US intelligence officials have reportedly chosen to withold information from US President Donald Trump in the wake of the resignation of National Security Adviser General Michael Flynn.
The Wall St Journal reports current and former officials have not shared sensitive intelligence with Trump amid concerns it could be leaked or compromised.
Their decision not to share highly classified information comes as Trump dodged questions Wednesday about ties with Russia, railed against intelligence leaks and defended the national security advisor he just fired, as crisis engulfed his fledgling administration.
The Wall St Journal also reports that in some cases, officials have not shown Trump the sources and methods that the intelligence agencies use to collect information.
A White House official told the Wall St Journal: “There is nothing that leads us to believe that this is an accurate account of what is actually happening.”
The development comes after the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee are asking the attorney general and FBI director for a briefing on the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa and Senator Dianne Feinstein of California sent a letter late Wednesday to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James Comey requesting a briefing the week of February 27.
Congress is out of session next week for the Presidents’ Day holiday.
The senators also requested copies of the transcripts of Flynn’s intercepted calls and the FBI report summarizing the intercepted calls referenced in the media.
Flynn resigned Monday night following reports he misled Vice President Mike Pence about contacts with a Russian diplomat.
TRUMP’S PUSH TO FREE PRISONER
US President Donald Trump called on Venezuela to free jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez “immediately,” posting a picture of himself and Vice President Mike Pence with Lopez’s wife.
“Venezuela should allow Leopoldo Lopez, a political prisoner & husband of @liliantintori (just met w/ @marcorubio) out of prison immediately,” Trump tweeted, along with the photo, which also features Florida Senator Marco Rubio.
Lopez, the founder of Popular Will, one of the most hardline of the parties opposing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, is serving a 14-year prison term on charges of inciting unrest at anti-government protests that left 43 people dead in 2014.
FLYNN LOSES SECURITY CLEARANCE
DONALD Trump’s sacked National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was stripped of his security clearance just a day after his resignation, reports reveal.
The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) says it suspended the clearance of the retired general because of allegations he had misled White House officials about his contacts with a Russian ambassador.
“We thought it was prudent to take a pause on his access to classified information,” DIA Spokesman James Kudla told media today.
“This is a standard administrative action taken when questions arise concerning an individual’s compliance with security directives.”
Flynn was asked to resign after he fell-out with senior White House staff and the Vice President over allegations he misled them about his contact with Russian officials. FBI transcrips proved he had discussed the issue of lifting economic sanctions imposed upon Moscow for its occupation of Crimea in 2014, despite his repeated assertions he had not.
If Flynn is found not to have violated national security, he may have his security status reinstated, the DIA said.
PUZDER ANOTHER BLOW TO TRUMP
In a setback to President Donald Trump as he tries to assemble his administration, his nominee for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, has withdrawn his name from consideration amid concerns that he can’t garner enough Senate votes to be confirmed.
Puzder, the chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants Inc, which franchises fast-food chains including Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr, has been at the centre of a swirl of controversies, complaints and potential conflicts. He admitted earlier this month that he and his wife had employed an undocumented person as a housekeeper.
Most recently, a decades-old Ophrah Winfrey tape raising allegations of domestic abuse by his ex- wife resurfaced, though those allegations had been withdrawn.
TRUMP BLAMES CLINTON FOR RUSSIA SCANDAL
Donald Trump has slammed allegations that officials from his presidential election campaign were in contact with Russian intelligence officers, instead blaming the controversy on Hillary Clinton.
“From intelligence, papers are being leaked, things are being leaked,” Mr Trump said at a White House news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday.
“It’s a criminal action, criminal act, and it’s been going on for a long time before me, but now it’s really going on. And people are trying to cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton.”
Echoing a barrage of early-morning tweets, he also defended his ousted national security adviser, Michael Flynn, saying he’d “been treated very, very unfairly by the media” following “illegal leaks”.
General Flynn resigned on Monday amid reports he had discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador to the US before Mr Trump was sworn into office.
On Tuesday night, an explosive New York Times report claimed that members of Mr Trump’s campaign had repeated contacts with top Russian intelligence officials in the year preceding the November 8 presidential election.
The vacant national security adviser post has been offered to Vice Admiral Robert Harward, a former Navy SEAL, according to multiple reports.
TRUMP REKINDLES RELATIONSHIP WITH ISRAEL
President Trump welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to the White House on Wednesday, where he reaffirmed America’s “unbreakable bond” with the Middle East nation.
He said that Israel faces enormous security challenges and called the Iran nuclear deal negotiated under former President Barack Obama “one of the worst deals I’ve ever seen.”
Mr Netanyahu called on Mr Trump to “let us seize this moment” in seeking new avenues of peace in the Middle East.
He also said he believes reversing the “rising tide of radical Islam” is also possible with Mr Trump leading the United States, adding that Arab countries in the region “don’t see Israel as the enemy.”
In response to a question about the expansion of Israeli settlements, Mr Trump asked his counterpart to “hold back on settlements for a little bit.”
He said that a “two-state looked like it will be the easier of the two,” but said that if Israel and the Palestinians find an alternative that they like better, he’ll support them.
Mr Trump, who said he believes Palestinians are “taught tremendous hate”, pledged to work very hard to deliver “really a great peace deal” between foes Israel and Palestine.
Mr Trump’s efforts to improve relations could potentially be aided by son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who attended the press conference with his wife, Ivanka.
“I’ve known the president and his family for a long time and there’s no greater support of the Jewish people and the Jewish state than President Donald Trump,” Mr Netanyahu said.
Mr Trump and his wife, Melania, greeted Mr Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, at the south entrance to the White House.
The leaders shook hands and the prime minister kissed Mrs Trump on the cheek. Mr Trump and Mr Netanyahu embraced as they entered the White House and went straight into the press conference.
MELANIA ‘UNHAPPY WITH HOW HER LIFE ENDED UP’
Melania Trump is secretly miserable as first lady, a new report claims.
Private, self-conscious, and smarting from some harsh, even mocking press, Mrs Trump is “struggling with the realities of her new role and the scrutiny that comes with it,” US Weekly reports, citing family sources.
“This life wasn’t her dream. It was Donald’s,” a Trump family friend, stylist Phillip Bloch, told the magazine. “Truthfully, it’s a lot to cope with.”
Since Inauguration Day, Mrs Trump has been holed up at Trump Tower in New York where 10-year-old son Barron has a whole floor to himself.
Recently, the White House team begged her to come to Washington and give her husband a PR boost by presiding over the traditional first lady tours, a source said.
“She was told, ‘All you need to do is show up on one day and take photos,’” one family source said. Mrs Trump declined.
She couldn’t even be cajoled into accompanying the Japanese prime minister’s wife, Akie Abe, on the traditionally first lady-hosted Capitol tour for spouses of visiting dignitaries.
“Don’t let her smile [in the photographs] fool you,” the source said. “She hates this.”
The source added, “Melania is unhappy with how her life ended up. She is miserable.”
EX-NAVY SEAL COULD STEP IN AS SECURITY ADVISER
Mr Trump has offered the vacant national security adviser post to Vice Admiral Robert Harward, according to multiple reports.
Harward, a former Navy SEAL and deputy commander of US Central Command, has not yet accepted the offer, Foreign Policy reports.
He has reportedly asked the commander-in-chief for a few days to consider the offer.
TRUMP TWEETSTORM ON RUSSIA SCANDAL
Mr Trump slammed the New York Times report on alleged Russian ties in an early morning Twitter barrage on Wednesday, two days after the resignation of his national security adviser Michael Flynn.
“This Russian connection non-sense is merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton’s losing campaign,” Mr Trump posted.
The US president took fresh aim at some of the media on Wednesday, saying their “blind hatred” of him sparked the latest controversy.
“The fake news media is going crazy with their conspiracy theories and blind hatred. @MSNBC & @CNN are unwatchable. @foxandfriends is great!” he tweeted.
Mr Trump also accused US intelligence services of having leaked information, directly pointing the finger at the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“Information is being illegally given to the failing @nytimes & @washington post by the intelligence community (NSA and FBI?) Just like Russia,” Mr Trump wrote.
He lobbed a hardball at his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, writing “Crimea was TAKEN by Russia during the Obama Administration. Was Obama too soft on Russia?”
KREMLIN DENIES CLAIMS OF RUSSIAN LINK
The Kremlin has called claims of Russian contact with Trump aides during the election campaign “absolutely groundless.”
“Let us not believe in what media say, for nowadays it is very difficult to tell actual news from fake ones,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to the Russia News Agency.
“Let us not rely on unidentified source. These reports are absolutely groundless, not based on any facts.”
However the spokesman also maintained that contact between US and Russian officials is normal, saying “working contacts are maintained.”
“Representatives of the US embassy in Russia communicate with Russian officials, meet with foreign ministry officers. The US diplomats also meet with representatives of the Russian regions, they also travel the country, which is a common diplomatic practice,” Mr Peskov added.
REPUBLICANS SHAKEN, DEMOCRATS ACT
The Russia revelations have infuriated Democrats and unsettled Republican leaders wary about Mr Trump’s professed desire for better relations with Moscow.
“This ongoing story is a perfect piece of evidence as to why we should not trust Russia,” House Speaker Paul Ryan told MSNBC.
Republicans and Democratic lawmakers have now called for an investigation into what happened, although they differ sharply on the scope and powers of the probe.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called a meeting of Democratic senators to discuss the resignation of General Flynn and published reports about contacts between Trump’s campaign and Moscow.
Leading Democrat, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, is pressing the Democrats’ case for an independent investigation.
Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren insisted that Mr Trump “owes Americans a full account” of his campaign and administration’s dealings with Moscow.
The Senate’s top Republican Mitch McConnell said it was “highly likely” that General Flynn would have to testify before an intelligence panel.
PAYNE TO MEET US DEFENCE SECRETARY
Defence Minister Marise Payne is set to have the first face-to-face meeting with US Defence Secretary James Mattis to discuss defence and security issues.
Senator Payne will also meet with NATO defence ministers in Brussels to discuss the military campaign in Iraq and Syria against Islamic State extremists.
On Wednesday, Mattis told America’s NATO allies that if they don’t cough up more cash for defence the US could “moderate” its commitment to the decades-old treaty.
“I owe it to you all to give you clarity on the political reality in the United States, and to state the fair demand from my country’s people in concrete terms,” he said in a closed-door meeting, The New York Post reports.
“America will meet its responsibilities, but if your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to the alliance, each of your capitals needs to show its support for our common defence.”
Mr Trump called the NATO alliance “obsolete” on the campaign trail, a comment that rattled the UK, France and Germany.
KELLYANNE CONWAY BLACKLISTED FROM US PROGRAM
MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski has announced that she refuses to book White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway on US news program Morning Joe.
“We know for a fact she tries to book herself on this show,” Ms Brzezinski said.
“I won’t do it, ‘cuz I don’t believe in fake news or information that is not true. And that is — every time I’ve ever seen her on television, something’s askew, off or incorrect.”
Her co-host Joe Scarborough said Ms Conway texted TV producers to get airtime.
“She’s in none of the key meetings,” Mr Scarborough said.
“She goes out and books herself often. ... I don’t even think she’s saying something that she knows to be untrue. She’s just saying things, just to get in front of the TV set and prove her relevance because behind the scenes — behind the scenes, she’s not in these meetings.”
TRUMP CALLS TURNBULL A ‘BRAWLER’
Mr Trump reportedly described Malcolm Turnbull as a “brawler” following their alleged explosive phone call over the Nauru asylum-seeker deal.
The US president is believed to have told a senior staff member he was impressed with Mr Turnbull’s uncompromising response during the 20-minute call, US sources told The Australian’s Simon Benson.
“There is a brawler there,” Mr Trump is believed to have told the staff member. “Not what I expected of him. He is no shrinking poppy (sic).’’
Mr Trump then said he had “no issues with the Aussies”.