The Washington Post released a bombshell story on Friday that alleges that senior White House aide (and presidential son-in-law) Jared Kushner met withSergei Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to Washington to set up a private communications channel with the Kremlin. The channel reportedly was sought for secret and secure and direct communications with the Russians. Once again, there is nothing on its face unlawful about either the meeting or the desire for a secure communications line. However, the allegation (if true) would deepen the unease over the associations between the Trump camp and the Russians. The increasing number of meetings has raised questions over why Trump officials were so solicitous to the Russians — a concern that reached its apex with Trump’s bizarre decision to entertain Kislyak and the Russian Foreign Minister in the Oval Office the day after firing former FBI Director James Comey.
With the steady stream of controversies swirling around the White House, there has been little attention given a highly disturbing report that the Obama Administration engaged in previously undisclosed and violations of the Fourth Amendment. Just a few days from the 2016 election, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) reportedly raised a highly unusual alarm over the creation of “a very serious Fourth Amendment issue” by possibly unconstitutional surveillance conducted under President Barack Obama. If true, this should be given equal attention to the other stories crowding our front pages and cable coverage. The Obama Administration has a well-documented history of abuse of surveillance and stands as one of the most antagonistic administrations toward privacy in our history. Indeed, if true, many of the former Obama officials currently testifying against the Trump Administration were responsible for a far broader scope of abusive surveillance programs.
President Donald Trump is being widely quoted by European allies as making a rather disturbing statements about Germany to EU Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council president Donald Tusk. German news magazine Der Spiegel is quoting multiple sources that Trump went off on Germany over the trade surplus and said that “The Germans are evil, very evil.” (Other translations have “bad, very bad”). If true, it would not exactly be a diplomatic or even comprehensible approach. Trump also reportedly said that he would end the German car sales in the United States behind the surplus. Der Spiegel is a widely respected publication. However, this would be as big a story if the statement was not made. The article describes almost open hostility and shock toward Trump. If the statement was not made (and Juncker has not denied it), it would be evidence of an open effort by top European diplomats to portray Trump as unhinged and unstable. The White House, of course, should be able to confirm or deny the story. I truly hope that this is a fake news story because the alternative would be unnerving. [Update: The White House denies that Trump made the statement] However, the White House does not deny the car statement and only says that Trump was referring to “bad” trade policies. That would be a considerable “lost in translation” moment.
In a stinging defeat for the Trump Administration, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has upheld an injunction on the Trump Administration’s immigration order. The Fourth Circuit is widely viewed as one of the most conservative circuits and has proven the most deferential to national security powers by the Executive Branch. Indeed, the government often openly forum shops in pushing national security cases through the Eastern District of Virginia and ultimately the Fourth Circuit. The 10-3 vote is an impressive victory for the challengers and now sets the case for the long-awaited petition to the Supreme Court. The court did not spare the rhetorical bite, observing that the order “speaks with vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination.”
We previously discussed the alarming breach of an intelligence sharing agreement with the U.K. after U.S. officials released details given to them from British intelligence on the Manchester bombing, including the identity of the bomber. Now, British police have stopped sharing information with U.S. authorities after a series of leaks to American media. In the meantime, after Trump’s rational odd denial that he mentioned Israel in his giving highly classified intelligence to the Russians, Israel has acknowledged it was indeed their intelligence and they had to implement a “fix” and “clarify” their position with the U.S. on intelligence sharing after Trump’s disclosure. Update: Trump denounced the leaking of the information. Some have noted that the statement was rather belated and others have noted that it is equally ironic (given Trump’s personal disclosure of the highly classified Israeli intelligence to the Russians). Nevertheless, Trump is right to call for the FBI to investigate the leaking of the shared intelligence.
This week President Donald Trump again made headlines in denying that he ever mentioned Israel in his giving highly sensitive intelligence to the Russians. (The problem is that no one suggested that he had and the later statement appeared to reaffirm to the world that Israel was the source of the human intelligence from a spy inside ISIS. News accounts suggested that Israel might have been the source but no one suggested that Trump said it was Israel to the Russians). Now the Trump Administration is accused of leaking British intelligence to U.S. media in the aftermath of the massacre in Manchester. The British were reportedly irate and made a formal complaint over the violation of core protocols and protections for intelligence sharing. This is a very serious complaint and further undermines the core relationships that we rely on in the sharing of national security information. It should result in an immediate congressional investigation to determine what happened.
We have previously discussed the worrisome affinity that President Donald Trump has appeared to show toward authoritarian figures like Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now the Department of Foreign Affairs has reportedly released a transcript of the call between Trump and its blood-soaked president Rodrigo Duterte. The transcript shows Trump heaping praise on Duterte specifically for his crackdown on drugs — the very program that has made him an international pariah over its extrajudicial murders of suspects. Thousands have been reported murdered under Duterte’s reign of terror for criminal suspects. The White House has not denied the accuracy of the transcript. Duterte is now threatening to remove any semblance of a democratic system and declare martial law over the entire island.