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White House twists bombshell testimony about Russia contacts

May 23, 2017 aurorax 0

The Trump administration wants you to believe the CIA has no evidence of collusion, but that’s not what the former director said.

Former CIA Director John Brennan is sworn-in on Capitol Hill on May 23 prior to testifying before the House Intelligence Committee Russia Investigation Task Force. CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

During a House Intelligence Committee Hearing on Tuesday, former CIA Director John Brennan said the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia is “well founded.” He cited “information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals” as evidence.

As Daily Beast editor Justin Miller pointed out, Brennan’s testimony represents the first time a U.S. official has publicly said they have direct knowledge of communications between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Trey Gowdy’s effort to throw cold water on Trump-Russia collusion backfires spectacularly

Brennan didn’t come out and detail evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. He explained during the hearing the evidence is classified information and not appropriate to discuss a public setting.

Nonetheless, after the hearing, the White House tried to spin Brennan’s testimony as inconsequential. The administration that has routinely decried the use of unnamed sources in media reports sent a statement “attributable to a White House spokesman” to Politico’s Edward Isaac-Dovere that said, “This morning’s hearings back up what we’ve been saying all along: that despite a year of investigation, there is still no evidence of any Russia-Trump campaign collusion.”

The hearing, however, didn’t back that up at all. By not disclosing details during Tuesday’s hearing, Brennan was just trying to protect classified information.

Brennan made clear that the communications he was referring to were concerning. He said that when when he left the CIA upon Trump’s inauguration, he “had unresolved questions in my mind about whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons, involved in the campaign or not, to work on their behalf, again, either in a witting or unwitting fashion.”

“Therefore, I felt as though the FBI investigation was certainly well founded and needed to look into these issues,” he added. That investigation began in July 2016 — the month before Trump pushed for unusual pro-Russian changes to the Republican Party platform. A month later, campaign chairman Paul Manafort resigned from the campaign amid reports Ukrainian authorities were investigating him for receiving $12.7 million in illegal payments from Ukraine’s former pro-Russia ruling party.

Brennan’s comments about the Trump’s campaign’s communications with Russian officials came in response to questions from Trump-backer Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), whose attempt to throw cold water on Trump-Russian collusion backfired spectacularly. Nonetheless, after the hearing, Gowdy was still telling reporters he doesn’t think there is anything unusual about the Trump campaign being in regular communication with a foreign adversary who was simultaneously meddling in the presidential election.

Trey Gowdy, senior GOP member of House Intel, downplayed Brennan’s testimony, telling me it’s not unusual for Russians to contact campaigns

 — @mkraju

Gowdy’s comment also overlooks the fact Trump associates denied there was contact between the Trump campaign and Russia on 20 separate occasions.

On January 16, Trump told reporters, “I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.” A month later, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said despite Flynn’s transition-period contacts with Kislyak, he wasn’t aware of any Trump associates being in contact with Russian officials during the campaign. On February 20, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Trump-Russia “is a non-story because to the best of our knowledge, no contacts took place, so it’s hard to make a comment on something that never happened.”

Last week, Reuters revealed those claims to be lies, reporting that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and other Trump campaign advisers “were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race.”

The Trump White House’s spin about Brennan’s testimony is reminiscent of how Trump administration officials twisted the words of James Clapper following the former director of national intelligence’s appearance on Meet the Press in March. Clapper said he wasn’t aware of any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia — a statement Trump and his associates used to claim that no evidence exists.

When James Clapper himself, and virtually everyone else with knowledge of the witch hunt, says there is no collusion, when does it end?

 — @realDonaldTrump

But during a Senate hearing two months later, Clapper clarified that he never meant to suggest no such evidence existed — only that he wasn’t aware of it because FBI Director James Comey didn’t brief him about the FBI’s investigation.

“So it is not surprising or abnormal that I would not have known about the investigation or even more important, the content of that investigation,” Clapper said during an MSNBC appearance the same week as the Senate hearing. “So I don’t know if there was collusion or not, I don’t know if there is evidence of collusion or not, nor should I have in this particular context.”

James Clapper destroys Trump’s favorite talking point about the Russia investigation

The White House statement also says that the hearing with Brennan backed up that “the President never jeopardized intelligence sources or sharing.” That statement comes the day after Trump accidentally confirmed the source of classified intelligence he recklessly shared with Russian officials during a recent Oval Office meeting. During Tuesday’s hearing, Brennan said Trump’s handling of that counterterrorism information broke protocol in a number of ways.


White House twists bombshell testimony about Russia contacts was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Fox News retracts story on Seth Rich murder conspiracy but Hannity keeps going

May 23, 2017 aurorax 0

Hannity is also ignoring pleas from the Rich family.

CREDIT: Fox News Screengrab

Fox News has formally retracted a story published on May 16 that claimed Seth Rich, a DNC staffer who was murdered last year, was in contact with Wikileaks. A statement on the Fox News website says the retracted piece “was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting.” Once the article was reviewed, it “was found not to meet those standards.”

The article, by investigative reporter Malia Zimmerman, has been removed from the internet. (An archive of the article can be found here.)

Zimmerman’s report cited an “FBI forensic report” that detailed communications between Rich and individuals associated with Wikileaks. The article quotes an anonymous federal law enforcement source claiming to “have seen and read the emails between Seth Rich and WikiLeaks.” Subsequent reporting by ABC revealed that the FBI was not involved in the investigation.

The report on Fox News also relied on independent investigator Rod Wheeler, who has since retracted his statements.

Right-wing media have exploited Rich’s murder to raise questions about whether Russian intelligence was the source of emails that Wikileaks dumped during the 2016 presidential campaign.

While the Zimmerman article has been taken down, several pieces promoting the conspiracy remain on Fox News websites.

None of this has given pause to Sean Hannity, one of Fox News’ primetime stars, who continues to relentlessly promote the Seth Rich conspiracy on his show.

Screenshots from Hannity

He is also promoting this story on Twitter.

Congress, investigate Seth Rich Murder! @JulianAssange made comments u need to listen to! If Seth was wiki source, no Trump/Russia collusion https://t.co/QPHZwypU34

 — @seanhannity

Hannity is also relentlessly pushing information about Seth Rich from Kim Dotcom, the founder of MegaUpload, who is currently fighting extradition to the United States for criminal copyright infringement and other charges.

Wow. PLEASE READ ASAP https://t.co/wAmkwQkMMs

 — @seanhannity

Dotcom promised to reveal information proving Rich’s connection to Wikileaks but provided no evidence and instead asked for legal assurances from the United States. Hannity is planning on hosting Dotcom on his show tonight.

In response to this, Seth Rich’s family is pleading with Hannity to stop spreading conspiracy theories about him. Rich’s brother, Aaron, writes that “providing a platform to spread potentially false, damaging information will cause us additional pain, suffering and sorrow.” Aaron Rich writes that Hannity’s broadcast of false and unverified information “will continue to emotionally hurt us.”

NEW: Brother of Seth Rich pleads with @seanhannity to stop spreading conspiracy theory in letter to exec producer https://t.co/Z3VtVk2vRz

 — @oliverdarcy

Hannity’s coverage, according to the Daily Beast, is causing a backlash at Fox News, where numerous staffers are embarrassed by Hannity’s efforts.

It has not, thus far, caused a backlash among Hannity’s advertisers. His show continues to be supported by major brands like Mercedes-Benz, Bayer and Capital One.


Fox News retracts story on Seth Rich murder conspiracy but Hannity keeps going was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Trey Gowdy’s effort to throw cold water on Trump-Russia collusion backfires spectacularly

May 23, 2017 aurorax 0

Trump says Russia probe is a “witch hunt.” John Brennan says it’s anything but.

CREDIT: MSNBC screengrab

During a House Intelligence Committee Hearing on Tuesday, former CIA Director John Brennan confirmed he’s aware of communications between the Trump campaign and Russian officials that sparked concern about possible collusion.

Brennan declined to get into details, saying that specifics about the people involved and what was said remain classified. But he said he “encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals, and it raised questions in my mind whether or not the Russians were able to gain the cooperation of those individuals.”

That “information and intelligence,” Brennan added, led to the FBI’s counterintelligence probe of the Trump campaign, which began in July 2016.

https://medium.com/media/f6adfd170b7243c7fae950ab623462a8/href

Brennan was responding to a question from Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) about evidence of collusion that seemed intended to highlight that no such evidence exists. His effort backfired. During House Intelligence Committee hearing about the Russia probe, Gowdy has repeatedly tried to change the topic from possible collusion involving the Trump campaign to leaks.

Congressman who railed against leakers now says it doesn’t matter where info comes from

At another point during the hearing, Brennan said that when he left the CIA upon Trump’s inauguration, he “had unresolved questions in my mind about whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons, involved in the campaign or not, to work on their behalf, again, either in a witting or unwitting fashion.” He added that he was concerned about Russia’s efforts to recruit U.S. persons.

“Therefore, I felt as though the FBI investigation was certainly well founded and needed to look into these issues,” he added.

Though the intelligence community has said all along that it’s concerned about Russia’s efforts to meddle in the presidential election, Trump and others in his inner circle have repeatedly tried to enlist officials to publicly downplay the situation.

In late February, CNN reported that the FBI “rejected a recent White House request to publicly knock down media reports about communications between Donald Trump’s associates and Russians known to US intelligence during the 2016 presidential campaign.” According to CNN, FBI Director James Comey denied White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus’ request because “the alleged communications between Trump associates and Russians known to US intelligence are the subject of an ongoing investigation.” Comey publicly confirmed that investigation in March.

Then, on Monday, the Washington Post broke news that in the wake of Comey’s confirmation of the investigation, Trump tried to enlist Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers to publicly deny that any evidence of collusion existed. They refused, citing the inappropriateness of the intelligence community meddling in an active FBI investigation.

Trump and other administration officials have repeatedly twisted the words of former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to support their content that no evidence of collusion existed. But during a Senate hearing on May 8, Clapper explained that he never meant to suggest no evidence existed. Instead, he clarified that he simply wasn’t aware of the FBI’s probe.

James Clapper destroys Trump’s favorite talking point about the Russia investigation

Nonetheless, on May 10, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer continued to insist that Clapper’s Meet the Press remarks somehow exonerate the Trump campaign.

Brennan’s comments came less than a week after Reuters broke news that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and other Trump campaign advisers “were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race.”

Reuters, citing current and former U.S. officials familiar with the communications, reported that the “previously undisclosed interactions form part of the record now being reviewed by FBI and congressional investigators probing Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia.”

New report indicates Trump officials lied repeatedly about campaign’s contacts with Russia

Six of the communications involved calls between Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak and Trump advisers, including Flynn. Flynn lost his job as Trump’s national security adviser after officials leaked news that Flynn lied to administration officials about his pre-inauguration communications with Kislyak — including discussions of sanctions placed on Russia by the Obama administration in response to Russia’s meddling in the election on behalf of Trump.

Flynn wasn’t the only one who lied about his communications with Kislyak — so did Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who promised to recuse himself from any Russia-Trump campaign-related investigations after Justice Department officials leaked news that Sessions didn’t tell the truth during his confirmation hearing. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a senior White House adviser, also didn’t disclose his December meeting with Kislyak on his security clearance form.

Brennan’s comments about the “well founded” basis of the Russia investigation blow up Trump’s talking point — one he pushed as recently as May 18 on Twitter — that the probe is just a “witch hunt” promoted by Democrats upset about Hillary Clinton’s defeat.


Trey Gowdy’s effort to throw cold water on Trump-Russia collusion backfires spectacularly was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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There’s new evidence that President Trump obstructed a Russia investigation

May 23, 2017 aurorax 0

Here’s the case for charging the president with obstruction of justice

8CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

President Donald Trump asked two high-ranking intelligence officials to publicly deny allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to sway the election reports the Washington Post, citing “current and former officials.”

According the Post’s sources, who were granted anonymity, the president asked Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and Adm. Michael S. Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, to publicly deny any evidence existed that the campaign colluded with Russia. The conversations apparently happened in March, after then–FBI director James Comey had told the House Intelligence Committee that officials were investigating links and alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Coats and Rogers apparently each rejected those request on the grounds it would be inappropriate.

The sources also tell reporters that a senior NSA official kept a record of the conversation between Trump and Rogers — leaving a paper trail that could be discoverable to investigators on the Russia case — but the report does not clarify whether a parallel Coats memo exists. If the Rogers memo is real, the paper trail on the president’s efforts to evade scrutiny is growing very long; Comey is also believed to have filed a memo about a conversation with Trump during which the president attempted to squash an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s Russia links.

Obstruction of justice

With this latest report, evidence mounts that the president himself has repeatedly taken steps to stop or interfere with an ongoing investigation into his close affiliates and their ties to Russian officials. The investigation is now in the hands of an independent investigator: Robert Mueller, former FBI director, is leading the probe as special counselor.

In several cases, the president has publicly made statements that point to willful interference into the investigation. He memorably threatened Comey on Twitter immediately after reports came out that Trump had asked him to swear loyalty despite an ongoing investigation. Comey declined.

In an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, Trump himself admitted he fired Comey from the FBI with the Russia investigation on his mind. Then Trump reportedly bragged to Russian officials in the White House — one of whom is believed to a top intelligence operative for Russia — that he was having success shaking the investigation, especially after he fired Comey.

Officials loyal to Trump have also apparently joined in the effort to obstruct an going investigation, often at the president’s direct urging, according to reports. In several cases, these political loyalists have remained in charge of investigative procedures while publicly backing up the man whose advisors are under investigation. Trump reportedly asked Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) — one of the officials charged with gathering evidence for the Senate investigation — to call reporters in an attempt to minimize reports of contact between Trump officials and Russian intelligence agents. Burr made the calls.

In the other chamber of Congress, the president reportedly asked House Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) to also call reporters to help minimize the Russia story. Nunes complied. Nunes also backed up Trump’s claim that President Obama wiretapped him. According to those same reports, Trump made the same request of FBI officials.

Officials within the White House, with regular direct access to the president, have followed orders to tamp down the Russia investigation. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus reportedly contacted the FBI to request officials publicly dispute reports of communications between White House or campaign officials and Russian intelligence.

At this point, even in the unlikely scenario that the Russia investigation turns up nothing that warrants any kind of censure, the very act of interference constitutes an impeachable offense. Presidents Nixon and Clinton both faced charges of obstruction of justice in their impeachment proceedings.

The president dismisses any inquiry into links between his campaign or advisors: it’s a witch hunt, unfair, and fake news, according to the president. If reports are to be believed, however, he remains extremely spooked about the investigation — and reporting on the growing scandal — going any further than it already has.


There’s new evidence that President Trump obstructed a Russia investigation was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Michael Flynn said to have lied to the Pentagon about his Russia connections

May 22, 2017 aurorax 0

Ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee says Flynn hid Russia ties while applying for top-secret clearance.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Walsh

On the same day former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn rejected a Senate Intelligence Committee subpoena by asserting his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee issued a letter saying Flynn misled the Department of Defense in order to cover up links to the Russian government.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) wrote to Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) that the committee “has in our possession documents that appear to indicate that General Flynn lied to investigators who interviewed him in 2016 as part of his security clearance renewal.”

Specifically, Flynn allegedly told the Pentagon that he had been paid by “U.S. companies” for a December 2015 trip to Moscow, when in fact he received $45,000 from the Russian state-owned media company RT.

If Flynn did in fact lie to investigators, he could face “up to five years in prison,” the New York Times reports.

Flynn is a central figure in the investigation of alleged collusion between Russian intelligence officials and members of President Donald Trump’s inner circle. An adviser to Trump’s campaign, Flynn later became his first national security adviser, only to be abruptly forced out after it became public that he had failed to disclose conversations with a Russian diplomat regarding U.S. sanctions on the country.

Since then, further leaks have confirmed that the Trump transition team received numerous warnings regarding Flynn’s compromised position, yet brought him on anyway.

The Senate subpoena that Flynn rejected on Monday had ordered him to turn over records regarding his ties to Russia.


Michael Flynn said to have lied to the Pentagon about his Russia connections was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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OOPS: Trump accidentally confirms source of classified intel he gave to Russians

May 22, 2017 aurorax 0

He did so while mischaracterizing media reports about his Oval Office meeting with top Russian diplomats.

CREDIT: CNN screengrab

During a photo opportunity with President Trump on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was asked if he’s concerned about Trump sharing highly sensitive counterterrorism intelligence with Russian officials on May 10 — information that reportedly came from an Israeli source.

Trump responded by telling reporters that he never mentioned the word “Israel” during that meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak.

“Just so you understand — I never mentioned the word or the name ‘Israel,’” Trump said. “I never mentioned it during that conversation.”

Gesturing to reporters, Trump added, “They were all saying I did. So you had another story wrong. Never mentioned the word ‘Israel.’”

“Intelligence cooperation is terrific,” Netanyahu said.

President Trump says he “never mentioned the word Israel” in his Oval Office meeting with Russian officials

 — @CNNPolitics

The details Trump shared about an ISIS plot to use an explosive tucked inside a laptop computer to bring down a U.S.-bound airplane were quickly traced back to an Israeli source. But before Trump’s comments on Monday, administration officials hadn’t publicly said anything about it, nor had they confirmed that the intelligence came from Israel.

During a news conference last week, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster didn’t deny that Trump shared classified information with the Russians, but said Trump “wasn’t even aware of where that information came from.”

Trump’s comments on Monday also misrepresented mainstream media reports about his disclosure, none of which claimed he mentioned Israel by name during his meeting with the Russian diplomats.

The consequences of Trump’s disclosure are both immediate and long-term. ABC, citing current and former U.S. officials, reported that Trump’s actions endangered the life of a spy placed by Israel inside ISIS. Matt Olsen, the former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told ABC that “the real risk is not just this source…but future sources of information about plots against us.”

On Friday, Foreign Policy, citing an unnamed Israeli intelligence officer, reported that Israel officials “are angry and alarmed” by the disclosure.

“The revelation that sensitive information may have been passed to Russia, a partner to Iran, was particularly concerning,” Foreign Policy added. “Israel has become increasingly anxious about Russia’s military cooperation with Iran in support of the Syrian regime and its growing cyberwarfare capabilities… In Israel, there is fear the compromise of intelligence could damage the country’s interests and even jeopardize lives, the official said.”

Trump bans American journalists, but not Russian press, from meeting with Russian foreign minister

Similarly, two Israeli intelligence officials told BuzzFeed that Trump’s disclosure was Israel’s “worst fears confirmed.”

“We have an arrangement with America which is unique to the world of intelligence sharing. We do not have this relationship with any other country,” an anonymous Israeli official said, according to BuzzFeed. “There is a special understanding of security cooperation between our countries… To know that this intelligence is shared with others, without our prior knowledge? That is, for us, our worst fears confirmed.”

Although Israelis aren’t happy about Trump’s conduct, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said earlier Monday that no apology will be forthcoming.

“I don’t know that there’s anything to apologize for,” Tillerson told reporters on Air Force One. “To the extent the Israelis have any questions, or clarification, I’m sure we’re happy to provide that.”

While Trump’s comments brought renewed focus to the revelation that Trump took the unusual step of sharing highly sensitive intelligence with Russia on May 10, that development was overshadowed over the weekend by another bombshell report about what Trump told Russian officials during that Oval Office rendezvous.

Trump reportedly bragged to Russian officials about squashing the FBI’s Russia investigation

On Friday, the New York Times reported that Trump told the top Russian diplomats that his move to fire FBI Director James Comey amid an ongoing FBI investigation into his campaign’s links with Russia relied “great pressure” on him.

“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump told Lavrov and Kislyak, according to a document read to Times reporters by an anonymous source. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

The White House didn’t dispute that Trump in fact said those words, which seem to confirm he fired Comey to obstruct an ongoing investigation into his campaign.


OOPS: Trump accidentally confirms source of classified intel he gave to Russians was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Marco Rubio Calls Out the Media for Pure Speculation on Comey Firing…

May 22, 2017 aurorax 0

Hold on to your butts. The forecast for this week calls for endless, insufferable media coverage on Trump and *place potential scandal here* (see CNN’s Chris Cuomo Goes Full Moron. Demands Evidence of No Evidence and SURPRISE! Harvard Study Highlights Mainstream Media’s Anti-Trump Bias. It’s Yuge). The media has been lobbing accusations at Trump since […]

No Picture

Trump arrives in Israel having already confused and antagonized his allies there

May 22, 2017 aurorax 0

A debate surrounding the Western Wall and tensions over sharing classified intelligence with Russia will likely cloud the visit.

The Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, in Jerusalem’s Old City. CREDIT: AP Photo/Ariel Schalit

President Donald Trump lands in Israel on Monday after a string of controversies that have left U.S. relations with the country in a precarious place.

Earlier this month, Trump disclosed classified information to Russian officials in the Oval Office—and last week, the New York Times reported that the source of that intelligence was Israel. Passing Israeli intelligence on to Moscow was already a point of contention, but things worsened when the White House twice failed to clarify whether it believes the Western Wall in Jerusalem is part of Israel or not.

The holiest site in Judaism where Jews are allowed to pray, the Western Wall, or Kotel, is located in East Jerusalem, an area that has long been floated as the desired capital of any future Palestinian state. East Jerusalem has been occupied by Israel since 1967, with international law maintaining it as part of the Palestinian territories. No sitting U.S. president has ever visited the Western Wall, a trend Trump reportedly plans to buck while in Israel. But according to Israeli news channel Channel 2, when Israeli officials requested that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accompany Trump on his visit, a person identified only as a “senior American official” responded, “Certainly not. This isn’t your jurisdiction. This is part of the West Bank.”

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman kisses the stones of the Western Wall. CREDIT: AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner

An Israeli official told the channel that the government was “convinced that this statement contradicts President Trump’s policy,” and added that the United States had been asked to clarify its stance. But during a subsequent press briefing, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster declined to discuss the site’s ownership, referring to its location as a “policy decision.” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer also remained vague when asked about the issue, asserting the Western Wall was “clearly in Jerusalem” — but failing to say whether it was in Israel. Muddying the issue even further, Nikki Haley, Trump’s ambassador to the U.N., declared the Western Wall to be Israeli territory while stressing that she was unclear of official U.S. policy on the issue.

Sovereignty over the Western Wall is considered non-negotiable by the Israeli government, and many on the far right argue that Jerusalem belongs to Israel in its entirety. Netanyahu’s administration has repeatedly rejected allegations that the Western Wall is in occupied territory, asserting that Jews, and by extension Israel, are the site’s rightful owners. In failing to support that claim unreservedly, Trump’s administration has signaled that the issue is up for debate — something that Israel will not take kindly to.

The state of U.S.-Israel intelligence sharing isn’t helping matters. Israeli news outlets reported in January that U.S. officials were warning their Israeli counterparts to tread cautiously when sharing information with the Trump administration, in no small part because of the president’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Speaking with Buzzfeed News last week, two Israeli intelligence officials confirmed that Israel is the source of the information Trump gave to Moscow. Russia is a close ally of Iran, Israel’s regional adversary, and officials were reportedly “boiling mad” to learn intelligence had been shared.

“We have an arrangement with America which is unique to the world of intelligence sharing. We do not have this relationship with any other country,” one official told Buzzfeed. Both emphasized the “special understanding of security cooperation” between the new nations, and underscored the concern raised by the incident. “To know that this intelligence is shared with others, without our prior knowledge?” they told the publication. “That is, for us, our worst fears confirmed.”

“Fears confirmed” is increasingly the narrative surrounding Israel’s relationship with the Trump administration, which marks a shift. Israel has long been more receptive to Trump than many American Jews, who are concerned by a rise in hate crimes and the administration’s frequent flirtations with anti-Semitism. To the right-wing government in Jerusalem, the Trump administration seemed to promise warmer U.S.-Israel ties after the chilly Obama years.

Despite a long history of human rights violations, Trump has similarly proven willing to appease Israel. He named David Friedman, an avowed supporter of Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories, as U.S. ambassador to the country. He has also said he “could live with” either a one state or two state solution, walking back years of U.S. foreign policy and alarming Palestinians.

Trump walks back years of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East

But Trump has also proven inconsistent, retreating from promises in the face of political reality — something highlighted by his stance on moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. As a presidential candidate, Trump vowed to move the embassy, a promise he renewed before his inauguration. It’s something he could easily do in theory — a 1995 law passed by Congress names Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and required the embassy to be relocated there by 1999 at the risk of losing State Department funding. A provision of the law allowed presidents to waive the requirement for a six-month period, however, and all U.S. administrations in the time since have exercised that right every six months, following the advice of regional experts.

Initially, Trump promised a change. But prior to his trip, a senior White House official told Bloomberg that the president had decided against immediately moving the embassy to Jerusalem.

“We don’t think it would be wise to do it at this time,” the official said, citing likely outcry from Palestinians as a key factor in the decision. “We’ve been very clear what our position is and what we would like to see done, but we’re not looking to provoke anyone when everyone’s playing really nice.”

Coupled with a failure to decisively recognize the Western Wall as being in Israel, comments like these signal a lack of cohesive policy when it comes to Israel — something that’s unlikely to be received well by Netanyahu’s government. But it remains unclear whether the topic of the embassy will be broached on Trump’s trip, or even whether dynamics between Israel and the people living under its occupation will come up at all. Trump has called peace between Israel and the Palestinians the “ultimate deal,” but, per his own ambassador to Israel, the president doesn’t seem to be arriving in the country with a set agenda for long term harmony.

“I am fairly confident that the president will not come to Israel with any particular plan or road map or with any specifics on peace,” Friedman told Israel Hayom.

In addition to visiting the Western Wall, Trump will reportedly meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and briefly stop by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, for no more than 15 minutes.

One part of the trip has already been shelved. Trump reportedly wanted to deliver a speech at Masada, an ancient UNESCO World Heritage Site where Jewish rebels are believed to have fended off the Roman Empire centuries ago before committing mass suicide. But when Trump asked if he could land his chopper at the historic site, where helicopters are not permitted, Israeli officials said no—and so the speech was scrapped completely.


Trump arrives in Israel having already confused and antagonized his allies there was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.