A U.S. ambassador resigned over Trump’s ‘factually wrong’ attacks on allies  

From The Washington Post:

The U.S. ambassador to Estonia — a NATO ally bordering Russia — abruptly resigned Friday, telling friends that he cannot abide President Trump’s apparent hostility toward institutions that have stabilized Europe since the end of the Cold War.

James D. Melville Jr.’s resignation comes at a crucial moment for independent countries along Russia’s western border — amid the possibility of military conflicts and as Trump suggests he is rethinking the United States’ traditional support for its allies in Moscow’s shadow.

“The honorable course is to resign,” Melville wrote on Facebook. “Having served under six presidents and 11 secretaries of state, I never really thought it would reach that point for me.”

He added: “For the President to say the [European Union] was ‘set up to take advantage of the United States, to attack our piggy bank,’ or that ‘NATO is as bad as NAFTA’ is not only factually wrong, but proves to me that it’s time to go.”

Estonia is one of several formerly Soviet-controlled countries that have joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization — essentially allying with the United States and Western Europe, whose militaries protect Estonia against Russian aggression.

Situated between Russia and the Baltic sea, tiny Estonia has been especially wary of its former occupier since 2007, when a massive cyberattack from servers in Russia crippled Estonia’s government, banks and news organizations.

Since then, Russia has sent military forces into other neighboring countries — Georgia and Ukraine — raising fears that it could one day target the Baltic states.

Just before the U.S. presidential election in 2016, The Washington Post documented how NATO fighter jets routinely scrambled from an Estonian air base to meet Russian warplanes testing the country’s airspace. Both Russia and NATO have recently staged military exercises that some analysts see as thinly disguised simulations of a war over the Baltic region.

As for the leaders of the two most powerful countries in this conflict: Russian President Vladimir Putin sounds increasingly hawkish toward what many Russians see as an aggressive, expansionist military bloc on their country’s western border — and Trump sounds increasingly amenable to the Kremlin’s point of view.

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Trump backs Russia on election interference ahead of NATO summit  

“The president’s remarks came amid increasing anxiety among U.S. allies about next month’s meeting, which will be immediately followed by a one-on-one with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.”

From The Atlantic:

Just weeks before his back-to-back summits with NATO members in Belgium and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland, President Trump is legitimizing Russia’s claim that it did not interfere in the 2016 election, contradicting the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies.

“Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election!” Trump tweeted on Thursday morning, before launching a diatribe against former FBI Director James Comey and his “disgraced” agents. “Where is the DNC Server, and why didn’t Shady James Comey and the now disgraced FBI agents take and closely examine it? Why isn’t Hillary/Russia being looked at? So many questions, so much corruption!”

The outburst is the latest instance of Trump effectively shunning the conclusions of U.S. intelligence and national-security officials, who in a 2016 report determined that “Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election,” while bolstering Moscow’s denials. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is currently investigating whether the Trump campaign aided that operation, and whether the president attempted to obstruct the inquiry into Moscow’s interference.

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Trump’s land of delusion: Disregard the sycophants; the wheels are coming off, if they were ever on

From Daily News:

Bluffers bluff, and President Trump just tried to bluff his way through one of the worst weeks of his administration.

It’s not working. Donald Trump is a terrible poker player. His tells are so clumsily obvious and that we mistakenly give him credit for guile where none exists, and for some cinematic, supervillain cunning where there is only a howling, feral mass of insecurity and need.

The delta between reality and spin with Trump is always broad, and last week it was unspinnably vast. It’s also been a stunning illustration of just how powerful the division between reality and fantasy has become in the two hermetic media silos that now exist in America.

For some Americans — a minority, I pray — Trump is a pied piper luring the credulous and the uninformed into accepting lies over truth, comfort over reality and conspiracy over fact. In Trump’s world and that of his angry minions, the winning doesn’t stop, the vast left-wing conspiracy’s witch-hunt against him is both broad and insidious, and the truth is what he wants it to be on any given day.

Maintaining the Trump illusion requires an endless suspension of disbelief; denying facts, logic, reason, the law and the utterly evident cluster-you-know-what that this administration represents. The pinnacle of that illusion-at-all-costs philosophy came after the revelation that an FBI informant followed up on leads that Trump campaign foreign policy aides Carter Page and George Papadopoulos had been playing footsie with the Russians.

On Fox News, talk radio and in the Trump-right online media armies, the innocent Trump campaign was the victim of FBI spying against them, ordered by notorious Kenyan Muslim sleeper agent Barack Obama, evil sorceress Hillary Clinton and their army of Deep State apparatchiks.

The President wants you to call the FBI’s Russian counterintelligence program Spygate, but rational people have declined to indulge him. Stupidgate is instead just a ludicrous new chapter in the long chronicle of Trump dumbassery.

It’s only one of the many examples of Trump’s behavior of which historians in the far future will look upon with the same stunned disbelief and discomfort as we now consider tulip manias, Beanie Baby investment schemes, Milli Vanilli and acid-washed jeans. There might have been a moment where those ideas were intriguing, but in the hard light of history, they’re grim reminders that fads and passions are fleeting.

For the FBI actions Trump calls Spygate to be a real concern, it would require malice. Instead, we’ve seen justification after justification for a robust counterintelligence response to Russian malfeasance. Drawn to the Trump campaign like flies to the biggest manure pile in the universe, the FBI wasn’t after him, but rather — quite properly — the Russians who sought to (and may have succeeded) in subverting American democracy and corrupting our elections.

There’s a line in the 1990s film “Grosse Point Blank” where John Cusack’s assassin character defends his line of work. He says, “If I show up at your door, chances are you did something to bring me there.” […]

No matter how much he spins it, no matter how many cute brand names and catchphrases he tries to jam into the media flow, at his core, Donald Trump is a man in a rising sea of legal peril, political risk and catastrophic failures. This explains his increasingly erratic behavior and dangerous efforts to corrupt the special counsel process, the Justice Department, and American institutions more broadly.

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Rudy Giuliani admits White House is trying to discredit Russia investigation  

From Huffpost:

President Donald Trump’s lawyer flatly admitted that the White House is waging a fierce information campaign against special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

The aim: to delegitimize the probe in the eyes of voters and lawmakers in Congress. […]

Trump in recent days has ratcheted up his attacks against the Russia investigation, the Justice Department and the FBI. He has claimed that the FBI had “infiltrated” and “spied” on his 2016 presidential campaign when the agency reportedly used an informant to make contact with Trump campaign advisers who allegedly had suspicious contacts linked to Russia. He also demanded the Justice Department investigate the accusations and turn over any relevant documents to Congress.

Meanwhile, Democrats who attended a classified briefing about the informant with top DOJ officials last week said they saw “no evidence to support any allegation that the FBI or any intelligence agency placed a spy in the Trump campaign.” Top Republicans who also attended the briefing have remained silent, however.

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Michael Cohen met with a Russian oligarch in Trump Tower 11 days before Trump’s inauguration

From Business Insider:

Eleven days before he attended President Donald Trump’s inauguration, a prominent Russian oligarch met with Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and fixer to discuss improving US-Russia relations under Trump, The New York Times reported Friday.

The Russian energy tycoon Viktor Vekselberg met with Michael Cohen at Cohen’s office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower, the American businessman Andrew Intrater told The Times.

Intrater, a relative of Vekselberg who donated $250,000 to Trump’s inaugural committee, is the head of the US investment firm Columbus Nova. The company paid Cohen approximately $500,000 in consulting fees between January and August 2017 and is a subsidiary of Renova Group, a Russian conglomerate founded by Vekselberg. […]

Intrater told The Times that Vekselberg and Cohen met three times. The second time was during Trump’s inauguration, which was attended by at least six Putin-allied Russians, including Vekselberg.

Shortly after the inauguration, Columbus Nova signed a $1 million consulting contract with Cohen, a deal that’s now under the scrutiny of federal investigators, the Times report said. […]

Mueller interviewed Vekselberg earlier this year after the businessman landed at a New York area airport. The special counsel’s focus on Russian oligarchs comes as investigators are looking into whether wealthy Russians illegally funneled money, either directly or indirectly, into Trump’s campaign or inauguration. Prosecutors are also said to be interested in whether wealthy Russians used American donors or US companies with political action committees to infuse money into the election.

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Trump’s relentless attacks on law enforcement are doing lasting harm

From The Atlantic:

If Donald Trump was elected with any mandate, it was to shake up the orthodoxy — to challenge the establishment and its established ways of operating. To drain the swamp. What he actually delivers, however, may be transformation that even many of his supporters come to regret.

Nowhere has the mandate for change been more forcefully exercised than in the field of criminal and counterintelligence investigations of the president and his closest associates. His last tweet of the day on May 20 sounded more like a proclamation:

The tweet provoked complaints that the president was breaching norms essential to the functioning of our democracy: As The New York Times wrote, it “ratcheted up his willingness to impose direct political control over the work of law enforcement officials.” And yet it seems that much of America shrugged, apparently either supportive or tolerant of the president’s efforts to stick it to the man. One person’s hallowed tradition is another’s hidebound ritual. Why should they care? […]

Since Nixon, every president, from Carter to Trump, has adopted policies limiting interactions between the White House and the Justice Department to protect the independence of prosecutorial decisions. The president may set law-enforcement priorities and policies — but regardless of who is president, a bank robbery is still a bank robbery, and the American people have a reasonable expectation that crimes will be investigated and prosecuted in keeping with the president’s constitutional obligation to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” The Federalist Papers’ famous warning about the dangers of factionalism, which also recognized that “enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm,” expressed the principle that “no man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause; because his interest would certainly bias his judgment, and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity.” And the same is true, of course, of prosecutors: We do not trust anyone to investigate herself.

Whether these limitations survive beyond Trump’s tenure may depend less on him and more on what follows after him. He will do as much as he can for as long as he can to advance his own interests. If his term ends in disgrace, and the American people look back on this period as a mortifying moment of temporary insanity, the net result may be a backlash that produces even stronger protections for the rule of law. This is what happened after Nixon. If not, however, we should expect to see the sincerest form of flattery from future occupants of the highest office in the land.

For now, the core of the problem is that a substantial number of Americans believe, to one degree or another, that Trump is being railroaded. They so deeply mistrust the establishment, including establishment institutions like the FBI and establishment figures like Robert Mueller, and they so strongly support Trump’s iconoclasm, that they will side with him on almost anything. It may be only a slight exaggeration to say, as the president has, that they would be with him even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue.

Whatever the origins of this mistrust — years of denigrating government by the Republican Party, the constant striving of the news media for Pulitzer-worthy tales of government malfeasance, the decline in life expectancy and standards of living for some Americans — it has propelled Trump to the presidency and it is ultimately what protects him now. Democrats have pinned their hopes on the Mueller investigation, in hopes that a compelling and complete account of grotesque malfeasance will cause the bottom to drop out from under the president. In the meantime, however, he continues to chip away at the foundations of American democracy.

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Trump’s assault on American governance just crossed a threshold

Trump is thumbing his nose at the rule that “Presidents don’t get involved in individual criminal investigations, as well as targeting a probe that involved him, his family, and his colleagues.”

From The New Yorker:

Since Donald Trump entered the White House, American democracy has sometimes been described as dangerously fragile, but that isn’t necessarily true. Having survived for two hundred and forty-two years, American democracy is more like a stoutly built ocean liner, with a maniac at the helm who seems intent on capsizing it. Every so often, he takes a violent tug at the tiller, causing the vessel to list alarmingly. So far, some members of the ship’s crew — judges, public servants, and the odd elected official — have managed to rush in, jag the tiller back, and keep the ship afloat. But, as the captain’s behavior grows more erratic, the danger facing the ship and its passengers increases.

In the past forty-eight hours, Trump has demanded that the Justice Department open an investigation into its own investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. The Justice Department has already — partially, at least — acceded to his wishes. It feels as though an important threshold has been crossed. […]

That is not to criticize Rosenstein or Christopher Wray, the director of the F.B.I., who were left in an unenviable position by the President’s weekend barrage of tweets, in which he called the Russia investigation a “Witch Hunt” and a “scam,” and then said he would officially demand on Monday “that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes – and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!”

Trump has been railing against the Mueller investigation for months now, of course. But this demand, which followed the revelation that the F.B.I., in the summer of 2016, used a former Cambridge University professor named Stefan Halpern to approach three people connected to the Trump campaign who were suspected of having communicated with Russians, represented a significant escalation. Not only was Trump violating the rule that Presidents don’t get involved in individual criminal investigations, he was targeting a probe that involved him, several of his family members, and many of his closest colleagues.

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Three predictions for what Mueller will do next

“As a former prosecutor, here’s where I think the special counsel is headed.”

Former federal prosecutor Nelson W. Cunningham writes:

Robert Mueller’s investigation is now 1 year old. Watching the slow reveal of witnesses, search warrants and subpoenas, the president’s supporters and his opponents may despair that it will never come to an end.

But buckle your seat belts and grab the oxygen masks. It’s about to get interesting. From my vantage point as a former federal prosecutor, Senate Judiciary aide and White House lawyer, the special counsel’s path forward seems very clear — almost inevitable. […]

Paul Manafort will plead guilty in the coming weeks. The two indictments against Trump‘s former campaign, relating to his work for Ukrainian backers and his efforts to evade federal registration and to pay taxes on the proceeds of his work, are exceptionally strong. His junior partner in crime (and Trump’s deputy campaign manager) Rick Gates has already pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate. And just last week, Manafort’s former son-in-law (and former business partner), Jeffrey Yohai, pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate. There is little question, in prosecutors’ circles, that Manafort faces certain conviction and a long prison term.

Manafort at the moment is exercising his own Hail Mary defense: claiming that Mueller has exceeded his authority in charging him. That claim was roundly dismissed last week in the D.C. court, and in all likelihood the Alexandria court will follow suit. Rosenstein’s charge to Mueller to investigate allegations that Manafort “[c]ommitted a crime or crimes arising out of payments he received from the Ukrainian government” could not be more clear.

Once his Hail Mary motions fail, Manafort (and Mueller) will have every incentive to quickly reach a resolution. Manafort, who is 69, does not want to spend the rest of his years in prison. And Mueller needs to secure Manafort’s testimony and get his cases resolved before his July “deadline.”

With Trump’s interview in hand, and Manafort’s cooperation secured, we can expect that Mueller’s crack team will quickly finish the report or reports that they are doubtless already drafting.

And then, in or before July, the next chapter in this saga will unfold, also quickly: The delivery of reports to Rosenstein; the deputy attorney general’s decision whether to release the reports to the Congress and to the public; and the president’s efforts to prevent or delay Rosenstein from doing so. Whether those transpire on a weekend evening or not, Trump’s response could make the Nixon-era’s Saturday Night Massacre look like a moot court exercise.

Stay tuned. Air pockets ahead.

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Mueller’s investigation isn’t going to ‘wrap up’ soon — and Trump is still in peril

“The ‘wrap it up’ crowd is indulging in wishful thinking. The first anniversary of the Mueller investigation is unlikely to be the last.”

From Los Angeles Times:

Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of the appointment of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. The milestone has emboldened White House critics of the probe to declare, as Vice President Mike Pence did on NBC News, that “it is time to wrap it up.”

Never mind that the Mueller investigation is, comparatively, in its infancy. The Whitewater probe of Bill and Hillary Clinton, for example, began in 1994 and ended more than six years later. Mueller’s 12 months of work has turned up more clear wrongdoing than Kenneth Starr ever did: There have been 20 indictments and 5 guilty pleas, including prominent senior members of the campaign and administration, and that doesn’t take into account the wealth of information that Mueller has yet to make public.

Some Republicans suggest that public opinion is shifting, that Trump’s refrain of “witch hunt” may be gaining purchase. As the president’s latest mouthpiece Rudolph W. Giuliani crowed, “We’ve gone from defense to offense.”

“Wrap it up” advocates can point to a slight uptick in Trump’s approval ratings, and a downtick in public support for the investigation. They seem to think that if Mueller doesn’t close up shop soon in response to political pressure, Trump’s position is strong enough that he could put an end to it, perhaps by firing the special counsel or the special counsel’s boss, Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein, and weather any storm the move occasions.

They’re wrong. The probe isn’t going to end soon, simply or painlessly for this president. Trump remains in great peril.

Anyone paying attention over the last year knows Mueller will not yield to political pressure. His investigators haven’t leaked; they have ignored vicious personal attacks; they haven’t veered in the slightest from prosecutorial professionalism.

So to “wrap it up,” Trump would have to make a move, but will he? […]

The president and his lawyers are strategizing about whether he will agree to be interviewed by Mueller, either voluntarily or under subpoena. If he were to refuse, as the current swing of the pendulum suggests, and then try to end the probe, he would only seem more guilty and undermine his support even among Republicans. If his refusal were to lead, as expected, to a court battle, we would expect the Supreme Court to settle the issue. Any move by Trump to preempt it would again only undermine his credibility.

In addition, the president and his circle are well aware of how fast the midterm election is approaching and what effect an attempt to fire Mueller could have on the outcome. They want to avoid any action that would help the Democrats flip the House. Such a shift would change every calculation, not least because a Democratic majority could move to impeach the president early next year.

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A plane linked to the Russian government flew into the Seychelles the day before a secret meeting that Mueller is investigating

“A Russian plane with ties to the Kremlin flew to the Seychelles before a secret 2017 meeting between a Trump associate and a Putin ally, according to a report.”

From Business Insider:

A plane owned by a now-sanctioned Russian billionaire who serves in the country’s legislative body flew to the Seychelles the day before a secret 2017 meeting between an associate of President Donald Trump and a top Kremlin ally, NJ Advance Media reported on Thursday, citing airport flight data.

The meeting, along with several others in the Seychelles islands around the same time, has drawn scrutiny from the special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 US election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

Mueller was tipped off by a witness that the Seychelles meeting was arranged to establish a back-channel of communication between the US and Russia, The Washington Post reported in March.

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