Mar 21, 2018

A stunning leak rattles Trump and his aides

President Trump discussed his call with Russian President Vladimir Putin during an Oval Office meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Photo: Kevin Dietsch, Pool / Getty Images

One of the most startling leaks — and stunning revelations — of this whole administration has left President Trump and his senior staff furious and rattled. The Washington Post reports in its lead story: "Trump did not follow specific warnings from his national security advisers [yesterday] when he congratulated ... Putin on his reelection — including a section in his briefing materials in all-capital letters stating 'DO NOT CONGRATULATE.'"

Why it matters: The speed and sensitivity of the leak prompted immediate finger-pointing within the administration, as aides reeled from a leak that could only have come from a small group of people, each of whom is trusted with sensitive national secrets.

  • Possible motives include concern about how Trump is handling Putin, frustration by the officials about Trump ignoring their advice, or internal power games.

A White House official, furious about the WaPo story: “This is the way Trump is. If he’s doing business with you or working with you in some way, he’s going to congratulate you."

  • The official said: "The idea he’s being soft on Russia is crap. He approved Javelin missiles to Ukraine, closed the consulate in San Francisco, approved the sanctions. ... But ... he doesn’t want his personal relationship [with Putin] to be acrimonious."
  • Trump's view is there’s a lot of business to be done, and overlapping interests, and if the relationship between the two countries "is to rebuilt, the line has to be through the personal, leader-to-leader level.”

Trump had nonchalantly disclosed his message to Putin, while speaking to reporters during an Oval Office appearance with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

  • Trump told reporters: "I had a call with President Putin and congratulated him on ... his electoral victory."
  • "We had a very good call, and I suspect that we’ll probably be meeting in the not-too-distant future to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control — but we will never allow anybody to have anything even close to what we have. And also to discuss Ukraine and Syria and North Korea and various other things."
  • "So I think, probably, we’ll be seeing President Putin in the not-too-distant future."

Why it matters, from the WashPost: "The president’s conversation with Putin ... prompted fresh criticism of his muted tone toward one of the United States’ biggest geopolitical rivals amid the special counsel investigation."

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Coronavirus dashboard

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  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 p.m. ET: 5,931,112 — Total deaths: 357,929 — Total recoveries — 2,388,172Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3 p.m. ET: 1,711,313 — Total deaths: 101,129 — Total recoveries: 391,508 — Total tested: 15,192,481Map.
  3. States: New York to allow private businesses to deny entry to customers without masks.
  4. Public health: Louisiana Sen. Cassidy wants more frequent testing of nursing home workers.
  5. Congress: Pelosi slams McConnell on stimulus delay — Sen. Tim Kaine and wife test positive for coronavirus antibodies.
  6. Tech: Twitter fact-checks Chinese official's claims that coronavirus originated in U.S.
  7. What should I do? When you can be around others after contracting the coronavirus — Traveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Twitter fact-checks Chinese official's claims that coronavirus originated in U.S.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian. Photo: Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images

Twitter slapped a fact-check label on a pair of months-old tweets from a Chinese government spokesperson that falsely suggested that the coronavirus originated in the U.S. and was brought to Wuhan by the U.S. military, directing users to "get the facts about COVID-19."

Why it matters: The labels were added after criticism that Twitter had fact-checked tweets from President Trump about mail-in voting, but not other false claims from Chinese Communist Party officials and other U.S. adversaries.

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