WASHINGTON — The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee claimed Wednesday evening that he has seen “more than circumstantial evidence” that associates of President Donald Trump colluded with Russia while the Kremlin attempted to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the Ranking Member on the committee, was asked by Chuck Todd on “Meet The Press Daily” whether or not he only has a circumstantial case.
“Actually no, Chuck,” he said. “I can tell you that the case is more than that and I can’t go into the particulars, but there is more than circumstantial evidence now.”
House Intel Cmte. Creates Confusion As Chairman Releases Trump Details 1:59
Questioned whether or not he has seen direct evidence of collusion, Schiff responded, “I don’t want to get into specifics but I will say that there is evidence that is not circumstantial and is very much worthy of an investigation.”
The Trump campaign and the White House have repeatedly denied that Trump’s associates were at all connected to any activities related to Russia’s attempts to influence the last election.
Schiff’s comments came after Republican committee chair Devin Nunes said that he had seen reports from the U.S. intelligence community showing communication from members of the transition team — and possibly the president himself — were “incidentally collected” as part of a broader surveillance effort.
Nunes said it appeared most of the information was collected after the election and during the transition, it appears it was collected legally, and none of it was related to Russia or the investigation into Russia. He said he did not know who ordered the alleged surveillance.
The disclosure drew condemnation from some Democrats. Schiff bristled at the fact that Nunes did not share the information with him before updating reporters and the White House.
“The chairman will need to decide whether he is the chairman of an independent investigation into conduct, which includes allegations of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, or he’s going to act as a surrogate of the White House. Because he cannot do both,” Schiff said.
Full Interview: Schiff on His Confidence in House Intel Committee 8:40
Nunes said at a press conference that “the intelligence community incidentally collected information about American citizens involved in the Trump transition.”
“From what I know right now it looks like incidental collection, we don’t know exactly how that was picked up, but we’re are trying to get to the bottom of it,” Nunes said.
Trump said he felt somewhat vindicated by Nunes’ disclosure: “I somewhat do. I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found,” the president said.
Nunes said he has not seen any evidence that former President Barack Obama had Trump’s “wires tapped” before the election — a claim Trump made on Twitter. The director of the FBI said Monday he has no evidence backing up the tweeted claim.
Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Virginia, said he was “absolutely mystified by Chairman Nunes’ actions,” and the decision to brief Trump on the information “seems pretty inappropriate to me.”
Republican Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, told MSNBC’s Greta Van Susteren that the back-and-forth among the top members of the committee was “bizarre” and he said partisan fighting had cost Congress its credibility to investigate Russian interference the election.
“No longer does the Congress have credibility to handle this alone, and I don’t say that lightly,” McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said.
McCain: Select Committee On Russia Now A ‘Requirement’10:36
On Monday, FBI Director James Comey confirmed that an investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia had been ongoing since July. Comey said the probe was included in the agency’s investigation into what the U.S. intelligence community concluded was an attempt by Russia to interfere with the 2016 election with the purpose of helping Trump win.
The House and Senate Intelligence Committees are conducting their own investigations.
During Russia’s surreptitious invasion of Crimea, much was made of the “little green men,” soldiers without insignia who turned out to be Russian regulars.
On Monday there was a new green man — albeit one of a decidedly different political hue — the opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was doused with a bright green liquid in the Siberian city of Barnaul by an unknown assailant who had pretended to shake his hand.
Mr. Navalny wrote on his Facebook page that he initially feared an acid attack after feeling a burning sensation. But relief appears to have given way to exaltation after he realized that the bright green liquid not only would not harm him, but even made him look like a superhero — in his eyes, anyway. He can be seen mugging for the camera in a selfie taken after the fact.
Referring to masked heroes in Hollywood films in a post on Twitter, he wrote: “I will be opening a headquarters in Barnaul as if I am from the film The Mask! Cool. Even my teeth are green!”
Mr. Navalny, a charismatic critic of President Vladimir V. Putin, was a major driver of large street protests in 2011, 2012 and 2013, and has irked the Kremlin by shining a light on corruption. His bid to run for president of Russia was effectively derailed in February when a Russian court revived a four-year-old criminal conviction for defrauding a state company.
But he has continued to campaign, with his supporters saying the charges against him are politically motivated.
It turns out that being attacked with green substances is something of an occupational hazard for outspoken opponents of Mr. Putin. Late last month, Mikhail M. Kasyanov, another Putin critic, was spattered with green paint at a march in memory of the politician Boris Nemtsov, who was shot and killed on a Moscow bridge two years ago.
After the Siberia incident, some Navalny supporters showed solidarity by painting their faces green and posting on Twitter (“Alexey, Kazan headquarters is with you! We support!”), and one prominent blogger was detained after being seen on Red Square with his face and hands painted green.
“This strange assumption of the Kremlin: to pour brilliant green on me so that I don’t travel around the country and call rallies,” he wrote on Facebook. “It’s way cooler that way. Barnaul and Biysk volunteers (where we are opening two campaign headquarters these days) will get the most stylish selfies ever, and I’ll be the star of any rally.”
He did, however, seem more concerned about his new green teeth. “Lemon won’t help you remove brilliant green,” he wrote. “Formic acid is way better. But I’ll remain light-green for quite some time. What worries me is my teeth. They are also green so far, but I hope they’ll discolor.”
Whatever his new appearance, he showed little sign of backing down. “Our plans don’t change,” he wrote on Facebook. “On 26th, turn out for rallies.”
The FBI investigation would examine possible links between individuals in the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was co-ordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, Mr Comey said.
The FBI would also assess whether crimes were committed, he said.
Mr Comey said the investigation was “very complex” and he could not give a timetable for its completion.
“We will follow the facts wherever they lead,” he said.
National Security Agency (NSA) chief Admiral Mike Rogers also appeared before the committee.
He said the NSA stood by an intelligence community report published in January, which said that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered a campaign to harm the campaign of Mr Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton.
This was despite looking carefully for such evidence, he said. The Department of Justice also had no information, he said.
Analysis – BBC North America reporter Anthony Zurcher
What FBI Director James Comey didn’t say during intelligence hearings today on possible Russian meddling in the 2016 US election was as important as what he did say.
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who had ties to pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians? No comment. Long-time Trump adviser Roger Stone, who reportedly had communications with individuals who hacked the Democratic National Committee emails? No comment. Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign after leaked evidence surfaced that he had communicated with a Russian ambassador about US sanctions? No comment.
“I don’t want to answer any questions about a US person,” Mr Comey said.
All of this is evidence that the investigation isn’t just ongoing, it’s substantive and far-reaching.
While Democrats will likely be encouraged by this, it was telling that Republicans pursued the White House line that the topic of greatest concern was the intelligence leaks that put this story in the headlines.
If Mr Trump can consolidate his party’s support, it will go a long way towards insulating the president against any fallout from this investigation.
Meanwhile, Admiral Rogers strongly denied that the NSA had asked Britain’s GCHQ intelligence agency to spy on Mr Trump – a claim that had been repeated by Mr Trump’s spokesman, Sean Spicer.
The allegation “clearly frustrates a key ally of ours”, he added.
GCHQ has described the claim as “utterly ridiculous”.
Mr Trump’s recent joke about how Mr Obama had wiretapped both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and him “complicates things” with an ally, Admiral Rogers added.
However, Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said it was still possible that other surveillance activities had been used against Mr Trump and his associates.
What are the allegations?
In January, US intelligence agencies said Kremlin-backed hackers had broken into the email accounts of senior Democrats and released embarrassing messages in order to help Mr Trump defeat Hillary Clinton.
“That was a fairly easy judgement for the community,” Mr Comey said. “Putin hated Secretary Clinton so much that the flipside of that coin was he had a clear preference for the person running against the person he hated so much.”
However, late last summer the Russians concluded that Mr Trump had no chance of winning, based on polls at the time, and so focused on undermining Mrs Clinton, Mr Comey said.
Both intelligence chiefs said that Russia had made its intervention in last year’s election campaign unusually obvious, perhaps to further its aim of undermining US democracy.
Mr Comey said Russia had succeeded in this goal, by sowing chaos, division and discord.
Mr Trump has since faced allegations that his campaign team had links to Russian officials.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said he saw no evidence of any collusion, up until the time he left his post in January.
Which campaign members have been accused of deception?
Two senior officials in the Trump administration have been caught up in the allegations – former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and Attorney-General Jeff Sessions.
Mr Flynn was fired last month after he misled the White House about his conversations with the Russian ambassador before he was appointed national security adviser.
He allegedly discussed US sanctions with ambassador Sergei Kislyak. It is illegal for private citizens to conduct US diplomacy.
So the Sunni Dictator Dog of Turkey, the man who has ruined the lives of his people with his hate and his ego has the gall to call the governments of Germany and the Netherlands Nazi’s. When he first took power in Turkey the country and it’s people lived in relative peace with its neighbors and within its own borders. Turkey was the crown jewel in the Middle-East of the countries that had a majority Islamic population as far as people of various religions being free to worship as they pleased. There were many Gothic Churches that were hundreds of years old that dotted the landscape of this beautiful restive country. Now by my understanding of the many different articles I have read over the past few years several of these landmark Churches have either been destroyed or turned into Sunni Mosque.
Since Er-Dog-an has been in power he has through his policies created a situation where it is rather common for the people to have to try to survive car and truck bombs as well as suicide attacks on not just Turkey’s police and military personnel but on the civilians themselves. He had created tensions with Russia and with Israel before recently correcting this error, at least publicly. I say publicly because if you honestly think that Russia’s President Putin or Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu consider him a friend or that they trust him you are being quite delusional. He has spent his time in power doing mainly one thing and that is to gain more power and control over every aspect of life within the borders of Turkey. He has invaded his Shiite neighbor Syria and is not welcome in Iran or Iraq. Yet personally I believe that one of his biggest most arrogant and stupid policies has been his constant assault on the Kurdish people. The Dog has made it very plain that he wants nothing to do with peace with this huge ethnicity of people that live in the eastern part of Turkey. He could have peace with them if he wasn’t so darn greedy. The Kurdish people simply want their own homeland and being they already had settled in the eastern part of Turkey it would have been easy to have had peace with them by simply letting this small part of Turkey be officially theirs. Then the two Nations could have easily become good neighbors, brothers, sisters and trading partners. There would have been peace this way and many people who are now dead would still be alive. He has been playing the EU against Russia card trying to see how much he can get from both sides. He cared so little for his countrymen that instead of sealing off their border with Syria and not allowing millions of refugees to enter Turkey at all he let them in then has used them as bargaining chips with the EU trying to extort money and EU membership from them.
Now this egomaniac Dictator dares to call the governments of Germany and the Netherlands Nazi’s because of their policies that he personally doesn’t like. Think about this for a moment please, why is he slandering the leadership of these two countries? In Rotterdam they are going to be having elections very soon and Turkey has a huge number of Turk people living there now and there was going to be a big rally that the Turk Foreign Minister was going to address and the government decided to not let him show up. What is going on is very simple, if the Turk population grows to a high enough level they can then have more control of the laws passed in that country. If a minority population can gain control of a foreign country and they are loyalist to their home Dictator, this Dictator can have a huge effect on being the defacto Ruler of that Nation. Do not be naive, the people who believe in the teachings of ‘the prophet’ Mohammed know that they are ordered to infiltrate Infidel countries and when they have sufficient numbers to attack from within and to take control of the country and then to convert everyone there to Islam. The easiest way to take control of a Democratic country is through the ballot box, then if that doesn’t work, take it by force. Europe is starting to wake up and many of the people of Europe’s Nations are realizing the dangers they are having now and that it will only get much worse if they allow Islamic believing people to settle in their country. It is obvious why this Sunni egomaniac used the slur of Nazism toward Germany because the pain of their past but when this horse’s behind referred to the Netherlands the same way he showed his ignorance and his hate as well as pure stupidity. The worse thing that has happened to the Nation of Turkey since world war two has been allowing this madman to continue breathing within their borders. I say this because as he proves constantly like this upcoming referendum to give him alone even more power to rule as a King or a god would, he is only interested in making as many people as possible bow to his power, even Nations outside of Turkey’s current borders. If the EU Leaders in Brussels ever allow Turkey or any Islamic Nation to become part of the EU, that will be the kiss of death for their Countries and their way of life, and their very lives.
Donald Trump’s new administration understands the need to deal with Russia in a “very guarded way”, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said.
Following his first meeting with US secretary of state Rex Tillerson during the G20 summit in Germany, Mr Johnson, referring to Russia, said “you’ve got to beware of what they are up to”.
Neither side wants to see a return to the days of the Cold War, he said.
But Moscow’s current behaviour cannot be allowed to continue, he added.
Mr Johnson’s comments come amid intense scrutiny in the US of the administration’s attitude to Russia following the resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn over his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the US before Mr Trump’s inauguration last month.
Mr Johnson told the BBC: “I think Rex Tillerson is absolutely clear in his view, which is the same as mine. You have got to engage with Russia, but you have got to engage in a very guarded way. You have got to beware of what they are up to.
“There is no question that, when you look at Russian activity on the cyber front, when you look at what they are doing in the western Balkans, when you look at what has been happening in the Ukraine, you’ve got to be very, very cautious.
“I think it is entirely right to have a dual track approach.
“We don’t want to get into a new Cold War. That’s something London and Washington are completely at one on. But nor do we want Russian behaviour to continue as it is – and Rex Tillerson has been very clear about that.”
A shadowy Iranian general responsible for the deaths of nearly 500 Americans traveled to Moscow Wednesday to meet with high-ranking Russian officials — a trip that violated multiple United Nations resolutions forbidding him from leaving his country, multiple western intelligence officials with direct knowledge of the visit told Fox News.
Qassem Soleimani, center, attending a September 2016 meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Revolutionary Guard commanders in Tehran. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani arrived in Terminal A of Vnukovo airport outside Moscow on Feb. 14 on Mahan Air WD084 at 12:13 p.m. local time and was scheduled to remain in Russia for a few days for meetings, officials said.
Soleimani is visiting Moscow to express his displeasure with the Russian government over their relationship with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, mainly regarding weapons deals and strengthening economic ties, sources told Fox News.
The CIA would not immediately answer a request for comment. A State Department spokesman said he was unaware of the visit.
This is Soleimani’s third trip to Moscow following visits in April and July last year. Soleimani is thought to be the mastermind behind Iran’s proxy war in Syria in order to prop up the Assad regime. Soleimani met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu days after the Iranian nuclear deal was agreed to in Vienna. Iran has been a key ally along with Russia in Syria, working together to shore up support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against opposition fighters, some of whom are backed by the United States.
The Quds Force, which Soleimani heads, is the special operations wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, responsible for supporting terrorist proxy forces across the Middle East. Soleimani reports directly to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Soleimani was first designated a terrorist and sanctioned by the U.S. in 2005 for his role as a supporter of terrorism. In October 2011, the U.S. Treasury Department tied Soleimani to the failed Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States at a popular restaurant in Washington, D.C.
Testifying before Congress last year, former Secretary of State John Kerry said Soleimani and the Quds Force would continue to face sanctions even after some UN sanctions were lifted on Iran following the landmark nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers, including the United States.
UN Resolution 1747 prohibits Soleimani to travel, and any country that lets him transit or travel is also defying sanctions. Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and would be a aware of the restrictions against meeting him.
During his confirmation hearing before Congress in 2015, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford said many Americans were killed by Iranian-backed forces under the command of Soleimani.
“The number has been recently quoted as about 500. We weren’t always able to attribute the casualties we had to Iranian activity, although many times we suspected it was Iranian activity even though we didn’t necessarily have the forensics to support that,” Dunford told lawmakers.
Former Secretary of State John Kerry said five days after Soleimani’s Moscow visit that he would never receive sanctions relief.
“Under the United States’s initiative, Qassem Soleimani will never be relieved of any sanctions,” Kerry said.
Lucas Tomlinson is the Pentagon and State Department producer for Fox News Channel. You can follow him on Twitter: @LucasFoxNews
MOSCOW — The diatribe against the Obama administration on prime-time television by a Russian Foreign Ministry official was hardly unusual in the long history of rocky relations between the United States and Russia.
The administration “demonstrated the belief that the strongest has the right to create evil,” Maria Zakharova, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said on the Christmas Day broadcast.
From Washington’s perspective, it is the Kremlin that generally personifies evil, a point President Obama made on Thursday in punishing Russia for cyberattacks by directing new sanctions against Moscow and expelling 35 Russian diplomats. “The United States and friends and allies around the world must work together to oppose Russia’s efforts to undermine established international norms of behavior,” Mr. Obama said in a statement.
The two statements appeared to be business as usual — each side representing enemy No. 1 for the other. By Friday that mood had been abruptly cast aside, however. President Vladimir V. Putin announced that Russia would do nothing in response to the new American measures, awaiting the next administration, prompting President-elect Donald J. Trump to call him “very smart” in a Twitter post.
With the sitting president calling Russia a national security threat and the incoming one praising Mr. Putin, many American voters, long accustomed to being suspicious about Russia, are understandably confused and uneasy. Russia was an enemy on Friday morning, and a friend by the afternoon.
“We are in a whiplash moment right now, and I think it is unprecedented in several respects,” said Cliff Kupchan, the chairman of the Eurasia Group, a political risk assessment firm in Washington, and a former State Department official from the Clinton administration. “The most important one is that the baton is about to be passed from an administration with a very hard line on Russia to one that is very much more sympathetic.”
No clear agreements or even offers are on the table yet, however, bringing uncertainty. “Russia’s relations with the U.S. are currently up in the air — both sides have no clear strategy about how to move them forward,” said Aleksandr Morozov, an independent Russian political analyst.
Until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and even for years afterward, matters were more black and white. A young American diplomat stationed in Moscow named George F. Kennan established the parameters of the relationship for decades with a famous 1947 policy paper. The Soviet Union was bent on expansion, he wrote, so the main element of any United States policy had to be containment.
Thus began a long roller coaster ride for the two countries, full of periodic upswings as friends when détente was in vogue, inevitably followed by precipitous plummets as foes that left the world shuddering about the prospects of a nuclear Armageddon.
Tensions eased periodically, but it never seemed to last.
President Ronald Reagan, an implacable anti-Communist, surprised the world by reaching out to the man who turned out to be the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, to begin negotiations for far-reaching arms control agreements between the two sides.
After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the Russian Federation that emerged entered into an extended period of decline and, inevitably, friendship with the United States as a kind of junior partner.
That “junior” aspect rankled, however, particular after Mr. Obama went from seeking to reset relations to dismissing Russia as a “regional power.”
The latest crisis began in 2014, with a revolution in Ukraine that Mr. Putin labeled an American plot — he, as many Soviet leaders have, sees the hidden hand of Washington everywhere. Mr. Putin annexed Crimea and armed rebels in eastern Ukraine, prompting Western economic sanctions, which Mr. Trump has disparaged.
The last confrontation under the Obama administration between Moscow and Washington came to a head this fall after American intelligence agencies concluded that hacking by their Russian counterparts had breached national security, cracking open the computers of the Democratic National Committee to reveal emails that embarrassed Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Mr. Trump initially encouraged the Kremlin to hack even more, breaking with all precedents, not least the Republican tradition of painting Russia as the evil empire, as Mr. Reagan called it.
Mr. Obama waited to react until last week, and it looked as if he might leave his successor a diplomatic tempest, until Mr. Putin, long the master of the unexpected stroke, defused it.
“Trump’s spirit is already here, and already changing Russia’s policies,” said Igor M. Bunin, the director of the Center for Political Technologies, a Moscow research institute. “This will be a great plus for future relations.”
There are still potential pitfalls, however, not least that Congress does not share an affectionate view of Mr. Putin.
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, plans to open hearings on Thursday on Russia’s efforts to manipulate the presidential election. Much of the Republican establishment in Congress endorsed the new sanctions imposed against Russia, putting them at odds with Mr. Trump.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, was with Mr. McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, last week to tour the Baltic States, which fear being the next target of the Russian military.
“The Russian cyberattack, and the misinformation and propaganda — they have been living with this for decades,” Ms. Klobuchar said in an interview.
American voters have heard Mr. Trump praise Russia, and some in the far right have hailed Mr. Putin as a hero for espousing conservative values. Yet old instincts die hard.
“I worry about what our relationship with other countries is going to be with a Trump presidency, if we buddy-buddy up to Russia and a leader who is not so democratic in nature,” said Alexis Matter, 35, walking through a Denver shopping mall.
In Sandy Springs, Ga., Chase Williams, 26, the manager of a pet supply store, said that Russia had fallen off the radar in recent years. His fears now were less of the old Cold War over a nuclear weapons attack than a sense that Mr. Putin could outfox the American administration.
“When I say Russia scares me, it’s not because I’m scared of them coming over here and doing something,” Mr. Williams said. “I’m scared when I see a chess player playing checkers — and we are checkers.”
Mr. Putin has made no secret of the fact that he would like to re-establish the consensus reached with the United States at the 1945 Yalta conference that carved the globe into spheres of influence.
Russia no longer has the might needed to assert its right to be a superpower, analysts say, but if nothing else, cyberattacks have underscored that you do not need nuclear weapons or a strong economy to assert global influence.
Some Russian analysts wonder what Mr. Putin can offer Mr. Trump. A former K.G.B. agent, he tends to view the world order as a series of special operations, coming from a different arena than Mr. Trump’s world of business deals. “I don’t think that Putin has a plan,” said Gleb Pavlovsky, a political analyst and former media adviser to Mr. Putin. “I think that he is stunned by the number of bonus points that he has gotten.”
In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad is on the verge of reasserting control over much of the country, thanks largely to Mr. Putin’s intervention. Ukraine presents some problems, but has essentially boiled down into the kind of frozen conflict that Russia uses to destabilize independent-minded neighbors. And all of the attention on the cyberattacks made Mr. Putin look strong.
In those successes, analysts see fodder for Mr. Putin to offer Mr. Trump a manner of foreign policy victory that would give the American leader something tangible to crow about at home in an arena where he lacks experience.
Russia, Iran and Turkey cut Washington out of the Syria negotiations, so Mr. Putin could bring the United States back in and forge a deal on fighting the Islamic State. Mr. Trump has stated that he wants to join forces with Russia in crushing the jihadists. Or the Kremlin could offer some sort of cyberspace deal.
“I think that Putin is in a strong position,” said Nicolai Petrov, a Russian political scientist. “He looks strong in relation to the United States and he has freedom to maneuver, and he can do what he wants to demonstrate that the United States should recognize that Russia is not a regional power but a great power that should be taken into account.”
So, for the moment, Mr. Putin appears a potential friend to Mr. Trump.
Few expect it to last, however. First of all, Mr. Trump is unpredictable. And fundamentally, the two countries are destined to be at odds, because they view the world through different lenses.
Russian policy in recent years has been trying to sow doubt and undermine public faith in Western governments. The Kremlin has relied on a variety of levers — disinformation campaigns, buying influence, cyberattacks — which many analysts expect to show up in crucial elections in the coming year in France and Germany.
“They are trying to create more of a level playing field not by raising Russia up, but through a declining West,” Mr. Kupchan said. “I don’t think Putin is out to make America great again.”
‘I hope both sides are able to live up to these thoughts’
President-elect Donald Trump on Friday released a letter he received from Vladimir Putin and praised the Russian president by saying “his thoughts are so correct.”
“A very nice letter from Vladimir Putin; his thoughts are so correct,” Trump said in a statement, along with the letter, which is dated Dec. 15. “I hope both sides are able to live up to these thoughts, and we do not have to travel an alternate path.”
In the attached letter—which is marked as an unofficial translation—Putin wished Trump well and said he hoped to “bring our level of collaboration on the international scene to a qualitatively new level.”
“Serious global and regional challenges, which our countries have to face in recent years, show that the relations between Russia and the U.S. remain an important factor in ensuring stability and security of the modern world,” Putin wrote in the letter as released by Trump.
“I hope that after you assume the position of the President of the United States of America we will be able—by acting in a constructive and pragmatic manner—to take real steps to restore the framework of bilateral cooperation in different areas as well as bring our level of collaboration on the international scene to a qualitatively new level.”
The U.S. President-elect has said the “One China” policy was up for negotiation and dependent on what Beijing does for the U.S. in return
East Asian geopolitics is a tapestry of fictions. Beijing insists Taiwan is part of China, despite the island of 23 million being self-governing for over half-a-century. The constitution of Taiwan — officially called the Republic of China, a legacy of the routed Nationalists (KMT) flight across the Strait in 1949 following China’s civil war — still claims dominion of all of the Chinese mainland and even Mongolia. The U.S. concedes Taiwan is part of China, having broken off diplomatic relations one China policy
with Taipei in 1979, yet is treaty-obliged to sell the island the weapons it uses to protect itself from Beijing.
One can have sympathy for Donald Trump not wanting to partake in such a charade, which is commonly known as the “One China” principle. The U.S. President-elect had the backing of many people in Taiwan when on Dec. 2 he accepted a phone call from its President, Tsai Ing-wen. Owing to “One China,” which was negotiated by an earlier KMT government in Taiwan, it was the first direct contact between the leaders of Taiwan and the U.S for almost four decades. When Beijing cried foul, Trump sent a series of unrepentant tweets, culminating with an interview on Fox on Sunday during which he said “One China” was up for negotiation and dependent on what Beijing does for the U.S. in return.
“Trump’s taking a more realpolitik approach, saying there are no sacred cows, we won’t be pushed around and everything is on the table,” says Prof. Nick Bisley, an Asia expert at Australia’s La Trobe University.
But Trump should be wary of wielding realpolitik in this land of fictions. Beijing regularly cites the “Taiwan question” as one of its “core interests,” and the topic is toxic even among otherwise politically inert Chinese. On Wednesday, An Fengshan, a spokesman for China’s policy-making Taiwan Affairs Office, said, “peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait will be seriously impacted” if the U.S. wavers on “One China.”
For Taiwan, the “One China” policy is partly a millstone, precluding the island from a seat at the U.N. or from joining potentially lucrative free trade groupings. But conversely, the agreement — otherwise known as the “1992 Consensus” — has allowed peaceful ties to flourish across a previously truculent Strait. Today, tourists and exchange students flock in both directions and 40% of Taiwan’s exports go to the mainland. Taiwan has a lot to gain from official recognition but even more to lose. “In the short term the [Taiwan] government seems to be very excited about [Trump addressing ‘One China’],” says Prof. Tang Shaocheng, an international relations expert at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University. “But the consequences — the reaction from Beijing — is still unpredictable.”
Donald Trump Angers China With Historic Phone Call to Taiwan’s President
Trump went where no U.S. commander-in-chief had gone since diplomatic relations were restored with China in 1979 — by speaking directly to the President of Taiwan, the island-state of 23 million that is essentially an independent country.
Taiwan would bear the brunt of a metastasizing Sino-U.S. relationship, though Trump has never mentioned what the island’s citizens desire during his bating of the Chinese leadership. Instead, the President-elect has treated the case like a business deal, jostling for the smallest advantage, while needling the world’s second largest economy over trade tariffs and alleged currency manipulation. “Trump is trying to get some more bargaining chips to use later with Beijing,” adds Tang. “Taiwan is just a leverage point for Trump.” And Trump’s actions elsewhere are recasting the rules of the game and further imperiling the island’s people.
The other headline of Trump’s nascent foreign policy is warming ties with Russia. Trump repeatedly praised President Vladmir Putin during his presidential campaign, flying in the face of the international condemnation prompted by Moscow’s 2014 annexing of the Crimea, not to mention its steadfast support for Syrian President Bashar Assad. On Wednesday, Trump named his candidate for Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson, the ExxonMobil chief with a long history of deals with the Kremlin, and who was awarded the Russian Order of Friendship in 2013. The nod raised eyebrows even within Trump’s own party.
“I don’t know what Mr. Tillerson’s relationship with Vladimir Putin was,” Sen. John McCain told Fox News on Saturday. “But I’ll tell you it is a matter of concern to me.”
What exactly Trump hopes to gain from courting Putin is unclear. The real estate mogul may have been elected on promises to put “America first,” but Putin is a Russian nationalist of the deepest dye and unlikely to yield much of consequence to Washington. One theory is that Trump is maneuvering for a “reverse Nixon” strategy: teaming up with Moscow to isolate Beijing, in a mirror of U.S. policy to counter the Soviet Union in the 1970s. However, that is unlikely to bear fruit. According to Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center think-tank, Beijing and Moscow have never been as close as they are today. “I would call them a ‘détente’ state of relations,” says Trenin. “That’s somewhere between a strategic partnership and a full-fledged alliance.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s seminal One Belt, One Road economic strategy — a rekindling of the iconic land and maritime Silk Road though infrastructure and development projects — is dependent on rosy relations with Russia and particularly Central Asia, which is largely beholden to the Kremlin. Today, Russia is the world’s top oil exporter — accounting for 70% of all national exports — and its top customer is China, which bought 22 million tons in the first half of this year. Squabbles over disputed territory in Central Asia have been solved with surprising prudence and a raft of pipeline and other infrastructure deals have been struck. “Relations are robust and I can only see them getting stronger,” says Trenin.
By contrast, the U.S. has little to offer Russia. But Trump’s fawning of Putin does have an effect. Trump announced Tillerson’s appointment just as Assad’s Russian-backed troops retook Aleppo, displacing thousands and reportedly slaughtering scores of innocents. But Beijing is most acutely aware that the Kremlin suffered few repercussion from its seizing of Crimea, other than economic sanctions it shrugged aside (and Trump could soon lift them at a stoke of his pen.) If Trump wants to put ethics aside and talk realpolitik: What would the U.S. do if China decided to retake Taiwan?
To rephrase: What could it do? The U.S. military is stronger that China’s overall, though a war in China’s coastal waters would be bloody and impossible to win. The Philippines, traditionally America’s staunchest ally, has become antagonistic with Washington and chummy with China since new President Rodrigo Duterte took office. There are also resurgent calls to removed U.S. troops from bases in South Korea and Japan, who both list China as their largest trading partners. Beijing has built islands — dubbed unsinkable aircraft carriers — in the South China Sea, which new satellite images indicate contain significant weaponry. Not to forget that Trump campaigned on drawing down commitments on costly wars overseas.
“Xi is a tough guy and has shown unprecedented tolerance for Trump’s arrogance,” says Prof. Shi Yinhong, director of the Center on American Studies at Beijing’s Renmin University. “But if Trump still wants to mess with China’s core interests after he becomes President, Sino-U.S. ties will suffer the greatest damage since [the resumption of diplomatic relations]. China will not compromise.”
Trump thinks he is being clever by shaking up the status quo in East Asia, but there is a reason why all six preceding U.S. Presidents have firmly stuck to the convenient fiction of “One China.” In a game of true realpolitik when everything is on the table, China knows exactly what it wants — and it also now knows what it can probably get away with.
WASHINGTON — When Special Agent Adrian Hawkins of the Federal Bureau of Investigation called the Democratic National Committee in September 2015 to pass along some troubling news about its computer network, he was transferred, naturally, to the help desk.
His message was brief, if alarming. At least one computer system belonging to the D.N.C. had been compromised by hackers federal investigators had named “the Dukes,” a cyberespionage team linked to the Russian government.
The F.B.I. knew it well: The bureau had spent the last few years trying to kick the Dukes out of the unclassified email systems of the White House, the State Department and even the Joint Chiefs of Staff, one of the government’s best-protected networks.
Yared Tamene, the tech-support contractor at the D.N.C. who fielded the call, was no expert in cyberattacks. His first moves were to check Google for “the Dukes” and conduct a cursory search of the D.N.C. computer system logs to look for hints of such a cyberintrusion. By his own account, he did not look too hard even after Special Agent Hawkins called back repeatedly over the next several weeks — in part because he wasn’t certain the caller was a real F.B.I. agent and not an impostor.
“I had no way of differentiating the call I just received from a prank call,” Mr. Tamene wrote in an internal memo, obtained by The New York Times, that detailed his contact with the F.B.I.
It was the cryptic first sign of a cyberespionage and information-warfare campaign devised to disrupt the 2016 presidential election, the first such attempt by a foreign power in American history. What started as an information-gathering operation, intelligence officials believe, ultimately morphed into an effort to harm one candidate, Hillary Clinton, and tip the election to her opponent, Donald J. Trump.
Like another famous American election scandal, it started with a break-in at the D.N.C. The first time, 44 years ago at the committee’s old offices in the Watergate complex, the burglars planted listening devices and jimmied a filing cabinet. This time, the burglary was conducted from afar, directed by the Kremlin, with spear-phishing emails and zeros and ones.
An examination by The Times of the Russian operation — based on interviews with dozens of players targeted in the attack, intelligence officials who investigated it and Obama administration officials who deliberated over the best response — reveals a series of missed signals, slow responses and a continuing underestimation of the seriousness of the cyberattack.
The D.N.C.’s fumbling encounter with the F.B.I. meant the best chance to halt the Russian intrusion was lost. The failure to grasp the scope of the attacks undercut efforts to minimize their impact. And the White House’s reluctance to respond forcefully meant the Russians have not paid a heavy price for their actions, a decision that could prove critical in deterring future cyberattacks.
The low-key approach of the F.B.I. meant that Russian hackers could roam freely through the committee’s network for nearly seven months before top D.N.C. officials were alerted to the attack and hired cyberexperts to protect their systems. In the meantime, the hackers moved on to targets outside the D.N.C., including Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, John D. Podesta, whose private email account was hacked months later.
By last summer, Democrats watched in helpless fury as their private emails and confidential documents appeared online day after day — procured by Russian intelligence agents, posted on WikiLeaks and other websites, then eagerly reported on by the American media, including The Times. Mr. Trump gleefully cited many of the purloined emails on the campaign trail.
Many of Mrs. Clinton’s closest aides believe that the Russian assault had a profound impact on the election, while conceding that other factors — Mrs. Clinton’s weaknesses as a candidate; her private email server; the public statements of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, about her handling of classified information — were also important.
While there’s no way to be certain of the ultimate impact of the hack, this much is clear: A low-cost, high-impact weapon that Russia had test-fired in elections from Ukraine to Europe was trained on the United States, with devastating effectiveness. For Russia, with an enfeebled economy and a nuclear arsenal it cannot use short of all-out war, cyberpower proved the perfect weapon: cheap, hard to see coming, hard to trace.
“There shouldn’t be any doubt in anybody’s mind,” Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency and commander of United States Cyber Command, said at a postelection conference. “This was not something that was done casually, this was not something that was done by chance, this was not a target that was selected purely arbitrarily,” he said. “This was a conscious effort by a nation-state to attempt to achieve a specific effect.”
“It was just a sucker punch to the gut every day,” Ms. Tanden said. “It was the worst professional experience of my life.”
The United States, too, has carried out cyberattacks, and in decades past the C.I.A. tried to subvert foreign elections. But the Russian attack is increasingly understood across the political spectrum as an ominous historic landmark — with one notable exception: Mr. Trump has rejected the findings of the intelligence agencies he will soon oversee as “ridiculous,” insisting that the hacker may be American, or Chinese, but that “they have no idea.”
Mr. Trump cited the reported disagreements between the agencies about whether Mr. Putin intended to help elect him. On Tuesday, a Russian government spokesman echoed Mr. Trump’s scorn.
“This tale of ‘hacks’ resembles a banal brawl between American security officials over spheres of influence,” Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, wrote on Facebook.
Over the weekend, four prominent senators — two Republicans and two Democrats — joined forces to pledge an investigation while pointedly ignoring Mr. Trump’s skeptical claims.
“Democrats and Republicans must work together, and across the jurisdictional lines of the Congress, to examine these recent incidents thoroughly and devise comprehensive solutions to deter and defend against further cyberattacks,” said Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Chuck Schumer and Jack Reed.
“This cannot become a partisan issue,” they said. “The stakes are too high for our country.”
A Target for Break-Ins
Sitting in the basement of the Democratic National Committee headquarters, below a wall-size 2012 portrait of a smiling Barack Obama, is a 1960s-era filing cabinet missing the handle on the bottom drawer. Only a framed newspaper story hanging on the wall hints at the importance of this aged piece of office furniture.
Andrew Brown, 37, the technology director at the D.N.C., was born after that famous break-in. But as he began to plan for this year’s election cycle, he was well aware that the D.N.C. could become a break-in target again.
There were aspirations to ensure that the D.N.C. was well protected against cyberintruders — and then there was the reality, Mr. Brown and his bosses at the organization acknowledged: The D.N.C. was a nonprofit group, dependent on donations, with a fraction of the security budget that a corporation its size would have.
“There was never enough money to do everything we needed to do,” Mr. Brown said.
The D.N.C. had a standard email spam-filtering service, intended to block phishing attacks and malware created to resemble legitimate email. But when Russian hackers started in on the D.N.C., the committee did not have the most advanced systems in place to track suspicious traffic, internal D.N.C. memos show.
Mr. Tamene, who reports to Mr. Brown and fielded the call from the F.B.I. agent, was not a full-time D.N.C. employee; he works for a Chicago-based contracting firm called The MIS Department. He was left to figure out, largely on his own, how to respond — and even whether the man who had called in to the D.N.C. switchboard was really an F.B.I. agent.
“The F.B.I. thinks the D.N.C. has at least one compromised computer on its network and the F.B.I. wanted to know if the D.N.C. is aware, and if so, what the D.N.C. is doing about it,” Mr. Tamene wrote in an internal memo about his contacts with the F.B.I. He added that “the Special Agent told me to look for a specific type of malware dubbed ‘Dukes’ by the U.S. intelligence community and in cybersecurity circles.”
Part of the problem was that Special Agent Hawkins did not show up in person at the D.N.C. Nor could he email anyone there, as that risked alerting the hackers that the F.B.I. knew they were in the system.
Mr. Tamene’s initial scan of the D.N.C. system — using his less-than-optimal tools and incomplete targeting information from the F.B.I. — found nothing. So when Special Agent Hawkins called repeatedly in October, leaving voice mail messages for Mr. Tamene, urging him to call back, “I did not return his calls, as I had nothing to report,” Mr. Tamene explained in his memo.
In November, Special Agent Hawkins called with more ominous news. A D.N.C. computer was “calling home, where home meant Russia,” Mr. Tamene’s memo says, referring to software sending information to Moscow. “SA Hawkins added that the F.B.I. thinks that this calling home behavior could be the result of a state-sponsored attack.”
Mr. Brown knew that Mr. Tamene, who declined to comment, was fielding calls from the F.B.I. But he was tied up on a different problem: evidence suggesting that the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Mrs. Clinton’s main Democratic opponent, had improperly gained access to her campaign data.
Ms. Wasserman Schultz, then the D.N.C.’s chairwoman, and Amy Dacey, then its chief executive, said in interviews that neither of them was notified about the early reports that the committee’s system had likely been compromised.
Shawn Henry, who once led the F.B.I.’s cyber division and is now president of CrowdStrike Services, the cybersecurity firm retained by the D.N.C. in April, said he was baffled that the F.B.I. did not call a more senior official at the D.N.C. or send an agent in person to the party headquarters to try to force a more vigorous response.
“We are not talking about an office that is in the middle of the woods of Montana,” Mr. Henry said. “We are talking about an office that is half a mile from the F.B.I. office that is getting the notification.”
“This is not a mom-and-pop delicatessen or a local library. This is a critical piece of the U.S. infrastructure because it relates to our electoral process, our elected officials, our legislative process, our executive process,” he added. “To me it is a high-level, serious issue, and if after a couple of months you don’t see any results, somebody ought to raise that to a higher level.”
The F.B.I. declined to comment on the agency’s handling of the hack. “The F.B.I. takes very seriously any compromise of public and private sector systems,” it said in a statement, adding that agents “will continue to share information” to help targets “safeguard their systems against the actions of persistent cybercriminals.”
By March, Mr. Tamene and his team had met at least twice in person with the F.B.I. and concluded that Agent Hawkins was really a federal employee. But then the situation took a dire turn.
A second team of Russian-affiliated hackers began to target the D.N.C. and other players in the political world, particularly Democrats. Billy Rinehart, a former D.N.C. regional field director who was then working for Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, got an odd email warning from Google.
“Someone just used your password to try to sign into your Google account,” the March 22 email said, adding that the sign-in attempt had occurred in Ukraine. “Google stopped this sign-in attempt. You should change your password immediately.”
Mr. Rinehart was in Hawaii at the time. He remembers checking his email at 4 a.m. for messages from East Coast associates. Without thinking much about the notification, he clicked on the “change password” button and half asleep, as best he can remember, he typed in a new password.
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