Trump vents fury over Rus­sia sto­ries and again threat­ens na­tional emer­gency

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines - David Smith Wash­ing­ton bureau chief

Don­ald Trump has strongly de­nied the stun­ning claim that he was se­cretly work­ing on be­half of Rus­sia and again threat­ened to de­clare a na­tional emer­gency to fund a bor­der wall.

In 20-minute live phone in­ter­view with Fox News on Satur­day night, he de­scribed as an “in­sult” the New York Times story that al­leged the FBI launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether the he was act­ing as a Rus­sian as­set, against his own coun­try’s in­ter­ests.

Trump said the story, which claimed the in­ves­ti­ga­tion opened af­ter Trump fired the FBI direc­tor James Comey in May 2017, was “the most in­sult­ing ar­ti­cle ever writ­ten”.

“If you read the ar­ti­cle you’ll see that they found ab­so­lutely noth­ing,” he said dur­ing the Fox News in­ter­view.

“I think [the story] was a great in­sult and the New York Times is a dis­as­ter of a paper. It’s a very hor­ri­ble thing they said.”

Cit­ing anony­mous sources, the Times said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was part coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence, to de­ter­mine whether Trump was know­ingly or un­know­ingly work­ing for Moscow and posed a threat to na­tional se­cu­rity. It was also part crim­i­nal, to as­cer­tain whether Trump’s dis­missal of Comey con­sti­tuted ob­struc­tion of jus­tice.

The FBI ef­fort was soon ab­sorbed into the spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion and al­leged col­lu­sion be­tween Trump’s cam­paign and Moscow, the Times re­ported, adding that it was un­clear if the coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence as­pect is still be­ing pur­sued.

The pres­i­dent again called Comey a “liar” and claimed the en­tire Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion was a “ter­ri­ble hoax”.

“Ev­ery­body knows it. It’s re­ally a shame be­cause it takes time; it takes ef­fort. Ev­ery­body knows there’s no col­lu­sion,” he said.

Trump re­peated base­less claims that the FBI mis­han­dled an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into his elec­tion ri­val, Hil­lary Clin­ton. The pres­i­dent in­sisted that he had been far tougher on Rus­sia than any other pres­i­dent, re­peat­ing claims he tweeted ear­lier on Satur­day.

“I have been FAR tougher on Rus­sia than Obama, Bush or Clin­ton,” he tweeted. “Maybe tougher than any other Pres­i­dent. At the same time, & as I have of­ten said, get­ting along with Rus­sia is a good thing, not a bad thing. I fully ex­pect that some­day we will have good re­la­tions with Rus­sia again!”

Trump’s warm re­la­tion­ship with the Rus­sian pres­i­dent, Vladimir Putin, has long set alarm bells ring­ing. The day af­ter fir­ing Comey, he hosted Rus­sia’s for­eign min­is­ter, Sergey Lavrov, in the Oval Of­fice – and dis­closed in­tel­li­gence from an Is­raeli coun­tert­er­ror­ism op­er­a­tion. At a sum­mit in Helsinki last sum­mer, Trump ap­peared to side with Putin over his own in­tel­li­gence agen­cies on the ques­tion of elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence.

On Satur­day, the Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported that Trump took the notes from of a 2017 meet­ing with Putin in Ham­burg from his own in­ter­preter. Cit­ing cur­rent and for­mer US of­fi­cials, the paper also said Trump in­structed the lin­guist not to dis­cuss what had tran­spired with other ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials.

Asked why he would not re­lease the con­ver­sa­tions, Trump said: “I would. I don’t care ... I’m not keep­ing any­thing un­der wraps. I couldn’t care less.”

In De­cem­ber the pres­i­dent star­tled his own na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cials by sud­denly an­nounc­ing the with­drawal of troops from Syria, widely seen as hand­ing a strate­gic vic­tory to Rus­sia and prompt­ing the de­fense sec­re­tary James Mat­tis to quit. He also bizarrely en­dorsed the So­viet oc­cu­pa­tion of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

The House in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee chairman, Adam Schiff, said in a state­ment he did not “com­ment on the specifics of the New York Times re­port” but said “coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence con­cerns about those as­so­ci­ated with the Trump cam­paign, in­clud­ing the pres­i­dent him­self, have been at the heart of our in­ves­ti­ga­tion since the be­gin­ning”.

His com­mit­tee, he said, “has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to the Amer­i­can peo­ple to en­sure that the pres­i­dent is work­ing in our na­tional in­ter­est and is not mo­ti­vated by any other fac­tor”.

Holed up at the White House, Trump turned to the other sub­ject dom­i­nat­ing US pol­i­tics: the par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down which, go­ing into its 23rd day, is now the long­est in his­tory, eclips­ing the record set un­der Bill Clin­ton.

He called on the Democrats to do a deal and again threat­ened to de­clare a na­tional emer­gency if they don’t “come to their senses”.

“I have the ab­so­lute right to call a na­tional emer­gency,” he said. “Other pres­i­dents have called na­tional emer­gen­cies for lesser im­por­tance than this. I’d rather see the Democrats come back from their va­ca­tion and act. It would take me 15 min­utes to get a deal done and ev­ery­one could go back to work.”

Trump is de­mand­ing $5.7bn to­wards his long-promised wall on the US-Mex­ico bor­der, claim­ing it will solve a hu­man­i­tar­ian and na­tional se­cu­rity cri­sis. Democrats, who con­trol the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, have passed mea­sures to re­open the gov­ern­ment with­out fund­ing the wall, which they re­gard as an ex­pen­sive, im­prac­ti­cal and im­moral re­sponse to a man­u­fac­tured cri­sis. The re­sult is a po­lit­i­cal stale­mate that leaves a quar­ter of the gov­ern­ment un­funded.

About 800,000 work­ers missed pay cheques on Fri­day. The House and Se­nate voted to give fed­eral work­ers back pay when­ever the fed­eral gov­ern­ment re­opens, then left Wash­ing­ton for the week­end.

With polls show­ing Trump get­ting most of the blame, the pres­i­dent is toy­ing with the idea of declar­ing a na­tional emer­gency, by­pass­ing Congress and fund­ing the wall from ex­ist­ing fed­eral rev­enue. Repub­li­cans are di­vided on the move and it would be cer­tain to face le­gal chal­lenges.

Don­ald Trump lis­tens dur­ing a meet­ing on bor­der se­cu­rity in the Cab­i­net Room of the WhiteHouse. Pho­to­graph: Bren­dan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Im­ages

Don­ald Trump with vice-pres­i­dent MikePence on Capi­tol Hill ear­lier this week.Pho­to­graph: Evan Vucci/AP

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