WASHINGTON — There are few things that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia desires more than the weakening of NATO, the military alliance among the United States, Europe and Canada that has deterred Soviet and Russian aggression for 70 years.
Last year, President Trump suggested a move tantamount to destroying NATO: the withdrawal of the United States.
Senior administration officials told The New York Times that several times over the course of 2018, Mr. Trump privately said he wanted to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Current and former officials who support the alliance said they feared Mr. Trump could return to his threat as allied military spending continued to lag behind the goals the president had set.
In the days around a tumultuous NATO summit meeting last summer, they said, Mr. Trump told his top national security officials that he did not see the point of the military alliance, which he presented as a drain on the United States.
At the time, Mr. Trump’s national security team, including Jim Mattis, then the defense secretary, and John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, scrambled to keep American strategy on track without mention of a withdrawal that would drastically reduce Washington’s influence in Europe and could embolden Russia for decades.
Now, the president’s repeatedly stated desire to withdraw from NATO is raising new worries among national security officials amid growing concern about Mr. Trump’s efforts to keep his meetings with Mr. Putin secret from even his own aides, and an F.B.I. investigation into the administration’s Russia ties.
A move to withdraw from the alliance, in place since 1949, “would be one of the most damaging things that any president could do to U.S. interests,” said Michèle A. Flournoy, an under secretary of defense under President Barack Obama.
“It would destroy 70-plus years of painstaking work across multiple administrations, Republican and Democratic, to create perhaps the most powerful and advantageous alliance in history,” Ms. Flournoy said in an interview. “And it would be the wildest success that Vladimir Putin could dream of.”
Retired Adm. James G. Stavridis, the former supreme allied commander of NATO, said an American withdrawal from the alliance would be “a geopolitical mistake of epic proportion.”
“Even discussing the idea of leaving NATO — let alone actually doing so — would be the gift of the century for Putin,” Admiral Stavridis said.
Senior Trump administration officials discussed the internal and highly sensitive efforts to preserve the military alliance on condition of anonymity.
After the White House was asked for comment on Monday, a senior administration official pointed to Mr. Trump’s remarks in July when he called the United States’ commitment to NATO “very strong” and the alliance “very important.” The official declined to comment further.
American national security officials believe that Russia has largely focused on undermining solidarity between the United States and Europe after it annexed Crimea in 2014. Its goal was to upend NATO, which Moscow views as a threat.
Russia’s meddling in American elections and its efforts to prevent former satellite states from joining the alliance have aimed to weaken what it views as an enemy next door, the American officials said. With a weakened NATO, they said, Mr. Putin would have more freedom to behave as he wishes, setting up Russia as a counterweight to Europe and the United States.
An American withdrawal from the alliance would accomplish all that Mr. Putin has been trying to put into motion, the officials said — essentially, doing the Russian leader’s hardest and most critical work for him.
When Mr. Trump first raised the possibility of leaving the alliance, senior administration officials were unsure if he was serious. He has returned to the idea several times, officials said increasing their worries.
Mr. Trump’s dislike of alliances abroad and American commitments to international organizations is no secret.
The president has repeatedly and publicly challenged or withdrawn from a number of military and economic partnerships, from the Paris climate accord to an Asia-Pacific trade pact. He has questioned the United States’ military alliance with South Korea and Japan, and he has announced a withdrawal of American troops from Syria without first consulting allies in the American-led coalition to defeat the Islamic State.
NATO had planned to hold a leaders meeting in Washington to mark its 70th anniversary in April, akin to the 50-year celebration that was hosted by President Bill Clinton in 1999. But this year’s meeting has been downgraded to a foreign ministers gathering, as some diplomats feared that Mr. Trump could use a Washington summit meeting to renew his attacks on the alliance.
Leaders are now scheduled to meet at the end of 2019, but not in Washington.
Mr. Trump’s threats to withdraw had sent officials scrambling to prevent the annual gathering of NATO leaders in Brussels last July from turning into a disaster.
Senior national security officials had already pushed the military alliance’s ambassadors to complete a formal agreement on several NATO goals — including shared defenses against Russia — before the summit meeting even began, to shield it from Mr. Trump.
But Mr. Trump upended the proceedings anyway. One meeting, on July 12, was ostensibly supposed to be about Ukraine and Georgia — two non-NATO members with aspirations to join the alliance.
Accepted protocol dictates that alliance members do not discuss internal business in front of nonmembers. But as is frequently the case, Mr. Trump did not adhere to the established norms, according to several American and European officials who were in the room.
He complained that European governments were not spending enough on the shared costs of defense, leaving the United States to carry an outsize burden. He expressed frustration that European leaders would not, on the spot, pledge to spend more. And he appeared not to grasp the details when several tried to explain to him that spending levels were set by parliaments in individual countries, the American and European officials said.
Then, at another leaders gathering at the same summit meeting, Mr. Trump appeared to be taken by surprise by Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general.
Backing Mr. Trump’s position, Mr. Stoltenberg pushed allies to increase their spending and praised the United States for leading by example — including by increasing its military spending in Europe. At that, according to one official who was in the room, Mr. Trump whipped his head around and glared at American officials behind him, surprised by Mr. Stoltenberg’s remarks and betraying ignorance of his administration’s own spending plans.
Mr. Trump appeared especially annoyed, officials in the meeting said, with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and her country’s military spending of 1 percent of its gross domestic product.
By comparison, the United States’ military spending is about 4 percent of G.D.P., and Mr. Trump has railed against allies for not meeting the NATO spending goal of 2 percent of economic output. At the summit meeting, he surprised the leaders by demanding 4 percent — a move that would essentially put the goal out of reach for many alliance members. He also threatened that the United States would “go its own way” in 2019 if military spending from other NATO countries did not rise.
During the middle of a speech by Ms. Merkel, Mr. Trump again broke protocol by getting up and leaving, sending ripples of shock across the room, according to American and European officials who were there. But before he left, the president walked behind Ms. Merkel and interrupted her speech to call her a great leader. Startled and relieved that Mr. Trump had not continued his berating of the leaders, the people in the room clapped.
In the end, the NATO leaders publicly papered over their differences to present a unified front. But both European leaders and American officials emerged from the two days in Brussels shaken and worried that Mr. Trump would renew his threat to withdraw from the alliance.
Mr. Trump’s skepticism of NATO appears to be a core belief, administration officials said, akin to his desire to expropriate Iraq’s oil. While officials have explained multiple times why the United States cannot take Iraq’s oil, Mr. Trump returns to the issue every few months.
Similarly, just when officials think the issue of NATO membership has been settled, Mr. Trump again brings up his desire to leave the alliance.
Any move by Mr. Trump against NATO would most likely invite a response by Congress. American policy toward Russia is the one area where congressional Republicans have consistently bucked Mr. Trump, including with new sanctions on Moscow and by criticizing his warm July 16 news conference with Mr. Putin in Helsinki, Finland.
Members of NATO may withdraw after a notification period of a year, under Article 13 of the Washington Treaty. Such a delay would give Congress time to try blocking any attempt by Mr. Trump to leave.
“It’s alarming that the president continues to falsely assert that NATO does not contribute to the overall safety of the United States or the international community,” said Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat who is among the lawmakers who support legislation to stop Mr. Trump from withdrawing from the military alliance. “The Senate knows better and stands ready to defend NATO.”
NATO’s popularity with the public continues to be strong. But the alliance has become a more partisan issue, with Democrats showing strong enthusiasm and Republican support softening, according to a survey by the Ronald Reagan Institute.
Kay Bailey Hutchison, Washington’s ambassador to NATO and a former Republican senator, has sought to build support for the alliance in Congress, including helping to organize a bipartisan group of backers.
But even if Congress moved to block a withdrawal, a statement by Mr. Trump that he wanted to leave would greatly damage NATO. Allies feeling threatened by Russia already have extreme doubts about whether Mr. Trump would order troops to come to their aid.
In his resignation letter last month, Mr. Mattis specifically cited his own commitment to America’s alliances in an implicit criticism of Mr. Trump’s principles. Mr. Mattis originally said he would stay through the next NATO meeting at the end of February, but Mr. Trump pushed him out before the new year.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan is believed to support the alliance. But he has also pointedly said he thinks that the Pentagon should not be “the Department of No” to the president.
European and American officials said the presence of Mr. Mattis, a former top NATO commander, had reassured allies that a senior Trump administration official had their back. His exit from the Pentagon has increased worries among some European diplomats that the safety blanket has now been lost.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson has inspired a new following from the extreme right, including some members of Congress, by asking: Why take Ukraine’s side instead of Russia’s? The arguments are vast for defending the sovereignty of democratic Ukraine, and most American adults should need no reminders why containing Moscow’s expansionist desires is essential for U.S. national security.
Carlson seems to be exploiting Americans’ exceedingly short memories and attention spans as he articulates a new Republican philosophy that is the exact opposite of everything the party’s iconic leader, Ronald Reagan, stood for. Carlson proposes embracing Russia as an ally and effectively excusing all of its past transgressions — of course including Russian President Vladimir Putin’s help engineering Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election.
“Why is it disloyal to side with Russia but loyal to side with Ukraine?” Carlson asked on his show last week to the applause of several GOP members of Congress. The reception was more chilly in 2019 when Carlson stated: “Why do I care [about] … what is going on in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia? And I’m serious. Why do I care? Why shouldn’t I root for Russia? Which I am.”
Here’s why. Putin was born and raised a communist, and actively assisted in the Soviet Union’s global expansion as a foreign intelligence officer. While he was rising through the ranks to become a KGB lieutenant colonel, Russia invaded Afghanistan, spawning four decades of upheaval and terrorism. Despite the Soviet Union’s collapse, Putin has never given up on reviving Moscow’s expansionist empire. Destabilizing Ukraine is key to that goal. Putin has armed and trained a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine. In 2014, insurgents and their Russian military advisers downed a Malaysian jumbo jet, killing all 298 people aboard.
That same year, Russia seized the strategic Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. Reports from Ukrainians living in Crimea today indicate heavy levels of political oppression persist. Dissent is crushed, and criticism of Putin is punished harshly — just as it is everywhere else where Putin rules.
But apparently Carlson thinks that’s just swell.
Putin has a habit of killing, poisoning, maiming or imprisoning his most vocal critics. When the United States works around the globe to isolate repressive regimes such as those in Iran, Syria and Venezuela, Putin boosts their military with economic aid.
Carlson’s apparently a big fan, as are memory-deprived GOP U.S. Reps. Matt Rosendale of Montana, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Paul Gosar of Arizona and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, to name a few.
Putin does all he can to stifle democracy, kill off his opponents, sabotage U.S. foreign policy and interfere with other nations’ sovereignty — including America’s. And Carlson has the gall to ask: “Why shouldn’t I root for Russia?” Perhaps Fox News should consider hosting Carlson’s next show from atop Ronald Reagan’s grave, just to drive home the point.
(CNN) — President Donald Trump on Saturday doubled down on his call for Russia to be readmitted into the G7 and blamed his predecessor for Russia's aggression in Crimea.
"I think it would be an asset to have Russia back in," Trump said during an impromptu press conference at the summit. "I think it would be good for the world. I think it would be good for Russia. I think it would be good the United States. I think it would be good for all of the countries of the current G7. I think the G8 would be better."
Russia was suspended from the group -- then known as the G8 -- in 2014 after the majority of member countries allied against its annexation of Crimea. It was the first violation of a European country's borders since World War II.
Trump suggested that Russia be allowed back into the global group despite their continued occupation of Crimea.
"I would say that the G8 is a more meaningful group than the G7, absolutely," Trump said. He also blamed former US President Barack Obama for Russia's move into that nation.
"You'll have to ask Obama, because he was the one that let Crimea get away" he said when asked about the annexation. "He allowed Russia to take Crimea. I may have had a much different attitude."
Former Obama National Security Council spokesman Ned Price told CNN that "today crystallizes precisely why Putin was so eager to see Trump elected."
"For Putin,this is return on his investment,and it's safe to say that his investment has paid off beyond even his wildest dreams," he said in a statement to CNN.
Trump's advocacy for Russia's readmittance to the powerful group of industrialized nations -- which he first voiced on Friday -- comes despite opposition from European allies.
On Saturday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he told Trump that asking Russia to rejoin the G7 is "not something we are even remotely looking at."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a press conference Friday that there was consensus that Russia should not return to the G7.
"We agree that a return by Russia to the G7 format cannot happen as long as there isn't any substantial progress in regard to the problems with Ukraine. That was the common view," she said.
"We (have) always been clear we should engage with Russia where it is in our interests, but we need to remember why G8 became the G7, it was because Russia illegally annexed Crimea," a European diplomat said Friday. "Since then we have seen an increase in Russian misbehavior and attempts to undermine democracy in Europe. It is not appropriate for Russia to rejoin until we see it behaving responsibly. Putin should get nothing for free."
This sentiment was echoed by a senior United Kingdom government source.
"The PM has always said we should engage with Russia but beware. We should remind ourselves why the G8 became the G7 -- it was after Russia illegally annexed Crimea," the source said. "Before any conversations can take place about Russia rejoining, it needs to change its approach."
French President Emmanuel Macron told journalists on Saturday that Russia could rejoin the summit if Moscow implemented the Minsk agreements, which were intended to enforce a solution the crisis in Ukraine.
"For four years, we have been saying we will extend again if and when the Minsk agreements are respected," Macron said. "We will, but only when and if the Minsk agreements are respected. So, it's up to Russia now. As soon as the agreements are upheld, we will open the game. And that's really my wish. I'd like to have a G8 in Beatrix next year and that will be because the Russians fulfill the conditions of the Minsk agreements."
Lawmakers in the United States have condemned Trump's comments, which some have taken as the latest example of the US President's failure to condemn Russia for its interference in the 2016 election.
"The President has inexplicably shown our adversaries the deference and esteem that should be reserved for our closest allies," Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said in a scathing statement Friday.
Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse said in a statement, "Putin is not our friend and he is not the President's buddy. He is a thug using Soviet-style aggression to wage a shadow war against America, and our leaders should act like it."
Former Vice President Joe Biden denounced Trump's remarks, writing on Twitter, "Putin's Russia invaded its neighbors, violated our sovereignty by undermining elections, and attacks dissidents abroad. Yet our President wants to reward him with a seat at the table while alienating our closest democratic allies. It makes no sense."
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Friday that Trump was turning US foreign policy "into an international joke, doing lasting damage to our country."
On Friday evening, the State Department released nearly 100 pages of records in response to American Oversight’s lawsuit seeking a range of documents related to the Trump administration’s dealings with Ukraine.
Among other records, the production includes emails that confirm multiple contacts in March of 2019 between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, at least one of which was facilitated by President Trump’s assistant Madeleine Westerhout.
American Oversight is reviewing the production to assess whether the State Department has fully complied with the court’s order. Notes on what we’ve found are below.
Statement from American Oversight Executive Director Austin Evers
“We can see why Mike Pompeo has refused to release this information to Congress. It reveals a clear paper trail from Rudy Giuliani to the Oval Office to Secretary Pompeo to facilitate Giuliani’s smear campaign against a U.S. ambassador.
“This is just the first round of disclosures. The evidence is only going to get worse for the administration as its stonewall strategy collapses in the face of court orders.
“That American Oversight could obtain these documents establishes that there is no legal basis for the administration to withhold them from Congress. That conclusively shows that the administration is engaged in obstruction of justice. The president and his allies should ask themselves if impeachment for obstruction is worth it if the strategy isn’t even going to be effective.
“This lawsuit is just one of several American Oversight is pursuing to bring transparency to the Ukraine investigation. The public should expect more disclosures, over the administration’s strong objection, for the foreseeable future.”
In the Documents
New: The documents show a March 26, 2019, call between Rudy Giuliani and Mike Pompeo. (Page 39 of document)
A March 28, 2019, email includes a list of scheduled calls for Pompeo. Calls include Rudy Giuliani on March 29, and Rep. Devin Nunes on April 1, 2019.
On March 27, 2019, Rudy Giuliani’s assistant contacted Madeleine Westerhout, who was serving as the president’s Oval Office gatekeeper at the time. She asked Westerhout for a “good number” for Pompeo, adding that she had “been trying and getting nowhere through regular channels.” Westerhout contacted someone at the State Department to ask for a number she could provide. (Page 55)
During his closed-door testimony, career diplomat David Hale mentioned two calls between Pompeo and Giuliani, one on March 28, 2019, and one on March 29. The documents include a March 28 email to Hale indicating that Pompeo had been the one to request a call with Giuliani. (Page 45)
The March 29 call appears on page 46, and the confirmation of its scheduling is on page 44.
Also in the documents: An April 5 letter to the State Department from six former U.S. ambassadors to Ukraine (including Bill Taylor), expressing their concern about the attacks on U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. (Page 13)
On April 12, 2019, Reps. Steny Hoyer and Eliot Engel wrote to Pompeo, also expressing their concern (page 28). The State Department responded on June 11, saying “Yovanovitch was due to complete her three-year diplomatic assignment in Kyiv this summer.” (Page 34)
Note: The State Department did not produce a formal directive recalling Yovanovitch or a formal readout of Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky. Both of these were covered by the court’s production order.
The brazen admission by President Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, that he had not only urged Ukrainian government officials to investigate Joe Biden, but that he had done so with the support of State Department political appointees, raised serious concerns about abuse of power and foreign election interference. American Oversight is investigating the extent of the Trump administration’s troubling efforts to coerce a foreign government into helping to attack the president’s perceived political enemies.
American Oversight has combed through thousands of pages of public records to find instances in which officials met with key figures in the Ukraine investigation. We’ve also compiled an exhaustive list of those figures, from U.S. government officials to private citizens and Rudy Giuliani allies to foreign officials. Check it out here.
In September 2019, the administration’s refusal to turn over to Congress an intelligence whistleblower complaint led to extraordinary revelations that President Donald Trump had allegedly urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the son of former Vice President Joe Biden — a week after ordering the freeze of military aid to Ukraine. Equally concerning were unabashed claims from Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani that he had made similar efforts in talks with Ukrainian officials.
Giuliani had announced in May 2019 that he would travel to Ukraine to urge the government to investigate Hunter Biden’s involvement with a Ukrainian energy company as well as allegations (for which no evidence exists) that Joe Biden, a potential 2020 Trump opponent, had played a role in the Ukrainian government’s dismissal of a prosecutor. The trip was canceled after widespread criticism, but Giuliani defended his actions by saying, “We’re not meddling in an election, we’re meddling in an investigation.” Before the announcement of the canceled trip, the State Department recalled the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who had been under attack in conservative media for purportedly criticizing Trump in private conversations.
Later that summer, however, the New York Times reported that Giuliani had renewed his efforts, secretly talking to Ukrainian official Andriy Yermak. After news surfaced of the whistleblower complaint involving Trump’s communications with Zelensky, additional reporting revealed that in mid-July Trump had ordered his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to withhold Ukraine’s military aid. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had subsequently instructed the Defense and State Departments to freeze the aid.
While Trump seesawed with his explanations about why he had withheld the $400 million, Giuliani wasted little time before appearing on cable news to admit that he had asked Ukraine to investigate Biden. Meanwhile, the State Department confirmed that it had assisted in connecting Giuliani with Yermak, a fact Giuliani boasted of on Fox News: “I was operating at the request of the State Department.”
On September 25, the day after Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the House of Representatives would open an official impeachment inquiry into the president, the White House released a summary transcript of the call, which showed that Trump said he would direct Attorney General William Barr and Giuliani to call Zelensky. “I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it,” the transcript said. The transcript also showed that Trump discussed the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Louise Yovanovitch, who had been recalled in May: “The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that.”
The president’s actions, if true, could constitute a dangerous violation of criminal law. The Trump White House’s blanket obstruction of all legislative oversight has continued into the impeachment inquiry, with the order for administration officials not to comply with congressional requests. While some officials have joined in Trump’s stonewalling, many others have lined up to provide testimony to Congress, including Yovanovitch, Gordon Sondland, Kurt Volker, and Bill Taylor. Meanwhile, American Oversight continues its own investigation, seeking records from multiple federal agencies that could shed light both on Giuliani’s contacts with the Ukrainian government and on the president’s potential freezing of congressionally approved military aid in an attempt to influence the upcoming 2020 election.
On Oct. 1, 2019, American Oversight sued the State Department for records of communications with or about Giuliani and his efforts, as well as for records related to the recall of U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. The public’s urgent need for answers led American Oversight to file a motion for a preliminary injunction on Oct. 4 to compel the government to immediately begin processing and producing documents. On Oct. 25, a federal judge ordered the State Department to begin producing records by Nov. 22, and a week later the court ruled that the agency must also search for and produce records of readouts or summaries of the July 25 call.
On Oct. 12, 2019, American Oversight sued the State Department for emails sent by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo or other senior officials referencing President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden, or Ukrainian-born businessmen Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. The lawsuit also sought the calendars of former Ukraine special representative Kurt Volker and his communications with Giuliani.
On Oct. 22, 2019, American Oversight sued the Department of Energy for records of Secretary Rick Perry’s May 2019 delegation to the inauguration of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The lawsuit also seeks records from Perry and Deputy Secretary Dan Brouillette including communications with Giuliani, details of Perry’s other meetings with Ukrainian officials, and correspondence with key individuals and entities associated with the effort to pressure the Ukrainian government.
On October 25, 2019, American Oversight sued the Office of Management and Budget for records related to the Ukraine effort, including: copies of directives or decision memos regarding military or other aid to Ukraine; communications with Congress about the aid funding; and emails sent by Director Mick Mulvaney and other senior officials referencing a list of terms relating to the aid program, Hunter Biden, or Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. On November 7, this lawsuit was amended to add several FOIAs filed with the Department of Defense seeking related records.
On Nov. 8, American Oversight filed a lawsuit against the State Department for records of Sondland’s communications with Giuliani and Giuliani’s associates, or about the efforts to pressure Ukraine. The lawsuit also seeks Sondland’s calendar entries.
What We’re Seeking
•Decision memos and guidance from OMB, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Departments of Defense and State regarding aid to Ukraine — including guidance that originated at the White House;
•Email communications sent by officials at OMB and the Departments of State, Justice, Defense and the Treasury containing key terms like Giuliani, Zelensky, or other related figures;
•Records of Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s contacts with Ukraine, including correspondence with or about Giuliani’s efforts; details of Perry’s meetings with Ukrainian officials; and communications with individuals and companies associated with the Ukrainian energy industry;
•Communications from the OMB’s Office of Legislative Affairs with Congress about aid to Ukraine;
•Any legal analyses from the Justice Department regarding the withholding of funding for Ukraine or regarding the transmission of the whistleblower’s complaint to Congress;
•Communications key State Department officials had with or about Giuliani and former Trump attorneys involved in Giuliani’s planned Ukraine trip;
•The calendars of Kurt Volker, U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations, who assisted Giuliani in arranging talks with a Ukrainian official, as well as Volker’s relevant communications;
•Key Treasury and State Department officials’ communications with Giuliani and others, including former Trump attorneys Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing and Giuliani’s Ukraine adviser Sam Kislin;
•Key State Department officials’ communications about the recall of U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch;
•Transcripts or recordings of Trump’s July 25, 2019, call with Zelensky;
•The calendars and communications of U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland (including WhatsApp), who has reportedly been included in calls with Giuliani about Ukraine, that contain key terms related to Giuliani and his efforts, as well as his communications with Giuliani and others;
•Communications that Barr and other key Justice Department officials had with or about Giuliani, Toensing, diGenova and Kislin, as well as Justice Department officials’ communications with Ukrainian government representatives;
•Justice Department records concerning any prosecution declination decisions related to the allegations in the whistleblower complaint, as well as records related to whether the whistleblower may be subject to criminal prosecution;
•Barr’s communications with foreign governments about Ukraine efforts, and his travel records for trips made as part of an effort to review the origins of the Russia investigation;
•Records related to Vice President Mike Pence’s contacts with Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials, or to his summer 2019 trips to Europe;
•Communications between U.S. Attorney John Durham, who is reportedly investigating unknown matters related to Ukraine, and the White House or senior DOJ officials;
•Energy Department records relating to the May U.S. delegation to Ukrainian President Zelensky’s inauguration, led by Secretary Rick Perry, as well as records related to Perry’s other meetings with Ukrainian officials;
•Energy Department communications with or about Giuliani allies and outside groups associated with U.S. energy interests in Ukraine or about efforts to pressure Ukraine;
•Defense Department legal analysis regarding the withholding of aid to Ukraine;
•State Department communications about any plan to encourage the Chinese government to pursue investigations into the president’s political opponents, including with Giuliani or Steven Bannon;
•Records from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative of communications with Giuliani and key allies, or about Ukraine or China efforts;
•The calendars of Justice Department Senior Counsel Brady Toensing, as well as his communications with Giuliani or about Giuliani’s efforts;
•Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley’s communications with Giuliani; and
•Communications between the Florida governor’s office and Giuliani or his allies.
The report from former special counsel Robert Mueller, detailing Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and the Trump administration’s efforts to obstruct the inquiry, was the most hotly anticipated prosecutorial document in a generation. But at 448 pages, it reflected only a tiny fraction of the primary-source documents that the government amassed over the course of its two-year investigation.
Using the Freedom of Information Act, BuzzFeed News, and later CNN, sued to gain access to those documents, which are key to understanding this important chapter in American history.
On Monday, in response to a court order, the Justice Department has released the second installment: summaries of FBI interviews spanning hundreds of pages. These summaries, known as “302 reports,” are some of the most important and highly sought-after documents from Mueller’s investigation. They contain numerous redactions, which BuzzFeed News will challenge in our ongoing lawsuit.
Some takeaways from the newest documents:
Michael Cohen said Trump family lawyers kept him from telling the truth.
Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, told FBI agents about negotiations to build a gleaming Trump Tower in the heart of Moscow, about how much Trump, who was then in the midst of a presidential campaign, knew about the negotiations, and about the false statement that Cohen later made to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees about it all.
In his 302s, Cohen said that during the presidential campaign, he informed Trump that he had a discussion with a “woman from the Kremlin” about the plan to build the tower.
Relevant document on page 37:
“Cohen told Trump he spoke with a woman from the Kremlin who had asked specific and great questions about Trump Tower Moscow, and that he wished Trump Organization had assistants that were that good and competent,” the FBI summary says.
He also said that in his letter to Congress about the development, he initially wrote that he had “limited contact with Russian officials.” But that line was struck from the letter. Cohen said he did not know who specifically struck it.
“It was the decision of the JDA to take it out,” the document says, referring to lawyers from the Joint Defense Agreement who represented the Trump family, Cohen, and Jared Kushner, “and Cohen did not push back.”
Relevant document on page 36:
Cohen also told the FBI after his home and office were raided last year that he spoke with Trump’s attorney Jay Sekulow about pardons, stating that he had been “a loyal lawyer and servant and all of a sudden he was the subject of search and seizure.”
Sekulow told the AP on Monday evening that Cohen's statements were false. He didn't immediately respond to a BuzzFeed News request for comment.
Cohen said “it was an uncomfortable position to be in and wanted to know what was in it for him.”
Trump has long maintained that he did not have any business deals in Russia. Cohen told the FBI Trump knew those statements were lies because they had numerous, detailed discussions about the project.
In February 2017, Trump wanted Comey to know “I really like him.” Comey was fired about three months later.
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told investigators that Trump wanted him to talk to then-FBI Director James Comey in February 2017 and tell him "I really like him. Tell him he's part of the team. I really like him."
Comey, who was leading the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, was fired in May 2017.
Christie didn't make the call, saying it was "nonsensical" and because it "would have been uncomfortable."
"He would not put Comey in the position of having to receive that telephone call," Christie’s interview notes with the FBI read.
Relevant document on pgs. 165-166:
On May 8 2017, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told the FBI he was brought into the White House for a meeting and left with the understanding that Comey would soon be fired. During that meeting, he was tasked with writing a memo outlining his concerns about Comey.
That memo largely focused on Comey's handling of the Clinton email investigation. Rosenstein told investigators he was concerned about how the White House would take the memo since it was "not consistent" with Trump's comments on the campaign.
Rosenstein said his memo rationalizing firing James Comey had to be 100 percent accurate "so he could stand behind it" and didn’t get much sleep that night.
Relevant document on pg. 115:
Rosenstein also said that no one from the White House influenced his writing of the memo.
But he had assumed that either he, or then Attorney General Jeff Sessions, would be the ones to fire Comey. On May 9th, Rosenstein requested that Comey be brought in, only to find out that the then-FBI director had been fired over email. Rosenstein said he was "angry, ashamed, horrified, and embarrassed," as well as surprised to read in media reports that firing Comey had been his idea.
Rosenstein called Mueller the next day — already thinking about appointing a special counsel. Rosenstein had learned from an FBI briefing that Trump was not a suspect, and said he appointed Mueller due to how the public would react to the firing.
Following Comey’s firing, Christie told investigators that Trump called him and complained that he was “getting murdered,” presumably in the press, for the firing. Christie asked Trump whether he’d fired Comey because of Rosenstein’s memo, to which Trump replied “yes.” Christie then recommended that Trump “get Rod out there” to defend the decision. Trump said he liked the idea and would call Rosenstein.
Relevant document on pgs. 167-168:
The same evening Comey was fired, then-Justice Department spokesperson Sarah Flores relayed a message from the White House to Rosenstein. Though the memos do not make clear what that message was, Rosenstein said he told her that the Justice Department “cannot participate in putting out a false story.”
Flores then told Rosenstein that the White House wanted him to participate in a press conference about the firing, but he refused.
Christie laughed when Trump said "the Russia thing is over" after Michael Flynn left office.
Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was was removed from office in February 2017 after misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with the Russian ambassador. He later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
Christie was having lunch with Trump on Valentine's Day 2017 when Trump told him, "Now that we fired Flynn, the Russia thing is over."
Christie told the FBI he laughed. "No way," he responded. "We'll be here on Valentine's Day 2018 talking about this."
Relevant document on page 164 to 165:
Hope Hicks said Trump was “angry, surprised, and frustrated” when Mueller was appointed.
Hicks, one of Trump's closest aides and former White House Communications Director, told investigators that Trump was “angry, surprised, and frustrated” when Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation in May 2017.
Hicks then mentioned Sessions, who had recused himself from the probe, followed by a short redacted section, but then she added: “The only other time she had seen Trump like that was when the Access Hollywood tape came out during the campaign.”
Relevant document on page 221:
Hicks believed that Obama's warning about Michael Flynn "sat with" Trump
Hope Hicks told the FBI that Barack Obama told Trump to “watch out for” Michael Flynn — and that she was surprised by how much Obama’s warning “sat with” the president.
Michael Flynn was Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency under the Obama administration from 2012 until 2014, when he was forced to resign following reports about his “chaotic” management style and temperament issues. He emerged as a strong Trump supporter during the 2016 elections and served as Trump’s national security advisor from Jan. 23, 2017 until February 13, 2017.
Citing unnamed officials, NBC News reported in 2017 that Obama had warned Trump about Flynn during their 90-minute Oval Office conversation following Trump’s win.
Flynn plead guilty to lying to the FBI during the Russia investigation in December 2017.
Relevant documents on pages 207 and 231:
Hicks told the FBI that Trump was bothered by “bad tweets” posted by his then-nominee for national security advisor, Michael Flynn, and his son, Michael Flynn, Jr. She also said that the president thought thought Flynn “had bad judgment”
During the 2016 election, Flynn was an active — and controversial — participant in #MAGA Twitter under the handle @GenFlynn. In his tweets, he accused Hillary Clinton of crimes, posted anti-Muslim content — in a Feb. 26, 2016 tweet he wrote “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL — and pushed baseless conspiracy theories.
Flynn, Jr.’s account was equally controversial. In December 2016, he tweeted that the "Pizzagate" conspiracy theory — which falsely claims that a popular pizza restaurant in Washington, DC provided top Democratic operatives with underage prostitutes — would remain a story until it was “proven false.” He also mocked Trump protesters. During the Women’s March on Jan. 21, 2017, he tweeted that the women in DC were marching for “free mani/pedis.”
Both accounts were deleted soon after Trump appointed Flynn national security advisor.
Relevant documents on pages 207 and 231:
Hope Hicks told the FBI she was “shocked” by emails about the Trump Tower meeting
Hicks told federal investigators that she was “shocked” by emails between Donald Trump Jr. and others who attended a controversial meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer offering damaging information on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Hicks, the former White House communications director, told the FBI that in June 2017, one year after the meeting took place, she reviewed emails about it and “thought they looked really bad,” according to an interview summary obtained by BuzzFeed News in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
Senior Trump campaign officials attended the June 2016 meeting after being promised incriminating information on Clinton and after being told that it was part of the Russian government’s support of Trump. Emails released in July 2017 by Trump Jr. revealed that he responded enthusiastically to the offer before setting up the meeting, which became a focal point for both former special counsel Robert Mueller and congressional investigators probing Russian election interference.
In a June 2017 meeting at the White House, Hicks; the president; his daughter, Ivanka Trump; and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner; discussed the Trump Tower meeting. “Kushner had a manila folder with documents with him and said to the President that they had found one thing that the President should know about, but it was not a big deal,” Hicks told the FBI.
Kushner then explained that he and other campaign officials had attended the meeting, “and started to open the folder when the President stopped him and said he did not want to know about it.” Hicks “speculated” that the envelope contained the emails she would later review, the interview summary says.
Representatives for Kushner and Trump Jr. didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Kushner’s claim that the meeting was “not a big deal” echoes the frequent argument from Trump, his family, and his allies that the Trump Tower meeting was fruitless and focused on the issue of American adoptions of Russian children. But the documents released Monday to BuzzFeed News further reveal serious concerns within the White House about the meeting, as well as how those in Trump’s orbit wanted to handle the eventual release of the emails.
“Hicks' initial reaction was that they should get in front of the emails,” the March 2018 interview summary reads. “She wanted Junior to do an interview with ‘softball questions’ to get the emails out there.”
“The President said they should not do anything, asked why so many people had the emails, and said they needed to let the lawyers deal with it,” the summary says.
Hicks’ concerns about the emails were met with disregard by the president. “Hicks told the President ‘this is going to be a massive story,’” she told the FBI. “She was not sure if she told him the emails were ‘really bad’ in that meeting. The President did not want to talk about it and did not want details.”
About a week later, when the New York Times was about to reveal that the meeting had occurred, Hicks advocated for being open and forthcoming about Trump Jr’s emails, she told the FBI. But the president objected to that approach.
“When they got on the airplane, Hicks called [Trump Organization lawyer] Garten to get an update. He texted Hicks the statement Junior wanted to provide to the media. She took that to the President's cabin and read him Junior's statement. He told her they should not respond. Hicks advocated for providing the whole story. The President did not say what was wrong with Junior's statement, but just felt they were giving the media too much,” the interview summary states. Garten didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Throughout Hicks' conversations with Trump, it was clear to her Trump did not think the emails would get out,” the summary later adds. “Hicks' impression was Trump meant the emails would not get out to the press, but he did not say that explicitly.”
Hicks said that after discussing the statement with Trump, she started texting with Trump Jr. and “ultimately settled on the statement that went to the press.” Trump Jr.’s statement in the New York Times story claimed the meeting was focused on Russian adoptions, but left out details of being offered damaging information on Clinton. Three days later, the Times reported on the contents of the emails, and Trump Jr. tweeted them out.
Trump’s outside lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, also told Hicks he was working with Circa News “on a story that would blow the Russia investigation wide open,” and that because the news outlet was friendly to Trump, the statement should be given to them. “He told Hicks not to talk to the NYT,” the summary states. Kasowitz didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Hicks told the FBI that Trump believed an intelligence community assessment that concluded Russia interfered in the 2016 election was the president’s “Achilles heel.”
“Even if it had no impact on the election, Trump thought that was what people would think. He thought the assessment took away from what he did,” Hicks said, according to the interview summary.
Mueller ultimately declined to charge Trump Jr. and other campaign officials with campaign finance violations in relation to the June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting, stating in his report released in April that the president’s eldest son and the other participants likely did not know their actions were unlawful.
“On the facts here, the government would unlikely be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the June 9 meeting participants had general knowledge that their conduct was unlawful,” the Mueller report said. “The investigation has not developed evidence that the participants in the meeting were familiar with the foreign-contribution ban or the application of federal law to the relevant factual context. The government does not have strong evidence of surreptitious behavior or efforts at concealment at the time of the June 9 meeting.”
More on the Mueller report's secret memos
The interview summaries released Monday include Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen, former White House chief of staff John Kelly, former campaign manager Corey Lewandowkski, former adviser Hope Hicks, deputy campaign manager Rick Gates and former political aide Omarosa Manigault.
The cache of interview summaries released last month contained explosive details that were not cited in Mueller’s report. For example, in an April 2018 interview with the special counsel’s office, Gates told investigators that while Paul Manafort was running Trump’s campaign, he had pushed the unfounded theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that had hacked the Democratic National Committee’s servers. That theory has been thoroughly debunked by the US intelligence community, but Trump still cites it — most notably during the July 2019 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which is at the heart of the current impeachment investigation.
The 302s are just the beginning. BuzzFeed News is pursuing five separate lawsuits to pry loose all the subpoenas and search warrants that Mueller’s team executed, as well as all emails, memos, letters, talking points, legal opinions, and financial records it generated. In short, we asked for all communications of any kind that passed through the special counsel’s office. We also requested all the documents that would reveal the discussions among Attorney General Bill Barr, former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, and other high-ranking officials about whether to charge Trump with obstruction.
In response, Justice Department lawyers claimed the volume of records requested could total 18 billion pages and take centuries to produce.
For Monday's installment, the government processed 506 pages, produced 231 pages, and redacted the records citing ongoing investigations, grand jury proceedings, and numerous other FOIA exemptions.
1. I believe that the (Putin/MAGA Republicans) truly wants Putin to be successful in his invasion of Ukraine.
2. I believe, even if these Republicans were to get everything they wanted regarding immigration and the southern border, they would still cheer and hope for Putin to be successful in his invasion of Ukraine.
3. I believe that these (Putin/MAGA Republicans) view Putin as an ally.
4. I believe that Trump views Putin and Russia as an ally.
5. I believe that (Putin/MAGA Republicans) treats Putin and Russia as an ally because that makes their leader Trump very happy.
6. I believe anything that makes Putin happy makes Trump happy.
7. And I also believe that anything that makes Trump happy makes the MAGA Republicans happy.
8. I also believe that these (Putin/MAGA Republicans) and Trump view NATO as being the enemy.
9. I also believe these (Putin/MAGA Republicans) and Trump view Ukraine as being the enemy.
10. I believe this is the real reason the Republicans are so resistant to helping funding Ukraine against Putin's invasion.