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.


Institutions review links with Britain’s Prince Andrew

Updated 12 sec ago

Institutions review links with Britain’s Prince Andrew

  • The review comes after the BBC broadcast a lengthy interview with the prince on Saturday in which he tried to explain his links to Epstein
  • The unprecedented subject matter tackled in the television interview — and the royal’s apparent lack of empathy for victims — has dominated British media in recent days

LONDON: A British university on Tuesday said it was reviewing its links with Prince Andrew after he defended his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein in a TV interview.
But a bank said it would not be renewing its backing for a project he founded.
“We will be reviewing the position of Prince Andrew, Duke of York, as our patron at the next board of governors meeting on Tuesday 26th November,” said London Metropolitan University.
“The university opposes all forms of discrimination of discrimination, abuse, human trafficking and any activity that is contrary to the university’s values.”
Andrew — Queen Elizabeth II’s second son — took over the role from his father, Prince Philip, in 2013. There have been royal patrons at the institution since 1848.
The review comes after the BBC broadcast a lengthy interview with the prince on Saturday in which he tried to explain his links to Epstein, who was found dead in jail in August.
Andrew strongly denied claims he had had sex with a 17-year-old girl allegedly trafficked by Epstein but expressed little regret about his friendship with the disgraced financier.
The unprecedented subject matter tackled in the television interview — and the royal’s apparent lack of empathy for victims — has dominated British media in recent days.
It has also put pressure on those with links to the prince.
Students at Huddersfield University in northern England said they wanted Andrew to resign as a patron, claiming he was “an utterly unsuitable representative” because of the allegations.
Standard Chartered bank meanwhile said it was not renewing its sponsorship of the prince’s [email protected] project, which encourages entrepreneurs and start-ups around the world.
The bank cited “commercial reasons” for not renewing the current agreement when it expires in December.
Accountancy firm KPMG’s backing for the mentoring scheme expired at the end of last month and will not be renewed.
Pharma giant AstraZeneca’s partnership is due up next month. It is also being reviewed.
Insurance giant AON reportedly asked for its logo to be removed from the [email protected] website, according to the Financial Times.