The AP and POLITICO delved into the murky waters of the evolving story of the Trump administration’s contacts with the FBI on Friday, contacts the White House seemed to confirm in their briefing Friday. At the same time, the White House tried unsuccessfully to exclude major outlets but those who were allowed in circulated audio after to those excluded. Trump’s Tweets also doubled down on his “FAKE NEWS” narrative and he told a conservative conference Friday anonymous sourcing should not be allowed. The BBC reminds us Trump’s crusade against anonymous sources is a departure from when he cited a “very credible source” to support his Obama birther claims in 2012. POLITICO adds that news networks CNN and MSNBC “devoted significant airtime” late last week to the story “that individuals associated with Trump” and his campaign “had been in touch with senior Russian intelligence officials during last year’s presidential campaign”. For his part, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus sought to persuade either FBI Director James Comey or Deputy Director Andrew McCabe to publicly refute the story in The New York Times that was also carried by CNN of contacts between the White House and the FBI. Priebus also claims McCabe said that he could cite “senior intelligence officials” that there is nothing to the story no word from FBI or “senior intelligence officials” of confirmation though.

From The AP, BBC, and POLITICO.



Before shutting out various media outlets from Friday’s White House press briefing Trump went on an early morning Twitter-rant Friday condemning leakers in the FBI. If you like stories reduced to 148 characters and love Trump’s rage fits, The Washington Post’s take on the latest infantile rage of the American president may also be too long. “This is standard operating procedure from Trump” by now indeed. Indeed “Amid the controversy over former national security advisor Michael Flynn’s deceptions” concerning contact with Russia, Trump focused entirely on leaks within the intelligence community. Trump’s Tweets “seem to confirm that the CNN report is right,” something that seems to escape Trump’s “deep tone-deafness”.

From The Washington Post.



Josh Rogin reports in The Washington Post that the State Department’s legal office prepared a four-page memo on leaks that was promptly leaked to him. It is “only the latest sign that the relationship between the Trump administration political appointees and the State Department professional workforce” is not wholly harmonious. Naturally there are misspellings as it is the Trump administration! “The Department has also benefitted [sic]” from the Dissent Channel, for instance, which 900 employees used before Tillerson was installed to object to the “Muslim ban” of citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries. That memo was also leaked before it was cabled to Washington making clear that “many State Department bureaucrats don’t feel that they are able to affect policy through the normal channels due to what people see as a lack of communication” from Trump and Tillerson. Many other dysfunctions are documented in Rogin’s article: the exclusion of key officials from key meetings, the alienation of posts around the world from Foggy Bottom, a tightening circle of who sees Tillerson’s minutes from meetings with foreign officials. There is however a Director of Policy Planning in place now, Brian Hook.

From The Washington Post.



State Department briefings are coming back March 6 in case you missed them as much as American diplomats among whom their absence since Trump took office on January 20 has caused consternation. In the past, the briefings were broadcast daily and were traditionally closely watched by allies and adversaries alike to signal policy shifts. They have been contentious too for those employed to deliver them, such as when former spokesman P.J. Crowley suggested treatment of Chelsea Manning was not helpful, which led to his resignation. The real concern among those in the State Department though is the mixed messaging coming from various cabinet level officials and that the diplomats are being sidelined by the circus.

From Reuters.



Friday was the funeral of deceased Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin. He died a day before his 65th birthday while at work at the Russian Mission to the UN one week ago. The cause of death is still under investigation. In a eulogy delivered Friday, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, “Today, we are saying farewell to our friend, an outstanding diplomat, man, Vitaly was the best professional and a national diplomat.” Putin posthumously awarded Churkin an Order of Courage medal, which was displayed at the coffin, according to ABC News. In his place, “Russia’s First Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations Pyotr Ilyichev has been appointed as acting Permanent Representative,” according to Russian state-run TASS. Meanwhile, Russia’s state-run Pravda has a story with a headline, “Was Russia’s Ambassador to UN Churkin poisoned?” The story offers plausible deniability deflecting the accusation of poisoning onto the U.S. media when in fact the mainstream media in the U.S. has been very cautious and promoted nothing of the sort. “For the time being, heart attack remains the official cause of his death,” Russian state-run Pravda asserts. And former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power eulogizes Churkin in The New York Times.

From Russian state-run TASS, ABC News, Russian state-run TASS, Russian state-run Pravda and The New York Times.



On Sunday, Russians marched in memory of opposition activist and former Deputy Prime Minister under Yeltsin, Boris Nemtsov, who was murdered in the shadow of the Kremlin in 2015. Organizers said 15,000 attended, Russian police said 5,000. Five Chechens remain on trial for the crime but the family believes the real killers may never be found. Australia’s ABC News places the Nemtsov case in the context of the broader opposition movement against Putin’s rule and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has video of the march showing protesters with Russian flag posters that appear to be marked with bullet holes. “Demonstrators chanted ‘freedom to political prisoners!’ ‘Russia without Putin’ and ‘Putin is war!’”

From Australian ABC News and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.





Bloomberg reports that the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia is shaping up to be “an unexpectedly bipartisan effort” and the effort “could take months to complete”. The committee is exploring contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials before Election Day. “Negotiations are underway” concerning how much access Congressional aides will get to highly classified information. However Saturday, Bloomberg reports that Senator Mark Warner threatened to pull his support for the committee’s investigation after committee chair Senator Richard Burr challenged media reports about contacts between Russia and associates of President Donald Trump at the request of the White House.”

From Bloomberg and Bloomberg.



Republican Congressman Darrell Issa said on “Real Time with Bill Maher” on Friday that he supports a special prosecutor to investigate “Trumps’ associates contacts with Russia” and does not believe Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who Trump appointed, should be left in charge.

From POLITICO and ABC News.



Former CIA Director John Brennan told CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday morning that the Congressional investigations should be independent “with the appropriate amount of bipartisan support.” He also cautioned the White House that the FBI investigation “is something that, really, they need to steer clear of.” Such contact as what has been made public between the White House and the FBI was “verboten” during his time in government. Fifty three percent of the American public supports Brennan’s calls for a Congressional investigation into Trump’s Russia ties, according to NBC News.

From Bloomberg and NBC News.



Everyone outside the beltway you will soon drown in acronyms related to the myriad Congressional investigations so prepare for alphabet soup! House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi wants the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate the contact made between Trump’s Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and the FBI.

From The Hill.



The Daily Beast profiles Felix Sater, who Trump has refused to discuss many times, including walking out of an interview broadcast on the BBC’s Panorama show. Trump really, really doesn’t want to talk about Felix Sater, Russia, the mafia or his potential debts to all of the above despite the fact that “for five years, Sater and Bayrock [Group] did deal after licensing deal with the Trump Organization.” One of the “shady characters” in Trump’s “very recent past” isn’t just a crook, he’s also an informant. Sater has a violent streak and is otherwise everything sick and sad you don’t want near the American president. Yet in 2010, he was employed by the Trump Organization and brandishing a business card that called him a “Senior Advisor to Donald Trump”.

From The Daily Beast.



Two New York area attorneys compiled loan data from public sources that shows Trump’s former campaign manager and Advisor Paul Manafort has taken out $19.2 million in seven questionable home equity loans on three New York area properties Manafort owns, “in an escalating series of transactions,” including one exceptionally big and “unusual loan from a banker on Trump’s Economic Advisory Council.” “It’s not clear what Manafort is up to” but home equity loans are generally designed for home improvement and given the sorry state of Manafort’s Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn property – just one of three in the New York area — as reported last week, this appears to not be the case. One of the two attorneys, Julian Russo, who uncovered and posted the public records data told The Intercept, “It feels like we’re seeing a small piece of the bigger picture here”.

From The Intercept.



Talking Points Memo unpacks a detail about Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen from one of the big stories in The New York Times last week. Cohen once founded an ethanol business in Ukraine, “referred to as a family business” (Cohen’s wife is Ukrainian).   According to an article on the Ukrainian news website Hromadske International, Andrii Artemenko, the Ukrainian MP who presented Cohen and Felix Sater over a Manhattan lunch with a so-called “peace plan” for Ukraine that would “lease” to Russia Luhansk and Donetsk, said he has known Cohen since he set up his ethanol business. Artemenko also told Strana.ua that he discussed the “peace plan” during the primaries with Cohen and Sater “when no one believed that Trump would even be nominated.” Talking Points Memo correctly throws in the necessary caveats, that Artemenko “seems like a pretty shady character” who “could certainly be lying” but that “given the demonstrable lack of credibility of Cohen and the rest of the players on the Trump side” there is also little reason to dismiss Artemenko’s claims wholesale given the wall of subterfuge all involved are throwing up.

From Talking Points Memo.


The U.S. Naval Institute
hosted Admiral Michael Rogers, head of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, told a conference last Thursday at the West 2017 conference, “Hey, this happened.” This is of course Russian hacking of the 2016 election. “What does that mean?” It means “we need to rethink what critical infrastructure means in the digital age,” expanding our definition beyond “air traffic… piplines… financial world… Power distribution… data increasingly has a value of its own.”

From the U.S. Naval Institute.


Treason charges brought against a former employee of Kaspersky Lab
, Ruslan Stoyanov, head of the computer incidents investigation team, and two FSB officers, Sergei Mikhailov and Dmitry Dokuchayev, relate to seven year-old charges brought by a Russian businessman, Reuters reports according to a source and businessman connected to the investigations. The three men allegedly “passed secrets to U.S. firm Verisign and other unidentified American companies, which in turn shared them with U.S. intelligence agencies.” Everyone involved in the story was unreachable, not willing to comment or denied the story.

From Reuters.





President of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass revives Lenin’s perennial question, “What is to be done?’ and asks it of American interests in the face of Russian overreach. Writing in TIME, Haass argues the U.S. needs to be prepared for what he terms “gray area,” such as the aggression in Ukraine carried out by Russian-backed rebels. Haass cautions, “Such tactics may not trigger NATO’s Article 5 common defense clause, but they threaten stability all the same.” Haass also suggests a focus on Russian foreign policy rather than domestic politics, targeted sanctions that can easily be rolled back, and curiously, placing NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia on hold. Haass believes “Making clear that the United States does not seek Putin’s overthrow may actually help here.” His basket of solutions of “firmness… combined with a degree of restraint,” has it’s own inherent limitations too, it would seem, as there is little variation from what has led us down this road in the first place.

From TIME.



Russia Beyond the Headlines reports dismay over Trump’s new National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster in Russia as “his appointment has been praised in mainstream American media outlets and by many prominent figures within the U.S. political establishment who maintain a critical position towards Russia’s foreign policy.” Whereas Flynn was a friend, McMaster “has no known contacts with Russia,” and has been praised by noted Russia skeptics like Senator John McCain. One analyst said McMaster’s appointment “shows that the traditional Republican establishment is gaining discreet yet considerable influence” and Trump’s foreign policy toward Russia will likely “become more accommodating to the traditionally Republican vision”.

From Russia Beyond the Headlines.



Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov announced Friday that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to meet with Putin in Moscow on March 9-10 to discuss S-400 surface to air missiles. This is significant for countless reasons, so let us count the ways first in a region context: internal war with Kurds and wars on borders with Iraq and Syria. In a geopolitical context, Turkey is a NATO ally and NATO doesn’t use Russian equipment for its own defenses officially, to compliment NATO systems, which included nuclear weapons at the Incirlik Air Force Base for much of the Cold War to the present.

From Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.



The New Yorker has a long piece, “Trump, Putin and the New Cold War,” which is really a terrifically terrible title because whereas the Cold War was ideological, a split between the so-called free world and a certain unfree world where life was a constant lie, this time around it is nearly the same band of criminals controlling the executive of the state on both sides. Trump is not at war with the Russians; he is at war with his own people, civil society and the press — all of whom want the truth about whether he is compromised by Russian debt or sex tapes. The biggest problem for the authors is they never define “active measures,” an old KGB strategy for capturing a state, and suggests the U.S. uses the same methods when it does not but rather has its own methodologies. The article treads light on the media responsibility for helping sell us Trump over 30 years (if the press gets to pick and write its heroes, guess who they will be?). As for how and when to deploy active measures, the Russians are very clear, “For something to happen, many factors have to come together at once… in America those preconditions existed.” Pay attention to Putin’s perception of the 1990s, though, this is shaping his thoughts today. Watch out, Europe. And don’t forget to check out the cover.

From The New Yorker.





Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu conceded that there was truth to both the CIA and Directorate of National Intelligence (DNI) reports that emerged after the election in the transition period that alleged Russian hacking. Imagine this news is being accelerated through official channels in Russia to discredit Trump as Flynn, the direct line in, is gone now. “Nato is reported to be a top target,” and quite clearly after helping to install Trump, the French then German elections. That would sufficiently break NATO, make no mistake, should the big three veer far to the right after the Brexit vote pealed the British away from the EU. Yahoo! News adds Shoigu said to MPs, ‘We have information troops who are much more effective and stronger than the former ‘counter-propaganda’ section.”

From BBC News and Yahoo! News.



No, it’s not Russia – thank god – it’s just our lunatic president attacking the press, the only thing he appeared to be good at until now. Between labeling us, humble servants of living history, “enemies of the American People!” and “FAKE NEWS!” Trump has done a tremendous disservice to our nation according to the former Special Operations Command head Admiral William H. McRaven. In a speech given last Tuesday that wasn’t widely reported until Friday at University of Texas Moody College of Communication, McRaven called Trump’s rhetoric the “greatest threat to democracy” he has seen and as The Washington Post point out, “That’s coming from a man who has seen major threats to democracy.”

From The Washington Post.



Organizers of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) got to work confiscating Russian flags with Trump’s name emblazoned across them, which mysteriously showed up as Trump spoke Friday. Who could have done that? NBC News reports it was a couple of liberal activists, Ryan Clayton and Jason Charters, members of America Take Action. The most magnificent thing is most attendees at CPAC had not a clue what the flag was but they waved it anyway. Charters said, “The amount of people who didn’t know the flag was astonishing.” He was also kicked out for standing up and shouting during Trump’s speech “Putin’s puppet” and “fascist”. He is not wrong. Now we have Republicans who know Trump is an unstable lunatic who is unfit to serve and support him anyways and Republicans who don’t know what the Russian flag looks like and wave it anyways.

From Raw Story and NBC News.



Esquire has the story of an even yet more bizarre infiltration of CPAC courtesy of the white, blue and red or who know… A strange individual repeatedly photo bombed the media with a large Russian flag ALSO emblazoned with TRUMP across the blue stripe in the middle. Man spoke with fake accent of Mother Rasha. Like a white male Borat, he proclaimed, “Trump great man, very strong, he build great wall, put people in cage, kill the journalists he don’t like”. Who isn’t excited by a minor lunatic trolling CPAC as a pro-Trump Russian shouting fascist principles for media attention? It’s my favorite sub-genre of clickbait! Naturally he was escorted out, attendees were perplexed and uncooperative and the media wrote about it. Can we go back in time now to the halcyon days of constant ISIS and Kardashian headlines of just a few years ago, please?

From Esquire.





Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Gayle Tzemach Lemmon has a very good take on America’s problem with not seeing or understanding its problems. “America is a nation at war but does not act like it,” since “its citizens are insulated from the fights waged in their name.” The result is a situation in which “consequences are so hidden from their sight” and a fundamental “mismatch between America’s desire to project stability around the world and its inability to establish stability at home.” Our domestic troubles have a manifold effect around the world, disturbing critical alliances in war time and granting permission to all sorts of authoritarian behaviors elsewhere.  At least the generals are taking notice, if no one else is – there is your minimal reassurance.

From CNN.



POLITICO Magazine has a look at how “a fundamental shift in civil-military relations is taking hold.” The military and specifically Generals Mattis and Kelly, the Defense Secretary and Secretary of Homeland Security, have served as a counterweight and fact check to some of Trump’s more absurd, callous, needless and downright counter-factual musings both in public and on Twitter. To audiences at the CIA and at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, Trump was more concerned with settling scores with the media than matters of national security. A little over a month into the presidency, Trump “shouldn’t be so sure” that, in his words at MacDill, “I liked you, and you liked me.” POLITICO Magazine also takes note of “an extraordinary moment” during Mattis’ confirmation hearings when liberal Senator Elizabeth Warren told him, “We’re counting on you.” According to a detail pulled from an AP story, Mattis and Kelly arranged to have one of them in the country at all times in the initial weeks of Trump’s presidency to guard against errant, maniacal executive orders. POLITICO Magazine correctly notes, “It’s a phenomenon familiar to countries like Turkey and Egypt, but not the United States. Until Now.

From POLITICO Magazine.



The New York Times has a story on jitters in the aerospace defense sector in light of Trump’s post-election tweets about cost overruns and the like at Boeing and Lockheed Martin. “Let’s hit it with a two-by-four and see how it reacts, then get a plan,” said the CEO of one Boeing supplier describing Trump’s strategy – and this is from a supporter who voted for Trump! “It is not a good time, several said, to take chances.” Boeing declined to comment other than to say talks with the Trump administration continue with 140,000 U.S. jobs on the line.

From The New York Times.



Reuters has a story on what the Russians want out of the latest round of Syria talks in Geneva, suggesting that perhaps the Astana talks didn’t bring peace to Assad’s fractured lands. At a military ceremony Thursday, Putin said he wishes to “deliver a final blow to international terrorism.” If you believe that, don’t. ISIS has been far too useful on the battlefield and beyond into the battlespace of Europe and the popular American imagination for him to truly wish to do much. Here’s something Trump should hear (and think of his own fate when he does): “The Russians don’t have any position concerning Assad himself,” said Vasily Kuznetsov, an expert at the Russian International Affairs Council. One European diplomat cynically – and likely accurately – suggested that Russia’s idea of power-sharing with the opposition meant “bringing in a few dissidents to run the ministry of sports and leaving Assad’s power unchecked”.

From Reuters.



The Washington Post reports that American generals want to upgrade communications with their Russian counterparts to avoid mid-air collisions in Syria and Iraq as both nations fight for a piece of the pie and their proxies on the ground. Until now, bizarrely, communications between the two nations’ top brass over Syria and Iraq “has consisted of ‘little more than a commercial phone line,’” according to a U.S. Centcom spokesman. Recall Mattis told NATO leaders in Brussels on February 16 that in order “for the U.S. and Russian militaries to work together,” Russia would have to “prove itself” beforehand.

From The Washington Post.



What is Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz thinking? Hard to say it’s something patriotic for the Polish fatherland (see: the opening lines of Pan Tadeusz if you ask, why fatherland?) since the Polish Defense Ministry has undertaken a thinning of the herd in recent months at this precise critical moment when NATO’s eastern flank is threatened among the Polish military’s top brass. Twenty-six generals and 250 colonels have been dismissed or left on their own, “about a quarter and a sixth the army’s total” according to Polish television station TVN24. Retired Brigadier General Stanislaw Koziej, the former head of the National Security Council under the previous Civic Platform government from 2010 to 2015, told Bloomberg, “Probably part of the departures is natural, but there’s also the part that’s forced” including transfer orders relegating officers to reserves. Horror. Something is very wrong in the state of Poland.

From Bloomberg.



The Washington Post takes a look at Putin’s internal issues, namely, “Moscow’s relationship with regional governments” which threatens “the centralized authority upon which President Vladimir Putin’s rule relies.” What The Washington Post politely terms “long-term structural decline” is politesse for a near total lack of reform from the days of an old Soviet mafia kleptocracy only with decidedly more and better bread and circus these days. In October, the Russian Ministry of Economic development conceded living conditions won’t improve until 2035. Yet oil prices stagnate, sanctions have taken a toll, and Putin’s “May Decrees” of 2012 promised government employees a 50% increase in their salaries by 2018, with no one to pay for that other than regional governments who didn’t receive more funding. Only 14 of Russia’s 83 regions send more in revenue to Moscow than they receive from the central government in subsidies. The corrective plan involves raising the tax on profits, assuming there are any and that if there is, it is reported. Tatarstan, a region perhaps most famousto Russians as the home of official Putin mistress Alina Kabaeva, is “a bellwether for center-periphery interaction.”

From The Washington Post.



Voice of America reports Russian dissident Ildar Dadin was released from a Siberian prison where he said he was tortured, naturally something Russian officials deny. Sentenced in December 2015 to three years for staging brave, one-man acts of protest, the sentence was reduced to two and a half years. His case became a cause célèbre among Russians who oppose Putin’s rule. His release was delayed until Sunday due to Russian bureaucracy.

From Voice of America.



Arkady Babchenko, a Russian dissident forced into exile over an insufficiently patriotic Facebook post, wrote on the social network that he felt indifference after the deaths of the Russian military choir in a plane that went down Christmas Day over the Black Sea. After 10,000 deaths in Ukraine and the indiscriminate bombings of Syrian civilians, including children, in Aleppo and elsewhere – the war veteran said he was targeted for harassment by members of parliament and television networks with an array of intimidation tactics that included doxxing him and encouraging those to wish him harm “to visit” him. It’s a spray of the horrors the Russian state likes to unleash on those who seek to place cracks in the system of fear and authoritarian lies that dominate in Russia these days.

From The Guardian.



The Boston Globe reviews literature on the dark web Trump has turned on with his rise to power in America. Many Americans accustomed to being sold technology as a tool of liberation have grown dismayed to discover a darker component that existed all along which has long existed in Russia as the FSB has found ways to eavesdrop on the internet. Snowden figures into this conversation naturally as the man now “lives behind the irony curtain; finding protection where citizens are unprotected.”

From The Boston Globe.



POLITICO Magazine has a puff piece to end all puff pieces because it reviews Ivanka’s years in the fashion press and asks editors do they dare normalize now? They find editors willing to say normalizing is bad, but they aren’t really senior (even the “spokespeople decline to comment for this article)! So POLITICO Magazine has found an excuse to romp through Ivanka’s greatest hits. (She “doesn’t bark. She coos.”) Never forget a few things: mine was the generation introduced to her in Seventeen magazine when she was just 16 and we see through this, Anna Wintour of Vogue helped make her, she’s ripped off every designer conceivable for her “fashion” line that not even Kmart will carry any more and most importantly, money does not care who owns it.

From POLITICO Magazine.


Recall how conservative member of the commentariat Rick Wilson termed Trump “Cheeto Jesus” and it stuck? Then perhaps a bot or someone very clever, we cannot be certain, introduced SCROTUS for the So-Called Ruler of the United States into the lexicon? Well, behold, an evolution of Cheeto Jesus to SCROTUS ranks: the Colby Jack Führer.

From The Root.



Friday marked the 99th anniversary of Estonia’s Declaration of Independence in 1918. If nothing else this should serve as a reminder of the historic centenary anniversaries in this and coming years. A U.S. Air Force band played for the occasion as jets roared over President Kersti Kaljulaid amid a flag-waving crowd and Abrams tanks were presented to the public for the first time.

From The AP.


SUBSCRIBE: e-mail TrumpistanWatch@gmail.com with “TRUMPISTAN WATCH” in the subject line to receive the weekday e-mail newsletter.

SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook | Twitter