Don­ald Trump un­leashes Twit­ter tor­rent to deny claim he was a se­cret Rus­sian spy

FBI set up probe into whether pres­i­dent was act­ing for the Krem­lin, says New York Times

The Observer - - World - David Smith Wash­ing­ton Bureau Chief

Don­ald Trump sent a wave of mis­lead­ing tweets while holed up at the White House with no of­fi­cial en­gage­ments yes­ter­day to deny the stun­ning claim that he was se­cretly work­ing on be­half of Rus­sia. He then turned to the other sub­ject dom­i­nat­ing US pol­i­tics: a par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down which, in its 23nd day, is now the long­est in Amer­i­can his­tory.

In a front-page story that was ex­tra­or­di­nary even by the tu­mul­tuous stan­dards of the Trump era, the New York Times re­ported that the FBI launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into whether the US pres­i­dent was act­ing as a Rus­sian as­set against his own coun­try’s in­ter­ests.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion opened af­ter Trump fired FBI di­rec­tor James Comey in May 2017, the New York Times said, cit­ing anony­mous sources. It was part coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence to de­ter­mine whether Trump was know­ingly or un­know­ingly work­ing for Moscow and posed a threat to na­tional se­cu­rity. The in­quiry was also part crim­i­nal to as­cer­tain whether Trump’s dis­missal of Comey con­sti­tuted ob­struc­tion of jus­tice.

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

Jesse McKin­ley, a New York Times jour­nal­ist, tweeted: “It sounds like spy fic­tion … the FBI was in­ves­ti­gat­ing the pres­i­dent of the United States to see if he was work­ing for the Rus­sians.”

The pres­i­dent tried to fight back by fir­ing off half a dozen in­tem­per- ate tweets. The first said: “Wow, just learned in the Fail­ing New York Times that the cor­rupt for­mer lead­ers of the FBI, al­most all fired or forced to leave the agency for some very bad rea­sons, opened up an in­ves­ti­ga­tion on me, for no rea­son & with no proof, af­ter I fired Lyin’ James Comey, a to­tal sleaze!”

Trump went on to make base­less claims that the FBI mis­han­dled an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into his elec­tion ri­val, Hil­lary Clin­ton, and pro­claimed: “My fir­ing of James Comey was a great day for Amer­ica.” He suggested with­out ev­i­dence that Comey was be­ing pro­tected by Mueller, who has is­sued dozens of in­dict­ments and se­cured con­vic­tions of some of the Trump’s close as­so­ciates.

And he in­sisted: “I have been FAR tougher on Rus­sia than Obama, Bush or Clin­ton. At the same time, & as I have of­ten said, get­ting along with Rus­sia is a good thing. I fully ex­pect that some­day we will have good re­la­tions with Rus­sia again!”

Trump’s warm re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sian pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin has long set off alarm bells. 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. In Helsinki last sum­mer, Trump ap­peared to side with Putin over his own in­tel­li­gence agen­cies on the ques­tion of elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence.

More re­cently, 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 de­fence sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis to quit. He also bizarrely en­dorsed the So­viet oc­cu­pa­tion of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

While Trump was tweet­ing about the New York Times story, hun­dreds of thou­sands of fed­eral em­ploy­ees were won­der­ing when they would see their next pay cheque as the par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down con­tin­ued.

Trump is de­mand­ing $5.7bn (£4.4bn) to­wards his long-promised wall on the US-Mex­ico bor­der, claim­ing that it will solve a hu­man­i­tar­ian and na­tional se­cu­rity cri­sis there. Democrats, who con­trol the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, have passed mea­sures to re­open the gov­ern­ment but with­out fund­ing for the wall. The re­sult is a po­lit­i­cal stale­mate that leaves a quar­ter of the gov­ern­ment un­funded.

About 800,000 work­ers missed pay cheques on Fri­day, many re­ceiv­ing blank pay state­ments in­stead. Some posted pho­tos of their empty earn­ings state­ments on so­cial me­dia and com­plained that they were un­able to pay bills. Mem­bers of the House and Sen­ate voted to give fed­eral work­ers back pay when­ever the fed­eral gov­ern­ment re­opens, then left Wash­ing­ton for the week­end.

Mi­ami’s air­port will close one of its con­courses most of to­day and to­mor­row to make sure se­cu­rity check­points are ad­e­quately staffed as the shut­down be­gins to strain the avi­a­tion sys­tem. Se­cu­rity screen­ers who are not be­ing paid are stay­ing at home and safety in­spec­tors are off the job.

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


Don­ald Trump at a bor­der se­cu­rity meet­ing in the White House on Fri­day.

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