Donald Trump declares war on his intelligence agencies over 'illegal' and 'un-American' leaks

Trump open to one or two state solution in Middle East Trump open to one or two state solution in Middle East
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President Donald Trump has declared war on his own intelligence agencies over "un-American" and scandalous leaks, that his aides had been in "constant communication" with Russian intelligence officials during the presidential campaign.

Mr Trump claims the "real scandal" is not the alleged ties to Russia, but politically-motivated leaks from within the US government.

Hours after Michael Flynn, Mr Trump's national security adviser, resigned after misleading the White House over conversations with the Russian ambassador to the US, reports emerged that key campaign aides had also been communicating with Russian officials.

That scandal began after US officials leaked the fact that Mr Flynn had discussed sanctions with the ambassador. Leaks also prompted the controversy over the "dirty dossier" prepared by a former MI6 operative, and have plagued the first weeks of the Trump administration.

Michael Flynn resigned as national security adviser Credit: Win McNamee/Getty

Meanwhile, it appears Vladimir Putin may be testing the new US president. A Russian spy ship has been spotted off the East Coast, it has emerged that Russia deployed a prohibited cruise missile and Russian jets buzzed a US ship in the Black Sea.

Mr Trump defended Mr Flynn during today's press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu, saying his former adviser is a "wonderful man".

Melania Trump takes Sara Netanyahu to African American museum

First lady Melania Trump has taken her Israeli counterpart to one of Washington's hottest tourist attractions, the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Mrs Trump and Sara Netanyahu, wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, were led on a tour by David Skorton, secretary of the Smithsonian, and Lonnie Bunch, the museum's founding director.

Timed-entry passes to the museum, the newest on the National Mall, are snapped up almost as quickly as they become available.

Melania Trump and Sara Netanyahu look at the Contemplative Court fountain during a visit to the African American Museum of History and Culture in Washington Credit: Reuters

During the outing, the first ladies stopped at an interactive video exhibit about the Greensboro, North Carolina, lunch counter where blacks staged sit-ins in the 1960s to protest the lack of civil rights.

They also visited a large waterfall display called the "Contemplative Court."

Trump's website: "DONALD J. TRUMP Chairman and President, The Trump Organization"

His interesting job title is still on the site.

You can see it here.

Andy Puzder's statement

Andrew Puzder says he is withdrawing as Donald Trump's nominee for labor secretary.

The fast food executive says in a statement provided to The Associated Press that he was:

"honored to have been considered by President Donald Trump to lead the Department of Labor and put America's workers and businesses back on a path to sustainable prosperity."

"While I won't be serving in the administration, I fully support the President and his highly qualified team."

Mr Puzder's confirmation hearing was scheduled for Thursday.

But some Republicans had raised concerns about his failure to pay taxes for five years on a former housekeeper who wasn't authorized to work in the US.

Mr Puzder is CEO of CKE Restaurants Inc.

Andy Puzder withdraws as labor secretary

ANDREW PUZDER, IN STATEMENT, SAYS HE'S WITHDRAWING HIS NOMINATION FOR LABOR SECRETARY -AP

Still campaigning?

 

Andy Puzder to withdraw his nomination for labor secretary?

NBC News is reporting that Andy Puzder, Mr Trump's nominee for labor secretary, is expected to withdraw his nomination - the first cabinet nominee to do so.

It comes amid growing questions about his business record and scrutiny from senators on both sides of the aisle, a senior administration official told NBC News.

Donald Trump signs an executive order on January 23 Credit: AP

Mr Puzder, head of a big restaurant chain which owns Hardee's and Carl's Jr., came under harsh criticism from Democrats and liberal groups for his opposition to raising the minimum wage, past controversial comments, and the racy ads his properties have used to promote the fast-food chains.

He was also revealed to have employed an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper - although he insisted he was unaware, and has since paid back taxes owed.

"A new era" of Israeli-US relations?

The head of Israel's pro-settler Jewish Home Party has welcomed what he is calling a "new era" following the White House press conference.

In a tweet, written in Hebrew, Naftali Bennett said the "Palestinian flag was removed from the staff and replaced with an Israeli flag."

Naftali Bennett pictured with Benjamin Netanyahu in August 2016 Credit: AFP

Mr Bennett, a powerful coalition partner in Mr Netanyahu's government, is a leading opponent of Palestinian statehood and believes Israel should instead annex occupied lands.

At the press conference, both Mr Trump and Mr Netanyahu were evasive about endorsing a two-state solution with the Palestinians - the international community's preferred solution for nearly two decades.

In his tweet, Mr Bennett said the prime minister "displayed leadership and daring and fortified Israel's security."

Trump and Netanyahu sit down in Oval Office

The two men are being filmed and photographed seated inside the Oval Office, with their wives.

The press do not appear to have asked any further questions.

Donald Trump's remarks in full

Mr Trump read very carefully from the script - a marked contrast to his usual freewheeling style.

He did, however, allow himself what appeared to be one off-the-cuff remark - about how the Iran deal was "the worst deal I have ever seen".

Credit: AP

He said:

Today, I have the honor of welcoming my friend, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to the White House. With his visit, the United States again reaffirms our unbreakable bond with our cherished ally, Israel.

The partnership between our two countries, built on our shared values, has advanced the cause of human freedom, dignity and peace. These are the building blocks of democracy. The state of Israel is a symbol to the world of resilience in the face of oppression. I can think of no other state that's gone through what they've gone, and of survival in the face of genocide. We will never forget what the Jewish people have endured.

Your perseverance in the face of hostility, your open democracy in the face of violence, and your success in the face of tall odds (ph) is truly inspirational. The security challenges faced by Israel are enormous, including the threat of Iran's nuclear ambitions, which I've talked a lot about. One of the worst deals I've ever seen is the Iran deal.

My administration has already imposed new sanctions on Iran, and I will do more to prevent Iran from ever developing -- I mean ever -- a nuclear weapon. Our security assistance to Israel is currently at an all-time high, ensuring that Israel has the ability to defend itself from threats, of which there are unfortunately many. 

Both of our countries will continue and grow. We have a long history of cooperation in the fight against terrorism and the fight against those who do not value human life. America and Israel are two nations that cherish the value of all human life.

This is one more reason why we reject unfair and one-sided actions against Israel at the United Nations, which has treated Israel in my opinion very, very unfairly, or other international forums, as well as boycotts that target Israel. 

Our administration is committed to working with Israel and our common allies in the region towards greater security and stability. That includes working toward a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The United States will encourage a peace and really a great peace deal. We'll be working on it very, very diligently. Very important to me also, something we want to do.

But it is the parties themselves who must directly negotiate such an agreement. We'll be beside them. We'll be working with them. As with any successful negotiation, both sides will have to make compromises. 

This just in: Donald Trump won the election

Mr Netanyahu just said there is no greater supporter of the Jewish state than Mr Trump, and spoke about his longstanding relationship with Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law. That's it for today's press conference.

Trump avoids tough questions

The two questions from American news outlets came from the Christian Broadcasting Network and Townhall, a conservative website. Unsurprisingly, neither asked about the alleged links between Mr Trump's allies and Russian intelligence.

The president continues to bypass the major news networks, wire services and national newspapers in favour of friendly outlets.

Trump: open to one state or two state solution

Mr Trump says he does not care what the nature of the Middle East peace deal is so long as both sides are happy with it. Mr Netanyahu chuckled as he spoke- he has some more specific things in mind. 

Trump: intelligence leaks are "criminal act"

The president addresses leaks over ties between his campaign aides and Russian intelligence:

"Things are being leaked, it's a criminal act... it's been going on for a long time before me, but now it's really going on. People are trying to cover up for" Hillary Clinton's loss.

He says Michael Flynn is a "wonderful man" who was treated "very unfairly" in media reports.

Trump: both sides need to sacrifice for peace

Mr Trump thanks his "friend" Mr Netanyahu for visiting, and says he values the "unbreakable bond" between the US and Israel. He also makes a vow that will be music to Mr Netanyahu's ears:

"I will prevent Iran from ever developing, I mean ever, a nuclear weapon."

Mr Trump says securing a Middle East peace deal is "very important" to me, and notes that both sides will have to make sacrifices to achieve it.

"You know that right," he says, turning to Mr Netanyahu.

Who will get a question?

When Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump walked out to these same podiums on Monday, Washington was buzzing with the allegations that Michael Flynn had misled the White House over his conversations with the Russian ambassador and could be on his way out the door. 

So Mr Trump was naturally asked about... other issues. That's because he called on two Trump-friendly news outlets. Will he be asked about links between his campaign and Russia today, or dodge the bullet once again?

Netanyahu arrives at White House

If you're keeping score at home, that's now four world leaders to visit President Donald Trump. First Lady Melania Trump was alongside her husband to greet the Netanyahus. 

We're thirteen minutes behind the official schedule, so expect the joint press conference in about ten minutes.

 

Minutes away from Trump/ Netanyahu press conference

Mr and Mrs Trump will great Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife outside of the White House within minutes, and the leaders will almost immediately take their podiums for a press conference.

A visit from the Israeli prime minister, particularly so early in a new administration, would typically be a massive story on its own.

In this case the most important aspect of Mr Netanyahu's visit for many in Washington will be that the president has to take questions on the story of the day.

Read Raf Sanchez's breakdown of what's at stake when Mr Trump meets Mr Netanyahu.

Credit: Reuters

 

Clinton campaign manager: FBI treated us unfairly

Robby Mook, Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, has long said that the FBI broke from protocols in announcing that they had re-opened the investigation into the former secretary of state's emails just days before the election.

Now he says that if the FBI was going to make announcements about that investigation, they should have revealed that they were investigating links between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence.

Mr Mook noted that the slim margins by which Mr Trump won key states mean that such events could have tipped the election.

McCain: White House in 'significant disarray' on national security

John McCain has been pressuring the White House to take a firmer line on Russia:

 But he won't be making any friends in the administration with comments like this:

Democrats: investigate Trump! Republicans: investigate leaks!

What's a bigger story- the fact that the presidents allies have been in regular contact with Russian intelligence, or the fact that US intelligence keeps leaking information about it?

The answer seems to depend on your political party. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House intelligence committee, has said he will not investigate Michael Flynn's contact with Russian officials, but will investigate the leaks that brought that scandal to light.

Meanwhile Democrats are breathlessly calling for investigations into links between the Trump camp and Russia.

Harward offered Flynn's job

Following Michael Flynn's resignation as White House national security adviser, Donald Trump reportedly offered the job to retired vice admiral Robert Harward.

Mr Harward, a Navy Seal, served on the national security council under George W Bush. James Mattis, the secretary of defence, has called Mr Harward "brilliant". Mr Harward served as deputy commander of US central command when Mr Mattis was at the helm. He retired in 2013 and became CEO of Lockheed Martin, the defence contractor that has come under fire from Mr Trump over the cost of its F-35 fighter jet program. Mr Harward has won praise from members of both the Bush and Obama administrations.

According to Foreign Policy magazine, Mr Harward told Mr Trump he needed time to mull the offer over, and would plan to clean house within the national security team were he to accept.

Robert Harward

Russia testing Trump?

Over the past few days...

  1. A Russian spy ship was spotted off the US East Coast, the first such sighting during the Trump presidency. According to Fox News, it 'loitered' near a US submarine base off of Connecticut
  2. US officials told the New York Times that Russia had deployed a new cruise missile, in violation of a landmark arms treaty
  3. Russian jets flew within an "unsafe" distance of a US destroyer in the Black Sea in three separate incidents

Bombshell reports on 'constant contact' with Russian intelligence

Here's what the New York Times is reporting:

Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.

American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.

And here's CNN's version:

High-level advisers close to then-presidential nominee Donald Trump were in constant communication during the campaign with Russians known to US intelligence, multiple current and former intelligence, law enforcement and administration officials tell CNN.

President-elect Trump and then-President Barack Obama were both briefed on details of the extensive communications between suspected Russian operatives and people associated with the Trump campaign and the Trump business, according to US officials familiar with the matter.

The Trump campaign, Russia and 'the real scandal'

 The FBI is investigating links between key aides and associates of then-candidate Donald Trump and Russian intelligence officials during the 2016 campaign.

US officials told the New York Times that US intelligence is trying to determine whether any collusion took place, and told CNN members of Mr Trump's orbit had been in "constant contact" with Russia.

Mr Trump has reacted angrily, not about the apparent communication with Russia, but about the leaks coming from within the US government. 

Another busy day in Washington

Here's a look at President Trump's schedule (all times Eastern):

  • 10:15AM   THE PRESIDENT participates in a listening session with the Retail Industry Leaders Association and member company CEOs
  • 11:50AM   THE PRESIDENT and THE FIRST LADY greet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Mrs. Netanyahu
  • 12:00PM   THE PRESIDENT participates in a joint press conference with Prime Minister Netanyahu
  • 12:40PM    THE PRESIDENT has a private meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu
  • 1:45PM        THE PRESIDENT has a working lunch with Prime Minister Netanyahu
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