New North Korea missile tests. A trade standoff with China. Fresh nuclear tensions with Iran.
President Donald Trump’s foreign policy challenges are mounting around the world, showing the limits of his self-touted ability to make a deal and perhaps the difficulty of focusing primarily on domestic concerns for his “America first” administration.
They’re also forcing him into some contorted positions, for example, backing regime change in Venezuela without any displays of force and saying he’s open to talks with Iran while dispatching an aircraft carrier and bombers to the Middle East.
Staring down high-stakes diplomacy around the world, Trump says his efforts are working.
“We’ve made a decisive break from the failed foreign policy establishment that sacrificed our sovereignty, surrendered our jobs and tied us down to endless foreign wars,” he told supporters at a rally in Florida. “In everything we do, we are now putting America first.”
Still, Trump has plenty of unfinished business. Since taking office, he has specialized in publicly hectoring friendly partners, embracing foes and resisting too much advice. Critics have labeled him an unreliable force, while allies say he has followed through on a promise to disrupt foreign policy norms.
Trump inherited some of his foreign policy problems, such as North Korea, Syria and Afghanistan, but has yet to solve them. And his hands-on approach to North Korea, holding the first meetings between a U.S. president and that country’s leader, has not yielded a deal to curtail North Korea’s nuclear missile program.
On other fronts, Trump has turned up the heat. His trade clash with China remains unresolved as he brandishes additional tariff hikes. With Iran, Trump pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear deal that the Obama administration had negotiated along with five other world powers, and he recently increased the pressure, designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization and deploying military forces to the Persian Gulf. He said Thursday that he would like to get a call from Iran’s leaders to negotiate.
Cliff Kupchan, chairman of Eurasia Group, described China and Iran as the two most pressing issues for the U.S. But he noted that Trump’s moves are not unexpected.
“With China and Iran we’re seeing a strategically very predictable president play out his hand,” he said. Still, he said that handling the range of challenges proves that the administration can manage to “walk and chew gum at the same time.”
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Trump rattled through some of the top concerns. He said the U.S. was looking “very seriously right now” at North Korea’s recent military tests. On trade talks with China, he said the U.S. would be fine either way, but said Chinese President Xi Jinping wrote him a “beautiful” letter. And amid a rising clash with Iran, he declared, “we have information that you don’t want to know about.”
Other pressing issues include the economic and political crisis in Venezuela. The United States and other nations have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as interim president, but a recent effort to encourage an uprising against President Nicolás Maduro failed. Also on the horizon is a blueprint for Middle East peace from Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as the possibility of peace talks with the Taliban to end the 18-year war in Afghanistan.
Trump, who ran on limiting U.S. engagement abroad, has stressed his interest in domestic policymaking. Michael O’Hanlon, a defense and foreign policy analyst at the Brookings Institution, said a unifying theme of Trump’s approach to foreign policy is his unwillingness to commit to more wars.
“I think so far we continue to see reluctance on the part of Trump to get involved in new military operations — which is mostly a good instinct – but a willingness to brandish nonmilitary instruments” of national power, as well as assertive shows of military force with no serious intention of taking pre-emptive military action, O’Hanlon said in an email Thursday.
Every administration faces periods of intensified – and often unforeseen – foreign policy problems that can divert its attention, resources and political capital away from domestic issues, such as jobs and the economy, that are more central to a president’s re-election hopes. The 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon happened in President George W. Bush’s first year in office, and his subsequent decisions to invade Afghanistan in October 2001 and Iraq in March 2003 consumed his administration for years.
Trump also stressed that he was calling the shots. Asked if he lines up with hawkish national security adviser John Bolton, he said “I’m the one who tempers him, which is OK,” and added: “Ultimately I make the decision.”
That lines up with a central emphasis of Trump’s foreign policy, which is that he always has the final word. His advisers have shifted during his term, and he is now on his second secretary of state and third national security adviser. On Thursday, the White House said Trump will nominate Patrick Shanahan to succeed Jim Mattis as defense secretary, ending an audition period for Shanahan that began in January.
In a sign that Shanahan remains focused on Trump’s top security issue – building a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border – Shanahan is scheduled to travel to the border on Saturday, even as he juggles the Iran, Venezuela and North Korea problems.
Somehow, The Washington Post had uncovered Michael Flynn’s secret. Somehow, it had learned that he had spoken with Russia’s ambassador the same day the Obama administration announced hefty sanctions on the country.
Now the question was raised: Had the incoming national security adviser undermined the sanctions?
Flynn was in trouble.
“What the hell is this all about?” Trump fumed to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus. Priebus called Flynn. The boss is angry, he told Flynn. “Kill the story,” he said.
Flynn, the retired U.S. Army lieutenant general who grew close to Trump on the campaign trail, knew it was true. Just weeks before, he had indeed discussed the sanctions and persuaded the Kremlin not to escalate the situation. But feeling the pressure of Trump’s anger after Priebus’ call, Flynn turned to his deputy.
Call the Post, Flynn said. Tell them there were no sanctions discussions. Even though she knew better, the aide, K.T. McFarland, did as she was told.
It was the first lie about Flynn’s Russia contacts. It wouldn’t be the last.
Over the next few days, Flynn repeated the lie to Priebus and others in the White House. No sanctions discussions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, he told Mike Pence, the vice president-elect. He said the same to press secretary Sean Spicer. And they parroted that to the public.
“They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia,” Pence said during a Jan. 15 appearance on CBS “Face the Nation.
The denials set off alarm bells at the Justice Department.
Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, an Obama holdover, and other senior officials knew the comments weren’t true. U.S. intelligence agencies, which routinely monitor the communications of foreign diplomats, had learned of Flynn’s discussions with Kislyak when analyzing the Kremlin’s response to the sanctions. The FBI had also opened an investigation into Flynn’s relationship with Russia.
Yates worried that Flynn’s lie could put him and other U.S. officials in a compromising position because the Russians could prove the American public had been misled. There was also an ongoing counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia, of which Flynn’s calls were now a part of the mounting evidence.
The Justice Department’s concerns only increased when, after Trump’s inauguration and Flynn’s appointment as the nation’s top national security aide, Spicer gave his first press briefing. He had spoken with Flynn the night before, he told reporters.
The Kislyak calls weren’t about sanctions, he said. Next question.
Two FBI agents walked into the White House the next day. It was Jan. 24, 2017, and they were there to talk to Flynn.
One of them was Peter Strzok, a senior counterintelligence official who would later face scrutiny for his anti-Trump comments. Flynn agreed to talk with them, and when asked, denied that he told Kislyak to back off from escalating situation in response to the sanctions.
He also lied about a follow-up phone call and another matter: On Dec. 21, 2016, when Egypt pushed a resolution at the United Nations critical of Israeli settlements in Palestinian areas, Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner turned to Flynn to push for the Kremlin to oppose the move. Flynn had unsuccessfully pressured Kislyak on the issue. But he told the agents otherwise.
News of the false statements to the FBI— a crime under federal law— quickly made it to Yates, who on Jan. 26, called White House counsel Don McGahn. She needed to discuss a sensitive matter.
In a meeting with McGahn and another White House lawyer later that day, Yates told him that Pence’s comments about Flynn weren’t true. Also, Flynn’s FBI interview hadn’t gone well.
McGahn, not entirely swayed by Yates, asked the National Security Council’s legal adviser, John Eisenberg, to look into the matter. He also went to Trump.
The president told him to work with Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon to look into it further. He added: Don’t discuss this with anyone else.
“Not again, this guy, this stuff,” Trump told Priebus, referring to Flynn.
Over the next week and a half, Eisenberg and McGahn gathered more information, and Flynn had a one-on-one with Trump in the Oval Office. What did you talk about with Kislyak? Trump asked. Flynn acknowledged he might have discussed sanctions.
Days later, the front page of The Washington Post would say the same thing.
The story shook Pence, who had been in the dark. A review of Justice Department documents sealed it. Flynn couldn’t have just forgotten. He had lied. McGahn and Priebus told Trump he had to fire Flynn.
That weekend, Flynn flew to Mar-A-Lago with the president. On the plane back to Washington on Feb. 12, Trump asked him whether he lied to Pence. Flynn said he may have forgotten some things but denied lying. “OK. That’s fine,” Trump responded. “I got it.”
The next day, Flynn was out.
Priebus delivered the news. In the Oval Office, Trump embraced Flynn and shook his hand. “We’ll give you a good recommendation. You’re a good guy. We’ll take care of you,” he said.
Flynn had spent just 25 days as national security adviser.
Trump had lunch with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie the next day, which was Valentine’s Day. “Now that we fired Flynn, the Russia thing is over,” Trump told him. Christie burst out laughing. No way, he said.
“What do you mean?” Trump responded. “Flynn met with the Russians. That was the problem. I fired Flynn. It’s over.”
Flynn is going to be like “gum on the bottom of your shoe,” Christie said.
In the Oval Office later that day, Flynn was still on Trump’s mind. The president was being briefed by his top national security team. That included FBI Director James Comey, who Trump was intent on making part of “his team.”
As the meeting wrapped up, Trump cleared the room and asked Comey to remain behind. “I want to talk about Mike Flynn,” Trump said, according to Comey. There was nothing wrong with Flynn’s calls with the Kislyak, he said, but he had to fire Flynn for lying to Pence.
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump said, according to Comey. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
Comey awkwardly sidestepped the issue. But over the next few weeks, Flynn remained on Trump’s mind.
Trump praised him publicly. Privately, he turned to McFarland, who had covered for Flynn before. On Feb. 22, 2017, McFarland, now the deputy national security adviser, was asked to resign. But Priebus and Bannon, who conveyed the message, suggested it came with a soft landing. The president could make her ambassador to Singapore.
The ask came a day later.
As reporters questioned whether he directed Flynn’s Russia contacts, Trump told Priebus to have McFarland draft an internal email saying that the president didn’t order Flynn to discuss sanctions with Kislyak.
Priebus went to McFarland, who balked. How could she write such an email? She didn’t know if it was true, she told him. She went to Eisenberg, who told her it was a bad idea. “It would also be a bad idea for the President because it looked as if my ambassadorial appointment was in some way a quid pro quo,” she wrote in a contemporaneous memo.
Priebus backed off. Forget I even mentioned it, he said.
But Trump wasn’t done. Call Flynn to show I still care, he told Priebus. Trump doesn’t want Flynn saying “bad things” about him, Priebus later recalled thinking.
In late March, news outlets reported that Flynn had offered to speak with the FBI and Congress in exchange for immunity. “Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!” Trump tweeted.
But privately, Trump asked McFarland to convey a different message. Tell him Trump felt bad for him, he said.
And he should stay strong.
On Dec. 1, 2017 Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to “willfully and knowingly” making “false, fictitious and fraudulent statements” to the FBI concerning conversations with Russia’s ambassador. He cooperated extensively with Mueller’s probe and awaits sentencing.
Russia keeps reverberating even with special counsel Robert Mueller’s report now part of history.
As much as President Donald Trump says he wants the United States to move on, he’s found it hard to turn away himself, as seen in a torrent of tweets and remarks railing against Democrats, trashing Mueller and painting his own actions in a saintly light.
There is little truth to be found in these statements.
A review of a week of Russia-heavy rhetoric from Trump and his team, also touching on the census and the economy:
TRUMP: “No Collusion, No Obstruction – there has NEVER been a President who has been more transparent. Millions of pages of documents were given to the Mueller Angry Dems, plus I allowed everyone to testify, including W.H. counsel.” — tweet Wednesday.
ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BARR: “The White House fully cooperated with the special counsel’s investigation, providing unfettered access to campaign and White House documents, directing senior aides to testify freely, and asserting no privilege claims.” — remarks at the Justice Department on April 18.
THE FACTS: It’s a huge stretch for them to cast the White House as being “fully” cooperative and open in the investigation into Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election and the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russian figures.
Trump declined to sit for an interview with Mueller’s team, gave written answers that investigators described as “inadequate” and “incomplete,” said more than 30 times that he could not remember something he was asked about in writing, and — according to the report — tried to get aides to fire Mueller or otherwise shut or limit the inquiry.
In the end, the Mueller report found no criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia but left open the question of whether Trump obstructed justice.
Also on the matter of transparency, Trump is an outlier among presidents in refusing to release his tax returns . Providing tax information as a candidate in 2016 and as president is something party nominees have traditionally done for half a century.
TRUMP: “In the ‘old days’ if you were President and you had a good economy, you were basically immune from criticism. Remember, ‘It’s the economy stupid.’ Today I have, as President, perhaps the greatest economy in history.” — tweet Tuesday.
THE FACTS: You can assume many previous presidents would beg to disagree that a good economy shielded them from criticism.
Under President Bill Clinton, whose top campaign staffer James Carville coined the phrase “the economy, stupid” to underscore what the campaign should be about, the unemployment rate fell to 3.8% and the nation’s economy grew 4% or more for four straight years.
Yet Clinton was under independent counsel investigation for all but one year of his presidency, 1993. The House impeached him in December 1998, at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, though the Senate acquitted him in February 1999. In January 1998, Hillary Clinton alleged a “vast right-wing conspiracy” to take down her husband, a widely mocked complaint about the relentless criticism the Clintons faced from the right (which extended to ridicule over the title of Hillary Clinton’s 1996 book, “It Takes a Village.”)
Under President Ronald Reagan, the economy expanded 3.5% or more for six years in a row, with growth rocketing to 7.2% in 1984. Yet Reagan was dogged in his second term by the Iran-Contra investigation, which focused on covert arm sales to Iran that financed aid to Nicaraguan rebels.
Both presidents saw much faster growth than Trump has presided over, despite Trump’s faulty claim to have “perhaps the greatest economy in history.” Growth reached 2.9% last year, the best in four years, but far below the levels achieved under Clinton or Reagan. The unemployment rate touched 3.7% last September and November, the lowest in five decades, but just one-tenth of a percentage point below the 3.8% in April 2000 under Clinton.
TRUMP: “Mueller was NOT fired and was respectfully allowed to finish his work on what I, and many others, say was an illegal investigation (there was no crime), headed by a Trump hater who was highly conflicted.” — tweet Thursday.
THE FACTS: Trump is wrong to suggest that the FBI acted illegally by investigating him. The FBI does not need to know if or have evidence that a crime occurred before it begins an investigation.
Many investigations that are properly conducted ultimately don’t find evidence of any crime. The FBI is empowered to open an investigation if there’s information it has received or uncovered that leads the bureau to think it might encounter a crime. Apart from that, the investigation into the Trump campaign was initially a counterintelligence investigation rather than a strictly criminal one, as agents sought to understand whether and why Russia was meddling in the 2016 election.
Trump also makes a baseless charge that Mueller was “highly conflicted.” Mueller, a longtime Republican, was cleared by the Justice Department’s ethics experts to lead the Russia investigation. Nothing in the public record makes him a “Trump hater.”
According to the special counsel’s report, when Trump previously complained privately to aides that Mueller would not be objective, the advisers, including then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, then-White House counsel Don McGahn and Reince Priebus, chief of staff at the time, rejected those complaints as not representing “true conflicts.” Bannon also called the claims “ridiculous.”
TRUMP: “I DID NOTHING WRONG. If the partisan Dems ever tried to Impeach, I would first head to the U.S. Supreme Court.” — tweet Wednesday.
THE FACTS: He’d have a tough hearing at the Supreme Court. Justices ruled 9-0 in 1993 that the Constitution grants sole power of impeachment to the House and Senate, not the judiciary.
Under the principle of separation of powers, Congress is a co-equal branch of government to the executive branch and judiciary. The House is afforded power to impeach a president by bringing formal charges and the Senate convenes the trial, with two-thirds of senators needed to convict and remove a president from office. The Constitution does not provide a role for the judiciary in the impeachment process, other than the chief justice of the United States presiding over the Senate trial.
In its 1993 ruling, the Supreme Court said framers of the Constitution didn’t intend for the court to have the power to review impeachment proceedings because they involve political questions that shouldn’t be resolved in the courts.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, White House counselor, saying there’s no need for Congress to continue investigating with the Mueller probe concluded: “We all know if Director Mueller and his investigators wanted to or felt that it was right to indict they would have done that. He had every opportunity to indict and declined to indict. Investigators investigate and they decide to indict, they refer indictment or they decline indictment. That’s the way the process works.” — remarks Wednesday to reporters.
THE FACTS: That’s not how Mueller’s process worked. According to the report, Mueller’s team declined to “make a traditional prosecutorial judgment” on whether to indict — that is, do what prosecutors typically do, as Conway describes it — because of a Justice Department legal opinion that said sitting presidents shouldn’t be indicted. “Fairness concerns counseled against potentially reaching that judgment when no charges can be brought,” the report states.
As a result, the report factually laid out instances in which Trump might have obstructed justice, leaving it open for Congress to take up the matter or for prosecutors to do so once Trump leaves office. Mueller’s team wrote that its investigation was conducted “in order to preserve the evidence when memories were fresh” and documentary material available.
“Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” the report states.
HOGAN GIDLEY, White House deputy press secretary: “He’s already denounced, multiple times, Russian involvement.” — remarks Tuesday to reporters.
THE FACTS: Trump has had it both ways, at times criticizing that involvement but more often equivocating, and long after U.S. intelligence agencies and other parts of his administration became convinced of Russian meddling. “Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that,‘” Trump said of Putin in November 2017. “I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.” In February 2018, he tweeted: “I never said Russia did not meddle in the election, I said ‘it may be Russia, or China or another country or group, or it may be a 400 pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer.’”
Now he’s assailed the report by Mueller, whose investigation fleshed out the audacious Russian effort to shape the election in favor of Trump and resulted in indictments against 25 Russians accused either of hacking Democratic email accounts or sowing discord in America through social media, as well as Trump associates.
TRUMP: “Isn’t it amazing that the people who were closest to me, by far, and knew the Campaign better than anyone, were never even called to testify before Mueller. The reason is that the 18 Angry Democrats knew they would all say ‘NO COLLUSION’ and only very good things!” — tweet Monday.
THE FACTS: Trump’s wrong to suggest that the people “closest” to him weren’t called to testify before Mueller’s team.
Plenty of people close to him, including in his own family, interviewed with the special counsel’s investigators or were at least asked to appear. And of those who did, some said not very good things about their interactions with the president.
Among the advisers and aides who spoke with Mueller was McGahn, who extensively detailed Trump’s outrage at the investigation and his efforts to curtail it. McGahn told Mueller’s team how Trump called him at home and urged him to press the Justice Department to fire the special counsel, then told him to deny that the entire episode had taken place once it became public.
Mueller also interviewed Priebus, Bannon, former White House chief of staff John Kelly, former White House communications director Hope Hicks and White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.
Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer who once said he was so close to the president that he’d “take a bullet” for him, also cooperated with Mueller and delivered unflattering details.
Mueller certainly wanted to hear from Trump’s family too, even if not all relatives were eager to cooperate. His eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., declined to be voluntarily interviewed by investigators, according to Mueller’s report. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, spoke multiple times to Mueller’s team. One of the president’s daughters, Ivanka Trump, provided information through an attorney.
GIDLEY: “It was Barack Obama who leaned over to Dmitry Medvedev in the Oval Office and said, ‘Listen, we’ll have more flexibility when the election’s over.’” — remarks Tuesday.
THE FACTS: First, the conversation was in South Korea, not the Oval Office. Gidley accurately recounted the gist of what Obama was heard telling the Russian president on a microphone they didn’t know was on. But Gidley did not explain the context of the remark.
Obama was suggesting he would have more flexibility postelection to address Russia’s concerns about a NATO missile defense system in Europe. The conversation with Medvedev, who was soon succeeded by Vladimir Putin, had nothing to do with Russian meddling that would be exposed in the U.S. election four years away.
TRUMP: “The American people deserve to know who is in this Country. Yesterday, the Supreme Court took up the Census Citizenship question, a really big deal.” — tweet Wednesday.
GIDLEY, when asked whether Trump believes an accurate census count isn’t necessary: “He wants to know who’s in this country. I think as a sovereign nation we have that right. It’s been a question that’s been on the census for decades.” — remarks Tuesday.
THE FACTS: Not since 1950 has the census collected citizenship data from the whole population.
Moreover, Trump’s position that asking a citizenship question in the census is needed to “know who is in this country” ignores the judgment of the Census Bureau’s own researchers, who say that it would not result in the most accurate possible count of the U.S. population. The question is already asked in other government surveys.
According to January 2018 calculations by the Census Bureau, adding the question to the once-a-decade survey form would cause lower response rates among Hispanics and noncitizens. The government would have to spend at least $27.5 million for additional phone calls, home visits and other follow-up efforts to reach them.
Federal judges in California, Maryland and New York have blocked the administration from going forward with a citizenship question after crediting the analysis of agency experts. The experts said millions would go uncounted because Hispanics and immigrants might be reluctant to say if they or others in their households are not citizens.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has argued that a citizenship question is needed to help the government better comply with the Voting Rights Act. But the Justice Department has been enforcing the 1965 law, which was passed to help protect minority groups’ political rights, with citizenship data already available from other government surveys.
The count goes to the heart of the U.S. political system, determining the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House and how the electoral votes that decide presidential elections are distributed. It also shapes how 300 federal programs distribute more than $800 billion a year to local communities.
TRUMP retweet of RONNA MCDANIEL, Republican National Committee chairwoman: “If Joe Biden wants to keep score: In 8 years, Biden & Obama had a net loss of 193,000 manufacturing jobs. In just over 2 years, @realDonaldTrump has created 453,000 manufacturing jobs.” — tweet Thursday.
THE FACTS: McDaniel is right but presents a misleading portrait of economic growth during Barack Obama’s presidency, with Biden serving as vice president.
Obama’s eight years in office began with the final five months of the 17-month Great Recession, which began under his predecessor and included some of the worst stretches of job loss since World War II.
Manufacturing jobs bottomed out in February 2010, then grew steadily for the next six years before declining during Obama’s last year in office. Still, during that stretch the economy added 915,000 manufacturing jobs.
Associated Press writers Christopher Rugaber, Eric Tucker and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.
After nearly two years of waiting, America will get some answers straight from Robert Mueller— but not before President Donald Trump’s attorney general has his say.
The Justice Department on Thursday is expected to release a redacted version of the special counsel’s report on Russian election interference and the Trump campaign, opening up months, if not years, of fights over what the document means in a deeply divided country.
Even the planned release of the nearly 400-page report quickly spiraled into a political battle Wednesday over whether Attorney General William Barr is attempting to shield the president who appointed him and spin the report’s findings before the American people can read it and come to their own judgments.
Barr will hold a 9:30 a.m. news conference to present his interpretation of the report’s findings, before providing redacted copies to Congress and the public. The news conference, first announced by Trump during a radio interview, provoked immediate criticism from congressional Democrats.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Barr had “thrown out his credibility & the DOJ’s independence with his single-minded effort to protect” Trump. And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “The process is poisoned before the report is even released.”
“Barr shouldn’t be spinning the report at all, but it’s doubly outrageous he’s doing it before America is given a chance to read it,” Schumer said.
Hours before Barr’s press conference, Pelosi and Schumer issued a joint statement calling for Mueller to appear before Congress “as soon as possible.”
They said Barr’s “partisan handling” of the report has “resulted in a crisis of confidence in his independence and impartiality.”
A Justice Department official confirmed Barr’s plan to speak and answer questions about his “process” before the report’s public release. He will be accompanied by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversaw the investigation after Mueller’s appointment in May 2017. Mueller and other members of his team will not attend, special counsel spokesman Peter Carr said.
After the news conference, the report will be delivered to Congress on CDs between 11 a.m. and noon and then be posted on the special counsel’s website, said the official, who wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Barr formulated the report’s roll-out and briefed the White House on his plans, according to a White House official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. The White House declined to comment on an ABC News report that it had been briefed on the contents of Mueller’s report beyond what Barr has made public.
At a later date, the Justice Department also plans to provide a “limited number” of members of Congress and their staff access to a copy of the Mueller report with fewer redactions than the public version, according to a court filing Wednesday.
The report is expected to reveal what Mueller uncovered about ties between the Trump campaign and Russia that fell short of criminal conduct. It will also lay out the special counsel’s conclusions about formative episodes in Trump’s presidency, including his firing of FBI Director James Comey and his efforts to undermine the Russia investigation publicly and privately.
The report is not expected to place the president in legal jeopardy, as Barr made his own decision that Trump shouldn’t be prosecuted for obstruction. But it is likely to contain unflattering details about the president’s efforts to control the Russia investigation that will cloud his ability to credibly claim total exoneration. And it may paint the Trump campaign as eager to exploit Russian aid and emails stolen from Democrats and Hillary Clinton’s campaign even if no Americans crossed the line into criminal activity.
The report’s release will be a test of Barr’s credibility as the public and Congress judge whether he is using his post to protect Trump.
Barr will also face scrutiny over how much of the report he blacks out and whether Mueller’s document lines up with a letter the attorney general released last month. The letter said Mueller didn’t find a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government but he found evidence on “both sides” of the question of whether the president obstructed justice.
Barr has said he is withholding grand jury and classified information as well as portions relating to ongoing investigation and the privacy or reputation of uncharged “peripheral” people. But how liberally he interprets those categories is yet to be seen.
Democrats have vowed to fight in court for the disclosure of the additional information from the report and say they have subpoenas ready to go if it is heavily redacted.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said Wednesday he will “probably find it useful” to call Mueller and members of his team to testify after reading the version of the report Barr releases.
Nadler also criticized the attorney general for trying to “bake in the narrative” of the report to the benefit of the White House.
Late Wednesday, Nadler joined the chairs of four other House committees in calling for Barr to cancel his news conference. But Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, defended Barr and accused Democrats of “trying to spin the report.”
Collins said Barr has done “nothing unilaterally,” saying he had worked with Rosenstein and Mueller’s team “step by step.”
Mueller is known to have investigated multiple efforts by the president over the last two years to influence the Russia probe or shape public perception of it.
In addition to Comey’s firing, Mueller scrutinized the president’s request of Comey to end an investigation into Trump’s first national security adviser; his relentless badgering of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions over his recusal from the Russia investigation; and his role in drafting an incomplete explanation about a meeting his oldest son took at Trump Tower with a Kremlin-connected lawyer.
Overall, Mueller brought charges against 34 people — including six Trump aides and advisers — and revealed a sophisticated, wide-ranging Russian effort to influence the 2016 presidential election. Twenty-five of those charged were Russians accused either in the hacking of Democratic email accounts or of a hidden but powerful social media effort to spread disinformation online.
Five former Trump aides or advisers pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate in Mueller’s investigation, among them Trump’s campaign chairman, national security adviser and personal lawyer.
Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick, Lisa Mascaro and Zeke Miller in Washington and Jonathan Lemire and Jennifer Peltz in New York contributed to this report.
The cloud that has hung over President Donald Trump since the day he walked into the White House has been lifted.
Yes, special counsel Robert Mueller left open the question of whether Trump tried to obstruct the investigation. Yes, separate federal probes still put Trump and his associates in legal jeopardy. And yes, Democrats will spend the coming months pushing for more details from Mueller, all while launching new probes into Trump’s administration and businesses.
But at its core, Mueller’s investigation gave the president what he wanted: public affirmation that he and his campaign did not coordinate with Russia to win the 2016 election. The findings, summarized Sunday by the Justice Department , are sure to embolden Trump as he plunges into his re-election campaign, armed now with new fodder to claim the investigation was little more than a politically motivated effort to undermine his presidency.
“It’s a shame that our country had to go through this,” Trump said. “To be honest, it’s a shame that your president has had to go through this.”
Mueller’s investigation stretched on for nearly two years, enveloping Trump’s presidency in a cloud of uncertainty and sending him into frequent fits of rage. The scope of the probe was sweeping: Mueller issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, obtained nearly 500 search warrants and interviewed 500 witnesses, including some of the president’s closest advisers.
And Trump’s ultimate vindication on the question of collusion with Russia came at a steep cost.
The investigation took down his campaign chairman, his White House national security adviser and his longtime lawyer. It revealed the extent of Moscow’s desire to swing the 2016 contest toward Trump, as well as Trump’s pursuit of business deals in Russia deep into the campaign. And the Justice Department didn’t explain why so many Trump associates lied throughout the investigation.
But in the end, Mueller concluded that those lies were not an effort to obscure a criminal conspiracy by Trump and his advisers to work with Russia. There was smoke, and plenty of it — including an eyebrow-raising meeting between Trump’s son and a Russian lawyer — but ultimately, no fire.
“Good day for the rule of law. Great day for President Trump and his team,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “Bad day for those hoping the Mueller investigation would take President Trump down.”
Democrats quickly sought to puncture Trump and fellow Republicans’ jubilation, vowing to subpoena Mueller’s full report, which remains a secret. After spending years questioning Trump’s ties to Moscow, the Democrats’ focus is shifting to the question Mueller pointedly left unanswered: whether Trump obstructed the investigation by firing FBI Director James Comey and dictating a misleading statement about his son’s meeting with the Russian lawyer.
“The fact that special counsel Mueller’s report does not exonerate the president on a charge as serious as obstruction of justice demonstrates how urgent it is that the full report and underlying documentation be made public without any further delay,” House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement.
The fight for those documents will be lengthy and contentious, particularly against the backdrop of the 2020 presidential election. It will involve complex debates over the rules that govern special counsel investigations, which put a member of Trump’s Cabinet in charge of summarizing Mueller’s findings for the public, and a president’s right to keep his private discussions out of the public eye.
Previewing the case Democrats will make to get more details about Trump’s actions, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., declared: “Executive privilege cannot be used to shield or hide wrongdoing.”
For Trump and his associates, the argument will be far simpler: Democrats already tried to go after the president once and failed.
“Just as important a victory as this is for President Trump, this is a crushing defeat for Democrats and members of the media who have pushed the collusion delusion myth for the past two years. That officially ends today,” said Jason Miller, a former Trump campaign official.
Trump’s legal troubles are far from over. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are pursuing at least two criminal inquiries involving the president or people in his orbit, one involving his inaugural committee and another focused on the hush-money scandal that led his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to plead guilty last year to campaign finance violations. New York Attorney General Letitia James is also looking into whether Trump exaggerated his wealth when seeking loans for real estate projects and a failed bid to buy the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.
But in the hours after Mueller’s findings were released, those investigations appeared to be a world away for Trump. As he walked into the White House Sunday night, he pumped his fist to a group of supporters and declared, “America is the greatest place on earth, the greatest place on earth.”
Julie Pace has covered the White House and politics for the AP since 2007. Follow her at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC .
The Justice Department declared Sunday that special counsel Robert Mueller’s long investigation did not find evidence that President Donald Trump’s campaign “conspired or coordinated” with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election, setting off celebrations of vindication by Trump and his supporters. Mueller also investigated whether Trump obstructed justice but did not come to a definitive answer.
In a four-page letter to Congress, Attorney General William Barr quoted Mueller’s report as stating it “does not exonerate” the president on obstruction. Instead, Barr said, it “sets out evidence on both sides of the question.”
Trump, in Florida, said the report proved “there was no collusion” as he has contended for many months. He also claimed it showed there was no obstruction and said it was a shame that he and the nation had to suffer through “an illegal takedown that failed.”
Barr released his summary of Mueller’s report Sunday afternoon. Mueller wrapped up his investigation on Friday with no new indictments, bringing to a close a probe that has shadowed Trump for nearly two years.
But the broader fight is not over.
Congress’ top Democrats, Chuck Schumer of New York in the Senate and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, put out a statement saying Barr’s letter raises as many questions as it answers, including about his own decision not to prosecute on possible obstruction.
“Given Mr. Barr’s public record of bias against the special counsel’s inquiry, he is not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report,” they said. Trump’s claim of complete exoneration “directly contradicts the words of Mrs. Mueller and is not to be taken with any degree of credibility,” they added.
The Justice Department summary sets up a battle between Barr and Democrats, who called for Mueller’s full report to be released and vowed to press on with their own investigation.
For Trump, Barr’s report was a victory on a key question that has hung over his presidency from the start: Did his campaign work with Russia to defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton?
Still, Mueller’s investigation left open the question of whether Trump obstructed justice by firing FBI Director James Comey and drafting an incomplete explanation about his son’s meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign. That left it to the attorney general to decide. After consulting with other department officials, Barr said he and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, determined the evidence “is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offense.”
Barr, nominated to his job by Trump last fall, said their decision was based on the evidence uncovered by Mueller and not based on whether a sitting president can be indicted.
Trump was at his Florida estate when lawmakers received the report. Barr’s chief of staff called Emmet Flood, the lead White House lawyer on the investigation, to brief him on the findings shortly before he sent it to Congress.
Mueller’s investigation ensnared nearly three dozen people, senior Trump campaign operatives among them. The probe illuminated Russia’s assault on the American political system, painted the Trump campaign as eager to exploit the release of hacked Democratic emails to hurt Democrat Hillary Clinton and exposed lies by Trump aides aimed at covering up their Russia-related contacts.
Mueller submitted his report to Barr instead of directly to Congress and the public because, unlike independent counsels such as Ken Starr in the case of President Bill Clinton, his investigation operated under the close supervision of the Justice Department, which appointed him.
The House Judiciary Committee chairman said Congress needs to hear from Barr about his decision and see “all the underlying evidence.”
Mueller “clearly and explicitly is not exonerating the president, said Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y. in a series of tweets, but Barr is telling “the American people that while the president is not exonerated, there will be no action by DOJ.”
“There must be full transparency in what Special Counsel Mueller uncovered to not exonerate the President from wrongdoing. DOJ owes the public more than just a brief synopsis and decision not to go any further in their work,” Nadler tweeted
Barr said that Mueller “thoroughly” investigated the question of whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia’s election interference, issuing more than 2,800 subpoenas, obtaining nearly 500 search warrants and interviewing 500 witnesses.
However, Mueller was not able to interview Trump in person.
Barr said Mueller also catalogued the president’s actions including “many” that took place in “public view,” a possible nod to Trump’s public attacks on investigators and witnesses.
In the letter, Barr said he concluded that none of Trump’s actions constituted a federal crime that prosecutors could prove in court.
Democrats are reminding that the House voted nearly unanimously, 420-0, to release the full Mueller report, which they say is more important not than ever. “This is about transparency and truth — and a 4 page summary from Trump’s AG doesn’t cut it,” tweeted Rep. Mark Takano, D-Ca., the chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee. “The American people deserve to see the whole thing.”
Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in New York, Deb Riechmann in Palm Beach, Florida, and Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington contributed to this report.
Follow all of AP’s Trump Investigations coverage at https://apnews.com/TrumpInvestigations
The House voted unanimously Thursday for a resolution calling for any final report in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation to be made public, a symbolic action designed to pressure Attorney General William Barr into releasing as much information as possible when the probe is concluded.
The Democratic-backed resolution, which passed 420-0, comes as Mueller is nearing an end to his investigation. Lawmakers in both parties have maintained there will have to be some sort of public resolution when the report is done — and privately hope that a report shows conclusions that are favorable to their own side.
Four Republicans voted present: Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar and Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie.
The nonbinding resolution calls for the public release of any report Mueller provides to Barr, with an exception for classified material. The resolution also calls for the full report to be released to Congress.
“This resolution is critical because of the many questions and criticisms of the investigation raised by the president and his administration,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler. “It is important that Congress stand up for the principle of full transparency.”
It’s unclear exactly what documentation will be produced at the end of the probe into possible coordination between associates of President Donald Trump and Russia, and how much of that the Justice Department will allow people to see. Mueller is required to submit a report to Barr, and then Barr can decide how much of that is released publicly.
Barr said at his confirmation hearing in January that he takes seriously the department regulations that say Mueller’s report should be confidential. Those regulations require only that the report explain the decisions to pursue or to decline prosecutions, which could be as simple as a bullet point list or as fulsome as a report running hundreds of pages.
“I don’t know what, at the end of the day, what will be releasable. I don’t know what Bob Mueller is writing,” Barr said at the hearing.
The top Republican on the Judiciary panel, Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, said the vote on the resolution was unnecessary but that he would support it anyway. He said he has no reason to believe that Barr won’t follow the regulations.
But Democrats have said they are unsatisfied with Barr’s answers and want a stronger commitment to releasing the full report, along with interview transcripts and other underlying evidence.
In introducing the resolution, Nadler and five other Democratic committee chairs said “the public is clearly served by transparency with respect to any investigation that could implicate or exonerate the president and his campaign.”
Texas Rep. Will Hurd, a GOP member of the House intelligence committee, said before the vote that he believes the resolution should have been even broader to include the release of underlying evidence.
“I want the American people to know as much as they can and see as much as they can,” said Hurd, a former CIA officer. He added that “full transparency is the only way to prevent future innuendo.”
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley, however, called the resolution “ridiculous.”
“They came in and so many of them said they wanted to work with the president and get things done for infrastructure and health care and instead they’re moving on all these radical ideas,” Gidley said of Democrats in an interview on Fox News.
Gidley said he hadn’t spoken with Trump about whether the report should be made public.
If a full report isn’t released, House Democrats have made it clear they will do whatever they can to get hold of it. Nadler has said he would subpoena the final report and invite — or even subpoena — Mueller to talk about it.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has been less eager to push Barr on the release of the report, despite some in his caucus who have said they want to ensure transparency.
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa introduced legislation with Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut that would require Mueller to submit a detailed report to lawmakers and the public at the end of the investigation. But both McConnell and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, have declined to say whether they would support the legislation.
Graham said he agrees “with the concept of transparency,” but stopped short of supporting Grassley’s bill, saying he disagrees with taking discretion away from the attorney general.
Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort faces his second sentencing hearing in as many weeks, with a judge expected to tack on additional prison time beyond the roughly four-year punishment he has already received.
Manafort, 69, faces up to 10 additional years in prison when he is sentenced Wednesday in Washington in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
A judge in Virginia last week sentenced Manafort to 47 months in prison, far below sentencing guidelines that allowed for more than two decades in prison, prompting national debate about disparities in how rich and poor defendants are treated by the criminal justice system.
As U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington decides whether the sentences should run consecutively or at the same time, she is likely to take into account allegations by prosecutors that Manafort tampered with witnesses after he was charged and that he lied to investigators even after he pleaded guilty and pledged to cooperate.
The hearing may offer a window into tantalizing allegations that aren’t part of the criminal cases against him but have nonetheless surfaced in recent court filings — that Manafort shared Trump campaign polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate the U.S. says has ties to Russian intelligence, and that the two men met secretly during the campaign in an encounter that prosecutors say cuts “to the heart” of their investigation.
The sentencing hearings for Manafort mark a bookend of sorts for Mueller’s investigation as it inches toward a conclusion. Manafort and business associate Rick Gates were among the first of 34 people charged, and though the charges against Manafort weren’t tied to his work on the Trump campaign, his foreign entanglements have made him a subject of intrigue to prosecutors assessing whether the campaign colluded with Russia to sway the outcome of the election.
Wednesday’s sentencing comes in a week of activity for the investigation. Mueller’s prosecutors on Tuesday night updated a judge on the status of cooperation provided by one defendant, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and are expected to do the same later in the week for Gates.
The Mueller team has prosecuted Manafort in both Washington and Virginia related to his foreign consulting work on behalf of a pro-Russia Ukrainian political party. Manafort was convicted of bank and tax fraud in the Virginia case and pleaded guilty in Washington to two conspiracy counts, each punishable by up to five years in prison.
The decision by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III to sentence Manafort to 47 months stunned many who’d been following the case given both the guideline calculation of 19.5 to 24 years in prison and the fact that the defendant was convicted of hiding millions of dollars from the IRS in undisclosed foreign bank accounts. But Ellis made clear during the sentencing hearing that he found the government’s sentencing guidelines unduly harsh and declared his own sentence “sufficiently punitive.”
“If anybody in this courtroom doesn’t think so, go and spend a day in the jail or penitentiary of the federal government,” Ellis said. “Spend a week there.”
Manafort has been jailed since last June, when Berman Jackson revoked his house arrest over allegations that he and Kilimnik sought to influence witnesses by trying to get them to testify in a certain way.
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort committed crimes that cut to “the heart of the criminal justice system” and over the years deceived everyone from bookkeepers and banks to federal prosecutors and his own lawyers, according to a sentencing memo filed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office.
In the memo, submitted Saturday in one of two criminal cases Manafort faces, prosecutors do not yet take a position on how much prison time he should serve or whether to stack the punishment on top of a separate sentence he will soon receive in a Virginia prosecution. But they do depict Manafort as a longtime and unrepentant criminal who committed “bold” crimes, including under the spotlight of his role as campaign chairman and later while on bail, and who does not deserve any leniency.
“For over a decade, Manafort repeatedly and brazenly violated the law,” prosecutors wrote. “His crimes continued up through the time he was first indicted in October 2017 and remarkably went unabated even after indictment.”
Citing Manafort’s lies to the FBI, several government agencies and his own lawyer, prosecutors said that “upon release from jail, Manafort presents a grave risk of recidivism.”
The 25-page memo, filed in federal court in Washington, is likely the last major filing by prosecutors as Manafort heads into his sentencing hearings next month and as Mueller’s investigation approaches a conclusion. Manafort, who has been jailed for months and turns 70 in April, will have a chance to file his own sentencing recommendation next week. He and his longtime business partner, Rick Gates, were the first two people indicted in the special counsel’s investigation. Overall, Mueller has produced charges against 34 individuals, including six former Trump aides, and three companies.
Manafort’s case has played out in stark contrast to those of other defendants in the Russia investigation, such as former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who prosecutors praised for his cooperation and left open the possibility of no jail time.
Manafort pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy arising from his Ukrainian political consulting work and his efforts to tamper with witnesses. As part of that plea, he agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s team, a move that could have helped him avoid a longer prison sentence. But within weeks, prosecutors say he repeatedly lied to investigators, including about his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate who the U.S. says has ties to Russian intelligence. That deception voided the plea deal.
The sentencing memo comes as Manafort, who led Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for several critical months, is already facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison in a separate tax and bank fraud case in Virginia. Mueller’s team endorsed a sentence of between 19.5 and 24.5 years in prison in that case.
Prosecutors note that the federal guidelines recommend a sentence of more than 17 years, but Manafort pleaded guilty last year to two felony counts that carry maximum sentences of five years each.
Prosecutors originally filed a sealed sentencing memo on Friday, but the document was made public on Saturday with certain information still redacted, or blacked out.
In recent weeks, court papers have revealed that Manafort shared polling data related to the Trump campaign with Kilimnik. A Mueller prosecutor also said earlier this month that an August 2016 meeting between Manafort and Kilimnik goes to the “heart” of the Russia probe. The meeting involved a discussion of a Ukrainian peace plan, but prosecutors haven’t said exactly what has captured their attention and whether it factors into the Kremlin’s attempts to help Trump in the 2016 election.
Like other Americans close to the president charged in the Mueller probe, Manafort hasn’t been accused of involvement in Russian election interference.
Read the sentencing memo: http://apne.ws/8MYWHdV
The United States announced Friday that it is pulling out of a landmark nuclear arms treaty with Russia, arguing that it should not be constrained by a deal Moscow is violating with “impunity” by deploying banned missiles. Democrats in Congress and some arms control advocates slammed the decision as opening the door to an arms race.
President Donald Trump repeated a yearslong U.S. accusation that Russia secretly developed and deployed “a prohibited missile system that poses a direct threat to our allies and troops abroad.” He said the U.S. had adhered to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty since it was signed in 1987, but Russia had not.
“We cannot be the only country in the world unilaterally bound by this treaty, or any other,” Trump said in a written statement.
The Trump decision reflects his administration’s view that the arms treaty was an unacceptable obstacle to more forcefully confronting not only Russia but also China. China’s military has grown mightily since the treaty was signed, and the pact has prevented the U.S. from deploying weapons to counter those being developed in Beijing.
Pulling the plug on the INF pact, however, risks aggravating relations with European allies, who share the administration’s view that Russia is violating the treaty but who have not endorsed a U.S. withdrawal.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking to reporters after Trump’s statement, said Russia will be formally notified on Saturday that the U.S. is withdrawing from the treaty, effective in six months. In the meantime, starting Saturday, the U.S. will suspend its obligations under the treaty.
Pompeo said that if, in the coming six months, Russia accepts U.S. demands that it verifiably destroy the cruise missiles that Washington claims are a violation, then the treaty can be saved. If it does not, “the treaty terminates,” he said.
Administration officials have dismissed concerns that the treaty’s demise could trigger a race to develop and deploy more intermediate-range missiles. U.S. officials have emphasized their fear that China, which is not party to the treaty, is gaining a significant military advantage in Asia by deploying large numbers of missiles with ranges beyond the treaty’s limit. Whether the U.S. will now respond by deploying INF noncompliant missiles in Asia is unclear. In any case, it seems unlikely Beijing would agree to any negotiated limits on its weaponry.
Russia accused the U.S. of unilaterally seeking to neuter the treaty and of resisting Russian attempts to resolve the dispute.
“I ‘congratulate’ the whole world; the United States has taken another step toward its destruction today,” Konstantin Kosachev, head of the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament, said after Trump’s announcement.
INF was the first arms control measure to ban an entire class of weapons: ground-launched cruise missiles with a range between 500 kilometers (310 miles) and 5,500 kilometers (3,400 miles). At the time, in the late stages of the Cold War, the U.S. and its allies were mainly concerned by the perceived threat of Russian medium-range nuclear missiles that were targeted at Europe. The U.S. deployed similar missiles in response, in the 1980s, leading to negotiations that produced the INF treaty.
Rep. Adam Smith, a Washington state Democrat and new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, blasted Trump for raising the risk of nuclear war.
“The administration’s ideological aversion to arms control as a tool for advancing national security is endangering our safety, as well as that of our allies and partners,” Smith said. “The risk of miscalculation or misunderstanding is already higher than at any point since the end of the Cold War, and this decision only makes it worse.”
U.S. officials say they have little reason to think Moscow will change its stance in the next six months.
“We have raised Russia’s noncompliance with Russian officials — including at the highest levels of government — more than 30 times,” Pompeo said. “We have provided Russia an ample window of time to mend its way. Tomorrow that time runs out.”
Jen Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary-general, said in an interview Friday with The Associated Press that Russia can still save the treaty by returning to compliance before the U.S. withdrawal takes effect this summer.
“But at the same time, we have started to assess the consequences, look into options,” Stoltenberg said. “We need to make sure that we respond as an alliance, all 29 allies, because all allies are involved and all allies are affected.”
Trump said his administration “will move forward with developing our own military response options.” But senior Trump administration officials said Friday that they don’t expect any immediate testing or deployment of weapons that are banned under the treaty. The current Pentagon budget includes $48 million for research on potential military responses to the alleged Russian violations, but U.S. officials said the options do not include a nuclear missile.
The officials, speaking after Trump’s announcement, said the U.S. is not in position to flight test, let alone deploy, INF noncompliant missiles as a counter to Russia any time soon. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House.
One official said allies will be consulted before any decisions are made on countering the Russian missiles that allegedly violate the INF treaty.
Leaving the treaty would allow the Trump administration to counter the Chinese, but it’s unclear how it would do that. U.S. security concerns are complicated by what U.S. intelligence officials earlier this week called efforts by China and Russia to expand their global influence, particularly in Asia and the Middle East.
“China and Russia are more aligned than at any point since the mid-1950s, and the relationship is likely to strengthen in the coming years as some of their interests and threat perceptions converge,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in testimony Tuesday to Congress.
U.S. withdrawal raises the prospect of further deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations, which already are arguably at the lowest point in decades, and debate among U.S. allies in Europe over whether Russia’s alleged violations warrant a countermeasure such as deployment of an equivalent American missile in Europe. The U.S. has no nuclear-capable missiles based in Europe; the last of that type and range were withdrawn in line with the INF treaty.
Nuclear weapons experts at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace say U.S. withdrawal under current circumstances is counterproductive, even though Russia’s violations are a serious problem.
“Leaving the INF treaty will unleash a new missile competition between the United States and Russia,” they said in a statement.
Associated Press writer Lynn Berry contributed to this report.