John Light

John is TPM‘s Prime editor. His writing has also appeared at The Atlantic, Mother Jones, Salon, Slate, UN Dispatch, Vox, Worth, and Al Jazeera, and has been broadcast on Public Radio International. Before joining TPM, John was a producer for Bill Moyers and WNYC, and worked as a news writer for Grist. He grew up in New Jersey, studied history and film at Oberlin College, and got his master‘s degree in journalism from Columbia University.

Articles by John

During today’s joint press conference between President Trump and Vladimir Putin, one fearless reporter asked Putin if he had any “compromising material” on Trump. As TPM’s Kate Riga writes, that was a clear allusion to the so-called “pee tape,” alleged in the Steele dossier.

Trump’s supposed liaison with prostitutes documented on the pee tape supposedly occurred in November 2013, when Trump was in Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant. In response to the reporter’s question today, Putin said “when President Trump was in Moscow back then, I didn’t even know that he was in Moscow. I treat President Trump with utmost respect, but back then when he was a private individual, a businessman, nobody informed me that he was in Moscow.”

That response goes against quite a bit of reporting on what happened back in 2013. First and foremost, Trump reportedly invited Putin to the pageant himself. In March of this year, The Washington Post reported:

Donald Trump was so eager to have Vladi­mir Putin attend the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow that he wrote a personal letter to the Russian president inviting him to the event, according to multiple people familiar with the document.

The Post continued that the letter “has been turned over to investigators probing Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign.”

It’s unclear whether Putin received the invitation. Perhaps it got lost in the mail. But Trump’s desire to meet Putin was no secret.

According to other reports, Putin wasn’t just personally invited to the Miss Universe Pageant — for awhile, it looked as if he might attend. Reporters David Corn and Michael Isikoff tell part of the story in their book “Russian Roulette”: Trump had been anxiously waiting for Putin to show up at the pageant when he received a call from Putin’s spokesperson and right-hand man, Dmitry Peskov. Corn and Isikoff write:

Trump and Peskov spoke for a few minutes. Afterward, Trump recounted the conversation to Goldstone. Peskov, he said, was apologetic. Putin very much wanted to meet Trump. But there was a problem nobody had anticipated: a Moscow traffic jam. King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands were in town, and Putin was obligated to meet them at the Kremlin. But the royal couple had gotten stuck in traffic and was late, making it impossible for the Russian president to find time for Trump. Nor would he be able to attend the Miss Universe pageant that evening.

Putin wanted to make amends, though. Peskov conveyed an invitation for Trump to attend the upcoming Olympics, where perhaps he and Putin could then meet. He also told Trump that Putin would be sending a high-level emissary to the evening’s event—Vladimir Kozhin, a senior Putin aide. And, Peskov told Trump, Putin had a gift for him.

Trump repeatedly claimed during the Miss Universe Pageant and in the years that followed that he had a relationship with Putin, and, at times, even claimed he had met him. On the campaign trail in June 2016, however, he changed his tone. “I don’t know who Putin is,” Trump said.

The nature of Trump’s relationship with Putin before they met publicly for the first time in July 2017 remains unclear. But it does seem extremely unlikely that Putin did not know that Trump was in Moscow four years earlier.

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President Trump today said that Russian President Vladimir Putin denied meddling in the 2016 U.S. election — and said that he found that denial persuasive.

“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” Trump said.

This is a familiar script.

Trump has met with Putin twice before, and after both meetings, had similar comments — Putin said he didn’t do it, and Trump believed him.

July 2017

The two presidents’ first meeting occurred during the G-20 summit last year in Germany. According to then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump “opened his meeting with President Putin by raising the concerns of the American people regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election.”

“They had a very robust and lengthy exchange on the subject. The president pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement,” Tillerson said.

But Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, in a separate press conference, cast some doubt on how “robust and lengthy” that exchange was — and said Trump “accepts” Putin statements that Russia did not meddle in the election.

“President Trump said he’s heard Putin’s very clear statements that this is not true and that the Russian government didn’t interfere in the elections and that he accepts these statements,” Lavrov said, according to a translation by CNN. “That’s all.”

Trump went on to have further, undisclosed conversations with Putin during the G-20, and, a few days later, tweeted that the two leaders were considering teaming up to form “an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded and safe.”

November 2017

Trump and Putin did not have a formal meeting during an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam last year, but the two did speak on the sidelines of the summit three times.

After the summit, Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One that he had raised the issue of election meddling with Putin. “He said he didn’t meddle. He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times,” Trump said.

“Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that,'” he continued. “And I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it.”

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Good morning; happy Monday. President Donald Trump is meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin this morning before returning to Washington, D.C., this evening. Here’s more on that, and on the other things our team has its eyes on.

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Welcome to the weekend, Prime members. It was a week that ended with a bang — the latest round of indictments in the Russia probe — and next week will likely start with one as President Donald Trump meets with President of Russia Vladimir Putin.

Here’s what happened in Prime.

  • Indictments! We’ve got more of ’em. Allegra Kirkland has what you need to know in the weekly primer on the Russia probe. Josh Marshall, meanwhile, makes his working notes on the indictments available.
  • Speaking of which… we’ve got a rundown of all the times Trump said the hackers named in the indictments did not exist.
  • The indictment relies heavily on shorthand to describe the individuals and entitites in the story — terms such as “organization 1” and “Candidate for U.S. Congress.” We know who many of these people actually are; Allegra has your glossary.
  • When the Russia government sought to distribute the information it had collected on Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, it turned to a freelancer for The New York Observer, a publication owned, at the time, by none other than Jared Kushner, Josh notes.
  • Josh on why interpreting what’s actually going on with the Trump Russia story is like “looking at geocentric and heliocentric models of the solar system.”
  • Tierney Sneed provides some color from Michael Flynn’s first appearance in court in half a year, including the chants of “lock him up” — parodying his words about Hillary Clinton — that met him at the courthouse.
  • What did Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have to do with Russia’s attempts to meddle in the U.S. election? Thanks to reporting from the New Yorker, we now know, writes Josh — and “it’s all been there in plain sight all along.”
  • The Trump administration announced an end to its family separation policies this week — but we already have hints it won’t last, I write.
  • Two weird threads of the Trump-Russia story become interwoven: Michael Flynn is, apparently, considering going into business with a man who is being sued by Elliot Broidy, for whom Michael Cohen brokered a hush-money deal.
  • The GOP members of Congress lining up to support Jim Jordan certainly know he’s lying, writes Josh. Nonetheless, they continue to line up.
  • If you’re not a high finance type, it might not be clear exactly what Wilbur Ross is up to with his very tardy divestiture from stocks he owns. Matt Shuham gives you a Michael Lewis-worthy explainer.
  • Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has decided, after screwing up repeatedly and being ordered by a judge to take remedial law classes, that he will no longer represent himself as his state defends his proof of citizenship voter registration laws in court, Tierney writes in the weekly voting rights primer.
  • Donald Trump just threw another giant wrench in the gears of Obamacare, Alice Ollstein writes in the weekly primer on the topic.
  • Pruitt’s gone, but he’s not off the hook. Investigations into his behavior will continue, Matt writes in the weekly primer on Trump Swamp.

In June 2016, the Democratic National Committee said that it believed it was hacked by Russia. The details of the actions Russian officials allegedly took were revealed in the indictment Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced this afternoon. On July 27, 2016, Trump, now infamously, encouraged Russian hackers to continue their work and to hack Hillary Clinton’s campaign. “Russia, if you’re listening,” he said, “I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

That evening, according to today’s indictment, Russian hackers, who had been targeting the Clinton campaign and the DCCC along with the DNC for months already, attempted for the first time to spear-phish “email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office.”

They also stepped up their efforts against the Clinton campaign and “targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.”

But as indications that Russians were behind the hacks that rattled Democrats in 2016 became more and more clear, Trump repeatedly denied or cast doubt on whether the attacks outlined in today’s indictment happened. Here are a few instances.

June 15, 2016: In a statement, Trump said, “we believe it was the DNC that did the ‘hacking’ as a way to distract from the many issues facing their deeply flawed candidate and failed party leader. Too bad the DNC doesn’t hack Crooked Hillary’s, 33,000 missing emails.”

September 27, 2016At the first presidential debate, after Clinton mentioned the DNC hack, Trump replied, “I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. She’s saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don’t — maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK? You don’t know who broke in to DNC.”

October 9, 2016: At the second presidential debate, Trump said, “Anytime anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians are — [Clinton] doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking. But they always blame Russia. And the reason they blame Russia because they think they’re trying to tarnish me with Russia.”

December 2016: In an interview with Time magazine, Trump said, “I don’t believe they interfered. That became a laughing point, not a talking point, a laughing point. Any time I do something, they say ‘oh, Russia interfered.’ Why not get along with Russia? And they can help us fight ISIS, which is both costly in lives and costly in money. And they’re effective and smart. It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey. I believe that it could have been Russia and it could have been any one of many other people. Sources or even individuals.”

December 15, 2016: Trump tweeted:

February 16, 2017:  In a press conference, Trump said, “I guess one of the reasons I’m here today is to tell you the whole Russian thing — that’s a ruse. That’s a ruse.” In the same press conference he said, “You have seen that they tried to hack us and they failed. The DNC did not do that. And if they did it, they could not have been hacked. But they were hacked, and terrible things came.”

April 30, 2017: In an interview with CBS’s John Dickerson, Trump said, “Knowing something about hacking, if you don’t catch a hacker, OK, in the act, it’s very hard to say who did the hacking. With that being said, I’ll go along with Russia. It could have been China. It could have been a lot of different groups.”

May 11, 2017: In the same interview with NBC’s Lester Holt in which Trump admitted he had fired former FBI Director James Comey because of the Russia investigation, Trump said, “When I decided to just do it I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”

July 12, 2017: After meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Germany, Trump told Reuters he had spent 20 minutes talking to Putin about election meddling. “I said, ‘Did you do it?’ And he said, ‘No, I did not. Absolutely not.’ I then asked him a second time in a totally different way. He said absolutely not.” In the same interview, he added, of Putin, “Somebody did say if he did do it, you wouldn’t have found out about it. Which is a very interesting point.”

September 27, 2017: After an announcement from Facebook about ads purchased by Russians to influence the election, Trump tweeted:

November 11, 2017: After meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Trump told reporters that Putin “said he didn’t meddle — I asked him again. You can only ask so many times. I just asked him again. He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did.”

That, of course, is just a partial list of Trump’s comments about the 2016 election hacking, questioning whether Russia was in fact the perpetrator — the question today’s indictment appears to answer. Trump was reportedly briefed on the indictment before Rosenstein’s noon announcement.

A timeline of Trump’s larger effort to shed doubt on the investigation into that hacking would include many more entries, and would extend through this morning, when, in a joint press conference with Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, he called the investigation a “rigged witch hunt.”

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The administration announced yesterday evening that, instead of separating immigrant parents from their children, it would revert to the policy used by previous administrations: Releasing families with ankle bracelets to pursue their asylum claims — what the President has referred to as “catch and release.”

This appears to be a victory for groups such as the ACLU that challenged the administration’s policy in court. But there are signs the victory could be short lived.

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