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TBR News August 19, 2018

Aug 19 2018

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Isaiah 40:3-8 

Washington, D.C. August 19, 2018: “Washington reminds one of the monkey house in a zoo what with the hopping about, screeching and the throwing of feces by its inmates. It ought to be obvious to almost anyone, not just medical personages conversant with Alzheimers problems, that the President is a person with serious mental problems. His erratic messaging, sudden emotional outbursts, irrational behavior towards his staff and top level bureaucrats is becoming painfully evident, even to the bearded gun-lovers who sleep in work boots and the addle-pated Evengelicals, that the President is a poster boy for mental health week. The mid-terms are approaching and if the black population of America becomes aware that Trump uses the nigger word repeatedly in the Oval Office or calls all Mexicans rapists and bean-heads, Congress will have a new demographic and the American public will have peace and sanity.”

 

The Table of Contents

  • Donald Trump has said 2291 false things as U.S. president: Number 4
  • 2018 The firings and fury
  • Putin & Merkel could stick it to Trump as they look to bring Nord Stream 2 over the line
  • Russia’s top 5 trump cards in the sanctions game against the US
  • Omarosa ‘has video, emails and texts to support Trump claims’
  • Trump blasts New York Times over White House counsel report
  • Trump says ‘nothing to hide’ from Special Counsel Mueller
  • ‘We see the games they play’: Erdogan says Ankara won’t bow to US

 

Donald Trump has said 2291 false things as U.S. president: Number 4

August 8, 2018

by Daniel Dale, Washington Bureau Chief

The Toronto Star, Canada

The Star is keeping track of every false claim U.S. President Donald Trump has made since his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017. Why? Historians say there has never been such a constant liar in the Oval Office. We think dishonesty should be challenged. We think inaccurate information should be corrected

If Trump is a serial liar, why call this a list of “false claims,” not lies? You can read our detailed explanation here. The short answer is that we can’t be sure that each and every one was intentional. In some cases, he may have been confused or ignorant. What we know, objectively, is that he was not teling the truth.

Last updated: Aug 8, 2018

 

  • Feb 3, 2017

“Thank you to Prime Minister of Australia for telling the truth about our very civil conversation that FAKE NEWS media lied about.”

Source: Twitter

in fact: The media did not lie about their phone call, which was not civil. The public learned the truth when the transcript was leaked to the Washington Post in August. “As far as I am concerned that is enough Malcolm. I have had it. I have been making these calls all day and this is the most unpleasant call all day,” Trump told Turnbull. “Putin was a pleasant call. This is ridiculous.” At the time, A senior Trump official acknowledged to the Washington Post that it had been “hostile and charged.”

  • Feb 4, 2017

“What is our country coming to when a judge can halt a Homeland Security travel ban and anyone, even with bad intentions, can come into U. S.?”

Source: Twitter

in fact: The U.S. does not allow “anyone” to come in. Even without Trump’s travel ban, there is strict vetting of refugees, and visas are required for people seeking to enter from the seven mostly-Muslim countries to which the ban would apply.

Trump has repeated this claim 2 times

“After being forced to apologize for its bad and inaccurate coverage of me after winning the election, the FAKE NEWS @nytimes is still lost!”

Source: Twitter

in fact: The New York Times not only wasn’t “forced” to apologize for its coverage, it did not apologize at all. Trump was referring to a post-election letter, a kind of sales pitch, in which Times leaders thanked readers and said they planned to “rededicate ourselves to the fundamental mission of Times journalism.”

Trump has repeated this claim 9 times

  • Feb 5, 2017

“I think (the travel ban rollout) was very smooth. We had 109 people out of hundreds of thousands of travellers and all we did was vet those people very, very carefully … General Kelly — who’s now Secretary Kelly — he said he totally knew, he was aware of it, and it was very smooth. It was 109 people.”

Source: Super Bowl interview with Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly

in fact: The implementation of the ban was anything but smooth — it produced confusion in foreign countries, in America and even within Trump’s own government — and it affected far more than 109 people. A lawyer for the Trump administration said in court that 100,000 people had their visas revoked; Homeland Security officials announced that 721 people had been denied boarding at airports; thousands more were left uncertain about their status or were forced to change plans. Trump’s press secretary has clarified that the 109 figure refers solely to “the initial group of people that were in transit at the time the executive order was signed” — which is not even close to the total number of people impacted.

Trump has repeated this claim 2 times

 

“I’ve been against the war in Iraq from the beginning.”

Source: Super Bowl interview with Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly

in fact: This was one of Trump’s most oft-repeated lies of the 2016 campaign, and it has been thoroughly debunked. Trump did not express opposition to the war until 17 months after it began. Asked on radio in 2002 if he supported the looming invasion, he said, “Yeah, I guess so. I wish the first time it was done correctly.” This was in line with a statement he made in his 2000 book: “If we decide a strike against Iraq is necessary, it is madness not to carry the mission to its conclusion.” A day after the invasion, he said, “It looks like a tremendous success from a military standpoint.”

 

“California in many ways is out of control, as you know. Obviously the voters agree, otherwise they wouldn’t have voted for me.”

Source: Super Bowl interview with Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly

in fact: It is hard to fact-check nonsense, but this is nonsensical. California governance was not one of the subjects debated during the national campaign, and not even pro-Trump pundits argued that his victory was a reaction against California. Further, Trump was trounced in California voting: 62 per cent for Hillary Clinton to his own 32 per cent.

O’Reilly: “So you think you’re gonna be proven correct in that statement (that three million illegal immigrants voted)? Trump: “Well, I think I already have. A lot of people have come out and said that I am correct.”

Source: Super Bowl interview with Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly

in fact: Even if Trump is referring here to his broader claim of widespread voter fraud, not specifically the “three million illegal immigrants” claim, he’s still wrong: no credible expert has said Trump is correct. That includes Republican elections officials around the country. That Trump can find some conspiracy theorists to declare him correct does not amount to proof.

Trump has repeated this claim 6 times

 

  • Feb 6, 2017

“We’ve already given (Iran) billions and billions, probably $150 billion.”

Source: Extended portion of Super Bowl interview with Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly

in fact: The “$150 billion” figure has no basis. Experts said Iran had about $100 billion in worldwide assets at the time; after the nuclear deal unfroze Iranian assets, Iran was able to access a percentage of that $100 billion, but not all of it. PolitiFact reported: “The actual amount available to Iran is about $60 billion, estimates Garbis Iradian, chief economist at the Institute of International Finance. U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew pinned it at $56 billion, while Iranian officials say $35 billion, according to Richard Nephew, an expert on economic sanctions at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.”

Trump has repeated this claim 19 times

“The previous administration allowed it to happen. Because we shouldn’t have been in Iraq but we shouldn’t have gotten out the way we got out. It created a vacuum, ISIS was formed.”

Source: Extended portion of Super Bowl interview with Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly

in fact: Daesh, also known as ISIS and ISIL, was formed long before the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, which occurred in 2011. The group has roots as far back as 1999, and it was already using the name Islamic State by 2006, under George W. Bush. While it had been weakened by 2011, it was around. So Trump can make a reasonable argument that the U.S. withdrawal helped the group thrive, but it is simply inaccurate to say Daesh “was formed” in a post-withdrawal vacuum.

Trump has repeated this claim 3 times

“The failing @nytimes was forced to apologize to its subscribers for the poor reporting it did on my election win.”

Source: Twitter

in fact: The New York Times not only wasn’t “forced” to apologize for its coverage, it did not apologize at all. Trump was referring to a post-election letter, a kind of sales pitch, in which Times leaders thanked readers and said they planned to “rededicate ourselves to the fundamental mission of Times journalism.”

Trump has repeated this claim 9 times

“I have already saved more than $700 million when I got involved in the negotiation on the F-35. You know about that.”

Source: Speech to U.S. Central Command

in fact: Trump did not personally secure these savings: Lockheed Martin had been moving to cut the price well before Trump was elected, multiple aviation and defence experts say. Just a week after Trump’s election, the head of the F-35 program announced a reduction of 6 to 7 per cent — in the $600 million to $700 million range. “Trump’s claimed $600 million cut is right in the ballpark of what the price reduction was going to be all along,” wrote Popular Mechanics. “Bottom line: Trump appears to be taking credit for years of work by the Pentagon and Lockheed,” Aviation Week reported, per the Washington Post.

Trump has repeated this claim 13 times

“You’ve seen what happened in Paris and Nice. All over Europe (terrorism by Islamic extremists is) happening. It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported. And in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons and you understand that.”

Source: Speech to U.S. Central Command

in fact: Terror attacks in Europe are widely reported.

“Any negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election.”

Source: Twitter

in fact: None of the polls are “fake news” — deliberate attempts to mislead. Even if “fake news” is simply defined as “wrong,” Trump is still incorrect: election polls were actually quite accurate. ABC’s final tracking poll with the Washington Post gave Clinton a four-point national lead; NBC’s final poll with the Wall Street Journal gave Hillary Clinton a three-point national lead; she won the popular vote by two points. The final CNN poll, two weeks before voting day, had Clinton up five points.

Trump has repeated this claim 5 times

 

 

2018 The firings and fury

The biggest Trump resignations and firings so far

July 5, 2018

by Sam Morris and Francisco Navas

The Guardian

The Trump presidency will be remembered for many things, but some of those who served it may prove tricky to recall. The former reality TV star has hired and fired staffers faster than he could ever jettison contestants on The Apprentice. High-profile appointees to august posts traditionally filled for years have struggled to stay for more than a couple of months – sometimes even days – before being fired or resigning.

By our count, Trump has overseen 38 high-profile departures in a blizzard of indecision and turmoil that would be hard for even the sharpest White House-watcher to recall. So here’s a living document, designed to help you keep pace.

Latest departure:

Scott Pruitt

503 days in the role

Resigned on 5 July 2018

Trump’s 1st head of the Environmental Protection Agency

Rather than spend the EPA’s budget fighting climate change, something he publicly questioned, Scott Pruitt was repeatedly caught spending taxpayer money on a few personal indulgences. Private and first-class flights, a 24/7 security detail and a $43,000 soundproof phone booth are just a few of many questionable purchases. After too many scandals to count, he eventually resigned. Now he can fully dedicate himself to his wife’s Chick-fil-A franchise, an opportunity he brokered through his EPA contacts.

The rest:

Tom Bossert

445 days in the role

Resigned on 10 April 2018

Trump’s 1st homeland security adviser

A veteran of the Bush administration, Bossert’s was the face of the organization in a busy 2017 hurricane season but his most prominent moment under Trump came when he was victim of a prank email by someone claiming to be Jared Kushner. He resigned briefly after John Bolton arrived as Trump’s national security adviser.

Michael Anton

249 days in the role

Left on 8 April 2018

Trump’s 1st spokesman, National Security Council

You may know him as Publius Decius Mus, a pseudonym he used in the Claremont Review when comparing the 2016 election to Flight 93, the plane that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania on 9/11.

David Shulkin

407 days in the role

Fired on 28 March 2018

Trump’s 1st secretary of veterans affairs

Brought to the VA under Barack Obama, Shulkin was the only Trump nominee to be unanimously confirmed. But rumours of a toxic atmosphere within his department started to circulate, policy disagreements with Trump nominees were reported and a taxpayer-funded trip to Europe with his wife caused controversy. Shulkin said he learned he was fired when Trump tweeted the news. The White House – attempting to place a defense official in temporary charge while Trump’s personal physician was confirmed – insisted he had resigned.

HR McMaster

395 days in the role

Left on 22 March 2018

Trump’s 2nd national security adviser

A serving army general, McMaster succeeded Michael Flynn and brought military experience to a key role. But he was never considered an ideological fit for the president, with some advisers repeatedly accusing the general of being hostile to elements of the Trump agenda. Eventually McMaster resigned, to be replaced by the Bush-era hawk John Bolton.

John Dowd

264 days in the role

Resigned on 22 March 2018

Trump’s 1st lead lawyer

Trump’s lead attorney in the Russia investigation resigned, protesting his “love” for the president, days after it was reported that he would be replaced by Joseph DiGenova. In the event, he wasn’t.

Andrew McCabe

420 days in the role

Fired on 16 March 2018

Trump’s 1st deputy director of the FBI

Fired 28 hours before he would have retired with full benefits, making his seemingly the most vindictive of all Trump’s firings. McCabe had already resigned, in January, after repeated public chiding by Trump on Twitter. He has suggested his dismissal was part of an effort to undermine the investigation into Russian interference in the US election.

Rex Tillerson

405 days in the role

Fired on 13 March 2018

Trump’s 1st secretary of state

Tillerson had reportedly been considering resigning since the summer of 2017, only to be talked out of it by the vice-president, Mike Pence. Tensions simmered, though, particularly after it was reported that the secretary of state had called the president a “fucking moron”. Finally, Trump fired him.

Steve Goldstein

99 days in the role

Fired on 13 March 2018

Trump’s 1st under secretary of state for public diplomacy and affairs

After releasing a statement that Rex Tillerson did not know why he was fired and found out via Twitter, Goldstein was fired for contradicting the official account.

John McEntee

416 days in the role

Fired on 12 March 2018

Trump’s 1st personal aide

McEntee got his start on the campaign team, as a trip director. In the White House he was Trump’s personal aide until reports circulated that he was struggling to obtain the necessary security clearances. Abruptly fired and escorted out, he then joined Trump’s 2020 campaign.

Gary Cohn

410 days in the role

Resigned on 6 March 2018

Trump’s 1st director of the National Economic Council

The former Goldman Sachs No 2 was a rare experienced professional in the Trump White House. He was also a Democrat who reportedly called the president “dumb as shit”. Trump’s reaction to the lethal white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville in August wasn’t enough to make him resign. Trump’s plan to levy tariffs on steel and aluminum was. Cohn walked.

Roberta Jacobson

405 days in the role

Resigned on 1 March 2018

Trump’s 1st US ambassador to Mexico

Jacobson, an Obama appointee, had to wait for a drawn-out confirmation process before taking the role in Mexico. By April 2016, when she finally got in, Trump’s wall campaign had gathered momentum, sparking tense relations between Mexico and the US. She lasted a little over a year under Trump before resigning, citing how the relationship between the two countries was “at a crutical moment”.

Hope Hicks

196 days in the role

Resigned on 28 February 2018

Trump’s 4th White House communications director

Despite having zero political experience when she joined the Trump team in 2015, Hicks quickly gained Trump’s trust and rose to become an indispensable aide and, eventually, the president’s fourth White House communications director. Her fall, as sudden as her rise was swift, came one day after she testified before the House intelligence committee and admitted that telling “white lies” was part of her job.

Josh Raffel

332 days in the role

Resigned on 27 February 2018

Trump’s 1st senior communications aid

A Democrat who reportedly donated to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, Raffel was close to Kushner and Ivanka Trump in his communications role and a go-to figure in any PR crisis. He must have been a busy man before he resigned, citing “family reasons”.

Rachel Brand

274 days in the role

Resigned on 20 February 2018

Trump’s 1st associate attorney general

Rachel Brand, a Trump appointee, spent nine months in the Department of Justice as they endured a wave of attacks by Donald Trump and his supporters. She decided enough was enough and took leave to work at Walmart instead – as a head of global governance.

David Sorensen

385 days in the role

Resigned on 9 February 2018

Trump’s 1st White House speechwriter

In the same week as Rob Porter headed for the door, Sorensen left the White House amid domestic abuse allegations which he denied. He “didn’t want the White House to have to deal with this distraction”, he said.

Rob Porter

383 days in the role

Resigned on 7 February 2018

Trump’s 1st White House staff secretary

Porter resigned after both his ex-wives went public with allegations of domestic abuse, which he denied. The chief of staff, John Kelly, initially defended Porter but later said: “There is no place for domestic violence in society”.

John Feeley

358 days in the role

Resigned on 13 January 2018

Trump’s 1st US ambassador to Panama

The US ambassador to Panama resigned telling the US state department he no longer felt he was able to serve Trump. In his resignation letter he mentioned that he “signed an oath to serve the president in an apolitical fashion”. He later stated that he “would be honor bound to resign” if he could not.

Omarosa Manigault-Newman

327 days in the role

Left on 13 December 2017

Trump’s 1st director of communications, Office of Public Liaison

The former reality TV star never had a clear role in the administration. Said a White House deputy press secretary, on her exit: “Omarosa was fired three times on The Apprentice and this was the fourth time we let her go.” After her dismissal, she starred in Celebrity Big Brother. Critical of the administration’s direction, she said: “It’s going to not be OK. It’s not. It’s so bad.”

Tom Price

231 days in the role

Resigned on 29 September 2017

Trump’s 1st secretary of health and human services

Trump’s first health secretary chartered private air travel for himself to the tune of more than $1m. He apologized and offered to pay back the money. Trump called Price a “very fine man” – but said he did not like the “optics”. Price resigned.

Keith Schiller

243 days in the role

Unknown on 20 September 2017

Trump’s 1st director of Oval Office operations

Trump’s longtime bodyguard was reportedly unhappy with a nearly halved paycheck. “I hate everyone in the White House! There are a few exceptions, but I hate them!” he was quoted as saying in Vanity Fair. Later, it was revealed that he was advising the RNC on security for their 2020 convention, picking up $15,000 a month.

Sebastian Gorka

217 days in the role

Left on 25 August 2017

Trump’s 1st Deputy assistant to the president

A fringe Anglo-Hungarian rightwing presence with a vaguely defined White House role, the self-professed gun enthusiast notoriously told Recoil magazine he carried two guns and a copy of the US constitution with him every day. The New York Times reported that another staff switch did for Gorka – the president’s then incoming chief of staff, John Kelly, personally forced him out.

Steve Bannon

210 days in the role

Left on 18 August 2017

Trump’s 1st White House chief strategist

The campaign manager-turned-White House strategist returned to Breitbart, saying “I’ve got my hands back on my weapons” and intending to go “to war for Trump”. But then the Guardian obtained a copy of Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff’s tell-all about the first year of the Trump administration, in which Bannon was extensively quoted and called Donald Trump Jr “treasonous”. Bridges burned, Bannon lost his Breitbart role and set himself up as a sort of freelance far-right gadfly.

Anthony Scaramucci

10 days in the role

Fired on 31 July 2017

Trump’s 3rd White House communications director

He came, he mooched, he got fired. The communications director’s all-too-brief tenure – 10 whole days from appetiser to coffee and the door – will forever be remembered for his decision to call a New Yorker writer and unleash a profanity-laden tirade about his White House colleagues. The result? A mainstream media debate about the rights and wrongs of publishing the phrase: “I’m not trying to suck my own cock.”

George Gigicos 

192 days in the role

Left on 31 July 2017

Trump’s 1st White House director of scheduling

“Wow, what a crowd” Trump told a rally in Phoenix, “what a crowd.” Days later, dissatisfied with said crowd amid reports the venue had been half-empty, he dispensed with the loyal aide who had run the rally.

Reince Priebus

189 days in the role

Resigned on 28 July 2017

Trump’s 1st chief of staff

The former Republican National Committee chair spent seven months in the White House, at no point free of speculation about the timing of his exit. He was supposed to bring inside-the-beltway savvy to Trump’s team of outsiders. Instead, after a tenure filled with palace intrigue and political blunders. the president tweeted he was “proud of him!” – and showed him the way to the door.

Sean Spicer

182 days in the role

Resigned on 21 July 2017

Trump’s 2nd White House communications director

Spicer spent his first day on the job berating journalists for accurately reporting the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd. Things went downhill from there. Highlights included a snafu over his choice of words when discussing the Holocaust, trying to define the difference between a border wall and a fence and an SNL impersonation by Melissa McCarthy that went viral, Trump was reportedly angered to see a key male aide impersonated by a woman. Spicer resigned after disagreeing with Trump over the hiring of Scaramucci.

Walter Shaub

167 days in the role

Resigned on 6 July 2017

Trump’s 1st director, US Office of Government Ethics

When the top ethics watchdog in the federal government resigns, a president may expect the press to have some questions. When he resigns and takes a parting shot in which he reminds the president that “public service is a public trust”, those questions are bound to be pointed. In the case of Shaub, another Obama holdover, they were.

Mike Dubke

73 days in the role

Left on 18 May 2017

Trump’s 1st White House communications director

Trump’s second White House communications director was a longtime Republican operative brought in to lighten the load on the first, a struggling Sean Spicer. He resigned shortly before the president’s first trip overseas, citing personal reasons. Shortly after, he said he regretted not firing leakers.

KT McFarland

110 days in the role

Left on 10 May 2017

Trump’s 1st deputy national security adviser designate

Hired as a deputy to Flynn, the former Fox News analyst stepped down after McMaster essentially hired her replacement, Dina Powell. Trump then sought to nominate McFarland as US ambassador to Singapore, a notion rejected by a Republican-majority Senate. She withdrew.

James Comey

109 days in the role

Fired on 9 May 2017

Trump’s 1st director of the FBI

Comey and Trump had a love-hate relationship. After the FBI director announced that the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server had reopened, 11 days before polling day in 2016, Trump was full of praise. In May 2017, though, Trump ousted the FBI director, saying: “The way [Comey] handled the conclusion of the email investigation was wrong.” Unofficially, the FBI’s investigation into alledged collusion with Russia might have been a factor. Comey thinks it was – and has said so in a blockbuster book that has set the two men at war.

Angella Reid

101 days in the role

Fired on 1 May 2017

Trump’s 1st chief usher

The White House usher, the second African American and the first woman to hold the job, was appointed by Obama in 2011. She was fired in May, amid reports that she would have been shown the door sooner had first lady Melania Trump moved more quickly to fill key posts.

Vivek Murthy

91 days in the role

Fired on 21 April 2017

Trump’s 1st surgeon general

An Obama appointment who was never going to last long, having incurred the wrath of the National Rifle Association by calling gun control a “healthcare issue”.

Katie Walsh

69 days in the role

Left on 30 March 2017

Trump’s 1st White House deputy chief of staff for implementation

Deputy chief of staff to Priebus, an establishment figure in her own right, Walsh came under pressure from Bannon and Jared Kushner. She resigned and was reassigned to a pro-Trump outside body.

Caroline Wiles

27 days in the role

Resigned on 16 February 2017

Trump’s 1st director of scheduling

Served as Trump’s Florida campaign manager but was deemed unfit to serve as the White House’s director of scheduling after she failed a mandatory background check the same day as five other White House insiders.

Michael Flynn

27 days in the role

Resigned on 13 February 2017

Trump’s 1st national security adviser

Trump’s first national security adviser lasted a mere 23 days after it was revealed that he misled Vice-President Mike Pence about his communications with Russian officials. He later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, striking a plea deal including a pledge for “full cooperation” with special counsel Robert Mueller.

Gerrit Lansing

20 days in the role

Resigned on 9 February 2017

Trump’s 1st White House chief digital officer

Gerrit Lansing, previously head of the digital department for the Republican National Committee, was looking to pick up a similar role under the new administration. Just a month in, he failed a mandatory background check due to his personal investments.

Sally Yates

10 days in the role

Fired on 30 January 2017

Trump’s 1st attorney general (acting)

An Obama holdover, Yates served as acting attorney general while Jeff Sessions’s nomination made its way through Congress. Knowing her days were numbered, she refused to enforce Trump’s first travel ban, saying she was not “convinced that the executive order is lawful”. She was fired within hours.

Days in the job are counted from when Trump was inaugurated

 

 

Putin & Merkel could stick it to Trump as they look to bring Nord Stream 2 over the line

August 18, 2018

RT

Russia and Germany are both set to benefit from the proposed gas pipeline to be discussed at Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel’s meeting on Saturday. But the pair will be wary of a backlash from an erratic and irate Washington.

The Kremlin and the Federal Government office have both confirmed that the €9.5 billion ($10.8 billion) project will be a key talking point – along with Syria and Ukraine – when the chancellor hosts the Russian leader at the Schloss Meseberg palace outside Berlin, during a surprise visit announced earlier this week. And while trench-lines are unlikely to shift on the status of Crimea or Bashar Assad’s future, the Nord Stream 2 issue is a live one.

On paper, there shouldn’t be much to talk about at all. The first part of the joint project between Gazprom and Western European energy giants has functioned without a hitch since 2011. The two new 1,200km-long underwater lines, doubling previous capacity, have been issued with permits by every country en-route from northern Russia to the German coast, apart from Denmark, whose parliamentary dithering over abstract “security concerns” is unlikely to delay completion beyond its scheduled date in 2020. In fact, dredging in preparation for laying the pipes already began back in May.

‘What about Ukraine?’ EU asks

For all this, that the project is alive at all in the current political climate is a miracle of slick personal diplomacy and cool-headed self-interest.

Its enemies are legion, powerful and growing louder.

The European Union tried to wean itself off Russian energy even before the two Ukraine-related supply disputes in 2005/06 and 2008/09 that left parts of the continent freezing, and has been successful through a combination of its own structural market reforms, emergence of alternative energy sources and falling prices. Nonetheless, in 2017, more than a third of all energy to the EU still came from Russia.

The European Council president, Donald Tusk, has campaigned endlessly for the destruction of Nord Stream 2, ever since it was announced three years ago. Last month, he described it, yet again, as a “geopolitical project” of “no economic importance” that threatens the energy security of Europe by giving Moscow excessive political leverage (though in actual fact Nord Stream was conceived exactly to counter politically motivated disruptions that were costly to the export state both in lost reputation and essential foreign currency.)

A principal preoccupation of Tusk and other EU officials remains, with the €2.5 billion (€10.8 billion) in annual transit fees that Ukraine receives from the current pipeline. While there is no doubt that Kiev is closer to Brussels than Moscow, it remains an odd moral and political expectation that Russia should in perpetuity bolster the coffers of its principal regional adversary. And if Europe is so worried about Ukraine, it could always make up the shortfall itself.

An alliance of individual states has coalesced in opposition to the project. Predictably, the weightiest and most vocal objector has been Poland, with the Baltic states emitting a more plaintive sigh of powerlessness.

‘Buy our LNG instead,’ says US

While all the above are reprises, however, the biggest game-changer has undoubtedly been the US.

Specifically, Donald Trump. As frequently mentioned about the current US president, once an issue is lodged in his mind, he rarely lets go – and opposition to Nord Stream has become a favorite

In July, he deployed a double combo, using this pet topic to push another perennial fixation – Berlin failing to fulfill its NATO obligations – when he argued that Germany has become unworthy of US military protection, as it is “totally controlled” by Russia, turning into its “captive” after agreeing to the “inappropriate” Nord Stream project.

But where Trump leads with rhetorical devices and negotiating tactics, others follow with deadly serious intent.

The EU already pushed for a grandfather clause that allowed Nord Stream 2 to avoid the previous round of US sanctions last year, but in July the catchily-acronymed ESCAPE Act was submitted to the Senate by two Republicans, specifically targeting corporations involved in the project with new sanctions.

Most notably, while most anti-Russia legislation dresses itself up in terms of moral punishment, this particular document makes it explicit that the United States plans to replace the Nord Stream volumes with its own liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Trump himself has made no secret of American ambitions either, promising during his last whirlwind tour of Europe that the locals would be buying “vast amounts” of US-produced LNG (alongside soybeans from America’s “great farmers”).

But if necessary, a more respectable – if less plausible – line of attack can be found. Back in May, Sandra Oudkirk, a senior State Department official, claimed that the pipeline should be blocked because Russia would place sophisticated spying devices along its length that would pose a “threat” to NATO security. She also staunchly denied that Washington was driven by commercial interests.

Merkel’s compromise for Moscow

For long enough, Angela Merkel was able to elide any international objections to Nord Stream 2, by portraying it as a purely “commercial project,” something that also suited Moscow and Berlin, allowing them to divorce the straightforward energy discussions from the tangle of their own sanctions and counter-sanctions.

But that has become more difficult, and not just due to external pressure – the pipeline became an issue during last year’s domestic election campaign, the results of which left the chancellor in her most precarious position since assuming office in 2005. Not to say that Merkel is swimming against the tide: while some inside her party have criticized cooperating with the Kremlin; politicians and businesses, already battered by the country’s misadventures in alternative energy and nuclear reluctance, have stepped up – not least because they resent having their policy dictated by the White House.

Nonetheless, by April, Merkel had to concede that Nord Stream was both a “strategic” and a “political” endeavor. In an epitome of her governing style, the chancellor then suggested a compromise, whereby Russia would guarantee that some of its gas would continue to flow through Ukrainian pipelines.

What form these assurances take is likely to be the crux of the two leaders’ negotiations this week, and it will not be surprising if specific numbers start to emerge following the Berlin talks. As this is not a unilateral concession, nor does Russia lose face by simply continuing to export some of its gas through Ukraine, Putin may be amenable to a deal.

Will Nord Stream 2 be built?

Whatever is discussed behind closed doors, observers should not expect any dramatic, definitive or specific statements when the two leaders emerge again before the media. Merkel will likely remain diplomatically platitudinous, while Putin will assure journalists that the project is on course, and keep his cards close to his chest.

So the bigger question is bound to remain: will Nord Stream 2 actually be constructed?

With all the obstacles around it, there is actually one fundamental reason why it likely will, and it is not just a question of how well Putin and Merkel can talk to each other in German. While it has been branded a geopolitical project from the start – and there is no denying Moscow’s strategic interests – ironically, it is the alternatives that now all look politically motivated. Continuing to insist that Ukrainian pipelines must be used above all others is geopolitics, as is constructing an underused LNG terminal in Poland, as is insisting that Europe purchase America’s gas, paying 25 percent more for it than for the Russian alternative. Nord Stream 2 might not be the most profit-driven enterprise in the world, but it certainly makes more sense than any of those.

Yet what if the US tries to derail it with more sanctions? These are likely, at least in some nominal form. But if Washington tries to go against Berlin’s will on the issue, it will likely achieve not acquiescence, but resistance, and further destabilize a tottering relationship. Is it really in US interests to push Merkel towards Putin, and see Russia still build the pipeline, while smugly watching Europe and America engage in another spat. More likely Trump will back down, and make new exemptions for the project, particularly as it is so close to a fait accompli.

So, the odds are that by the start of the next decade, Europeans will still be grumbling about Russia as they turn on the heat in their homes, while Nord Stream 2 will continue to pump more gas to the continent, oblivious to all the fuss.

 

Russia’s top 5 trump cards in the sanctions game against the US

August 12, 2018

RT

Washington’s reported plans to ratchet up sanctions against Moscow have sparked heated debates both in the US and in Russia over which country will be hurt more.

The US has hinted that it would target exports of sensitive national security goods to Russia, stop flights by Russia’s Aeroflot airlines to the US, and could go as far as banning all US exports to Russia. According to the US State Department, the proposed measures come in response to the poisoning of double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK. Russia has denied the accusation and has repeatedly called for an objective international inquiry.

Considering the fact that Washington has sanctioned pretty much everything Russian there is to sanction and that Moscow has refrained from using its big guns against the US, Russia has some interesting options if it needs to respond this time around.

So far, Russian lawmakers have warned that the new punitive measures might be met with tough retaliation that would target some sensitive areas of cooperation between the countries. RT decided to look deeper into the list of potential reciprocal measures Moscow could deploy to hurt the Americans.

Titanium

In case of an all-out sanctions exchange, the Russian government could place either a ban or some other kind of restriction on exports of titanium to the US. Russian titanium monopoly VSMPO-Avisma produces a third of the world’s titanium parts for the aircraft industry. The company delivers 70 percent of its products to the global market. Avisma provides 40 percent of titanium components for Boeing and 60 percent for Airbus, and covers all titanium components for Brazil’s Embraer.

Replacing Russian titanium would be next to impossible for Boeing. Industrial work with titanium began simultaneously in the US and USSR in the 1950s. However, only Russia has been successful in producing high-quality titanium alloys.

Using other materials is also not an ideal option for Boeing. Titanium has major advantages over other alloys. Aircraft construction requires the use of materials that can withstand the severe pressures of flight at high altitudes, as well as constant exposure to the elements. Traditionally, aircraft were made of steel, but lighter, more durable materials are now used to extend the life of aircraft and make them more energy-efficient. Titanium is as strong as steel but 45 percent lighter. It can withstand long periods of exposure to salt water in marine atmospheres. The strength of titanium makes it difficult to weld, which contributes to its high price compared to steel and aluminum.

Airspace

Situated strategically between Europe and Asia, Russia could introduce higher tariffs for the transit use of its airspace for all US cargo and passenger planes, or could ban the flights altogether.

In best-case scenario, American carriers would either have to pay the higher tariffs or choose alternative air routes. But losing shorter Russian routes from Europe to Asia also means losing to the competition from European and Asian airlines.

At worst, there would be no choice but to fly around the world’s biggest country, which would significantly add to fuel costs. Either way, American carriers would bear heavy financial losses which would be a disaster for the US airline industry.

LNG & other energy

Imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and other energy products from Russia to the US could also be banned. Russia’s reported exports of oil and petrochemicals to the US makes up just $8 billion worth, which is just 4.6 percent of Russia’s entire energy exports. The ban would be relatively painless for Russian producers who could easily re-channel those shipments to Asian buyers.

But it could be a different story for the US, which is trying to become a major player in energy exports. Unable to produce enough for domestic consumption and exports and not having enough LNG tankers, the US reportedly resells Russian LNG to European countries. If Russia cuts off energy supplies, American plans of becoming a major energy exporter would have to be put on hold.

US companies in Russia

Despite worsening relations between Moscow and Washington, many American corporations are continuing to work in Russia without interference from the Russian government. In retaliation to any new US sanctions, Russia could make life difficult for such corporations as PepsiCo, Procter&Gamble, McDonald’s, Boeing, Mondelez International, General Motors, Johnson & Johnson, Cargill, Alcoa, General Electric and many other companies. In August 2014, Russia’s consumer watchdog shut down four McDonald’s restaurants in central Moscow over “administrative violations,” launching investigations into more than 430 Russian franchises of the company.

On the other hand, there are very few Russian companies in the United States. Washington would find it difficult to respond with mirror measures. The only consideration for the Kremlin in targeting American businesses in Russia is domestic employment, since these companies provide jobs for Russian citizens.

Russian rockets

Supplies of RD-180 rocket engines are seen as one of Russia’s trump cards in retaliation to US sanctions. The engines are crucial for the US space program as NASA and the Pentagon use them to launch American satellites. Attempts to stop buying them from Russia have failed because the US has been unable to produce a domestic alternative.

The engines are used to power Atlas V rockets. Apart from RD-180 engines, the US buys Russian RD-181s. The RD-181 engine is used to power the Antares rockets that launch Cygnus cargo tugs to the International Space Station for NASA. Earlier this week, a senior Russian lawmaker said that Moscow could ban the sale of RD-180s as retaliatory measure.

 

Omarosa ‘has video, emails and texts to support Trump claims’

Person close to former White House aide – who says Trump uses the N-word – says ‘treasure trove’ could be released at any time

August 18, 2018

AP

Omarosa Manigault Newman does not just have tapes of conversations from her time as an adviser to Donald Trump, a person with direct knowledge of the records said on Friday. She also has a stash of video, emails, text messages and other documentation supporting the claims in her tell-all book about her time in the White House.

Manigault Newman has made clear that she plans to continue selectively releasing the pieces of evidence if Donald Trump and his associates continue to attack her credibility and challenge the claims in her book, Unhinged.

She has already dribbled out audio recordings of conversations. Video clips, texts or email could follow, according to the person who described what Manigault Newman has called a multimedia “treasure trove”.

The person was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly and asked for anonymity.

“I will not be silenced. I will not be intimidated. I’m not going to be bullied by Donald Trump,” Manigault Neman said this week as she seemed to dismiss a threat from Trump’s campaign. She spoke hours after Trump’s campaign announced it was filing an arbitration action against her alleging she violated a signed agreement that prohibits her from disclosing confidential information.

She told PBS this week: “I have a significant amount, in fact, a treasure trove, of multimedia backup for everything that’s not only in Unhinged, but everything that I assert about Donald Trump.”

Manigault Newman claims Trump officials offered her a job on the campaign as a way of silencing her, after she was fired from the White House.

She has accused Trump of being racist and suffering from a mental decline.

The White House has countered by branding Manigault Newman as a disgruntled former staffer with credibility issues who is trying to profit from a book based on false attacks against an individual she has called a mentor and has admired for more than a decade. Trump has also lashed out at Manigault Newman, calling her a “lowlife”, “wacky and deranged” and a “dog”.

Simon & Schuster this week also dismissed threatened legal action from Trump’s campaign. A campaign attorney told the publisher in a letter that Unhinged violated Manigault Newman’s confidentiality agreement, but the publisher responded that it was acting “well within” its rights.

Unhinged has spent the past few days at No2 on Amazon.com’s bestseller list, trailing only Rachel Hollis’ lifestyle book Girl, Wash Your Face.

Manigault Newman was director of communications for a White House office that networks with various constituency groups until she was fired last December by chief of staff John Kelly, citing “significant integrity issues”.

Before joining the administration, Manigault Newman handled African American outreach for Trump’s presidential campaign. She has known Trump since 2003, when she became a contestant on Trump’s TV show, The Apprentice. She has already released several secret audio recordings, including of the meeting in which she was fired by Kelly.

In another recording, Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, is heard offering Manigault Newman $15,000 a month – after she was fired from the White House – for a campaign job requiring her to be “positive”. Lara Trump is a senior adviser on Trump’s re-election campaign.

Manigault Newman also alleges that tape exists of Trump using a racial slur while working on The Apprentice. Trump has denied this, saying on Twitter that “I don’t have that word in my vocabulary, and never have. She made it up.”

At a White House briefing this week, press secretary Sarah Sanders declined to guarantee that no such tape existed.

 

 

Trump blasts New York Times over White House counsel report

  • Don McGahn speaks to Mueller for 30 hours in Russia inquiry
  • President calls report ‘fake’ but also confirms its substance
  • Trump’s ‘good person’ defence could affect Manafort jurors

August 19, 2018

by Martin Pengelly and Ed Pilkington in New York

The Guardian

Donald Trump repeatedly attacked the New York Times on Sunday, over a bombshell report which said White House counsel Don McGahn has cooperated extensively with special counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation of Russian election interference, links between Trump aides and Moscow and potential obstruction of justice.

The president both called the report “fake” and confirmed its substance.

Repeating a spelling mistake made in his initial response on Saturday, when the report was published online, Trump wrote: “The failing [New York Times] wrote a Fake piece today implying that because White House Councel [sic] Don McGahn was giving hours of testimony to the Special Councel [sic], he must be a John Dean type ‘RAT.’”

Dean was White House counsel to Richard Nixon during Watergate. He testified against the president, pled guilty to obstruction of justice and was held at an army base. Now an author and CNN contributor, he told Slate on Saturday: “Don McGahn is doing exactly the right thing, not merely to protect himself, but to protect his client. And his client is not Donald Trump; his client is the office of the president.”

The Times said McGahn had spoken to Mueller’s team for a total of 30 hours, on the advice of Trump’s first lawyers in the Russia investigation. McGahn shared some information investigators would not otherwise have known, the Times said, about events including Trump’s attempts to fire Mueller.

In a separate report, Reuters quoted a person familiar with the matter as saying he did not believe McGahn provided incriminating information about the president and had not seen or heard anything that amounted to obstruction of justice by Trump.

Nonetheless, Trump said on Sunday that the Times “wrote a story that made it seem like the White House Councel [sic] had TURNED on the President, when in fact it is just the opposite – & the two Fake reporters knew this. This is why the Fake News Media has become the Enemy of the People. So bad for America!”

Trump has used the “enemy of the people” tag repeatedly. Such attacks are decried by the media for potentially encouraging violence. Last month, Times publisher AG Sulzberger said he had asked the president to stop. In an interview on CNN on Saturday, executive editor Dean Baquet said Trump had “sent a message to despots abroad that you can disrespect the press”.

On Sunday the president also claimed, without evidence, that “some members of the media are very Angry at the Fake Story in the New York Times” and had “actually called to complain and apologize”. He also complained about a “disgusting new Board Member” at the Times, apparently a reference to the writer Sarah Jeong.

Dean was not impressed by Trump’s handling of the situation.

“I see a lot of similarity in the bungling,” he told Slate. “Watergate was not a carefully planned crime and cover-up. It was one bungled event after another. I see the same thing happening with Trump.”

In his Twitter rant, Trump claimed Mueller was biased and refered to another charged period in American history, the “red scare” of the 1950s. “Study the late Joseph McCarthy,” the president wrote, “because we are now in period with Mueller and his gang that make Joseph McCarthy look like a baby!”

The president has an acquaintance in common with the notorious senator from Wisconsin: the rightwing lawyer Roy Cohn, who worked for McCarthy before mentoring Trump as he rose to prominence in New York.

Trump’s hyperventilation prompted responses on the Sunday talk shows from top national security figures. On CNN’s State of the Union a former director of both the CIA and the National Security Agency, Michael Hayden, expressed amazement at the “irony” that the president had likened Mueller to Joseph McCarthy.

“Joe McCarthy was a demagogue,” he said. “We haven’t a public syllable from Bob Mueller in more than a year.”

Trump aimed at other familiar targets, writing: “No Collusion and No Obstruction, except by Crooked Hillary and the Democrats. All of the resignations and corruption, yet heavily conflicted Bob Mueller refuses to even look in that direction. What about the Brennan, Comey, McCabe, Strzok lies to Congress, or Crooked’s Emails!”

This week, in a move widely criticised as an abuse of presidential power, Trump stripped former CIA director John Brennan of his security clearance. FBI director James Comey, fired by Trump in an event looked at by Mueller regarding potential obstruction of justice, as well as deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe and  FBI agent Peter Strzok who were also fired are among those reported under threat of similar treatment.

Former director of national intelligence James Clapper told CNN on Sunday there was rising concern among senior intelligence figures about the “jeopardy and threats to our institutions and values” and said he had heard private expressions from within the Trump administration.

“I do know there is a lot of angst at the working levels in the IC [intelligence community] workforce,” Clapper said.

The Times reported that McGahn was in part motivated to co-operate with Mueller because he was worried he could become a scapegoat if wrongdoing was discovered. Slate asked Dean if he thought McGahn should resign.

“No,” he said. “That hadn’t occurred to me. More likely he would be fired than resign. Trump does not like people doing the right thing, like recusing when you have a conflict and you are attorney general [as Jeff Sessions did regarding the Russia investigation], or representing the office when you are White House counsel.”

He added: “I think there is good reason for McGahn to believe that Trump would throw him under the bus, since Trump throws almost everyone under the bus …

“Self-preservation is a real motive. At times, I felt it. When I first tried to go in and blow up the Watergate cover-up, I was really worried about the president and the office.”

 

Trump says ‘nothing to hide’ from Special Counsel Mueller

August 19, 2018

by Susan Cornwell

Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump declared Sunday he had “nothing to hide” from the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, and denied that his top lawyer had turned on him by cooperating with the probe.

Trump, in a series of tweets, denounced the New York Times for a Saturday story saying White House Counsel Don McGahn has cooperated extensively with the special counsel, Robert Mueller. The Times said McGahn had shared detailed accounts about the episodes at the heart of the inquiry into whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice.

“I allowed him and all others to testify – I didn’t have to,” Trump said in a tweet. Trump said the newspaper made it seem like McGahn had turned on the president – as White House counsel John Dean had in the Watergate investigation of former president Richard Nixon – “when in fact it is just the opposite.”

Citing a dozen current and former White House officials and others briefed on the matter, the Times said Saturday that McGahn had shared information, some of which the investigators would not have known about.

On Saturday evening, McGahn’s lawyer confirmed the White House counsel had cooperated with Mueller’s team. “Mr. McGahn answered the Special Counsel team’s questions fulsomely and honestly,” William Burck said, explaining the president did not ask McGahn to refrain from discussing any matters.

Also on Saturday, Trump tweeted that he had encouraged McGahn and White House staff to cooperate with investigators.

According to the New York Times, McGahn in at least three voluntary interviews with investigators that totaled 30 hours over the past nine months, described Trump’s furor toward the Russia investigation and the ways in which the president urged McGahn to respond to it.

The newspaper reported McGahn’s motivation to speak with the special counsel as an unusual move that was in response to a decision by Trump’s first team of lawyers to cooperate fully. But it said another motivation was McGahn’s fear he could be placed in legal jeopardy because of decisions made in the White House that could be construed as obstruction of justice.

The newspaper said McGahn was also centrally involved in Trump’s attempts to fire the special counsel, which investigators might not have discovered without him.

McGahn cautioned to investigators he never saw Trump go beyond his legal authorities.

Editing by Lisa Shumaker

 

‘We see the games they play’: Erdogan says Ankara won’t bow to US

August 19, 2018

DW

Ankara won’t bow before those who set up their “own order by exploiting the world” and make Turkey their “strategic target,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, referring to the US amid a deepening diplomatic rift.

“They were not able to make us collapse and they will never be. If they have their dollars, we have our God,” the Turkish president told thousands of supporters of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) who gathered for the Grand Congress in Ankara on Saturday.

Though he didn’t name the US directly, his jab was clearly in reference to Washington, which has recently imposed economic sanctions on Turkey. He said that Ankara won’t surrender “to those who apparently seemed like a strategic partner” while trying to make Turkey “a strategic target with all of their concrete steps.”

Erdogan said that despite “some people” threatening Turkey with economic restrictions or foreign currency exchange rates, “we are telling them that we see the games they play and we challenge them.” Turkey won’t bow before those “who set up their own order by exploiting the world,” he added.

Ankara and Washington have recently been at odds over the detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson in Turkey. Brunson, accused of aiding the failed military coup in 2016, is facing 35 years in a Turkish prison.

In a heightening of tensions, the US Treasury Department announced restrictions against Turkish Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu.  Later, US President Donald Trump doubled steel and aluminum tariffs on Turkish imports.

The pressure created by Washington against its NATO ally sparked a currency crisis in Turkey with the lira plummeting to a record low against the dollar soon after Trump’s announcement of sanctions.

In response to Washington’s “deliberate attacks” on the Turkish economy, Ankara announced tariffs on imports of certain goods from the US, including cars, alcohol, and tobacco.

According to freelance political writer Dan Glazebrook, by attacking the Turkish lira, Trump is “pushing the world towards a re-run of the 1997 currency crisis.”

“All the conditions which prefigured the 1997 east Asian currency crisis are now effectively in place. All that’s needed is a push – which is exactly what Trump has just given,” he wrote in an op-ed to RT.

Evgeny Bakhrevsky, director of the Moscow-based Heritage Institute and Middle East researcher, told RT that US pressure on Turkey serves as an additional incentive for Ankara to seek closer ties with other nations, like China, Russia, and European states. “The Europeans will maintain the existing objections to certain Erdogan policies and continue to voice their concerns, but that won’t stop them from developing pragmatic cooperation with Turkey,” he said.

Apple of Discord: Turks smash their iPhones amid US-Turkey economic spat

Responding to US economic pressure, Erdogan announced a boycott of US electronic products, including iPhones. “They have iPhones, but on the other hand there are Samsungs. We have our local brand Venus Vestel, we will use it,” the Turkish president stressed.

Following Erdogan’s statement, some Turks have vented their anger at Washington’s economic warfare in their own ways. Videos of Turkish people smashing, shooting, and setting iPhones on fire have recently become popular.

 

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