Posts Tagged ‘Russians’

Libyan Military Strongman Haftar Visiting Russia

August 12, 2017

MOSCOW — Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar was due to arrive in Moscow on Saturday ahead of a meeting with Russia’s foreign minister, RIA news agency reported, citing a Russian negotiator.

Haftar is expected to meet Sergei Lavrov on Monday, Lev Dengov, head of the Russian contact group on Libya, told RIA. It was not immediately clear what the pair would be discussing.

At the end of July, Haftar and Libya’s Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj committed during talks in France to a conditional ceasefire and to elections, but a Italian naval mission aimed to help the country curb migrant flows has fueled tension this month.

Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army controls much of eastern and southern Libya.

It has rejected a U.N.-backed government in Tripoli that is struggling to assert authority over an array of armed factions which have been competing for control since the 2011 fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

Haftar has held talks with Russian officials before and in January he was given a tour of a Russian aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean.

The head of the U.N.-backed government visited Moscow in March, and the Kremlin said then it wanted to help repair the damage it said had been done by Western involvement in the country.

(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Additional reporting by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Alison Williams)

Jared Kushner Releases Details on Previously Undisclosed Meeting With Russian Ambassador

July 24, 2017

President’s son-in-law and adviser spoke with ambassador Sergei Kislyak at event at Washington hotel

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FILE – In this Monday, July 17, 2017 file photo, Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak arrives at the State Department in Washington to meet with Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon. The Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak, a prominent figure in the controversy over Russia’s possible involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, has ended his assignment in Washington. The Russian Embassy in Washington announced on Twitter that Kislyak’s tenure ended on Saturday, July 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

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July 24, 2017 6:00 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON—Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and a senior White House adviser, on Monday released details of his contacts with Russian officials and businesspeople in the two years since Mr. Trump launched his presidential campaign, including a previously undisclosed meeting with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. in April 2016.

In the newly disclosed April encounter—shortly before Mr. Trump would become the Republican party’s effective nominee—Mr. Kushner met ambassador Sergei Kislyak at an event at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. Mr. Kushner said he was introduced to Mr. Kislyak and three other ambassadors by Dimitri Simes, the publisher of a foreign-policy magazine who was hosting the event, at a reception held directly before it.

A spokesman for Mr. Kushner had previously denied that the two met privately at that event. A White House spokesman said Monday that the statement doesn’t contradict the previous denial because the two met at a reception, not one-on-one.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner at an event with President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington on June 22.
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner at an event with President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington on June 22.PHOTO: EVAN VUCCI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

“The ambassadors…expressed interest in creating a positive relationship should we win the election,” Mr. Kushner wrote in his statement. “Each exchange lasted less than a minute; some gave me their business cards and invited me to lunch at their embassies. I never took them up on any of these invitations and that was the extent of the interactions.”

Mr. Trump, who gave a speech addressing foreign policy at the event, also greeted Mr. Kislyak and three other foreign ambassadors who came to a VIP reception held before the event, The Wall Street Journal reported in May 2016. Mr. Kushner’s account makes no mention of Mr. Trump being present at the reception. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also attended the event, and said in sworn testimony before a Senate panel last month that he couldn’t recall whether he had a passing encounter with Mr. Kislyak there.

To underscore the brief nature of the interaction, Mr. Kushner referenced an email he wrote on Nov. 9 after the campaign received a note of congratulations from Russian President Vladimir Putin. “What is the name of the Russian ambassador?” Mr. Kushner asked in an email to Mr. Simes, an American born in Moscow, saying he wanted to verify that the Putin note was real.

The meeting with Mr. Kislyak was revealed in an 11-page statement Mr. Kushner prepared for congressional committees probing allegations of Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential campaign. Later Monday, he is set to hold a private interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee, which will mark his first time speaking with congressional investigators.

“I had no improper contacts,” Mr. Kushner wrote in the statement. “I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government.”

Following Mr. Trump’s victory on Election Day, the White House repeatedly denied that there had been any contacts between his campaign and Russian officials. “It never happened,” spokeswoman Hope Hicks told the Associated Press in November. “There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.”

Since then, it has emerged that several members of Mr. Trump’s campaign—some of whom now serve in his administration—did have contact with Russians. They include Mr. Sessions, former national security adviser Mike Flynn and the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr.

Congressional investigators and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is overseeing a criminal probe for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are probing Russian meddling in the 2016 election, as well as whether Trump associates colluded in that effort.

Mr. Trump and his campaign aides have denied any collusion, and the president has said he questions the U.S. intelligence agencies’ consensus that Moscow sought to intervene during the campaign—a charge that Russian officials have denied.

The revelations of the Russia meetings come at a time when Congress is considering legislation imposing new sanctions on Russia as retribution for its interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak
Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak PHOTO: CAROLYN KASTER/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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The bill, which already passed the Senate on a rare and overwhelming bipartisan 98-2 vote will pose a test for the president, who has expressed skepticism about the intelligence community’s assessment of Moscow’s role in the campaign, from hacking Democratic emails to promoting fake news. The White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Sunday said Mr. Trump was likely to support the legislation.

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee has summoned Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman for three months in 2016, and Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, to a hearing on Wednesday, along with Russia sanctions activist Bill Browder and Glenn Simpson, the founder of a political intelligence firm in Washington called Fusion GPS. Mr. Simpson, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, was subpoenaed to appear before the committee on Friday.

Mr. Simpson’s attorneys have said they are prepared to fight the subpoena. The Judiciary Committee said Donald Trump Jr. and Mr. Manafort are providing documents to the committee and are still negotiating the terms of their testimonies.

The new meeting disclosed on Monday come on top of three previously confirmed meetings Mr. Kushner has held with Russians.

In June 2016, Mr. Kushner met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, Mr. Manafort and Donald Trump Jr. in a meeting arranged by the younger Mr. Trump. Emails the president’s son released earlier this month showed the meeting was held to discuss allegedly damaging information about Democrat Hillary Clinton they were told was being offered by the Russian government in support of the elder Mr. Trump’s candidacy.

In an email to the younger Mr. Trump dated June 3, 2016, a British publicist said that a top Russian prosecutor had “offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”

The younger Mr. Trump responded: “[If] it’s what you say I love it.”

Mr. Kushner disclosed the meeting with Ms. Veselnitskaya earlier this year in a required form to obtain a security clearance, according to a statement by his attorney, Jamie Gorelick. Mr. Kushner initially filed a disclosure that didn’t list any contacts with foreign government officials, but the next day submitted a supplemental disclosure saying that he had engaged in “numerous contacts with foreign officials.”

Mr. Kushner has since submitted information about “over 100 calls or meetings with representatives of more than 20 countries, most of which were during transition,” Ms. Gorelick said. That information hasn’t been publicly disclosed.

White House officials also said earlier this year that Mr. Kushner met in December with Messrs. Kislyak and Flynn. Mr. Flynn resigned in February as national security adviser after it was disclosed he misled officials about his contacts with the Russian ambassador.

Mr. Kushner subsequently had aide Avraham Berkowitz handle another meeting requested by Mr. Kislyak, during which the ambassador sought to arrange a meeting between Mr. Kushner and Sergei Gorkov, the head of Vneshekonombank, or VEB, the officials said. Mr. Kushner’s meeting with Mr. Gorkov took place in December at a location other than Trump Tower, a senior administration official said.

In 2014 the U.S. imposed sanctions on the Russian development bank, naming entities and individuals operating in Russia’s economy following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. The Treasury Department sanctions prohibit specified financial contacts with the bank and others on the list.

The White House’s account of that December meeting has differed from that of VEB, which said its leadership met with Mr. Kushner in his capacity as the head of the real-estate firm Kushner Cos. A senior administration official said earlier this year that Mr. Kushner didn’t know the bank was under sanction and “wasn’t there to discuss business.”

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/jared-kushner-releases-details-on-previously-undisclosed-meeting-with-russian-ambassador-1500890433

If Trump Really Loves America, He’ll Resign

July 15, 2017

Handcuffed by Ego

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Commentary

By John Francis Carey

Donald Trump Jr. “took a meeting” with a Russian government attorney and a group working to defeat Hillary Clinton.

At least, that’s what he thought, according to his email records.

No other facts are relevant.

Republican commentator Charles Krauthammer says it may be bungled collusion but it’s still collusion.

Meanwhile, the healthcare bill is going nowhere fast, there is no tax overhaul plan, and no infrastructure spending plan has been passed and funded.

The stock market is going great but the Wall Street Journal reports that the gains in the stock market haven’t translated very much into the real economy. Manufacturing is still slow, jobs have been made but the future is unclear, retail is not doing well and optimism for the U.S. economy is slipping.

“Hopes for a prolonged period of 3% GDP growth sparked by Trump’s victory have largely vanished,” said Richard Curtin, chief economist for the University of Michigan’s consumer-sentiment survey.

We are in a tough spot in North Korea — maybe on the brink of war. American troops remain involved in wars in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, along with the occasional bombing in Somalia or someplace else.

The nation needs the full attention of the Commander in Chief.

Trust in any White House policy with regard to Russia is now under assault. China is watching closely as Donald Trump looks more and more to them as a temporary stand-in president under siege and perhaps just hours or days from incapacitation due to lack of public support.

Xi Jinping can watch CNN, too.

Never in the history of the nation has a “resistance movement” dogged a U.S. president from within. Never have the media been so emotionally transfixed upon who said what in the White House, in Air Force One, on the trip and the rest. Never have we seen so many leaks and unnamed sources. Committees of Congress are questioning former Directors of National Security and the FBI, plus a long list of lesser notables. Doubt reigns.

Then, somewhere in the bowels of the FBI, there’s Robert Mueller III, lingering like the hangman.

It sounds like a bad movie. The perfect storm in Washington D.C.

But it’s real: offering three plus years of gridlock — or worse.

Doctor Charles Krauthammer has called Donald Trump “pathological” — and more than once.

Nobody has to have a medical degree to see, watch and judge for themselves.

Donald Trump’s treatment of Jeff Sessions is a lesson in bad behavior and maybe even ego-driven illness.

But there is a way out. There is always a way to do what is in the best interests of the people of the United States. There is always a way to do what’s right for the sake of the nation. There is always gain in uniting the nation and ending the foul stench — of just about anything.

Donald Trump will have to resign. His pride will refuse to entertain the notion, of course.

But the alternatives may sway him.

The best part of the Trump Presidency may be over. Many achievements already won can be maintained under a new Republican President. Maybe a healer can even start the process of moving us past…

If President Trump decides to stay, and fight a war of a 10,000 tweets all the way to impeachment — as his ego will tell him to do — his place in history will be destroyed.

If some sort of medical intervention comes to pass, his legacy, and maybe even his business empire, will be destroyed forever.

Plus, no matter what happens, enemies around the globe will be gloating at the prospect of the U.S. on the brink of ungoverned and ungovernable for the next year or two.

Putin’s evil master plan has already succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

As Trump stands today, to many he’s the rock star of the age that got into the White House in a kind of miracle of populism. The dream of “Making America Great Again” is a good one and could be preserved, and maybe even fulfilled in some ways, if he resigns.

If he stays, ignoring the advice of national solons who tell him he should resign “for the good of the nation,” the historians will rip him to shreds as a selfish, ego driven megalomaniac that really doesn’t or didn’t care if American ever became Great Again. He will be seen as one who only cares about schmoozing with Mrs. Macron in the Eiffel Tower and sending insulting tweets to the Mayor of London.

Now who should lay all this out for Donald Trump? Who can engineer the intervention?

My first thought is for Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, two brothers from different mothers.

But more importantly, two men who have worked in the Oval Office to serve the American people.

Two former presidents. Two men in Trump’s same unique club.  They have to make the case to their successor in the Oval Office.

But the only people Donald Trump really trusts are those in his inner circle: Donald Jr., Jared Kushner and Ivanka. They got him where he is. They will have to play a role in getting him out.

Otherwise, they will all become a part of a long, painful, ego-fueled national nightmare.

And nobody will be better for it.

In the meantime, we await Mr. Mueller.

John Francis Carey
Peace and Freedom

Mr. Carey has written commentary for The Wall Street Journal, Washington Times and other newspapers.

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What Robert Mueller Learned From Enron

Robert Mueller, foreground, arriving at the Capitol for a closed meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in June. Credit Alex Wong/Getty Images North America

It seems safe to assume that nobody read Donald Trump Jr.’s damning emails with a Kremlin-connected lawyer more closely than Robert Mueller.

Mr. Mueller, the special counsel investigating possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, will surely be looking into the now infamous meeting, including the president’s son; the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and his campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort.

As he does, will Mr. Mueller be able to build a case that goes all the way to the top?

That could depend on what lessons he learned from overseeing the task force that investigated one of the biggest fraud cases in American history: the collapse of the energy giant Enron.

In December 2001, Enron filed what was then the largest corporate bankruptcy in American history. Just weeks later, Mr. Mueller, then the F.B.I. director; Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson; and the assistant attorney general for the criminal division, Michael Chertoff, formed the Enron Task Force, an elite team of F.B.I. agents and federal prosecutors assigned to investigate and prosecute crimes related to the Houston-based energy trader. Andrew Weissmann, who recently joined Mr. Mueller’s Russia team, later led the task force.

The Enron team was patient and learned from its investigative and trial mistakes. After its yearslong run, it set a high-water mark for complex, high-profile financial inquiries, successfully indicting and imprisoning almost all of the company’s top executives.

Early on, the Enron team also won a jury conviction of the Arthur Andersen accounting firm, Enron’s auditor, on an obstruction-of-justice charge. That experience could prove valuable as the Russia team investigates — among many possible routes — whether President Trump obstructed justice when he fired James Comey, the F.B.I. director.

Prosecuting the Enron executives went slowly. Not until 2006 did a jury find the former chief executive, Jeffrey K. Skilling, and the former chairman and chief executive, Kenneth L. Lay, guilty. (Mr. Lay died before sentencing.)

The frauds Enron was accused of were audacious. The company had hidden debt in a complex web of off-the-books companies and had faked its profits. Yet prosecutorial success was not inevitable. Mr. Skilling and Mr. Lay pleaded ignorance, blaming lower-level employees and arguing they had relied on the advice of their attorneys and auditors. The government did not have damning emails or wiretap evidence from either man. Prosecutors may face a similar challenge with Mr. Trump, who tweets but reportedly does not use email.

The Enron team got off to an auspicious start, with the Department of Justice providing adequate prosecutorial resources. Mr. Mueller helped recruit talented prosecutors and investigators from around the country and then got out of their way.

He and other top Justice Department officials then gave their team political cover. Enron and its executives were particularly close to the Bush family and top Republican officials. Early on, the team interviewed White House officials about their recollections. Republican political operatives voiced displeasure, but the team persisted.

The task force conducted its investigations effectively, flipping lower-level employees to build cases against the top bad actors. The Enron team made aggressive and risky moves. For example, it shocked Houston high society by charging the wife of Andrew Fastow, the chief financial officer, with tax evasion to put pressure on him. It worked. Mr. Fastow began to cooperate with the government. (His wife pleaded guilty.) Every prosecutor knows this strategy works, but for various reasons today, few put in the painstaking work needed to penetrate the sophisticated legal defenses of highly paid executives.

As it proceeded, the task force weathered relentless attacks. First, critics charged it was moving too slowly. Later, white-collar defense lawyers accused the team of intimidating witnesses and overzealously charging executives. The legal establishment particularly criticized the prosecution of Arthur Andersen. The government won at trial in 2002, but the Supreme Court overturned the verdict three years later on a narrow issue involving jury instructions.

Despite its successes, the Enron Task Force emerged with a mixed legacy thanks to its trial losses and reversals from higher courts. Among them, the Supreme Court reversed part of the Skilling verdict.

Today, many Justice Department officials have learned the wrong lessons from the Enron experience, accepting the idea that the task force was overzealous. Even Democratic appointees like Mary Jo White, President Obama’s chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and Lanny Breuer, his assistant attorney general for the criminal division, came to believe the prosecution of Andersen had been a mistake.

Drawing the wrong lessons has consequences. In subsequent years, the Justice Department did not assign prosecutors to work solely on financial crisis cases. While the Bush Justice Department had acted quickly to create the Enron Task Force, the Obama department allowed plans to create a similar task force, after the banking collapse of 2008, to die amid bureaucratic infighting.

It was no surprise, then, that the Justice Department never put any top bankers from the biggest banks in prison after the financial crisis. Forgetting what went right with the Enron prosecutions has contributed to a problem that still plagues the Justice Department: It has lost the will and ability to prosecute top corporate executives from the largest corporations.

Today Mr. Mueller’s team is operating in an even hotter kitchen than the Enron Task Force did. The president has repeatedly called the investigation “a witch hunt,” and rumors abound that he could fire Mr. Mueller any day. A Trump ally, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, has grumbled conspiratorially that the former F.B.I. director was the “tip of the deep state spear” aimed at the president.

But the Enron Task Force may have given Mr. Mueller a hide thick enough to protect him from those attacks. More than that, Enron honed skills he’ll need now in the Russia investigation, which may well touch on money laundering, secrecy havens, complex accounting maneuvers, campaign finance violations — and multiple lies.

As I talked with Mr. Mueller’s former Enron Task Force colleagues in recent weeks, it became clear to me that he believes the Enron team was successful — and understands why. That means his special counsel team will probably move more slowly than people anticipate. But it might also shock people with its aggressive investigative and prosecutorial tactics. If Mr. Trump and his advisers committed crimes, Mr. Mueller will find them.

Kissinger: Chaos in the West Could Give Boost to Russia

June 27, 2017

LONDON — Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has warned of Russia’s simmering alienation from its western neighbors but says he believed that President Vladimir Putin will ultimately work toward cooperative relationships with countries on its borders.

Speaking at the Margaret Thatcher Conference on Security  in London Tuesday, Kissinger predicted ongoing friction with Russia over Ukraine and Syria.

“Russia has evolved to what amounts to a definition of absolute security (and) absolute insecurity for some of its neighbors,” Kissinger said during the keynote address, adding that Putin’s view of international politics is reminiscent of 1930’s European nationalist authoritarianism. “Russia wants to be accepted by Europe and transcend it simultaneously.”

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LONDON (AP) — Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on Tuesday warned of Russia’s simmering alienation from its western neighbors but said he believed that President Vladimir Putin will ultimately work toward cooperative relationships with countries on its borders.

During his diplomatic career, the 94-year-old senior statesman supported a policy of detente with the Soviet Union, opened relations with China and helped negotiate the Paris Peace Accords, which helped end U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. He was also involved in negotiating with Syria to stop the fighting that emerged from the 1973 war between Egypt and Israel.

Speaking at the Margaret Thatcher Conference on Security in London, Kissinger predicted ongoing friction with Russia over Ukraine and Syria. Russia, which has backed the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, on Tuesday dismissed U.S. claims that Assad was preparing for a chemical weapons attack. The United States has offered no evidence to support the claim.

“Russia has evolved to what amounts to a definition of absolute security (and) absolute insecurity for some of its neighbors,” Kissinger said during the keynote address, adding that Putin’s view of international politics is reminiscent of 1930’s European nationalist authoritarianism. “Russia wants to be accepted by Europe and transcend it simultaneously.”

Kissinger also warned that with political chaos enveloping Britain and the United States, Russia, India and China could gain a foothold in creating a new world order. He also said that without strategic thought, two scenarios could unfold in U.S.-China relations: repeated confrontation or co-evolution born out of a “conscious need to avoid conflict.”

While Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, his career has been marked by numerous controversies, including his involvement in U.S. bombing campaigns in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, support for Pakistan’s military dictatorship in the 1970s against what is now Bangladesh and U.S. involvement in the 1973 coup that overthrew Chilean President Salvador Allende.

Jeff Sessions to publicly testify on James Comey’s firing, meetings with Russian official

June 13, 2017

Attorney General Jeff Sessions during a cabinet meeting with President Trump at the White House on Monday. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

By VERONICA STRACQUALURSI
ABC News

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U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is in the hot seat today as he’s expected to be grilled by the Senate Intelligence Committee on his meetings with a Russian official and any discussions he had with the president before FBI Director James Comey was fired.

The U.S. attorney general requested to appear before that committee instead of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, which he was originally scheduled to appear today.

“The Senate Intelligence Committee is the most appropriate forum for such matters, as it has been conducting an investigation and has access to relevant, classified information,” Sessions wrote in a letter on Saturday sent to the appropriations committees.

Some of the questions likely to be posed to Sessions will focus on his meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the campaign.

Another likely line of inquiry will be on any discussions Sessions had with the president before the president decided to dismiss Comey. However, according to a source, Sessions is expected to claim executive privilege, insisting it would be inappropriate to discuss conversations with the president in an open setting.

Sessions is scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee at 2:30 p.m. ET.

ABC News’ Mike Levine contributed to this report.

Includes video:

http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/jeff-sessions-publicly-testify-james-comeys-firing-meetings/story?id=48001636

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Jeff Sessions Will Testify in Public Before Senate Committee

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions agreed on Monday to testify publicly before the Senate Intelligence Committee about his connections to an investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Mr. Sessions is expected on Tuesday to defend his interactions with both Russian officials and James B. Comey, who was fired by President Trump as F.B.I. director.

The attorney general will face lingering questions about his meetings last year with Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, which were revealed after he denied meeting with anyone from the Russian government during his confirmation hearing.

Mr. Sessions said he recused himself from the Russia investigation because of his work for Mr. Trump during the campaign, though his announcement came a day after The Washington Post revealed his meetings with Mr. Kislyak. Senators are likely to question him about why he was then involved in the firing of Mr. Comey — a decision that Mr. Trump later said during an NBC News interview was related to the Russia investigation.

Senators are also eager to talk to Mr. Sessions as Congress weighs whether Mr. Trump may have tried to obstruct justice by remarking to Mr. Comey that he hoped he would “let this go,” referring to the F.B.I. investigation into Michael T. Flynn, his former national security adviser.

Mr. Sessions was present at the Feb. 14 meeting when Mr. Trump asked the attendees to leave so he could speak privately with Mr. Comey about the Flynn investigation.

Comey to Testify That Trump Asked Him to Back Off Flynn Investigation

May 31, 2017

Former FBI director’s Senate testimony will be his first time speaking in public since president unexpectedly fired him

Former FBI Director James Comey during a House intelligence committee hearing in March.

Former FBI Director James Comey during a House intelligence committee hearing in March. PHOTO: NICHOLAS KAMM/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

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Updated May 31, 2017 3:14 p.m. ET

Former FBI Director James Comey is expected to testify as early as next week before a Senate committee that President Donald Trump asked him to back off the investigation of former national security adviser Mike Flynn, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee would be Mr. Comey’s first time speaking in public following his unexpected firing on May 9 by President Trump.

Mr. Comey wrote in a memo after a February encounter with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office that the president said to him, “I hope you can let this go,” referring to the FBI’s investigation of Mr. Flynn, according to people who have seen the memo. Mr. Trump has denied asking Mr. Comey to drop the investigation of Mr. Flynn.

The Oval Office conversation took place shortly after Mr. Flynn resigned under pressure for having misled Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his phone conversations with a Russian diplomat.

Related Video

 https://www.wsj.com/articles/comey-to-testify-publicly-before-senate-intelligence-committee-1496255738?mod=e2tweu
Trump Cites Russian Investigation in Reasons for Firing Comey
After a flurry of explanations from administration officials for how and why President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, the President went on the record himself, saying the decision was related to the handling of the Russian hacking investigations. WSJ’s Jason Bellini reports. Photo: AP

The controversy surrounding President Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey continues to grip Washington. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains how the uproar, and any impact on his approval ratings, may affect Mr. Trump’s agenda. Photo: Getty

The former national security adviser is also being investigated by federal authorities for potential violations of a law regarding the disclosure of work for a foreign power.

In early March, Mr. Flynn filed a retroactive disclosure form with the Justice Department detailing how his firm received $530,000 in 2016 from a Turkish businessman through a Dutch company called Inovo BV.

The Senate Intelligence Committee, along with several other congressional panels, is investigating possible collusion by members of the Trump campaign with Russia in its meddling in the 2016 elections.

Mr. Comey was spearheading the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s probe into Moscow’s interference when he was fired by Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump has said there was no collusion with Russia and called the investigation a witch hunt. Russia has denied the allegations.

Following the firing, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed a special counsel, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, to lead the federal inquiry.

Mr. Comey has spoken to members of Mr. Mueller’s team to ensure his testimony won’t hurt the special counsel’s investigation, according to the person familiar with the matter. It isn’t clear if the White House will seek to intervene and block Mr. Comey’s testimony.

The testimony could come as early as June 8, according to people close to Mr. Comey.

Rebecca Watkins, a spokeswoman for Sen. Richard Burr (R., N.C.), the chairman of the intelligence committee, said in a statement that the committee “welcomes the testimony of former Director Comey, but does not have an announcement to make at this time.”

Rachel Cohen, a spokeswoman for Sen. Mark Warner, the committee’s top Democrat, declined to comment.

Write to Del Quentin Wilber at del.wilber@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/comey-to-testify-publicly-before-senate-intelligence-committee-1496255738?mod=e2tweu

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Comey to testify publicly about Trump confrontations

May 31, 2017

Updated 1:24 PM ET, Wed May 31, 2017

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(CNN) Fired FBI director James Comey plans to testify publicly in the Senate as early as next week to confirm bombshell accusations that President Donald Trump pressured him to end his investigation into a top Trump aide’s ties to Russia, a source close to the issue said Wednesday.

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Final details are still being worked out and no official date for his testimony has been set. Comey is expected to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russia during last year’s presidential election.
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Comey has spoken privately with Special Counsel Robert Mueller III to work out the parameters for his testimony to ensure there are no legal entanglements as a result of his public account, a source said. Comey will likely sit down with Mueller, a longtime colleague at the Justice Department, for a formal interview only after his public testimony.
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When he testifies, Comey is unlikely to be willing to discuss in any detail the FBI’s investigation into the charges of possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign — the centerpiece of the probe, this source said. But he appears eager to discuss his tense interactions with Trump before his firing, which have now spurred allegations that the president may have tried to obstruct the investigation. If it happens, Comey’s public testimony promises to be a dramatic chapter in the months-long controversy, and it will likely bring even more intense scrutiny to an investigation that Trump has repeatedly denounced as a “witch hunt.”
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The appointment of Mueller as a special counsel in the Russia investigation had raised concerns among some members of Congress that his probe could scuttle the chance for Congress and the public to hear directly from Comey. That appears less likely now that Mueller and Comey have discussed the limits of his testimony.
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Since his firing last month, dramatic accounts have emerged in the New York Times, CNN, and elsewhere about the tense confrontations with Trump that Comey memorialized in memos afterward. A week after he took office in January, Trump allegedly demanded Comey’s “loyalty” if he kept him on as FBI director, and he urged Comey to drop his ongoing investigation into Michael Flynn, Trump’s fired national security adviser, in a separate, one-on-one meeting.
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The source said that Comey is expected to stand by those accounts in his testimony.
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“The bottom line is he’s going to testify,” the source close to the issue said. “He’s happy to testify, and he’s happy to cooperate.”
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Officials with the Justice Department and Mueller’s office declined to comment.
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Putin: Anti-Russia spin pushed by those who lost US election & can’t face reality — “Putin’s Finest Hour”

May 31, 2017

31 May, 2017 09:36
RT (Russia Today)
Anti-Russia spin pushed by those who lost US election & can’t face reality – Putin to Le Figaro
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President Vladimir Putin © Sergey Guneev / Sputnik
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A powerful bureaucracy is preventing US presidents from making changes, Vladimir Putin told Le Figaro, saying he’s not surprised Donald Trump hasn’t restored relations with Moscow amid a power struggle – just as Obama failed to shut down Guantanamo.
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Despite early signals from the Trump administration that it would not mind improving relations with Russia, which seemed to hit rock bottom during the last months of the Obama presidency, Moscow “had no special expectations” with regards to the new US President Trump, the Russian leader said in an interview to be published in full Wednesday.
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While US presidents “come and go,” its political landscape is hardly prone to changes, Putin said, noting that the incumbent US leader “is steering a traditional US policy.”
This political invariability can be ascribed to the sprawling US bureaucratic machine, which imposes rigid constraints on every neophyte leader as soon as he rises to power, Putin argued.“When a person is elected, they may have some ideas. Then people with briefcases arrive, well dressed, wearing dark suits… These people start explaining how things are done. And instantly, everything changes,” Putin elaborated, noting that no administration is able to escape this trap, which significantly narrows its room for maneuver.

Putin argued that former US President Obama also fell victim to the system as he was not able to deliver on his pre-election promise to close the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison. Describing Obama as a “forward-thinking man,” Putin said that he has no doubt that Obama genuinely wanted to follow through his pledge, but failed even though the controversial Cuban prison was known primarily for torture and a practice of unlawful detentions.

“Can you imagine France or Russia acting this way? This would have been a disaster. But it is possible in the United States and continues to this day,” Putin said, referring to widespread and well-documented human rights abuses in the prison.

The Russian president said Moscow still hopes for a political normalization with Washington, but is in “no hurry” and “ready to wait” until the anti-Russian hysteria, fueled by the defeated party which seeks to shift the blame for its own loss on Russia, subsides.

“That said, I am cautiously optimistic, and I think that we can and should be able to reach agreements on key issues,” he said.

Criticizing the increase in NATO military spending and its build-up on Russia’s doorstep, Putin nevertheless noted that Trump showed a “pragmatic and understandable approach” when he demanded from other NATO member states to share the financial burden of common defense with the US.

Dismissing allegations of Russian meddling in the US and French presidential elections, Putin argued that claims that Moscow was behind the hacks of the Democratic National Committee emails have not been supported by evidence. He added that it does not take much effort to cover up the source of the attack for the purpose of making Moscow a scapegoat.

“As President Trump once said, and I think that he was totally right when he said it could have been someone sitting on their bed or somebody intentionally inserted a flash drive with the name of a Russian national, or something like that,” Putin said.

U.S. President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel pose during a family phto at the Greek Theatre during a G7 summit in Taormina, Sicily, Italy, May 26, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The Russian leader believes that essence of the problem lies not in the Moscow’s perceived interference in the electoral process, but in the unwillingness of those who were stunned by the defeat in the November elections to take responsibility for their poor performance.

“They are absolutely reluctant to admit this, and prefer deluding themselves and others into thinking it was not their fault, that their policy was correct, they did all the right things, but someone from the outside thwarted them. But it was not so. They just lost and they have to admit it,” Putin said.

Apparently, Trump turned out to be “closer to the people and better understood what ordinary voters want,” Putin said, suggesting that the Democrats need to put up with the fact and adding that when those drop this mindset “it will be easier for us to work [with the US].”

While there is no timeline for when such a turnaround will happen, Putin believes that this phase in US-Russia relations, during which Russia is being dragged into US internal policy, is temporary.

“The fact that this is being done using anti-Russia tools is not good, as it brings discord into international affairs,” Putin said. “But it will pass, everything passes, and this will pass as well.”

https://www.rt.com/news/390253-putin-us-election-trump-russia/

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Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak

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Macron hosts Putin in latest diplomatic test

May 29, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Hervé ASQUIN | French President Emmanuel Macron hosts Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in the sumptuous setting of Versailles in their first meeting since Macron took office with both men holding different views notably on Ukraine and Syria

VERSAILLES (FRANCE) (AFP) – 

French President Emmanuel Macron hosts Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Monday in their first meeting since he came to office with differences on Ukraine and Syria in full view.

After playing handshake power games with US President Donald Trump at his first international summit last week, 39-year-old Macron hosts the Russian leader in the splendour of Versailles outside Paris.

It is Macron’s latest test of his diplomatic mettle after the G7 talks in Sicily last week and the NATO summit in Brussels where he turned the tables on Trump by refusing to release his hand for several seconds during the handshake for the cameras.

“It is essential to talk to Russia because there are many international issues that will not be resolved without a tough exchange with the Russians,” Macron said in Sicily.

Russia’s powerful ambassador to France, Alexander Orlov, said he hoped the meeting could help turn the page on the fraught relationship between Putin and Macron’s predecessor Francois Hollande.

“Many things in the future will depend on the first meeting,” Orlov told Europe 1 radio.

“It is very important that we begin to dissipate the mistrust that has built up in recent years.”

As a candidate, Macron had tough words for Russia, accusing it of following a “hybrid strategy combining military intimidation and an information war”.

Since the start of the war in Ukraine in 2014, Russia has flexed its muscles with a series of war games involving tens of thousands of troops in areas bordering NATO Baltic states.

Macron told a French weekly that he was “not bothered” by leaders who “think in terms of power ratios”, citing Putin as an example along with Trump.

But Macron, who became France’s youngest president just three weeks ago, said he does not believe in “the diplomacy of public invective but in bilateral dialogue”.

– ‘Not a single concession’ –

Macron said he would make “not a single concession” to Russia on the long-running conflict in Ukraine as he and his G7 counterparts said they were prepared to strengthen sanctions against Moscow.

Government forces have been battling Moscow-backed insurgents in eastern Ukraine for over three years.

Western powers charge Russia with failing to honour its commitments under the Minsk accords framework for ending the hostilities.

France helped spearhead the sanctions, which have seriously dented EU-Russia trade, with a retaliatory Russian embargo on European agricultural products hurting French farmers.

The six-year-long Syrian conflict will also be high on the agenda, with Macron saying he was in favour of “building an inclusive political solution in a much more collective way”.

He regretted that none of the G7 states is party to Syria peace talks under way in the Kazakh capital Astana initiated by Russia, Iran and Turkey.

Separate UN-backed negotiations have become bogged down in Geneva.

Russia is a strong supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad whereas, as Putin adviser Yuri Ushakov said before the visit, France “is among the countries with a very severe stance towards (Assad’s) regime”.

Coming so soon after an election in which the Kremlin was widely seen as backing Macron’s far-right rival Marine Le Pen — with Putin hosting her during a surprise visit to Moscow — the encounter in Versailles will have an added personal edge.

Moscow has also been blamed for a raft of cyberattacks on Macron’s election campaign, with aides accusing the Kremlin of mounting a “smear campaign” against him.

Putin was quick to congratulate Macron on his election, urging him to “overcome mutual distrust” and “join forces to ensure international stability and security”.

The visit comes seven months after Putin cancelled a trip to Paris for the opening of a Russian cathedral complex near the Eiffel Tower in a spat over Syria with Hollande, who had said Russia’s bombing of Aleppo could amount to war crimes.

In Versailles, Macron and Putin will inaugurate an exhibition marking 300 years of Franco-Russian ties since the visit of Russia’s modernising tsar Peter the Great to France in 1717.

After the talks and a joint news conference, Putin will visit the Paris Orthodox cathedral complex on his own.

by Hervé ASQUIN

Trump ‘looks to contain damage’ from latest Kushner Russia revelations

May 28, 2017

President believed to be looking to change the way his message gets to the public, amid investigations threatening to undermine his term

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It is a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire for US President Donald Trump having returned to Washington from his first foreign trip – thanks to the latest revelations surrounding his team and Russia.

Following on from a difficult meeting with world leaders at a summit in Italy, Mr Trump and his team face reports that Mr Trump’s son-on-law – and top White House adviser – Jared Kushner had looked to set up a secret back channel between the Kremlin and the Trump transition team.

It was meeting in December with Sergei Kislyak the Russian ambassador to the United States where Mr Kushner – who was a private citizen but involved in the transition to the White House -proposed using Russian diplomatic facilities for back-channel discussions.

Mr Kislyak was said to have told his superiors that he was “taken aback” by the suggestion of using Russian facilities – the aim being making the conversations more difficult to monitor – for the line that was meant to be used to be to discuss Syria and other policy issues.

The White House did not acknowledge Mr Kushner attending the meeting – which also reportedly included than National security Adviser Michael Flynn – until March and called it a brief courtesy meeting.

The proposal was never acted upon, according to the Washington Post that first reported the story, but the actions of Mr Kusher are coming under increasing scrutiny as part of the FBI investigation into Russia’s alleged meddling in last year’s Presidential election.

That investigation, and those in both the House of Representatives and the Senate into the election and potential ties between Mr Trump’s team and Moscow, have dogged Mr Trump and his team for months and have led to a number of negative headlines. These only increased after the firing earlier this month of FBI Director James Comey.

It is clear that Mr Trump and his team are looking to control the damage from such revelations and contain the crisis that is threatening to consume his presidency. Mr Trump and his advisers are believed to be looking at ways to change the way the White House communicates with the public – with more campaign-style rallies one of the apparent alterations being considered.

There were elements of such a strategy on display during his foreign trip to the Middle East and Europe over the last week – with Mr Trump the only world leader at the Group of Seven (G7) summit in Italy not to give a press conference, while also then heading out to give a campaign-like speech to US soldiers based in the country.

Officials in the White House have also believed to have held discussions about setting up a “War Room” to shield the day-to-day running of the presidency from the various investigations underway. Those discussions are said to have been led – at least in part – by Mr Trump’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon, with Mr Trump also expected to hold discussions with his legal team and other advisers, with the New York Times reporting this could begin as early as Sunday.

One Saturday, Mr Trump also cancelled a rally in Iowa next week “due to an unforeseen change” in the President’s schedule, but there was no further elaboration.

It is clear that the Trump team are not looking to add to the reports over the actions of Mr Kushner, with top Trump aides making clear on Saturday that they would not address the contents of Mr Kushner’s December meeting with the Russian diplomat. But they did not dismiss the idea that the administration would go outside normal US government and diplomatic channels for communications with other countries.

Speaking generally, national security adviser HR McMaster said “we have back channel communications with a number of countries… It allows you to communicate in a discreet manner.”

“So it doesn’t pre-expose you to any sort of content or any kind of conversation or anything. So we’re not concerned about it,” he added.

In response to repeated questions from reporters, Trump economic adviser Gary Cohn said, “We’re not going to comment on Jared. We’re just not going to comment.”

As for Mr Kushner, he is apparently not looking to reduce his role as part of Mr Trump’s team but he is said to have become increasingly weary of the scrutiny he has been placed under.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/trump-jared-kushner-russia-investigations-fbi-alleged-ties-back-channel-kremlin-james-comey-a7759746.html

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