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Donald Trump: UK dragged into dirty dossier row

13 January

Britain has found itself "caught in the crossfire" between the US and Russia in the row over Donald Trump's dirty dossier, reports the Daily Telegraph.

A "highly placed source" in Washington DC told the paper former spy Christopher Steele had asked officials in London for permission to answer questions from the FBI before he handed over the document to its agents. This was apparently granted and Downing Street was informed.

"Britain now finds itself caught in the crossfire of accusations between Russia and the US," says the Telegraph, while the involvement of a former MI6 officer is "unlikely to help Britain's intelligence-sharing relationship with the US when he becomes president later this month".

The dossier contains unverified claims that Russia holds compromising material on the US president-elect, including an alleged video of him with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room. However, no evidence has been found to support the claims, which Trump has dismissed as "fake news".

Steele, a former MI6 officer, was reportedly hired in a private capacity to find information on the president-elect by a consultancy, which was paid money by his Republican opponents and later the Democrats.

Yesterday, the Russian embassy in London tweeted: "Christopher Steele story: MI6 officers are never ex: briefing both ways – against Russia and US President."

Downing Street and the Foreign Office have so far refused to comment.

Tory MP Philip Davies told the Daily Mail the government needed to assure Trump, either publicly or privately, that the dossier was not created on behalf of the UK as a country.

He said: "If this person acted as an individual then MI6 should not be assisting him. If they do assist him then it will look as if his actions were sanctioned by MI6, which would be utterly unacceptable."

Donald Trump lashes out in 'trainwreck' press conference

12 January

Donald Trump used his first press conference in nearly six months to lash out at media outlets and intelligence agencies, accusing them of publishing "fake news" and distributing unverified information about his alleged dealings with Russia.

The conference - described as a "trainwreck" by The Guardian and "a theatre of the absurd" by the BBC - was initially called so the US president-elect could outline how he would avoid conflicts of interest when he takes office next week.

However, it was "heavily overshadowed by overnight news that the FBI had been handed unverified but potentially damaging intelligence, including claims of his alleged sexual impropriety in a Moscow hotel room", the Guardian reports.

Trump singled out CNN, which he accused of "going out of their way" to build up the story, and Buzzfeed News, which published the 35-page dossier in its entirety.

"A thing like that should never have been written… and it certainly should have never been released," he said.

Labelling the dossier an "absolute disgrace", he claimed "it was a group of opponents that got together - sick people - and they put that crap together".

He also refused to take a question from CNN reporter Jim Acosta, saying: "No, not you. Not you. Your organisation is terrible".

In addition, the future commander in chief attacked the US intelligence agencies. He said it was "disgraceful" that they had "allowed any information that proved so false and fake to get out".

James Clapper, the US Director of National Intelligence, sought to repair the relationship between Trump and the intelligence community, denying his agency had publicised the report and expressing "profound dismay at the leaks that have been appearing in the press".

Officials "appear to have been caught off-guard by the fallout, including a blistering attack by Trump, who accused spy agencies of engaging in Nazi-like tactics to smear him", says the Washington Post.

The dossier is understood to have been compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer. "With his cover about to be blown, Mr Steele hurriedly packed his bags and went to ground hours before his name was published on Wednesday," reports the Daily Telegraph.

The Donald Trump Russia dossier: What's going on?

11 January

US intelligence officials have reportedly presented Donald Trump and Barack Obama a dossier said to contain unverified claims that Russia has compromising information on the president-elect.

Multiple officials with direct knowledge of the briefings told CNN the "allegations came, in part, from memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative, whose past work US intelligence officials consider credible".

The spy reportedly compiled the notes from what he heard from Russian informants and others, but the information is yet to be vetted. The FBI is investigating the credibility and accuracy of the claims.

Trump, who takes office in nine days, tweeted last night: "FAKE NEWS - A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!" He is due to hold a press conference today.

Michael Cohen, the president-elect's attorney, told Mic the allegations were "ridiculous on so many levels".

He added: "Clearly, the person who created this did so from their imagination or did so hoping that the liberal media would run with this fake story for whatever rationale they might have."

The memos, which have been published in full by Buzzfeed News, contain allegations that Moscow has been "cultivating, supporting and assisting" Trump for years. 

They also claim Russian spies exploited his "personal obsessions and sexual perversion" to gather compromising material.

It says: "The documents have circulated for months and acquired a kind of legendary status among journalists, lawmakers, and intelligence officials who have seen them."

The decision by intelligence officials to give the President and president-elect "what they know to be unverified, defamatory material was extremely unusual", says the New York Times, but they apparently considered it "potentially explosive" and were concerned the information would leak before they informed Trump about its existence.

The paper adds: "The memos describe sex videos involving prostitutes with Mr Trump in a 2013 visit to a Moscow hotel. The videos were supposedly prepared as 'kompromat', or compromising material, with the possible goal of blackmailing Mr Trump in the future."

BuzzFeed's decision to publish the report in full has "triggered a political storm and debate over media ethics", says The Guardian.

While BuzzFeed says it wanted Americans to be able to "make up their own minds" about the allegations, critics such as USA Today reporter Brad Heath question how readers are supposed to come to a conclusion without any verification or evidence.

Boris Johnson holds 'frank' talks with Donald Trump's team

9 January

Boris Johnson held the government's first official face-to-face talks with Donald Trump's administration team yesterday.

The Foreign Secretary is understood to have met Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, and Steve Bannon, his chief strategist, in New York.

Officials say they had "positive but frank" talks about US foreign policy regarding China, Russia and the ongoing conflict in Syria.

Johnson is expected to travel to Washington DC today for talks with key congressional leaders.

However, protocol states he cannot meet his US counterpart, businessman Rex Tillerson, until the businessman is officially appointed secretary of state.

It was announced on Friday that Prime Minister Theresa May, who has twice spoken to the president-elect since his victory over Hillary Clinton last November, is to travel to Washington DC to meet Trump next month.

The government has been "playing catch-up" since Trump was elected, says James Landale at the BBC, with the president-elect causing "a diplomatic storm when he decided that the first British politician he would meet would be Nigel Farage, whom he suggested would make a good UK ambassador to the United States".

Yesterday, though, Trump tweeted he was "very much" looking forward to meeting May.

However, speaking on Sky News's Sophy Ridge on Sunday, May criticised the president-elect over his lewd comments about women, which she said were "unacceptable".

But she added: "The relationship that the UK has with the United States is about something much bigger than just the relationship between the two individuals as president and prime minister."

Donald Trump clinches Electoral College victory amid protests

20 December

Donald Trump is officially heading to the White House after the Electoral College affirmed him as the 45th president of the United States, despite hopes of a revolt from the Republican's critics.

Trump secured 304 votes, against 227 for his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

Only a "handful of electors had broken ranks" late on Monday, says the New York Times. Two Republican electors, both from Texas, voted against the president-elect, while five Democratic electors defected.

However, this was still the "largest number of Electoral College desertions in a presidential contest in US history, eclipsing a record set in 1808", says the LA Times.

Protesters turned out in several states to demonstrate against a Trump presidency. 

"I think our chance of changing their minds is virtually zero," conceded one demonstrator outside in Atlanta. "This is just a demonstration to show we're unhappy."

In a statement, Trump, who is currently on holiday at his Mar-a-Lago beachfront resort in Palm Beach, Florida, said the election "represents a movement that millions of hard working men and women all across the country stood behind and made possible".

He also described his Electoral College margin as a "historic electoral landslide", despite his majority ranking 46th among the nation's 58 presidential elections.

In the election itself, Clinton won 2.86 million more popular votes.

Will Donald Trump's 'cabinet of billionaires' really fight the establishment?

19 December

As Donald Trump finalises his administration, critics from both main US parties are asking whether the billionaires and corporate executives he is appointing will really clean up Washington, or stand up for America's working class.

Millionaires, billionaires and generals

So far the president-elect has chosen several billionaires, three Goldman Sachs executives and the head of the world's largest oil firms.

Trump's cabinet has a combined worth of around $14bn, making it the richest White House top table ever assembled. It will be 50 times more wealthy than George W Bush's first cabinet, which was dubbed at the time "the team of millionaires".

What does Trump say?

For Trump, "those figures are simply a confirmation of competence: in Trumpian politics, the richer you are, the better you must be at cutting a deal, and 'deal-making' is what the next White House will be all about", says The Observer.

Throughout the campaign, Trump attacked deals agreed by past administrations. He called Nafta, the North American Free Trade Agreement, "the worst trade deal maybe ever" and the Iranian nuclear pact a "disaster".

However, Peter Henning, a constitutional law professor at Wayne State University, told The Observer that, while appointing business leaders to top political positions has become the norm in American politics, Trump's nominations are "unique in the volume of people with minimal, if any, government experience".

How have people reacted?

Given Trump's promise to "drain the swamp" of Washington politics, many on the right and left have levelled accusations of hypocrisy.

Former Democratic nominee Bernie Sanders accused Trump of going back on his pledge to lead an anti-establishment revolution.

"If the cabinet he appointed of billionaires and millionaires is anti-establishment, boy, I would hate to see what the 'establishment' looks like," he said.

The selection of three Goldman Sachs bankers for high-ranking economic positions, including Treasury Secretary, has also surprised some, as Trump had labelled the investment bank part of a corrupt global elite which has "robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities".

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