Tuesday 25 April 2017

Trump wages war on intelligence agencies

US President Donald Trump greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after a joint news conference at the White House. Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque
US President Donald Trump greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after a joint news conference at the White House. Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

David Lawler

Donald Trump is waging war on his own intelligence agencies over "un-American" leaks that revealed his campaign aides had been in regular contact with Russian intelligence officials and led to the resignation of his national security adviser.

Mr Trump claimed agents with a political vendetta against him are intent on undermining his presidency. He laid the responsibility for "criminal leaks" firmly at their feet.

"It's a criminal act and it's been going on for a long time before me, but now it's really going on. People are trying to cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton," Mr Trump said during a press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.

Mr Trump also defended Michael Flynn, who had been among his top advisers before it emerged he had misled the White House over the nature of his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the US.

"General Flynn is a wonderful man. I think he's been treated very, very unfairly by the media, as I call it - the fake media, in many cases. And I think it's really a sad thing that he was treated so badly," he said.

Mr Trump's spokesman had said that the president had demanded Mr Flynn resign because his trust in him had been "eroding".

First lady Melania Trump leads the way for Sara Netanyahu at the White House
First lady Melania Trump leads the way for Sara Netanyahu at the White House

The president also lashed out at US intelligence on Twitter yesterday, saying the "real scandal" was not communication between top campaign aides and Russia, but the repeated leaks of classified information emerging from the US government.

He cited the FBI and National Security Agency as possible sources of "illegal" information provided to the "failing 'New York Times' and 'Washington Post'". He accused US media outlets of "conspiracy theories and blind hatred" in an apparent reference to reports on ties between his aides and Russia.

Robert Harward, a retired vice-admiral, was reportedly offered the national security adviser post following Mr Flynn's resignation. He was expected to accept the position after initially hesitating, and plans to overhaul Mr Trump's national security team, according to 'Foreign Policy' magazine.

Distance

Mr Harward is an ally of James Mattis, the Pentagon chief, having served under him as deputy commander of US central command. He was a member of George W Bush's national security council and a former CEO of Lockheed Martin, the defence contractor.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump's administration issued an ultimatum to Nato members yesterday, demanding they start increasing defence spending or Washington will "moderate its commitment" to them.

James Mattis, the Pentagon chief, said the new "political reality" in America meant it was unacceptable for Washington to continue carrying the burden of defending European states.

Low-spending countries were in denial and had turned their back on the threat posed by Russia and Isil, the newly-appointed US defence secretary said. Mr Mattis said the alliance must set out a timetable for when members will hit the Nato target of spending 2pc of gross domestic product on defence.

Nato sources at a meeting of defence ministers in Brussels said they were waiting to see how the new US administration will tackle Russia.

At the White House, Mr Trump said that he was open to a "one-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - appearing to distance himself from a decades-long US commitment to supporting a separate Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Speaking next to Israeli prime minister Mr Netanyahu ahead of their meeting, Mr Trump was asked if he supported a two-state solution or a one-state solution to the long-running conflict.

"I'm looking at two-state and at one-state and I like the one that both parties like," Mr Trump said. "I can live with either one. I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two, but honestly if [Mr Netanyahu] and if the Palestinians, if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I'm happy with the one they like the best."

Mr Trump's openness to a one-state solution is a break from the policies of Barack Obama, George W Bush and Bill Clinton, all of whom tried to broker a peace deal that would lead to the creation of two separate states.

Telegraph.co.uk

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