Tuesday 22 May 2018

'Putin first leader to congratulate Trump'

Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Photo: AP
Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Photo: AP

Nick Allen

UK Prime Minister Theresa May thought she was the first world leader to congratulate Donald Trump after his inauguration, only to find that she had been beaten by Vladimir Putin.

The revelation was contained in memos written by James Comey, the former FBI director fired by Mr Trump.

His memos were made public yesterday after the FBI handed them over to several congressional committees.

In them Mr Trump also repeatedly protested his innocence to Mr Comey over allegations involving prostitutes during his visit to Russia in 2013.

"The president said the 'hookers thing' is nonsense but that Putin had told him 'We have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world'.

"He did not say when Putin had told him this," Mr Comey wrote.

Concerning the phone calls, Mr Comey described how he had dinner with Mr Trump at the White House on January 27, 2017, and the president was fuming about an incident earlier that day when he had met with Mrs May.

In the memo the identity of the first leader to call Mr Trump was blacked out as classified, but officials have now confirmed that it was Mr Putin.

"The president apparently discovered during his toast to Teresa [sic] May that XXX had called four days ago," Mr Comey wrote.

"Apparently, as the president was toasting, he was explaining that she had been the first to call him after his inauguration. Flynn [national security adviser Michael Flynn] interrupted to say that XXX had called (first, apparently)."

Mr Comey said that was when Mr Trump first learned of the call from Mr Putin and he "confronted" Mr Flynn, who replied that a return call to the Russian president was scheduled in two days' time.

That prompted a "heated reply" from the president who said that "six days was not an appropriate period of time" to return such a call.

"In telling the story the president pointed his fingers at his head and said 'the guy [Mr Flynn] has serious judgment issues'," Mr Comey wrote.

Mr Flynn was fired a few weeks later after misleading Mike Pence, the vice-president, about his own contacts with Russia.

In a separate memo, Mr Comey said that Mr Trump cleared the Oval Office of other officials, encouraged him to let go of the investigation into Mr Flynn and called him a good guy.

Mr Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is now co-operating with Mr Mueller's investigation.

The memos reveal that days before Mr Flynn's firing, the then-White House chief of staff Reince Priebus asked Mr Comey if Mr Flynn's communications were being monitored under a secret surveillance warrant.

"Do you have a FISA order on Mike Flynn?" Mr Priebus asked Mr Comey, according to the memos, referring to an order under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Mr Comey said that he "paused for a few seconds and then said that I would answer here, but that this illustrated the kind of question that had been asked and answered through established channels".

His response is redacted on the unclassified memos.

Responding to the claims about Russian prostitutes, Dmitry Peskov, Mr Putin's spokesman, said: "President Putin could not have said that, and did not say that, to President Trump."

Meanwhile, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said that Mr Trump had invited Mr Putin to the US during a phone call last month, and that Mr Trump indicated he would be glad to make a reciprocal visit to Moscow.

Mr Comey is currently on a book tour.

Writing on Twitter, Mr Trump accused him of "making lots of money from a third rate book (that should never have been written).

"Is that really the way life in America is supposed to work? I don't think so!"

Irish Independent

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