Trump a Russian agent? ‘Never,’ he says

U.S. President Donald Trump pumps addresses the National Farm Bureau Federation's 100th convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., January 14, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 15 January 2019

Trump a Russian agent? ‘Never,’ he says

  • Trump's angry comments sought to bat down a mounting controversy over his alleged ties to the Kremlin
  • But the fact that he even had to issue such a denial illustrates how far the unprecedented scandal has already gone

WASHINGTON: Standing outside the snow-covered White House on Monday, Donald Trump made an astonishing declaration for a US president: no, he has never been an agent of Russia.
"I never worked for Russia," Trump told reporters on the South Lawn. "It's a disgrace that you even ask that question. It's all a big fat hoax."
Trump's angry comments sought to bat down a mounting controversy over his alleged ties to the Kremlin, but the fact that he even had to issue such a denial illustrates how far the unprecedented scandal has already gone.
The statement, delivered in freezing temperatures before taking off in the Marine One helicopter for a trip to New Orleans, followed two bombshell reports.
One, in The New York Times, said that the FBI opened an investigation into whether Trump was acting on Russia's behalf soon after he became president.
Another, in The Washington Post, detailed what it said were the unusual lengths taken by Trump to hide the contents of his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
This, of course, comes on top of the huge investigation led by special prosecutor Robert Mueller, who is looking into Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election -- and the possibility it colluded with Trump's campaign.
Trump was given an opportunity to respond to the report of the FBI investigation on Saturday when he gave an interview to his favorite Fox News channel.
But instead of a clear cut denial, he fueled a mounting outcry in Washington by merely saying that the question was "the most insulting thing I've ever been asked."
His response Monday took the entire alleged Russia collusion affair head on.
"It's a lot of fake news," Trump said. He called the then-leaders of the FBI who decided to investigate him "known scoundrels, I guess you could say dirty cops."
But the latest twists mean that the president -- currently embroiled in a damaging political battle with Congress over funding a Mexico border wall -- can't escape the Russia shadow, regardless of what he says.
The details of the latest reports are especially shocking because they are so concrete, in contrast to the often complex and carefully withheld workings of the almost leak-proof Mueller probe.
The Post story says that Trump personally acted to prevent notes taken by his interpreter during one-on-one meetings with Putin from being shared with aides. He allegedly took the notes away and ordered the interpreter not to divulge the contents.
The Times report on the FBI investigation said the bureau decided to act after Trump fired the then director, James Comey in 2017.
Transcripts of closed-door FBI testimony to Congress obtained by CNN show that the then head lawyer for the FBI, James Baker, said the bureau wanted to know whether Trump was "acting at the behest of (the Kremlin) and somehow following directions, somehow executing their will."
"That was one extreme. The other extreme is that the President is completely innocent, and we discussed that too," Baker said in the transcript, according to CNN.
The White House says that Trump has been pursued by a politicized FBI. The president repeatedly has called the probes into his dealings with Russia a "witch hunt."
But Democrats and even some in Trump's Republican Party have repeatedly suggested that the administration is oddly favorable to Russian policies.
They point to Trump's diplomatic assaults on European Union unity and the NATO alliance, as well as his recent comment defending the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Top advisor Kellyanne Conway reiterated Monday the administration's assertion that Trump had in fact been tough on Russia, one of Washington's key rivals and sometimes outright adversaries.
"He has taken a lot of action," she told reporters, listing sanctions imposed on the Kremlin and US policy in Syria, among other factors.


UK to deploy military to prevent migrant Channel crossings

The Royal Navy has been deployed as recently as January 2019 in an attempt to reduce the number of refugees and migrants arriving to the UK via the English Channel. (Reuters)
Updated 10 August 2020

UK to deploy military to prevent migrant Channel crossings

  • French parliamentarian called the plans a “political measure” that would not help the situation.
  • Roughly 4,000 people have made the dangerous trip from France to the UK so far this year.

LONDON: The UK has announced it will use the military to prevent migrants entering the country from France via the English Channel, but the plans have drawn criticism from French politicians and rights groups in the UK.

More than 4,000 people have successfully made the crossing so far this year, and many of those have done so in small and overburdened boats.

Responding to the escalating number of people attempting the journey, the Home Office officially requested last week that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) assist the Border Force in its duties.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said her department was “working to make this route unviable” and announced on Sunday the appointment of a former Royal Marine to manage the government’s response to the crossings.

In response to Patel’s request, the MoD announced on Monday that it would send a Royal Air Force plane with spotters on board to assist the Border Force in its operations in the English Channel.

But the issue has caused tension between the UK and France.

The French National Assembly member for Calais, Pierre-Henri Dumont, slammed the decision to use the military to prevent crossings as a useless “political measure.”

He said: “What is the British navy going to do if it sees a small boat? Is it going to shoot the boat? Is it going to enter French waters? It’s a political measure to show some kind of muscle but technically speaking it won’t change anything.”

Paris has also requested that London provides £30 million to fund French efforts to prevent migrants from attempting the dangerous crossing from their side.

Patel’s decision to use the military to prevent Channel crossings has also drawn condemnation from human rights groups.

Bella Sankey, a barrister and director of Detention Action said: “The home secretary’s hysterical plea to the navy is as irresponsible as it is ironic. Pushbacks at sea are unlawful and would threaten human lives.

“No civilised country can even consider this, let alone a country with a tradition of offering sanctuary to those fleeing persecution,” she added.

Migration has long been a hot button issue in British politics, and this will not be the first time authorities have used the military to enforce migration policies.

In January 2019, the Royal Navy sent three ships to the Channel to prevent migrant crossings, saying at the time that the deployment would “help prevent migrants from making the dangerous journey.”