Trump: “I said it was obsolete. It’s no longer obsolete.”

Developments on Day 83 of the Trump Administration:

See also Podcast: Crawling Through the Trump White House’s Wreckage

Trump Decides NATO Is Relevant

In yet another shift of position — prompted by the ascendancy of pragmatists within his Administration — Donald Trump says NATO is relevant.

Trump bashed the alliance throughout his campaign and after his inauguration, even threatening for a withdrawal of US involvement if European partners did not increase their contributions to the organization. At the same time, he embraced a friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, even as Moscow was pursuing a foreign policy challenging NATO in Europe, intervening in the elections of some of its member countries, and moving aggressively in areas such as Syria.

But, at a news conference alongside NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in the White House East Room on Wednesday, Trump declared,
“I said it was obsolete. It’s no longer obsolete.”

Trump’s shift comes amidst the eclipse of his hard-right chief strategist Steve Bannon in foreign and military policy. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster removed Bannon, who favors a close relationship with Russia, from the National Security Council’s Principal Committee last week.

Days later, the Pentagon — headed by McMaster’s fellow general and ally James Mattis — launched its first missile strikes against the Assad regime inside Syria, drawing a line against the Russian ally’s chemical attacks.

Trump reflected the switch in US approach on Wednesday, “We may be at an all-time low in terms of a relationship with Russia.”

The President and Stoltenberg exchanged warm words on social media after their meeting:

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg with Donald Trump on Wednesday

Trump Stepping Away from Bannon?

Donald Trump signals that he may be stepping away from chief strategist Steve Bannon, amid the hard-right ideologue’s battles with other factions within the Administration.

Trump told The New York Post:

I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late. I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve. I’m my own strategist and it wasn’t like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary.

During his campaign and as President, Trump has suddenly distanced himself from close advisors, later claiming that they were not that influential. Both Corey Lewandowski and Paul Manafort were quickly dismissed as campaign managers before Bannon took the position, and National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was fired in February only hours after supposedly getting Trump’s vote of confidence.

From the start of the Administration, Bannon has been at odds with pragmatists in the White House, including Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, as well as agency heads such as Defense Secretary James Mattis and later H.R. McMaster, who succeeded Flynn as National Security Advisor. Recently, he has reportedly fallen foul of Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner, who believes Bannon’s ideology is having a poisonous effect in bolstering Trump’s worst tendencies as a leader.

White House sources said Trump intervened two weeks ago by ordering Priebus and Bannon to end the fighting.

Trump concluded his Post interview by saying, “Steve is a good guy, but I told them to straighten it out or I will.”

Former Trump Campaign Manager Received $13 Million in Loans from Trump-Connected Businesses

Paul Manafort created a shell company that eventually received $13 million in loans from Trump-connected businesses, on the same day that he resigned as Donald Trump’s campaign manager.

The loans buttress the stories, leading to his resignation, of Manafort’s links with the Russian-backed former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

One of the loans was for $3.5 million from a business, Spruce Capital, that has connections to Ukraine through billionaire Alexander Rovt. These were part of $20 million in total loans given to properties owned by Manafort and his wife. The purpose is not clear, although they may have helped avert a financial crisis because of failed investments with Manafort’s son-in-law.

Manafort purchased real estate in a number of states with money of uncertain origin. As he failed to register as a foreign lobbyist after working in Ukraine, his compensation from working there has not been disclosed.

Some Ukrainian anti-corruption officials claim that $12.7 million in “off the books” cash payments were earmarked specifically for Manafort in Yanukovych’s “black ledger”.

On Wednesday, Manafort belatedly filed as a foreign agent.

Trump Wants to Threaten Key ObamaCare Program to Get Democrats to Negotiate

President Donald Trump wants to threaten a key Obamacare subsidy program to bring Democrats to the negotiating table on health care, “three administration officials with knowledge of Trump’s thinking” say.

Trump could deliver an immediate and fatal blow to the ObamaCare marketplaces if he scraps the subsidy program, estimated at $7 billion this year. The cost-sharing subsidies help insurers pay medical bills for 7 million low-income customers.

On Monday, the Department of Health and Human Services suggested to The New York Times that the administration might continue the payments. On Tuesday, however, HHS condemned the report and said no decision had been made.

Two administration officials said the HHS rebuttal was personally ordered by an incensed Trump. The President called HHS Secretary Tom Price to dictate a blistering statement that challenged the story and swiped at Democrats, one “senior administration official” said.

On Wednesday afternoon, Trump publicly spoke of his attempt to get leverage, telling The Wall Street Journal, “I don’t want people to get hurt. What I think should happen — and will happen — is the Democrats will start calling me and negotiating.”

A “senior administration official” confirmed, “POTUS wants to use [the subsidies] as leverage. When Obamacare fails on its own, the Dems will want to come to the table.”

British Intelligence Agencies Alerted US Counterparts to Trump-Russia Contacts

British intelligence agencies played a crucial role in alerting US counterparts to contacts between the Trump campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives.

A “source close to UK intelligence” told The Guardian that Britain’s electronic intelligence service, GCHQ, first became aware in late 2015 of suspicious “interactions” between Trump associates and known or suspected Russian agents.

Over the next six months until summer 2016, agencies from Germany, Estonia, Poland, and Australia shared further information on contacts between Trump’s inner circle and the Russians, sources said.

The FBI first approached the top-secret FISA court for authority to conduct surveillance on Russian officials and entities such as banks and at least one Trump advisor, Carter Page, in July 2016.