For two hours on Monday, President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in private, with only interpreters there to hear their conversation. No aides, no media — just the two leaders and their translators, discussing who knows what.
This tete-a-tete was viewed as problematic well before it took place. When it was announced the two leaders would meet alone, it immediately struck many observers as unusual, particularly given the outstanding questions about the relationship between the two during the 2016 election. The White House told CNN there were a few reasons Trump wanted it this way: to assess Putin better, to avoid interjections from more hard-line staffers and because “he didn’t want details of their conversation to leak.”
So far, they have not. We have only hints of what the two leaders discussed in private, gleaned from their news conference and from interviews with each that followed. Tweets like this from the Russian Embassy in Washington are particularly cryptic:
The Russian Defense Ministry @MoD_Russiais ready for the practical implementation of agreements in the area of global security reached in Helsinki between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump
— Russia in USA (@RusEmbUSA) July 17, 2018
We looked at three transcripts to suss out what has been made public. They are:
The Bloomberg Government transcript of the post-meeting news conference The transcript of Fox News’s Chris Wallace’s interview with Putin The transcript of Fox News’s Sean Hannity’s interview with Trump.
They are identified below as [CONF], [WALLACE] and [HANNITY]. (Trump’s interview with Fox News’s Tucker Carlson that aired Tuesday did not address the conversations between the two leaders to a large extent.) We are taking at face value the presentations each leader made: If Putin said something at the news conference that was not challenged by Trump, in other words, we are assuming it was discussed and agreed upon.
What we know Trump and Putin discussed Interference in the 2016 election. [CONF] “[S]trategic stability and global security and nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” according to Putin, who said he gave the United States “a note with a number of specific suggestions.” [CONF] Extension of the “Strategic Offensive Arms Limitation Treaty,” meaning New START, which expires in 2021. [CONF] The two didn’t finalize terms on an extension. [WALLACE, HANNITY] Non-placement of weapons in space, per Putin — probably a response to Trump’s push for a “space force.” [CONF] Reestablishment of a joint working group on terrorism. [CONF] Establishment of a “joint working group on cybersecurity,” first discussed last year in Europe. [CONF] “A plethora of regional crises,” including Syria, North Korea and Ukraine. Putin suggested that the United States should push Ukrainian leaders to implement the Minsk Agreements of 2016. [CONF] The Iran nuclear deal and the U.S. withdrawal from the agreement. Trump said he emphasized the importance of putting pressure on Iran. [CONF] Creation of “an expert council that would include political scientists, prominent diplomats and former military experts from both countries who would look for points of contact between the two countries and would look for ways on putting the relationship on the trajectory of growth,” per Putin. [CONF] Sales of natural gas from Russia to Europe, including the transit of gas through Ukrainian pipelines. [CONF] The humanitarian crisis in Syria and the two countries’ joint efforts there. [CONF] The annexation of Crimea, which Trump asserted was illegal (according, oddly, to Putin). [CONF]
The broader and more important question, of course, is what the two leaders agreed to. Take Iran, for example. We know the two leaders discussed Iran, but to what end?
That list is shorter.
What we know Trump and Putin agreed to Protection of the border between Syria and Israel and a return to the 1974 agreement on disengagement. [CONF] Creation of “a high-level working group” of business leaders from each country. [CONF] Maintenance of lines of communication aimed at combating terrorism. [CONF] This included the eradication of the Islamic State. [HANNITY] A commitment by Putin to work with the United States on North Korea. [CONF] A follow-up meeting including members of each country’s security councils. [CONF] Putin will “look into” the allegations against 12 intelligence officers, indicted by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s grand jury. [CONF] Trump embraced Putin’s suggestion that Mueller be allowed to come interview those individuals — though Putin said, in exchange, Russia should be allowed to interview Americans it accuses of crimes. [CONF] Trump did not commit to that but said he was “fascinated by it.” [HANNITY]
In the days since that summit, Russia has moved forward on this contentious idea, including announcing plans to charge several Americans, including former ambassador Michael McFaul, with financial crimes. During the news conference after the summit, Putin made reference to his longtime nemesis Bill Browder — a reminder that those the Russian government most wants to charge with crimes are often those who are the sharpest critics.
Speaking of the treatment of critics of Russia, it is also worth noting what was not discussed during the two-hour private conversation, according to those later reports.
What was not discussed or was not mentioned The two did not discuss NATO’s upcoming military exercises. [WALLACE] No mention was made of any discussion about the poisoning of former Russian intelligence official Sergei Skripal and his daughter. The attack, which took place on British soil, is seen by the U.S. allies as an egregious event. It spurred the expulsion of Russian officers from the United States and other Western countries earlier this year. No mention was made of any discussion about the sanctions imposed by the United States after the annexation of Crimea.
That Trump reiterated the U.S. position on Crimea suggests the subject was unnecessary. But this is a critically important question: Discussion of lifting those sanctions has been an undercurrent to the question of whether the Trump presidential campaign colluded with Russia’s interference efforts in 2016.
With no one else in the room for those two hours, we may never know whether and how the subject was broached.
This article was written by Philip Bump from The Washington Post_
U.S. Set To Announce New Sanctions On Six Individuals Linked To Hong Kong Mass Arrests
WASHINGTON, Jan 15 (Reuters) – The United States is set to announce fresh sanctions on Friday on six individuals connected to the mass arrests earlier this month of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, two sources familiar with the matter said.
Hong Kong police on Jan. 5 arrested 53 people in dawn raids on democracy activists in the biggest crackdown since China last year imposed a security law which opponents say is aimed at quashing dissent in the former British colony.
U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo last week warned of fresh sanctions in response to the arrests of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong. That warning came a day after supporters of Republican President Donald Trump on Jan. 6 stormed Congress in a bid to overturn his November election defeat, prompting China’s state media to accuse U.S. politicians of “double standards.”
Pompeo also said last week the United States would also explore restrictions against the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in the United States.
Action on Friday would come just days before Trump is due to leave office and be succeeded by Democrat Joe Biden next Wednesday and would be the latest in a series targeting China, which analysts see as a bid driven by Pompeo to lock in a tough approach to Beijing.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump has pursued hard-line policies toward China on issues ranging from trade to espionage and the coronavirus. Relations plummeted to their worst level in decades when he ramped up rhetoric in his unsuccessful November re-election campaign.
His administration has already imposed sanctions on Chinese officials for their actions involving the pro-democracy movement and other alleged rights abuses, and last July declared an end to the territory’s privileged economic status under U.S. law.
The Trump administration took another swipe at China and its biggest companies on Thursday, imposing sanctions on officials and companies for alleged misdeeds in the South China Sea and imposing an investment ban on nine more firms.
Last Saturday, Pompeo said he was lifting restrictions on contacts between U.S. officials and counterparts in Taiwan, a move that greatly angered Beijing, which considers the island a renegade province. (Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; additional reporting by David Brunnstrom; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
2nd GOP Senator Urges Trump To Resign Over Capitol Riot
WASHINGTON (AP) — Two Republican senators now say President Donald Trump should resign as support for the drive to impeach him a second time is gaining momentum in his final days in office after the deadly riot at the Capitol by a violent mob of Trump supporters.
Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania on Sunday joined Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski in calling for Trump to “resign and go away as soon as possible.” Murkowski, who has long voiced her exasperation with Trump’s conduct in office, told the Anchorage Daily News on Friday that Trump simply “needs to get out.”
Toomey said that even though he believes Trump committed impeachable offenses in encouraging loyalists in the Capitol siege on Wednesday, he did not think there was enough time for the impeachment process to play out. Toomey said that resignation was the “best path forward, the best way to get this person in the rear view mirror for us.” He was not optimistic that Trump would step down before his term ends on Jan. 20.
The White House had no immediate comment Sunday.
The House appears determined to act despite the short timeline.
Late Saturday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sent a letter to her colleagues reiterating that Trump must be held accountable. She told her caucus, now scattered across the country on a two-week recess, to “be prepared to return to Washington this week.”
“It is absolutely essential that those who perpetrated the assault on our democracy be held accountable,” Pelosi wrote. “There must be a recognition that this desecration was instigated by the President.”
Rep. Jim Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat, said “it may be Tuesday, Wednesday before the action is taken, but I think it will be taken this week.” Clyburn, D-S.C., said he was concerned that a Senate trial could distract from the process of confirming President-elect Joe Biden’s nominees.
Clyburn said one option could be giving Biden the “100 days he needs to get his agenda off and running and maybe we’ll send the articles sometime after that” to the Senate for a trial.
He said lawmakers “will take the vote that we should take in the House” and that Pelosi “will make the determination as when is the best time” to send them to the Senate.
Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, has said an impeachment trial could begin as early as Inauguration Day, Jan. 20.
The new Democratic effort to stamp Trump’s presidential record — for the second time and days before his term ends — with the indelible mark of impeachment is gaining supporters. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I, a leader of the House effort to draft impeachment articles — or charges — accusing Trump of inciting insurrection, said Saturday that his group had grown to include 185 co-sponsors.
Lawmakers planned to formally introduce the proposal on Monday in the House, where articles of impeachment must originate.
The articles, if passed by the House, could then be transmitted to the Senate for a trial, with senators acting as jurors who would ultimately vote on whether to acquit or convict Trump. If convicted, Trump would be removed from office and succeeded by the vice president.
Potentially complicating that decision about impeachment is what it means for Biden and the beginning of his presidency. While reiterating that he has long viewed Trump as unfit for office, Biden on Friday sidestepped a question about impeachment, saying what Congress does “is for them to decide.”
A violent and largely white mob of Trump supporters overpowered police, broke through security lines and rampaged through the Capitol on Wednesday, forcing lawmakers to scatter as they were putting the final, formal touches on Biden’s victory over Trump in the Electoral College.
The crowd surged to the domed symbol of American democracy following a rally near the White House, where Trump repeated his bogus claims that the election was stolen from him and urged his supporters to march in force toward the Capitol.
Five people, including a Capitol police officer, died as a result of the siege.
Outrage over the attack and Trump’s role in egging it on capped a divisive, chaotic presidency like few others in the nation’s history. There are less than two weeks until Trump is out of office but Democrats have made clear they don’t want to wait that long.
Trump, has few fellow Republicans speaking out in his defense. He’s become increasingly isolated, holed up in the White House as he has been abandoned in the aftermath of the riot by many aides, leading Republicans and, so far, two Cabinet members — both women.
Toomey appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Clyburn was on “Fox News Sunday” and CNN.
Louisiana Congressman-Elect Luke Letlow Dead From COVID-19
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Luke Letlow, Louisiana’s incoming Republican member of the U.S. House, died Tuesday night from complications related to COVID-19 only days before being sworn into office. He was 41.
Letlow spokesman Andrew Bautsch confirmed the congressman-elect’s death at Ochsner-LSU Health Shreveport.
“The family appreciates the numerous prayers and support over the past days but asks for privacy during this difficult and unexpected time,” Bautsch said in a statement. “A statement from the family along with funeral arrangements will be announced at a later time.”
Louisiana’s eight-member congressional delegation called Letlow’s death devastating.
“Luke had such a positive spirit, and a tremendously bright future ahead of him. He was looking forward to serving the people of Louisiana in Congress, and we were excited to welcome him to our delegation where he was ready to make an even greater impact on our state and our nation,” they said in a statement.
The state’s newest congressman, set to take office in January, was admitted to a Monroe hospital on Dec. 19 after testing positive for the coronavirus disease. He was later transferred to the Shreveport facility and placed in intensive care.
Letlow, from the small town of Start in Richland Parish, was elected in a December runoff election for the 5th District U.S. House seat representing central and northeastern regions of the state, including the cities of Monroe and Alexandria.
He was to fill the seat being vacated by his boss, Republican Ralph Abraham. Letlow had been Abraham’s chief of staff and ran with Abraham’s backing for the job.
Gov. John Bel Edwards urged people to pray for Letlow’s family.
“COVID-19 has taken Congressman-elect Letlow from us far too soon,” the Democratic governor said in a statement. “I am heartbroken that he will not be able to serve our people as a U.S. representative, but I am even more devastated for his loving family.”
Before working for Abraham, Letlow had worked for former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration. Jindal’s one-time chief of staff, Timmy Teepell, described Letlow on Twitter as “a good man with a kind heart and a passion to serve. He loved Louisiana and his family. He was a brother and I’m heart broken he’s gone.”
Letlow is survived by his wife, Julia Barnhill Letlow, and two children.
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican and doctor who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this year and has since recovered, posted in a Twitter video: “It just, just, just, just brings home COVID can kill. For most folks it doesn’t, but it truly can. So, as you remember Luke, his widow, his children in your prayers, remember as well to be careful with COVID.”
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