McCain: Russia is a bigger threat than ISIS – The Week Magazine

New French President Emmanuel Macron hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin in Paris on Monday, and the two leaders agreed on the need to work together to try to resolve conflicts in Ukraine and Syria. But they disagreed on the independence and integrity of state-sponsored Russian news outlets RT and Sputnik, which Macron had refused to accredit during his presidential campaign, accusing them of spreading Russian misinformation favoring his pro-Russia rival, Marine Le Pen. On Monday, Putin said Russia did not try to meddle in the French election and argued it would have been strange to not meet with Le Pen.

Standing next to Putin, Macron disagreed about the first part. RT and Sputnik “didn’t act like the media, like journalists. They behaved like deceitful propaganda” and “agents of influence,” he said, in response to a question from RT France head Xenia Fedorova. “I have always had an exemplary relationship with foreign journalists, but they have to be real journalists,” he added. “All foreign journalists, including Russian journalists, had access to my campaign.” You don’t have to speak French to tell when he’s talking about RT and Sputnik, or to catch Putin’s expression when the translation reaches his earpiece.

Campagne présidentielle: “Russia Today et Sputnik se sont comportés comme des organes d’influence, de propagande mensongère” Emmanuel Macron

— franceinfo (@franceinfo) May 29, 2017

Macron, 39 and in office less than a month, met with President Trump for the first time last week, and their interactions suggest his extraordinary critique of Russian media in front of Putin wasn’t impromptu. On Sunday, Macron told the French newspaper Journal du Dimanche that his white-knuckled handshake with Trump “wasn’t innocent.” It wasn’t “the be-all and the end-all of a policy, but it was a moment of truth,” he added, putting Trump in the same category as Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

“Donald Trump, the Turkish president, or the Russian president see relationships in terms of a balance of power,” Macron said, according to The Guardian‘s translation. “That doesn’t bother me. I don’t believe in diplomacy by public abuse, but in my bilateral dialogues I won’t let anything pass. … That’s how you ensure you are respected. You have to show you won’t make small concessions — not even symbolic ones.” Peter Weber

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Investigation Turns to Kushner’s Motives in Meeting With a Putin Ally – New York Times

WASHINGTON — Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, was looking for a direct line to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia — a search that in mid-December found him in a room with a Russian banker whose financial institution was deeply intertwined with Russian intelligence, and remains under sanction by the United States.

Federal and congressional investigators are now examining what exactly Mr. Kushner and the Russian banker, Sergey N. Gorkov, wanted from each other. The banker is a close associate of Mr. Putin, but he has not been known to play a diplomatic role for the Russian leader. That has raised questions about why he was meeting with Mr. Kushner at a crucial moment in the presidential transition, according to current and former officials familiar with the investigations.

The New York Times first reported the meeting between Mr. Kushner and Mr. Gorkov in March, but the White House at the time did not explain its aim. That article quoted a White House spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, who said that the meeting came at the request of the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey I. Kislyak, with whom Mr. Kushner had met earlier in December at Trump Tower to discuss opening a communications channel with Russian officials during the presidential transition.

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But the half-hour meeting with Mr. Gorkov since has come under increasing scrutiny. The current and former American officials now say it may have been part of an effort by Mr. Kushner to establish a direct line to Mr. Putin outside of established diplomatic channels.

The meeting came as Mr. Trump was openly feuding with American intelligence agencies and their conclusion that Russia had tried to disrupt the presidential election and turn it in his favor.

The Senate Intelligence Committee notified the White House in March that it planned to question Mr. Kushner about the meeting.

On Friday, citing American officials briefed on intelligence reports, The Washington Post reported that Mr. Kislyak told his superiors in Moscow that Mr. Kushner had proposed a secret channel and had suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications. The White House has not denied the Post report, which specified that Russian communication centers at an embassy or consulate in the United States were discussed as hosts for the secure channel.

It is not clear whether Mr. Kushner saw the Russian banker as someone who could be repeatedly used as a go-between or whether the meeting with Mr. Gorkov was designed to establish a direct, secure communications line to Mr. Putin.

The reasons the parties wanted a communications channel, and for how long they sought it, are also unclear. Several people with knowledge of the meeting with Mr. Kislyak, and who defended it, have said it was primarily to discuss how the United States and Russia could cooperate to end the civil war in Syria and on other policy issues. They also said the secure channel, in part, sought to connect Michael T. Flynn, a campaign adviser who became Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser, and military officials in Moscow.

Mr. Flynn attended the meeting at Trump Tower with Mr. Kislyak.

Yet one current and one former American official with knowledge of the continuing congressional and F.B.I. investigations said they were examining whether the channel was meant to remain open, and if there were other items on the meeting’s agenda, including lifting sanctions that the Obama administration had imposed on Russia in response to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and its aggression in Ukraine.

During the Trump administration’s first week, administration officials said they were considering an executive order to unilaterally lift the sanctions, which bar Americans from providing financing to and could limit borrowing from Mr. Gorkov’s bank, Vnesheconombank. Removing the sanctions would have greatly expanded the bank’s ability to do business in the United States.

In a statement on Monday, Ms. Hicks said that “Mr. Kushner was acting in his capacity as a transition official” in meeting with the Russians. Mr. Kushner has agreed to be interviewed by congressional investigators about the meetings, she said.

In March, Mr. Gorkov said in a statement that his December meeting with Mr. Kushner was part of the bank’s strategy to discuss promising trends and sectors with influential financial institutions in Europe, Asia and the United States. That statement said he met with representatives of “business circles of the U.S., including with the head of Kushner Companies, Jared Kushner.” At the time, Mr. Kushner was still running the company, which is his family’s real estate business.

Vnesheconombank has not responded to questions about which other financial institutions and business leaders Mr. Gorkov met with while in the United States.

Trying to set up secret communications with Mr. Putin in the weeks after the election would not be illegal. Still, it is highly unusual to try to establish channels with a foreign leader that did not rely on the government’s own communications, which are secure and allow for a record of contacts to be created.

But the Trump transition was unique in its unwillingness to use the government’s communications lines and briefing material for its dealings with many foreign governments, partly because of concern that Obama administration officials might be monitoring the calls.

In addition, Mr. Kushner disclosed none of his contacts with Russians or any other foreign officials when he applied for his security clearance in January. He later amended the form to include several meetings, including those with Mr. Kislyak and Mr. Gorkov, but it is unclear whether he told the investigators who conducted his background check about the attempts to set up a back channel. His aides have said his omissions from the clearance form were accidental.

The meeting with Mr. Gorkov is now being scrutinized by the F.B.I. as part of its investigation into alleged Russian attempts to disrupt last year’s presidential campaign, and whether any of Mr. Trump’s advisers assisted in such efforts.

His bank is controlled by members of Mr. Putin’s government, including Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev. It also has long been intertwined with Mr. Putin’s inner circle: It has been used by the Russian government to bail out oligarchs close to Mr. Putin, and has helped fund the Russian president’s pet projects, such as the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014.

Vnesheconombank has also been used by Russian intelligence to plant spies in the United States. In March 2016, an agent of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, known as the S.V.R., who was caught posing as an employee of the bank in New York, pleaded guilty to spying against the United States.

The spy, said Preet Bharara, then the United States attorney in Manhattan, was under “the guise of being a legitimate banker, gathered intelligence as an agent of the Russian Federation in New York.”

Mr. Gorkov is a graduate of the academy of the Federal Security Service of Russia, a training ground for Russian spies. Though current and former Americans said it was unlikely that Mr. Gorkov is an active member of Russian intelligence, they said his past ties to the security services in Moscow were a reason he was put in charge of the bank.

In March, both CNN and the Post columnist David Ignatius reported that Mr. Kushner had met with Mr. Gorkov because he wanted the most direct possible contact with Mr. Putin.

But days earlier, responding to questions from The Times about the meetings with Mr. Kislyak and Mr. Gorkov, Ms. Hicks said the meetings were part of an effort by Mr. Kushner to improve relations between the United States and Russia, and to identify areas of possible cooperation.

After the first meeting with Mr. Kislyak, she said at the time, the Russian ambassador asked for a follow-up discussion to “deliver a message.” Mr. Kushner sent Avrahm Berkowitz, a longtime associate and now a White House aide. At that session, Mr. Kislyak told Mr. Berkowitz that he wanted Mr. Kushner to meet Mr. Gorkov, Ms. Hicks said.

Ms. Hicks did not say at the time why Mr. Kislyak had wanted to arrange a meeting between Mr. Kushner and Mr. Gorkov. But she said then that during Mr. Kushner’s meeting with Mr. Gorkov, there was no discussion about the Kushner company’s business or about American sanctions against Russian entities like Vnesheconombank.

Follow Matthew Rosenberg at @AllMattNYT, Mark Mazzetti at @MarkMazzettiNYT and Maggie Haberman at @maggieNYT.

Matthew Rosenberg and Mark Mazzetti reported from Washington, and Maggie Haberman from New York. Matt Apuzzo contributed reporting from Washington.

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Missile test showed highly accurate warhead, says North Korea – CNN

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      Texas Lawmaker Threatens to Shoot Colleague After Reporting Protesters to ICE – New York Times

      A Texas state representative, referring to protesters at the State Capitol on Monday, said he reported “several illegal immigrants” to federal immigration authorities and then threatened to shoot a fellow lawmaker who objected.

      The chaotic scene erupted around 11 a.m. on the last day of a particularly bitter legislative session in Austin, when demonstrators in the gallery of the House Chamber began chanting in opposition to a new law that bans so-called sanctuary cities. On the House floor, Representative Matt Rinaldi, a Republican, then turned to several Democratic lawmakers and told them he had reported the people to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

      One of the Democrats, Representative César J. Blanco, said that Mr. Rinaldi told him and others, “We are going to have them deported,” and then used an obscenity.

      “We were in shock,” Mr. Blanco said. “He assumed that because they were brown, in the gallery and protesting that they were here illegally.”

      The exchange led to a confrontation among lawmakers, with some pushing and pointing at one another. Some legislators had to be restrained. Mr. Rinaldi got into a face-to-face argument with Representative Poncho Nevárez, a Democrat, and threatened to shoot him.

      “I made it clear that if he attempted to, in his words, ‘get me,’ I would shoot him in self-defense,” Mr. Rinaldi, who represents part of Dallas County in North Texas, wrote in a Facebook post.

      Other lawmakers said Mr. Rinaldi was more pointed in the threat to Mr. Nevárez, who represents Eagle Pass, a city on the Texas-Mexico border. “There was a threat made from Rinaldi to put a bullet in one of my colleagues’ heads,” Representative Justin Rodriguez, a Democrat, said at a news conference, according to The Texas Observer.

      ICYMI: Shoving on the floor of the Texas House today after Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Farmers Branch, said he called ICE on protesters. (via KVUE)

      — Jason Whitely (@JasonWhitely)May 29, 2017

      Mr. Nevárez said on Twitter that he never threatened Mr. Rinaldi. “He’s a liar and hateful man. Got no use for him. God bless him,” he wrote.

      Mr. Nevárez and Mr. Rinaldi did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

      Legislators with state licenses may carry concealed firearms in the Capitol, but it was not clear if Mr. Rinaldi was armed. He said on Facebook that he was now being protected by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

      Mr. Rinaldi said on Facebook that he called federal immigration authorities after seeing signs in the gallery that read, “I am illegal and here to stay.” He accused Democratic politicians of encouraging the protesters.

      Mr. Blanco said he saw no such signs among protesters.

      A spokeswoman with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency did not immediately respond when asked whether law enforcement officials responded to the Capitol in Austin.

      The last regular day of the four-month legislative session drew more than 1,000 protesters to the Capitol. The demonstrators who packed the House chamber were speaking out again a bill that Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed into law this month banning so-called sanctuary cities.

      The legislation, among several highly divisive bills on the agenda, subjects law enforcement agencies to steep daily fines if they fail to cooperate with federal immigration guidelines. Some opponents to the law have called the law racist.

      It was not clear on Monday whether Mr. Rinaldi or other lawmakers could face disciplinary action. The House speaker, Joe Straus, a Republican, said in a statement, “There is no excuse for members making insensitive and disparaging remarks on the floor of the Texas House.”

      Mr. Blanco blamed what he described as a highly charged political atmosphere ushered in by President Trump that he said has given rise to hateful speech nationwide.

      “The Trump rhetoric is trickling down and allowing current elected officials and candidates to resort to racism and violence making it sound like it was O.K.,” he said. “This has to stop. It is not what our country or what Texas is about.”

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      McCain on Kushner backchannel reports: ‘I don’t like it’ – CNN

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