simply easing into his role.

David Bossie, a former Trump campaign aide who is close to the White House, said of Mr. Giuliani: “You get a lot of different value added with Rudy Giuliani. You get his legal and intellectual abilities, but you also get his media savvy.”

Mr. Bossie, who was attending the Republican National Committee’s spring meeting in Doral, Fla., added: “He’s able to go on television and explain facts and circumstances in a way the American people understand.”

Jason Miller, another former campaign aide, described Mr. Giuliani’s interview as “PR 101.”

But Mr. Giuliani’s disclosure was met with frustration by others in the Republican Party, who are growing tired of the lingering investigation.

“If and when you’re part of a team you should be doing what’s consistent with the strategy on whatever the message is,” said Saul Anuzis, a former Republican Party chairman in Michigan. “ If he spoke out of hand it wasn’t a wise decision, and it makes it very difficult to coordinate a messaging strategy if you’ve got people not sticking to talking points.

On Thursday, hours after tweeting that Mr. Cohen had been reimbursed for the Stormy Daniels payment, Mr. Trump held a Rose Garden event with around 200 faith leaders to mark the National Day of Prayer, where some guests chastised a reporter discussing the Cohen developments on live TV.

Franklin Raddish, a South Carolina-based pastor who voted for Mr. Trump in 2016, said Thursday he was “disappointed” to hear that Mr. Trump reimbursed Mr. Cohen for the $130,000 payment to Ms. Clifford. He said if he had known about the payment before Election Day, “I would’ve sat out the race.”

Of the alleged sexual encounter with Ms. Clifford, he added: “If he admits this, I can’t vote for him in 2020.”

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com and Peter Nicholas at peter.nicholas@wsj.com

Appeared in the May 4, 2018, print edition.

 Includes video:
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Trump taunts Democrats over Russia collusion lawsuit

April 22, 2018

Democratic Party files suit alleging Russia, the Trump campaign, WikiLeaks and others all in a conspiracy to help Trump win the 2016 election

April 20, 2018

By 

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The Democratic Party on Friday sued President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, the Russian government and the Wikileaks group, claiming a broad conspiracy to help Trump win the 2016 election.

The multi-million-dollar lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court says that “In the Trump campaign, Russia found a willing and active partner in this effort” to mount “a brazen attack on American Democracy.”

The named defendants include Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr., his son-in-law Jared Kushner, former campaign chief Paul Manafort and campaign official Richard Gates, and Trump ally Roger Stone.

Also named is the Russian Federation, the general state of the Russian armed force, a Russian intelligence services hacker known as Guccifer 2.0., Wikileaks and its leader Julian Assange, and 10 unidentified people.

This story is developing. Please check back for updates.

https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/20/democratic-party-files-suit-alleging-russia-the-trump-campaign-and-wikileaks-conspired-to-disrupt-the-2016-election-report.html

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Here are the primary source documents.

Suing a foreign country presents a number of legal challenges for the Democrats, partly because other nations have immunity from most U.S. lawsuits.

Part of the thinking here may be to force the government to disclose evidence, via the legal discovery process.

From reporters Tom Hamburger, Rosalind S. Helderman and Ellen Nakashima in the Washington Post:

The complaint, filed in federal district court in Manhattan, alleges that top Trump campaign officials conspired with the Russian government and its military spy agency to hurt Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and help Trump by hacking the computer networks of the Democratic Party and disseminating stolen material found there.

“During the 2016 presidential campaign, Russia launched an all-out assault on our democracy, and it found a willing and active partner in Donald Trump’s campaign,” DNC Chairman Tom Perez said in a statement.

“This constituted an act of unprecedented treachery: the campaign of a nominee for President of the United States in league with a hostile foreign power to bolster its own chance to win the presidency,” he said.

The case asserts that the Russian hacking campaign — combined with Trump associates’ contacts with Russia and the campaign’s public cheerleading of the hacks — amounted to an illegal conspiracy to interfere in the election that caused serious damage to the Democratic Party.

Lawfare

@lawfareblog

“Document: DNC Sues Russia, Trump Campaign and WikiLeaks for Election Interference,” the latest from Matthew Kahn: http://tinyurl.com/y9wlkhxx 

Document: DNC Sues Russia, Trump Campaign and WikiLeaks for Election Interference

On Friday, the Democratic National Committee filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against the Russian government, the Trump campaign and associated…

lawfareblog.com

emptywheel@emptywheel

[Silently hopes to self the DNC lawsuit will be more competently managed than the Fusion oppo research.]

[Oh did I say that out loud?]

x=”⚖💾💀✨“}alert(1);if(0){//@Esquiring

Well that’s a hell of a caption. https://twitter.com/ZoeTillman/status/987348085935366144 

x=”⚖💾💀✨“}alert(1);if(0){//@Esquiring

Should someone tell the DNC lawyers they forgot to plead that the DNC computers meet the 1030(e)(1) definition? pic.twitter.com/CJC4RQWECx

View image on Twitter

Reuters Politics

@ReutersPolitics

MORE: Lawsuit alleges Trump campaign and Russian agents agreed to promote Trump’s candidacy through illegal meanshttps://www.twitter.com/ReutersPolitics/status/987349798410964992 

Jennifer Epstein

@jeneps

DNC suit is against: Russian Federation, GRU, Guccifer 2.0,  Aras & Emin Agalarov, Joseph Mifsud, WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, Donald J. Trump for President, Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Jared Kushner, George Papadopoulos, & Richard Gates https://bloom.bg/2HfWlg3 

DNC Sues Trump Campaign, WikiLeaks, Russia Over Election Interference

The Democratic National Committee sued Russia, the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks over interference in the 2016 election, saying Russia launched a “brazen attack on American democracy” that began with…

bloomberg.com

 https://boingboing.net/2018/04/20/democratic-party-lawsuit-says.html

Trump Lawyer Michael Cohen Finds Finances Taken Apart by Prosecutors

April 12, 2018

Bloomberg

By David Voreacos and Caleb Melby

  • Michael Cohen said to be probed for bank, campaign violations
  • FBI reported to seize records of taxi fleet that fueled wealth

Before he was known as Donald Trump’s pugnacious lawyer, Michael Cohen made a modest fortune assembling taxi fleets in New York and Chicago, with company names like Mad Dog Cab Corp., Smoochie Cab Corp. and NY Funky Taxi Corp.

From a declining taxi business to a portfolio of New York City apartments to the board of Eric Trump’s charity to a top fundraising post at the Republican Party, Cohen soared in prominence as he swatted away adversaries on Trump’s road to the White House.

Michael Cohen

Photographer: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

Now he’s in the crosshairs of federal prosecutors. FBI agents raided his New York office, home and hotel room last week, reportedly hauling away documents to support an investigation into potential bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations.

It’s unclear precisely what prosecutors are pursuing, but they sought information about several embarrassing episodes in Trump’s private life that endangered his candidacy and now could imperil his presidency, according to the New York Times. They include a $130,000 payment Cohen said he made to a porn star who claimed to have had sex with Trump, another payment to a Playboy playmate, and the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump bragged about grabbing women’s genitals. Agents also sought records on Cohen’s taxi business, CNN reported.

“You could imagine a search warrant that describes that Michael Cohen got a loan from a bank to make a payment on Trump’s behalf and made misrepresentations to the bank about how the money would be used,” said Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor. “Investigators would want to know: did he get reimbursed by Trump, or did he discuss it with anybody?”

Cohen’s attorney, Stephen Ryan, has described the search, overseen by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, as “completely inappropriate and unnecessary.” He didn’t respond to a request for further comment.

Puzzling Arrangement

Among the questions is whether any of the payments or services constituted an improper campaign contribution. Trump has denied any knowledge of the payment to Daniels. Cohen has said he paid it out of his own pocket, tapping a home equity loan to cover the cost.

Prosecutors will closely scrutinize that puzzling arrangement. It raises questions about a man who has long served as Trump’s fixer, lawyer and confidante, and who made millions of dollars and endured downturns in two quintessential New York enterprises — owning real estate and taxi medallions.

Cohen, 51, worked for the Trump Organization for a decade and protected his boss with a blunt, in-your-face style during lawsuits, campaign appearances and media interviews.

After growing up on Long Island, he attended American University in Washington and went to law school at Western Michigan University. He returned to New York to practice law. He married into a Ukrainian family and soon bought taxi medallions, which allowed them to operate cabs on the congested streets of New York City.

In an unsuccessful campaign for City Council in 2003, he described himself as a “Businessman, Attorney and Community Activist” and said he had bought more than 200 taxis.

Legal filings in a dispute with his long-time partner, a polo-playing Ukrainian émigré named Simon Garber, show that Cohen and his wife made $90,000 a month from their medallions in 2011.

Bottom Line

But Cohen’s taxi fortunes appear to have waned. Municipal records show Cohen and his wife have 32 taxi medallions in New York City and at least 22 in Chicago.

While New York medallions were worth more than $1 million each as recently as 2014, their value has plunged with the rise of ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft. Medallions are now worth about $200,000.

That drop would have affected Cohen, who has refinanced his New York medallions an average of every 1.4 years, records show. His last round came in December 2014, with Sterling National Bank. Those loans are due in December 2019, unless he refinances again. Records don’t reflect how much he actually borrowed.

Cohen also owns lots of New York City real estate. He said last year he owned 115 apartments in the city. And he has a history of buying units in Trump buildings.

In 2001, he bought a 15th-floor unit in Trump World Tower, across from the United Nations. The building, which opened in the wake of historic capital flight from Russia, became a magnet for funds from the former Soviet Union. Among those who moved in were a Russian accused of mob ties and extortion by an oligarch, an Uzbek jeweler investigated for money laundering who was later shot and killed on the street in Manhattan, and a pro-Moscow Ukrainian politician.

Cohen’s in-laws, who are from Ukraine, followed him into the building, spending almost $8 million on three units in the building between 2003 and 2005. Cohen bought a $5 million unit at Trump Park Avenue, around the corner from Trump Tower in Manhattan.

Trump’s Circle

In classic Trump fashion, Cohen’s devotion to the brand earned him entree into Trump’s circle. In 2007, the New York Post chronicled Cohen’s purchases in Trump buildings.

“Trump properties are solid investments,” Cohen told the paper. “Michael Cohen has a great insight into the real-estate market,” Trump said in the same article. “He has invested in my buildings because he likes to make money – and he does.”

Trump hired Cohen three months later.

As Cohen became ensconced in Trump’s world, he took on his own development projects. From 2011 through 2013, limited liability companies affiliated with Cohen purchased four walk-up buildings in lower Manhattan, paying $11.4 million in cash, before taking out another $13.9 million to pursue an aggressive flipping effort, replacing boilers, updating plumbing, and adding partitions to create more bedrooms.

The quick work drew ire from residents, who filed formal complaints about burst water pipes, and work being done without proper permits.

But the plan proved lucrative. In late 2014, Cohen’s companies doubled their initial investment when they sold the buildings to companies affiliated with the descendants of Clarence Seid, a Brooklyn-born lawyer and ham-radio enthusiast. The family, including Herbert Chaves, who married Seid’s daughter Jane, was looking to reinvest its gains from the $38 million sale of a Brooklyn development site to a partnership of SL Green and Kushner Cos., then run by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law.

The Seid-Chaves family partnered with Cohen again a few months later, to purchase an Upper East Side apartment building for $58 million, taking out a $17 million mortgage to do so. Cohen’s companies control 38 percent of the property, public records show.

In October of last year, Cohen sold his unit in Trump World Tower for $3.3 million. His in-laws still have units there.

— With assistance by Andrew Martin, Dune Lawrence, and Shahien Nasiripour

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-04-12/trump-lawyer-cohen-finds-finances-taken-apart-by-prosecutors

White House Says Trump Has Power to Fire Mueller — But Republican Lawmakers Want Mueller to Finish His Job

April 11, 2018

Experts outside the administration have said the president can’t directly dismiss the special counsel

The White House said Tuesday that President Donald Trump believes he has the power to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, above.
The White House said Tuesday that President Donald Trump believes he has the power to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, above. PHOTO:YURI GRIPAS/REUTERS

WASHINGTON—The White House said Tuesday that President Donald Trump believes he has the authority to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, as lawmakers from both parties warned against doing so one day after the FBI raided properties tied to the president’s longtime lawyer.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said that Mr. Mueller “should be allowed to finish his job,” though he rebuffed calls for legislation to protect the special counsel. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said on CNN that it would be “suicide” for Mr. Trump to fire the special counsel.

Mr. Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said the president “certainly believes he has the power” to fire Mr. Mueller directly. The special prosecutor is examining Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign and whether associates of Mr. Trump colluded with Moscow. Mr. Trump and Russian officials have denied the allegations.

Ms. Sanders’s comment was a departure from the more measured responses that the administration has given to such questions in the past. In late March, after Mr. Trump criticized Mr. Mueller on Twitter, White House lawyer Ty Cobb issued a statement that said the president was “not considering or discussing” firing the special counsel.

Ms. Sanders said the White House had consulted with legal experts, including those at the Justice Department, on the president’s power to fire the special counsel. Ms. Sanders didn’t say the president would take such action. Still, she said: “I think the president has been clear that he feels this has gone too far.”

A Justice Department spokeswoman didn’t respond to a question about whether agency lawyers had given such advice to the White House. Many legal experts outside the administration have said Mr. Trump can’t fire Mr. Mueller directly.

The exchanges came a day after Federal Bureau of Investigation agents searched properties connected to Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, seizing records including those related to a $130,000 payment he made weeks before the 2016 election to former adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, professionally known as Stormy Daniels. Ms. Clifford received the payment as part of an agreement that barred her from discussing an alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump in 2006.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mr. Mueller, personally approved the raids, according to a person familiar with the matter. People close to the president said that revelation was likely to increase pressure on Mr. Rosenstein, who was appointed by the president.

Mr. Trump has expressed frustration with Mr. Rosenstein in the past and has considered firing him, according to people familiar with the matter. West Wing officials in the last day have advised Mr. Trump not to fire Mr. Rosenstein or any other Justice Department officials, according to a White House aide.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan has opened an investigation that it is coordinating with Mr. Mueller’s office, according to a person familiar with the matter.

White House Says Trump Has Power to Fire Mueller

In a CNN interview, Mr. Cohen said Tuesday the agents who conducted the raid were “courteous and respectful.” Asked if he was worried, he said: “I would be lying to you if I told you I am not.”

Mr. Trump was angered by news of the raids of his longtime lawyer, according to a person close to the Republican president.

Mr. Trump has been highly critical of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, blaming him for setting in motion Mr. Mueller’s appointment after he recused himself from the Russia investigation. Mr. Trump’s decision to fire then-FBI director James Comey last spring led Mr. Rosenstein to appoint Mr. Mueller.

“The more he looks at this investigation, the Sessions recusal becomes a deeper wound,” a person close to the president said. Ms. Sanders’s remarks were meant as a “reminder to the American people that there are constraints on Mueller,” the person said.

Newt Gingrich, the former Republican House speaker and a close ally of Mr. Trump, said in an interview that some staff members worry the president will retaliate by firing Mr. Mueller. A White House official said advisers are counseling the president against such a move.

Trump Calls Cohen Raids a ‘Witch Hunt’

On Monday President Trump called the raids at the office of his lawyer, Michael Cohen, a “disgrace” and a “witch hunt” and discussed the possibility of firing special counsel Robert Mueller. Photo: Getty.

“This is a president who has a very strong temper and who feels he is being abused by people who are clearly his enemies,” Mr. Gingrich said. “Everyone around him keeps telling him—as I would tell him any time we chat—it’s a non-starter. Firing him [Mr. Mueller] would be a disaster. It would guarantee splitting the Republican Party.”

Mr. McConnell said he didn’t believe the president would fire the special counsel. “I haven’t seen clear indication yet that we needed to pass something to keep him from being removed,” he said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) said he doesn’t believe Congress needs to take action to protect Mr. Mueller “at this point,” but cautioned the president should be careful in what he says and does about the investigation.

“I think Mueller is perfectly capable of protecting himself,” Mr. Hatch said. “He’s acting within legal limits in my book and I have a high regard for him.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the chamber’s Democratic leader, called for legislation to protect Mr. Mueller.

“President Trump made it frighteningly clear that he may be considering firing special counsel Mueller,” he said. “Our Republican colleagues must not continue ignoring the elephant in the room.”

Mr. Schumer also warned Mr. Trump not to fire the deputy attorney general. “Any attempt to remove Rod Rosenstein will create the exact same constitutional crisis as if you fired special counsel Mueller,” Mr. Schumer said. “Don’t do it. Do not go down this path.”

Other Democrats, including Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, said the criticism by Mr. Trump of the probe showed that Congress needed to protect Mr. Mueller’s probe. “More than ever, Congress must support the rule of law and protect this investigation,” he said.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R., Texas) said he doesn’t think Mr. Trump will fire Mr. Mueller and that it was “pretty universally being conveyed” by lawmakers to the president not to fire him.

Many legal experts said Mr. Trump wouldn’t be able to fire the special counsel himself, but he could order Mr. Rosenstein to do so. Mr. Rosenstein could refuse, and Mr. Trump could fire him and then try to replace him with someone who would terminate the special counsel.

Former federal prosecutor Jimmy Gurulé said Mr. Mueller is operating under a statute enacted by Congress that “expressly provides that the deputy attorney general has the authority to fire the special counsel—but even then, only for cause.”

Mr. Gurulé said the president would likely argue that as the chief executive officer, he has the authority to fire anyone who works in the executive branch. But the Supreme Court has previously ruled that Congress may impose reasonable limitations on the president’s authority to fire employees working in the executive branch, Mr. Gurulé said.

The raids involving Mr. Cohen provide the clearest signal so far that the investigation has expanded beyond a narrow special counsel probe of alleged Russian electoral meddling, and is now a multifaceted Justice Department inquiry into an array of Mr. Trump’s associates.

That has significant legal and political consequences, experts said. Other prosecutors aren’t limited by Mr. Mueller’s restricted mandate, and the large number of Justice Department investigators now involved could make it harder to depict the effort as a partisan crusade by a few biased officials.

The raid targeting Mr. Cohen was directed by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan after it received a referral of potential criminal conduct from Mr. Mueller’s office. Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn are exploring matters related to Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, while New York state investigators are also scrutinizing Mr. Trump’s associates.

The multipronged effort suggests that the probes would continue even if Mr. Mueller were somehow sidelined. Beyond the additional prosecutors involved, other Justice Department prosecutors would likely pick up the threads of Mr. Mueller’s investigation if he departed. The special counsel’s office has also filed multiple cases in court, which would likely proceed regardless of Mr. Mueller’s status.

“Firing Mr. Mueller is now clearly not going to end federal investigations since there is a second set of prosecutors that seem to be involved,” said David Super, a law professor at Georgetown University.

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com, Del Quentin Wilber at del.wilber@wsj.com and Kristina Peterson at kristina.peterson@wsj.com

Appeared in the April 11, 2018, print edition as ‘Trump Asserts Power To Fire Mueller.’

https://www.wsj.com/articles/white-house-says-trump-has-power-to-fire-mueller-1523406965