CBS — Trump campaign had at least 18 undisclosed contacts with Russians during 2016 race

In the age of Trump

CBS News — Trump campaign had at least 18 undisclosed contacts with Russians during 2016 race

The “Trump Effect” is now a global phenomenon—and not surprisingly, it’s hurting the most vulnerable. That’s the lesson I took from a gathering convened at the United Nations this week by OutRight International, a leading international LGBT rights organization. Ostensibly, it was a benefit gala, and there was plenty of booze flowing beneath the beautiful spring sky. But talking with activists I’ve known for years—and whose work we’ve covered in these pages before—I got a much more somber view of the damage that the Trump administration has already done to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transsexual people around the world. “Every decision and every move that happens in the United States has a wave of impact in the Caribbean,” said Kenita Placide, a St. Lucia-based activist who is also a regional adviser for OutRight. Talking with Placide and other activists, five major trends emerged. 1. The Religious Right’s Delight First, the rise of Trump, who owes his presidency to the religious right, has emboldened religious conservatives everywhere. Caleb Orozco, who led the efforts to overturn Belize’s anti-sodomy law—an effort that came to fruition last year—said that “for me, my main worry is seeing hundreds of people who are faith-based saying they want regression on LGBT progress.” Specifically, Orozco said, religious-right activists in Belize have sent a letter to the Trump administration “saying they want a U.S. ambassador who shares their values.” That is a very real possibility, given Trump’s electoral base, and it would shift the political dynamic against LGBT people in the small Latin American country. More broadly, said Jessica Stern, OutRight’s director, “We have to worry about what this government does, who elected it, and the way this chasm of U.S. leadership emboldens the religious right globally.” Stern said that this ‘emboldening’ is a global phenomenon, even in LGBT-friendly places like the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Placide pointed out that the role of U.S. evangelicals in shaping other countries’ policies toward LGBT people is not new. “Even without Trump,” she said, “you already saw how U.S. evangelicals were moving in. But now the floodgates are open… the right-wing is going to advance further than they have ever before, without having to work for it as much as we had to work for it. They are being handed stuff.” Americans may not see Trump’s victory as a victory for anti-gay, anti-women religious conservatives, but that is exactly what has happened overseas. 2. Loss of Funding Second, there are the brass tacks of U.S. funding, particularly for HIV prevention, and for support of tiny LGBT organizations in repressive societies. “Where the Caribbean is concerned, the impact of U.S. policy has been great,” said Placide. “Our entire HIV program was mostly U.S.-funded.” Get The Beast In Your Inbox! And with the State Department understaffed (intentionally, it now appears) and foreign aid being decimated in Trump’s budget, it seems certain that the tens of millions of dollars the U.S. spends on protecting LGBT people from persecution, and protecting everyone from HIV, will be eliminated. Such sums are a minuscule amount of money in the context of the overall federal budget, but they are a lifeline for HIV services and LGBT protections in places where being gay is a capital crime. Placide said this funding has already been cut back locally, in anticipation of cuts in U.S. support. “The impact is real,” she said. “A lot of funding has been pulled, a lot of lives have already been damaged. People are stepping on eggshells because of the fear and uncertainty of what’s next.” 3. A Blank Check for Bigots “America sets an example to the world,” Orozco told me. When the U.S. secretary of State says that LGBT rights are human rights (that Secretary of State was Hillary Clinton), that changes policies and cultures worldwide. When the U.S. secretary of State says absolutely nothing about LGBT people, that silence, too, sends a clear message. “A really clear example of this is the tragedy unfolding before our eyes in Chechnya,” said Stern. “There are still over 100 men incarcerated. This is a black-and-white human-rights violation: arbitrary arrest, custodial misconduct, torture, and extrajudicial killing. And yet we have no comment on the record from the U.S. secretary of State or the U.S. president.” That is indeed remarkable: While the State Department did send out a press release, neither Secretary of State Rex Tillerson nor President Trump even broached the issue in their meetings with Russian officials—in contrast to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for example. “If American leadership can’t speak out when the effects are so grave,” asked Stern, “when can we expect them to speak out about any LGBTI [I for intersex] issue or any human-rights issue?” That is a point worth considering. Trump’s silence has given homophobes around the world a blank check. Not only will America not intervene—it won’t even make the customary statements and gestures of concern. Do whatever you want, the administration is saying. If the Chechens can put gays in concentration camps and their leader encourages their families to kill them, and the U.S. leadership says nothing, what can’t an anti-gay regime do? 4. Human Rights Undermined “It’s not just liberal democracy in danger,” said Stern, “It’s the rule of law internationally. It’s the international system itself. It’s the notion that human rights are universal and sacred. That’s what’s at stake with the Trump administration.” For now, LGBT people being tortured in Kenya, or murdered in Cameroon, or arrested in Russia may appeal to international norms and even international institutions for relief. Courts everywhere incorporate these standards—and the treaties that implement them—into their opinions. Media outlets refer to them. And while there has indeed been some backlash against such norms, the fact is they have saved countless lives. And now they are all in danger, as the Trump administration rejects internationalism, the United Nations, international law, and the concepts of human rights that they all stand for. Indeed, in this regard, LGBT people are not unique; we may just be the “canaries in the coalmine,” as Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) said at the gathering. “Whenever open violence occurs against us as a minority, it’s a signal, a sign, a symptom.” It’s not that LGBT people are being singled out by the Trump administration; we don’t have to be. Undermining the notion of international human rights, long a dream of the Putin regime and now a reality of the “America First” Trump administration, covers women, sexual minorities, gender minorities, ethnic minorities, religious minorities, political dissidents, and women all at once. 5. America’s Example Finally, the “American Example” has cultural, as well as political effects. “My country, St. Lucia, has been part English and part French,” Placide told me. “Yet America has greater influence culturally. We know that anything that happens here, like it or not, has a direct impact.” For example, Placide said, “When France and the U.K. got same-sex marriage, we [activists] didn’t get any requests from the media for interviews. But when the U.S. did, every station wanted an interview. They all wanted to know ‘what do you think will be the impact for the region?’ So we understand the impact.” Once again, neither Trump himself nor his administration has to single out LGBT people specifically. When you’ve got a vulgar bully calling people names on Twitter, bullies everywhere know whose side he’s on. When the president derides the press, science, cosmopolitanism, and liberal values, reactionaries everywhere know whose side he’s on. Even if the legion of conservative evangelicals in the Trump administration weren’t promulgating “pro-family” policies, even if the religious right weren’t crowing over its new influence and new hand-picked Supreme Court justice, the cultural effect of America’s far-rightward turn would be enormous. Anyone who doesn’t see how the Trump administration is devastating LGBT people internationally is either willfully ignorant or tragically apathetic. Sure, lucky American gays can still get married, but overseas, already-vulnerable populations have been tragically endangered by the new administration. Is there any hope for LGBT populations around the world? Only the hope of resistance. “For me,” said Orozco, “it’s about understanding that I started this work against the odds, but despite that, I remained defiant that the odds aren’t going to stop me from doing the work that I do.” Said Stern, “I don’t think it’s all bad news—this is also a moment when people are waking up and saying ‘We got ourselves here and we’ve got to get ourselves out of it.’” All that’s well and good, and appropriate for people to say at a fundraiser. For me, however, I kept thinking about something Kenita Placide said, which had more to do with survival than resistance. “How do we as civil society highlight some of the issues?” she asked. “And how do we get through this administration?” President Donald Trump pressured a “reluctant” Michael Flynn into accepting a job as the White House’s top national security official even after Flynn warned the president that he was under investigation over undisclosed lobbying on behalf of a foreign government, The Daily Beast has learned. The president’s continued loyalty to his ousted former aide is so strong, in fact, that the two have remained in touch despite the potential that their communication could be portrayed as White House interference in a federal investigation. Now both men could pay a huge price for it. “He did not want to be national security adviser,” Michael Ledeen, a friend of the retired Army general, told The Daily Beast on Thursday. “He didn’t want to be in the government. He wanted to go back to private life.” “But Trump insisted on it,” said historian Ledeen, co-author of Flynn’s 2016 book The Field of Fight, their manifesto for defeating Islamic militancy. “He likes him, he trusted him, he was comfortable with him,” he said. Flynn was “reluctant but honored” when offered the post, according to a senior Trump administration official, and only accepted it at the president’s urging. A third source with direct knowledge of Trump transition team discussions confirmed that Flynn did not want the national security adviser post, though he claimed Flynn was instead hoping for a position in the intelligence community, preferably director of national intelligence or the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Trump’s pressuring of Flynn to take the job came even though Flynn had informed the Trump transition team that he was under active FBI investigation over undisclosed lobbying on behalf of a Dutch company—lobbying that, Flynn now admits, may have advanced the interests of the Turkish government. Trump’s affinity for Flynn apparently led the president to urge former FBI director James Comey, before his firing last week, to drop or ease a federal investigation of Flynn, according to Comey’s written account of a meeting with the president. Trump Wants Flynn Back But Trump doesn’t just hope that Flynn will beat the rap. Several sources close to Flynn and to the administration tell The Daily Beast that Trump has expressed his hopes that a resolution of the FBI’s investigation in Flynn’s favor might allow Flynn to rejoin the White House in some capacity—a scenario some of Trump’s closest advisers in and outside the West Wing have assured him absolutely should not happen. Those sources said Trump didn’t believe Flynn should be under investigation in the first place. Get The Beast In Your Inbox! “Trump feels really, really, really bad about firing him, and he genuinely thinks if the investigation is over Flynn can come back,” said one White House official. One former FBI official and a second government official said Trump thought he owed Flynn for how things ended up and was determined to clear Flynn’s name and bring him back to the White House. All of the officials spoke on the condition of anonymity so as to speak freely on sensitive matters. After less than a month on the job, Flynn resigned when it was revealed that he had failed to disclose conversations with the Russian ambassador to Washington regarding U.S. sanctions against the country. Those conversations could feature prominently in ongoing FBI and congressional investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Those investigations were why Trump’s White House attorneys warned him repeatedly against communicating with Flynn after his firing, as The Daily Beast reported last week. Apparently, the president didn’t listen to his own lawyers. The two have stayed in touch, according to a Yahoo News report Thursday, confirmed by multiple White House and administration sources. One person close to Flynn say he has kept up lines of communication since offering his resignation to “protect the president” from the growing controversy involving the Trump campaign’s ties to Russian government interests. A longtime Trump confidant also confirmed to The Daily Beast that Trump had mentioned to him that he had communicated with Lt. Gen. Flynn in the past few weeks—long after Flynn had been given the boot from the Trump administration. A White House staffer recalled hearing of Trump’s conversations with Flynn since his firing in February, though it was not clear what they discussed. “Supposedly they’ve spoken since Flynn was fired,” the staffer said. The president “clearly feels bad about how things went down.” News that they remained in touch flatly contradicts repeated and adamant White House denials last week that Trump and his former national security adviser had been communicating since Flynn’s ouster. Multiple White House officials claimed to The Daily Beast that no such communication had occurred due to the intervention of White House attorneys. The White House did not respond to questions on Thursday attempting to square that discrepancy. Flynn’s lawyer Robert Kelner also did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Trump’s apparent plea for the FBI to step back from its probe of Flynn set off allegations by congressional Democrats of potential obstruction of justice. Revelations that Trump has been in contact with Flynn—and openly mused about a new job for him—could add more heft to those allegations. “The last thing [the White House] would want is an allegation of conspiracy, witness tampering, or coordination,” national security attorney Mark Zaid told The Daily Beast last week. “If Flynn is going to be indicted, or certainly under investigation, then I would want the president to be as far away from him as possible.” Such conversations would create “huge issues,” according to Zaid’s law partner, Brad Moss. “Talking with witnesses got Nixon in trouble.”