Angry Trump drops attempt to host G-7 at Doral

Angry Donald Trump: “I am the President and I can do anything I want.”  Not this time.

Embattled, corrupt president Donald Trump did something Saturday that we haven’t seen in his terrifying run as an occupant of the White House: He backed down and walked away from a decision to enrich himself at taxpayer expense.

Trump reversed himself on his decision to host the next international G-7 meeting at his financially-struggling Trump National Hotel resort near Miami.

His announcement of the change, however, was pure Trump: A series of angry tweets blaming his backtrack on Democrats and “hostile media.”

His tweet:

I thought I was doing something very good for our Country by using Trump National Doral, in Miami, for hosting the G-7 Leaders. It is big, grand, on hundreds of acres, next to MIAMI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, has tremendous ballrooms & meeting rooms, and each delegation would have . . . its own 50 to 70 unit building. Would set up better than other alternatives. I announced that I would be willing to do it at NO PROFIT or, if legally permissible, at ZERO COST to the USA. But, as usual, the Hostile Media & their Democrat Partners went CRAZY!

And, as usual, he lied. It was anger from the Republican Party that drove the decision. Sourced within the White House say Republicans told Trump that using Doral could drive enough of them to publicly support impeachment and possibly generate enough votes in the Senate to actually remove him from office.

The one-solid wall of GOP compliance to Trump’s open ignorance of law and the Constitution began to crumble last week with his sudden withdrawal of military support to Kurdish allies in Syria, a move led to threats to the Kurds and rising anger among the American Special Forces troops fighting there and current and former military leaders.

Trump’s “abandonment threatens to undo five years’ worth of fighting against ISIS and will severely damage American credibility and reliability,” says retired Gen. Joseph Votel, former head of the U.S. Central Command.

“I think it’s not a good thing to have the appearance — you know, in the law, there’s a canon that says, ‘Avoid the appearance of impropriety,’ ” said Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.). “I think that would be better if he would not use his hotel for this kind of stuff.”

Even normally compliant Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell called Trump’s Syria decision “a grave mistake” and he went to work on a timeline for impeachment.

In another tweet from Trump:

Therefore, based on both Media & Democrat Crazed and Irrational Hostility, we will no longer consider Trump National Doral, Miami, as the Host Site for the G-7 in 2020. We will begin the search for another site, including the possibility of Camp David, immediately. Thank you!

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) says Republican opposite may have been too great, saying “my sense is that he backed down here only because of cracks in Republican support that caused him to fear a much larger rebellion.” Blumenthal is also one of more than 200 Democrats suing Trump for violating the Constitutional ban on accepting payment from foreign governments.

One source close to Trump confirms Blumenthal’s assessment, saying others in the White House felt use of Doral would be the final piece to a loss on the various legal actions over the emolument’s rule.

“[The Doral choice] is the most brazen and craven example of his general practice of accepting foreign payments,” Blumenthal said. “We’re going to continue fighting him.”

Trump continues to promote his “Trump International” hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue to foreign governments as a place to stay while in Washington and has hosted events involving foreign dignitaries at other properties he owns.

Blumenthal says the lawsuit will continue because of such uses by Trump to enrich himself.

Latest polls show Trump’s support dropping as impeachment fever rises in Washington and anger among even Republicans over his decision withdrawing support for the Kurds in Syria.

In addition, as more and more details emerge over his attempt to force Ukraine into a politically-driven investigation against Democratic opponent Joe Biden, those same polls show a sharp increase for removing him from office.

The sharpest rise in impeachment support comes from independents, who most feel are the controlling factor against Trump in his re-election attempt in 2020.

____________________
Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

 

Some in GOP question finally question Trump’s antics

Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The shifting White House explanation for President Donald Trump’s decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine drew alarm Friday from Republicans as the impeachment inquiry brought a new test of their alliance.

Trump, in remarks at the White House, stood by his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, whose earlier comments undermined the administration’s defense in the impeachment probe. Speaking Thursday at a news conference, Mulvaney essentially acknowledged a quid pro quo with Ukraine that Trump has long denied, saying U.S. aid was withheld from Kyiv to push for an investigation of the Democratic National Committee and the 2016 election. He later clarified his remarks.

Trump appeared satisfied with Mulvaney’s clarification and the president dismissed the entire House inquiry as “a terrible witch hunt. This is so bad for our country.”

But former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who ran against Trump in the 2016 Republican primary, said he now supports impeaching the president.

Mulvaney’s admission, he said, was the “final straw.” ″The last 24 hours has really forced me to review all of this,” Kasich said on CNN.

In Congress, at least one Republican, Rep. Francis Rooney of Florida, spoke out publicly, telling reporters that he and others were concerned by Mulvaney’s remarks. Rooney said he’s open to considering all sides in the impeachment inquiry. He also said Mulvaney’s comments cannot simply undone by a follow-up statement.

“It’s not an Etch-A-Sketch,” said Rooney, a former ambassador to the Holy See under President George W. Bush.

“The only thing I can assume is, he meant what he had to say — that there was a quid pro quo on this stuff,” he said.

The tumult over Mulvaney’s remarks capped a momentous week in the impeachment investigation as the admission, from highest levels of the administration, undercut the White House defense and pushed more evidence into the inquiry.

GOP leaders tried to contain the fallout. But four weeks into the inquiry, the events around Trump’s interaction with the Ukraine president, which are are at the heart of impeachment, have upended Washington.

A beloved House chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., a leading figure in the investigation, died amid ongoing health challenges.

The Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, who has been caught up in the probe, announced his resignation. On Friday, the Energy Department sent a letter to House committee chairs saying it would not comply with a subpoena for documents and communications.

The march toward an impeachment vote now seems all but inevitable, so much so that the highest-ranking Republican, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, privately told his GOP colleagues this week to expect action in the House by Thanksgiving with a Senate trial by Christmas.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has given no timeline for conclusion but wants the inquiry completed “expeditiously.” She said Thursday that facts of the investigation will determine next steps.

“The timeline will depend on the truth line,” she told reporters.

This week’s hours of back-to-back closed-door hearings from diplomats and former top aides appeared to be providing investigators with a remarkably consistent account of the run-up and aftermath of Trump’s call with Ukraine President Volodymy Zelenskiy.

In that July call, Trump asked the newly elected Zelenskiy for a “favor” in investigating the Democratic National Committee’s email situation, which was central to the 2016 election, as well as a Ukraine gas company, Burisma, linked to the family of Trump’s 2020 Democratic rival, Joe Biden, according to a rough transcript of the phone conversation released by the White House.

Republican leaders tried to align with Trump Friday, amid their own mixed messages as House Democrats, who already issued a subpoena to Mulvaney for documents, now want to hear directly from him.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House GOP leader, cited Mulvaney’s clarification as evidence that there was no quid pro quo. He said witnesses have also testified similarly behind closed doors in the impeachment inquiry.

“We’ve been very clear,” McCarthy said. “There was no quid pro quo.”

Lawmakers involved in the three House committees conducting the investigation want to hear more next week, which promises another packed schedule of witnesses appearing behind closed doors.

Republicans want the interviews made open to the public, including releasing transcripts.

Democrats in the probe being led by Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, are keeping the proceedings closed for now, partly to prevent witnesses from comparing notes.

Three House committees investigating impeachment have tentatively scheduled several closed-door interviews next week, including one with Bill Taylor, the current top official at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine.

Taylor’s interview, scheduled for Tuesday, is significant because he was among the diplomats on a text message string during the time around the July phone call. He raised a red flag and said it was “crazy” to withhold the military aid for a political investigation.

It’s unclear whether all the witnesses will appear, given that the White House is opposing the inquiry and trying to block officials from testifying.

The schedule includes a mix of State Department officials and White House aides.

__________________________________________________________
Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Trump brags…and lies…a lot

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at American Airlines Arena in Dallas. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

It’s never just a deal.

President Donald Trump’s penchant for overselling his accomplishments has been on vivid display in recent days as he hailed his Syria cease-fire as a boon for civilization and claimed his trade agreement with China was the biggest ever. The economy is the “greatest” ″in the history of our Country,” the military is the “most powerful” it has ever been, regulations have been cut at record rates, and, in his telling, America is “winning, winning, winning” like never before.

Trump has been a master of the art of exaggeration for decades, as he famously explained in his 1987 book, “The Art of the Deal.”

“People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular,” he wrote. “I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration, and a very effective form of promotion.”

A search of Trump’s Twitter feed turns up more than 1,200 mentions of the words “biggest,” ″best” and “smartest.”

Critics, for their part, accuse him of creating problems in order to solve them — essentially setting fires and then demanding credit for putting them out.

Here’s a look at some recent inflated claims.

THS SYRIA CEASE-FIRE

Trump made big news Thursday when he announced that Vice President Mike Pence and other top administration officials had secured a five-day cease-fire deal with Turkey in northeast Syria — something Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had said he wouldn’t do.

Trump quickly took credit, insisting his “unconventional approach” — including a pullback of U.S. troops that paved the way for a Turkish invasion targeting Syrian Kurds — was responsible.

Rather than bemoaning the loss of life that resulted, Trump spent much of Thursday minimizing the carnage and hailing the deal in epic proportions.

“It’s really a great day for civilization,” Trump said. He insisted that because of his intervention, “millions of lives will be saved.”

“What Turkey is getting now is they’re not going to have to kill millions of people, and millions of people aren’t going to have to kill them,” Trump said. In all, over the more than eight years of Syria’s devastating civil war, hundreds of thousands have been killed.

__

THE CHINA DEAL

Trump last week announced with great fanfare a reprieve in the U.S.-China trade war that has resulted in tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of goods.

“The deal I just made with China is, by far, the greatest and biggest deal ever made for our Great Patriot Farmers in the history of our Country,” Trump tweeted the day after. “In fact, there is a question as to whether or not this much product can be produced? Our farmers will figure it out. Thank you China!”

But despite his big talk, there is much left to be done, with many details to be determined and no documents signed. And some of the thorniest issues — such as U.S. allegations that China forces foreign companies to hand over trade secrets and a major dispute over the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei — were dealt with only partially, or not at all, and will require further talks.

“The president is acting as if a lot of Chinese concessions have been nailed down, and they just haven’t,” said Derek Scissors, a China specialist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

__

CRITICIZING DEMOCRATS

Plenty of politicians criticize their rivals for having a bad idea or pushing ill-conceived policies. Trump paints them as an existential threat to the Republic and democracy. Throughout the 2016 campaign, the 2018 midterms and at his recent rallies, Trump has demonized Democrats as the enemy, claiming Thursday that they are out to “destroy America as we know it.”

“At stake in this fight is the survival of American democracy itself,” he told the crowd at a Dallas campaign rally. “I don’t believe anymore that they love our country.”

He warns the stock market will crash if he loses, and says Democrats want to destroy health care and repeal the Second Amendment.

__

HIS CROWD SIZE

Trump’s exaggerations of his crowd sizes are well documented. On Thursday night he offered a doozy.

“So outside, they have close to 30,000 people,” he reported to the enthusiastic crowd. Then he asked local officials whether they might be able to “fill up this little area, let ’em in. It would be so nice.”

“You know they have a certain max,” he added. “We broke the record tonight.”

Tamika Dameron, a public information officer with the Dallas Police Department, said that wasn’t even close.

The Dallas Fire-Rescue Department and American Airlines Center calculated the total number inside was 18,500, less than the 20,000 or so capacity of the arena, and said there were “about 5,000 on the outside.”

During the Mavericks 2011 NBA Finals series, the highest attendance at the American Airlines Center was 20,433.

__

Associated Press writers Jake Bleiberg and Stephen Hawkins in Dallas contributed to this report.

__________________________________________________________
Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Trump picks his Doral resort to host G-7 next year

Trump National Doral in Doral, Fla. The White House says it has chosen President Donald Trump’s golf resort in Miami as the site for next year’s Group of Seven summit. (AP Photo/Alex Sanz, File)

President Donald Trump’s suggestion that his Miami golf resort host next year’s Group of Seven summit became a reality Thursday, sparking an outcry from critics who called it the most blatant example yet of him using the power of his office to boost his business empire.

“There are folks who will never get over the fact that it’s a Trump property, but we’re still going to go there,” acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said in announcing Trump National Doral as host. “It’s not the only place. It’s the best place.”

Mulvaney said the Doral was picked for its location and amenities, and the president will not profit because the resort will be booked “at cost.” But the decision takes Trump’s apparent conflicts of interest to a new level because, unlike foreign dignitaries who can choose to stay at his Washington hotel, they will have no choice but to spend money at his resort during the June 10-12 summit.

“He is doubling down on his corruption,” said ethics lawyer Kathleen Clark of Washington University School of Law in St. Louis. “He’s daring anyone to prevent him from further enriching himself from the presidency.”

The decision comes as several lawsuits accuse Trump of violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which bans the president from receiving gifts or payments from foreign governments. It also comes as Trump has repeatedly accused Joe Biden’s family of profiting from public office because of Hunter Biden’s business activities in Ukraine when his father was vice president.

Mulvaney brushed off such concerns, as well as the idea that the summit at Trump’s Doral course would be nothing more than a massive promotion for his brand.

“Donald Trump’s brand is strong as it is,” Mulvaney said. “It’s the most recognized name in the English language.”

The chief of staff recounted that Trump himself raised the idea during a brainstorming session on possible sites, saying, “What about Doral?” Said Mulvaney, “That’s not the craziest idea I’ve ever heard.

Trump boasted at this year’s G-7 summit in France that Doral would be a “natural” choice, touting its sprawling acreage, proximity to the airport, three golf courses, “incredible” restaurants and separate buildings for every delegation.

Mulvaney said about a dozen potential sites were narrowed to a list of four finalists before Doral was selected as “far and away the best physical facility.” He added that holding the event at Doral would be dramatically cheaper — saving “millions” — and he promised to provide financial figures after the event to back that up.

Critics noted that the Doral resort, the biggest source of revenue among Trump’s 17 golf properties, appears to have been struggling since even before he became president.

Financial disclosure reports filed by the president show revenue is barely growing, up just $1 million last year, to $76 million. And the Trump Organization itself has admitted it was struggling, arguing in a tax appeal to local authorities last year that it is “seriously underperforming,” according to a Washington Post review of tax appeal documents.

The Doral, which Trump purchased out of bankruptcy in 2012 for a reported $150 million, also faces a heavy debt load. At the end of last year, Trump had two mortgages on the resort, one for more than $50 million and another for as much as $25 million.

“The president is now officially using the power of his office to help prop up his struggling golf business,” said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Trump “no longer sees fit even to pretend that he is constrained by the law or the Constitution,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, a liberal-leaning consumer advocacy group.

The Trump Organization did not respond to questions about Doral’s finances. Instead, it issued a statement saying that it is “excited to have been asked to host” the summit and “honored by this recognition.”

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, among the Democrats in Congress who have sued the president over the emoluments issue, saw it as far more troubling.

“It’s so brazen and craven,” he said. “It’s virtually saying, ‘To heck with the rule of law.’”

Added U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York: “The emolument clauses of the Constitution exist to prevent exactly this kind of corruption.”

___

Bernard Condon contributed from New York. Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed from Washington.

__________________________________________________________
Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

As his presidency melts down, Trump freaks out

Donald Trump: Lies, rants and melt-downs

Embattled and corrupt president Donald Trump is a control freak, and he freaks out when he can’t even always control the political party he thinks he owns.

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly condemned Trump’s abrupt and inconceivable withdrawal of American troops, leaving our Kurdish allies facing death.

The 354-60 votes including the 255 Democratic majority member and 129 Republicans.

Trump freaked out.

“He couldn’t handle it, so he kind of engaged in a meltdown,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said after she and other Democratic leaders tried to meet with Trump at the White House, and he issued an “insulting and nasty diatribe.”

Trump screamed that Pelosi is “third-grade politician.” The Democrats walked out.

“I think now we have to pray for his health,” Pelosi told reporters, “because this was a very serious meltdown on the part of our president.”

Trump also blasted Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.

‘He’s even more out of control than usual,” says one White House aide, who obviously does not want to be identified.  We worry he may stroke out. Or he might order troops to take over our government I wish that was a joke, but some in the West Wing say it could happen.”

Notes columnist Jennifer Rubin:

As on impeachment, Trump cannot spin his way out of a self-made disaster on Syria, cannot distract the media and cannot control Congress’s reaction. When deprived of scapegoats and the ability to distract the media, Trump melts down. He cannot acknowledge fault nor ignorance nor gullibility. Hence, like a toddler, he pitches a fit. One wonders what he will do when the House actually votes on impeachment.

Trump faces eroding support among American voters:

The latest Gallup poll says:

Currently, 52% say Trump should be impeached and removed from office, while 46% say he should not be. This is roughly the opposite of what Gallup found in June when asked in the context of special [counsel] Robert Mueller’s investigation.

As Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives work through an impeachment inquiry regarding alleged abuses of office by President Donald Trump, approval of Congress is now at 25%. That is up from 18% in September, prior to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announcing the impeachment inquiry following news of possible wrongdoing by the president in communications with Ukraine.

More Democrats now favor Trump being removed from office than did for Nixon in July 1974 (71%). As many independents now favor Trump being impeached as did Nixon at the same time.

Rubin adds:

He finally appears to grasp that he is about to suffer a permanent stain on his presidency. As a smart political observer suggested to me, his full-blown panic also might reflect a genuine worry that Republicans will abandon him in the Senate, thus putting him in real jeopardy of removal.

For once, Trump cannot thwart Congress by blocking witnesses (they show up despite orders not to), cannot come up with a satisfactory and coherent excuse for soliciting foreign intervention in our election and cannot distract the media nor normalize his conduct. His tricks don’t work when the questioners won’t be bullied and the enormity of his misdeeds drives the news cycle. Now politically impotent, he faces a special kind of public embarrassment that comes with impeachment. The injury to his ego becomes exponentially more severe with each Republican senator who votes for removal.

Trump’s massive ego requires constant approval and acclaim, even when not earned, which is often the case.

Greg Sargent writes:

President Trump is in a rage, because nobody in Washington will take his claims about pulling U.S. troops out of Syria seriously. He insists he’s operating in the national interest, but everyone aside from his base and his most slavish loyalists knows that’s utter nonsense. Trump either has no idea what he’s doing, or has uglier motives — either way, he isn’t acting in accord with any meaningful conception of what’s good for the country.

But Trump has only himself to blame for this. At precisely the moment he’s defending his Syria moves, the unfolding Ukraine scandal is showcasing in vivid detail that Trump is perfectly willing to sell out our foreign policy for profoundly corrupt, self-interested reasons.

The big lie at the core of all of this — that Trump is operating out of any devotion to the national interest — is getting harder to sustain, precisely because of what’s about to unfold in the Ukraine scandal that’s consuming Trump’s presidency.

The big lie. Trump’s only consistency are his lies. As he more and more of his corrupt and illegal transactions emerge, his lies grow even bigger.

He’s a liar, a crook and a disgrace to America.

____________________________________
Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

 

Democratic leader, Trump critic Cummings dies

Elijah Cummings speaks at the grand opening of the McCullough Street Nature Play Space in West Baltimore.
(Kim Hairston/The Baltimore Sun via AP, File)

Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a sharecropper’s son who rose to become a civil rights champion and the chairman of one of the U.S. House committees leading an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, died Thursday of complications from longstanding health problems. He was 68.

Cummings was a formidable orator who advocated for the poor in his black-majority district , which encompasses a large portion of Baltimore and more well-to-do suburbs.

As chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Cummings led investigations of the president’s governmental dealings, including probes in 2019 relating to Trump’s family members serving in the White House.

Trump criticized the Democrat’s district as a “rodent-infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.” The comments came weeks after Trump drew bipartisan condemnation following his calls for Democratic congresswomen of color to get out of the U.S. “right now,” and go back to their “broken and crime-infested countries.”

Cummings replied that government officials must stop making “hateful, incendiary comments” that distract the nation from its real problems, including mass shootings and white supremacy.

“Those in the highest levels of the government must stop invoking fear, using racist language and encouraging reprehensible behavior,” Cummings said.

On Thursday morning, Trump tweeted his “condolences to the family and many friends of Congressman Elijah Cummings. I got to see first hand the strength, passion and wisdom of this highly respected political leader.” The brief tweet made no reference to past feuds.

Cummings’ long career spanned decades in Maryland politics. He rose through the ranks of the Maryland House of Delegates before winning his congressional seat in a special election in 1996 to replace former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who left the seat to lead the NAACP.

Cummings was an early supporter of Barack Obama’s presidential bid in 2008. By 2016, Cummings was the senior Democrat on the House Benghazi Committee, which he said was “nothing more than a taxpayer-funded effort to bring harm to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.”

Throughout his career, Cummings used his fiery voice to highlight the struggles and needs of inner-city residents. He believed in much-debated approaches to help the poor and addicted, such as needle-exchange programs as a way to reduce the spread of AIDS.

A key figure in the Trump impeachment inquiry , Cummings had been hoping to return to Congress after a medical procedure he said would only keep him away for a week. His statement then didn’t detail the procedure. He’d previously been treated for heart and knee issues.

Cummings’ committee, authorized to investigate virtually any part of the federal government, is one of three conducting the House impeachment probe of Trump. Cummings was among the three chairmen to sign a letter seeking documents into the formal inquiry into whether Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate the family of Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden, the former vice president. The committees have issued subpoenas of witnesses in the face of the Trump administration’s refusal to cooperate with the impeachment probe and have jointly been meeting behind closed doors to hear testimony.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a veteran House Democrat from New York, will for now take over leadership of the House oversight committee, according to a senior Democratic leadership aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person wasn’t authorized to discuss the decision publicly.

Separately, Cummings led an effort to gain access to Trump’s financial records. His committee subpoenaed records from Mazars USA, an accounting firm that has provided services to Trump. The panel demanded documents from 2011 to 2018 as it probed Trump’s reporting of his finances and potential conflicts of interest. Last week, a federal appeals court ruled the records must be turned over to the House.

Shortly after Cummings’ death, which his office said happened after 2 a.m. at Johns Hopkins Hospital, his constituents began mourning. Baltimore mayor Bernard “Jack” Young said in a statement that Cummings “wasn’t afraid to use his considerable intellect, booming voice and poetic oratory to speak out against brutal dictators bent on oppression, unscrupulous business executives who took advantage of unsuspecting customers, or even a U.S. President.”

His widow, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, chairwoman of Maryland’s Democratic Party, said in a statement: “He worked until his last breath because he believed our democracy was the highest and best expression of our collective humanity and that our nation’s diversity was our promise, not our problem.”

Cummings was born Jan. 18, 1951. In grade school, a counselor told Cummings he was too slow to learn and spoke poorly, and would never fulfill his dream of becoming a lawyer.

“I was devastated,” Cummings told The Associated Press in 1996, shortly before winning his seat in Congress. “My whole life changed. I became very determined.”

It steeled Cummings to prove that counselor wrong. He became not only a lawyer, but one of the most powerful orators in the statehouse, where he entered office in 1983. He rose to become the first black House speaker pro tem. He would begin his comments slowly, developing his theme and raising the emotional heat until it became like a sermon from the pulpit.

Cummings was quick to note the differences between Congress and the Maryland General Assembly, which has long been controlled by Democrats.

“After coming from the state where, basically, you had a lot of people working together, it’s clear that the lines are drawn here,” Cummings said about a month after entering office in Washington in 1996.

Cummings began his long push for civil rights at age 11, when he helped integrate a local swimming pool in Baltimore. This year, during a speech to the American Bar Association in April, Cummings recalled how he and other black children who were barred from the pool organized protests with help from their recreation leader and the NAACP.

Every day for a week, when the children tried to get into the pool, they were spit upon, threatened and called names, Cummings said; he said he was cut by a bottle thrown from an angry crowd.

“The experience transformed my entire life,” he said.

While serving in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1983 to 1996, Cummings pushed for a ban on alcohol and tobacco ads on inner-city billboards in Baltimore, leading to the first such prohibition in a large U.S. city.

Cummings then chaired the Congressional Black Caucus from 2003 to 2004, employing a hard-charging, explore-every-option style to put the group in the national spotlight.

He cruised to big victories in the overwhelmingly Democratic district, which had given Maryland its first black congressman in 1970 when Parren Mitchell was elected.

In 2015, when the death of black Baltimore resident Freddie Gray sparked the worst riots the city had seen in decades, Cummings was in the streets, carrying a bullhorn and urging crowds to go home and respect a curfew. He spoke at Gray’s funeral, asking lawmakers in the church to stand up to show Gray’s mother they would seek justice.

“I want justice, oceans of it. I want fairness, rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want,” Cummings said, quoting from the Bible.

___

Witte reported from Annapolis. Alan Fram contributed from Washington.

__________________________________________________________
Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

As usual, Trump comes up short on facts

With apologies to Netflix.

President Donald Trump muddled the facts Wednesday on America’s withdrawal from Syria and the conditions on the ground there, as he distanced himself and the U.S. from the ongoing Turkish invasion into Syria.

He suggested incorrectly that the Syrian Kurds who fought alongside U.S. forces against the Islamic State group deliberately released IS prisoners and wrongly said Americans have been in the Syria conflict for 10 years.

A look at his claims and the reality:

U.S. INTERVENTION IN SYRIA

TRUMP: “We were supposed to be in Syria for one month. That was 10 years ago.”

THE FACTS: Previous administrations never set a one-month timeline for U.S. involvement in Syria.

The U.S.-led coalition began airstrikes on Islamic State militants in Syria in September 2014. About a year later, the Pentagon said that teams of special operations forces began going into Syria to conduct raids and start up efforts to partner with the Kurdish forces. Then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter made it clear to Congress at that time that the Pentagon was ready to expand operations with the Kurds and would continue to do so as needed to battle IS, without setting a specific timeline for completion.

__

PRISON RELEASE

TRUMP: Speaking about IS detainees, Trump said: “People let some go. They opened a couple of doors to make us look as bad as possible.” Later he described the IS detainees as “people that probably the Kurds let go to make a little bit stronger political impact.”

THE FACTS: That’s an exaggeration. There is no evidence that Kurdish forces, who fought IS for years with U.S. and coalition troops, deliberately opened prison doors to let militants out.

According to U.S. and defense officials, fewer than 100 prisoners have escaped and Kurdish fighters are still guarding the prisons. Officials say that some of the Kurdish forces have moved north to fight the invading Turks, but many remain to secure the prisons, which hold about 2,000 foreign fighters and another 10,000 Iraqis and Syrians who fought with IS. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe ongoing military operations.

__

LEAVING SYRIA

TRUMP: “Our soldiers are mostly gone from the area.”

THE FACTS: They’re actually mostly still there.

Trump is correct that close to 30 U.S. troops moved out of two outposts near the border area where the Turkish attack was initially centered. But the bulk of the roughly 1,000 U.S. troops deployed to Syria are still in the country.

According to officials, most of the U.S. troops have largely been consolidated into two locations in the north, including an airfield facility in the western part of the country known as the Kobani landing zone. A small number of troops left in recent days with military equipment, and more recently the withdrawal of forces began but so far not in large numbers. Officials say the withdrawal will take weeks.

__

COMING HOME

TRUMP: “It’s time to bring our soldiers back home.”

THE FACTS: Despite what Trump suggests, American forces in Syria won’t be returning home in mass numbers anytime soon.

While the U.S. has begun what the Pentagon calls a deliberate withdrawal of troops from Syria, Trump himself has said that the 200-300 U.S. forces deployed to a southern Syria outpost in Al-Tanf will remain there. Also, while the U.S. forces are leaving Syria, that doesn’t mean they are automatically coming home. Instead, military officials are developing plans to station U.S. forces in nearby locations, including Iraq and possibly Jordan, where they will still be able to monitor and, if needed, continue to conduct operations against IS.

___

Find AP Fact Checks at http://apne.ws/2kbx8bd

Follow @APFactCheck on Twitter: https://twitter.com/APFactCheck

__________________________________________________________
Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Dems walk out on Trump, House condemns troop withdrawal

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., left, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., speak with reporters after a meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Washing his hands of Syria, President Donald Trump declared Wednesday the U.S. has no stake in supporting the Kurdish fighters who died by the thousands as U.S. partners against IS extremists. Hours later, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats walked out of a meeting at the White House, accusing him of having a “meltdown,” calling her a “third-rate politician” and having no plan to deal with a potentially revived Islamic State group.

Condemnation of Trump’s stance on Turkey, Syria and the Kurds was quick and severe during the day, not only from Democrats but from Republicans who have been staunch supporters on virtually all issues.

The House, bitterly divided over the Trump impeachment inquiry, banded together for an overwhelming 354-60 denunciation of the U.S. troop withdrawal. Many lawmakers expressed worry that it may lead to revival of IS as well as Russian presence and influence in the area — in addition to the slaughter of many Kurds.

At the White House, Trump said the U.S. has no business in the region — and not to worry about the Kurdish fighters.

“They know how to fight,” he said. “And by the way, they’re no angels.”

After the House condemnation vote, the congressional leaders of both parties went to the White house for a briefing, which grew contentious, with Trump and Pelosi trading jabs. The Democrats said they walked out when the meeting devolved into an insult-fest.

“What we witnessed on the part of the president was a meltdown,” Pelosi told reporters, saying Trump appeared visibly “shaken up” over the House vote.

“We couldn’t continue in the meeting because he was just not relating to the reality of it,” she said.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer criticized Trump for not having an adequate plan to deal with IS fighters who have been held by the Kurds. He said the meeting “was not a dialogue, this was sort of a diatribe, a nasty diatribe not focused on the facts.”

Republicans pushed back, saying it was Pelosi who’d been the problem.

“She storms out of another meeting, trying to make it unproductive,” said House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy.

White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham called Pelosi’s action “baffling but not surprising.” She said the speaker “had no intention of listening or contributing to an important meeting on national security issues.”

Trump himself famously stormed out of a meeting with congressional leaders during the partial government shutdown last January.

In public appearances Wednesday, Trump said he was fulfilling a campaign promise to bring U.S. troops home from “endless wars” in the Middle East — casting aside criticism that a sudden U.S. withdrawal from Syria betrays the Kurdish fighters, stains U.S. credibility around the world and opens an important region to Russia, which is moving in.

“We have a situation where Turkey is taking land from Syria. Syria’s not happy about it. Let them work it out,” Trump said. “They have a problem at a border. It’s not our border. We shouldn’t be losing lives over it.”

Trump said he was sending Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Ankara to urge the Turks to halt their weeklong offensive into northeastern Syria. But his remarks, first to reporters in the Oval Office and later at a news conference with his Italian counterpart, suggested he sees little at stake for America.

“Syria may have some help with Russia, and that’s fine,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of sand over there. So, there’s a lot of sand that they can play with.”

“Let them fight their own wars.”

More than once, Trump suggested the United States has little concern in the Middle East because it is geographically distant — a notion shared by some prior to Sept. 11, 2001, when al-Qaida militants used Afghanistan as a base from which to attack the U.S. That attack set off a series of armed conflicts, including in Iraq, that Trump considers a waste of American lives and treasure.

But Republicans, too, made their concerns clear.

The current withdrawal is the worst decision of Trump’s presidency, said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who meets often with the president and is one of his strongest and most important supporters in Congress.

“To those who think the Mideast doesn’t matter to America, remember 9/11 — we had that same attitude on 9/10 2001.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said he strongly disagreed with Trump and had told the president so. But he asked, “What tools do we have” to back up that disagreement?

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told reporters he didn’t know what could be done to undo the harm he felt was resulting.

“There are some mistakes that are not easy to reverse. And there are some that are irreversible,” said Rubio, who was a Trump rival for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.

Turkish troops and Turkish-backed Syrian fighters launched their offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria a week ago, two days after Trump suddenly announced he was withdrawing the U.S. from the area. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he wants to create a 30-kilometer (20-mile) -deep “safe zone” in Syria.

Ankara has long argued the Kurdish fighters are nothing more than an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which has waged a guerrilla campaign inside Turkey since the 1980s and which Turkey, as well as the U.S. and European Union, designate as a terrorist organization.

Trump mischaracterized the progress made thus far by the U.S. military in carrying out his instructions to withdraw all 1,000 troops in northeastern Syria. He referred to the approximately two dozen soldiers who evacuated from Turkey’s initial attack zone last week, but cast that as meaning the U.S. has “largely” completed its pullout.

A U.S. official familiar with planning for the withdrawal of the 1,000 said that they are consolidating onto two main bases but have not yet begun flying out of Syria in significant numbers. Military equipment is being gathered and flown out, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the withdrawal, which poses big security risks.

Trump downplayed the crisis that followed his decision to pull out of Syria, which critics say amounted to giving Turkey a green light to invade against the Kurdish fighters.

“It’s not between Turkey and the United States, like a lot of stupid people would like you to believe,” Trump said, adding that he’s more than willing to let adversaries fight it out in that area of the Middle East.

In the meantime, he said, “Our soldiers are not in harm’s way, as they shouldn’t be.”

Trump did impose new sanctions on Turkey this week in an attempt to force Erdogan to end his assault. But he said Wednesday, “It’s time for us to come home.”

Even as Trump defended his removal of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria, he praised his decision to send more troops and military equipment to Saudi Arabia to help the kingdom defend against Iran.

Trump said the U.S. is sending missiles and “great power” to the Saudis, and “they’re paying for that.”

__________________________________________________________
Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

State Dept. aides reveal unease with Trump

Michael McKinley, a former top aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019, to testify before congressional lawmakers as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The House impeachment inquiry is exposing new details about unease in the State Department and White House about President Donald Trump’s actions toward Ukraine and those of his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

One witness said it appeared “three amigos” tied to the White House had taken over foreign policy. Another quoted national security adviser John Bolton as calling Giuliani a “hand grenade” for his back-channel efforts to get Ukraine to investigate Trump’s Democratic rival Joe Biden and Biden’s son Hunter.

On Wednesday, a former aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived to speak to the House impeachment panels behind closed doors. Michael McKinley, who resigned last week, is a career foreign service officer and was Pompeo’s de facto chief of staff.

He is expected to discuss concerns held by career State Department officials about the treatment of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, and others who worked on the Ukraine portfolio, according to a person familiar with his testimony. A Latin America specialist, McKinley wasn’t directly involved in Ukraine policy, but as a senior adviser to Pompeo was generally aware of the situation, the person said.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., told reporters outside the closed-door hearing that McKinley was complimentary about Pompeo’s role but did raise other issues.
ratio

“I think most of this is a concern by a colleague for an ambassador that he held in high regard,” said Meadows said, declining to provide more details of the closed session.

McKinley was expected to talk about demoralization in the ranks of career foreign service officers and what many have lamented as the politicization of the once-apolitical bureaucracy, according to the person, who was granted anonymity to speak about his remarks.

The 37-year veteran of the diplomatic corps was known to be unhappy with the state of affairs although his farewell note to colleagues mentioned nothing about the reason for his departure other than it was a “personal decision.”

Another key figure in the impeachment investigation, special envoy Kurt Volker, returned to Capitol Hill on Wednesday. He and his lawyer were to review the transcript of his Oct. 3 testimony to investigators, according to a person familiar with his appearance who was not authorized to discuss it. Republicans say all the transcripts from the investigation should be released to the public.

Volker provided text messages to lawmakers that revealed an effort at the State Department to push Ukraine’s leader into opening an investigation of the gas company Burisma, connected to Joe Biden’s son, in return for a visit with Trump.

That effort soon escalated into what one diplomat feared was a quid pro quo for U.S. military aid. Trump has denied that, saying assistance to Ukraine was delayed to pressure the country into addressing corruption.

The testimony so far from the witnesses, mainly officials from the State Department and other foreign policy posts, is largely corroborating the account of the government whistleblower whose complaint first sparked the impeachment inquiry, according to lawmakers attending the closed-door interviews.

Trump’s July 25 phone call in which he pressed Ukraine’s president to investigate the Bidens is at the center of the Democrats’ inquiry.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, despite intensifying calls from Trump and Republicans to hold a formal vote to authorize the impeachment inquiry, showed no indication she would do so. She said Congress will continue its investigation as part of the Constitution’s system of checks and balances of the executive.

“This is not a game for us. This is deadly serious. We’re on a path that is taking us, a path to the truth,” Pelosi told reporters after a closed-door session with House Democrats.

Democratic leaders had been gauging support for a vote to authorize the impeachment inquiry after Trump and Republicans pushed them for a roll call. Holding a vote would test politically vulnerable Democrats in areas where the Republican president is popular.

Trump calls the impeachment inquiry an “illegitimate process” and is blocking officials from cooperating.

Trump and congressional leaders will be meeting later Wednesday at the White House on other matters.

The inquiry is moving quickly as a steady stream of officials appears behind closed doors this week, some providing new revelations about the events surrounding the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. It is on that call that Trump urged Zelenskiy to investigate a firm tied to political rival Joe Biden’s family and Ukraine’s own involvement in the 2016 presidential election.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the Intelligence Committee overseeing the probe, has praised the State Department officials for stepping forward, under subpoena, to shed light on the matter.

“We have learned much of this thanks to the courageous testimony of the State Department officials who have been put in an impossible situation by the administration,” which is urging them not to comply with requests to testify to Congress, he said. “They are doing their duty.”

Career State Department official George Kent testified Tuesday he was told by administration officials to “lay low” on Ukraine as “three amigos” tied to the White House took over U.S. foreign policy toward the Eastern European ally.

Kent was concerned about the “fake news smear” against Yovanovitch, whom Trump recalled in May, according to emails obtained by The Associated Press.

Kent told the lawmakers that he “found himself outside a parallel process” and had warned others about Giuliani as far back as March. He felt the shadow diplomacy was undermining decades of foreign policy and the rule of law in Ukraine and that was “wrong,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.

Connolly said Kent described a May 23 meeting at the White House, organized by Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, where three administration officials — U.S. ambassador Gordon Sondland, special envoy Kurt Volker and Energy Secretary Rick Perry — declared themselves the people now responsible for Ukraine policy.

“They called themselves the three amigos,” Connolly said Kent testified.

Kent also told them that Trump, through the Office of Management and Budget, which Mulvaney previously led, was holding up military aid to Ukraine while pressing Zelenskiy to investigate a company linked to Biden’s son.

___

Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Michael Balsamo, Eric Tucker, Matthew Lee, Padmananda Rama, Andrew Taylor and Alan Fram in Washington and Jonathan Lemire in Dallas contributed to this report.

__________________________________________________________
Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Trump defends walking away from Kurds

U.S. and Kurdish flags flutter in the wind while displaced Iraqis from the Yazidi community cross the Syria-Iraq border
(AP Photo/ Khalid Mohammed)

Washing his hands of America’s presence in Syria, President Donald Trump declared Wednesday the U.S. has no stake in supporting the Kurdish fighters who died by the thousands as U.S. partners against Islamic State extremists.

Condemnation of his stance was quick and severe, not only from Democrats but from Republicans who have been staunch Trump supporters on virtually all issues.

The House, bitterly divided over the Trump impeachment inquiry, banded together for an overwhelming 354-60 denunciation of the U.S. troop withdrawal. Many lawmakers expressed worry that it may lead to revival of IS as well as Russian presence and influence in the area — in addition to slaughter of many Kurds.

At the White House, Trump said the U.S. has no business in the region — and not to worry about the Kurdish fighters.

“They know how to fight,” he said. “And by the way, they’re no angels.”

Trump said he is fulfilling a campaign promise to bring U.S. troops home from “endless wars” in the Middle East — casting aside criticism that a sudden U.S. withdrawal from Syria not only betrays the Kurdish fighters but stains U.S. credibility around the world and opens an important region to Russia, which is moving in.
ratio

“We have a situation where Turkey is taking land from Syria. Syria’s not happy about it. Let them work it out,” Trump said. “They have a problem at a border. It’s not our border. We shouldn’t be losing lives over it.”

Trump said he was sending Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Ankara to urge the Turks to halt their weeklong offensive into northeastern Syria. But his remarks, first to reporters in the Oval Office and later at a news conference with his Italian counterpart, suggested he sees little at stake for America.

“Syria may have some help with Russia, and that’s fine,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of sand over there. So, there’s a lot of sand that they can play with.”

“Let them fight their own wars.”

More than once, Trump suggested the United States has little at stake in the Middle East because it is geographically distant — a notion shared by some prior to Sept. 11, 2001, when al-Qaida militants used Afghanistan as a base from which to attack the U.S. That attack set off a series of armed conflicts, including in Iraq, that Trump considers a waste of American lives and treasure.

The current withdrawal is the worst decision of Trump’s presidency, said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who meets often with the president and is one of his strongest and most important supporters in Congress.

“To those who think the Mideast doesn’t matter to America, remember 9/11 — we had that same attitude on 9/10 2001.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said he strongly disagreed with Trump and had told the president so. But he asked, “What tools do we have” to back up that disagreement?

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told reporters he didn’t know what could be done to undo the harm he felt was resulting.

“There are some mistakes that are not easy to reverse. And there are some that are irreversible,” said Rubio, who was a Trump rival for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.

Turkish troops and Turkish-backed Syrian fighters launched their offensive against Kurdish forces in northern Syria a week ago, two days after Trump suddenly announced he was withdrawing the U.S. from the area. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he wants to create a 30-kilometer (20-mile) -deep “safe zone” in Syria.

Ankara has long argued the Kurdish fighters are nothing more than an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which has waged a guerrilla campaign inside Turkey since the 1980s and which Turkey, as well as the U.S. and European Union, designate as a terrorist organization.

Trump mischaracterized the progress made thus far by the U.S. military in carrying out his instructions to withdraw all 1,000 troops in northeastern Syria. He referred to the approximately two dozen soldiers who evacuated from Turkey’s initial attack zone last week, but cast that as meaning the U.S. has “largely” completed its pullout.

A U.S. official familiar with planning for the withdrawal of the 1,000 said that they are consolidating onto two main bases but have not yet begun flying out of Syria in significant numbers. Military equipment is being gathered and flown out, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the withdrawal, which poses big security risks.

Trump downplayed the crisis that followed his decision to pull out of Syria, which critics say amounted to giving Turkey a green light to invade against the Kurdish fighters.

“It’s not between Turkey and the United States, like a lot of stupid people would like you to believe,” Trump said, adding that he’s more than willing to let adversaries fight it out in that area of the Middle East.

In the meantime, he said, “Our soldiers are not in harm’s way, as they shouldn’t be.”

Trump did impose new sanctions on Turkey this week in an attempt to force Erdogan to end his assault. But he said Wednesday, “It’s time for us to come home.”

Even as Trump defended his removal of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria, he praised his decision to send more troops and military equipment to Saudi Arabia to help the kingdom defend against Iran.

Trump said the U.S. is sending missiles and “great power” to the Saudis, and “they’re paying for that.”

___

AP writers Alan Fram, Darlene Superville and Ellen Knickmeyer contributed.

__________________________________________________________
Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved