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Commander-In-Tweet: America’s Dangerous Experiment Of Government By Twitter

IMAGE: Officials move a sign of Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump after a U.S. Election Watch event hosted by the U.S. Embassy at a hotel in Seoul, South Korea, November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/Files

Trump Punishes CNN For Challenging Him, Rewards Breitbart For Sucking Up

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters for America.

During Donald Trump’s press conference, the president-elect criticized CNN for reporting on alleged contacts between his campaign and the Russian government, and then CNN reporter Jim Acosta tried to ask a question. Trump refused Acosta’s repeated requests. Soon after, Trump solicited a question from Matthew Boyle of the embarrassingly pro-Trump Breitbart News, who served up a softball.

On Tuesday, CNN reported that “classified documents presented last week to President Obama and President-elect Trump included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.” The documents also reportedly included “allegations that there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.” Buzzfeed followed CNN’s article by publishing pages of raw memos related to the allegations.

At his press conference, responding to a question from CBS’ Major Garrett, Trump elaborated on a tweet he sent out on Wednesday morning in which he wrote, “Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?”

Trump said BuzzFeed would “suffer the consequences” for publishing the memos and that CNN went “out of their way to build it up.”

CNN reporter Jim Acosta then attempted to ask Trump a question, noting, “Since you’re attacking us, can you give us a question?” Trump refused and waved him away. Acosta persisted, and Trump refused and said CNN is “terrible,” told Acosta to be quiet, and said, “You are fake news,” before moving on to another reporter.

A few minutes later, Trump turned to Matt Boyle of Breitbart.com, who proceeded to ask Trump about “all the problems that we’ve seen throughout the media over the course of the election” and “what reforms do you recommend for this industry here?”

It would hardly be possible to ask a more sycophantic and fawning question, but coming from Breitbart, it’s not surprising.

Breitbart has become the all-but-official voice of Trump over the past two years. The site has tied itself into absurd knots to defend him and attack his opponents in both the Republican and Democratic parties, while also mangling and inventing stories to serve his campaign’s narrative.

Stephen Bannon, Trump’s incoming chief White House strategist, has been the chairman of Breitbart and has overseen its transformation from a more traditional conservative outlet to what he described as a “platform” for the so-called “alt-right,” whose noxious brand of white nationalist nativist politics now dominates the conservative movement.

Breitbart’s dedication to Trump and its vilification of his perceived enemies were reflected in its writeup of the contentious exchange between Trump and Acosta, headlined “Trump to CNN: You Are Fake News.” Breitbart.com also posted the following headlines on its front page:

In turn, Trump has often used the millions of followers he has on social media to direct web traffic toward Breitbart stories promoting him and his conspiracy theories.

Later on CNN, Acosta reported that Republican National Committee communications director and incoming Trump press secretary Sean Spicer told him that if he were to persist in asking Trump questions in the same manner, he would be “thrown out of this press conference.”  (After his combative exchange with Acosta, Trump later fielded a question from CNN reporter Jeremy Diamond.)

The lesson from Trump is that he won’t accept the sort of adversarial journalism CNN has engaged in here, which is necessary and vital for a modern, functioning democracy. But if you suck up like Breitbart did (and has done), you will be perfectly fine.

IMAGE: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump argues with CNN’s Jim Acosta during a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Tillerson Faces Tough Questions On Russian Ties At Confirmation Hearing

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, faces tough questioning at his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday over his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and whether he shares Trump’s view that relations with Moscow should be improved.

The central question facing Tillerson, 64, the former chairman of Exxon Mobil, is how effectively he can transform himself from a Big Oil “dealmaker” to being America’s top diplomat with little government experience.

According to excerpts from his opening statement released before the hearing, Tillerson will say that Russia poses a danger and NATO allies are right to be alarmed at a resurgent Moscow.

He will argue, however, before the Foreign Relations Committee that Russia’s resurgence happened in the “absence of American leadership” and will call for open and frank dialogue with Moscow.

“We must be clear-eyed about our relationship with Russia,” Tillerson will say. “Russia today poses a danger but it is not unpredictable in advancing its own interests,” according to the prepared remarks.

He will also emphasize the need to destroy Islamic State, and will criticize China’s behavior in the South China Sea and call on Beijing to pressure North Korea.

Tillerson’s confirmation hearing comes at a time of rising tensions with Russia.

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia was behind the hacks of political figures in an effort to help Republican Trump defeat Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 election. Moscow has denied the allegations.

In another revelation, also denied by Moscow, two U.S. officials said on Tuesday evening that classified documents that the heads of four U.S. intelligence agencies presented last week to Trump included claims that Russian intelligence operatives have compromising information about him. Trump dismissed the reports, first made by CNN, as “fake news.”

Tillerson opposed U.S. sanctions against Russia in 2014 over its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine because he said he thought they would be ineffective.

On Tuesday, 10 senators – five of whom sit on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that will vet him – introduced legislation to impose even tougher sanctions on Moscow, and promised to grill Tillerson about whether he would back them.

Setting a tough tone for the hearing, the panel’s top Democrat, Senator Ben Cardin, regretted that remarks Tillerson submitted ahead of the hearing did not mention the “direct, confirmed cyberattack by Russia on America,” although he did criticize U.S. leadership.

“It is frankly not too great a distance from Exxon’s business partnerships to Putin’s Kremlin-controlled slush funds essential for his ‘disinformation’ campaigns around the world,” Cardin, a co-sponsor of the sanctions bill, said in prepared remarks.

In 2012, Tillerson received the “Order of Friendship” award from Putin. The same year, Exxon deepened its cooperation with Russian oil company Rosneft to expand an oil drilling project in the Arctic after U.S. sanctions over Ukraine were imposed.

At the time of the sanctions, Russian oil magnate Igor Sechin told Reuters he would miss three things: exploring U.S. culture, the chance to show his children American landscapes and riding motorbikes with Tillerson.

MIDDLE EAST

Tillerson is also expected to face vigorous questioning over the U.S. role in ending the Syrian civil war, Israel’s contentious settlement policy and the question of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, climate change, U.S. participation in NATO and U.S. support for the Iran nuclear deal.

Trump has made contradictory statements on the Iran nuclear deal, including that he would dismantle the agreement signed between Iran and six world powers – Russia, China, Britain, Germany, France and the United States – in 2015.

Tillerson is also expected to be asked how he plans to promote human rights in countries in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, where Exxon cut deals with governments widely criticized for their poor human rights records.

Exxon came out in support of the Paris climate agreement, which Trump said during his election campaign he would “cancel,” and has advocated for a carbon tax. The company is under investigation by the New York Attorney General’s Office for allegedly misleading investors, regulators and the public on what it knew about global warming.

Bob Corker, chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he expected Tillerson to win strong support and was convinced he had “mainstream” views on Russia.

“I predict that he’s going to be overwhelmingly supported,” Corker told reporters recently. “I think they’re going to see how substantial this person is.”

Democrat Chris Murphy, a committee member, said Tillerson lacked the record to be secretary of state, given Trump’s own lack of diplomatic experience.

Tillerson’s financial disclosure and ethics agreements have been made public. Exxon said on Jan. 4 that Tillerson had agreed to sever all ties to the company to comply with conflict-of-interest requirements and if confirmed, would sell more than 600,000 Exxon shares he currently holds.

(Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati and Steve Holland; Editing by Peter Cooney and Frances Kerry)

U.S. Intel Report: Putin Directed Cyber Campaign To Help Trump

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an effort to help Republican Donald Trump’s electoral chances by discrediting Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential campaign, U.S. intelligence agencies said in an assessment on Friday.

Russia’s objectives were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate former secretary of state Clinton, make it harder for her to win and harm her presidency if she did, an unclassified report released by the top U.S. intelligence agency said.

“We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election,” the report said. “We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.”

The agencies believe Russian military intelligence used intermediaries such as WikiLeaks, DCLeaks.com and the Guccifer 2.0 personal to release emails that it had acquired from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and top Democrats as part of the effort. It said the operation went for “targets associated with both major US political parties.”

The report assessed with “high confidence” that the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, had used those intermediaries to release “US victim data obtained in cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets and relayed material to WikiLeaks.”

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has said he did not receive emails stolen from the DNC and top Hillary Clinton aide John Podesta from “a state party.” Assange did not rule out the possibility that he got the material from a third party.

Russian actors were not found to have targeted U.S. systems that are involved in tallying votes, the report said. The report was produced by the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency.

Russia denies the U.S. government’s allegations of hacking during the election campaign.

Trump, who has developed a rocky relationship with U.S. spy agencies, defended the legitimacy of his election victory after he received a nearly two-hour briefing on their conclusion that Russia had staged cyber attacks during the 2016 campaign.

Clinton won the nationwide popular vote but lost in the Electoral College that formally elects the president.

In a statement after the briefing, Trump did not squarely address whether he was told of the agencies’ belief Russia carried out the hacking.

Instead, he said: “Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations” including the DNC.

“There was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines,” Trump said.

The New York businessman, who is to be inaugurated as president on Jan. 20, also said he would appoint a team to give him a plan within 90 days of taking office on how to prevent cyber attacks but suggested that he would keep their recommendations secret.

“The methods, tools and tactics we use to keep America safe should not be a public discussion that will benefit those who seek to do us harm,” Trump said.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Mark Hosenball, Yara Bayoumy and Warren Strobel in Washington; additional reporting by Amy Tennery, Patricia Zengerle, Dustin Volz, David Alexander, Susan Heavey; Writing by Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Editing by Grant McCool)

IMAGE: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin makes his annual New Year address to the nation in Moscow, Russia, December 31, 2016. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS