New Trump talking point: Russian investigation insults Putin and may cost “millions of lives”

Trump believes Putin on Russia meddling and says Mueller may cost lives

Trump with his “bestie” at APEC

Donald Trump said on Saturday he believes Vladmir Putin’s denials of Russian involvement in the manipulation of the 2016 presidential election.

After a brief meeting with the Russian leader on the margins of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Vietnam, Trump launched a tirade against special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and the Kremlin.

The investigation could cost “millions and millions of lives”, Trump claimed, by hindering agreement with Moscow over conflicts in Syria and Ukraine and a looming confrontation with North Korea.

The president’s remarks, made to reporters as Air Force One flew to Hanoi from Da Nang, represented his open disregard for the views of US intelligence agencies. They have concluded that Russia did interfere in multiple ways in the 2016 election, with the aim of helping Trump’s candidacy.

The president suggested he put more faith in Putin’s word.

“Every time he sees me he says ‘I didn’t do that’ and I really believe that when he tells me that,” Trump said. “He really seems to be insulted by it and he says he didn’t do it. He is very, very strong in the fact that he didn’t do it. You have President Putin very strongly, vehemently says he has nothing to do with that.”

The president described the investigation led by Mueller, a former FBI director appointed by Trump’s own justice department, as “Democrat-inspired” and a “hit job”.

Trump also claimed the investigation was preventing a normalisation of relations with Putin and therefore could cost countless lives around the world. He suggested Russia was not helping more to persuade Pyongyang to disarm “because of the lack of the relationship that we have with Russia, because of this artificial thing that’s happening with this Democratic-inspired thing”.

“I think [Putin] is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country. Because again, if we had a relationship with Russia, North Korea which is our single biggest problem right now, it would help a lot,” he said.

“You know you are talking about millions and millions of lives,” Trump said, adding that good relations with Moscow were also vital to resolving other conflicts.

“When we can save many, many, many lives by making a deal with Russia having to do with Syria, and then ultimately getting Syria solved, and getting Ukraine solved, and doing other things, having a good relationship with Russia is a great, great thing. And this artificial Democratic hit job gets in the way. It gets in the way. And that’s a shame. Because people will die because of it, and it’s a pure hit job, and it’s artificially induced and that’s shame.”

After Trump’s comments, Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and NSA, posted a tweet saying current CIA leadership agreed with the general intelligence community assessment about Russian interference in the election.

“CIA just told me: the [director] stands by and has always stood by the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment entitled: Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,” he wrote. “The intelligence assessment with regard to Russian election meddling has not changed.

Trump met Putin briefly on three occasions at Da Nang, having scheduled no formal meetings with him during the summit. The two exchanged a jovial handshake at the gala dinner on Friday and stood next to one another in a “family photo” of leaders on Saturday.

The US press pool including photographers were blocked from covering the day’s events, including the Trump-Putin meetings. Only Fox News and the official White House photographer were granted access.

Putin dismissed accusations Moscow meddled in the US election as “fantasies” intended to undermine Trump. “Everything about the so-called Russian dossier in the US is a manifestation of continuing domestic political struggle,” he said.

Putin was asked if he had followed the mounting investigation into alleged contacts between Trump’s campaign team and Russians, including a woman who claimed to be Putin’s niece.

“Regarding some sort of connections of my relatives with members of the administration or some officials,” he said, “I only found out about that yesterday from [his spokesman Dmitry] Peskov.”

He also said: “I don’t know anything about [the investigation]. I think these are some sort of fantasies.”

The two leaders produced a joint statement on Syria, restating their determination to defeat Islamic State and their desire for a United Nations-brokered solution.

“It’s going to save tremendous numbers of lives and we did it very quickly, we agreed very quickly,” Trump said.

The statement lists longstanding areas of agreement between the US and Russia on the importance of reviving mostly dormant UN-mediated negotiations known as the Geneva process, which envisages constitutional reform and free elections. In the past, Washington has disagreed with Moscow on how the process should be carried out and what role Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad would play.

Assad’s forces, with Russian and Iranian support, have been gaining ground. The Syrian president has consequently shown little real interest in a peace deal. Asked if Russia would be able to bring Assad to the table, a state department official, quoted on CNN, said: “We’re going to be testing that, we’re going to find out.”

Trump renewed his assault on the Mueller investigation at a time when it is making significant advances, each time a step closer to the president. His former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and a senior fundraiser have been indicted for money laundering and conspiring to defraud the authorities.

Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, is under investigation. His lawyer on Friday denied a report that he had negotiations with Turkish representatives about kidnapping a dissident cleric living in the US.

A former foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, has pleaded guilty to perjury about his contacts with Russian surrogates and officials. Although he personally announced Papadopoulos’s hiring in March 2016, describing him as “an excellent guy”, since the guilty plea was made public the president has said he was a “young, low-level volunteer” who “few people knew”.

However, court papers show Papadopoulos was in frequent contact with senior campaign staff, mostly about plans to bring Trump and Putin together. He met a UK foreign office minister, Tobias Ellwood, at the UN in September 2016. The New York Times reported on Saturday that Papadopoulos helped edit a major foreign policy speech in April of that year, and that one of the officials he was in touch with was Stephen Miller, still one of Trump’s closest advisers.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/11/putin-and-trump-want-political-solution-to-syria-conflict-kremlin-says

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Russians here and Russians there, more confirmation of the Steele dossier

Carter Page’s bizarre testimony before the House Intelligence Committee supported some key elements of the infamous dossier compiled by a former British spy.

The former foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign told lawmakers last week about his visits to Russia before and after the election, when he met with government and business leaders, reported Business Insider.

Page confirmed he had emailed campaign adviser J.D. Gordon July 8, 2016, from Moscow — on a trip approved by former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski — to say he had gotten “incredible insights and outreach from a few Russian legislators and senior members of the presidential administration here.”

That seems to confirm findings by former British spy Christopher Steele, who reported in his dossier that “official close to Presidential Administration Head, S. Ivanov, confided in a compatriot that a senior colleague in the Internal Political Department of the PA, Divyekin (nfd) also had met secretly with Page on his recent visit.”

According to Steele’s source, Diveykin told Page the Kremlin had damaging information on Hillary Clinton that they wanted to turn over to the Trump campaign.

Page denied meeting with Diveykin and told the committee that “senior members of the presidential administration,” as described in his email, was actually just a brief chat with deputy Prime Minister Arkadiy Dvorkovich.

He also claimed his reference to legislators meant only a few people shaking his hands in passing during the trip.

Page also confirmed that he “possibly” had contacted the head of investor relations at the Russian oil company Rosneft in advance of his July 2016 visit.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the committee’s ranking Democrat, pointed out that Rosneft’s CEO, Igor Sechin, was under U.S. sanctions as part of the Magnitsky Act.

A U.S. intelligence source claimed in September 2016 that Page met with Sechin, who raised the issue of lifting those sanctions after the election.

A Russian source told Steele that Sechin and Page held a secret meeting to discuss “the issues of future bilateral energy cooperation and prospects for an associated move to lift Ukraine-related western sanctions against Russia.”

Steele alleged that Sechin offered Page the brokerage of a 19 percent stake in Rosneft in exchange for getting U.S. sanctions lifted against oligarchs close to Russian president Vladmir Putin.

Page denied “directly” expressing support for lifting sanctions, but he admitted

that Andrey Baranov, the head of investor relations, “may have briefly mentioned” the sale of a significant percentage of Rosneft in July.

A 19.5 percent stake in Rosneft changed hands in December under mysterious circumstances, and Page returned to Moscow the day after the deal was signed to meet with “some top managers” at the company.

He has denied meeting with Sechin while there, but agrees it would have been “a great honor.”

also

J.D. Gordon Quote from NBC news “ I discouraged Carter from taking the trip to Moscow in the first place because it was a bad idea. Since I refused to forward his speech request form for approval, he eventually went around me directly to campaign leadership

That unregulated reservoir of money we call Russia almost certainly elected Trump

Russia almost certainly made Donald Trump president — and here’s how we know

Many Americans are unhappy about President Donald Trump’s decisions, but defenders of his administration dismiss these criticisms as irrelevant. Elections have consequences, they argue. Trump promised to change Washington when he was on the campaign trail. Voters liked what he said, and now the President is delivering on those promises. Get over it, critics. Trump won. Clinton lost.

This argument in defense of Trump’s leadership sounded more compelling immediately after the election than it does now. New evidence has surfaced in recent months that suggests Trump may not have won the 2016 race primarily because he offered voters a more appealing message than the Democratic candidate. The Kremlin backed numerous communications on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube that boosted Donald Trump’s campaign with words and images that damaged Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Russian agents appreciated a condition of modern-day electioneering that many politicians, journalists, and citizens in the United States fail to recognize adequately when assessing the results of presidential elections. Russia’s meddlers understood that voters are not simply influenced by the good works a candidate promises to perform. Voters’ decisions are influenced to a considerable degree by strongly negative impressions they have about an opposing candidate’s personality, behavior, and ideas.

In the light of newly released details about Russia’s manipulation of the Internet, pundits who seek “lessons” from the 2016 presidential election should question some of their favored interpretations. When trying to explain why Trump won a very close election, they typically cite the Republican candidate’s promises to “Make America Great Again” and create “good jobs,” his nostalgic references to America’s past, his image as a successful businessman and Washington outsider, and his appeals to ordinary Americans, including white men. They point out, as well, that Hillary Clinton was not an ideal candidate. She lacked the political charisma of her husband. Mrs. Clinton also failed to heed the message that James Carville emphasized during her husband’s successful 1992 campaign – Americans care about “the economy, stupid.”

Trump’s messaging and Clinton’s shortcomings were factors in the outcome, of course. Nevertheless, Mrs. Clinton attracted almost three million more votes than Trump, and her loss can be traced largely to Trump’s victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin by a combined total of less than 80,000 votes. Absent Russia’s abundant messages spreading across the Internet, Hillary Clinton would likely be handling the nation’s affairs now in the Oval Office.

The reach of that foreign-based propaganda was impressive. The Internet Research Agency, an organization linked to the Kremlin, reached 126 million users of Facebook. Many of its communications aimed to undermine confidence in Hillary Clinton. Russian agents published more than 1.4 million election-related tweets. Those messages received 288 million views. Russia’s intervention resulted in the publication of more than 120,000 images on Instagram, the photo-sharing platform, and it produced more than 1000 ads on YouTube. Americans who liked these messages passed them on to friends. Agents associated with the Kremlin exploited Internet freedom brilliantly during America’s 2016 election campaign. The Internet remained a free-wheeling, largely unregulated communications network. It did not require sponsors of political messages to identify themselves, as television advertising required.

We should not be surprised that Russians sought to boost Trump’s chances principally by circulating negative impressions of Hillary Clinton rather than positive judgments about Donald Trump. In recent decades, American campaign advertising has accentuated the negative rather than the positive. Strategists recognized that efforts to demonize the opposition can pay off handsomely. The negative approach has been especially evident since the 1988 presidential race. This was not a new trend, of course. The 1800 presidential campaigns involving Thomas Jefferson and John Adams featured plenty of nasty personal attacks, and similar practices affected later presidential contests. Since 1988, though, both major parties put this strategy on steroids.

Republican leaders were nervous in late May of 1988. Democrat Michael Dukakis was far ahead of the President George H. W. Bush in the polls. GOP strategists decided to respond with hard-hitting attack ads against the Democratic candidate. They branded Dukakis as a Massachusetts “liberal” and portrayed him as weak on national defense. “Willie Horton” ads also wrecked Dukakis’s image. They drew attention to a Massachusetts furlough program that allowed the temporary release of state prisoners. Horton, an African American and convicted murderer, committed assault, armed robbery and rape at the time of his furlough. Michael Dukakis made numerous mistakes, but the GOP’s powerful assault on his character and leadership hurt even more. George H. W. Bush overcame Dukakis’s initial advantages, winning the electoral college by a whopping count of 426 to 111. President Bush’s turnaround in the 1988 contest delivered a poignant message. Efforts to promote frightening characterizations of the opposing candidate can make an impact on voters’ opinions.

Negative advertising helped Republicans in the close presidential contest of 2004. Democrats seemed to have a good chance for victory when they nominated John Kerry, an articulate, rugged-looking, war veteran who received a Silver Star, a Bronze Star with Combat V and Three Purple Hearts for military service in Vietnam. But Kerry went down to defeat, in large part because of the way Republican strategists portrayed him – as a tax-raising, flip-flopping wimp. An attack group finished off the wounded Kerry by claiming that he lied about his achievements in Vietnam.

Democrats gained leverage in 1992 and 2012 by employing attack strategies. In 1992, Bill Clinton’s campaign suggested President George H. W. Bush was out of touch with ordinary people. Democrats blamed President Bush for the hard times Americans experienced during a recession. In 2012 Barack Obama’s team quickly defined the character of Mitt Romney for voters before Romney had a chance to make his case. Democrats portrayed Romney as an aloof millionaire who did not truly care about average people. Romney viewed corporations as “people,” Democrats stressed, and they drew attention to Romney’s video-recorded claim that 47% of American voters “are dependent on the government” and “believe the government has a responsibility to care for them.”

It is difficult for political analysts and citizens to revise their familiar narrative about lessons drawn from political campaigns, including their conclusions about the 2016 election. When discussing the reasons for victory or defeat, they give primary weight to the appeal of individual personalities and the candidates’ promises to improve voters’ lives. Commentators stress the importance of a candidate’s likeability and communication skills. But the latest evidence of extensive meddling through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube suggests that analysts need to think differently when assessing election results in the years to come. The winning candidate’s personality and message do not always establish the winning margin. Quite often, negative characterizations serve as keys to victory.

Debates about the reasons for Trump’s win and Clinton’s loss will continue to animate conversations for a long time, but new evidence supports an astonishing judgment. Hillary Clinton probably would have won – in fact, she might have won handily and benefited the candidacy of Democrats for the House and Senate – if Russian interference had not created strong doubts about her character and competence.

Russia almost certainly made Donald Trump president — and here’s how we know

Robert Brent Toplin is Professor Emeritus at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Toplin was also professor at Denison University and recently has taught occasional courses at the University of Virginia. He is the author of several books about film, history, and politics and has commented on history in several nationally broadcast radio and television programs. Contact: Rt2b@virginia.edu.
This article was originally published at History News Network

As Trump goes apoplectic; is he looking for a scapegoat at the White House

Is the stage being set to throw Jared Kushner under the bus for the Russian collusion fiasco? On Monday the big news was foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos cutting a deal with Mueller. Papadopoulos reportedly clear everything he did with Russians with a “senior” policy advisor, was that Kushner? Recently it has also been noticed that Ivanka has all but disappeared from photos of the inner circle. So is Jared being set up for being the fall guy? -TE

After Monday’s indictments, the president blamed Jared Kushner for Mueller

Until now, Robert Mueller has haunted Donald Trump’s White House as a hovering, mostly unseen menace. But by securing indictments of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, and a surprise guilty plea from foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, Mueller announced loudly that the Russia investigation poses an existential threat to the president. “Here’s what Manafort’s indictment tells me: Mueller is going to go over every financial dealing of Jared Kushner and the Trump Organization,” said former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg. “Trump is at 33 percent in Gallup. You can’t go any lower. He’s fucked.”

The first charges in the Mueller probe have kindled talk of what the endgame for Trump looks like, according to conversations with a half-dozen advisers and friends of the president. For the first time since the investigation began, the prospect of impeachment is being considered as a realistic outcome and not just a liberal fever dream. According to a source, advisers in the West Wing are on edge and doing whatever they can not to be ensnared. One person close to Dina Powell and Gary Cohn said they’re making sure to leave rooms if the subject of Russia comes up.

The consensus among the advisers I spoke to is that Trump faces few good options to thwart Mueller. For one, firing Mueller would cross a red line, analogous to Nixon’s firing of Archibald Cox during Watergate, pushing establishment Republicans to entertain the possibility of impeachment. “His options are limited, and his instinct is to come out swinging, which won’t help things,” said a prominent Republican close to the White House.

Trump, meanwhile, has reacted to the deteriorating situation by lashing out on Twitter and venting in private to friends. He’s frustrated that the investigation seems to have no end in sight. “Trump wants to be critical of Mueller,” one person who’s been briefed on Trump’s thinking says. “He thinks it’s unfair criticism. Clinton hasn’t gotten anything like this. And what about Tony Podesta? Trump is like, When is that going to end?” According to two sources, Trump has complained to advisers about his legal team for letting the Mueller probe progress this far. Speaking to Steve Bannon on Tuesday, Trump blamed Jared Kushner for his role in decisions, specifically the firings of Mike Flynn and James Comey, that led to Mueller’s appointment, according to a source briefed on the call. When Roger Stone recently told Trump that Kushner was giving him bad political advice, Trump agreed, according to someone familiar with the conversation. “Jared is the worst political adviser in the White House in modern history,” Nunberg said. “I’m only saying publicly what everyone says behind the scenes at Fox News, in conservative media, and the Senate and Congress.” (The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment by deadline.)

As Mueller moves to interview West Wing aides in the coming days, advisers are lobbying for Trump to consider a range of stratagems to neutralize Mueller, from conciliation to a declaration of all-out war. One Republican explained Trump’s best chance for survival is to get his poll numbers up. Trump’s lawyer Ty Cobb has been advocating the view that playing ball will lead to a quick resolution (Cobb did not respond to a request for comment). But these soft-power approaches are being criticized by Trump allies including Steve Bannon and Roger Stone, who both believe establishment Republicans are waiting for a chance to impeach Trump. “The establishment has proven time and time again they will fuck Trump over,” a Bannon ally told me.

In a series of phone calls with Trump on Monday and Tuesday, Bannon told the president to shake up the legal team by installing an aggressive lawyer above Cobb, according to two sources briefed on the call. Bannon has also discussed ways to pressure Congress to defund Mueller’s investigation or limit its scope. “Mueller shouldn’t be allowed to be a clean shot on goal,” a Bannon confidant told me. “He must be contested and checked. Right now he has unchecked power.”

Bannon’s sense of urgency is being fueled by his belief that Trump’s hold on power is slipping. The collapse of Obamacare repeal, and the dimming chances that tax reform will pass soon—many Trump allies are deeply pessimistic about its prospects—have created the political climate for establishment Republicans to turn on Trump. Two weeks ago, according to a source, Bannon did a spitball analysis of the Cabinet to see which members would remain loyal to Trump in the event the 25th Amendment were invoked, thereby triggering a vote to remove the president from office. Bannon recently told people he’s not sure if Trump would survive such a vote. “One thing Steve wants Trump to do is take this more seriously,” the Bannon confidant told me. “Stop joking around. Stop tweeting.”

Roger Stone believes defunding Mueller isn’t enough. Instead, Stone wants Trump to call for a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton’s role in approving the controversial Uranium One deal that’s been a locus of rightwing hysteria (the transaction involved a Russian state-owned energy firm acquiring a Canadian mining company that controlled a large subset of the uranium in the United States). It’s a bit of a bank shot, but as Stone described it, a special prosecutor looking into Uranium One would also have to investigate the F.B.I.’s role in approving the deal, thereby making Mueller—who was in charge of the bureau at the time—a target. Stone’s choice for a special prosecutor: Rudy Giuliani law colleague Marc Mukasey or Fox News pundit Andrew Napolitano. “You would immediately have to inform Mueller, Comey, and [Deputy Attorney General] Rod Rosenstein that they are under federal investigation,” Stone said. “Trump can’t afford to fire Mueller politically. But this pushes him aside.”

https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/11/the-west-wing-trump-is-apoplectic-as-allies-fear-impeachment

Sinister new White House – Russian “Collusion”?

Prominent anti-Putin whistleblower Bill Browder says he was barred from entering the US

Bill Browder. CNN/screenshot

Banker turned human-rights activist Bill Browder says his authorization to travel to the US using his British passport via an ESTA visa was revoked on the same day that Russian prosecutors issued an Interpol warrant for his arrest on charges of tax evasion and murder.

Browder tweeted over the weekend that Russian President Vladimir Putin had managed, on the fifth attempt, to place him on the Interpol list after four previous rejections by the International Police Organization.

Interpol did not immediately return a request for comment. But Browder said Russian officials had used a “loophole” known as a diffusion notice to bypass scrutiny by Interpol HQ. A diffusion notice is similar to, but less formal than, a red notice, which is “the closest instrument to an international arrest warrant in use today,” according to the Justice Department.

The same day the warrant was issued, Browder said, he was notified that his ESTA had been revoked. Browder gave up his US citizenship in 1998 and became a British citizen.

ESTA, or the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, is an automated system that allows tourists from a Visa Waiver Program country to travel to the US for business or pleasure for 90 days or less.

It is still unclear why Browder was effectively barred from the US following the Interpol warrant. A spokesperson for the US Customs and Border Protection Agency said in a statement following this article’s publication that Browder’s ESTA “was manually approved by CBP on Oct. 18—clearing him for travel to the United States.” The spokesperson said it “remains valid.”

But Browder told Business Insider that he “got the message from DHS of my Global Entry revocation and my ESTA (visa waiver) cancellation on October 19th.”

He also said the Department of Homeland Security “refused to provide any answers” when he initially asked last week why his ESTA had been revoked.

“They suggested I file a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request and wait for the answer, which can take as long as six months,” Browder said. Browder explained that he first discovered the visa problems after receiving an email from DHS about “a change in global entry status” — his global entry pass had been revoked, according to the website. He then tried to book a flight to the US to check whether his ESTA authorization was still valid, but United Airlines “refused to check me in because of visa problems.”

“I checked with law-enforcement contacts and learned that Russia added me to the Interpol system via a diffusion notice on October 17,” Browder said.

Russian investigators have accused Browder of several crimes over the past decade, including tax evasion and a scheme to bypass the Kremlin to buy up Gazprom shares for foreign investors, in an effort to undermine his credibility.

Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya detailed Browder’s alleged misconduct in a memo that she brought with her to a meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner at Trump Tower last June. The document closely mirrored a memo written by the Russian prosecutor’s office months earlier that was given to US Rep. Dana Rohrabacher while he was in Moscow.

Browder spearheaded the 2012 sanctions legislation known as The Magnitsky Act, which was passed to punish high-level Russian officials suspected of being involved in the death of his tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

A memorial for Sergei Magnitsky in Russia. AP

Magnitsky is believed to have uncovered a $230 million tax-fraud scheme in 2008 on behalf of Browder’s company, Hermitage Capital, which quickly snowballed into one of the biggest corruption scandals of Putin’s tenure. Putin on Thursday called the Magnitsky Act the product of “anti-Russian hysteria.”

Magnitsky was jailed by some of the same Russian officials he had accused of corruption, Browder has said, and was beaten to death by prison guards after failing to receive medical treatment for pancreatitis and other serious ailments.

Russia has claimed Magnitsky died of natural causes and, in a new twist, is now accusing Browder of colluding with a British spy in 2009 “to cause the death of S. L. Magnitsky by persuading Russian prison doctors to withhold care,” according to The New York Times.

“The new accusation is made all the more sinister for its absurd and at times cartoonish details,” The Times reported.

http://www.businessinsider.com/bill-browder-us-visa-revoked-and-accused-of-murder-by-russia-2017-10

Quid pro quo, collusion, corruption, just a normal day in Trumpland

Sure whatever you guys want

The White House has blown by an October 1 deadline for beginning to implement new sanctions targeting Russia, drawing concern in Congress that President Donald Trump is planning to ignore parts of a bill he grudgingly signed in August.

“The delay calls into question the Trump administration’s commitment to the sanctions bill which was signed into law more than two months ago, following months of public debate and negotiations in Congress,” Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said in a joint statement Wednesday. “They’ve had plenty of time to get their act together.”

The bill required the Trump administration to issue by October 1 “regulations or other guidance to specify the persons that are a part of, or operate for or on behalf of, the defense and intelligence sectors of the Government of the Russian Federation.” The administration has yet to do so. The Treasury and State departments also have not issued guidance on their plans for imposing the measure, a Senate aide said. The aide said that members of the White House’s National Security Council have assured senators that they are “getting to” the sanctions and “it’s gonna happen.” But lawmakers are wary.

Cardin and McCain said the White House has also ignored a September 28 letter they sent asking for information on implementation plans. “In addition to the administration’s lack of responsiveness on this deadline, there does not appear to be a significant diplomatic effort to engage our allies in Europe and lead an effort to increase pressure on Moscow,” they said in their joint statement. “Congressional intent was clear, reflected in the overwhelming bipartisan majority in favor of the legislation.”

The legislation’s primary thrust was to prevent the president from removing sanctions without congressional approval. Trump has mulled unilaterally rescinding earlier US sanctions imposed on Russia after its incursion into Ukraine. The new sanctions bill passed both chambers of Congress overwhelmingly amid bipartisan concern about Trump’s frequent praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin and congressional and Justice Department investigations into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia during last year’s presidential race.

Trump opposed the new legislation, agreeing to sign it only after it became clear Congress could override his veto. But he also issued a presidential signing statement suggesting he might ignore what he said were “a number of clearly unconstitutional provisions” in the legislation. “My administration will give careful and respectful consideration to the preferences expressed by the Congress in these various provisions and will implement them in a manner consistent with the President’s constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations,” the statement said. The White House did not respond Wednesday to questions about its plans concerning the Russian sanctions.

Questions grow over Legitimacy of 2016 Election

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)    Andrew Harnik/AP

At a packed press conference on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, provided a progress report on his panel’s investigation of the Trump-Russia scandal. Naturally, this is a touchy and dicey matter for a Republican, and Burr tried to make some points that appeared designed to limit President Donald Trump’s political vulnerabilities on this front.

First, Burr declared that although Russian hackers had probed or penetrated the election systems of at least 21 states, he could confidently state that the Russian meddling in the 2016 election resulted in no changes to the vote tallies. That is, there’s no reason to question Trump’s Electoral College win. And second, Burr said that Russia’s use of Facebook ads during the presidential campaign seemed “indiscriminate” and not designed to help a particular candidate—meaning the recent revelations do not bolster the case that Trump was the Kremlin’s choice. But Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-Ore.), a feisty member of the intelligence committee, says both assertions are bunk. In an interview with Mother Jones on Thursday, Wyden argued that Burr’s confidence in the election system was unwarranted. “The chairman said that he can say ‘certifiably’ that there was no vote tampering,” said Wyden. “I do not agree with this judgment. I don’t think it is possible to know that. There was no systematic analysis of the voting or forensic evaluations of the voting machines.”

Wyden pointed out that the Department of Homeland Security has noted that its assessment that there was no finagling with the vote count was made with only “moderate confidence.” For Wyden, that’s not good enough for such a sensitive and significant matter—and it sends the misguided signal that the voting system is doing just fine. Wyden believes that’s the wrong message. This week he sent a letter to the major manufacturers of voting machines demanding information about how they protect themselves from cyberattacks.

Wyden also said that Burr erred in declaring that the Russian Facebook ads—some of which targeted swing states—did not favor a presidential candidate. (Presumably Wyden has seen or been briefed on the content of the ads.) “That’s one reason why the ads need to be released to the American people,” Wyden remarked, “so Americans can make up their minds.”

At the press conference, Burr said the committee would not be releasing the ads, which Facebook has turned over to the panel. And Facebook so far has declined to make the ads public. Wyden and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the committee, have called on Facebook to release the material. “If the ads don’t come out,” Wyden noted, “it’s within the power of the committee to get them out.” The Russian social media campaign targeting the 2016 election, Wyden said, “certainly hasn’t gotten the attention it should have.” And he noted it has been a focus of his efforts on the intelligence committee. The intelligence committee has scheduled a hearing with representatives from Facebook, Google, and Twitter for November 1.

Wyden worries that US elections remain vulnerable to interference from Russia and other adversaries. He emphasized that Trump has yet to nominate a secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, the lead federal agency that deals with protecting state voting systems from cyber assaults. Other key cybersecurity DHS positions remain vacant, as well. He said that at the moment just three or so states are taking significant steps to secure their voting systems from hackers. Wyden scoffed at Burr’s assertion that the Trump administration was treating the issue seriously. “The idea that Trump and DHS are full steam ahead on election security? No way!” Wyden exclaimed. “They certainly haven’t moved quickly on this.”

Wyden cited one example of an issue that requires deeper digging from the intelligence committee. When Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a White House adviser, met privately with committee investigators, Kushner released a statement declaring he had engaged in no wrongdoing. He insisted, “I did not collude…with any foreign government. I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities.” Wyden pointed out the wording of the last part of this denial: I have not relied on Russian funds. “Some lawyer got paid a lot of money to come up with that,” Wyden said. “It doesn’t mean ‘I did not have business dealings with Russians.’”

Wyden added that Kushner should not be able to get away with only a private meeting with the committee instead of a full public hearing where he could be questioned by senators about this statement and many other topics. “Jared Kushner has to come to the intelligence committee in the open,” he said. (Wyden, the top Democratic on the Senate finance committee, has blocked the confirmation of a senior Treasury Department nominee because the department has not provided the finance committee with documents he requested related to Russian banking and money laundering. )

Wyden also took issue with Burr saying that it was not the intelligence committee’s role to probe Trump’s firing of FBI chief James Comey and that this matter should be left to the Senate judiciary committee. “I don’t agree with that,” Wyden said. “This is about connections with Russia.”

While Burr suggested that the intelligence committee might finish its investigative work regarding the Trump-Russia scandal by the end of the year, Wyden said the panel still had “a long way to go.” Wyden noted that the committee’s efforts to “follow the money” require much more work, and he hinted that the committee might not have enough people working on the investigation to do the job thoroughly. “The committee will need a lot of staff power to get all this done,” he said.

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/10/did-russia-hack-the-2016-vote-tally-this-senator-says-we-dont-know-for-sure/