Trump Sours on Mueller Report After Initial Upbeat View

President Donald Trump is lashing out at current and former aides who cooperated with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, insisting the deeply unflattering picture they painted of him and the White House was “total bullshit.”

In a series of angry tweets from Palm Beach, Florida, Trump laced into those who, under oath, had shared with Mueller their accounts of how Trump tried numerous times to squash or influence the investigation and portrayed the White House as infected by a culture of lies, deceit and deception.

 

“Statements are made about me by certain people in the Crazy Mueller Report, in itself written by 18 Angry Democrat Trump Haters, which are fabricated & totally untrue,” Trump wrote Friday, adding that some were “total bullshit & only given to make the other person look good [or me to look bad].”

The attacks were a dramatic departure from the upbeat public face the White House had put on it just 24 hours earlier, when Trump celebrated the report’s findings as full exoneration and his counselor Kellyanne Conway called it “the best day” for Trump’s team since his election. While the president, according to people close to him, did feel vindicated by the report, he also felt betrayed by those who had painted him in an unflattering light — even though they were speaking under oath and had been directed by the White House to cooperate fully with Mueller’s team.

The reaction was not entirely surprising and had been something staffers feared in the days ahead of the report’s release as they wondered how Mueller might portray their testimony and whether the report might damage their relationships with Trump.

 

While Mueller found no criminal evidence that Trump or his campaign aides colluded in Russian election meddling and did not recommend obstruction charges against the president, the 448-page report released Thursday nonetheless paints a damaging picture of the president, describing numerous cases where he discouraged witnesses from cooperating with prosecutors and prodded aides to mislead the public on his behalf to hamper the Russia probe he feared would cripple his presidency.

The accounts prompted Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, who has sometimes clashed with Trump, to release a statement saying he was “sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the President.”

 

“Reading the report is a sobering revelation of how far we have strayed from the aspirations and principles of the founders,” he said.

 

The report concluded that one reason Trump managed to stay out of trouble was that his “efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful… largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”

 

That didn’t spare those who defied Trump’s wishes from his wrath.

 

Trump appeared to be especially angry with former White House counsel Don McGahn, who sat with Mueller for about 30 hours of interviews, and is referenced numerous times in the report.

 

In one particularly vivid passage, Mueller recounts how Trump called McGahn twice at home and directed him to set in motion Mueller’s firing. McGahn recoiled, packed up his office and threatened to resign, fearing the move would trigger a potential crisis akin to the Saturday Night Massacre of firings during the Watergate era.

 

In another section, Mueller details how Trump questioned McGahn’s note-taking, telling the White House counsel that, “Lawyers don `t take notes” and that he’d “never had a lawyer who took notes.”

 

“Watch out for people that take so-called ‘notes,’ when the notes never existed until needed,” Trump said in one of his tweets Friday. Others whose contemporaneous notes were referenced in the report include former staff secretary Rob Porter and Reince Priebus, Trump’s first chief of staff.

 

Trump ended his tweet with the word, “a…” suggesting more was coming. More than eight hours later, he finally completed his thought, calling the probe a “big, fat, waste of time, energy and money” and threatening investigators by saying, “It is now finally time to turn the tables and bring justice to some very sick and dangerous people who have committed very serious crimes, perhaps even Spying or Treason.” There is no evidence of either.

 

Trump, who is in Florida for the Easter weekend, headed to his West Palm Beach golf club Friday after some early morning rain had cleared. There he played golf with conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh “and a couple friends,” according to the White House.

 

He’ll spend the rest of the weekend with family, friends and paying members of his private Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach.

 

As Trump hopped off the steps from Air Force One on Thursday evening, he was greeted by a throng of supporters, who clamored for autographs and selfies. He repeatedly told the crowd “thank you everybody” as they yelled encouragement.

 

Ari Fleischer, who served as White House press secretary to former President George W. Bush, said in an appearance on Fox News that he didn’t understand why Trump decided to send his tweets lashing out at former aides.

 

“I think it’s over,” he said. “If I were the president, I would have basically declared victory with the Mueller report and everything that came out and move beyond it.”

 

Still, he said he hoped the White House had learned some lessons.

 

“The president and his entire team needs to realize how close they came to being charged with obstruction,” Fleischer said. “Asking your staff to lie and engaging in some of the activities that the Mueller report stated the president engaged in is too close to obstruction. And that’s a lesson I hope everybody at the White House takes with them going forward.”

 

 


N. Korea: Bolton Call for Denuclearization Sign ‘Dim-Sighted’

North Korea has criticized U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton’s “nonsense” call for Pyongyang to show that it’s serious about giving up its nuclear weapons, the second time it has criticized a leading U.S. official in less than a week.

U.S. President Donald Trump has said he is open to a third summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, but Bolton told Bloomberg News on Wednesday there first needed to be “a real indication from North Korea that they’ve made the strategic decision to give up nuclear weapons.”

“Bolton, national security adviser of the White House, in an interview with Bloomberg, showed above himself by saying such a nonsense,” North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui told reporters when asked about his recent comments, the Korean Central News Agency said Saturday.

“Bolton’s remarks make me wonder whether they sprang out of incomprehension of the intentions of the top leaders of the DPRK and the U.S. or whether he was just trying to talk with a certain sense of humor for his part, with its own deviation,” she said, referring to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name. “All things considered, his word has no charm in it and he looks dim-sighted to me.”

The North Korean vice minister also warned that there would be no good if the United States continued “to throw away such remarks devoid of discretion and reason.”

North Korea said Thursday it no longer wanted to deal with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and that he should be replaced in talks by someone more mature, hours after it announced its first weapons test since nuclear talks broke down.


Pompeo Dismisses North Korean Wish That He Not Take Part in Nuclear Talks

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dismissed a statement from a senior North Korean foreign ministry official saying they no longer want him involved if talks with the U.S. resume. Pompeo said he is still in charge of the U.S. negotiating team and that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has promised to denuclearize “half a dozen times.” The exchange comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to meet with Kim Jong Un. VOA’s Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine reports from the State Department.


Democrats Weigh Next Move in Wake of Mueller Report

Democrats in the U.S. Congress have demanded a full, un-redacted copy of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The report has split much of the country into two camps — Republican supporters of President Donald Trump who say he was cleared of wrongdoing, and Democrats alarmed by the instances of possible obstruction of justice involving the president. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more on the political fallout from Washington.


Mueller Report Draws Blanket Denials From Moscow 

Russian officials Friday continued to deny that Moscow tried to influence the 2016 U.S. election, brushing aside hundreds of pages of evidence released in special counsel Robert Muller’s report by saying it contained no proof.

“We still do not accept accusations of that sort,” Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters in a conference call.  He said Russia has insisted from the very beginning of the two-year probe that “whatever investigators did, they would find no [Russian] meddling, because there was no meddling.” 

 

In the United States, there is consensus among the nation’s intelligence community, and details published in the Mueller report, on how Moscow used a variety of tactics and people to try to influence Americans’ political opinions, hurt political enemies and help Donald Trump’s campaign. U.S. prosecutors announced indictments against 25 Russian nationals, mostly military officers and “internet trolls,” as well as three Russian entities for their roles in the meddling. 

 

Russia’s Foreign Ministry released a statement saying that [Mueller’s conclusions] “actually confirm the absence of any argument that Russia supposedly meddled in the American elections.”  

Last month, Russian officials reacted in a similar fashion after U.S. Attorney General William Barr released a summary of Mueller’s investigation. In their euphoric reactions, however, they commented only on the news that the U.S. probe had found no evidence of collusion between Trump’s campaign and Moscow, ignoring the fact that Mueller’s team had also backed the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia in fact meddled in the 2016 election campaign.

Observers believe there is little hope that Russia will change its position on the conclusions of Mueller’s investigation. 

 

“I don’t think there will be new statements made on the matter [by Russian officials], unless new facts are presented against Russia,” said Leonid Gusev of the Moscow-based Institute of International Research. 

Consistent stance

 

Pavel Sharikov, a senior fellow at the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies, agreed with his countryman, saying that “Russia’s position on the matter has been consistent” throughout the course of Mueller’s investigation and that at this point nothing will change it. 

 

Experts are also doubtful about the ability of Washington and Moscow to build a constructive relationship in the near future. For that to happen, they say, a new administration will have to come to the White House. 

 

Even though the special counsel and his team could not find evidence of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 campaign, some analysts say the cloud of collusion will linger over Trump’s presidency. 

 

“There is no action that Russia can take that would change this [negative] narrative both in U.S. domestic politics and U.S. policies towards Russia,” Sharikov said. 


Biden Expected to Launch Presidential Campaign Next Week

 Former Vice President Joe Biden is expected to join the crowded 2020 Democratic presidential race next week.

The decision answers one of the most significant outstanding questions of the early presidential primary season, which has already seen announcements from 18 high-profile Democrats. Biden, 76, would be the oldest and most experienced politician in the race.

 

His plans were confirmed by three people with knowledge, who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. The announcement is expected as early as Wednesday and would cap months of deliberation over his political future.

 

The specific launch date and location is unclear. Biden is likely to quickly make visits to early-voting states.

 

One person said Biden’s advisers are also considering an early event in Charlottesville, Virginia, the site of a deadly clash between white supremacists and counterprotesters in 2017. The location would be intended to draw a contrast between Biden and President Donald Trump, who initially said there were some “very fine people on both sides” of the violent confrontation.

 

Biden has been particularly outspoken against the rise of white supremacy in the Trump era.

 

One of the most recognizable names in U.S. politics, Biden served as Barack Obama’s two-term vice president after nearly four decades as a Delaware senator. His high-profile, working-class background and connection to the Obama years would help him enter the race as a front-runner, although he faces questions about his age and whether his more moderate record fits with a party that has become more liberal.

 

With a record in elected office that stretches half a century, Biden faces multiple challenges.

 

Last month he struggled to respond to claims he touched 2014 Nevada lieutenant governor nominee Lucy Flores’ shoulders and kissed the back of her head before a campaign event. A few other women have made similar claims, though none has alleged sexual misconduct.

 

The incident is just a taste of the harsh vetting from both parties expected for Biden, who has run for president twice before but never from such a strong political starting point.

 

His first White House bid in 1988 ended after a plagiarism scandal. And in recent weeks, he was repeatedly forced to explain his 1991 decision, as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, to allow Anita Hill to face questions about her allegations of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas, then a nominee for the Supreme Court.

 

Biden has since apologized for his role in the hearing. But in the #MeToo era, it’s another example of why critics believe he may struggle to catch on with the Democratic primary voters of 2020.

 

On paper at least, however, he may be well positioned to take on Trump in a general election.

 

The Republican president’s allies have privately warned that Biden might be the biggest threat to Trump’s re-election given Biden’s potential appeal among the white-working class in the Midwest, the same region that allowed Trump to win the presidency.

 


Sanders Claims She Didn’t Lie, Despite Mueller Finding

President Donald Trump’s spokeswoman Sarah Sanders pushed back Friday against allegations that special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia report exposed a culture of lying at the White House.

Sanders also disputed allegations that she personally misled the media and TV viewers when she said in 2017 that “countless” members of the FBI had lost confidence in FBI Director James Comey, which led to his firing.

Trump’s White House has given shifting accounts of the reason for Comey’s dismissal. Sanders told reporters that Comey had lost the confidence of rank-and-file members of the FBI who welcomed the president’s decision.

The Mueller report says that Sanders told the special counsel’s team that her words were “a slip of the tongue.” The report also says she acknowledged the comment “was not founded on anything.”

ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked Sanders Friday whether there was “a culture of lying” at the White House.

“Actually, if you look at what I said, the slip of the tongue was in using the word `countless,”‘ Sanders said on “Good Morning America.” She repeated that her comment was made in the “heat of the moment,” meaning it wasn’t “a scripted talking point.”

She added, “I’m sorry I wasn’t a robot.”

Democratic House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, also speaking on ABC, said Mueller’s report clearly outlines “a culture of lying” at the White House.


Release of Mueller Report Raises New Questions About Trump Obstruction

After 22 months of investigation, the public and Congress Thursday got to see the report of special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The report found no evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, but Mueller and his team could not make a judgment on whether the president had sought to obstruct justice. Opposition Democrats are pushing for further investigation in Congress. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.


7 Black S. Carolina Lawmakers Endorse Sanders

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders Thursday announced endorsements from seven black lawmakers in the critical early voting state of South Carolina, a show of force in the first place where African American voters feature prominently in next year’s primary elections.

Sanders’ 2020 campaign made the announcement just ahead of a Spartanburg town hall meeting with members of the state’s Legislative Black Caucus. The backing represents the biggest number of black lawmakers to back a 2020 hopeful to date in this state, which holds the first primary in the South.

The support is part of Sanders’ attempt to turn things around in South Carolina, where his 47-point loss to Hillary Clinton in 2016 blunted the momentum generated in opening primary contests and exposed his weakness with black voters. Sensing the coming defeat, Sanders left South Carolina in the days leading up to the state’s 2016 vote, campaigning instead in Midwestern states where he hoped to perform better.

​Different approach

Sanders, a senator from Vermont, has taken a different approach this time, working to deepen ties with the black voters who comprise most of the Democratic primary electorate in the state and pledging to visit South Carolina much more frequently. Our Revolution, the organizing offshoot of Sanders’ 2016 campaign, has an active branch in the state, holding regular meetings and conferences throughout the state. Sanders addressed the group last year.

The campaign recently hired a state director and, according to adviser Jeff Weaver, is putting together a “much stronger team on the ground, much earlier in the process.”

Last month, Sanders made his first official 2020 campaign stop in this state, holding a rally at a black church in North Charleston. Attracting a mostly white crowd of more than 1,500 that night, Sanders recounted many of the efforts of his previous presidential campaign, noting that some of his ideas had since been adopted by the Democratic Party and supported by other candidates vying for the party’s nomination.

Diverse crowd

On Thursday, the pews of Mount Moriah Baptist Church were filled with a diverse crowd of several hundred as Sanders took to a lectern and addressed his ideas for criminal justice reform, issues that he said disproportionately affect the African American community.

“We understand that we are just denting the surface,” Sanders said, going on to discuss racial discrepancies in arrests for traffic violations and marijuana possession. “I think a new day is coming.”

Applauding Sanders’ attention to the needs of the black community, Spartanburg Councilman Michael Brown reminded the crowd of Sanders’ participation in the civil rights movement in the 1960s and encouraged him to stay the course in terms of his efforts to reach out to the black voters here.

“Thank you, sir. Keep the conversation going,” Brown said. “Remain unapologetic in what you have to say because your message is resonating in our community and throughout this land.”

The South Carolina lawmakers endorsing Sanders are state Reps. Wendell Gilliard, Cezar McKnight, Krystle Simmons, Ivory Thigpen and Shedron Williams. He’s also being backed by state Reps. Terry Alexander and Justin Bamberg, both of whom backed Sanders in 2016 and served as national surrogates for his campaign.


National Enquirer Being Sold to Former Newsstand Mogul 

The National Enquirer is being sold to the former head of the airport newsstand company Hudson News following a rocky year in which the tabloid was accused of burying stories that could have hurt Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. 

 

Tabloid owner American Media said Thursday that it plans to sell the supermarket weekly to James Cohen. Financial terms were not immediately disclosed for the deal, which included two other American Media tabloids, the Globe and National Examiner.  

  

American Media said last week that it wanted to get out of the tabloid business to focus on its other operations, which includes its teen brand and broadcast platforms.

Non-prosecution agreement

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan agreed last year not to prosecute American Media in exchange for the company’s cooperation in a campaign finance investigation. That probe eventually led to a three-year prison term for Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen for campaign violations among other charges.

American Media admitted it had paid $150,000 to keep former Playboy model Karen McDougal quiet about an alleged affair with Trump to help his campaign. Trump has denied an affair.  

The sale would end a longtime relationship between the Enquirer and Trump. Under the aegis of American Media CEO David Pecker, the tabloid has for years buried potentially embarrassing stories about Trump and other favored celebrities by buying the rights to them and never publishing in a practice called “catch and kill.” 

 

The Associated Press reported last year that Pecker kept a safe in the Enquirer’s office that held documents on buried stories, including those involving Trump. 

Whether James Cohen has any allegiances to Trump is not clear. While he was a registered Republican as late as 2017, according to Nexis records, he has given to both Republicans and Democrats. That included $17,300 in 2016 to an arm of the Democratic National Committee and $2,500 to the Republican National Committee in 2012.

News of the sale comes two months after Amazon chief Jeff Bezos publicly accused the Enquirer of trying to blackmail him by threatening to publish explicit photos of him. 

An American Media attorney denied the charge, but it threatened potentially big legal costs by upending American Media’s non-prosecution agreement in the hush money case. The AP reported that federal prosecutors were looking into whether the publisher violated terms of the deal, which included a promise not to break any laws in the future.

Heavy debt load

The Bezos accusation comes at a difficult time for American Media. It has financed several recent acquisitions with borrowed money and has been struggling under a heavy debt load. American Media said the Cohen deal would help reduce the amount it needs to pay back, leaving it with $355 million in debt. 

 

The Washington Post, which earlier reported the sale, said Cohen will pay $100 million in the deal.

Cohen’s family had run a magazine and newspaper distributor for decades before his father branched into newsstand stores in 1980s, starting with a single one at LaGuardia Airport. Before he died in 2012, the father had opened more than 600 stores. 

 

After the death, James Cohen’s niece alleged her uncle had cheated her out of her inheritance. She lost the case. 

 

The family sold a majority stake in the chain about a decade ago. The business is now owned by Dufry, an operator of duty-free stores in which James Cohen is a major shareholder. 

 

Cohen still owns a magazine and newspaper distributor called Hudson News Distributors. In addition, he runs a real estate developer and a publishing company, which owns Gallerie, an art and design magazine. 

 

Cohen has reportedly been involved in American Media deals before. The New York Times reports that, in 2011, Cohen invested in the company’s American edition of OK!, a British tabloid. 



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