Kushner Is Leaving Tillerson in the Dark on Middle East Talks

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BLOOMBERG NEWS/POLITICS)

 

Kushner Is Leaving Tillerson in the Dark on Middle East Talks, Sources Say

 Updated on 
  • Tillerson worries secret plan could plunge region into chaos
  • White House rejects accusation State Department isn’t informed

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Jared Kushner’s Rise to Power Mirrors Trump’s

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is increasingly alarmed by what he sees as secret talks between Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — fearful that the discussions could backfire and tip the region into chaos, according to three people familiar with Tillerson’s concerns.

Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Jared Kushner

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The central goal of the negotiations, as described by two people with knowledge of the talks, is for an historic agreement featuring the creation of a Palestinian state or territory backed financially by a number of countries including Saudi Arabia, which could put tens of billions of dollars toward the effort.

A lasting Middle East peace treaty has been a U.S. goal for decades, and at the start of his administration Trump assigned the 36-year-old Kushner to head up the effort to make it happen.

Tillerson believes Kushner hasn’t done enough to share details of the talks with the State Department, according to the people, leaving senior U.S. diplomats in the dark on the full extent of the highly sensitive negotiations.

“The problem is, the senior presidential adviser does not consult with the State Department — and it’s unclear the level of consultation that goes on with the NSC,” one of the people familiar with Tillerson’s concerns said, referring to the National Security Council. “And that’s a problem for both the NSC and the State Department and it’s not something we can easily solve.”

Kushner to Speak

Kushner is scheduled to speak publicly for the first time about the Trump administration’s approach to the Middle East on Sunday. He’ll appear at the Saban Forum in Washington, an annual conference organized by the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution that’s focused on U.S.-Israel relations.

The State Department’s concerns about Kushner’s approach predate reports this weekthat Trump may move to oust Tillerson by the end of the year. The president rejected the reports, which Tillerson’s team believes are being stoked by Kushner allies, one person said. An administration official said Kushner had nothing to do with the reports.

Read a QuickTake on Saudi Arabia’s brash young crown prince

Asked about Tillerson’s concerns, State Department spokesman R.C. Hammond said, “If he has any concerns, he brings them up one-on-one or in private.”

Trump provided a public boost to Tillerson on Friday, saying on Twitter that while he and the secretary of state “disagree on certain subjects, (I call the final shots) we work well together and America is highly respected again!” Tillerson, earlier in the day, called the reports of his ouster “laughable.”

Regain Influence

Tillerson and other senior State Department officials are also concerned that Saudi leaders, having been held at arm’s length by President Barack Obama, see the connection with Kushner as a way to regain influence in the White House and U.S. backing for actions that could be controversial. Already, Prince Mohammed, heir to the Saudi throne, has put several such steps into motion.

Those include summoning Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to Riyadh, where he initially resigned only to postpone his decision upon returning to Beirut; the arrest and detention of dozens of Saudi princes, ministers and businessmen on corruption charges; and a more aggressive posture in the war in Yemen. Indeed, Trump tweeted his support for the anti-graft crackdown and the White House has offered only muted comments on Hariri and the conflict in Yemen.

‘Complete Confidence’

A White House official said Kushner was not aware in advance of the Saudi moves and gave no signal of approval beforehand.

NSC spokesman Michael Anton denied that the NSC and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster aren’t being fully informed by Kushner.

“General McMaster and the National Security Council believe that the Israeli-Palestinian peace team led by Jared runs a thorough and transparent interagency process, feel completely in the loop about their conversations with the Saudis and other parties and have complete confidence in their overseeing the Administration’s efforts to facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal with regional support,” Anton said in a prepared statement.

Tillerson is concerned that Saudi Arabia may want to act with a freer hand in Qatar, moving beyond its economic embargo to pursue military action, according to the people. One risk is that such a move could have any number of unpredictable and dangerous consequences, including inflamed tensions with Russia and Turkey, an armed response from Iran, or a missile attack on Israel by Iran-backed Hezbollah.

Put the Brakes On

In recent weeks, Tillerson has attempted to put the brakes on key parts of any potential plan, the people said, saying he is does not want the Saudis to get mixed messages from U.S. diplomats and the president’s son-in-law.

The White House denied the contention that Kushner isn’t fully communicating with Tillerson and the State Department, and also disputed the description of the discussions between Kushner and Prince Mohammed.

“This description of our potential plan and conversations is flat out false. While we have obviously discussed economic support for a potential peace deal from many countries, not just Saudi Arabia, we have never discussed specific numbers with other countries and we have not linked a deal to Qatar,” Jason Greenblatt, the president’s Mideast envoy, said in an emailed statement. “Anybody who is suggesting these details or linkage were discussed is not in the know.”

Secret Assurances?

Kushner frequently visits the State Department to brief Tillerson about his efforts in the Middle East, but the worry is that, whether by design or neglect, Kushner hasn’t kept the secretary of state or his top aides informed about many of the details of his overseas negotiations.

Tillerson has concluded that even Trump didn’t know all of the details of Kushner’s discussions with the crown prince.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in an emailed statement: “The President is very pleased with the engagement and progress being made by his team managing the Israeli-Palestinian portfolio and is supportive of their efforts including travel to the region and ongoing discussions with counterparts. He is aware of the conversations and developments and this remains a priority for his administration.”

Kushner has grown close to Prince Mohammed, 32, and has traveled to Saudi Arabia for some of the discussions. What’s worrisome to U.S. officials is that Kushner may have given the Saudis secret assurances that don’t have wider support.

Regime Change

In September, Trump himself intervened on the question of Saudi military action against Qatar, telling Saudi Arabia’s leaders to drop the idea, Bloomberg reported at the time. Yet the Saudis may not have given up, said two of the people. Trump has authorized Tillerson to inform Saudi leaders the U.S. won’t tolerate an attempt to force regime change in Qatar, even if they had heard otherwise from Kushner, one of the people said.

A senior Saudi official denied such plans existed. “Qatar is a small matter and has been resolved by the boycott and we have forgotten it,” he said. “It will return to its senses and its natural size.”

It isn’t clear how far along the discussions are between Kushner and Prince Mohammed, three people said. And some in the U.S. government are skeptical the effort will succeed, in part because of the historic intractability of Israelis and Palestinians, and because any peace deal would ultimately require the support of many competing leaders in the region.

Diplomatic Complexities

The State Department officials’ skepticism about the Middle East discussions also reveals ongoing frustration at the president’s decision to go around them and the U.S. diplomatic corps he regularly disparages. Instead, Trump placed delicate peace negotiations in the hands of Kushner, who has no experience in diplomacy and little background in the complexities of one of the world’s most volatile regions.

Yet Trump, who has long spoken of Mideast peace as the ultimate trophy for a career deal maker, has shown unwavering faith in his son-in-law’s ability to deliver. “If you can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can,” Trump told Kushner on-stage at a black-tie presidential inaugural event in January. “All my life I’ve been hearing that’s the toughest deal to make, but I have a feeling Jared is going to do a great job.”

Before it’s here, it’s on the Bloomberg Terminal.

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Kushner Flies Commercially To Saudi Arabia, Why?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Jared Kushner and other senior White House advisers traveled to Saudi Arabia last week to continue discussions on Middle East peace, a White House official told CNN.

Deputy national security adviser Dina Powell and Jason Greenblatt, special representative for international negotiations, joined Kushner on the trip.
Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, traveled commercially, leaving Wednesday and returning Saturday evening. Politico first reported the trip, which was not announced to the public.
The White House official would not say who Kushner and the other officials met with while in Saudi Arabia.
This trip is the latest effort by US officials to continue discussions with regional partners about a Middle East peace effort, a senior White House official said. Kushner has also been in frequent talks with officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, the official said.
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“While these regional talks will play an important role, the President reaffirms that peace between Israelis and Palestinians can only be negotiated directly between the two parties and that the United States will continue working closely with the parties to make progress toward that goal,” the official said. “No deal will be imposed on Israelis and Palestinians. We are committed to facilitating a deal that improves conditions for both parties.”
The October trip marks the third time Kushner has visited Saudi Arabia since Inauguration Day. He traveled with a presidential delegation last May and also visited in late August.
In May, Trump signed a $110 billion arms deal between the United States and Saudi Arabia, which was primarily brokered through Kushner.
In August, both Powell and Greenblatt were with Kushner on a Middle East tour aimed at addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

DONALD TRUMP “IS FAKE NEWS”!!!

 

I have no doubt that Hillary Clinton is crooked and an habitual liar but damn, she ain’t got nothing on this pathetic egomaniac idiot that we Americans unfortunately have to call our President. I am not a fan of anyone who could break both their arms patting themselves on the back for the things that they have done but this blabbering idiot setting in the Oval Office to me is far worse than even those pathetic egomaniacs. The reason I say this is that this piece of trash setting in the Oval Office lies about and brags about things that never even happened like him bragging to the Wall Street Journal about his speech last week at the Boy Scout Jamboree. He was supposed to not discuss politics in this speech to these kids but of course he lied, the whole speech was pretty much just bragging himself up and tearing down, and slandering Hillary Clinton and former President Obama. He was bragging to the WSJ that he had gotten a call after the speech telling him that it was “the greatest speech they had ever had” at one of their events. The truth is that after Mr. FAKE NEWS Trump got done making an ass out of himself in that speech, the Leaders of the Boy Scouts were calling their members apologizing for the horrible speech that was given to their kids. The director of the Scouts said that they did not call and tell Mr. FAKE NEWS Trump anything at all.

 

Okay, we have a scumbag who makes a totally out of line speech to a bunch of kids then totally and completely fabricates praise for himself which never happened. Do you remember how Donald FAKE NEWS Trump had fake covers of Time Magazine made up with his name and face on the cover and displayed them in prime locations in his Golf Clubs? Do you remember the story that has been in the news lately about Donald FAKE NEWS Junior meeting with all of those Russian folks at Trump Tower in New York City last June? It seems that the latest story that has been confirmed even from the White House staffers is that Poppa FAKE NEWS Trump dictated a line of BS for his son to give to the news papers as a way to get ahead of the story they were getting ready to print about that meeting. But of course the habitual liar Poppa FAKE NEWS Trump did nothing but lie about what really happened in that meeting. This does make this idiot complicit in ‘obstructing justice’ being he directly got involved in this sham. Think about it for a moment folks, what did Poppa FAKE NEWS Trump use as his first story/lie about this meeting? He sank so low as to use the cover of saying that his son, Donald FAKE NEWS Junior, his son-in-law Jarred FAKE NEWS Kushner and his now former heavily Russian connected Campaign Manager who met with all of these Russian folks who are directly connected to the Kremlin, met with them to discuss the freeze on the adoption of Russian children by Americans. This man (and I am using that term very lightly) has no problem at all using children to hide behind in his lies. So, do you see why I believe that we the American people are stuck with a total scumbag for a President and without a doubt in my mind he should forever more be known as DONALD ‘FAKE NEWS’ TRUMP.

How to tell when Trump is hiding something? The Trump Jr. saga offers 2 clues

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

(THE TRUMPS ARE LIKE THE BUSHES AND THE CLINTON’S: IT IS NOT ‘MISS SPEAKING’ IT IS CALLED LYING FOLKS)(TRS)

The Fix

How to tell when Trump is hiding something? The Trump Jr. saga offers 2 clues.

 August 1 at 12:08 PM
 Play Video 3:18
Donald Trump Jr.’s contradictory statements about the Russia meeting
A timeline of Donald Trump Jr.’s comments and contradictions about his meeting with a Russian lawyer in June of 2016. (Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)

The Washington Post’s report that President Trump dictated his son’s misleading statement about meeting with a Russian lawyer contradicts previous denials by Jay Sekulow, Trump’s personal lawyer. But one person without egg on her face is White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who pleaded ignorance when asked repeatedly about the president’s involvement.

In hindsight, Sanders’s shrugs look like signals that Trump was hiding something — perhaps even from his own spokeswoman — and provide clues about how to detect secrets in the future.

  1. Pay attention to things that White House spokesmen say they “don’t know” or “haven’t asked” about. These types of answers are given frequently.
  2. Watch for times when the White House declines to repeat the claims of Trump’s personal legal team.

The statement at the root of The Post’s report was issued to the New York Times when it reported July 8 that Donald Trump Jr. met last summer with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer. Here’s the key passage: “We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no followup.”

That version of events was, at best, a partial truth. The Times reported a day later that the premise of the meeting was that the Russian lawyer would share damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

Naturally, the genesis of the original statement — with its glaring omission — interested journalists. Was the president involved?

At an off-camera news briefing on July 11, Sanders was asked when Trump and Trump Jr. had spoken last. She said she did not know.

 Play Video 0:34
Huckabee Sanders plays down Trump son’s meeting with Russian lawyer
White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said there was nothing inappropriate about a meeting Donald Trump Jr. had with a Russian attorney during the campaign last year. (Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post/Reuters)
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That night, the Times reported that the president had signed off on his son’s statement.

On “Good Morning America” the next day, Sekulow disputed the Times’s report. “The president didn’t sign off on anything,” Sekulow said. “He was coming back from the G-20 [summit], the statement that was released on Saturday was released by Donald Trump Jr. and, I’m sure, in consultation with his lawyers. The president wasn’t involved in that.”

At an off-camera briefing hours later, however, Sanders wouldn’t repeat Sekulow’s denial. This was her exchange with The Post’s Philip Rucker, one of the reporters behind Monday’s scoop:

RUCKER: Has President Trump had any communication with his son, Donald Trump Jr., over the last several days? And was he involved in helping Donald Trump Jr. craft his statement to the press over the weekend on Air Force One, as was reported in the New York Times?

MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure about specific communications and the nature of those conversations. I know that they’ve spoken at least at some point over the last few days, but beyond that I don’t have any other further details.

RUCKER: Has he helped him with his response?

MS. SANDERS: Not that I’m aware of, but I just don’t know the answer to that, Phil.

RUCKER: So is that not true?

MS. SANDERS: I’ve been telling you, I’m just not sure. I don’t know the answer. I’ll have to check and let you know.

RUCKER: Okay. Can you find out?

MS. SANDERS: Yeah.

Sanders never followed up with reporters. It is certainly possible that she truly did not know whether the president was involved in crafting the statement; if that is the case, then she was remarkably incurious. Perhaps it was best not to know.

President Trump is now directly implicated in trying to cover up the Russia scandal

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

The Plum Line

President Trump is now directly implicated in trying to cover up the Russia scandal

 August 1 at 10:05 AM
 Play Video 2:26
‘Witch hunt, fake news, phony’: Trump’s defenses against the Russia probe
President Trump has repeatedly lashed out with insults to defend himself as the Russia investigation unfolds. Here are some of his go-to attacks. (Video: Jenny Starrs/Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

If the Russia scandal is nothing but a witch hunt, as President Trump so often says, it’s awfully strange that he’s going to so much trouble to cover it up.

Last night, Ashley Parker, Carol D. Leonnig, Philip Rucker and Tom Hamburger broke the latest blockbuster story in this scandal, in which the president dictated a misleading statement about the nature of the fateful meeting his son Donald Trump Jr., his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and his then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort had with a group of Russians during the campaign:

On the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Germany last month, President Trump’s advisers discussed how to respond to a new revelation that Trump’s oldest son had met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign — a disclosure the advisers knew carried political and potentially legal peril.

The strategy, the advisers agreed, should be for Donald Trump Jr. to release a statement to get ahead of the story. They wanted to be truthful, so their account couldn’t be repudiated later if the full details emerged.

But within hours, at the president’s direction, the plan changed.

Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations. The statement, issued to the New York Times as it prepared an article, emphasized that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time.”

The claims were later shown to be misleading.

 Play Video 2:00
President Trump personally intervened to write Donald Trump Jr. statement
President Trump personally dictated a statement that was issued after revelations that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 election. The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Carol D. Leonnig explain. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

In case you haven’t been following, the meeting occurred because Trump Jr. was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton that was presented to him as coming from the Russian government. He summoned Kushner and Manafort, forwarding them the email in which that offer was made. They joined him at the meeting, which was attended by a lawyer with close ties to the Kremlin, a former Russian intelligence officer and a gentleman who was once the subject of a congressional inquiry into an enormous Russian money-laundering operation. According to Trump Jr. and Kushner’s version of events, the damaging information didn’t materialize, and the Russians were more interested in discussing the potential repeal of the Magnitsky Act, which sanctioned certain Russian individuals accused of corruption and human rights abuses. So the line from the Trump team is essentially that they were trying to collude with the Russian government to help their campaign, but the attempt was unsuccessful.

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The story must be told.
Your subscription supports journalism that matters.

This latest story is clearly one of the most significant developments in this scandal to date, for two reasons. First, it describes an organized effort to mislead the public — not to spin, or minimize the story, or distract from it, or throw out wild accusations about someone else, but to intentionally fool everyone into believing something false. Second, it implicates the president himself. Indeed, the most extraordinary part of the picture this story paints is that while other people involved were recommending some measure of transparency on the assumption that the truth would come out eventually, they were overruled by the president, who personally dictated the misleading statement.

And it gets worse. Once the story broke, Trump’s own lawyer went to the media and denied that the president was involved in the drafting of the misleading statement. In two televised interviews, Jay Sekulow said “the president was not involved in the drafting of the statement,” “The president didn’t sign off on anything,” and “The president wasn’t involved in that.” While it’s theoretically possible that Sekulow would make emphatic statements of fact like those about what his client did or didn’t do without actually asking Trump, that seems almost impossible to believe. Sekulow is a prominent attorney who knows exactly what kind of trouble that could bring, both to himself and his client. So the only reasonable conclusion is that he was repeating what Trump told him.

So, to put this together: The president of the United States personally wrote a statement about this meeting with the Russians, a statement that everyone involved knew to be false. Going further, he then either lied to his own lawyer about his involvement so that the lawyer would repeat that lie publicly (highly likely) or was candid with his lawyer and persuaded him to lie to the media on his behalf (much less likely).

We all know what the official White House line about this story is going to be: The real problem isn’t what Trump did; it’s the fact that it was leaked! I’m reminded of something the sadly departed Anthony Scaramucci said during his brief tenure as White House communication director: “There are people inside the administration who think it is their job to save America from this president.” He was right — or at the very least, they’re trying to save him from himself.

It has been entertaining to watch the ongoing soap opera of this White House — the infighting, the backstabbing, the firings, the general air of chaos — but it’s important to remember that the biggest problem it has is the man who sits in the Oval Office. The fact that Trump assumed that he could engineer this mini-coverup and the truth would never get out, both about the meeting itself and about his role in misleading the public about it, shows just how deluded he is about how his own White House works.

Let’s return to that scene on Air Force One. A damaging story is breaking, and Trump’s advisers are facing the dilemma many administrations have faced before: How do we deal with it? How much information should we voluntarily reveal? Is there a way to make the story go away that won’t set us up for even more trouble down the road? While they were debating those questions, the one person to whom no one could say no told them how it was going to be: They were going to lie. And as is so often the case with Trump, the lie was quickly revealed for what it was.

I promise you, the substantial number of people involved in that discussion were profoundly uncomfortable with Trump’s instructions. For a political flack, nothing inspires more dread than putting out a story that you know is bogus and that you don’t think will hold up.

Their fears were inevitably realized, and now the Russia scandal has reached all the way to the president himself. Something tells me there’s more to come.

Trump dictated son’s misleading statement on meeting with Russian lawyer

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

(ONE HABITUAL LIAR DICTATING LIES FOR ANOTHER HABITUAL LIAR SO THEY CAN TRY TO KEEP THE LIES THEY ARE TELLING TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE STRAIGHT, PATHETIC.)(TRS)

Trump dictated son’s misleading statement on meeting with Russian lawyer

 Play Video 2:00
President Trump personally intervened to write Donald Trump Jr. statement
President Trump personally dictated a statement that was issued after revelations that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 election. The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Carol D. Leonnig explain. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)
 July 31 at 7:46 PM
On the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Germany last month, President Trump’s advisers discussed how to respond to a new revelation that Trump’s oldest son had met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign — a disclosure the advisers knew carried political and potentially legal peril.The strategy, the advisers agreed, should be for Donald Trump Jr. to release a statement to get ahead of the story. They wanted to be truthful, so their account couldn’t be repudiated later if the full details emerged.

But within hours, at the president’s direction, the plan changed.

Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations. The statement, issued to the New York Times as it prepared an article, emphasized that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time.”

The claims were later shown to be misleading.

President-elect Donald Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. at a news conference at Trump Tower in New York on Jan. 11. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Over the next three days, multiple accounts of the meeting were provided to the news media as public pressure mounted, with Trump Jr. ultimately acknowledging that he had accepted the meeting after receiving an email promising damaging information about Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign.

The extent of the president’s personal intervention in his son’s response, the details of which have not previously been reported, adds to a series of actions that Trump has taken that some advisers fear could place him and some members of his inner circle in legal jeopardy.

As special counsel Robert S. Mueller III looks into potential obstruction of justice as part of his broader investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, these advisers worry that the president’s direct involvement leaves him needlessly vulnerable to allegations of a cover up.

“This was . . . unnecessary,” said one of the president’s advisers, who like most other people interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations. “Now someone can claim he’s the one who attempted to mislead. Somebody can argue the president is saying he doesn’t want you to say the whole truth.”

Trump has already come under criticism for steps he has taken to challenge and undercut the Russia investigation.

He fired FBI Director James B. Comey on May 9 after a private meeting in which Comey said the president asked him if he could end the investigation of ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats told associates that Trump asked him in March if he could intervene with Comey to get the bureau to back off its focus on Flynn. In addition, Trump has repeatedly criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions for rescuing himself from overseeing the FBI’s Russian investigation — a decision that was one factor leading to the appointment of Mueller. And he has privately discussed his power to issue pardons, including for himself, and explored potential avenues for undercutting Mueller’s work.

Although misleading the public or the news media is not a crime, advisers to Trump and his family told The Washington Post that they fear any indication that Trump was seeking to hide information about contacts between his campaign and Russians almost inevitably would draw additional scrutiny from Mueller.

Trump, they say, is increasingly acting as his own lawyer, strategist and publicist, often disregarding the recommendations of the professionals he has hired.

“He refuses to sit still,” the presidential adviser said. “He doesn’t think he’s in any legal jeopardy, so he really views this as a political problem he is going to solve by himself.”

Trump has said that the Russia investigation is “the greatest witch hunt in political history,” calling it an elaborate hoax created by Democrats to explain why Clinton lost an election she should have won.

Because Trump believes he is innocent, some advisers explained, he therefore does not think he is at any legal risk for a coverup. In his mind, they said, there is nothing to conceal.

The White House directed all questions for this article to the president’s legal team.

One of Trump’s attorneys, Jay Sekulow, declined to discuss the specifics of the president’s actions and his role in crafting his son’s statement about the Russian contact. Sekulow issued a one-sentence statement in response to a list of detailed questions from The Post.

“Apart from being of no consequence, the characterizations are misinformed, inaccurate, and not pertinent,” Sekulow’s statement read.

Trump Jr. did not respond to requests for comment. His attorney, Alan Futerfas, told The Post that he and his client “were fully prepared and absolutely prepared to make a fulsome statement” about the meeting, what led up to it and what was discussed.

Asked about Trump intervening, Futerfas said, “I have no evidence to support that theory.” He described the process of drafting a statement as “a communal situation that involved communications people and various lawyers.”

Peter Zeidenberg, the deputy special prosecutor who investigated the George W. Bush administration’s leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity, said Mueller will have to dig into the crafting of Trump Jr.’s statement aboard Air Force One.

Prosecutors typically assume that any misleading statement is an effort to throw investigators off the track, Zeidenberg said.

“The thing that really strikes me about this is the stupidity of involving the president,” Zeidenberg said. “They are still treating this like a family run business and they have a PR problem. . . . What they don’t seem to understand is this is a criminal investigation involving all of them.”

Advocating for transparency

The debate about how to deal with the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting began weeks before any news organizations began to ask questions about it.

Kushner’s legal team first learned about the meeting when doing research to respond to congressional requests for information. Congressional investigators wanted to know about any contacts the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser had with Russian officials or business people.

Kushner’s lawyers came across what they immediately recognized would eventually become a problematic story. A string of emails showed Kushner attended a meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in the midst of the campaign — one he had failed to disclose. Trump Jr. had arranged it, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort had also attended.

To compound what was, at best, a public relations fiasco, the emails, which had not yet surfaced publicly, showed Trump Jr. responding to the prospect of negative information on Clinton from Russia: “I love it.”

Lawyers and advisers for Trump, his son and son-in-law gamed out strategies for disclosing the information to try to minimize the fallout of these new links between the Trump family and Russia, according to people familiar with the deliberations.

Hope Hicks, the White House director of strategic communications and one of the president’s most trusted and loyal aides, and Josh Raffel, a White House spokesman who works closely with Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, huddled with Kushner’s lawyers, and they advocated for a more transparent approach, according to people with knowledge of the conversations.

In one scenario, these people said, Kushner’s team talked about sharing everything, including the contents of the emails, with a mainstream news organization.

Hicks and Raffel declined to comment. Kushner attorney Abbe Lowell also declined to comment.

The president’s outside legal team, led by Marc Kasowitz, had suggested that the details be given to Circa, an online news organization that the Kasowitz team thought would be friendly to Trump. Circa had inquired in previous days about the meeting, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The president’s legal team planned to cast the June 2016 meeting as a potential setup by Democratic operatives hoping to entrap Trump Jr. and, by extension, the presumptive Republican nominee, according to people familiar with discussions.

Kasowitz declined to comment for this article, as did a Circa spokesman.

Consensus overruled

Circumstances changed when the New York Times began asking about the Trump Tower meeting, though advisers believed that the newspaper knew few of the details. While the president, Kushner and Ivanka Trump were attending the G-20 summit in Germany, the Times asked for White House comment on the impetus and reason for the meeting.

During breaks away from the summit, Kushner and Ivanka Trump gathered with Hicks and Raffel to discuss Kushner’s response to the inquiry, according to people with knowledge of the discussions. Kushner’s legal team joined at times by phone.

Hicks also spoke by phone with Trump Jr. Again, say people familiar with the conversations, Kushner’s team concluded that the best strategy would be to err on the side of transparency, because they believed the complete story would eventually emerge.

The discussions among the president’s advisers consumed much of the day, and they continued as they prepared to board Air Force One that evening for the flight home.

But before everyone boarded the plane, Trump had overruled the consensus, according to people with knowledge of the events.

It remains unclear exactly how much the president knew at the time of the flight about Trump Jr.’s meeting.

The president directed that Trump Jr.’s statement to the Times describe the meeting as unimportant. He wanted the statement to say that the meeting had been initiated by the Russian lawyer and primarily was about her pet issue — the adoption of Russian children.

Air Force One took off from Germany shortly after 6 p.m. — about noon in Washington. In a forward cabin, Trump was busy working on his son’s statement, according to people with knowledge of events. The president dictated the statement to Hicks, who served as a go-between with Trump Jr., who was not on the plane, sharing edits between the two men, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.

In the early afternoon, Eastern time, Trump Jr.’s team put out the statement to the Times. It was four sentences long, describing the encounter as a “short, introductory meeting.”

“We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up,” the statement read.

Trump Jr. went on to say: “I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.”

Over the next hour, word spread through emails and calls to other Trump family advisers and lawyers about the statement that Trump Jr. had sent to the Times.

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Some lawyers for the president and for Kushner were surprised and frustrated, advisers later learned. According to people briefed on the dispute, some lawyers tried to reach Futerfas and their clients and began asking why the president had been involved.

Also on the flight, Kushner worked with his team — including one of his lawyers, who called in to the plane.

His lawyers have said that Kushner’s initial omission of the meeting was an error, but that in an effort to be fully transparent, he had updated his government filing to include “this meeting with a Russian person, which he briefly attended at the request of his brother-in-law Donald Trump Jr.” Kushner’s legal team referred all questions about the meeting itself to Trump Jr.

The Times’ story revealing the existence of the June 2016 meeting was posted online about 4 p.m. Eastern time. Roughly four hours later, Air Force One touched down at Joint Base Andrews. Trump’s family members and advisers departed the plane, and they knew the problem they had once hoped to contain would soon grow bigger.

Alice Crites contributed to this report.

Russian Dirt on Clinton? ‘I Love It,’ Donald Trump Jr. Said

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Photo

Donald Trump Jr. after speaking at the Republican National Convention, in Cleveland.CreditSam Hodgson for The New York Times

The June 3, 2016, email sent to Donald Trump Jr. could hardly have been more explicit: One of his father’s former Russian business partners had been contacted by a senior Russian government official and was offering to provide the Trump campaign with dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The documents “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” read the email, written by a trusted intermediary, who added, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

If the future president’s elder son was surprised or disturbed by the provenance of the promised material — or the notion that it was part of an ongoing effort by the Russian government to aid his father’s campaign — he gave no indication.

He replied within minutes: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

Four days later, after a flurry of emails, the intermediary wrote back, proposing a meeting in New York on Thursday with a “Russian government attorney.”

Continue reading the main story

Donald Trump Jr. agreed, adding that he would likely bring along “Paul Manafort (campaign boss)” and “my brother-in-law,” Jared Kushner, now one of the president’s closest White House advisers.

On June 9, the Russian lawyer was sitting in the younger Mr. Trump’s office on the 25th floor of Trump Tower, just one level below the office of the future president.

Over the last several days, The New York Times has disclosed the existence of the meeting, whom it involved and what it was about. The story has unfolded as The Times has been able to confirm details of the meetings.

But the email exchanges, which were reviewed by The Times, offer a detailed unspooling of how the meeting with the Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, came about — and just how eager Donald J. Trump was to accept what he was explicitly told was the Russian government’s help.

The Justice Department, as well as the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, is examining whether any of President Trump’s associates colluded with the Russian government to disrupt last year’s election. American intelligence agencies have determined that the Russian government tried to sway the election in favor of Mr. Trump.

The precise nature of the promised damaging information about Mrs. Clinton is unclear, and there is no evidence to suggest that it was related to Russian-government computer hacking that led to the release of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails. But in recent days, accounts by some of the central organizers of the meeting, including Donald Trump Jr., have evolved or have been contradicted by the written email records.

Photo

Rob Goldstone’s facebook page shows he checked in to Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, “preparing for meeting.”

After being told that The Times was about to publish the content of the emails, instead of responding to a request for comment, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted out images of them himself on Tuesday.

“To everyone, in order to be totally transparent, I am releasing the entire email chain of my emails” about the June 9 meeting, he wrote. “I first wanted to just have a phone call but when that didn’t work out, they said the woman would be in New York and asked if I would meet.”

He added that nothing came of it.

On Monday, Donald Trump Jr. said on Twitter that it was hardly unusual to take information on an opponent. And on Tuesday morning, he tweeted, “Media & Dems are extremely invested in the Russia story. If this nonsense meeting is all they have after a yr, I understand the desperation!”

The back story to the June 9 meeting involves an eclectic cast of characters the Trump family knew from its business dealings in Moscow.

The initial email outreach came from Rob Goldstone, a British-born former tabloid reporter and entertainment publicist who first met the future president when the Trump Organization was attempting to do business in Russia.

In the June 3 email, Mr. Goldstone told Donald J. Trump Jr. that he was writing on behalf of a mutual friend, one of Russia’s biggest pop music stars, Emin Agalarov. Emin, who professionally uses his first name only, is the son of Aras Agalarov, a real estate tycoon sometimes called the “Donald Trump of Russia.”

The elder Agalarov boasts close ties to Mr. Putin: his company has won several large state building contracts, and Mr. Putin awarded him the “Order of Honor of the Russian Federation.”

Mr. Agalarov joined with the elder Mr. Trump to bring the Miss Universe contest to Moscow in 2013, and the Trump and Agalarov families grew relatively close.

When Emin released a music video with a theme borrowed from the television show, The Apprentice, Mr. Trump, then the show’s star, made a cameo appearance, delivering his trademark line: “You’re fired!” The elder Mr. Agalarov had also partnered with the Trumps to build a Trump hotel in Moscow, but the deal never came to fruition.

EMIN In Another Life Official Music Video ft. Donald Trump and Miss Universe 2013 Contestants Video by EminOfficial

“Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting,” Mr. Goldstone wrote in the email. “The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”

He added, “What do you think is the best way to handle this information and would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly?”

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There is no such title as Crown Prosecutor in Russia – the Crown Prosecution Service is a British term – but the equivalent in Russia is the Prosecutor General of Russia.

That office is held by Yury Yakovlevich Chaika, a Putin appointee who is known to be close to Ms. Veselnitskaya.

After sending back his “love it” reply, Donald Trump Jr. arranged to speak with Emin, sending along his private cell phone number on June 6.

“Ok he’s on stage in Moscow but should be off within 20 Minutes so I’m sure can call,” Mr. Goldstone wrote at 3:43 p.m.

Within the hour, Donald Trump Jr. had responded

“Rob thanks for the help. D”

The following day, Mr. Goldstone followed up:

“Don Hope all is well Emin asked that I schedule a meeting with you and The Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow for this Thursday. I believe you are aware of this meeting – and so wondered if 3pm or later on Thursday works for you?”

Mr. Goldstone’s emails contradict statements he made in his interview with The Times on Monday, when he said that he did not know whether the elder Mr. Agalarov had any role in arranging the meeting, and that he had no knowledge of any official Russian government role in the offer to provide the Trump campaign with dirt on Mrs. Clinton. Instead, he said that Ms. Veselnitskaya had contacted Emin directly, and that Emin had asked him to reach out to the Trumps as a favor to her.

“I actually asked him at one point how he knew her, and he said, ‘I can’t remember but, you know, I know thousands of people,’” he said in the interview.

Subsequent efforts to reach Mr. Goldstone, who acknowledged in the interview that he had spoken with someone at the Trump Organization over the weekend in anticipation of media attention, have been unsuccessful.

Mr. Goldstone, in a June 7 follow-up email, wrote, “I will send the names of the two people meeting with you for security when I have them later today.”

By that time, as the Republican nominee, Mr. Trump was already under the protection of the Secret Service and access to Trump Tower in New York was strictly controlled. Ms Veselnitskaya told The Times that the person who accompanied her was an interpreter whom she declined to name.

After being informed that the Russian attorney couldn’t make the 3 p.m. time that had been proposed, and agreeing to move it forward by an hour, Donald Trump Jr. “Donald Jr. forwarded. . .”? forwarded the entire email chain to Mr. Kushner’s company work email, and to Mr. Manafort at his Trump campaign email.

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“Meeting got moved to 4 tomorrow at my offices,” he wrote on June 8. “Best, Don.”

Mr. Kushner recently disclosed the fact of the meeting, though not the content, in a revised form on which all those seeking top secret security clearances are required to list contacts with foreign government officials and their representatives. The Times reported in April that he had failed to list a number of Russian contacts, which his lawyer called an error.

Mr. Manafort also disclosed that a meeting had occurred, and that Donald Trump Jr. had organized it, in response to one of the Russia-related congressional investigations.

Representatives for both men did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Ms. Veselnitskaya arrived the following day and was ushered into Donald Trump Jr.’s office for a meeting with what amounted to the Trump campaign’s brain trust.

Besides having politically connected clients, one of whom was under investigation by federal prosecutors at the time of the meeting, Ms. Veselnitskaya is well known for her lobbying efforts against the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law that punishes designated Russian human rights abusers by allowing the United States to seize their assets and keep them from entering the country. The law so angered Mr. Putin that he retaliated by banning American families from adopting Russian children. Her activities and associations have brought her to the attention of the F.B.I., according to a former senior law enforcement official.

When first contacted by The Times on Saturday, Donald Trump Jr. portrayed the meeting this way:

“It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up.”

The following day, after the Times informed him that it was preparing an article that would say that the meeting also involved a discussion about potentially compromising material on Mrs. Clinton, he issued another statement:

“I was asked to have a meeting by an acquaintance I knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant with an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign. I was not told her name prior to the meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to attend, but told them nothing of the substance. ” he said. “After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information. She then changed subjects and began discussing the adoption of Russian children and mentioned the Magnitsky Act. It became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting.”

Mr. Goldstone recalled the meeting in much the same way.

Ms. Veselnitskaya offered “just a vague, generic statement about the campaign’s funding and how people, including Russian people, living all over the world donate when they shouldn’t donate” before turning to her anti-Magnitsky Act arguments, he said. “It was the most inane nonsense I’ve ever heard.”

Ms. Veselnitskaya, for her part, said in an statement to The Times sent this past weekend that “nothing at all about the presidential campaign” had been discussed at the Trump Tower meeting, adding that she had “never acted on behalf of the Russian government” and that she had “never discussed any of these matters with any representative of the Russian government.” She has not responded to requests for comment since.

A spokesman for Mr. Putin said on Monday that he did not know Ms. Veselnitskaya and that he had no knowledge of the June 2016 meeting.

Back in Washington, both the White House and a spokesman for President Trump’s lawyer have taken pains to distance the president from the meeting, saying that he did he not attend it and that he learned about it only recently.

1COMMENT

Mr. Agalarov did not respond to a request for comment.

Emin, the pop star at the center of it all, will not comment on the matter, either, Mr. Goldstone, his publicist, said on Monday.

“Emin said to me that I could tell journalists that you know he has decided to go with just a straight no comment. His reasoning for that is simply that he believes that by him commenting in any way from Russia it once again will open this debate of Trump Trump Russia. Now here’s another person from Russia. Now he’s another person from Russia. So he wants to just not comment on the story. That’s his reasoning. It’s – the story will play out however it plays out.”

‘Everyone in China has the American Dream’ – and a popular path to it may disappear

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

‘Everyone in China has the American Dream’ – and a popular path to it may disappear

 July 7

Their son was barely a year old when Jehan Li and Mia Qi plunked down a half-million dollars for the boy to have a shot at a brighter future in America — away from the grinding competition of a Chinese education and this city’s smog-choked air.

Last December, having made just a single visit to the United States on their honeymoon, the Chinese couple took advantage of a U.S. law, nicknamed the “golden visa,” that doles out green cards to foreigners who invest $500,000 in the United States.

Critics say the fast track to citizenship favors the ultra-rich. It is also emerging as one of the most attainable paths to U.S. residency for members of China’s growing professional class — and now it could disappear.

The nearly three-decade-old program has come under new scrutiny in recent months, in part because of a sales pitch to Chinese investors by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner’s family real estate business.

Congress and the Trump administration are considering changing the rules for the investor visas as a means of cracking down on money laundering and visa-for-sale fraud. Potential changes, such as raising the investment threshold, would have little impact on China’s wealthiest. But they could shut out families such as Li and Qi, who despite riding the curve of upward socioeconomic mobility in China still see the United States as their best opportunity and this visa program as their best option.

The debate over the investor visas raises basic questions about the purpose of U.S. visa policies. Some say this program should be eliminated in favor of other immigrant groups, such as high-skilled workers or refugees escaping persecution — and not let people buy their way into the United States. Others say those with substantial amounts of money are best positioned to boost the American economy, by investing their wealth and creating jobs.

“Are we looking for the people? Or are we looking for the money?” said William Cook, former general counsel of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service under President George H.W. Bush when Congress created the EB-5 visa program.

“In the end, the simple truth is the government is looking for the money. And that may unfortunately exclude people who can no longer afford it, even if they may be the best people in the world.”

During his lunch break at a Pizza Hut in one of Beijing’s ubiquitous shopping malls, Li, a 38-year-old civil engineer, explained the draw of the EB-5 investor visas for upwardly mobile Chinese without vast inherited fortunes.

“There are a lot of ways to immigrate to America, but this EB-5 program is the easiest,” said Li, who invested in a Miami residential skyscraper under construction.

The only requirement is cash. Unlike other immigration visas, one does not need to have relatives in the United States or have any extraordinary ability, educational degree or professional achievement.

The EB-5 program became attractive to U.S. real estate developers after the 2008 financial crisis as a reliable source of cheap capital when bank loans were difficult to come by. The developers pay low annual interest on investments from EB-5 visa holders, typically just 4 to 8 percent compared with 12 to 18 percent for conventional financing. After authorities confirm that the money has created at least 10 American jobs, a visa holder will be eligible for permanent residency — and to recoup his or her investment.

“It is good to own some U.S. dollars as the U.S. economy recovers from the financial crisis,” Li said.

Far from being scions of China’s ruling class, Li and his wife, a customer service representative at a Beijing real estate company, earn about $100,000 a year. That is well above average for Beijing but not in the ranks of the wealthiest elites.

They were able to scrounge up the $500,000 by selling a four-bedroom house on the outskirts of Beijing that Li’s parents had helped him buy a decade ago. (It is common in China for parents to help their children, especially sons, buy homes.)

The family of three rents a modest, two-bedroom high-rise apartment in a middle-class compound in the southwestern part of China’s sprawling capital city. Although home ownership is prized among Chinese as a secure financial investment, Li and Qi said they view renting as a sacrifice for the sake of their son, Oscar.

The couple, who married in 2014, said they committed to immigrating during their ­10-day honeymoon in California, where they soaked up the grandeur of Yosemite National Park, visited the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and even checked out the University of California at Los Angeles.

“We went to America to vacation with the purpose of understanding the country,” said Li, whose notions about the United States came only from movies and television news. “The values of independence, equality, freedom and democracy have attracted me deeply. I was already hoping to raise our child there.”

Qi, also 38, said they knew then that they needed to find a way for their future child to study in America.

“Everyone hopes their children can get the best education, and the best education is in the United States,” she said. “There are too many people in China, and the competition is fierce, so all they do is study, study, study.”

Chasing the American Dream

Of the 8,500 EB-5 visas issued in 2016, 82 percent went to investors from mainland China, according to the State Department. A decade ago, Chinese nationals accounted for just 12 percent of such visas.

Chinese immigration brokers say upper-middle-class investors have flocked to the program in recent years as their incomes increased and their real estate appreciated.

But that route to the United States may soon close for families such as Li and Qi.

Congressional authorization for the EB-5 visa expires in September, and lawmakers, as well as the Department of Homeland Security, are weighing new rules that could raise investment requirements from $500,000 to as much as $1.35 million.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who assailed the investor visa as “citizenship for sale” to the wealthiest bidders, has introduced a bill with Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) to scrap the program.

Legislators who have long agitated for change were further riled in May after one of Kushner’s sisters pitched a New Jersey luxury apartment project managed by the family’s real estate company to potential Chinese investors in Beijing.

Such sales presentations by U.S. developers seeking to woo Chinese investors are common, immigration brokers say. But the Kushner Companies event drew criticism for attempting to cash in on Kushner’s White House connections. One speaker advised those in attendance to invest early — under the “old rules” requiring $500,000 — in case regulations change under President Trump, Kushner’s ­father-in-law.

Michael Short, a White House spokesman, told The Washington Post that the Trump administration is “evaluating wholesale change of the EB-5 program,” including “exploring the possibility of raising the price of the visa.”

The uncertainty has prompted a scramble among some Chinese investors, said Jerry Liu, an immigration consultant in Beijing.

“Right now, the market is really hot, and more people can afford it because of China’s growing economy,” Liu said. “Everyone in China has the American Dream.”

Because of a cap on the number of visas by nationality, Chinese applicants must wait seven to 10 years from the time they invest to when they secure green cards, Liu said. The program has a big backlog; until 2015, the wait time was five years.

That has prompted parents, worried about their children turning 21 and aging out of the visa program before their green cards are approved, to start applying years before their children reach high school.

About a third of Chinese applicants are even applying in their teenage children’s names, anticipating that their green cards would not be available until they are adults and can move to the United States on their own, said Ronnie Fieldstone, a Miami attorney representing developers and Chinese immigration agents involved in EB-5 projects.

Li and Qi are relieved to have gotten in line before the United States changes the investment rules.

The Miami development they invested in is slated to be finished in early 2019, according to Paramount Miami Worldcenter, the developer. Construction is complete for 12 of its 60 stories. More than 60 percent of the luxury condominium’s 500 units have sold.

Once the U.S. government approves the family’s petition, they will receive two-year conditional green cards.

The couple have already researched housing and schools in Los Angeles, where they hope to settle. And they are exposing Oscar, 21 months old, to English through nursery songs. He is learning the alphabet and likes to sing a counting song about catching fish.

“We hope to be in America,” Qi said, “by the time our son finishes elementary school.”

This story was reported during a fellowship sponsored by the East-West Center, a nonprofit funded by Congress and private donors to foster understanding between the United States and Asia.

The ever-changing Russia stories of the two Donald Trumps

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

The ever-changing Russia stories of the two Donald Trumps

Story highlights

  • With each passing week, the story seems to change when it comes to Trump and Russia
  • And, in almost every instance, what we find is more smoke around those connections

Washington (CNN) When it comes to Russia, Donald Trump — and his son — can’t get their stories straight.

Consider the last day and a half.
On Saturday, Donald Trump Jr. said that a 2016 meeting between himself and a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin was primarily about “adoptions.” That came in response to a New York Times piece detailing the meeting between Trump, then campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
On Sunday, when the Times reported a second piece alleging that Trump Jr. had met with Veselnitskaya after receiving a promise that she possessed “damaging information” about Hillary Clinton, he changed his story.
“After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton,” Trump Jr. said in a statement. “Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”
Then there was this odd reversal from the President himself on another matter involving Russia.
On Sunday at 7:50 a.m., President Trump tweeted: “Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded.”
On Sunday at 8:45 p.m., President Trump tweeted: “The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn’t mean I think it can happen. It can’t-but a ceasefire can,& did!”
So. That’s a lot to process.
As of Monday morning, here’s what we know (I think):
1. At the behest of a friend he made from the Miss Universe pageant, which was held in Russia in 2013, Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer who promised him dirt on Clinton. He has said he didn’t know the name of the person prior to the meeting, but we now know that person was Veselnitskaya. He said he didn’t tell Manafort or Kushner anything about the meeting — other than to ask them to come.
2. Trump Jr. initially said the meeting was primarily about adoption when initially confronted about it by the Times on Saturday. He did not mention that it had anything to do with the 2016 election despite the fact that Veselnitskaya’s promise of negative information appears to have been the impetus for the meeting in the first place.
3. At the much-anticipated meeting between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin last Friday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters that Trump confronted Putin about meddling in the election. Putin denied it. Reports differ about whether Trump accepted that denial or not (Russia says he did, the White House says he didn’t).
4. The two sides agreed to put the Russian campaign meddling (or not) in the past — by, in part, discussing the possibility of creating an “impenetrable Cyber Security unit” to make election hacking a thing of the past. After a huge amount of blowback to that proposal Sunday — Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, tweeted: “Partnering with Putin on a ‘Cyber Security Unit’ is akin to partnering with Assad on a ‘Chemical Weapons Unit'” — Trump changed his tune, insisting that he didn’t really think the “cyber security unit” would happen anyway.
Got all that?
The point here is simple: With each passing week, the story seems to change when it comes to Trump and Russia. And, in almost every instance, what we find is more smoke around those connections. We don’t have fire yet — as Trump like to remind people (and he’s right). But, man oh man, the smoke just keeps getting thicker.
Why, even if he didn’t know exactly who he was meeting with, did Don Jr. take the meeting — with the promise that he would get dirt on Hillary Clinton? (Remember that Trump Jr. knew this was someone who was a friend of a friend he had made in Russia — meaning that it doesn’t take much of a logical leap to think this person he was meeting with might be Russian.)
And does President Trump think it’s a good idea to form a cybersecurity task force with Russia? Or not? If he does support it, why did he walk away from it — or hedge on it — 12 hours after he seemed to suggest it was the successful result of his confrontation with Putin?
Like almost everything with Trump and Russia, there are more questions than answers. And, if past is prologue, Trump and his senior advisers won’t answer any of them.
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