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Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions, Sergey Kislyak Mayflower Hotel meeting drove empty Russia scandal

Attorney General William Barr may have one particular storyline in mind when he says liberal media were doing “all they could to sensationalize and drive” the empty Russia scandal: the Mayflower Hotel. The press wrote scores of stories in 2017 about candidate Donald Trump’s foreign policy speech at the downtown D.C. landmark. The articles promoted…

Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions, Sergey Kislyak Mayflower Hotel meeting drove empty Russia scandal

Attorney General William Barr may have one particular storyline in mind when he says liberal media were doing “all they could to sensationalize and drive” the empty Russia scandal: the Mayflower Hotel.

The press wrote scores of stories in 2017 about candidate Donald Trump’s foreign policy speech at the downtown D.C. landmark. The articles promoted scandalous Russia ties and supposed out-and-out lying. They centered on three men who were in the same room that April 27, 2016: Mr. Trump, Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican.

In the end, perhaps no other anti-Trump story involving Russia promised so much only to produce investigative findings of virtually nothing.

Mr. Barr has been on a two-pronged mission. He has publicly excoriated the FBI for what he characterizes as “sabotaging” the Trump presidency. He has vowed to find out what happened through special investigator John Durham, who is examining how the bureau started the probe.

Mr. Barr has long contended that the FBI lacked evidence to open such a momentous criminal project targeting the president’s campaign, transition and presidency. Democrats and the liberal press have questioned the need for Mr. Durham.

Mr. Barr now has added a third prong: He is zeroing in on what he considers liberal media overkill in light of the fact that special counsel Robert Mueller found no Trump-Russia election conspiracy.

“I agree with you that it’s been stunning that all we have gotten from the mainstream media is sort of bovine silence in the face of the complete collapse of the so-called Russiagate scandal, which they did all they could to sensationalize and drive,” Mr. Barr told Fox News host Maria Bartiromo. “And it’s, like, not even a ‘whoops.’ They’re just onto the next false scandal. So, that has been surprising to me: that people aren’t concerned about civil liberties and the integrity of our governmental process.”

On NPR on Thursday, he called news media part of the “mob.”

“And these days, the media is very prominent among the mob, who either want someone hung or they want him sprung,” he said. “And part of what the Department of Justice is about and the attorney general is about is ignoring the mob and the calls and the false narratives, and doing in each case what they think is right.”

Mr. Trump’s foreign policy campaign speech at the Mayflower Hotel was sponsored by The National Interest, a publication of the Center for the National Interest, and its director, Dimitri Simes. The center works to build better relations between Washington and Moscow.

A year later, in the spring of 2017, the Mayflower became one of the hottest media topics on ties between Mr. Trump and Russia. Reporters began churning out scores of accusatory stories. That March, then-FBI Director James B. Comey announced that the entire Trump apparatus was under scrutiny for any links to Russia. Trump aides say that from that day forward, they felt like they had a target on their back for any time they ever talked to a Russian.

Here is a sampling of Mayflower stories:

⦁ NBC News: “Five current and former U.S. officials said they are aware of classified intelligence suggesting there was some sort of private encounter between Trump and his aides and the Russian envoy, despite a heated denial from Sessions, who has already come under fire for failing to disclose two separate contacts with Kislyak.”

⦁ The Independent, a British news website: “The meeting between the two men took place while Mr. Trump was at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington April 27, 2016. The reports directly contradict the president’s repeated denials about contact with Russian officials prior to his election.”

⦁ The Wall Street Journal: Mr. Trump warmly greeted Mr. Kislyak in a reception line before his speech.

⦁ Bloomberg News: “President Trump met last April with the Russian ambassador at the center of a pair of controversies.”

⦁ HuffPost: “It is not clear what Trump and Kislyak discussed, or how extensive the interaction was.”

⦁ Newsweek: “Sessions’s lies about his Russia Contacts: Chapter and Verse … Lying to Congress is a felony and special counsel Robert Mueller may have jurisdiction here since these statements materially relate to the investigation of Trump campaign relations with Russia.”

⦁ CNN: “Investigators on the Hill are requesting additional information, including schedules from Sessions, a source with knowledge tells CNN. They are focusing on whether such a meeting took place April 27, 2016, at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC, where then-candidate Donald Trump was delivering his first major foreign policy address.”

⦁ The Washington Post: Intercepts of Mr. Kislyak’s phone calls to superiors has him saying he talked about the 2016 campaign with Trump aides at the Mayflower.

“Current and former U.S. officials said that that assertion is at odds with Kislyak’s accounts of conversations in two encounters during the campaign, one in April ahead of Trump’s first major foreign policy speech [at the Mayflower] and another in July on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention,” The Post said.

⦁ The New York Times: “The origin of the Mayflower story can be traced, according to several American officials, to raw intelligence picked up by American spy agencies last year that is now held at C.I.A. headquarters in Virginia. The intelligence appears to be based on intercepts of Mr. Kislyak discussing a private meeting he had with Mr. Sessions at a Trump campaign event last April at the luxury hotel.”

The Mueller investigation

Besides briefly greeting Mr. Kislyak, as well as other ambassadors, at the Mayflower, Mr. Trump had no foreign contacts and left immediately after the speech, according to the special counsel’s report in March 2019. In all, Mr. Mueller found no Trump-Russia conspiracy to interfere in the 2016 election.

Here is how the VIP receiving line worked, said Mr. Mueller: “Sessions first stood next to Trump to introduce him to the members of Congress who were in attendance. After those members had been introduced, Simes stood next to Trump and introduced him to the CNI invitees in attendance, including Kislyak. Simes perceived the introduction to be positive and friendly, but thought it clear that Kislyak and Trump had just met for the first time.”

In other words, when the diplomats greeted Mr. Trump, Mr. Sessions had left the receiving line. It was Mr. Simes who invited the diplomats.

Mr. Mueller footnoted the NBC report, as well as a report in The Atlantic, which said Mr. Sessions had met with Mr. Kislyak at the Mayflower.

“The office found no evidence that Kislyak conversed with either Trump or Sessions after the speech, or would have had the opportunity to do so,” the Mueller report said. “Simes, for example, did not recall seeing Kislyak at the post-speech luncheon, and the only witness who accounted for Sessions’ whereabouts stated that Sessions may have spoken to the press after the event but then departed for Capitol Hill.”

Another witness told the Mueller team, “Trump left the hotel a few minutes after the speech to go to the airport.”

Mr. Mueller wrote about the Mayflower event and Mr. Kislyak’s attendance at the Republican National Convention, a trip organized by the Obama administration’s State Department for scores of diplomats.

The Mueller report: “The office investigated several other events that have been publicly reported to involve potential Russia-related contacts. For example, the investigation established that interactions between Russian Ambassador Kislyak and Trump campaign officials both at the candidate’s April 2016 foreign policy speech in Washington D.C. and during the week of the Republican National Convention were brief, public and non-substantive.”

Concerning Mr. Sessions’ brief meeting with Mr. Kislyak in his Senate office, the Mueller report said, “The investigation also did not establish that a meeting between Kislyak and Sessions in September 2016 at Sessions’ Senate office included any more than a passing mention of the presidential campaign.”

After the Mayflower press frenzy, Mr. Sessions, then the attorney general, testified before the Senate that June.

“I did not have any private meetings, nor do I recall any conversations with any Russian officials at the Mayflower Hotel,” Mr. Sessions said. “I did not attend any meetings at that event. Prior to the speech, I attended a reception with my staff that included at least two dozen people and President Trump. Though I do recall several conversations I had during that pre-speech reception, I do not have any recollection of meeting or talking to the Russian ambassador or any other Russian officials.”

Mr. Barr continued his criticism of the press last week during an appearance on the podcast “Verdict with Ted Cruz,” a Senate Republican from Texas.

“One of the stunning things, I’m sure you’ll agree, is that the media just went hellbent for leather on pushing this Russiagate story that Trump was essentially an agent of Russia,” Mr. Barr said. “And they were merciless. And up until recently you had former senior government officials sort of talking knowingly about how the president was going to be indicted and so forth and so on. Is there anyone standing up now saying that President Trump is an agent of a foreign power? Whoops. They got it wrong. And you wouldn’t know that ‘cause there has been no retraction, no readjustment by the media. … They’re just on to the next false scandal because their purpose seems to be to cripple this administration and drive it from office at any cost.”

The Mueller report provided no evidence that Mr. Trump, during his long career as a hotel and golf course developer, was ever a spy or an informant for Russia, or that he even interacted with Kremlin officials. The Trump Organization has never built anything in Russia.

On Monday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany called on The Washington Post and the New York Times to return their Pulitzer prizes for their Russia coverage, saying that much of it was inaccurate.

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Joe Biden: Donald Trump ‘worst president’ in U.S. history

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden gestures while speaking during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) more > By David Sherfinski – The Washington Times – Tuesday, September 29, 2020 Joseph R. Biden told President Trump he’s the…

Joe Biden: Donald Trump ‘worst president’ in U.S. history

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden gestures while speaking during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) more>

By David Sherfinski

The Washington Times

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Joseph R. Biden told President Trump he’s the worst president in U.S. history at the first presidential debate in Cleveland on Tuesday.

“You’re the worst president America has ever had,” Mr. Biden said. “Come on.”

The two had been debating taxes before things devolved.

“In 47 months, I’ve done more than you’ve done in 47 years, Joe,” the president shot back.

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Donald Trump still king of the ‘poorly educated’

President Trump famously declared during his 2016 campaign that he loved the “poorly educated” because voters with lower levels of schooling delivered an overwhelming share of votes to him. Four years later, political pros say most of those folks remain enchanted by the president, but it’s anyone’s guess whether they turn out to vote in…

Donald Trump still king of the ‘poorly educated’

President Trump famously declared during his 2016 campaign that he loved the “poorly educated” because voters with lower levels of schooling delivered an overwhelming share of votes to him.

Four years later, political pros say most of those folks remain enchanted by the president, but it’s anyone’s guess whether they turn out to vote in the same numbers and whether they will remain attached to the Republican Party after Mr. Trump leaves the presidential stage.

Why Mr. Trump appeals to them is also heatedly debated. Explanations include economics, race and the president’s blunt style of rhetoric.

What is not in dispute, though, is how deeply Mr. Trump resonated, particularly among White voters without four-year college degrees, and how much it upended the political playing field.

Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said there wasn’t much of an education gap among White voters before 2012. Those with college degrees were about as likely to vote Republican as those without.

That began to change in the race between President Obama and Republican opponent Mitt Romney, but it exploded in 2016 when Mr. Trump got the support of 51% of voters without a college degree. Among White voters without a college degree, he bested Hillary Clinton by 35 percentage points, Mr. Murray said. Among white voters with a college degree, the two ran even.

That has changed somewhat.

Mr. Trump’s lead over Democratic nominee Joseph R. Biden among White voters without a degree is 25 points in Monmouth polling, Mr. Murray said. But Mr. Biden holds a 15-point lead among White college-educated voters.

“But the unprecedented yawning gap between those two groups remains,” he said.

Mr. Trump’s surprise 2016 victory sent political scientists scrambling to figure out what happened. Early speculation revolved around a pool of voters who backed Mr. Obama and then switched to Mr. Trump.

Michael Sances, an assistant professor at Temple University, crunched the numbers and said the level of party-switching wasn’t high compared with previous elections, but those who did switch in 2016 were heavily concentrated among lower-educated voters.

“There aren’t many, but in a close race, they can be key,” Mr. Sances said.

He looked at counties and compared their votes from 2012 and 2016. If the counties at the bottom 20% of education attainment had voted for the same party in both elections, then Hillary Clinton would have won the Electoral College by about 30 votes.

Mr. Trump’s appeal to less-schooled voters became apparent early in the 2016 Republican primary season. After several stories pointed out his success with that demographic, Mr. Trump declared, “I love the poorly educated.”

That phrase went viral, and some less-educated voters took to Twitter to insist they didn’t like Mr. Trump.

Others, presumably in the more-schooled crowd, complained that it was a bad look for Mr. Trump to brag about winning the demographic.

Mr. Trump was lucky, though, that the vote of a high school dropout counts as much as that of someone with a Ph.D. or law degree, but those who hold degrees are increasingly crowding out the less-educated.

As recently as 2004, those without four-year college degrees made up 58% of the presidential year electorate. That share has fallen in each election since and reached just 50% in 2016.

Broken down further, 18% of voters in 2016 never went beyond high school, 32% had some college but didn’t graduate, 32% did graduate and stopped there, and 18% had postgraduate schooling.

Some academics have suggested that the divide is not about education. Trump voters in 2016 just weren’t as intelligent, said Yoav Ganzach, a professor at Tel Aviv University.

He led a research paper that used data from the American National Election Studies to judge voters’ verbal abilities, as a proxy for intelligence, and then compared those abilities with their choices in the 2016 election. The paper argued that “support for Trump was less about socioeconomic standing and more about intellect.”

Gordon Pennycook, a cognitive psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Regina in Canada, used cognitive reflection test scores of more than 15,000 people who participated in studies on Mechanical Turk, a research tool, to judge their approaches to voting in 2016.

He found that Trump voters, particularly Democrats, were “less reflective” than Clinton voters.

He said there is no strong evidence for the attraction, but it could be that Mr. Trump speaks in a simple and repetitive way.

“That might be something that draws people who tend to have a more intuitive mindset in the first place,” the professor said.

Republicans and conservatives who voted for the Libertarian candidate or other third-party nominee rated highest on the cognitive reflection test, and those who did not vote at all showed the lowest scores overall.

Whether those voters stay with Republicans for the long haul is tricky to predict.

Mr. Pennycook said “the nature of being highly intuitive means you don’t think your way out of where you were,” but going with a gut feeling can make a voter more easily moved by the surroundings.

“It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s pretty close to random, basically.”

Michael McKenna, a former Trump White House aide who now writes a column for The Washington Times, said Mr. Trump’s attraction for working-class voters — those likely to lack college degrees — should be obvious. He is talking about the pain of globalization and competition from China, to communities that have suffered deeply.

“Trump’s the first guy — love him, hate him, be indifferent to him — he’s the first guy that’s said, ‘You know, I don’t think this is right. I don’t think this is healthy for the country long-term,’” Mr. McKenna said.

The other side of that coin are suburban voters who benefit from globalization and the cheaper prices they pay for goods at Target.

Mr. McKenna said the Trump effect will be lasting, though not necessarily tied to Republicans. Both parties can make a play for those voters.

“Trump has now opened this door,” he said. “In every election here on out, we’re going to have a candidate who will speak to the negative effects of globalization.”

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Donald Trump bets on trade while Joe Biden struggles for direction

President Trump was just three days into his tenure in 2017 when, with the stroke of a pen, he nixed America’s participation in the world’s biggest trade deal. In canceling the Obama administration’s Trans-Pacific Partnership and later rewriting the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mr. Trump has drafted a new script for negotiating trade deals.…

Donald Trump bets on trade while Joe Biden struggles for direction

President Trump was just three days into his tenure in 2017 when, with the stroke of a pen, he nixed America’s participation in the world’s biggest trade deal.

In canceling the Obama administration’s Trans-Pacific Partnership and later rewriting the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mr. Trump has drafted a new script for negotiating trade deals.

He has ditched multilateral pacts that rely on a gaggle of nations getting on the same page and has wielded tariffs against friend and foe alike. He also has embraced a “protectionist” label instead of the Republican Party’s traditional affinity for free and open trade.

Mr. Trump is leaning into the issue ahead of Election Day, betting that his signature focus will help lock down Upper Midwest states that delivered a White House victory to him four years ago.

“I watched the jobs going out. I never saw anything so stupid in my life,” he told supporters in Dayton, Ohio, this week. “I watched the worst trade deals, and we’ve reversed many of them, almost all of them now, but we’ve reversed them.”

Joseph R. Biden, who supported NAFTA and the TPP, is still trying to find his footing as the Democratic nominee. He has been forced to acknowledge that the North American pact signed by Mr. Trump is superior to the original, though he says House Democrats deserve the credit for negotiating a better deal.

He has proposed a series of ideas to recapture voters who flipped from Barack Obama to Donald Trump.

Mr. Biden wants a 10% tax on companies that move production overseas and then try to sell products in the U.S.

“If your big corporate strategy is to boost your shareholders’ profits and your CEO’s bonuses by moving jobs out of America, we’re going to make sure you not only pay full U.S. taxes on those profits, we’re going to add an extra 10% offshoring penalty surtax to your bill,” Mr. Biden told Michigan workers on Sept. 9.

He also rolled out a 10% tax credit for companies that revitalize closing or closed factories or bring production or overseas jobs back to the U.S.

He wants to tighten “Buy American” rules. He says too many products are stamped “Made in America,” even if barely 51% of their materials are made domestically, and that it’s too easy for federal agencies to waive the rules when they procure goods.

“These are things that are meant to appeal to Pennsylvania, Illinois and Ohio, places that have a lot of manufacturing and union jobs,” said Mary Lovely, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Mr. Biden has signaled his desire to work more closely with other nations as Mr. Trump uses sharp elbows with friendly partners to get the terms he wants.

“I would just say an important difference between Biden and Trump, when the smoke clears, is that Biden wants to work with the allies,” Ms. Lovely said.

A survey from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs finds both parties adopting the views of their respective standard-bearers. Democrats have taken an “internationalist” view, and Republicans favor a nationalist approach to trade.

“The differences between the two candidates are glaring, reinforced by respective partisan preferences among the wider public,” the surveyors said. “In November, voters will not only decide who will become the next U.S. president, but also they will help determine the path U.S. foreign policy takes — either working in partnership with the international community or moving toward a greater degree of national self-reliance.”

The Trump administration is eyeing a series of deals in a second term. He is interested in negotiating with the United Kingdom, once it sorts out Brexit, and Kenya, which is looking to engage.

The president left the door open to a major deal with the European Union despite his well-documented friction with the bloc.

“He’s going to go where he sees the most economic benefit,” said James Carafano, a vice president for foreign policy at The Heritage Foundation.

Mr. Trump says Mr. Biden has forfeited the issue of trade by supporting NAFTA, which has been blamed for job losses in the Rust Belt and heartland.

He predicts the Democratic nominee would be too soft on China and doesn’t have the fire in his belly to fight for U.S. interests. He also says the former vice president alienated voters who preferred Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont during the Democratic primary contests.

“A lot of the Bernie people vote for us because Bernie’s right about one thing: trade,” Mr. Trump told North Carolina supporters this month.

Few polls ask voters about international trade directly. Instead, voters give Mr. Trump an edge on the economy generally and a nod to Mr. Biden on foreign policy.

A majority of Americans disapproved of Mr. Trump’s handling of foreign trade in 2018 and 2019, but the president moved above water by January, when he notched the back-to-back deals during an impeachment inquiry, according to Gallup.

It’s been a bumpy road for Mr. Trump since then. The COVID-19 pandemic has shrouded some of his achievements, and China isn’t living up to the purchasing requirements of a phase one trade deal.

Mr. Trump is walking a tightrope on trade with Beijing by trumpeting recent purchases of corn and other farm products while accusing the communist government of letting COVID-19 spread around the world.

“China is now paying us billions and billions of dollars, but you know, I view it differently now. I view China much differently now after the plague came in,” Mr. Trump told the crowd in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Mr. Trump also upset brewers and other industries by slapping tariffs on Canadian aluminum mere weeks after the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement went into effect. He said the Canadians were flooding the U.S. market with aluminum, though experts said the uptick was a natural byproduct of market trends related to COVID-19.

He backed off in mid-September, before Canada could retaliate, after determining that trade in non-alloyed, unwrought aluminum is likely to normalize in the last four months of the year.

Mr. Biden is hammering Mr. Trump over the loss of manufacturing jobs during his tenure and the trade war with China that hurt farmers, forcing Mr. Trump to seek billions of dollars in bailout funds over the past two years.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle for Mr. Trump will be getting voters to care about trade, which has been his signature issue alongside immigration. The USMCA just took effect, so its impact is unclear, and COVID-19 hamstrung the initial stage of the China deal and dimmed hopes for phase two.

“Trade is not the be-all, end-all of the American economy, so deficits and trade deals aren’t something that touches the average American the way a tax cut does or a significant decline in employment does,” Mr. Carafano said.

Still, the issue keeps coming up with less than six weeks until Election Day.

The former vice president has been forced to explain why the Obama administration was unable to renegotiate NAFTA from 2009 to 2017.

He told CNN’s Jake Tapper this month that the Republican-led Congress wouldn’t agree with the Obama administration’s push to update the deal.

Experts say Mr. Biden’s argument might be a tough sell.

“‘I couldn’t get it done but the other guy did,’” Mr. Carafano said. “That’s not a great reason to vote for you.”

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