Trump: “There was nothing to hide!”

Developments on Day 317 of the Trump Administration:

Trump Tweet Could Add to His Troubles

Donald Trump, in his first reaction to Friday’s guilty plea by former senior campaign staffer and National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, may have acknowledged his obstruction of justice in the Trump-Russia affair.

Trump had restrained himself — or been restrained — from any remarks after Flynn pled guilty to lying to the FBI and confirmed that he is cooperating with the team of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

See TrumpWatch, Day 316: Flynn Pleads Guilty — Is Kushner Next?

But yesterday Trump told reporters that there was “absolutely no collusion with Russia”, adding, “We’re happy.” He then ended his silence on Twitter:

Those four sentences could be damning because of the timing of Flynn’s departure from the White House on February, and Trump’s appeal to FBI Director James Comey the next day, asking that any investigation into his friend and former advisor be dropped.

If Trump knew already that Flynn had committed an offensive, carrying a maximum recommended five-year sentence, then his request of Comey technically could constitute obstruction of justice.

Special Counsel Mueller is already investigating Trump for obstruction, including Trump’s firing of Comey in May to curb the Trump-Russia inquiry and his reported dictation in July of a false statement by his son Donald Jr. over a June 2016 meeting with three Kremlin-linked envoys.

Although Trump cannot be prosecuted for any offense while he is in the White House, Mueller’s conclusion would add to political pressure for Trump’s departure through resignation or conviction on impeachment charges.

Trump Advisor: “Russia Has Just Thrown the USA Election to Him”

Further information around Flynn’s guilty plea confirms that senior Trump advisors knew of his communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

On December 29, 2016 — as Flynn had five conversations with Kislyak about sanctions imposed by President Obama the day before, citing Russia’s interference in the US election — K.T. McFarland, wrote in an e-mail to staffer Thomas Bossert that the measures were aimed at discrediting Trump’s victory.

McFarland complained that the sanctions could make it much harder for Trump to ease tensions with Russia, “which has just thrown the USA election to him”.

McFarland, who subsequently became Deputy National Security Advisor, conferred with Flynn before his calls with Kislyak. As she was junior to Flynn in the transition and then the Administration, analysts believe that she was passing on instructions from someone higher up in the Trump team.

Bossert, now a senior official in the Deparmtent of Homeland Security, copied McFarland’s e-mail to six other Trump advisors, including Flynn; Reince Priebus, who had been named as chief of staff; Steve Bannon, later White House chief strategist; and Sean Spicer, who would become the Press Secretary.

Flynn’s court records made clear that he was also acting after guidance by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. Now a senior White House advisor, Kushner asked Flynn to contact the Russians and other foreign officials on December 22, hoping to block a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel over settlements in Palestine’s West Bank.

A White House laywer tried to maintain that, in her e-mail, McFarland was not acknowledging Russian intervention but only saying that Democrats were portraying this.

Previously the Trump camp has said that Flynn was acting on his own when he called Kislyak. However, after Friday’s plea and the revelations of direction from other officials, White House attorneys changed their line that there was nothing improper in the process. Ty Cobb said:

It would have been political malpractice not to discuss sanctions. The presidential transition guide specifically encourages contact with and outreach to foreign dignitaries.

Trump: Look at Hillary!

In a further attempt to shift attention from the latest Trump-Russia escalation with Flynn’s plea, Trump returned to Twitter on Saturday night to say that Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent in 2016, should be the priority. Using his customary epithet for Clinton, he made vague accusations that she was being excused by investigators, in contrast to the focus on his advisors’ links with Russia:

Trump also used a correction from ABC News to declare a “Russia, Russia, Russia Witch Hunt”.

ABC reporter Brian Ross erroneously said on Friday that advisors of the “Trump campaign” had directed Flynn, indicating that the events were before the election. The network later corrected the account to say that the guidance had come after the election and during the transition.

Conservative Activist to Campaign: I Can Arrange Trump-Putin Meeting

A conservative activist, Paul Erickson, told the Trump campaign in May 2016 that he could arrange a back-channel meeting between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In an e-mail to campaign advisor Rick Dearborn with the subject line “Kremlin Connection”, the National Rifle Association member said Russia was “quietly but actively seeking a dialogue with the US” and would attempt to use the NRA’s annual convention in Louisville, Kentucky to make “first contact”. He sought the advice of Dearborn and senior Trump advisor Jeff Sessions, now Attorney General:

Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump.He wants to extend an invitation to Mr. Trump to visit him in the Kremlin before the election. Let’s talk through what has transpired and Senator Sessions’s advice on how to proceed….

Another attempted contact came through Rick Clay, an American advocate for Christian and veterans causes. Both efforts involved Alexander Torshin, a deputy governor of the Russian central bank, former member of the Russian legislature, and a close political ally of Putin. key figure in Mr. Putin’s United Russia party, who was instructed to make contact with the campaign.

Dearborn forwarded the similar proposal by Clay to Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. Kushner rebuffed both approaches, but Donald Trump Jr. did briefly meet Torshin at the NRA event in Louisville.

See TrumpWatch, Day 305: Trump Jr. Met Kremlin-Linked Official in May 2016

Trump Administration Pulls Out of UN Strategy on Migration

The Trump Administration pulls out of the UN process for a more humane global strategy on migration.

The US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, informed UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres this weekend of the American decision. The Administration said involvement in the process interferes with US sovereignty and runs counter to US immigration policies. Haley said:

Our decisions on immigration policies must always be made by Americans and Americans alone. We will decide how best to control our borders and who will be allowed to enter our country. The global approach in the New York declaration is simply not compatible with US sovereignty.

The UN global conference on migration opens Monday in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It follows a 2016 non-binding political declaration, unananimously adopted by all 193 General Assembly members, pledging to uphold the rights of refugees, help them resettle, and ensure they had access to education and jobs.

There are currently 60 million people who have been displaced worldwide.

The UN says the global compact is not intended to be legally binding on any country, but is an attempt to create a shared understanding that migration flows are likely to increase and need to be overseen by recognising the reality of state interdependence as well as national sovereignty.