Fact Check; Trump lies about cease fire and more

Turkish soldiers stand in attention during a ceremony for soldier Sefa Findik, killed in action with Kurdish fighters in Syria earlier Sunday, during a ceremony at the airport in Sanliurfa southeastern Turkey, Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019.It brings Turkey’s military death toll up to seven soldiers in its wide-ranging offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

As President Donald Trump describes it, the U.S. swooped into an intractable situation in the Middle East, achieved an agreement within hours that had eluded the world for years and delivered a “great day for civilization.”

It was a mission-accomplished moment that other Republican leaders, Democrats and much of the world found unconvincing.

Trump spent much of the past week trying to justify his decision to pull U.S. troops away from America’s Kurdish allies in Syria, leaving those Kurdish fighters vulnerable on several fronts and already reeling from attacks by Turkish forces.

In the process, Trump exaggerated the scope of a deal bringing a temporary cease-fire to Turkish-Kurdish hostilities, falsely suggested that U.S. troops in Syria will come home and mischaracterized the history of the conflict and even the geography of it.

A look at his rhetoric on that topic and other subjects over the past week as well as a sampling of statements from the latest Democratic presidential debate:

SYRIA

TRUMP: “It’s time to bring our soldiers back home.” — news conference Wednesday.

THE FACTS: That’s not what he’s doing.

While the U.S. has begun what the Pentagon calls a deliberate withdrawal of troops from Syria, Trump himself has said that the 200 to 300 U.S. service members deployed to a southern Syria outpost in Al-Tanf will remain there.

And on Saturday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the current plan calls for all U.S. troops who are leaving Syria to go to western Iraq, not home. They number more than 700.

Asked Sunday why troops weren’t coming home as Trump said they would, his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, said: “Well, they will eventually.”

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TRUMP: “This is a great day for civilization. I am proud of the United States for sticking by me in following a necessary, but somewhat unconventional, path. People have been trying to make this ’Deal” for many years. Millions of lives will be saved. Congratulations to ALL!” — tweet Thursday.

TRUMP: “A lot of things are in that agreement that nobody ever thought possible.” — remarks at Dallas rally Thursday.

THE FACTS: The agreement he is hailing is not nearly as consequential to the prospects for peace as he claims. It provides for a five-day cease-fire in the Turks’ deadly attacks on Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, which began after Trump announced he would withdraw U.S. troops.

The agreement requires the Kurds to vacate a swath of territory in Syria along the Turkish border in an arrangement that codifies nearly all of Turkey’s stated goals in the conflict and relieves it of U.S. sanctions.

It imposes no apparent long-term consequences for Turkey’s move against the Kurds, important U.S. partners in the fight against the Islamic State group. Trump calls that fight a mission accomplished despite the U.S. officials’ fears of an IS resurgence.

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TRUMP, on the Syrian areas of Turkish-Kurdish conflict: “It’s a lot of sand. They’ve got a lot of sand over there. So there’s a lot of sand that they can play with.” — remarks Wednesday.

THE FACTS: The area of conflict is not known for being particularly sandy. In contrast to Trump’s imagery of arid, worthless land that other countries — not the U.S. — should fight over, it’s actually the breadbasket of Syria.

The area is part of what was historically known as the Fertile Crescent, where settled farming and early civilizations first began.

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

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 teams of special operations forces began going into Syria to conduct raids and start 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 deadline.

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TRUMP: “Our soldiers are mostly gone from the area.” — news conference Wednesday.

THE FACTS: They’re mostly still there.

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 a few locations in the north, including an airfield facility in the western part of the country known as the Kobani landing zone. A couple hundred have left in recent days with military equipment, and officials say the withdrawal will take weeks.

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JOE BIDEN: “I would not have withdrawn the troops, and I would not have withdrawn the additional 1,000 troops that are in Iraq, which are in retreat now, being fired on by Assad’s people.” — Democratic debate on Tuesday.

THE FACTS: The former vice president is wrong. There is no evidence that any of the approximately 1,000 American troops preparing to evacuate from Syria have been fired on by Syrian government forces led by President Bashar Assad. A small group of U.S. troops came under Turkish artillery fire near the town of Kobani last week, without anyone being injured, but there is no indication that Syrian troops have shot at withdrawing Americans.

Also, Biden was addressing the situation in Syria, not Iraq.

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WOMEN IN SPACE

TRUMP: “This is the first time for a woman outside of the Space Station. … They’re conducting the first-ever female spacewalk to replace an exterior part of the Space Station.” — speaking to flight engineers Jessica Meir and Christina Koch outside the International Space Station in a teleconference Friday.

THE FACTS: Meir corrected the record, telling Trump: “First of all, we don’t want to take too much credit, because there have been many other female spacewalkers before us. This is just the first time that there have been two women outside at the same time. ”

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AMMUNITION

TRUMP: “When I first got in, a general told me we could have had a conflict with someone. Said, Sir, we don’t have ammunition. And I said I never want to hear a president — I just never want to hear somebody have that statement made to them again as president of the United States. We don’t have ammunition. Think of how bad. Now we have so much ammunition we don’t know what to do with it.” — Dallas rally Thursday.

THE FACTS: Trump periodically quotes unidentified generals as saying things that he wants to hear and that are hard to imagine them actually having said. This is no exception. The U.S. doesn’t go to war without sufficient ammunition.

At most, budget constraints may have restricted ammunition for certain training exercises at times and held back the development of new forms of firepower. It’s not unusual for generals to want more people and equipment at their disposal than they have. But they don’t run out of bullets.

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ECONOMY and TRADE

TRUMP: “Just out: MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME IS AT THE HIGHEST POINT EVER, EVER, EVER! How about saying it this way, IN THE HISTORY OF OUR COUNTRY!” — tweet Tuesday.

THE FACTS: Another way of saying it is that median household income has been this high before.

Trump also builds his boast on the records of others.

In the Census Bureau’s definitive annual report on income and poverty, it found that median household income in 2018 matched the previous peak of $63,200, in inflation-adjusted dollars, reached in 1999.

While that was a welcome increase after household income fell sharply in the Great Recession, it also suggests that the median American household went back to where it was 19 years ago. (The median is the point where half of households earn more and half earn less).

Household income began rising in 2014, after falling in the aftermath of the recession, and jumped 5.1% in 2015, making its most significance gains in President Barack Obama’s second term.

It grew just 0.9% in 2018, the slowest in three years. The Census Bureau says its data is difficult to compare with previous years because it changed its methods in 2013.

It released a supplemental report showing that, adjusted for those methodological changes, median incomes in 2018 matched those in 1999. A separate census report, which has fewer details on incomes, said last month that median household income has reached a record high, but those data only go back to 2005.

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TRUMP, on a World Trade Organization ruling allowing the U.S. to tax impose tariffs on $7.5 billion worth of European imports annually: “I think the WTO award has been testament to a lot of good work by the Trump administration. We never won with the WTO, or essentially never won. Very seldom did we win. And now we’re winning a lot.” — remarks Wednesday before meeting with Italy’s president.

TRUMP: “We didn’t win anything for years practically. Now we’ve won a lot of cases. You know why? Because they know I’ll leave if they don’t treat us fairly.” — Dallas rally Thursday.

THE FACTS: He’s incorrect to say the U.S. never or rarely got any WTO victories under other presidents.

The U.S. has always had a high success rate when it pursues cases against other countries at the WTO. In 2017, trade analyst Daniel Ikenson of the libertarian Cato Institute found that the U.S. had won 91% of time it brought a complaint that ended up being adjudicated by the Geneva-based trade monitor. True, Ikenson noted, the countries bringing complaints tend to win overwhelmingly. That’s because they don’t bother going to the WTO in the first place if they don’t have a pretty strong case.

The WTO announcement culminated a 15-year fight over EU subsidies for Airbus — a fight that began long before Trump was in office.

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JULIÁN CASTRO: “Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania actually in the latest jobs data have lost jobs, not gained them.” — Democratic debate.

THE FACTS: No. Figures from the Labor Department show that the former Housing and Urban Development secretary is wrong.

Ohio added jobs in August. So did Michigan. Same with Pennsylvania.

So Castro’s statement is off.

These states do still have economic struggles. Pennsylvania has lost factory jobs since the end of 2018. So has Michigan. And Ohio has shed 100 factory jobs so far this year.

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TRUMP: “MORE PEOPLE WORKING TODAY IN THE USA THAN AT ANY TIME IN HISTORY!” — tweet Tuesday.

THE FACTS: True, but it’s due to population growth, not just steady hiring.

A more relevant measure is the proportion of Americans with jobs, and that is still far below record highs.

According to Labor Department data , 61% of people in the United States 16 years and older were working in September. That’s below the all-time high of 64.7% in April 2000, though higher than the 59.9% when Trump was inaugurated in January 2017.

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CLIMATE CHANGE

BERNIE SANDERS: “We’re forgetting about the existential threat of climate change.” ″Right now the CEOs in the fossil fuel industry know full well that their product is destroying this world and they continue to make huge profits.” — Democratic debate.

THE FACTS: Earth’s existence and life on the planet will not end because of climate change, as the Vermont senator suggests. Fossil fuels do not have Earth on a path of destruction.

Science says climate change will cause great harm, but it won’t wipe out everything and won’t end humanity.

“It’s an existential threat for many species,” said Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer. “It’s an existential threat for many ecosystems. I don’t think it’s an existential threat for humanity.”

Life will be dramatically altered if the burning of fossil fuels continues unabated, said Oppenheimer, a co-author of many of the most dire international science reports on climate change.

“Existential” has perhaps lost its literal meaning, as politicians in general and Democrats in particular cast many threats as existential ones even when existence is not on the line. In the debate, for example, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker described the closing of two Planned Parenthood clinics in Ohio as an existential threat to abortion rights in America.

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GUN CONTROL

PETE BUTTIGIEG: “On guns, we are this close to an assault weapons ban. That would be huge.” — Democratic debate.

AMY KLOBUCHAR: “I just keep thinking of how close we are to finally getting something done on this.” — Democratic debate.

THE FACTS: No, the U.S. is not close to enacting an assault-weapons ban, as Buttigieg claimed, nor close on any significant gun control, as Klobuchar had it. Congress is not on the verge of such legislation. Prospects for an assault-weapons ban, in particular, are bound to remain slim until the next election at least.

Legislation under discussion in the Senate would expand background checks for gun sales, a politically popular idea even with gun owners. But even that bill has stalled because of opposition from the National Rifle Association and on-again, off-again support from Trump. Democrats and some Republicans in Congress say they will continue to push for the background checks bill, but movement appears unlikely during an impeachment inquiry and general dysfunction in Congress. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has made it clear he won’t move forward on gun legislation without Trump’s strong support.

Buttigieg was citing the chance for an assault-weapons ban as a reason for not supporting the more radical proposal by Democratic presidential rival Beto O’Rourke to force gun owners to give up AR-15s and other assault-style weapons. Klobuchar spoke in a similar context.

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RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

ELIZABETH WARREN: “Mueller had shown to a fare-thee-well that this president obstructed justice.” — Democratic debate.

THE FACTS: That’s not exactly what special counsel Robert Mueller showed.

It’s true that prosecutors examined more than 10 episodes for evidence of obstruction of justice, and that they did illustrate efforts by Trump to stymie the Russia investigation or take control of it.

But ultimately, Mueller did not reach a conclusion as to whether the president obstructed justice or broke any other law. He cited Justice Department policy against the indictment of a sitting president and said that since he could not bring charges against Trump, it was unfair to accuse him of a crime. There was no definitive finding that he obstructed justice.

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Associated Press writers Christopher Rugaber, Seth Borenstein, Josh Boak, Robert Burns, Matthew Daly, Eric Tucker and Paul Wiseman in Washington, Lisa Marie Pane in Boise, Idaho, and Amanda Seitz in Chicago contributed to this report.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.”

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

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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

 

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