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By Josh Lederman

WASHINGTON — Rallying the world against Venezuela and Iran, President Donald Trump is getting more traction targeting the adversary he never seemed to notice than the one he’s been fretting about for years.

A high-profile summit in Warsaw opening Wednesday and organized by Trump’s administration is highlighting the deep schism between the United States and other nations on Iran. But many of those same nations are embracing Trump’s call to action on Venezuela and his denouncement of embattled leader Nicolás Maduro.

The administration had hoped the Warsaw conference would be a showcase of global unity against Tehran, coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. When it was announced, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo emphasized it would address “Middle East stability and Iran” — identifying no other country by name.

But three diplomats from NATO countries tell NBC News that America’s allies pushed back, with many nations telling the U.S. they would not participate if the summit was a narrow effort to gang up on Iran.

Amid the pushback, the Trump administration dropped all mentions of Iran from its description of the summit and announced other topics that would also be addressed, such as the Mideast peace plan being drafted by Trump adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

“Their idea from the very beginning was to have a conference on Iran, no doubt. But then they realized pretty soon that would be not possible because most countries wouldn’t like that,” one of the foreign diplomats said. “So they changed it.”

Although Pompeo says more than 60 nations are attending the conference, many key countries are staying away, including China and Russia — both members of the Iran nuclear deal. At the conference, which will be attended by Vice President Mike Pence and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, many nations are sending lower-level representatives such as career diplomats.

The resistance follows widespread frustration by European nations about Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal, which Iran and the deal’s other members have vowed to keep alive. Those nations have also refused to comply with the Trump administration’s requests that they slap new sanctions on Iran, vexing Trump’s efforts to ramp up a global “maximum pressure campaign.”

Trump’s challenges in projecting global unity against Iran also illustrate how his go-it-alone approach to foreign policy and frequent spurning of allies is impeding his ability to secure support overseas when it’s needed to advance his top national security priorities.

NATO members have been dismayed by his comments suggesting the U.S. might not remain in the alliance. Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was so distraught over the way the president disregarded U.S. allies with his Syria withdrawal decision that it contributed to his decision to quit.

“Europe’s approach to Iran is about the best example of Europe trying to assert its independence against U.S. policy,” said Heather Conley, a former U.S. diplomat and Europe expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In contrast, Trump’s administration has faced far less friction in persuading foreign nations and international institutions to follow America’s lead in Venezuela. Last month the U.S. became the first country to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó, head of the National Assembly, as the country’s legitimate leader in a sharp rebuke to Maduro, the Venezuelan president.

Two dozen nations have joined the United States in recognizing Guaidó in the three weeks since. The group includes major powers like Germany and the U.K. along with key regional nations including Brazil, Colombia and Argentina. Major international institutions such as the Organization of American States, the Inter-American Development Bank and the European Parliament have also joined the cause.

For Trump, the growing coalition backing Guaidó represents one of his most successful diplomatic initiatives to date, and has also been met by broad bipartisan support in the United States. Even Democrats who have criticized the president for suggesting the U.S. could take military action in Venezuela have generally supported his move to recognize the opposition leader and to push back on Maduro’s human rights abuses.

Yet if there’s an irony for Trump, it’s that his success has come on an issue that was never high on his agenda in the first place.

As a presidential candidate, Trump spoke incessantly about Iran and what he described as the horrors of the 2015 nuclear deal, struck by President Barack Obama and world powers, under which Iran agreed to limits on its nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief.

“They are bad actors,” Trump said of Iran during the second Republican presidential debate in September 2015. “Bad things are going to happen.”

Maduro’s bad behavior, on the other hand, had never been a focus of Trump’s until recently, and his strong stance of late has surprised many foreign policy experts who have wondered what’s driving the newfound interest. On the campaign trail, Trump’s mentions of Venezuela were limited to warning about Democrat Hillary Clinton’s “Venezuela-style politics of poverty” and arguing that the U.S. economy would soon look like Venezuela’s if she were elected.

In the case of Iran, European nations are so determined to undermine the Trump administration’s policy that they’ve been working to create an alternative financial transaction system, known as the Special Purpose Vehicle, to sidestep the U.S. and facilitate some business and humanitarian trade with Iran.

“They were disgruntled because they were just re-establishing business connections with Iran” that had become permissible under the nuclear deal, said Evelyn Farkas, a former Defense Department official and an NBC News national security analyst. “It’s a relationship that is useful to the Europeans from a commercial perspective.”

But the Trump administration has argued that even though many nations are refusing to go along with new sanctions, the administration’s pressure campaign is profoundly hampering Iran’s economy and hurting the government there. That’s because the threat of running afoul of the United States and facing penalties has led major businesses to independently decide to cut all commercial ties with Iran.

Mark Dubowitz, who runs the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank that advocates hawkish U.S. policies on Iran, said that Trump’s tough Iran sanctions would have been only marginally more effective had European governments joined him. But he said the bigger question was whether Trump’s administration could successfully build a coalition to pressure the country diplomatically.

“Obviously it hasn’t been as successful as it has on Venezuela and hasn’t been as successful as the Obama administration was,” Dubowitz said. “Having said that, I think Warsaw is going to be a pretty good test at how effective the administration has been at bringing countries to the table to discuss these issues.”

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Americans had ‘right to know’ the contents of Democratic emails hacked by Russians

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By Ben Kamisar

WASHINGTON — Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for President Donald Trump, suggested Sunday that the American people had a “right to know” about the private Democratic emails released during a state-sponsored hack by the Russian government aimed at bolstering Trump’s 2016 election.

During an interview on “Meet the Press” days after special counsel Robert Mueller’s partially redacted report was released, Giuliani said the American people were better off with an inside glimpse into Hillary Clinton’s campaign operation — regardless of the source of the leak.

He compared the hacked information to the Pentagon Papers, which shed light on controversy surrounding the Vietnam War.

“They shouldn’t have stolen it, but the American people were just given more information about how deceptive, how manipulative her campaign was,” Giuliani said. “I wonder if there isn’t an argument that the people had a right to know that about Hillary Clinton.”

The Mueller report, released on Thursday, details how the Russian government “interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion” with intrusions including the hack of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign chairman.

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Biden and Bernie lead early polls, but don’t place bets yet

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By Dante Chinni

It’s Easter Sunday of 2019, but many political watchers are already looking ahead to 2020 and who will win the Democratic nomination to face off against President Donald Trump.

Many of the polls are laying out a pretty clear pecking order nationally and some familiar names are leading the way.

Many of the polls are laying out a pretty clear pecking order nationally and some familiar names are leading the way.

He hasn’t officially jumped into the race yet, but former Vice President Joe Biden leads the Democratic field at 30 percent, according to the Real Clear Politics polling average. Behind Biden is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who finished second in the 2016 nominating process, at 22.5 percent.

Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and California Sen. Kamala Harris are a bit further back at 8.8 percent and 8.5 percent respectively. And behind them sit South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, both at 6 percent, with New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker at 3.5 percent.

But before you run off to Vegas and bet the kid’s college fund or make bold predictions, a few words of caution: Beware early polls. The 2020 cycle is just getting started and previous election cycles suggest he or she who leads in spring before an election year does not always end up carrying the flag on Election Day.

Take a look at the last two men to win the Oval Office, starting with Barack Obama.

Take a look at the last two men to win the Oval Office, starting with Barrack Obama.

Back in April of 2007, Sen. Barack Obama was in second place among Democrats in the Real Clear Politics polling average. And it wasn’t very close; he was nearly 10 percentage points behind frontrunner Sen. Hillary Clinton. In fact, Obama was closer to third-place candidate John Edwards than he was to Clinton.

That all changed in the months after, as Obama became a political phenomenon and went on to capture the nomination and the presidency.

You can see a similar dynamic in play with Donald Trump in the spring of 2015.

You can see a similar dynamic in play with Donald Trump in the spring of 2015.

Trump didn’t officially join the presidential race until June 16 of that year and didn’t make his first appearance in the Real Clear Politics polling until late-May. He started slowly, first sitting in ninth place, but climbed quickly once he entered the fray officially. He overcame a deep GOP field on his way to the White House.

The fact that Trump wasn’t even in the race at this point in the 2016 cycle should serve as a point of caution for those looking to make predictions about 2020. Things can change, fast.

However, astute observers will also notice those two election cycles are different from 2020 in at least one key aspect. They were both races with no incumbent. By all estimations, the next presidential race will feature Donald Trump seeking a second term. And using that particular scenario, the better comparison for 2020 may actually be 2012, when Obama was up for re-election.

Those 2012 numbers look a little different.

Those 2012 numbers look a little different.

In April of 2011, the leader in the Republican field was former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. He didn’t have a commanding advantage — it was a big GOP field in that cycle — but he led former Rep. Newt Gingrich by about 7 points. And, of course, months later Romney would go on to win the Republican nomination.

It wasn’t necessarily easy. He was challenged episodically before he won the right to be the Republican standard-bearer. Texas Gov. Rick Perry led in the polls for a while, as did businessman Herman Cain, Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. But Romney kept bouncing back to take the lead and eventually took the nomination.

Is there a lesson in that path for the Democrats in 2020? Maybe.

It could be that when there is an open White House, such as in 2008 and 2016, voters are more likely to take a chance on someone new, like Obama and Trump. It is, after all, an opportunity to make a clean break and try something different. But when it is one party trying to unseat another, such as 2012 and, well, 2020, voters may be more likely to go with a known commodity … like current leader Joe Biden.

But, hold on, Biden isn’t the only known commodity on that 2020 list. Remember Bernie Sanders wound up finishing a close second in 2016 to eventual nominee Hillary Clinton.

And remember too, this next campaign will take place in the age of Trump, where social media and small donors have remade the world of politics.

All of which is to say, read the polls if you want, but remember it’s early. A month ago, you probably didn’t know how to spell Buttigieg. You still might not, but he’s climbed up to fifth place in the polls.

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Mueller investigated whether Trump attended a 2016 chess championship alongside Russians

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By Allan Smith

Buried in special counsel Robert Mueller’s 400-plus page report is the question of whether then-president-elect Donald Trump attended a 2016 championship chess tournament — an event that came under scrutiny as Mueller probed possible collusion between Trump’s orbit and the Russian government.

Although Trump said he did not attend the event, he told Mueller in written answers that he became “aware of documents indicating” that then-president of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) Kirsan Ilyumzhinov — a sanctioned Russian power player — invited the Trump Organization in March 2016 to host the tournament at Trump Tower.

“I do not remember having been asked to attend the World Chess Championship gala, and I did not attend the event,” Trump told Mueller. “During the course of preparing to respond to these questions, I have become aware of documents indicating that in March of 2016, the president of the World Chess Federation invited the Trump Organization to host, at Trump Tower, the 2016 World Chess Championship Match to be held in New York in November 2016.”



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