×
December 6, 2018

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly investigating a Trump campaign adviser's frequent appearances on RT, the television network funded by the Russian government, The Guardian reports.

Ted Malloch is an American academic based in London. Right-wing author and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, himself a target of the Mueller probe, told The Guardian Malloch is his friend and told him all about the questioning. "They thought maybe he was coordinating with Russia — and RT is Russia," Corsi said.

The network has a relationship with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who lives in Ecuador's London embassy. The special counsel says Russian intelligence operatives passed along hacked Democratic emails to WikiLeaks, and investigators are looking closely at one day in particular: Aug. 2, 2016. The Guardian reports that visitor logs show RT staff came to the embassy that day to interview Assange. RT denies passing along information from the meeting to anyone, including President Trump's friend and Republican operative Roger Stone. Catherine Garcia

10:14 a.m.

President Trump's favorite bank apparently doesn't think he's too good with his money.

Deutsche Bank, "Trump's go-to lender for decades," grew very "concerned" that Trump wouldn't repay his $340 million in loans after he was elected, Bloomberg reports. So concerned, sources say, that the bank considered extending his repayment deadlines until after a "potential second term in 2025."

Trump had long had a problem finding banks who'd lend to him after several bankruptcies, Bloomberg notes. But Deutsche Bank kept working with the Trump Organization, providing funds for the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. — one loan reportedly included in the $340 million total. When Trump was elected, though, Deutsche Bank's management board immediately feared he'd default, and stressed over "the public relations disaster they would face if they went after the assets of a sitting president." To avoid that, managers reportedly considered stretching loans with 2023 and 2024 due dates for another year or two.

Deutsche Bank eventually decided against the repayment extension, but did elect to stop working with Trump while he was in office, one source told Bloomberg. And even during the Trump campaign, Deutsche Bank denied a loan request for a similar reason: If Trump defaulted, "Deutsche Bank would have to choose between not collecting on the debt or seizing the assets of the president of the United States," The New York Times reported earlier this month.

Deutsche Bank declined to comment on the story, and the White House didn't respond to requests for comment. Eric Trump, the president's son, called the story "complete nonsense" in an email. Read more at Bloomberg. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:09 a.m.

Following a new bombshell report from The New York Times, one former prosecutor is breaking out the Richard Nixon comparisons.

CNN on Wednesday morning discussed a report from the Times that President Trump asked then-Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to get an ally installed as head of the Southern District of New York's investigation into the president's former attorney, Michael Cohen. The ally in question had already recused himself. This, CNN analyst and former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Elie Honig concluded, is a big deal.

"If this is not an attempt to obstruct justice, I don't know what is," Honig said. "This is old-school, textbook, almost Nixon-style obstruction."

Honig said the only "rational, reasonable read" on Trump's reported request is that he wanted to "put a lid on the investigation" before it affected him. He also pointed to Trump's previous berating of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his recusal from the Russia investigation, saying this all adds up to a "fairly obvious pattern of obstruction." Trump has denied the reported conversation with Whitaker took place.

It wasn't only CNN analysts concluding this report looks bad for Trump — Fox News' Andrew Napolitano said that if the report is true, it clearly shows an "attempt to obstruct justice." Some did come to Trump's defense, though, with former Republican senator Rick Santorum saying the attorney Trump wanted to appoint was "not someone who would not normally be someone you would suggest would be in charge." He also said Trump's reported conversation with Whitaker was not "improper," although it also was not "wise."

Watch Honig's comments below. Brendan Morrow

9:46 a.m.

The Trump administration is launching what the The Washington Post calls "the most recent attempt to question the findings of federal scientists and experts on climate change" by assembling a panel dedicated to determining whether or not climate change poses a national security threat.

It turns out that William Happer, President Trump's top choice to lead the panel, is quite fond of carbon emissions.

So much so, in fact, that he said that people deserve to learn "the scientific truth, that more CO2 is actually a benefit to the earth" rather than a pollutant. In a 2014 appearance on CNBC's Squawk Box, Happer told host Andrew Ross Sorkin the "demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler."

Happer's views were unchanged as of 2017, as shown in an email published by Jezebel that year. He wrote that attacks on carbon dioxide "differs little from the Nazi persecution of Jews, the Soviet extermination of class enemies or ISIL slaugher of infidels."

Happer is a renowned physicist known for his work on laser technology used in missile defense and the interaction between light and atoms, but does not have a formal background in climate studies or history. Tim O'Donnell

8:44 a.m.

One might expect some of the recent revelations from former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe's new tell-all book to send the White House into turmoil. Not so.

Axios reports White House officials see McCabe's new book — The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump — as an "opportunity." McCabe has in recent television interviews made a number of jaw-dropping statements, including confirming that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein discussed whether Cabinet officials might come together to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. McCabe also said he opened an investigation into Trump and that he thought it was possible the president was working for Russia.

That's all pretty damaging, but according to Axios, White House officials and those close to Trump "plan to keep promoting" stories like these because "Trump and his allies view this as vindicating his narrative that there's a Deep State 'coup' afoot." This explains, Axios writes, why Trump allies and even the president himself have been putting some of McCabe's anecdotes out there rather than trying to suppress them or claim fake news.

Trump, after all, has been tweeting up a storm about McCabe in recent days, on Monday tweeting a quote from Sean Hannity claiming that McCabe "admitted to plotting a coup (government overthrow) when he was serving in the FBI." Trump added, "Treason!"

According to Axios, the White House's plan is to argue that stories like these from McCabe are true while at the same time everything else he says is "a pack of lies." Brendan Morrow

8:19 a.m.

President Trump is looking to take back more than $3 billion in federal money from California, and the state's governor is calling the move "political retribution."

The Trump administration on Tuesday said it will cancel a $929 million federal grant for the California High-Speed Rail Authority, saying the state's Los Angeles-to-San Francisco bullet train project has "failed to make reasonable progress," per The New York Times. The administration also wants California to pay back $2.5 billion in federal money it's already spent.

This comes after California said it would be scaling back the $77 billion rail project, saying the version it had planned would "cost too much" and "take too long" but that construction on the 119-mile Central Valley rail link will still be completed, per Reuters. Upon making that announcement, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said he was "not interested in sending $3.5 billion in federal funding that was allocated to this project back to Donald Trump."

Now, that's exactly what he's fighting against, and Newsom claims this is a direct response to his state's lawsuit against the administration for its declaration of a national emergency to secure border wall funding. "This is clear political retribution by President Trump, and we won't sit idly by," Newsom said. "This is California’s money, and we are going to fight for it."

Trump on Twitter previously compared the high-speed rail project to the border wall, saying it is "hundreds of times more expensive than the desperately needed wall!"

Brendan Morrow

7:48 a.m.

A small cluster of Twitter and other social media accounts have already launched "a wide-ranging disinformation campaign aimed at Democratic 2020 candidates," Politico reports, and there are "signs that foreign state actors are driving at least some of the activity." The main targets of the coordinated social media attacks appear to be Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas), and according to some analyses, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

The goal, Politico reports, citing data from social media platforms and interviews with data scientists and digital campaign strategists, appears to be undermining the Democratic frontrunners "through the dissemination of memes, hashtags, misinformation, and distortions of their positions," plus a more general effort to sow discord in the 2020 Democratic field. "It looks like the 2020 presidential primary is going to be the next battleground to divide and confuse Americans," Brett Horvath, a founders of information warfare disruption firm Guardians.ai, tells Politico. "As it relates to information warfare in the 2020 cycle, we're not on the verge of it — we're already in the third inning."

Guardians.ai said it traced the campaign against 2020 Democrats to the same group of about 200 Twitter accounts that waged a wide-scale influence campaign during the 2018 elections, and Horvath says the 2020 assaults are more sophisticated than the 2018 ones and much more evolved than the initial phase in 2016. The core group of accounts, some of them highly sophisticated bots and others unwitting participants who tweet simpatico messages, are then amplified by tens of thousands or other accounts, mimicking organic vitality. In 2018, the accounts focused on conspiracy theories about things like voter fraud and the migrant caravan, and now they are spreading racist memes and misinformation about top Democrats.

Researchers "cannot conclusively point to the actors behind the coordinated activity," Politico notes. "It's unclear if they are rogue hackers, political activists or, as some contend, foreign state actors such as Russia," again. You can read more at Politico. Peter Weber

6:00 a.m.

Stephen Colbert began his interview with former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe on Tuesday's Late Show with a little lighthearted banter. "Legally, do you have to look and dress like an extra from Dragnet to be in the FBI?" Colbert said. "Yes, of course," McCabe replied drily. Then they jumped into his book, The Threat, and why McCabe launched a dual criminal-counterintelligence investigation into President Trump after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey during the FBI's investigation of Russian election meddling.

The investigation grew out of the question, "Why would the president of the United States be trying to obstruct an investigation into Russia's activity?" McCabe explained. "And what makes you think that the president fired Comey because of the Russia investigation, other than the fact that he said that out loud?" Colbert asked, half-seriously. "There were a number of things that concerned us as we investigated the possibility of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign through the fall," McCabe said, adding, "We don't open investigations because we like someone or don't like them, or because they're a Republican or a Democrat."

McCabe explained that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's "brief" mention of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump came "in the middle of a chaotic and long conversation" and "was not very coup-y," and said his former boss Robert Mueller loves managing investigations, "so I am sure he is just as happy as he can possibly be" as special counsel. "He looks happy," Colbert deadpanned. "Is there anything in the last two years that makes you less suspicious of the president, or is less indicative that he had improper relationship with the Russians, possible collusion or conspiracy?" "No," McCabe answered quickly. "It all seems to get more suspicious every day."

McCabe also said the media's reporting on Trump's Russia ties and possible obstruction of justice has been remarkably accurate, but he still knows mildly shocking things he can't discuss. Peter Weber

See More Speed Reads