By Robert A. Vella
Donald Trump has been in the White House for a year and a half, yet the turmoil surrounding his presidency began from his first day in office and has grown into a perpetual firestorm that has singed every continent on the face of our planet. That’s quite a feat for one individual who was widely ridiculed as a wealthy buffoon before his election victory. It has also generated endless speculation about his real intentions and motivations.
The latest and most puzzling incident, Trump’s meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin this week in Helsinki, has triggered enormous outrage from across the political spectrum. Former CIA Director John Brennan called Trump’s performance “nothing short of treasonous,” while another former CIA chief Leon Panetta suggested that Trump’s acceptance of Putin’s claim that Russia did not meddle in the 2016 election means that it provides “a clear signal that the Russians have something on him” and that “there is something here that intimidates the president of the United States.”
And, the furor is not confined to America’s political class. From: After Putin Meeting, Trump Voters Mostly Dig In. But Cracks Are Showing.
Maybe it was the F.B.I.’s fault for unnerving him. Or maybe the White House staff had left President Trump ill-prepared before his stunning remarks in Helsinki Monday, when he sided with Russia over his own intelligence agencies.
At a bar in central Pennsylvania, voters wondered if election meddling was really so terrible. At a mall in Arizona, they insisted that Mr. Trump had actually been quite tough on Russia until, well, whatever that was in Finland.
In interviews with conservatives and Trump supporters across a half-dozen states, there were many theories about the president’s performance — he was tougher in private; he is cutting a mega-deal; he has a plan — and more than a few questions about his news conference with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, which left congressional Republicans and at least some voters struggling to endorse their leader’s approach.
“You’re essentially putting Russia first,” said Chris Ford, 26, a Republican in Dallas, tweaking a president who already had only his “lukewarm” support, as of this week. “It’s hard to see how that’s putting America first.”
In the blogosphere, some continue to assert that Trump is primarily motivated by a hatred of his predecessor Barack Obama, or that Trump is obsessed with making money through secretive and underhanded means, or that he is the reincarnation of pure evil. Whether any of this speculation turns out to be true or not, we’ll see – hopefully. But, I ask you: Can we really know what’s in the mind of a megalomaniac? I tried to answer that question recently in a reply to a comment:
I wonder, though, if lunacy needs any motive.
Here are more relevant developments on this and other stories:
At least two Democrats have called for the interpreter, who assisted President Donald Trump during his one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, to testify before Congress.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA) have pushed for the congressional hearing in tweets in recent days. Shaheen suggested that the interpreter could at least “help determine” what Trump “shared/promised Putin on our behalf.” Kennedy recommended that Republicans take action if they are “as outraged as they claim” and “issue the subpoena today.”
Maria Butina, who was indicted this week on charges of being a covert Russian agent, struck up friendships with the influential leaders of the National Rifle Association and the Conservative Political Action Conference, touting her interest in U.S. affairs and efforts to promote gun rights in Vladimir Putin’s restrictive Russia. She sidled up to GOP presidential candidates, seeking first an encounter with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and then, after his rising candidacy stumbled, with Donald Trump.
But by August 2016, when she moved to the United States on a student visa, the FBI was watching, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter.
Rather than question or confront her, they said, officials decided to track her movements to determine whom she was meeting and what she was doing in the United States — the kind of monitoring that is not uncommon when foreign nationals are suspected of working on behalf of a foreign government.
President Vladimir Putin’s offer to help the U.S. investigate alleged Russian election meddling, hailed as an “incredible” gesture by Donald Trump, included the same allegations made by a Kremlin-linked lawyer at a controversial 2016 meeting with top campaign officials of the future president.
Putin said at his summit with Trump in Helsinki on Monday that he’s ready to let Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team attend interviews of 12 Russian military intelligence officers indicted for alleged election hacking. In return, he said, Russia wants to question a number of U.S. citizens as well as British financier and Putin critic Bill Browder over an alleged $1.5 billion tax evasion, part of whose proceeds Russia says went to the Democratic Party.
Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya made the same claims at Trump Tower in New York on June 9, 2016, when she met with Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and other top campaign officials including his son-in-law Jared Kushner, now a senior White House adviser. The encounter, a key element of accusations that Russia helped to elect Trump as U.S. president, ended in failure after Veselnitskaya said she had no documents proving the money from the tax evasion had gone to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Some nonprofit groups will no longer have to give the IRS the names of donors who give them $5,000 or more.
Among the groups that will no longer have to report donors are the National Rifle Association, various chambers of commerce, and groups focused on particular issues, such as Americans for Prosperity, which has been closely associated with the Koch brothers. But the ruling also applies to groups like the NAACP, labor unions and volunteer fire departments.
It was a long-sought goal of some of those groups — particularly on the right.
The Treasury Department, which announced the rule change late Monday, said that information was never subject to public disclosure. Although the tax returns of nonprofit groups are public record, the information on donors’ names had to be redacted before their release.