Thursday, January 12

``Contradicted the President-elect on key issues``

From the Washington Post (3 hours ago)

Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees, in their first round of confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill, have one after another contradicted the president-elect on key issues, promising to trim back or disregard some of the signature promises on which he campaigned.

A fresh round of examples came Thursday, the third day of hearings.
Retired Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis, Trump’s nominee to be defense secretary, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the United States must honor the “imperfect arms-control agreement” with Iran that Trump has vowed to dismantle because “when America gives her word, we have to live up to it and work with our allies.”
He also took a more adversarial stance than Trump has toward Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and cited Moscow as one of the nation’s top threats.
“I’ve never found a better guide for the way ahead than studying the histories. Since [the 1945 meeting of world powers at] Yalta, we have a long list of times we’ve tried to engage positively with Russia. We have a relatively short list of successes in that regard,” Mattis said. “I think right now, the most important thing is that we recognize the reality of what we deal with [in] Mr. Putin and we recognize that he is trying to break the North Atlantic alliance.”
At a witness table in another Senate hearing room, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), whom Trump picked to head the CIA, assured the Intelligence Committee that he would “absolutely not” use brutal interrogation tactics on terrorism suspects in contravention of the law, even if ordered to do so by a president who campaigned on a promise to reinstate the use of such measures.
The discordant notes that Cabinet nominees have struck as they have been questioned by senators suggests that a reality check may lie ahead for Trump.
It may be that the grandiosity and disregard for convention that got Trump elected were inevitably bound for a collision with the practical and legal limitations of governing.
“His rhetoric was so far outside the boundaries — in some instances of reality, and in some instances, of the laws of the nation, and in other issues, outside the boundaries of pass-fail issues for some of these nominees,” said Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, who as an aide to President George W. Bush oversaw the confirmation process for the Supreme Court nominations of Samuel A. Alito Jr. and John G. Roberts Jr.
The American system of government places “extraordinary constraints” on even a president’s power, Schmidt said. “You’re seeing the reality-show aspects of campaigning bending to the reality of governance.”
But others say that Trump is such a singular figure, whose fervent supporters are convinced that he can topple the established order in Washington, that it is impossible to predict how things will play out once he has been inaugurated.
“We are in such uncharted territory with this guy,” said Elaine Kamarck, director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Effective Public Management. “The interesting thing will be, does Trump pay attention to what his government does?”
The comments by Mattis and Pompeo on Thursday continued a pattern set in the first two days of hearings.
On Tuesday, retired Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, nominated to head the Department of Homeland Security, played down the significance of Trump’s promise to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, saying “a physical barrier in and of itself will not do the job.”
And Kelly, too, disavowed torture, saying: “I don’t think we should ever come close to crossing a line that is beyond what we as Americans would expect to follow in terms of interrogation techniques.”
In 2009, President Obama signed an executive order that bars the CIA from using interrogation methods beyond those permitted by the U.S. Army Field Manual. That excludes such measures as waterboarding.
Trump, on the other hand, argued during his campaign that “torture works.” He vowed to resume it “immediately” and to come up with “much worse.”
On Wednesday, secretary of state-designate Rex Tillerson contradicted the president-elect’s repeated suggestions that climate change is a hoax and said it is important for this country to “maintain its seat at the table on the conversations around how to address the threats of climate change, which do require a global response.”
As a candidate, Trump had said he would withdraw the United States from a 2015 international accord to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, although he has since softened that stance and said he is keeping “an open mind to it.”
That Trump’s nominees would air their disagreements with the president-elect at their confirmation hearings is “extraordinarily unusual,” Kamarck said. “The first thing a president and a transition team does is make sure the president and his Cabinet are on the same page.”
But it may be that they have not yet even discussed their differences.
Among the startling turns in the confirmation hearings has been the revelation by some of Trump’s nominees that they have not had detailed conversations with the president-elect about critical issues that will fall within their portfolios.
Tillerson, for example, told the Foreign Relations Committee that he and Trump had discussed foreign policy “in a broad construct and in terms of the principles that are going to guide that.”
“I would have thought that Russia would be at the very top of that, considering all the actions that have taken place,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said. “Did that not happen?”
“That has not occurred yet, Senator,” Tillerson replied.
Kelly made a similar comment when he was asked about the fate of hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who have applied for protection from deportation under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive action. In his campaign, Trump vowed to “immediately terminate” the program.
“The entire development of immigration policy is ongoing right now in terms of the upcoming administration. I have not been involved in those discussions,” said Kelly, who is slated to head a sprawling department that includes U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
One question is whether his appointees will persuade Trump to moderate some of the strident positions that he took during his presidential campaign.
He has already indicated that they have influenced his thinking in some areas.
During an interview with the New York Times shortly after his election, for instance, Trump said that Mattis had made the case that “a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers” were more effective in getting information from terrorism suspects than waterboarding and similarly controversial techniques.
“I was very impressed by that answer,” Trump said.
Another unknown, however, is how the Cabinet nominees’ views will mesh with those of senior members of Trump’s White House staff, who do not undergo confirmation by the Senate.
Tillerson, for example, said under questioning by the Foreign Relations Committee that supporting human rights globally is “without question” in the long-term national security interests on the United States.
But at a forum a day earlier at the United States Institute of Peace, K.T. McFarland, who will be Trump’s deputy national security adviser, contended that Trump will take foreign policy in a less-idealistic direction.
“The mistake that we make is that we constantly tell other countries how they should think,” McFarland said. “What I’m hoping is that we can start seeing things through their eyes.”

United States House of Representatives and Senate—was interrupted by a broadcast of Russia Today.

In a strange moment of startling symmetry with the current state of American politics, C-SPAN—the public affairs network that regularly broadcasts proceedings the United States House of Representatives and Senate—was interrupted by a broadcast of Russia Today.

The state-funded Russian news network briefly took over the online feed of C-SPAN1, which had been broadcasting a discussion in Congress regarding the  Securities and Exchange Commission Regulatory Accountability Act.
As California Democrat Maxine Waters was speaking, the feed suddenly cut from the House floor to a broadcast of RT. The feed cut in with a commercial break before returning to the RT news desk, where an anchor spoke of a suicide bombing.
Multiple C-SPAN watchers made mention of the sudden change on Twitter, including Deadspin editor Timothy Burke, who captured the moment the C-SPAN feed switched to RT.
The takeover reportedly lasted about ten minutes before the C-SPAN feed was returned to normal. The interruption does not appear on the saved broadcast hosted on the network's website.
When contacted by IBTimes, A spokesperson for C-SPAN provided the following statement: "This afternoon the online feed for C-SPAN was briefly interrupted by RT programming. We are currently investigating and troubleshooting this occurrence. As RT is one of the networks we regularly monitor, we are operating under the assumption that it was an internal routing issue.
If that changes we will certainly let you know."
IBTimes also reached out to Russia Today but has not yet received a response.
The apparent takeover of the C-SPAN feed by RT comes after reports of Russian hackers interfering with the U.S. Presidential election.
It is believed that  Russian president Vladimir Putin was directly involved in the hacking efforts, which resulted in the theft and publication of private emails belonging to the  Democratic National Committee and  David Podesta, the chairman of the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

U.S. intelligence chiefs are in apparent agreement that Russia attempted to  influence the outcome of the election to benefit Donald Trump.

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Orbis Business Intelligence team.

Christopher Steele won a contract to build a file on Donald J. Trump’s ties to Russia.

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British spy named Christopher Steele won a contract to build a file on Donald J. Trump’s ties to Russia.


6:06 AM .... CBC News just reported that "Mr. Steele, is now hiding and fearing, since his name has been revealed"


Image result for British spy named Christopher Steele won a contract to build a file on Donald J. Trump’s ties to Russia.

4:22 AM 2017-01-12

WASHINGTON — Seven months ago, a respected former British spy named Christopher Steele won a contract to build a file on Donald J. Trump’s ties to Russia. Last week, his lurid account — unsubstantiated accounts of frolics with prostitutes, real estate deals that were intended as bribes and coordination with Russian intelligence of the hacking of Democrats — was summarized for Mr. Trump in an appendix to a top-secret intelligence report.

The consequences have been incalculable and will play out long past Inauguration Day. Word of the summary, which was also given to President Obama and to congressional leaders, leaked to CNN on Tuesday, and the rest of the media followed with sensational reports.

Mr. Trump denounced the unproven claims Wednesday as a fabrication, a Nazi-style slander concocted by “sick people.” It has further undermined, at least temporarily, his relationship with the intelligence agencies and cast a shadow over the new administration.

Parts of the story remain out of reach — most critically the basic question of how much, if anything, in the dossier is true.

But it is possible to piece together a rough narrative of what led to the current crisis, including lingering questions about the ties binding Mr. Trump and his team to Russia.

The episode also offers a glimpse of the hidden side of presidential campaigns, involving private sleuths-for-hire looking for the worst they can find about the next American leader.

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The story began in September 2015, when a wealthy Republican donor who strongly opposed Mr. Trump put up the money to hire a Washington research firm run by former journalists, Fusion GPS, to compile a dossier about the real estate magnate’s past scandals and weaknesses, according to a person familiar with the effort. The person described the opposition research work on condition of anonymity, citing the volatile nature of the story and the likelihood of future legal disputes. The identity of the donor who funded the effort is unclear.

Fusion GPS, headed by a former Wall Street Journal journalist known for his dogged reporting, Glenn Simpson, most often works for business clients. But in presidential elections, the firm is sometimes hired by candidates, party organizations or donors to do political “oppo” work — shorthand for opposition research — on the side.

It is routine work and ordinarily involves creating a big, searchable database of public information: past news reports, documents from lawsuits and other relevant data. For months, Fusion GPS gathered the documents and put together the files from Mr. Trump’s past in business and entertainment, a rich target.

After Mr. Trump emerged as the presumptive Republican nominee in the spring, the Republicans no longer wanted to finance the effort. But Democratic supporters of Hillary Clinton were very interested, and Fusion GPS kept doing the same deep dives into Mr. Trump’s record, but on behalf of new clients.

In June, the tenor of the effort suddenly changed. The Washington Post reported that the Democratic National Committee had been hacked, apparently by Russian government agents, and a mysterious figure calling himself “Guccifer 2.0” began to publish the stolen documents online.

Mr. Simpson hired Mr. Steele, a former British intelligence officer with whom he had worked before.

Mr. Steele, in his early 50s, had served undercover in Moscow in the early 1990s and later was the top expert on Russia at the London headquarters of Britain’s spy service, MI6. When he stepped down in 2009, he started his own commercial intelligence firm, Orbis Business Intelligence.

The former journalist and the former spy, according to people who know them, had a similar dark view of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, a former K.G.B. officer, and the varied tactics he and his intelligence operatives used to smear, blackmail or bribe their targets.

As a former spy who had carried out espionage inside Russia, Mr. Steele was in no position to travel to Moscow to study Mr. Trump’s connections there. Instead, he hired native Russian speakers to call informants inside Russia and made surreptitious contact with his own connections in the country as well.

Mr. Steele wrote up his findings in a series of memos, each a few pages long, that he began to deliver to Fusion GPS in June and continued at least until December. By then, the election was over, and neither Mr. Steele nor Mr. Simpson had a client to pay them, but they did not stop what they believed to be very important work. (Mr. Simpson declined to comment for this article, and Mr. Steele did not immediately reply to a request for comment.)

The memos described two different Russian operations.

The first was a years long effort to find a way to influence Mr. Trump, perhaps because he had contacts with Russian oligarchs whom Mr. Putin wanted to keep close track of. According to Mr. Steele’s memos, it used an array of familiar Russian tactics: the gathering of “kompromat,” compromising material such as alleged tapes of Mr. Trump with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel, and proposals for business deals attractive to Mr. Trump to win his allegiance.

The goal would probably never have been to make Mr. Trump a knowing agent of Russia, but to make him a source who might provide information to friendly Russian contacts. But if Mr. Putin and his agents wanted to entangle Mr. Trump using business deals, they did not do it very successfully —

Mr. Trump has said he 'has no major properties' inside Russia.

The second Russian operation described was recent: a series of contacts with Mr. Trump’s representatives during the campaign, in part to discuss the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, John D. Podesta. According to Mr. Steele’s sources, it involved, among other things, a late-summer meeting in Prague between Michael Cohen, a lawyer for Mr. Trump, and Oleg Solodukhin, a Russian official who works for Rossotrudnichestvo, an organization that promotes Russia’s interests abroad.

By all accounts, Mr. Steele has an excellent reputation with American and British intelligence colleagues and had done work for the F.B.I. on the investigation of bribery at FIFA, soccer’s global governing body. Colleagues say he was acutely aware of the danger he and his associates were being fed Russian disinformation. Russian intelligence had mounted a complex hacking and leaking operation to damage Mrs. Clinton, after all, and a similar operation against Mr. Trump was an obvious possibility.

But much of what he was told, and passed on to Fusion GPS, was very difficult to check. And some of the claims that can be checked seem problematic. Mr. Cohen, for instance, said on Twitter on Tuesday night that he has never been in Prague; Mr. Solodukhin, his purported Russian contact, denied in a telephone interview that he had ever met Mr. Cohen or anyone associated with Mr. Trump.

The president-elect on Wednesday cited news reports that a different Michael Cohen with no Trump ties may have visited Prague and that the two Cohens might have been mixed up in Mr. Steele’s reports.

But word of a dossier had begun to spread through political circles. Rick Wilson, a Republican political operative who was working for a “super PAC” supporting Marco Rubio, said he heard about it in July, when an investigative reporter for a major news network called him to ask what he knew. Other campaigns and super PACs were also developing more limited opposition research into Mr. Trump’s Russia ties.

By early fall, some of Mr. Steele’s memos had been given to the F.B.I. and to journalists.

An MI6 official, whose job does not permit him to be quoted by name, said that in late summer or early fall, Mr. Steele also passed the reports he had prepared on Mr. Trump and Russia to British intelligence.

Mr. Steele was concerned about what he was hearing about Mr. Trump, and he thought that the information should not be solely in the hands of people looking to win a political contest.
After the election, the memos, still being supplemented by his inquiries, became one of Washington’s worst-kept secrets, as reporters scrambled to try to confirm or disprove their contents.

Word also reached Capitol Hill. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, heard about the dossier and obtained a copy in December from David J. Kramer, a former top State Department official who works for the McCain Institute at Arizona State University.

Mr. McCain passed the information to James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director.

Remarkably for Washington, many reporters for competing news organizations had the salacious and damning memos, but they did not leak, because their contents could not be confirmed. That changed only this week, after the heads of the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and the National Security Agency added a summary of the memos, along with information gathered form other intelligence sources, to their report on the Russian cyberattack on the election.

Now, after the most contentious of elections, Americans are divided and confused about what to believe about the incoming president. And there is no prospect soon for full clarity on the veracity of the claims made against him.
“It is a remarkable moment in history,” said Mr. Wilson, the Florida political operative. “What world did I wake up in?”

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