Show Notes for June 28, 2017

  • When reporter Caitriona Perry attended a press briefing with US President Donald Trump she probably didn’t expect it would spark a debate about workplace sexism.
  • The RTE Washington Correspondent was at the Oval Office on Tuesday to cover a diplomatic phone call between the US leader and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
  • But as the two leaders discussed Mr Varadkar’s new position, and the number of Irish migrants in the US, Mr Trump interrupted the call to compliment Ms Perry’s smile.
  • The exchange on social media has been retweeted more than 8,000 times and has sparked a discussion between supporters and critics of the US president.
  • Some described the US president as a “creeper” while others argued his comments were a compliment.
  • “It’s a working environment & she should be treated as a professional journalist and not reduced to her smile,” posted one Twitter user.
  • Another remarked: “There are simply no words to describe how violated I feel for her.”
  • Another questioned whether a male reporter would be spoken to in the same way: “I’m sure there’s a moment from the event where he called upon a male journalist to explain to 3rd party they’re handsome & have a nice smile.”
  • ‘Can’t women take compliments anymore?’
  • In contrast, many also defended Mr Trump’s remarks as complimentary: “Can’t women take compliments anymore?” asked one Twitter user.
  • Another posted: “So any man that says you’re beautiful & you have a nice smile is a creep? I normally take that as a compliment.”
  • While one Twitter user asked: “Why can’t men compliment females without being deplored? It’s just being nice.”
  • ‘I must have caught his eye’
  • Ms Perry has described the exchange as ‘bizarre’ in a 25-second clip posted by the reporter on Twitter. It begins with Mr Trump mentioning the number of Irish reporters present.
  • “Well we have a lot of your Irish press watching us right now. “He says. “We have all of this beautiful Irish press here.”
  • The president then points to Ms Perry and beckons her over: “Come here, come here, where are you from?”
  • “RTE news, Caitriona Perry.” she replies.
  • “She has a nice smile on her face so I bet she treats you well,” the president tells Mr Varadkar on the phone, as Ms Perry laughs and returns to her seat.

-As President Donald Trump lashes out at former President Barack Obama for failing to take a harder line against Russia for election meddling, Trump’s own advisers are struggling to convince him that Russia still poses a threat, according to multiple senior administration officials.

 

  • “I just heard today for the first time that Obama knew about Russia a long time before the election, and he did nothing about it,” Trump told Fox News in an interview that aired Sunday. “To me — in other words — the question is, if he had the information, why didn’t he do something about it? He should have done something about it.”
  • But the Trump administration has taken no public steps to punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 election. Multiple senior administration officials said there are few signs the President is devoting his time or attention to the ongoing election-related cyber threat from Russia.
  • “I’ve seen no evidence of it,” one senior administration official said when asked whether Trump was convening any meetings on Russian meddling in the election. The official said there is no paper trail — schedules, readouts or briefing documents — to indicate Trump has dedicated time to the issue.
  • Top intelligence officials have raised alarm about Russia’s cyberattacks, calling them a “major threat” to the US election system. In public hearings on Capitol Hill and classified briefings behind closed doors, intelligence officials have drawn the same conclusions: Russia launched an unprecedented attack on America’s electoral process during the 2016 presidential campaign and — barring a full-throated response from the US — the Russians are almost certain to do so again.
  • It’s a warning some fear the White House isn’t taking seriously.
  • In a recent closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill, National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers expressed frustration to lawmakers about his inability to convince the President to accept US intelligence that Russia meddled in the election, according to a congressional source familiar with the meeting.
  • Another congressional source said Rogers has shared concerns with lawmakers about the lack of White House focus on the continued threat from Russian cyber efforts, particularly relating to US voting systems. In addition, the US intelligence community sees such potential threats not only from Russia but also from China, North Korea and Iran.
  • One intelligence official said the intelligence community continues to brief Trump on Russia’s meddling in the election as new information comes to light. The source said the President appears no less engaged on issues surrounding Russian election meddling than on any other matters covered in the presidential daily brief. But the official acknowledged that Trump has vented his frustration with officials outside of the briefings about the amount of attention paid to the investigation into Russian election interference.
  • White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted Trump is taking Russian cyberattacks seriously and said the administration is taking action — albeit quietly.
  • “The United States continues to combat on a regular basis malicious cyber activity, and will continue to do so without bragging to the media or defending itself against unfair media criticism,” Spicer said in a statement.
  • Spicer noted that Trump has upheld the sanctions the Obama administration put in place against Russia, signed a cybersecurity executive order to consolidate responsibility for protecting the government from hackers and created an election commission. That commission has yet to convene in person but met via conference call on Wednesday.
  • But some in Trump’s own party believe he hasn’t done enough to repudiate Russia’s actions and are pushing him to back a sanctions package Congress is considering.
  • “We haven’t done anything,” Sen. John McCain said Tuesday. “We passed a bill through the Senate, and it’s hung up in the House. Tell me what we’ve done?”
  • Asked what he wants the President to do, the Arizona Republican said he should tell the House “to take up the bill we passed through the Senate. Sign it, get it out there.”
  • The CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment for this story. The NSA did not respond to requests for comment.
  • The President doesn’t differentiate between investigations into Russian election meddling and investigations into potential collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russia, according to sources that have spoken to Trump about the issues.
  • The collusion probe is only one element of a larger landscape. The FBI’s counterintelligence team has been trying to piece together exactly how Russia interfered in the election, in order to learn techniques and adapt for the future. This part is less about collusion and more about Russian cyberattacks against US political organizations and attempted hacks of voters’ personal information.
  • Former US Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns, testifying in front of the Senate intelligence committee Wednesday, faulted Obama for failing to take action against Russia more quickly when he was president. But he unleashed his fury at Trump for doing so little to curtail Russian aggression.
  • “It is his duty, President Trump’s, to be skeptical of Russia. It’s his duty to investigate and defend our country against a cyber offensive because Russia is our most dangerous adversary in the world today,” said Burns, a career foreign service officer who has served under presidents of both parties. “And if he continues to refuse to act it’s a dereliction of the basic duty to defend the country.”
  • At a Senate hearing last week, Bill Priestap, the assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division and a career civil servant, also highlighted the ongoing threat from Russia, saying, “I believe the Russians will absolutely continue to try to conduct influence operations in the US, which will include cyber intrusions.”
  • But the President’s muted interest in election interference stands in stark contrast to the collusion investigation, which has consumed his attention. Trump takes questions about Russia personally, sources said, because he sees them as an effort to undermine the legitimacy of his presidency.
  • “He thinks one equates with the other,” one Republican congressional source said. “He can’t admit anything that may taint his election. He is more hung up on how it affected the election outcome than what Russia did.”
  • In his statement for this story, Spicer also referenced the election outcome, saying, “The ballot boxes were not hacked and the tallies were unaffected. Numerous authorities have confirmed this.”
  • Another source close to the President says Trump sees everything regarding Russia as being “organized as a challenge to him.”
  • Trump aired those frustrations this week on Twitter, writing, “There is no collusion & no obstruction. I should be given apology!”
  • In Trump’s mind “he had nothing to do with Russia,” one source said. “He knows in his own mind there is not one single iota of anything that could implicate him.”
  • One administration official suggested there wasn’t necessarily a need for Trump to convene briefings on election interference — aside from his daily intelligence briefing — because little has changed since Trump was briefed on the matter in January, before his inauguration.
  • At that point, the 17 intelligence agencies released a declassified report concluding that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a campaign to influence the 2016 election with the goal of disparaging Hillary Clinton while boosting Trump and undermining the public’s faith in the democratic process.

 

-The U.S. commerce secretary was cut off in mid-speech during a video feed to an event hosted by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, underscoring how German patience with attacks on the country’s trade surplus is fraying.

 

  • Attendees at the Christian Democratic Union’s business conference in Berlin laughed and clapped when organizers faded out Wilbur Ross after about 20 minutes for overstepping his time limit. Merkel, who had been craning her neck on the podium to watch Ross speak on a screen behind her, then took the floor to close out the evening.
  • “That was the U.S. secretary of commerce, who had promised us a 10-minute statement,” Werner M. Bahlsen, head of the CDU Economic Council, told the audience Tuesday evening. “As you saw, he spoke a bit slowly, so it took a bit longer. Now we look forward to the chancellor’s speech.”
  • Ross’s comments included renewed criticism of Germany’s trade surplus with the U.S., which President Donald Trump has used repeatedly to pillory Europe’s biggest economy. The episode hints at growing tension over trade and challenges such as climate change ahead a Group of 20 summit next week in Hamburg, where Merkel will host Trump and his global peers. German officials said earlier that Ross had canceled a trip to Berlin to address the meeting in person.
  • While blaming World Trade Organization rules for favoring exporters over importers, Ross agreed with Merkel that the U.S. and the European Union should resume talks on a free-trade pact. The Trump administration made a “conscious decision not to walk away from” the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, Ross said.
  • “As your biggest customer, we hope to obtain a larger share of your market,” he said. “We, as major trading partners of each other, should have a free-trade agreement.”
  • After organizers cut Ross off during a call to counteract dumping in international trade, Merkel rejected his criticism of Germany’s surplus. She argued that direct investment to the U.S. by German companies should also be considered.
  • Germany’s Economy Ministry later weighed in to the debate, saying Ross’s criticism “contained nothing new” and dismissing a report he is compiling on the potential risks to the U.S. of steel imports — a document that Germany fears could have grave consequences for its own steel industry.
  • “We have absolutely no ground to believe that German steel exports to the U.S. pose a threat to the country’s security,” ministry spokeswoman Tanja Alemany told reporters in Berlin on Wednesday. “Trade is not something where the one side wins and the other side loses.”
  • The chancellor in her speech welcomed Ross’s support for restarting talks on TTIP, a goal she and former President Barack Obama championed. It’s a rare point of agreement on trade policy between Trump and Merkel, who will be key players when G-20 leaders seek to agree on shared goals.
  • “We will have controversial discussions at the G-20 summit,” said Merkel, who’s seeking a fourth term as chancellor in Germany’s election on Sept. 24.

 

-The U.S. government is expanding its civil forfeiture case tied to assets allegedly diverted by high-level officials in Malaysia. On Thursday, the feds filed a new complaint aimed at seizing rights to the Red Granite Pictures-produced films Dumb and Dumber To and Daddy’s Home. The government is asserting that tens of millions of dollars used to produce these films are traceable to foreign corruption. Additionally, the feds are eyeing gifts given to a couple of celebrities, including high-priced paintings once enjoyed by Leonardo DiCaprio, now possibly in the government’s possession.

 

  • Last year, a similar complaint was made in California federal court with respect to The Wolf of Wall Street, the Oscar-nominated film directed by Martin Scorsese. The film was allegedly financed with assets from a fund called 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), then diverted into shell companies. Some of the money is said to have gone to Red Granite, run by CEO Riza Aziz, the stepson of Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak. Of $4.5 billion allegedly misappropriated, a portion went “to fund the co-conspirators’ lavish lifestyles, including purchases of artwork and jewelry, the acquisition of luxury real estate and luxury yachts, the payment of gambling expenses, and the hiring of musicians and celebrities to attend parties.”
  • In May, federal prosecutors told a California federal judge that the U.S. government was “actively discussing a potential settlement” with Red Granite Pictures. On Wednesday, court papers in the Wolf of Wall Street case were filed under seal.
  • Now come new forfeiture actions.
  • According to one complaint, a shell company called Aabar-BVI, incorporated in Abu Dhabi, maintained approximately $1.367 billion from the 1MDB fund. In 2012, Aabar-BVI sent three wires totaling $238 million to Aziz’s Red Granite bank account in Singapore. The feds next assert that dozens of transfers totaling more than $50 million were made to two accounts for Dumb and Dumber To maintained by Red Granite. Later, about $30 million in “funds traceable to diverted 1MDB proceeds” went to accounts for Daddy’s Home. Some additional money is said to have come from a $50 million loan from Morgan Stanley that was secured with distribution proceeds from Wolf of Wall Street.
  • The feds are also eyeing other assets, including a rare movie poster of Metropolis purchased by Aziz for $1.2 million in October 2012 that was described as hanging in Red Granite’s office. According to a source connected with Red Granite, the poster has already been turned over to authorities.
  • The government also wants artwork gifted to DiCaprio, including a Picasso painting purchased for $3.28 million, a photograph by Diane Arbus purchased for $750,000 and a Jean-Michel Basquiat collage purchased for $9,191,040. The latter two works are alleged to have been given to the actor by Jho Low, a Malaysian financier and close associate of Aziz. As for the Picasso painting, it allegedly came from Eric Tan, an associate of Low, accompanied by a handwritten note that read, “Dear Leonardo DiCaprio, Happy belated Birthday! This gift is for you.”
  • The Hollywood Reporter has also learned that DiCaprio has voluntarily surrendered to the government an Oscar awarded to Marlon Brando. He also has turned over the art referenced above, although an application for an arrest warrant for the property has been concurrently filed. The actor, however, has no plans at the moment to turn over the substantial sum of money he received for performing in Wolf of Wall Street. (Some analysis on that topic is here.)
  • Also wanted for the government’s collection of seized assets is jewelry purchased by Low, including a 11.72-carat heart-shaped diamond allegedly gifted to Miranda Kerr, a prominent Australian model who was once married to Orlando Bloom and is now married to Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel.
  • In a statement, a spokesperson for Red Granite comments, “As we have previously disclosed, Red Granite is actively engaged in discussions with the Justice Department aimed at resolving these civil cases and is fully cooperating. In the meantime, Red Granite remains an active production company, moving ahead to complete postproduction work on its next feature film while developing exciting new projects.”
  • Adds DiCaprio’s spokesperson: “Last July, upon hearing of the government’s civil action against certain parties involved in the making of The Wolf of Wall Street, Mr. DiCaprio’s representatives — working under his instruction — initiated contact with the Department of Justice. This effort was to determine if there were any gifts or charitable donations originating from the parties named in the civil complaint, and to offer the return of any such gifts or donations with the aid and instruction of the government. Prior to the government’s filing of the civil pleading today, Mr. DiCaprio initiated return of these items, which were received and accepted by him for the purpose of being included in an annual charity auction to benefit his eponymous foundation. He has also returned an Oscar originally won by Marlon Brando, which was given to Mr. DiCaprio as a set gift by Red Granite to thank him for his work on The Wolf of Wall Street. Mr. DiCaprio is grateful for the support of the government in this effort and continues to hope that justice is done in this matter.”

 

 

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