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Trump Denies Allegations Suggesting He Is Beholden to Putin

He has helped Putin destabilize the United States and interfere in the election, no matter whether it was purposeful or not,” Bernstein said.

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Trump, Shutdown
Donald Trump. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump is dismissing news reports suggesting he is beholden to Russia and President Vladimir Putin or hiding accounts of his private talks with the Russian leader the five times they have met, including at their July summit in Helsinki.

Asked directly late Saturday by Fox News talk show host Jeanine Pirro whether he is now or has ever worked for Russia, Trump said, “I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked.”

The U.S. leader said, “If you ask the folks in Russia, I’ve been tougher on Russia than anybody else, any other — probably any other president period, but certainly the last three or four presidents, modern day presidents. Nobody’s been as tough as I have from any standpoint.”

Trump was reacting to a report in The New York Times that Federal Bureau of Investigation officials started investigating whether he “was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence” because they were so alarmed by Trump’s behavior after he fired former FBI chief James Comey in May 2017 when he was leading the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

USA,  Trump
Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 27, 2017. VOA

“It’s a very horrible thing they said…,” Trump said. “They really are a disaster of a newspaper.”

Virginia Senator Mark Warner, the leading Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee that has been investigating Trump campaign links with Russia, told CNN on Sunday that at times Trump has “almost parroted” Putin’s policies.

“It’s a very real consideration” whether Trump is a willing agent of Russia, Warner said, especially considering information that surfaced last week that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort shared Trump campaign polling data in 2016 with a former business associate of his that U.S. investigators believe had ties to Russian intelligence.

Another key Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, told ABC News there are “serious questions” about why Trump is “so chummy” with Putin.

Earlier, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said in a statement that in the coming weeks his panel “will take steps to better understand both the president’s actions and the FBI’s response to that behavior. There is no reason to doubt the seriousness or professionalism of the FBI, as the president did in reaction to this story.”

Trump, Putin
In this Monday, July 16, 2018, file photo, U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands at the beginning of a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland. VOA

Trump also assailed The Washington Post’s new account that he has gone to extraordinary lengths to hide details of his conversations with Putin over the last two years. On one occasion, the newspaper said Trump took possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructed the linguist to not discuss what had transpired with other Trump administration officials.

The newspaper said that incident occurred after Trump and Putin met in Hamburg in 2017, a meeting also attended by then-U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Trump’s most high-profile meeting with Putin occurred in Helsinki, where the two leaders met for two hours behind closed doors with only their interpreters listening in. No official accounts of their talks have been released, but Trump told Pirro there was nothing to hide about their discussions and could release a transcript.

“Well Jeanine I would, I don’t care,” Trump said. “I had a conversation like every president does. You sit with the president of various countries, I do it with all countries. We had a great conversation. We were talking about Israel and securing Israel and lots of other things. And it was a great conversation. I’m not keeping anything under wraps, I couldn’t care less. I mean, it’s so ridiculous.”

Trump, Putin
President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 Summit in Hamburg, July 7, 2017. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is at left, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is at right. VOA

He added, “Anybody could have listened to that meeting, that meeting is up for grabs.”

Trump’s first two years in office have been consumed by the now 20-month investigation whether his 2016 campaign colluded with Russia to help him win and whether, as president, Trump obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probe by special counsel Robert Mueller, who took over the investigation after Trump ousted Comey.

Shortly after Trump dismissed Comey, he told NBC news anchor Lester Holt that he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he decided to fire the FBI chief, saying that he felt the investigation was created by Democrats dismayed that Trump had upset former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to win the White House.

Mueller is believed to be nearing the end of his investigation and is expected to write a report on his findings.

Also Read:FBI Probes Into Donald Trump’s Relationship With Russia

While appearing on CNN’s Reliable Source program Sunday, investigative journalist Carl Bernstein said he’s been told that Mueller’s report will show how President Trump helped Russia “destabilize the United States.”

“From a point of view of strength… rather, he has done what appears to be Putin’s goals. He has helped Putin destabilize the United States and interfere in the election, no matter whether it was purposeful or not,” Bernstein said. He explained that he knew from his own high-level sources that Mueller’s report would discuss this assessment.

“And that is part of what the draft of Mueller’s report, I’m told, is to be about,” he said. “We know there has been collusion by [former national security adviser Michael] Flynn. We know there has been collusion of some sort by [Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul] Manafort. The question is, yes, ‘what did the president know and when did he know it?’” (VOA)

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“They Don’t Make Prayerful Offerings When They Harvest,” Story Of The Native American Church

“The extraordinary and the phenomenon are not necessarily unexpected, but they are definitely not precluded.”

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The sun sets over the gateway of peyotera Amada Cardenas's house in Mirando City, Texas. Ironwork reflects core Native American Church values of faith, hope, love and charity. VOA

Back in the day, when the “grandmas and grandpas” of the Native American Church (NAC) needed peyote, they would make a 2,000-kilometer pilgrimage from the reservations of South Dakota to the tiny town of Mirando City, Texas, close to the U.S. border with Mexico. That’s where they could find Amada Cardenas, a Mexican-American woman who at the time was the only peyote dealer in Texas.

Cardenas was not Native American, nor was she a member of the NAC. But she understood how sacred the medicine was to church members and defended its use as a religious sacrament to those who sought to ban it.

Amada Cardenas, holding a basket of peyote, outside of her home in Mirando City, Texas, 1994.
Amada Cardenas, holding a basket of peyote, outside of her home in Mirando City, Texas, 1994. VOA

“After Amada’s passing, the peyote distribution system lost heart and seemed to be about monetary compensation,” said Iron Rope, former chairman of the Native American Church of North America (NACNA) and today chairman of the NAC of South Dakota. He is concerned that the remaining three or four peyote dealers in Texas — all non-Native — don’t give “the medicine” the reverence they should.

“They don’t make prayerful offerings when they harvest,” Iron Rope said. “We’ve heard reports about intoxicated harvesters. Sometimes, the medicine that comes to us was mushy or small, and the harvesting technique was not one that would allow regrowth.”

Careless and sometimes illegal harvesting, along with increased land and resource development in Texas, has led to a decline in peyote’s quality and availability. Prices have gone up, and church members worry the cactus, now listed as a vulnerable species, could become endangered.

In 2013, NACNA began researching ways to conserve peyote and its natural habitat.

Lophophora williamsii, more commonly known as peyote, which grows in the wild in southern Texas and Mexico.
Lophophora williamsii, more commonly known as peyote, which grows in the wild in southern Texas and Mexico. VOA

Pan-Native religion

Peyote, or Lophophora williamsii, is a succulent that contains psychoactive alkaloids and only grows in southern Texas and a handful of states in northern Mexico.

Indigenous people have used it ceremonially and medicinally for centuries, as noted by 16th century Spanish missionaries, who condemned it as an evil. Peyote use persisted, however, and by the late 1800s, had spread to present-day Oklahoma, where tribes adapted it to suit their individual spiritual traditions.

In the face of government efforts to ban peyote, peyotists in the early 20th century sought to incorporate as a formal religion. In 1918, an intertribal group established the NAC, which has evolved to include tens of thousands of members across dozens of tribal nations. Members view the church as an important component of healing from historic trauma and reconnecting to tradition.

Peyote was banned in the United States in 1970, but the law was later amended to allow peyote to be used in “bona fide religious ceremonies of the Native American Church.”

Texas allows several peyoteros registered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to harvest and sell peyote, but only to card-carrying NAC members with proven Native American ancestry.

Peyote buttons are shown in the yard of a peyote dealer in Rio Grande, Texas, Oct. 12, 2007.
Peyote buttons are shown in the yard of a peyote dealer in Rio Grande, Texas, Oct. 12, 2007. VOA

‘A beautiful ceremony’

Unlike other religious denominations, said Iron Rope, the NAC is not a unified theology.

“Different variations of the ceremony have come into play,” he said. “There are Christian aspects to the NAC today and traditional aspects, as well.”

Wynema Morris, a member of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska and an NAC member, grew up with an understanding of the sacredness of peyote and the religious etiquette surrounding its use.

“It was my own grandfather, Samuel Thomas Gilpin, who actually received peyote early on from the Winnebagos, a neighboring tribe, and passed it on to his sons, my uncles,” she said.

This 1924 photo by Edward S. Curtis is entitled "Cheyenne Peyote Leader." Courtesy: Library of Congress.
This 1924 photo by Edward S. Curtis is entitled “Cheyenne Peyote Leader.” Courtesy: Library of Congress. VOA

Peyote is much misunderstood and maligned, she said, viewed by many anthropologists through the lens of colonial prejudice.

“I don’t like their use of the word ‘hallucinations,’” she said. “You don’t use peyote to get high. You use it to pray and communicate with God — the same God everyone else talks to.”

She described all-night services of prayer, song and meditation.

“The ceremony is beautiful,” she said. “The extraordinary and the phenomenon are not necessarily unexpected, but they are definitely not precluded.”

Sacred gardens

In 2013, NACNA began looking at ways to conserve and sustain peyote for future generations of indigenous Americans, Mexicans and Canadians.

“It was our intent to eventually have our own land and be able to have our own peyote dealer who could understand our concerns as the Native American Church,” said Iron Rope.

The sun sets over "the 605," acreage in Thompsonville, Texas, which the Indigenous Peyote Conservation purchased in 2018 for the conservation of peyote, a sacrament of the Native American Church.
The sun sets over “the 605,” acreage in Thompsonville, Texas, which the Indigenous Peyote Conservation purchased in 2018 for the conservation of peyote, a sacrament of the Native American Church. VOA

In 2017, NACNA and partner organizations formally launched the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative (IPCI). With funding from the Riverstyx Foundation, a nonprofit that supports research of medicinal uses of psychoactive plants, IPCI purchased 245 hectares (605 acres) of land in Thompsonville, Texas, to serve as “Sacred Peyote Gardens.”

Also Read: Practice What You Preach: Celebrities Should Stand By Their Public Image In Private Domain

It is their hope that by 2021, “the 605” will house a nursery, residential and guest housing, and youth training, all supported by peyote sales.

“It’s about generations to come,” said Iron Rope. “To reconnect them to the land and to the medicine. And that’s the healing process that we’ve been missing.” (VOA)