Robb: Donald Trump Jr.’s Russian meeting isn’t nothing

Heretofore, I’ve generally agreed with President Donald Trump’s description of the various investigations of Russian ties with his campaign as a witch hunt.The notion that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to hack and disseminate emails from Democratic operatives seems far-fetched. And so far, there’s no evidence of it.Interactions and doing business with foreign entities isn’t illegal, although there can be disclosure requirements. Disclosure violations hardly warrant the investigative apparatus and hullabaloo that has resulted.All that remains true. But the meeting Donald Trump, Jr. set up with a Russian lawyer isn’t nothing.The meeting included Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, and then campaign chief Paul Manafort. The Trump campaign was a family affair. So, this was a meeting with the most senior officials in the Trump campaign.They were told that the meeting was with a prosecutor with the Russian government who wanted to convey dirt that the Russian government had on Hillary Clinton, as part of the Russian government’s support of Trump’s candidacy.That was the meeting the top brass of the Trump campaign agreed to have.There has been a reflowering of political virginity in Washington over the revelation of this meeting, with pols from both parties proclaiming that, in similar circumstances, they would have refused to meet and instantly tattled to the FBI.A lifetime of involvement and close observation of politics leads me to be highly skeptical of these claims. Most campaigns, I suspect, would have at least wanted to learn what the derogatory information was.Apparently Trump Jr. was played. The lawyer wasn’t with the Russian government and didn’t have new dirt on Clinton. Instead, she wheedled a meeting to lobby against the sanctions in the Magnitsky Act. Whether the British publicist who set up the meeting on false pretenses was likewise played or was a party to the con is an Continue Reading

Editorial: Donald Trump Jr.’s troubling meeting with a Russian lawyer

The Russian lawyer said she had dirt on Hillary Clinton and wanted to share it with the Trump campaign. The candidate’s son agreed to meet with her and brought along two members of the campaign’s inner circle.Donald Trump Jr. now claims that the meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a lawyer closely tied to the Kremlin, was a bust.What’s stunning is that he had the meeting at all.Two weeks after Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination for president, his eldest son, campaign manager Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, were willing to meet with a foreign national offering to undermine the Clinton campaign.Emails released Tuesday show that Trump Jr. — and apparently Manafort and Kushner — knew in advance that the Veselnitskaya meeting was part of an effort by the Russian government to aid his father's campaign. The New York Times, which broke the story over the weekend, published the entire email chain Tuesday morning. After learning that the Times planned to publish the contents of the emails, Trump Jr. posted them on Twitter.Trump Jr., wrote back within minutes when he learned about the offer of dirt on Clinton: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer,” he wrote.This episode should appall any American, no matter their politics. How could Trump Jr., Manafort and Kushner believe it was acceptable to meet with a foreign national intent on influencing our election? It's not acceptable. It's flat-out wrong.U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia was behind the hacking of Democratic National Committee computers around the same time as the Veselnitskaya meeting. Damaging emails stolen from the DNC were released by hackers just before the Democratic National Convention the next month. Both the CIA and FBI have concluded that Russia was trying to help Trump win the election.Since last year, the FBI has been investigating Russian Continue Reading

Sen. Bob Corker calls out Donald Trump — again — for criticism of Jeff Sessions

WASHINGTON — Sen. Bob Corker took President Donald Trump to task on Friday for asserting political pressure on the Justice Department and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.“Like me, most Americans hope that our justice system is independent and free of political interference,” Corker, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.“President Trump's pressuring of the Justice Department and FBI to pursue cases against his adversaries and calling for punishment before trials take place are totally inappropriate and not only undermine our justice system but erode the American people’s confidence in our institutions,” Corker said.Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday that he is “disappointed” with the Justice Department and won’t rule out firing Sessions, if Sessions won’t investigate Democrats.“Honestly, they should be looking at the Democrats,” Trump said before departing the White House on a 12-day trip to Asia.Trump wants the Justice Department and FBI to investigate Hillary Clinton’s campaign, in response to a newly published book excerpt from former acting Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile. The excerpt says the Clinton campaign was improperly running the party during the 2016 primaries.In a series of morning tweets, Trump seized on Brazile’s article that said the DNC became financially dependent on Clinton during the 2016 primary to the detriment of challenger Bernie Sanders, a Vermont senator. ► More: Trump calls on Justice Dept. to investigate 'rigged' Dem. primary in series of morning tweets “Everybody is asking why the Justice Department (and FBI) isn’t looking into all of the dishonesty going on with Crooked Hillary & the Dems,” Trump tweeted.“At some point the Justice Department, and the FBI, must do what is right and proper. The American public Continue Reading

Manafort charges don’t mention Donald Trump, but don’t forget Robert Mueller’s mission

Donald Trump has tweeted hundreds of times in the the five months since former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III was appointed to find out whether the Trump campaign illegally colluded with the Russian government, mostly to suggest Mueller's quest is a preposterous hoax on the American public.Mueller has maintained complete radio silence throughout the same interval, resisting whatever temptation he may have felt to respond to the president's incessant denigration of the special counsel's motives, methods and integrity. More: If you care about foreign election interference, Manafort indictments miss real threat More: Paul Manafort indictment gets headlines, but Rick Gates is real threat to President Trump But the federal indictments unsealed Monday, in which Mueller charged that the former chairman of the Trump presidential campaign and his top deputy illegally concealed $18 million in payments received for lobbying work on behalf on a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party, will likely prove more significant that the shrill cries of "FAKE NEWS!" that have become the president's Twitter mantra.They confirm that Mueller intends to conduct his end of the ongoing dialogue in court documents whose veracity ultimately will be determined by jurors and judges. The latter take an oath to uphold the Constitution, and it is under the rules of engagement specified there, not those ordained by the corporate gatekeepers of social media, that legal questions about the Trump campaign's conduct are destined to be resolved. At first glance, the criminal charges filed against Paul Manafort and his longtime associate Rick Gates seem tangential to the mystery Mueller has been charged to unravel. As President Trump was quick to point out in yet another flurry of tweets, they concern conduct that took place before Manafort and Gates were engaged to take the reins of the campaign in March 2016. Indeed, the Continue Reading

Fact check: The ‘King of Whoppers’ for 2015 is Donald Trump

It's been a banner year for political whoppers — and for one teller of tall tales in particular: Donald Trump.In the 12 years of's existence, we've never seen his match.He stands out not only for the sheer number of his factually false claims, but also for his brazen refusals to admit error when proven wrong.He is by no means the only one telling whoppers, of course. Once again this year there are plenty of politicians, in both parties, who hope voters will swallow their deceptive claims. Hillary Clinton, for one, said she was "transparent" about her use of a private email server, when in fact she wasn't. That was one of the bogus claims she made about her unusual email arrangement while secretary of State.But Trump topped them all when he claimed to have seen nonexistent television coverage of "thousands and thousands" of Muslims in New Jersey cheering the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11 — and then topped himself by demanding that fact-checkers apologize for exposing his claim as fantasy. And that's only one example.Here we've assembled, as we do every year at this time, a generous sampling of the most far-fetched, distorted or downright fallacious claims made during 2015.In past years, we've not singled out a single claim or a single person, and have left it to readers to judge which whoppers they consider most egregious.But this year the evidence is overwhelming and, in our judgment, conclusive. So, for the first time, we confer the title "King of Whoppers."We won't get into Trump's controversial policy positions; it's not a fact-checker's role to offer opinions on whether it's a good idea or a bad idea for the federal government to bar Muslims from entering the United States or to kill the families of terrorists, for example. What we focus on here are some of the many cases where he's just wrong on the facts.We start with his Nov. 21 claim to have watched on television as "thousands and thousands" of Muslims in New Continue Reading

5 takeaways from Donald Trump’s latest Arizona visit

Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, visited Prescott Valley on Tuesday, his sixth campaign trip to Arizona. Here are some highlights from his hourlong speech.Trump mentioned a recent speech by former President Bill Clinton, husband of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, in which he called the Affordable Care Act the “craziest thing in the world.”The former president was discussing how small-business owners and individuals of a modest income don’t qualify for insurance subsidies and face rising premiums. He did not dismiss the program as a whole.Still, Trump imagined his words might have caused domestic strife.“I bet he went through hell last night, can you imagine?” Trump said.Trump then looked directly at the crowd.“Honestly,” he said, “there have been many nights when he has gone through hell with Hillary.”LIVE BLOG: How Trump's visit unfolded TuesdayTrump said Hillary Clinton criticized his use of tax laws for his financial benefit but did not work to change those laws when she served as a U.S. senator.Though he was not specific, Trump was referencing a New York Times story that revealed he had written-down more than $900 million in losses. Under the tax code, according to the Times, Trump could have legally sheltered equivalent earnings from income tax for as long as 18 years.Trump said Clinton did not work to change the tax laws because her "donors and contributors" used the same allowances for operating losses."I know all of their names, and I know who they are," Trump said.Trump mentioned two Democratic Party supporters who had losses on par with his. He said that George Soros lost $1.5 billion and that Warren Buffet lost $873 million."Ask them, did they write off those losses?" Trump said.Trump bemoaned the state of the U.S. economy, which he said has seen massive factory closings since the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement, a trade deal signed by Continue Reading

Kathy Griffin vs. Donald Trump: Did her press conference help or hurt?

Kathy Griffin and civil-rights lawyer Lisa Bloom came for Donald Trump Friday. But their press conference may come back to haunt them, as well as the Democrats in general."I’m not afraid of Trump," the 56-year-old comedian said. "He’s a bully. I’ve dealt with older white guys trying to keep me down my whole career."Griffin and Bloom addressed what they both view as a disproportionate response by the president and his family after she apologized for posing with a fake, severed Trump head for photographer Tyler Shields.Those pictures, Bloom said, were meant to be a parody of Trump's infamous "blood-blood-coming-out-of-her-whatever" comments about then-Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, who raised the question of his past misogynistic remarks at a presidential debate in August."It was a parody of Trump's own sexist remarks taken to an extreme, absurdist visual," Bloom said.Obviously, that was not how they were interpreted and she had the photos pulled down and publicly acknowledged that she crossed the line."I apologized because it was the right thing to do," an emotional Griffin told reporters. "Then it became a mob mentality pile-on."Although she did not retract her apology, Griffin felt the blowback warranted a follow-up: "What is happening to me has never happened in the history of this great country.  A sitting president of the United States, his grown children and the first lady are personally, I feel, are trying to ruin my life forever.”She added, "They’re using me as the shiny object so nobody talks about his FBI investigation."Although Bloom correctly pointed out that her client has a "first amendment right to publicly parody the president," the problem for Griffin, as any celebrity who's weathered a similar scandal can attest, is the fine print: The first amendment does not indemnify the speaker from the commercial or legal fallout of their remarks, such as getting fired or sued in Continue Reading

Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump: Comparing first 100 days of last six presidents

The first 100 days have been rocky for other modern presidents, but none had as bumpy a ride as Donald Trump has encountered during his opening days in office. Here's a look back.Approval rating: 43%*Nominees formally submitted/confirmed by Senate: 24/22*Major successes: Neil Gorsuch confirmed for Supreme Court; some Obama-era regulations repealedMajor setbacks: Proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act withdrawn from House; immigration orders blocked by federal courts; national security adviser Michael Flynn forced to resignOf note: FBI confirmed investigation into whether Trump associates colluded with Russian meddling in electionApproval rating: 65%Nominees formally submitted/confirmed by Senate: 190/69Major successes: Stimulus bill passed; children's health care expanded; equal-pay protections bolstered; federal ban on embryonic stem-cell research liftedMajor setbacks: Nominee for key role of Health and Human Services secretary, Tom Daschle, forced to withdrawOf note: Stock market bottomed out in March, a sign that the end of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression was in sightApproval rating: 62%Nominees formally submitted/confirmed by Senate: 85/35Major successes: House passed tax proposal, eventually signed in June, to slash income tax ratesMajor setbacks: Failed to act on a blue-ribbon commission report urging changes in homeland security or on warning signs before the terror attacks on New York and Washington that would follow in SeptemberOf note: U.S. spy plane flying over the South China Sea clipped by Chinese fighter jet and forced to land on Chinese soilApproval rating: 55%Nominees formally submitted/confirmed by Senate: 176/49Major successes: Family and Medical Leave Act signedMajor setbacks: Furors over gays in the military, firing of White House travel office staffersOf note: Hillary Rodham Clinton put in charge of signature health care overhaul, which Continue Reading

Donald Trump has a sickening fetish for cruelty

It isn't very often that the public gets to see a man's soul die inside his body. To see his dignity immolated. His manhood ripped from his bones.And to have it captured all in one picture. Oh, the picture.Late last November, President-elect Donald Trump and former Republican nominee Mitt Romney settled into a four-course dinner at New York's Jean-Georges restaurant, dining on frog legs and diver scallops. Over the previous year, Romney had been bitterly critical of Trump, calling him "con man" and "a fraud" — yet upon winning, Trump dangled the possibility of naming Romney to the position of secretary of State, leading to what would soon become Romney's Last Supper. More: The 'real' story of how the Democrats came up with their 'Better Deal' slogan More: Trump isn't learning on the job, he just doesn't care In a chilling photograph of the dinner, Romney has turned to the camera with the look of a man that would much prefer to be dining with the Grim Reaper. As Trump glowers at the camera with a mischievous grin, Romney's eyes yearn for a foregone era when he stood in resistance to the vulgarian in chief, a time before he was made to kiss the ring in exchange for serving his country as secretary of State. The only thing missing from the photo is a Sarah McLachlan song playing in the background and a phone number to call to stop the abuse.Of course, two weeks later, Trump picked oil executive Rex Tillerson to be his secretary of State, ending Romney's parade of public humiliation. But Trump got exactly what he wanted: After the dinner, Romney told reporters that Trump "continues with a message of inclusion and bringing people together," and that his "vision is something which obviously connected with the American people in a very powerful way.” Romney became another well-coiffed head for Trump's trophy case.It wasn't the first time Trump stripped a conquered foe naked and paraded him in the public square, Game of Continue Reading

Readers sound off on the FALN, Donald Trump and the NYPD

The FALN murdered my father Glen Rock, N.J.: Albor Ruiz’ column “Freedom time” (June 8) was a compilation of lies, distortions and propaganda designed to create sympathy for a second clemency grant to Oscar López Rivera, a leader of the Puerto Rican terror group, the FALN. I empathize with Lopez’ daughter and understand the pain of anyone who grew up without their father. You see, on Jan. 24, 1975, Lopez’ FALN murdered my 33-year-old father, Frank Connor, while he was peacefully eating lunch with clients at Fraunces Tavern. It was supposed to be the day we would celebrate my brother’s 11th birthday and my 9th birthday. An FALN communiqué that day took credit for the attack, which it called a blow against “reactionary corporate executives.” In fact, my dad was born to immigrants and raised in working-class Washington Heights, not far from some of the terrorists themselves. The FALN continued its reign of terror until the early 1980s, when 11 of its members were arrested, tried and convicted of (among other serious felonies) weapons possession and seditious conspiracy. The entirely appropriate prison terms were to run from 55 to 70 years. The group twice conspired to break Lopez out of prison. Plans involved the killing of prison guards and the use of plastic explosives, automatic weapons and a helicopter. The FBI foiled the plot — and Lopez was tried and convicted for his involvement, with 15 years added to his original sentence. This is the felon whose release Ruiz advocates. Ruiz and other terror supporters are willing to lie, distort and obfuscate to win Lopez’ freedom. They know the truth shall not set him free. Joe Connor Call terror by its name I Brooklyn: It was a January day in 1975. I was on my lunch break in a shop located across the street from the historic Fraunces Tavern located in the downtown financial district. When the bomb exploded, four innocent Continue Reading