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_
Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II, has died
Buckingham Palace has announced that The Duke of Edinburgh has died.
Philip Mountbatten, the rakish naval officer who captured the heart of a young Elizabeth Windsor and became the lifelong consort to the British queen, has died aged 99.
The death ends the longest marriage of a reigning monarch in British history, an enduring alliance that outlasted the Cold War, war and peace in Northern Ireland and the painful divorces of three of their four children.
Reacting to the death, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said;
“Prince Philip earned the affection of generations here in the UK, across the Commonwealth & around the world.
He was the longest serving consort in history & one of the last surviving people in this country to have served in WW2.”
Prince Philip never held the official title of Prince Consort, but he was Queen Elizabeth II’s closest confidant, most reliable political advisor and the undisputed master of the royal household for more than six decades.
Philip was known equally as a curmudgeon and a charmer who could quickly put nervous guests at ease with an easy oneliner.
The Queen, on the event of their golden wedding anniversary in 1997, said of her husband: “He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years.”
The Duke is survived by his wife, Queen Elizabeth II, and his children Charles, Prince of Wales; Anne, Princess Royal; Prince Andrew, Duke of York and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.
While Elizabeth presided over affairs of state, Philip championed dozens of charities, including the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, which has promoted selfreliance, physical development and other personal accomplishment for more than 6 million youths all over the world.(more…)
Biden Expected To Repeal Military Trans Ban Tomorrow
The Biden administration is expected to repeal the ban on transgender Americans from serving in the military, multiple people informed of the decision told CBS News. The announcement is expected as soon as Monday, one senior Defense official and four outside advocates of repealing the ban told CBS News.
The senior Defense official told CBS News the repeal will be through executive order signed by President Joe Biden. The announcement is expected to take place at a ceremony with newly-confirmed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who will order the Pentagon to go back to the policy enacted in 2016 by former Defense Secretary Ash Carter that allowed transgender Americans to serve openly.
The White House did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
The new order will direct the branches of the military to outline an implementation plan.
The ban was announced by former President Trump via a tweet in July 2017. The ban took effect in April 2019 and barred transgender Americans from enlisting in the military.
In 2014, it was estimated there were around 15,500 transgender military members serving, according to a study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.
Biden frequently repeated on the campaign trail his promise to repeal the ban.
Austin said at his Senate confirmation hearing last week that he planned to repeal the ban.
“I support the president’s plan or plan to overturn the ban,” Austin said on Tuesday when asked by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, “I truly believe, Senator, that as I said in my opening statement, that if you’re fit and you’re qualified to serve and you can maintain the standards, you should be allowed to serve. And, you can expect that I will support that throughout.”
Trump Pardons Steve Bannon In One of His Final Acts As 45th President
(CNN)— President Donald Trump has decided to pardon his former chief strategist Steve Bannon, in a last-minute decision made only hours before he is scheduled to depart the White House for a final time.
Officials cautioned CNN that Trump’s decision was not final until he signed the paperwork. Trump told people that after much deliberation, he had decided to pardon Bannon as one of his final acts in office.
Bannon’s pardon would follow a frantic scramble during the President’s final hours in office as attorneys and top aides debated his inclusion on Trump’s outgoing clemency list. Despite their falling out in recent years, Trump was eager to pardon his former aide after recently reconnecting with him as he helped fan Trump’s conspiracy theories about the election.
It was a far cry from when Trump exiled Bannon from his inner circle after he was quoted in a book trashing the President’s children, claiming that Donald Trump Jr. had been “treasonous” by meeting with a Russian attorney and labeling Ivanka Trump “dumb as a brick.” Those statements from Bannon drove Trump to issue a lengthy statement saying he had “lost his mind.”
“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency,” Trump said at the time.Things shifted in recent months as Bannon attempted to breach Trump’s inner circle once again by offering advice before the election and pushing his false theories after Trump had lost.
Since Trump’s election defeat, the President has leaned further into his expansive pardon powers — granting pardons to his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, longtime ally Roger Stone and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, among others.
Among Trump’s pardons earlier in his term were those for former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, right-wing commentator Dinesh D’Souza and financier Michael Milken.