The Latest on Trump and Russia

A few items of note today, the last two somewhat tangential but nonetheless worth noting:

1. Dana Bash, Evan Perez, and Manu Raju at CNN: [Contenet Note: Video may autoplay at link] Intel Chiefs Tell Investigators Trump Suggested They Refute Collusion with Russians.
Two of the nation's top intelligence officials told Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team and Senate investigators, in separate meetings last week, that [Donald] Trump suggested they say publicly there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russians, according to multiple sources.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers described their interactions with the President about the Russia investigation as odd and uncomfortable, but said they did not believe the President gave them orders to interfere, according to multiple sources familiar with their accounts.

Sources say both men went further than they did in June 7 public hearings, when they provided little detail about the interactions.

The sources gave CNN the first glimpse of what the intelligence chiefs said to Mueller's investigators when they did separate interviews last week. Both men told Mueller's team they were surprised the President would suggest that they publicly declare he was not involved in collusion, sources said. Mueller's team, which is in the early stages of its investigation, will ultimately decide whether the interactions are relevant to the inquiry.
If Trump "suggested" that Rogers and Coats "publicly declare he was not involved in collusion" with Russia, I'm not sure how they believe he did not "give them orders to interfere." A public declaration on the very subject being investigated would clearly stand to have an effect on that investigation.

If Mueller's team is scrutinizing whether Trump committed obstruction of justice, I suspect that these interactions will be considered "relevant to the inquiry," irrespective of whether Rogers and Coats themselves believed that they were given orders to interfere.

2. Jordain Carney at the Hill: Judiciary Committee to Continue Russia Probe After Mueller Meeting.
Top members of the Judiciary Committee indicated Wednesday that they will move forward with their own investigation into Russia's election meddling, after meeting with special counsel Robert Mueller.

"We appreciate Special Counsel Mueller's willingness to meet with us, and both parties have committed to keeping an open dialogue as we proceed," Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said in a joint statement after the meeting.

They added that they had a "very productive discussion" on how their respective investigations "can proceed without impeding the other."
At some point, the dual investigations could get extremely problematic, especially if the Republicans on the committees continue to run interference for Trump. If any or all of the Congressional investigations come to conflicting conclusions with Mueller's investigation, it could seriously undercut the potency of his findings. (Which could be one objective of continuing.)

3. Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Matt Flegenheimer at the New York Times: White House Tries to Get G.O.P. to Water Down Russia Sanctions Bill. "The White House is quietly lobbying House Republicans to weaken a bill overwhelmingly passed by the Senate last week that would slap tough new sanctions on Russia for its meddling in the 2016 election and allow Congress to block any future move by [Donald] Trump to lift any penalties against Moscow." Clearly the perfect way to convince everyone that Trump isn't in Putin's pocket.

4. Spencer Ackerman at the Daily Beast: [CN: Islamophobia; white supremacy] FBI Fired Sebastian Gorka for Anti-Muslim Diatribes.
The inflammatory pundit Sebastian Gorka worked for the FBI while he was a paid consultant to Donald Trump's 2016 campaign, lecturing bureau employees on counterterrorism issues.

Until the FBI terminated Gorka for his over-the-top Islamophobic rhetoric.

...After Trump's election, word circulated of the FBI's investigation of the campaign's ties to Russia, prompting Trump's drumbeat of Twitter-borne attacks on the U.S. intelligence community generally and the FBI in particular. Meanwhile, Gorka, a former Breitbart national-security editor when White House strategist Steve Bannon ran the website, joined the transition and then the White House, where he serves as deputy assistant to the president.

After Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, some within the bureau began to wonder if Gorka's hard feelings contributed to a White House atmosphere of distrust for the FBI.

"This might be a way for Gorka to get back at the FBI for firing him," a senior FBI official told The Daily Beast.
It's certainly a valid question whether Gorka's resentments have played a part in Trump's war on the intelligence community. The bigger question I have is how the fuck Sebastian Gorka was ever employed by the FBI in the first place, since he has extensive ties to European Neo-Fascists; did not disclose his affiliation with a Hungarian far-right anti-Semitic group when applying for his visa nor his citizenship; and "publicly supported a violent racist and anti-Semitic paramilitary militia that was later banned as a threat to minorities by multiple court rulings."

5. Andrew Osborn and Robin Emmott at Reuters: Russian Defense Minister's Plane Buzzed by NATO Jet over Baltic.
A NATO F-16 fighter jet buzzed a plane carrying Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu as it flew over the Baltic Sea, but was seen off by a Russian Sukhoi-27 military jet, Russia said on Wednesday, an account partly disputed by NATO.

...NATO said it had tracked three Russian aircraft over the Baltic on Wednesday, including two fighter jets which it said did not respond to air traffic control or requests to identify themselves.

"As is standard practice whenever unknown aircraft approach NATO air space, NATO and national air forces took to the sky to monitor these flights," a NATO official said.

...Russian politicians called the episode the latest in a string of "provocations," a day after the Russian defense ministry said an RC-135 U.S. reconnaissance plane had swerved dangerously near a Russian fighter jet over the Baltic and that another RC-135 had been intercepted.

The Pentagon disputed that, saying the U.S. aircraft "did nothing to provoke this behavior" and that the Russian intercept had been unsafe.

In another episode, Sweden said on Wednesday it had called in Russia's ambassador for talks after a Russian fighter jet buzzed a Swedish military jet on an electronic intelligence gathering mission over the Baltic on Monday.

"The Russian plane's actions were out of the terms of the distance between the planes which was at certain times very small," the Swedish military said in a statement.
In case you've forgotten (or never heard), Sweden has been making "preparations for a possible military attack" by Russia since the end of last year.

And the United States President is not taking this threat seriously. Whether he's colluding with Putin or whether he isn't, either way he has no clue the scope of the game Putin is playing.

I'm reminded of the story about German Chancellor Angela Merkel's meeting with Trump in March: "Merkel brought a 1980s map of the former Soviet Union and noted the way its borders stretched for hundreds of miles to the west of Russia's current boundary, according to a source who was briefed on the meeting. The German leader's point was that Putin laments the Soviet Union's demise and, left unchecked, would happily restore its former borders. Merkel left Washington unconvinced that Trump had gotten the message, the source said."

That's really bad news for everyone but Vladimir Putin.

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