'the bare minimum'
This week in Russia
The New York Times reported last Friday that, during a May 10 meeting in the White House with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador, President Trump bragged that firing former FBI Director James Comey – whom he referred to as “crazy, a real nut job” – relieved “great pressure,” and again claimed that he was not under any investigation. The report was based on a document summarizing the meeting, itself “based on notes taken from inside the Oval Office.” As the Times observes, “the comments represented an extraordinary moment in the investigation…a day after firing the man leading that inquiry, Mr. Trump disparaged him – to Russian officials.”
On Monday, the Washington Post reported that Trump urged Daniel Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, and Admiral Michael S. Rogers, the Director of the National Security Agency, to “publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion [with Russian intelligence] during the 2016 election,” a request which both refused, deeming it inappropriate to comment on an ongoing investigation. The Post also reported that “senior White House officials sounded out top intelligence officials about the possibility of intervening directly with Comey to encourage the FBI to drop its probe of Michael Flynn.”
Following Michael Flynn’s decision on Monday to plead the Fifth to its subpoena for documents, the Senate Intelligence Committee “said on Tuesday they would subpoena two…of his businesses.” On Wednesday, Adam Schiff (D-CA) said the House Intelligence Committee plans to subpoena Flynn as well.
On Tuesday, former CIA Director John Brennan testified before the House Intelligence Committee, claiming he “encountered and [is] aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign…and it raised questions in [his] mind again whether or not the Russians were able to gain the cooperation of those individuals.” Brennan also condemned the recent flood of leaks, calling them “appalling.”
On Thursday NBC News reported that Jared Kushner is a “person of interest” in the ongoing FBI investigation into the possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russian intelligence. The Washington Post had reported last week that a senior White House official had come under FBI scrutiny, but did not name the person.
North Korea is still, still, a thing
On Sunday, North Korea conducted its second missile test in a week, this time successfully launching a medium-range missile. The test was immediately condemned by the US, Japan, and South Korea, whose new president, Moon Jae-in, “has said he wants to try to open talks with the North, but that provocative actions would make that difficult or impossible.” The launch, along with defiant rhetorical posturing, came just days after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asserted that previous policy toward North Korea in the past two decades had failed and “all options are on the table.” Jim Mattis, the Trump administration’s Secretary of Defense, claimed last Friday that war with North Korea would be “tragic on an unbelievable scale.”
On Monday, the missile was approved for combat use by Kim Jong Un.
Early on Tuesday, South Korea fired shots at an unidentified object it believed to be a North Korean drone. Reuters reports that “more than 90 shots were fired” before the object “disappeared from radar screens.”
In a statement on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned North Korea “to not do anything to again violate U.N. Security Council resolutions,” and again urged a diplomatic resolution to the escalating tensions.
Other North Korea news: Evidence from this month’s WannaCry ransomware attack points to a group of hackers associated with North Korea, cybersecurity experts believe, although “flaws in the WannaCry code, its wide spread, and its demands for payment in the electronic bitcoin before files are decrypted suggested that the hackers were not working for North Korean government objectives in this case,” as CNBC reports.
At Lawfare, Luke McNamara explores the current cybersecurity landscape and concludes, like Homeland Security Secretary Jim Kelly, that “North Korea poses a more likely cyber threat than it does a nuclear concern.”
Trump’s ‘Grand Tour’
On Monday, on his first stop in his first visit overseas, Trump signed an arms deal with Saudi Arabia worth $110 billion, making it “the largest single arms deal in U.S. history,” along with $250 billion in various other deals. According to the State Department, the deal “will include tanks, combat ships, missile defense systems, radar and communications and cybersecurity equipment.”
“We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership.”
While in Saudi Arabia, Trump also gave a highly-anticipated speech to the leaders of about 50 Muslim-majority countries, urging them to “drive out the terrorists and extremists” and announcing the formation of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a coalition of six Arab nations committed to cutting off funding sources for terrorist groups. In the speech, Trump also blasted Iran for “fuel[ing] the fires of sectarian conflict and terror” and urged “all nations of conscience” to “isolate Iran, deny it funding for terrorism, and pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they deserve.”
Read the full transcript of Trump’s Riyadh speech here.
On Tuesday, Trump met with both Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, urging both sides to put away the “pain and disagreements of the past.” Trump also became “the first sitting president to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, the most holy site at which Jews can pray.”
On Wednesday, Trump traveled to Rome to meet with the Pope, who gave him copies of his writings, most notably his encyclical on climate change.
On Thursday, standing alongside European leaders at a NATO summit in Brussels, Trump criticized NATO allies for not paying their fair share, claiming the US was owed “massive amounts of money” and calling the minimum payment of 2 percent of GDP the “bare minimum.”
At the New Yorker, Amy Davidson considers Trump’s performance at the NATO summit and concludes that he “fail[ed] another leadership test.”
The investigation continues into the Monday night bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England that killed 22 people.
The Trump administration is planning to reject a request by the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) for the “disclosure of ethics waivers granted to dozens of former lobbyists now working in the White House and other federal agencies," according to the New York Times.
The White House released its 2018 budget proposal on Tuesday, which, as The Economist notes, “calls for increased spending on defense and border security alongside deep cuts to health insurance for the poor, food stamps and other parts of the social safety net.” The proposal – officially termed “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” but nicknamed the “Taxpayer First” budget by Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney – can be found right here.
On Wednesday, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its assessment of the revised American Health Care Act. According to its report, the law, if passed, would leave 23 million Americans uninsured by 2026, primarily due to cuts in Medicaid funding, while reducing the deficit by $119 billion, a far smaller reduction than what the CBO had predicted for the original version of the bill. The White House pushed back against the report, asserting that “History has proven the CBO to be totally incapable of accurately predicting how healthcare legislation will impact health insurance coverage” – an accusation which, as FactCheck.org points out, is not exactly correct. You can read the CBO’s official report here.
In a leaked transcript of a call between Trump and Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte, Trump praised Duterte’s extrajudicial crackdown on drug crimes that has left thousands of people dead, and disclosed sensitive military information – that two nuclear submarines are now stationed near the Korean peninsula.
On Thursday the US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals forcefully rejected a White House bid to reinstate Trump’s temporary travel ban. In the decision, Chief Judge Roger Gregory claimed the executive order uses “vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions responded immediately, stating the federal government would seek to bring the case to the Supreme Court.
Less than a day after allegedly body-slamming a reporter, Republican candidate Greg Gianforte won a special election to fill Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke's vacant House seat in Montana.