Trump expected to issue new order laying groundwork to bar Chinese tech firms from US networks

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) – The Trump administration is poised to issue this week an executive order to secure American telecommunications networks, a move that’s likely to result in barring Chinese tech firms such as Huawei, according to three US officials.

The order, which President Donald Trump is expected to sign by Friday (Feb 15), would give the commerce secretary broad powers to stop American companies from doing business with foreign suppliers.

In development for more than a year, it will lay out the administration’s concern that foreign-owned or controlled suppliers of equipment and services could compromise the security of the United States’ phone and Internet infrastructure.

The pending announcement comes as US officials continue to press their case with allies and foreign countries that companies such as Huawei, which has close ties to the Chinese government, pose considerable risk to burgeoning high-speed telecom networks – what’s known as 5G.

Officials cautioned that last-minute snags could delay the new order, which has been anticipated since last summer. But they stressed that any holdups are not related to ongoing, high-level trade talks between Washington and Beijing aimed at ending the two countries’ months-long trade war.

“This is a national security issue, not a trade issue,” said one US official, who like two others interviewed for the story, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

“We’re not doing this to increase the leverage (with China). This is on a separate track.”

The White House and Commerce Department declined to comment. Huawei did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The order, whose existence in draft form was first reported by The Washington Post in June, will not ban specific companies or countries, officials said. But the regulations that result from the order, depending on how they are written, may have an outsize impact on China and Chinese-made technology, which US officials have come to view with increasing alarm.

“This is crossing the Rubicon – asserting government power to block commercial transactions,” said Clete Johnson, a former senior cybersecurity adviser at the Commerce Department and now a partner at Wilkinson Barker Knauer.

“Just the authority itself could have enormous long-term implications in the US and global markets, and in US-China relations.”

US security officials have long voiced concerns about foreign risks to the nation’s telecom networks, especially as advanced technologies have introduced vulnerabilities that make such systems more attractive targets for espionage and sabotage.

China in particular has raised concern as it is the United States’ near peer in cyber prowess and its top competitor in the race for global technological dominance.

The Trump administration, building on its predecessor’s actions, has become increasingly vocal in calling out Beijing for what officials describe as a long-running campaign of economic espionage and of forced technology transfers.

It has brought criminal indictments against state-sponsored hackers and publicly labeled China an economic predator that seeks to unfairly obtain advanced American technology.

Also troubling to US officials is a 2017 law requiring Chinese firms to cooperate with Chinese intelligence services.

Major telecom companies such as AT&T and Verizon already bar Huawei equipment from their core networks, a response to concerns raised years ago by US intelligence agencies. But officials say that issuing the executive order now is a way to show the world that the United States is leading by example, taking decisive measures to protect the telecom supply chain.

“People look to the United States to see what kind of model we’re following,” the official said.

“It’s important for the rest of the world to see that we’re doing this in a transparent way, using this as part of regulation.”

In issuing the order, Trump is expected, under authorities granted by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, to declare a national emergency with respect to the supply-chain threat.

The Commerce Department, in consultation with the State and Homeland Security departments, will then have several months to develop rules needed to carry out the policy, though there may be interim guidance, officials said.

US officials want the order finalised before they travel later this month to the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where they are expected to renew calls to secure the international telecom supply chain.

On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is travelling in Europe, said the United States has a duty to alert other countries to the risk of using Huawei equipment.

Speaking in Hungary, he warned that doing so “makes it more difficult for us to partner alongside them.”

Even if US carriers refrain from using Huawei or other foreign suppliers’ components, their networks connect with other countries’ systems, which might employ Huawei parts, said Suzanne Spaulding, a former senior Homeland Security official and now a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Simply trying to prohibit insecure components is not the solution,” she said. “Rather, we need to be developing ways to be more resilient, to detect those components that have security risks and mitigate those risks.”

Trump’s expected order would come about 11 months after the Federal Communications Commission opened debate on proposed rules that could have the effect of banning equipment from Huawei and other Chinese telecom giants.

The pending regulations target a nearly US$9 billion federal fund for expanding high-speed internet access to the country’s hardest-to-reach areas.

Providers would lose access to the funds if they buy their equipment from companies “posing a national security threat,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in April, without explicitly mentioning Huawei or China.

Huawei nonetheless said it had been “artificially restricted” in the United States by “unfounded allegations and suspicions based solely on misperceptions about Huawei’s relationship with the government of China.”

Rural broadband providers – many of which rely on the US government’s aid to build and sustain their networks – have expressed concern about the pending executive order and the FCC’s efforts.

The Rural Wireless Association, a lobbying association for the carriers, told the FCC that its members rely on Huawei equipment because it is less expensive. The group has said carriers’ networks could become “collateral damage in a larger national security and trade debate.”

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Opinion | A Nuclear Incubation

President Trump has announced a second summit with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, in Hanoi, Vietnam, later this month. After their first meeting in June in Singapore, Mr. Trump declared that he and Mr. Kim “fell in love.”

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: [email protected].

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Donald Trump defends 'executive time' after schedule leak

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Donald Trump pushed back on Sunday (Feb 10) at the suggestion he spends much of his work day taking it easy, as the White House kept up the hunt for the person behind an embarrassing leak of the president’s schedule.

According to details published last week by Axios, 60 per cent of Trump’s work life is categorised as “executive time”, meaning unstructured time to make phone calls, read newspapers, tweet and watch television.

Seeking to set the record straight, the president said such free time should be viewed as “positive, not negative.”

“When the term Executive Time is used, I am generally working, not relaxing,” Trump tweeted. “In fact, I probably work more hours than almost any past President.

“The fact is, when I took over as President, our Country was a mess,” Trump continued.

“Depleted Military, Endless Wars, a potential War with North Korea, V.A., High Taxes & too many Regulations, Border, Immigration & HealthCare problems, & much more.

“I had no choice but to work very long hours!” added the president, who rarely has official work before 11:00 am, according to the daily guidance issued to the media by his press office.

Quizzed about what appeared to be a rather easy typical day at the office for the world’s most powerful man, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney also pushed back on Sunday.

“That executive time is on there to allow the president to prep for the next meeting, to debrief from the previous meeting,” Mulvaney told NBC’s Meet The Press.

“The phone calls start at 6.30 in the morning, and they go until 11 at night. So I can assure you that the gentleman is working more than what’s on that calendar,” he said.

Trump has reportedly ordered an aggressive search for the source of the leak.

Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Mulvaney said the White House was hoping to identify the culprit “this week”.

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Matthew Whitaker tells lawmakers he hasn't 'interfered in any way' in Mueller's Russia probe

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) – Acting Attorney-General Matthew Whitaker told lawmakers “I have not interfered in any way” in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, as lawmakers pressed him on conversations with President Donald Trump during a confrontational House hearing.

“We have followed the special counsel regulations to a T,” he told the House Judiciary Committee on Friday (Feb 8).

Responding to Democratic questions about his past criticism of the investigation Trump routinely calls a “witch hunt,” Whitaker said, “The special counsel understands the scope of his investigation and is complying with all the regulations.”

Whitaker also said “I have not talked to the president of the United States about the special counsel’s investigation” or discussed it “with senior White House officials.”

He said he didn’t “believe I have briefed third-party individuals” who might have relayed information to the president or his legal team but refused to elaborate.

Members of the panel, newly controlled by Democrats, had vowed to press Whitaker to disclose his discussions with Trump, who named him acting attorney general in November, and whether Whitaker is interfering with Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election and the possibility that people close to Trump colluded in the meddling.

“I have and will continue to manage this investigation in a manner that is consistent with the governing regulations,” he told the House panel. He added that includes preventing any “outside interference” in investigations.

Opening the hearing, Judiciary chairman Jerrold Nadler sharply questioned what he called Whitaker’s conflicts of interest after Trump fired attorney-general Jeff Sessions and named Whitaker as his replacement in an acting role.

‘OUTSPOKEN CRITIC’

“Why did President Trump choose to replace attorney-general Sessions with an outspoken critic of the special counsel, instead of with any number of qualified individuals who had already received Senate confirmation?” Nadler, a New York Democrat, asked Whitaker.

“Why did you ignore the career officials who went to extraordinary lengths to tell you that your involvement in the special counsel’s work would undermine the credibility of the Department of Justice?”

Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, the committee’s top Republican, called the hearing “pointless,” saying Democrats simply “want to damage the president” through a “dog-and-pony show.”

Under questioning by Nadler, Whitaker repeatedly refused to discuss the “ongoing investigation” by Mueller, including “the number of times I’ve been briefed and my involvement in the investigation.”

Whitaker parried questions with a confidence bordering on swagger, refusing to answer yes-or-no questions.

At one point he violated protocol by telling Nadler, the committee chairman, that his allotted five minutes in a round of questioning had expired.

Whitaker acknowledged that a career ethics official in the Justice Department recommended that he recuse himself from overseeing the Russia probe.

“It was my decision to make,” he said. “I decided not to recuse.”

He distanced himself from comments he made as a private citizen that Mueller would be crossing a red line if he investigated Trump’s business dealings.

When asked if it would be appropriate to probe the president’s finances, Whitaker said, “We’re going to follow the law and facts wherever they may lead, and we’re going to do our jobs with fidelity.”

In agreeing to appear before the Judiciary panel, Whitaker delayed a confrontation with Democrats over threats to subpoena him.

Thursday began when the House panel voted to authorise a subpoena of Whitaker. Whitaker baulked at the subpoena threat until Nadler took a more conciliatory stance.

On Thursday evening, Nadler resolved the daylong stalemate, telling Whitaker: “To the extent that you believe you are unable to fully respond to any specific question, we are prepared to handle your concerns on a case-by-case basis, both during and after tomorrow’s hearing.”

In a statement on Thursday night, Kerri Kupec, a Whitaker spokeswoman, said that the Acting Attorney-General had been assured that Nadler would not issue a subpoena “on or before Feb 8.”

‘LONG-RUN’ PURSUIT

But Nadler said at Friday’s hearing that “your failure to respond fully to our questions here today in no way limits the ability of this committee to get your answers in the long-run – even if you are a private citizen when we finally learn the truth.”

Whitaker is expected to leave the Justice Department soon: The Senate is expected to vote next week on Trump’s nomination of William Barr to serve as attorney-general.

The White House denounced Nadler’s moves in advance of the hearing.

“The fact chairman Nadler would try to force the public disclosure of private conversations that he knows are protected by law proves he only wants to play politics,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement on Thursday night.

“The chairman should focus on helping the American people, rather than wasting time playing pointless political games.”

The dispute over Whitaker comes as Democrats leading other House panels also stepped up investigations of Trump and those around him, despite the president’s warning in his State of the Union address on Tuesday that the nation’s “economic miracle” could be stopped by “ridiculous partisan investigations.”

He has also called it “presidential harassment.”

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Religious leaders applaud Trump's anti-abortion stance at prayer gathering

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) – President Donald Trump drew a standing ovation from religious leaders on Thursday (Feb 7) for strong anti-abortion comments amid a renewed national debate over the procedure as performed late in pregnancy.

“All children, born and unborn, are made in the holy image of God,” Trump said to sustained applause at a national prayer breakfast. Most of the crowd stood.

“Every life is sacred, and every soul is a precious gift from heaven,” Trump continued.

Trump in his State of the Union address on Tuesday called on Congress to make late-term abortions illegal. His characterisations of the procedure and recent state legislative efforts to loosen restrictions on it were misleading, but they highlighted discomfort around the topic, including among some of the president’s Democratic political adversaries.

Trump did not refer directly to that debate in his remarks Thursday, which were among his strongest on the subject of abortion generally.

Trump also took credit Thursday for the release last year of Andrew Brunson, an American minister jailed in Turkey. Brunson was among those who attended the National Prayer Breakfast.

“He was in there for a long time before I got there, and I said, ‘You gotta let him out. You better let him out.’ And they let you out,” Trump said, gesturing toward Brunson.

“It was a miracle,” Trump said, with a theatrical gesture heavenward.

“This Saturday, Pastor Brunson will walk his daughter down the aisle,” Trump said.

“Well, that’s great,” he added, apparently ad-libbing.

“Was I invited?”

Trump began his remarks by promising the faith leaders, ambassadors, members of Congress and others, “I will never let you down.”

Democratic Senator Christopher Coons, a frequent Trump critic, was a co-chairman of the event.

Trump, who was introduced by the other co-chairman, Oklahoma Republican Senator James Lankford, repeated a call for cooperation and unity that was a theme of his State of the Union address on Tuesday.

Trump avoided any direct mention of politics or criticism of Democrats.

Earlier Thursday, Trump complained on Twitter about what he called “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT” from congressional investigations.”It should never be allowed to happen again,” Trump wrote.

In another early-morning tweet, Trump complained, “The Dems and their committees are going ‘nuts’,” referring to investigations and oversight inquiries of the administration launched by the new Democratic majority in the House.

“The Republicans never did this to President Obama, there would be no time left to run government,” Trump wrote.

Before Trump spoke, Gary Haugen, a former human rights lawyer and founder of the anti-slavery group International Justice Mission, warned of the dangers of political and cultural “tribalism” and “a swelling anxiety of national disintegration” in the United States.

With Trump sitting a few feet away, Haugen said that “the vicious noise of the news cycle is discouraging, but it is not the ruling arc of time.”

“Even in this divided era, there is good that we all agree should be done to address criminal justice reform, the opioid crisis, a broken foster care system, and we should just do it,” Haugen said.

The annual gathering of religious leaders and politicians included a lengthy list of Trump administration figures, including Vice-President Pence and Cabinet secretaries. Among those in attendance were Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting attorney-general Matthew Whitaker.

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63-year-old woman charged with assaulting White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) – White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway said in a recent interview with CNN that she was physically assaulted in October at a Mexican restaurant in Maryland.

A woman has been charged in the case, CNN reported.

Ms Conway said that she was at dinner with her teenage daughter and her daughter’s friends at an Uncle Julio’s in Bethesda when a woman approached her from behind, grabbed her arms and shook her so hard that “I thought maybe somebody was hugging me”.

Ms Conway said that she quickly realised “it felt like it was a little aggressive”.

“I turned around and the woman had grabbed my hands,” Ms Conway added. “She was just unhinged. She was out of control. I don’t even know how to explain her to you. She was just, her whole face was terror and anger. She was right here, and my daughter was right there. And she ought to pay for that… because she has no right to touch anybody.”

Ms Conway could not immediately be reached on Friday (Feb 8) by The Washington Post.

CNN reported that police said the woman is a 63-year-old Maryland resident.

According to CNN:”Conway said she called 911, though the woman had left before local police arrived. After an investigation, Mary Elizabeth Inabinett was charged in November with second-degree assault and disorderly conduct. A trial is set for March in Maryland state court.

Inabinett’s lawyer, William Alden McDaniel Jr, disputed Conway’s story and the assault allegations, and said his client would plead not guilty in court next month.

“‘Ms Inabinett saw Kellyanne Conway, a public figure, in a public place, and exercised her First Amendment right to express her personal opinions. She did not assault Ms Conway. The facts at trial will show this to be true, and show Ms Conway’s account to be false,’ Mr McDaniel said in a statement.”

Ms Conway has reported being heckled in the past, not long after she moved to Washington.

The recent incident allegedly occurred in Montgomery County, where Mrs Hillary Clinton captured nearly 75 per cent of the votes in 2016.

Fewer than 20 per cent of ballots were cast for Mr Trump in the county.

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Trump lashes out as Democrats open probes into his taxes, Russia ties

WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Donald Trump blasted Democrats on Thursday (Feb 7) as they prepared to launch a barrage of investigations into his Russia ties, real estate business and long-hidden taxes.

Empowered by their election takeover of the House of Representatives, Democrats were to hold two hearings on Thursday focused on Trump’s tax returns and his controversial policy to separate immigrant children from their parents at the US-Mexico border.

Trump’s acting attorney-general Matthew Whitaker is scheduled to appear before the House Judiciary Committee on Friday. The committee is threatening a subpoena if he refuses to testify and hand over communications with the president related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling.

And House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff is staffing up to expand their probe into Trump’s political and business ties to Russia, with Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen scheduled to testify in late February.

“The Dems and their committees are going ‘nuts’,” Trump tweeted early on Thursday.

“The Republicans never did this to President Obama, there would be no time left to run government,” he said.

“PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT! It should never be allowed to happen again!”

PROBES HEIGHTEN IMPEACHMENT THREAT

After being stifled for two years by majority Republicans, the Democrats won control of the House in November, allowing them to open an investigative assault on the White House in the same way that – contrary to Trump’s claim on Thursday – Republicans laid siege to president Barack Obama.

Those probes would add to the legal and political burden facing the president from Mueller’s probe into possible collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia, and a Justice Department investigation in New York into various activities of the campaign and Trump Organisation, his umbrella company.

Together, the probes elevate the chance that Trump could face impeachment if serious wrongdoing is found.

Thursday’s House Ways and Means hearing into Trump’s taxes would break what he declared in 2017 as a red line – that investigations should not touch his business and finances.

Unlike previous presidents, Trump has refused to release his tax records. His lawyers claim they have been under review by the Internal Revenue Service since 2002.

A 2016 New York Times analysis based on limited information concluded that Trump may have paid minimal or even no taxes each year since 1995.

The chairman of the committee, Representative Richard Neal, has the power to review privately anyone’s tax returns, and possibly make them public. But demanding Trump’s tax records from the Treasury could lead to a pitched legal battle over presidential prerogatives.

BUSINESS TIES TO RUSSIA

Schiff’s Intelligence Committee is also planning a deep-dive into Trump’s financial and business ties to Russia, suggesting that they could involve money laundering.

“The president’s actions and posture towards Russia during the campaign, transition, and administration have only heightened fears of foreign financial or other leverage over President Trump,” Schiff said in a statement on Wednesday.

Cohen, who was a senior executive in the Trump Organisation, was to be the committee’s first witness on Friday in a closed session, before he begins a three-year prison sentence for tax evasion and other crimes he said were undertaken at Trump’s bidding.

But on Wednesday, Schiff announced cryptically that Cohen’s testimony would be delayed until Feb 28 “in the interests of the investigation.”

The committee has decided to send transcripts of its closed-door interviews last year with Trump campaign associates to the Mueller investigation, amid suspicions that some may have lied about their Russia ties.

Trump bashed Schiff in a tweet on Thursday.

“So now Congressman Adam Schiff announces, after having found zero Russian Collusion, that he is going to be looking at every aspect of my life, both financial and personal, even though there is no reason to be doing so. Never happened before!” he said.

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White House expects to take action on 5G, artificial intelligence soon

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – The White House will take “executive action” in the coming weeks to make sure the United States keeps its research and development advantage in artificial intelligence, advanced manufacturing, quantum computing and next generation wireless networks, known as 5G, a White House official said on Wednesday (Feb 6).

President Donald Trump discussed investing in what he called “industries of the future” as part of expanded infrastructure investment in his State of the Union address Tuesday evening.

The White House, which held meetings last year to discuss these technologies, did not provide detail on what the actions might be. The Wall Street Journal reported the administration wanted to increase the government’s role to quicken the pace of development.

“Within the coming weeks we could expect to see executive action designed to preserve American R&D leadership,” the official said.

Presidential adviser Ivanka Trump said in a statement: “This administration is committed to ensuring that America is positioned for dominance in the industries of the future, and that our workforce, current and future, is equipped with the skills they need to thrive in our modern, increasingly digital economy.”

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Democrats announce fresh probe of Trump’s financial interests, Russia links

The House intelligence committee will launch a broad new investigation looking at Russian interference in the 2016 election and President Donald Trump’s foreign financial interests, Chairman Adam Schiff announced Wednesday, moving ahead with the aggressive oversight that Democrats have promised now that they are in the majority.

Schiff said the investigation will include “the scope and scale” of Russian intervention in the 2016 presidential election, the “extent of any links and/or coordination” between Russians and Trump’s associates, whether foreign actors have sought to hold leverage over Trump or his family and associates, and whether anyone has sought to obstruct any of the relevant investigations.

The announcement came one day after Trump criticized “ridiculous partisan investigations” in his State of the Union speech. Schiff dismissed those comments Wednesday.

“We’re going to do our jobs and the president needs to do his,” Schiff said. “Our job involves making sure that the policy of the United States is being driven by the national interest, not by any financial entanglement, financial leverage or other form of compromise.”

The California Democrat also announced a delay in an upcoming closed-door interview with Trump’s former fixer and personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, “in the interests of the investigation.” The interview was originally scheduled for Friday. It will now be held on Feb. 28, Schiff said.

Schiff said he could not speak about the reason for the delay. Hours after the meeting was pushed back, a document was filed, and then deleted, under seal in the criminal case against Cohen brought by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office. The court’s docket did not contain any details about the nature of the document. A later notice said the document had been “incorrectly filed in this case.”

Special counsel spokesman Peter Carr declined comment, as did Lanny Davis, an attorney for Cohen.

The intelligence committee also voted Wednesday to send Mueller the transcripts from the panel’s earlier Russia investigation. Republicans ended that probe in March, concluding there was no evidence of conspiracy or collusion between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign. Democrats strongly objected at the time, saying the move was premature.

Since then, both Cohen and Trump’s longtime adviser Roger Stone have been charged with lying to the panel. Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying to the House and Senate intelligence committees about his role in a Trump business proposal in Moscow. He acknowledged that he misled lawmakers by saying he had abandoned the project in January 2016 when he actually continued pursuing it for months after that.

Stone pleaded not guilty to charges last month that he lied to the House panel about his discussions during the 2016 election about WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group that released thousands of emails stolen from Democrats. Stone is also charged with obstructing the House probe by encouraging one of his associates, New York radio host Randy Credico, to refuse to testify before the House panel in an effort to conceal Stone’s false statements.

Schiff has said Mueller should consider whether additional perjury charges are warranted.

The committee had already voted to release most of the transcripts to the public, but they are still being reviewed by the intelligence community for classified information.

Mueller requested Stone’s interview transcript last year and the panel voted to release it in December. Schiff wouldn’t say whether Mueller had requested other transcripts, but noted that the committee had voted to withhold a small number of transcripts from the public and also that some witnesses had been interviewed since then. The transmission of the transcripts to Mueller, expected immediately, will give him full access to all of the committee’s interviews.

Among the transcripts are interviews with Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.; his son-in-law, Jared Kushner; his longtime spokeswoman, Hope Hicks; and his former bodyguard Keith Schiller. There are dozens of other transcripts of interviews with former Obama administration officials and Trump associates.

Democrats also opposed a Republican motion at the meeting Wednesday to subpoena several witnesses. Republicans said they were witnesses who Democrats had previously wanted to come before the panel.

A Republican aide said that witness list included FBI and Justice Department officials involved in the Russia investigation and others who could shed more light on research by former British spy Christopher Steele. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because the committee’s business is confidential.

Steele’s research was funded by Democrats and later compiled into an anti-Trump dossier that became public.

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Opinion | A Tale of Two Trumps

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Patrick Chappatte is an editorial cartoonist for The New York Times. View more of his work, visit his website or follow him on Twitter. @PatChappatte

Patrick Chappatte is an editorial cartoonist for The New York Times. View more of his work, visit his website or follow him on Twitter. @PatChappatte

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