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.”

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Trump’s traitorous actions to abandon allies in battle

The increasingly incompetent, ignorant and immoral actions by the corrupt president Donald Trump in Syria finalizes his efforts to destroy America’s foreign policy and turn the nation’s back on its allies.

Editorialized The Washington Post Monday:

Until now, it was possible to hope that the damage caused by President Trump’s terrible incompetence, ignorance and impulsivity in foreign policy was largely theoretical, and possibly reparable. That is no longer true. The cost of his latest Syria blunder is unfolding before our eyes: Innocent lives lost. U.S. servicemen and -women betrayed. Butchering dictators emboldened. Dangerous terrorists set free. A ghastly scene is playing out, and it almost surely will get worse.

Mr. Trump — with no consideration, no warning, no consultation with allies, no regard for the other nations that have fought alongside the United States and risked their men and women in the fight — has turned tail. In the past two years, courageous U.S. troops cooperated with our Kurdish allies to defeat the deadly Islamic State caliphate. These allies lost more than 11,000 men and women killed; the United States, a dozen. It was a rare U.S. success in the Middle East.

The president has thrown it all away. His surrender is so hasty that U.S. forces could not execute a long-standing plan to take dozens of high-profile Islamic State detainees with them; we can expect to hear from those terrorists before long, in the region, in Europe or in the United States. The Islamic State is likely to exert its malign force again. The allies who fought alongside us are being slaughtered, and noncombatant women and children, too. Iran is strengthened, which threatens Israel. The murderous Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is strengthened, too. Russia is taking charge. America’s adversaries could not have scripted a better outcome.

In Syria, U.S. soldiers ordered to pack up and leave calls the order “a dagger to the heart to walk away from people who shed blood for us.”

“It will go down in infamy,” an Army officer who served in the Syria campaign told David Ignatius, who covered the efforts in Syria for The Post. “This will go down as a stain on the American reputation for decades.”

“What do these American soldiers feel as they watch Trump retreat from the Syrian battlefield and leave their former comrades to die? They feel sick,” Ignatius writes.

“For these soldiers, abandoning an ally on the battlefield is about the worst thing that can happen,” he adds.

To make matters worse, the orders to pull out come from a disgraced president who allies himself with vicious dictators who are enemies of the United States.

In other words, the actions of a traitor who betrayed the Constitution, the nation and the allies who trusted us.

A traitor named Donald John Trump.

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Pentagon: Lousy place to depend on ‘acting’ leaders

Secretary of the Army Mark Esper. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)

It’s a perilous time to have temps running the Pentagon.

President Donald Trump’s brinkmanship with Iran is on the boil, spilling beyond diplomacy to a planned air attack on Iran that Trump said he ordered, then pulled back at least for now. This, as the U.S. undertakes an unusual troop deployment to the Mexican border , tends its nearly two-decade-old war in Afghanistan and grapples with stalled talks with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program.

Through it all, the U.S. has no defense secretary , but rather an acting one who is taking over from another acting one, who suddenly quit.

And the latest one, Army Secretary Mark Esper, who takes over Sunday, might only be able to serve as acting Pentagon chief for less than two months under the rules, requiring yet another short-term boss before it’s all sorted out. On Friday night, Trump officially announced he intended to nominate Esper for the permanent job.

Temporary leadership is a hallmark of Trump’s administration . “It gives me more flexibility,” Trump has said of the many people in acting leadership jobs, not always by his choice.

The practice lets Trump quickly, if temporarily, install allies in important positions while circumventing the Senate confirmation process, which can be risky with Republicans running the chamber by a slim 53-47 margin.

But the Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, says it’s out of hand.

“With everything going on in Iran and all the provocations and counteractions, and to have no secretary of defense at this time is appalling,” he said. “It shows the chaos in this administration. They have so many empty positions, revolving doors, in the most sensitive of security positions.”

Tensions with Iran quickly escalated this week after an attack on freighters at sea that the U.S. blamed on Iran. Tehran announced it was breaking from commitments it made under the accord that restrains its nuclear ambitions — a deal Trump withdrew from last year. Iran then downed a U.S. drone, prompting Trump to order a retaliatory strike that he said he shelved 10 minutes before Iran was to be hit.

As the situation grew more dangerous this week, the acting defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, stepped down, saying he wanted to spare his family a public airing of domestic problems linked to his messy divorce nearly a decade ago. Trump said months ago he would nominate Shanahan for the defense job and seek his Senate confirmation but he never did. Officials said repeatedly that the vetting of Shanahan was dragging on.

Trump immediately named Esper as the new acting secretary, but because of limitations laid out in court decisions and legislation governing how top vacancies are filled, he may only be able to serve for six weeks. Inside the Pentagon, lawyers are debating how to get Esper through what would be a difficult legal and congressional confirmation process. Defense officials said Thursday they had yet to find a clear way forward.

For the moment both Shanahan and Esper have been attending White House and other meetings and taking part in debates over how to respond to Iran’s destruction of the drone.

Esper is slated to take over as acting defense secretary at midnight Sunday, then head out Tuesday to a meeting of NATO defense ministers. There it will be critical for Esper to convince allies that he is now in charge, and that the U.S. national security leadership is stable and able to make decisions in crises.

While lawmakers have expressed initial support for Esper, who is well known on the Hill and previously served on committees as legislative staff, there is no guarantee he’ll get quick approval.

As a former executive at defense contractor Raytheon, Esper may have to excuse himself from decisions involving the company. That could include sensitive, top-level negotiations with Turkey over its decision to buy a Russian missile defense system, and America’s counteroffer of the Raytheon-made Patriot surface-to-air weapon.

The law prohibits Esper from being nominated for the job while also serving as acting secretary. If he is nominated, he’ll have to step down and move to another job until the Senate votes on his confirmation. So that would mean yet another acting secretary meantime.

Anyone chosen to fill in temporarily won’t have all of the decision-making power that a defense secretary needs when the nation is at war in several countries and conducting major military operations in dozens.

If the administration’s churning leadership suits Trump’s style, it’s not always his intent.

Appointments have been marked by missteps and confusion: Trump has withdrawn 63 nominees, compared with 31 pulled back by President Barack Obama at this point in his first term, according to the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service. He’s also decided against nominating some candidates he favored after realizing the Republican-led Senate would reject them.

Altogether, 22 of the top 42 people in Cabinet jobs have been acting, or slightly over half, from the 2017 start of Trump’s presidency through mid-April, according to data compiled by incoming Yale political science professor Christina Kinane.

That’s well above the average. From the 1977 start of Jimmy Carter’s presidency through Obama’s administration, 224 people held Cabinet posts and 57 were acting, or just 1 in 4, Kinane’s figures show.

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Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.

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Manafort’s sentence now 7.5 years but new indictments emerge

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is booking photo in Alexandria, Virginia, (Alexandria Sheriff’s Office/Handout)

Federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson Wednesday added 43 months to former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort’s sentence of four years handed down last week, but she made 30 of those months “concurrent” with the 47 months sentence received last week, which brings his time behind bars to five years for his string of crimes.

But more trouble for Manafort emerged in New York Wednesday when that state indicted him on 16 counts of mortgage fraud, falsifying business records and conspiracy.  Convictions on those charges could add even more tie.

For Manafort, the additional prison time for could be a life sentence for the 69-year-old political consultant whose schemes made him millions but also brought a sudden downfall.  He appeared in court in a wheelchair, suffering from gout and associates say his health is failing.

“This defendant is not public enemy number one, but he’s also not a victim either,” Jackson said during the sentencing Wednesday. “There’s no question this defendant knew better, and he knew exactly what he was doing.”

Even with the additional sentence on other federal charges, Manafort could have faced more than three decades behind bars.  Both sentences this week fell below federal sentencing guidelines for the charges.

The New York indictments are not eligible for pardons by president Donald Trump if they bring convictions.

Judge Jackson said Manfort deserved prison time for “lying to the American people and the American Congress…It is hard to overstate the number of lies and amount of money involved.”

“His work was corrosive to faith in the political process, both in the United States and abroad,” said prosecutor Andrew Weissmann. “He served to undermine, not promote, American ideals of honesty, transparency and playing by the rules.”

Manafort’s convictions that led to Wednesday’s sentences included tampering with witnesses, tax evasion and fraud.

“I accept responsibility for the actions that led me to be here today, and I want to apologize for all I contributed to the impacts on people and institutions,” Manafort told the court Wednesday. “While I cannot change the past, I can work to change the future,”

When defense attorney Kevin Downing asked for leniency, saying Manafort showed remorse at the hearing Wednesday, Judge Jackson fired back: “Saying ‘I’m sorry I got caught’ is not an inspiring call for leniency.”

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