White House tries to distance Trump from campaign aides

Published: Monday, March 20, 2017 @ 5:01 PM
Updated: Monday, March 20, 2017 @ 5:00 PM


            White House tries to distance Trump from campaign aides

The White House is distancing itself from two former senior members of Donald Trump's team, amid an FBI investigation into possible connections between Trump "associates" and Russia.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Monday referred to Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, as a "volunteer of the campaign." And he said Paul Manafort, who ran Trump's campaign for months, "played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time."

"And so to start to look at some individual that was there for a short period of time or, separately, individuals who really didn't play any role in the campaign and to suggest that those are the basis for anything is a bit ridiculous," he said.

Spicer wrongly claimed that Manafort was brought onto Trump's campaign "sometime in June and by the middle of August he was no longer with the campaign." In fact, Manafort was hired in late March as Trump's convention manager, and was promoted to campaign chairman in May. He resigned from the campaign's top post in mid-August, amid an onslaught of negative press having to do with his past work for foreign governments, including pro-Russian Ukrainian leaders.

Manafort issued a statement Monday defending himself against suggestions he played a part in Russia's efforts to interfere with the U.S. presidential campaign. He said he had "no role or involvement" in the cyber hack of the Democratic National Committee and disclosure of stolen emails.

Flynn, meanwhile, was one of the president's closest advisers throughout the campaign and the transition, frequently traveling on his plane. He was named national security adviser, but resigned from the White House last month after he was found to have misled senior members of the administration about his contacts with Russia's top diplomat to the U.S.

During a congressional hearing Monday examining Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible connections between Moscow and Trump's aides, FBI Director James Comey was asked about various campaign advisers and staffers, including Carter Page, whom Trump once named as one of his foreign policy advisers. Comey generally declined to talk about specific staffers.

In a letter to the Senate intelligence committee, Page, who has emerged as a key figure in the controversy surrounding Trump associates' connections to Russia, cast himself as a regular presence in Trump Tower, where the campaign was headquartered.

"I have frequently dined in Trump Grill, had lunch in Trump Café, had coffee meetings in the Starbucks at Trump Tower, attended events and spent many hours in campaign headquarters on the fifth floor last year," Page wrote. It is unclear whether that is true. After the campaign, Trump's lawyers sent Page at least two cease and desist letters.

Spicer described Carter and other individuals mentioned during the hearing as "hangers-oner on the campaign."

"Those people, the greatest amount of interaction that they had with the campaign was the campaign apparently sending them a series of cease and desists," he said.

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Miffed neighbors say Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner have 'ruined the neighborhood'

Published: Sunday, March 26, 2017 @ 1:36 AM

Neighbors of first daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, held a meeting last week to complain that the new arrivals in D.C. weren’t doing their part to make things livable for others in the neighborhood.

Even though former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama live a short distance away, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also lives nearby, neighbors recently complained about the Trump and Kushner household at a recent meeting. Among those reportedly in attendance was Fox News anchor Chris Wallace.

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Problems ranging from lack of parking near their home and improper trash removal have neighbors up in arms.

“They’ve completely ruined the neighborhood,” one neighbor told The Associated Press. Another noted that some of the ire may be due to the couple’s politics. 

Trump has been made aware of the issues, although she didn’t directly reference them in a statement to the AP.

“We love the neighborhood, and our family has received an incredibly gracious welcome from our neighbors," she said in the statement.

Gym owner Anne Mulhman requested a private meeting with Trump after she discovered she had attended one of her SolidCore workout classes. Muhlman wrote a note to other members saying that Trump's father was “threatening the rights of many of my beloved clients and coaches.” She later apologized for her comments.

Infowars' Alex Jones apologizes for spreading fake 'Pizzagate' story

Published: Sunday, March 26, 2017 @ 2:23 AM

Infowars' Alex Jones apologizes for spreading fake 'Pizzagate' story

Alex Jones on Friday apologized to the owner of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria for spreading the fake story last year that linked the restaurant to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and human trafficking.

Jones, as the Austin, Texas-based host of Infowars.com, has a long history of pushing wild and false conspiracy theories, such as claiming that the U.S. government perpetrated the 9/11 attacks or the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, was a hoax.

But in a rare backtracking mea culpa, Jones apologized for his role in promoting the baseless “Pizzagate” story that went viral among right-wing bloggers and media sites during the 2016 presidential campaign.

>> Watch the clip here

The gist of the fake story accused Hillary Clinton and her presidential campaign chairman, John Podesta, of running a child sex abuse ring through the Comet Ping Pong restaurant owned by James Alefantis. Podesta’s comments about the pizzeria — made in Democratic Party emails exposed by WikiLeaks — became fodder for fake news web portals as well as popular user-generated content sites like Reddit and 4chan.

Jones, in a statement he read aloud for his online audience, tried to put some distance between himself and the fake story and blamed “scores of media outlets,” “third-party accounts of alleged activities” and “accounts of (Infowars) reporters who are no longer with us” for the “incorrect narrative” he discussed several times on his program.

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“In our commentary about what had become known as Pizzagate, I made comments about Mr. Alefantis that in hindsight I regret, and for which I apologize to him,” Jones said.

In language that was clearly sculpted by a legal mind hoping to avoid possible litigation, Jones added: “To my knowledge today, neither Mr. Alefantis nor his restaurant Comet Ping Pong, were involved in any human trafficking as was part of the theories about Pizzagate.”

For many people, the Pizzagate conspiracy theory became part of the mainstream political discussion only in December, after 28-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch of North Carolina reportedly brought a gun into a Comet Ping Pong packed with customers, and pointed it at an employee in hopes of finding proof of “Pizzagate.”

Welch surrendered to police when he found no evidence that children were being harbored there, D.C. police said at the time. He pleaded guilty to weapons and assault charges Friday, CNN reported.

Paul Manafort's Russia ties: 5 things to know

Published: Wednesday, March 22, 2017 @ 10:48 AM

Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, secretly worked a decade ago to help Russian President Vladmir Putin at the behest of a Russian billionaire, The Associated Press reported Friday.

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The Trump administration and Manafort himself have denied that he previously worked for Russian interests, but documents and interviews obtained by the AP appeared to contradict that claim.

Manafort, a lobbyist and political consultant, worked for the Trump campaign from March to August 2016. He resigned after an AP report revealed he had coordinated a covert Washington lobbying operation on behalf of Ukraine’s ruling pro-Russia political party until 2014.

Here are five things to know about the latest allegations:
  1. In a confidential strategy plan obtained by the AP, Manafort pitched a plan to Russian aluminum magnate and close Putin ally Oleg Deripaska aimed at influencing “politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government.”
    The plan existed as early as June 2005, the wire service reported.
    "We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success," Manafort wrote in the 2005 memo obtained by the AP. Manafort wrote that the effort "will be offering a great service that can refocus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government."
  2. Manafort signed a $10 million annual contract with Deripaska in 2006, but it was unclear how much work he did under that contact, according to the AP.
    A person familiar with the work that Manafort did for Deripaska told the AP that the two maintained a business relationship until at least 2009.
    A spokesman for Deripaska declined to answer questions from the AP.
  3. Manafort denied that his work for Deripaska was “inappropriate or nefarious” in a statement released to the AP.
    “I worked with Oleg Deripaska almost a decade ago, representing him on business and personal matters in countries where he had investments,” Manafort told the wire service. “My work for Mr. Deripaska did not involve representing Russia’s political interests.” 
  4. The report comes as the Trump administration deals with increased scrutiny of its ties with Russia. At a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Monday, FBI director James Comey confirmed that authorities are investigating whether Trump associates and Russian officials worked together to influence the November presidential election in Trump’s favor.
    “The FBI, as part of our counterintelligence effort, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 president election,” Comey said, according to The New York Times.
    Comey declined to say whether Manafort was a target of the investigation.
  5. The situation could prove criminal if authorities determine that Manafort violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The act requires lobbyists who work in the U.S. on behalf of foreign governments and leaders to report to the Justice Department about their actions.
    Manafort did not disclose his pro-Putin work to the Justice Department, according to the AP.
    Failure to register as a foreign agent is a felony that carries a sentence of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

American spring breakers chant 'Build that wall' while vacationing in Mexico

Published: Tuesday, March 21, 2017 @ 11:34 AM

A Mexican newspaper blasted a group of young Americans visiting Cancun on spring break after witnesses said they broke into chants of “Build that wall” earlier this month and refused to stop, despite complaints.

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In an editorial published Friday, The Yucatan Times said the incident was not isolated but was part of a growing number of complaints about “offensive, rude and haughty” spring break tourists who flock to Mexico for vacation.

Newlyweds Suly and Anaximandro Amable took to social media on March 6 after they said they attended a show on the “Pirate Ship” out of Puerto Juarez as part of their honeymoon, according to The Yucatan Times and social media posts.

Suly Amable wrote on Facebook that she and her husband were getting off the boat after the show when they heard the chants.

"In the face of such stupidity, one doesn't know how to immediately react," she wrote. "We were stunned. The whole thing seemed implausible."

Anaximandro Amable said the group who broke into the chant might have been intoxicated when they “began to sing the infamous ‘Build that wall’ chant louder and louder.”

“I have always been tolerant of the countries of the world and I have wanted to believe that human stupidity and ignorance … is characteristic of a small group of people,” Anaximandro Amable wrote. “But there are things with which one cannot be tolerant, such as discourse that incites hatred.”

The Yucatan Times reported that several Mexican tourists on the ship became annoyed and uncomfortable as the chants went on, but the Americans refused to stop chanting.

President Donald Trump has vowed to build a wall on the border between the United States and Mexico.

“I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me,” Trump said in June 2015 while announcing his presidential run. "I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall.”