Later On

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Archive for the ‘Trump administration’ Category

Trump says he’s never doubted Russian meddling. Here are the multiple times he has.

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:sigh: Wouldn’t it be great to have a president who does not repeatedly tell obvious lies like these?

Written by LeisureGuy

18 February 2018 at 5:32 pm

Jennifer Rubin asks “What has changed in the Russia investigation?”

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And she answers, in the Washington Post:

Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein looked practically giddy at the podium on Friday when he announced a massive indictment of 13 Russians in connection with a plot out of a spy novel to manipulate the 2016 election results. And why shouldn’t he be pleased? The indictment reflects painstaking investigatory work, laying bare a complex, well-funded and deliberate scheme to interfere with our democracy.

Rosenstein was able to explain in excruciating detail some of the evidence that would support the intelligence chiefs’ certain conclusion that Russia meddled in our election. Sure, the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency and the rest of the intelligence community kept telling us this was the case; Rosenstein described allegations that show one part of how it was done. It doesn’t rely on the credibility of former FBI director James B. Comey or on the mainstream media or on Stephen K. Bannon. The FBI and the Justice Department have the goods, because they have a thousand details that so far have been hidden from view.

This should underscore several key developments.

First, Republicans’ clumsy efforts to attack the FISA warrant for Carter Page or to smear Comey don’t matter. House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes’s (R-Calif.) plots and antics and concocted memo are irrelevant. The investigation, at least a good deal of it, rests on facts that are unknown to the House Republicans and are beyond dispute. No Republican is going to stand up to say the indictment is a “hoax” or the allegations against these 13 Russians are “fake.” We’ve argued for some time that their antics do not matter, in the end, because special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has the facts. This is the first real confirmation that our faith in the investigative powers of Mueller and his team was not misplaced.

Indeed, Republicans look precisely like the “unwitting” operatives in the indictment who reportedly lent assistance to the Russian operatives. Republicans’ efforts to distract and distort the growing body of evidence make them unwitting (we hope) pawns in the Russians’ efforts to deny their role. (If House Speaker Paul D. Ryan has any political survival skills, now would be a good time for him to yank Nunes off the Intelligence Committee.) And incidentally, Democrats might want to forget about their counter-memo now that the GOP and Nunes have been utterly discredited. They don’t need to stab a corpse.

Second, Trump obviously has known for more than a year, if not the particulars, at least the substantive conclusion of our intelligence community. And yet he pretended as though there was no basis for the investigation. There was no Russia scandal, he insisted. On Friday he was reduced to claiming that the plot began before his presidential announcement (who cares?) and that he had been cleared of collusion (patently false). Not only have his denials been thoroughly debunked, but his denials can now be seen as directly contrary to the facts he was being told, over and over again. Was he delusional? Or was he simply lying over and over again about the incontrovertible evidence of Russian interference?

Third, the indictment makes a finding of collusion more likely. You cannot collude if there is no one to collude with; now we know there was. The Lawfare blog explains:

The fact that this indictment doesn’t allege misconduct on the American side does not necessarily mean that Mueller lacks evidence to support such an allegation—or that he will not develop it in the future. This indictment deals with a limited subject matter: one aspect of the Russian operation—that involving social media influence measures—undertaken by non-governmental actors. It makes a point of not addressing the conduct of U.S. actors. That is neither inculpatory or vindicating. It is, rather, a deferral of the matter to another day.

What this indictment does, rather, is establish part of the predicate for a later claim of collusion. That is, the indictment details part of what it was that any Americans might have been colluding with.

Fourth, we are reminded that we already know of collusion — or put it this way, collaboration between the Russians and the Trump campaign, both in the social media space and elsewhere:

  • We know of the June 9, 2016, meeting organized after a Russian offered dirt on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump Jr. enthusiastically accepted.
  • We know George Papadopoulos made multiple contacts looking for a meeting with and/or dirt from the Russians. (The Moscow Project tells us: “George Papadopoulos met for the first of at least three times with Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor and reported Russian intelligence asset, on March 14, 2016.” He kept senior campaign officials apprised of the efforts to reach out to Russia.)
  • We know he was not alone: “By the end of June, at least eight individuals involved with the Trump campaign—George Papadopoulos, Jeff Sessions, Michael Cohen, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., Michael Flynn, and Rick Dearborn—reportedly had contacts or meetings with at least 13 Kremlin-linked individuals—Josef Mifsud, the ‘Female Russian National,’ Sergei Kislyak, Felix Sater, Michael Cohen, Rob Goldstone, Natalia Veselnitskaya, Rinat Akhmetshin, Irakly Kaveladze, Konstantin Kilimnik, Aleksander Torshin, Vladimir Putin, the individual who emailed Rick Dearborn, and potentially Oleg Deripaska.”
  • We know Carter Page during the campaign went to Russia in July 2016 to deliver a speech.
  • We know the Trump team members retweeted Russian bots, helping to spread their anti-Clinton messages and divisive themes.
  • We know WikiLeaks released “a steady stream of emails stolen from Democratic and Clinton campaign operatives. Trump eagerly embraced WikiLeaks during the campaign, publicly mentioning the website 164 times in the final month of the campaign alone.”
  • We know the remarkable events of Oct. 7, 2016: “That afternoon, at 4:03 p.m., The Washington Post published the explosive ‘Access Hollywood’ tape, behind-the-scenes footage from 2005 in which Trump bragged about groping women without their consent. Just 29 minutes later, WikiLeaks began publishing the contents of Podesta’s email inbox. Whether there was explicit coordination between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks remains unknown.”

The question is no longer whether there a Russian plot to interfere with our election or whether there was a high degree of synchronization between the Trump campaign and the Russian campaign for Trump. We now have to learn how extensive was the interplay and how cognizant of foreign influence were Trump and members of his team.

Likewise, we no longer have to wonder why Trump tried to get the FBI to lay off former national security adviser Michael Flynn or why he fired Comey or why he smeared the FBI or why he helped draft a misleading statement to explain the June 2016 meeting. In short, there is a clear motive to interfere with and obstruct the Russia investigation.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 February 2018 at 12:05 pm

A former Russian troll speaks: ‘It was like being in Orwell’s world’

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Anton Troianovski writes in the Washington Post:

The indictment by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III of 13 Russians associated with a St. Petersburg online “troll factory” that allegedly interfered with the U.S. election has brought a sense of vindication to the handful of former employees who have already been speaking out about what they witnessed.

One of them, 43-year-old Marat Mindiyarov, a teacher by training, spoke by phone with The Washington Post on Saturday from the village outside St. Petersburg where he lives. Mindiyarov worked in a department for Russian domestic consumption. When he took a test in December 2014 to move to the factory’s “Facebook department” targeting the U.S. market, Mindiyarov recalled, he was asked to write an essay about Hillary Clinton. Here are lightly edited excerpts of the conversation.

What was your first reaction when you heard about the Mueller indictment?

I congratulate America that they achieved something — that they put forward an indictment rather than just writing about this. I congratulate Robert Mueller.

How did you end up at the troll factory?

I worked there from November 2014 to February 2015. I ended up there totally by accident — I happened to be unemployed, and this place had work right by my house. So I went there. I realized quickly that this was the kind of place where I only wanted to spend enough time until I got my salary and I could leave.

How did it feel inside?

I arrived there, and I immediately felt like a character in the book “1984” by George Orwell — a place where you have to write that white is black and black is white. Your first feeling, when you ended up there, was that you were in some kind of factory that turned lying, telling untruths, into an industrial assembly line. The volumes were colossal — there were huge numbers of people, 300 to 400, and they were all writing absolute untruths. It was like being in Orwell’s world.

What sorts of untruths did you write?

My untruths amounted to posting comments. I worked in the commenting department — I had to comment on the news. No one asked me my opinion. My opinions were already written for me, and I had to write in my own words that which I was ordered to write.

For example?

When I was there, there were sanctions [by the European Union and the United States in response to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine] and the ruble started falling. I was writing everything that was the opposite: how wonderful our life was, how wonderful it is that the ruble was strengthening, and that kind of absurdity. That sanctions were going to make us stronger and so on and so forth.

Where were you writing this?

We were commenting on Russian sites — all sorts of them, LiveJournal for example, and all the Russian news websites. Wherever a given news item appeared on Russian websites, trolls were immediately created to provide the illusion of support.

What was the working environment like — was it really like a factory?

There were two shifts of 12 hours, day and night. You had to arrive exactly on time, that is, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. There were production norms, for example, 135 comments of 200 characters each. … You come in and spend all day in a room with the blinds closed and 20 computers. There were multiple such rooms spread over four floors. It was like a production line, everyone was busy, everyone was writing something. You had the feeling that you had arrived in a factory rather than a creative place.

How did the trolling work?

You got a list of topics to write about. Every piece of news was taken care of by three trolls each, and the three of us would  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

18 February 2018 at 8:54 am

How the ICE is working to strip citizenship from naturalized citizens

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Eoin Higggins reports in The Intercept:

FOR 10 YEARS, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s investigative office has worked to keep its internal handbook out of American courts. The handbook could have been used in court to show how ICE’s push to lead on denaturalization cases stands in contrast to the language of federal law governing the process, an immigration lawyer said. “We could have used it as an exhibit in a motion to dismiss” in previous denaturalization cases, said Philip Smith, an immigration attorney from Portland, Oregon, noting the contrast.

The handbook, which was issued on January 15, 2008, and published Wednesday by the independent media outlet Unicorn Riot, makes clear that the priority for ICE’s investigative division, Homeland Security Investigations, or HSI, in denaturalization proceedings is to use the most efficient means possible to fulfill a single-minded goal: leveraging the bureaucratic process to strip citizenship from naturalized Americans.

“It’s a manual for the worst outcome” with respect to investigation targets, said Alaska immigration lawyer Margaret Stock in an interview on Tuesday. That’s not unique to ICE, Stock added — it’s how the entire U.S. justice system operates. “Their objective is to inflict the most pain as possible, as efficiently as possible,” Stock said. “They feel they’re doing their job correctly if the government wins — not if justice is done.”

The 20-page manual instructs agents on the particulars of denaturalization investigations. Documents obtained by the Freedom of Information Act-driven clearinghouse Government Attic indicate that the denaturalization investigations handbook was used through at least 2016; the handbook appears in the table of contents for HSI’s 2016 Special Agent’s Manual, sandwiched between chapters on cybercrime and fraud. “There’s no reason to believe the document is not authentic,” said Matthew Bourke, a public affairs officer with ICE. “ICE-HSI does manage a special agent handbook on denaturalization investigations.”

Last year, The Intercept obtained and reported on HSI’s guidelines for asset forfeiture.

The denaturalization handbook shows how the federal government pursues denaturalization against naturalized citizens and has instructions on how to prosecute cases efficiently to strip citizenship as quickly as possible.

Smith, the immigration lawyer, said the language of the manual — where ICE plays a chief role in pushing denaturalization — stands in contrast to the civil statute that allows for stripping Americans’ citizenship. “It shall be the duty of the United States attorneys for the respective districts, upon affidavit showing good cause therefor, to institute proceedings in any district court of the United States in the judicial district in which the naturalized citizen may reside at the time of bringing suit,” the statute reads.

The handbook, said Smith, shows how ICE is taking the power of instituting procedures away from federal prosecutors assigned to those geographic areas. “We believe Congress meant to have the case evaluated by prosecutors in the jurisdiction, the community,” Smith said. ICE declined to respond on the purported disconnect between its manual’s emphasis on ICE-led denaturalization, and the statute’s emphasis on letting federal prosecutors take the lead.

DESPITE THE NATIONAL debates that have arisen with President Donald Trump’s approach to immigration, denaturalization receives scant attention. It’s one of the many tools available to the immigration enforcement bureaucracy, but because it strips citizenship through a slow and deliberative process — and not the surprise raids by armored law enforcement officers — denaturalization isn’t synonymous with much of the reporting around ICE’s behavior.

Foreign nationals can become naturalized citizens through processes defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act. The prerequisites include filling out a number of forms, proving good moral character, passing a citizenship test, and other requirements. “In general,” the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ Policy Manual Citizenship and Naturalization Guidance reads, “an applicant files a naturalization application and then USCIS grants citizenship after adjudicating the application.”

Denaturalization uses case law and the bureaucratic process to methodically take that citizenship away and then, when possible, deport those whose status has been reverted to that of a visa holder. As a tactic, denaturalization is often politically motivated, said Stock, and targeted toward particular nationalities. “You don’t see a lot of, say, Canadians or Brits being denaturalized,” said Stock.

“You don’t see a lot of, say, Canadians or Brits being denaturalized.”

Immigration attorney Lance Curtright, who practices in San Antonio, Texas, told The Intercept that denaturalization can take two forms: civil and criminal. Criminal denaturalization is usually reserved for those who committed fraud to obtain citizenship for criminal activity — crimes involving terror, drugs, and the like — and carry jail terms of up to 25 years. Civil denaturalization is based on a lower standard of proof and doesn’t result in incarceration. “They’re different methods,” said Curtright, who added that he had noticed that the government pursuing more civil cases in recent months.

The handbook runs through the duties of each agent and the different types of infractions that can result in denaturalization proceedings. And it’s nowhere clearer than in the section of the manual that deals with “Case Strategy.” In this section, ICE instructs its investigative officers to push for charges that will lead to automatic denaturalization, rather than those charges which would require a separate process.

“Case agents,” the manual reads, “should encourage the U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecuting a case involving naturalization fraud or illegality to include a charge of ‘Procurement of Citizenship or Naturalization Unlawfully’ under 18 U.S.C. § 1425 because, upon conviction, the court is required to revoke the defendant’s citizenship.”

“On the other hand,” the manual goes on, “a conviction for ‘False Statements’ under 18 U.S.C. § 1001 does not require the automatic revocation of a defendant’s citizenship and will result in the U.S. Government having to engage in a separate denaturalization prosecution.”

This centralization of the denaturalization process puts the onus for instituting proceedings on HSI agents. That’s indicative of a push to take away the authority provided for under the law to U.S. attorneys working in those jurisdictions, said Smith. He said that the way things are now, cases are put together by special agents in the HSI and then given to U.S. attorneys. “We don’t think it is in keeping with the statute,” said Smith.

The strategy section continues, warning agents that settling for civil infractions carries the risk that the targets of investigations may be able to retain citizenship. If the U.S. Attorney’s Office can’t be convinced to prosecute under criminal infractions, the handbook says, a settlement should be reached, if possible, with the defendant, including civil denaturalization — though that’s not ideal: “Civil denaturalization under 8 U.S.C. § 1451(a) may not result in a deportable charge against the defendant.”

Stock explained that by combining charges, the government was setting the case up to take care of everything all at once with the end goal of deportation. It’s brutal efficiency, she told The Intercept: “They want to go for the jugular.” . . .

Continue reading.

The US continues to move in what I consider to be a bad direction.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 February 2018 at 8:13 am

Why the Feb 16 indictment is very bad news for Trump and Congressional Republicans

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Mark Kleiman writes in The Reality-Based Community:

There’s a tendency – obviously from Trump and his lickspittles, but also from usually sensible outlets such as VOX – to claim that today’s indictments are “good news for Trump” because, while they mention that some Americans, including some people on the Trump campaign, were unwitting purveyors of Russian fake news, they doesn’t charge any American with consciously collaborating with the Russian attempt to undermine our election.

This reflects in part an elementary failure of logic: obviously, “Some Americans were duped” does not imply “No American conspired.” And in fact the indictment recites that the three entities and thirteen individuals charged had “known and unknown co-conspirators.” Deputy AG Rosenstein chose his words carefully when he said, twice, that “there is no allegation in this indictment” about collusion, rather than saying that the investigation hadn’t found collusion.

But Matt Yglesias makes a different and possibly more important point, which might be unpacked as follows:

  • The indictment charges a series of crimes.
  • Presumably Mueller has evidence of those crimes.
  • Donald Trump, Devin Nunes, Chuck Grassley, and others have been denying that such crimes had been committed, and doing their utmost to interfere with attempts to investigate them: denouncing the investigation as a “witch hunt;” firing Comey; trying to discredit Mueller, his team, and the FBI agents working with him; demanding criminal prosecution of Christopher Steele for blowing the whistle.
  • Mitch McConnell used threats to prevent Obama from exposing the crimes while they were being committed.
  • Insofar as it can be shown that any of those folks were aware of the truth, and of the import of their actions, they can be charged with obstruction of justice, even if the actual criminals can’t be extradited and therefore never face trial. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2018 at 3:27 pm

Is Donald Trump a traitor?

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James Risen asks the question in The Intercept, and Part 1 of his answer begins:

I FIND IT hard to write about Donald Trump.

It is not that he is a complicated subject. Quite the opposite. It is that everything about him is so painfully obvious. He is a low-rent racist, a shameless misogynist, and an unbalanced narcissist. He is an unrelenting liar and a two-bit white identity demagogue. Lest anyone forget these things, he goes out of his way each day to remind us of them.

At the end of the day, he is certain to be left in the dustbin of history, alongside Father Coughlin and Gen. Edwin Walker. (Exactly – you don’t remember them, either.)

What more can I add?

Unfortunately, another word also describes him: president. The fact that such an unstable egomaniac occupies the White House is the greatest threat to the national security of the United States in modern history.

Which brings me to the only question about Donald Trump that I find really interesting: Is he a traitor?

Did he gain the presidency through collusion with Russian President Vladimir Putin?

One year after Trump took office, it is still unclear whether the president of the United States is an agent of a foreign power. Just step back and think about that for a moment.

His 2016 campaign is the subject of an ongoing federal inquiry that could determine whether Trump or people around him worked with Moscow to take control of the U.S. government. Americans must now live with the uncertainty of not knowing whether the president has the best interests of the United States or those of the Russian Federation at heart.

Most pundits in Washington now recoil at any suggestion that the Trump-Russia story is really about treason. They all want to say it’s about something else – what, they aren’t quite sure. They are afraid to use serious words. They are in the business of breaking down the Trump-Russia narrative into a long series of bite-sized, incremental stories in which the gravity of the overall case often gets lost. They seem to think that treason is too much of a conversation-stopper, that it interrupts the flow of cable television and Twitter. God forbid you might upset the right wing! (And the left wing, for that matter.)

But if a presidential candidate or his lieutenants secretly work with a foreign government that is a longtime adversary of the United States to manipulate and then win a presidential election, that is almost a textbook definition of treason.

In Article 3, Section 3, the U.S. Constitution states that “treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”

Based on that provision in the Constitution, U.S. law – 18 U.S. Code § 2381 – states that “[w]hoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere” is guilty of treason.  Those found guilty of this high crime “shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.”

Now look at the mandate given to former FBI Director Robert Mueller when he was appointed special counsel by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who was acting in place of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had recused himself because of his role in the Trump campaign and the controversy surrounding his own meetings with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

On May 17, 2017, Rosenstein issued a letter stating that he was appointing a special counsel to “ensure a full and thorough investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.” He added that Mueller’s mandate was to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” Rosenstein noted that “[i]f the Special Counsel believes it is necessary and appropriate, the Special Counsel is authorized to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation of these matters.”

How closely aligned is Mueller’s mandate with the legal definition of treason? That boils down to the rhetorical differences between giving “aid and comfort, in the United States or elsewhere” to “enemies” of the United States and “any links and/or coordination” between the Russian government and Trump campaign aides related to “the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.”

Sounds similar to me.

As a practical matter, the special counsel is highly unlikely to pursue treason charges against Trump or his associates. Treason is vaguely defined in the law and very difficult to prove. To the extent that it is defined – as providing aid and comfort to an “enemy” of the United States – the question might come down to whether Russia is legally considered America’s “enemy.”

Russia may not meet the legal definition of an “enemy,” but it is certainly an adversary of the United States. It would make perfect sense for Russian President and de facto dictator Vladimir Putin to use his security services to conduct a covert operation to influence American politics to Moscow’s advantage. Such a program would fall well within the acceptable norms of great power behavior. After all, it is the kind of covert intelligence program the United States has conducted regularly against other nations – including Russia.

Throughout the Cold War, the CIA and the KGB were constantly engaged in such secret intelligence battles. The KGB had a nickname for the CIA: glavnyy vrag or “the main enemy.” In 2003, I co-authored a book called “The Main Enemy” with Milt Bearden, a retired CIA officer who had been chief of the CIA’s Soviet/Eastern European division when the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed. The book was about the intelligence wars between the CIA and the KGB.

Today’s cyber-spy wars are just the latest version of “The Great Game,” the wonderfully romantic name for the secret intelligence battles between the Russian and British empires for control of Central Asia in the 19th century. Russia, the United States, and other nations engage in such covert intelligence games all the time – whether they are “enemies” or simply rivals.

In fact, evidence of the connections between Trump’s bid for the White House and Russian ambitions to manipulate the 2016 U.S. election keeps piling up. Throughout late 2016 and early 2017, a series of reports from the U.S. intelligence community and other government agencies underlined and reinforced nearly every element of the Russian hacking narrative, including the Russian preference for Trump. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2018 at 9:32 am

There’s a Pretty Good Chance President Trump Is Being Blackmailed

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Jonathan Chait writes in New York magazine:

We have no idea if the wildest and most memorable allegation Christopher Steele picked up in his investigation of Donald Trump — that the future president is vulnerable to Russian blackmail related to his paying Russian prostitutes in 2013 — is true. There are two common grounds for skepticism. One is that Trump, who is known both for his affairs and for grabbing women, would pay for sex. The second is that a man so happily associated with infidelity and vice could be blackmailed at all. We now know neither of these objections holds water.

Ronan Farrow’s new story shows that Trump habitually pays for sex. He had an affair with former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal, and offered her money after sex, which she turned down. At another point in the story, he offered adult entertainer Jessica Drake $10,000 for “her company.”

Farrow’s reporting also implies, without quite establishing as an absolute certainty, that Trump maintained a system for silencing his sexual partners. A network of sleazy operators, sometimes working in conjunction with National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, Trump’s close friend, would pay off women to prevent their stories from seeing the light of day. In any case, previous reporting by The Wall Street Journal has already established that Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid at least one of his former mistresses to stay quiet.

So, we know Trump habitually pays for sex, and we also know he is willing to pay to keep embarrassing secrets from going public. That is to say, these secrets could be leveraged against him. One of Pecker’s former employees tells Farrow, “In theory, you would think that Trump has all the power in that relationship, but in fact Pecker has the power — he has the power to run these stories. He knows where the bodies are buried.”

What else do we know? We know Russia has a decades-old system for gathering compromising sexual secrets on prominent foreign visitors. We also know Trump harbored a burning resentment of President Obama in the wake of Obama’s mocking him at the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner. And many reports of Trump’s decision-making suggest that the strongest consideration in any decision is the chance to defile or destroy something associated with Obama.

Far from being bizarre, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 February 2018 at 3:55 pm

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