Trump’s aides stole his papers ‘to protect the country’: “Trump Is A F—ing Idiot”

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Bob Woodward: Trump’s aides stole his papers ‘to protect the country’

Woodward book reveals ‘crazytown’ White House

(CNN)WARNING: This story contains graphic language.

President Donald Trump‘s closest aides have taken extraordinary measures in the White House to try to stop what they saw as his most dangerous impulses, going so far as to swipe and hide papers from his desk so he wouldn’t sign them, according to a new book from legendary journalist Bob Woodward.
Woodward’s 448-page book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” provides an unprecedented inside-the-room look through the eyes of the President’s inner circle. From the Oval Office to the Situation Room to the White House residence, Woodward uses confidential background interviews to illustrate how some of the President’s top advisers view him as a danger to national security and have sought to circumvent the commander in chief.

Many of the feuds and daily clashes have been well documented, but the picture painted by Trump’s confidants, senior staff and Cabinet officials reveal that many of them see an even more alarming situation — worse than previously known or understood. Woodward offers a devastating portrait of a dysfunctional Trump White House, detailing how senior aides — both current and former Trump administration officials — grew exasperated with the President and increasingly worried about his erratic behavior, ignorance and penchant for lying.
Chief of staff John Kelly describes Trump as an “idiot” and “unhinged,” Woodward reports. Defense Secretary James Mattis describes Trump as having the understanding of “a fifth or sixth grader.” And Trump’s former personal lawyer John Dowd describes the President as “a fucking liar,” telling Trump he would end up in an “orange jump suit” if he testified to special counsel Robert Mueller.
“He’s an idiot. It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in crazytown,” Kelly is quoted as saying at a staff meeting in his office. “I don’t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had.”
CNN obtained a copy of Woodward’s book, scheduled for release September 11. The explosive revelations about Trump from those closest to him are likely to play into the November midterm election battle. The book also has stunning new details about Trump’s obsession with the Russia probe, describing for the first time confidential conversations between the President’s lawyers and Mueller. It recounts a dramatic session in the White House residence in which Trump failed a mock Mueller interview with his lawyers.
Woodward sums up the state of the Trump White House by writing that Trump was an “emotionally overwrought, mercurial and unpredictable leader.” Woodward writes that the staff’s decision to circumvent the President was “a nervous breakdown of the executive power of the most powerful country in the world.”

Circumventing the President

The book opens with a dramatic scene. Former chief economic adviser Gary Cohn saw a draft letter he considered dangerous to national security on the Oval Office desk.
The letter would have withdrawn the US from a critical trade agreement with South Korea. Trump’s aides feared the fallout could jeopardize a top-secret national security program: the ability to detect a North Korean missile launch within just seven seconds.
Woodward reports Cohn was “appalled” that Trump might sign the letter. “I stole it off his desk,” Cohn told an associate. “I wouldn’t let him see it. He’s never going to see that document. Got to protect the country.”
Cohn was not alone. Former staff secretary Rob Porter worked with Cohn and used the same tactic on multiple occasions, Woodward writes. In addition to literally stealing or hiding documents from Trump’s desk, they sought to stall and delay decisions or distract Trump from orders they thought would endanger national security.
“A third of my job was trying to react to some of the really dangerous ideas that he had and try to give him reasons to believe that maybe they weren’t such good ideas,” said Porter, who as staff secretary handled the flow of presidential papers until he quit amid domestic violence allegations. He and others acted with the acquiescence of former chief of staff Reince Priebus, Woodward reports.
Woodward describes repeated attempts to bypass Trump as “no less than an administrative coup d’état.”

The Russia obsession

Woodward’s book relies on hundreds of hours of taped interviews and dozens of sources in Trump’s inner circle, as well as documents, files, diaries and memos, including a note handwritten by Trump himself. Woodward explains that he talked with sources on “deep background,” meaning he could use all the information but not say who provided it.
His reporting comes with the credibility of a long and storied history that separates this book from previous efforts on Trump. The author and Washington Post journalist has won two Pulitzer Prizes, including one for his coverage of the Watergate scandal that led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation.
In one revelatory anecdote, Woodward describes a scene in the White House residence. Trump’s lawyer, convinced the President would perjure himself, put Trump through a test — a practice interview for the one he might have with Mueller. Trump failed, according to Dowd, but the President still insisted he should testify.
Woodward writes that Dowd saw the “full nightmare” of a potential Mueller interview, and felt Trump acted like an “aggrieved Shakespearean king.”
But Trump seemed surprised at Dowd’s reaction, Woodward writes. “You think I was struggling?” Trump asked.
Then, in an even more remarkable move, Dowd and Trump’s current personal attorney Jay Sekulow went to Mueller’s office and re-enacted the mock interview. Their goal: to argue that Trump couldn’t possibly testify because he was incapable of telling the truth.
“He just made something up. That’s his nature,” Dowd said to Mueller.
The passage is an unprecedented glimpse behind the scenes of Mueller’s secretive operation — for the first time, Mueller’s conversations with Trump’s lawyers are captured.
“I need the president’s testimony,” Mueller said. “What was his intent on Comey? … I want to see if there was corrupt intent.”
Despite Dowd’s efforts, Trump continued to insist he could testify. “I think the President of the United States cannot be seen taking the fifth,” Trump said.
Dowd’s argument was stark: “There’s no way you can get through these. … Don’t testify. It’s either that or an orange jump suit.”
What he couldn’t say to Trump, according to Woodward, was what Dowd believed to be true: “You’re a fucking liar.”

Trump’s insults and humiliation

Throughout the book, Woodward portrays the President as a man obsessed with his standing in the media and with his core supporters. Trump appears to be lonely and increasingly paranoid, often watching hours of television in the White House residence. “They’re out to get me,” Trump said of Mueller’s team.
Trump’s closest advisers described him erupting in rage and profanity, and he seemed to enjoy humiliating others.
“This guy is mentally retarded,” Trump said of Sessions. “He’s this dumb southerner,” Trump told Porter, mocking Sessions by feigning a southern accent.
Trump said that Priebus is “like a little rat. He just scurries around.”
And Trump demeaned former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani to his face, when Giuliani was the only campaign surrogate willing to defend then-candidate Trump on television after the “Access Hollywood” tape, a bombshell video where Trump described sexually assaulting women.
“Rudy, you’re a baby,” Trump told the man who is now his attorney. “I’ve never seen a worse defense of me in my life. They took your diaper off right there. You’re like a little baby that needed to be changed. When are you going to be a man?”
Trump’s predecessors are not spared either. In a conversation with Sen. Lindsey Graham, Trump called President Barack Obama a “weak dick” for not acting in Syria, Woodward reports.

National security concerns

Woodward’s book takes readers inside top-secret meetings. On July 27, 2017, Trump’s national security leaders convened a gathering at “The Tank” in the Pentagon. The goal: an intervention to try to educate the President on the importance of allies and diplomacy.
Trump’s philosophy on diplomacy was personal. “This is all about leader versus leader. Man versus man. Me versus Kim,” he said of North Korea.
His inner circle was worried about “The Big Problem,” Woodward writes: Trump’s lack of understanding that his crusade to impose tariffs could endanger global security.
But the meeting didn’t go as planned.
Trump went off on his generals. “You should be killing guys. You don’t need a strategy to kill people,” Trump said of Afghanistan.
He questioned the wisdom of keeping US troops in South Korea.
“So Mr. President,” Cohn said to Trump, “what would you need in the region to sleep well at night?”
“I wouldn’t need a fucking thing,” the President said. “And I’d sleep like a baby.”
After Trump left the Tank, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared: “He’s a fucking moron.”
The book provides the context for the now-infamous quote that marked the beginning of the end for Tillerson’s tenure. Tillerson tried to downplay the dispute — “I’m not going to deal with petty stuff like that,” he said at a news conference after NBC reported the remark — but he was ultimately fired via tweet.
Woodward also quotes an unnamed White House official who gave an even more dire assessment of the meeting: “It seems clear that many of the president’s senior advisers, especially those in the national security realm, are extremely concerned with his erratic nature, his relative ignorance, his inability to learn, as well as what they consider his dangerous views.”
A recurrent theme in Woodward’s book is Trump’s seeming disregard for national security concerns because of his obsession with money — trade deficits and the cost of troops overseas.
In meeting after meeting, Trump questions why the US has to pay for such a large troop presence in South Korea.
“We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Mattis, the defense secretary, bluntly explained to Trump at one January 2018 meeting, which prompted Mattis to tell close associates afterward that Trump had the understanding of a “fifth or sixth grader.”
Trump still wasn’t convinced. “I think we could be so rich if we weren’t stupid,” he later said in the meeting, arguing the US was being played as “suckers,” Woodward reports.

The ‘Ernest Hemingway’ of Twitter

Trump’s tweets — and his infatuation with Twitter — are a theme throughout the book.
Woodward reveals that Trump ordered printouts of his tweets and studied them to find out which ones were most popular. “The most effective tweets were often the most shocking,” Woodward writes.
Twitter was a source of great consternation for national security leaders, who feared — and warned Trump — “Twitter could get us into a war.”
Appalled by some of his more outrageous posts, Trump’s aides tried to form a Twitter “committee” to vet the President’s tweets, but they failed to stop their boss.
Priebus, who was blindsided when Trump announced his firing on Twitter, referred to the presidential bedroom as “the devil’s workshop” and called the early morning hours and Sunday night — a time of many news-breaking tweets — “the witching hour.”
Trump, however, saw himself as a Twitter wordsmith.
“It’s a good thing,” Trump said when Twitter expanded its character count to 280, “but it’s a bit of a shame because I was the Ernest Hemingway of 140 characters.”

‘A zoo without walls’

Finally, “Fear” is filled with slights, insults and takedowns from both family and staff that speak to the chaos, infighting and drama that Trump allows to fester around him.
Both Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are targeted by the inner circle.
There is a pointed shot at Ivanka from the President’s now-ostracized chief strategist Steve Bannon, who frequently clashed with the first daughter and her husband.
“You’re nothing but a fucking staffer!” Bannon screamed at Ivanka at a staff meeting, according to Woodward. “You walk around this place and act like you’re in charge, and you’re not. You’re on staff!”
“I’m not a staffer!” she shouted back. “I’ll never be a staffer. I’m the first daughter” — she really used the title, Woodward writes — “and I’m never going to be a staffer!”
Two of the harshest comments in the book are directed at Trump and come from his chiefs of staff.
After Trump’s Charlottesville, Virginia, controversy, in which he failed to condemn white supremacists, Cohn tried to resign but was instead dressed down by Trump and accused of “treason.”
Kelly, who is Trump’s current chief of staff, told Cohn afterward, according to notes Cohn made of the exchange: “If that was me, I would have taken that resignation letter and shoved it up his ass six different times.”
And Priebus, Trump’s first chief of staff, encapsulated the White House and the thrust of Woodward’s book by describing the administration as a place with “natural predators at the table.”
“When you put a snake and a rat and a falcon and a rabbit and a shark and a seal in a zoo without walls,” Priebus is quoted as saying, “things start getting nasty and bloody.”

John McCain’s Death Reminds Us Just How Petty Trump Is

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORKER)

 

Donald Trump’s Response to John McCain’s Death Reminds Us Just How Petty He Is

Donald Trump is a small, petty man. He is a liar and a crook. And his legal problems are mounting. Each one of these statements has been true since January 20, 2017, when Trump became the President of the United States. But the remarkable events of the past week have highlighted and confirmed the essence of this President, and the terms on which he continues to hold office.

On Monday morning, someone in the White House ordered that the U.S. flag atop the building—which had been flying at half-staff to honor the memory of Senator John McCain, who died on Saturday—be raised to its normal position. Who was responsible for this action? President Trump, of course.

Over the weekend, Trump declined to issue a personal statement praising McCain, instead confining himself to a tweet in which he offered condolences to McCain’s family. You might argue that, in doing so, the President was avoiding hypocrisy—the enmity between the two men was long-standing and bitter. After the Helsinki summit, earlier this year, McCain called Trump’s joint press conference with Vladimir Putin “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American President in memory.” If, after all this acrimony, Trump had said something positive about McCain, it would have rung hollow.

But messing with the flag that flies above the White House was different. The flag represents the United States and the office of the Presidency, not Trump personally. After the death of a prominent U.S. politician, such as a former President or prominent senator, it is standard practice for the sitting President to issue a proclamation ordering the flag to be lowered to half-staff until the burial, which, in this case, will be next Sunday. Whatever one thinks of McCain’s political views, his record—five and a half years in a Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camp, thirty-one years in the Senate, and two Presidential bids—surely merited such an honor. As Mark Knoller, of CBS News, noted on Monday morning, Trump failed to order the proclamation. Evidently, there is no limit to his smallness.

The outcry was immediate and broad-based, and, in this instance, Trump backed down. On Monday afternoon, the White House press office released a statement in his name, which said, “Despite our differences on policy and politics, I respect Senator John McCain’s service to our country and, in his honor, have signed a proclamation to fly the flag of the United States at half-staff until the day of his interment.”

Who persuaded Trump to change course? Was there a rebellion in the West Wing? The initial reports about the reversal didn’t say. But it was clear that the last thing the White House needs right now is another public-relations disaster. Although McCain’s death knocked the saga of Michael Cohen’s guilty plea off the front pages, at least temporarily, the past week was a disaster for the White House, and a reminder that Trump’s pettiness is only exceeded by his deceitfulness. Is there anybody in the entire country who now believes anything he says about the payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal that Cohen helped orchestrate?

In the words of Glenn Kessler, the head of the Washington Post’s fact-checking team, “Trump and his allies have been deliberately dishonest at every turn in their statements regarding payments to Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal.” No surprise there, of course. This is a man who used to pose as his own press agent to plant fake stories about himself; who has claimed—on the basis of no evidence whatsoever—to have seen Muslims in New Jersey celebrating after the 9/11 attacks; and who has routinely exaggerated his wealth by a factor of ten or more.

For habitual liars, telling untruths is “partly practice and partly habit,” William Hazlitt once wrote. “It requires an effort in them to speak truth.” Trump seldom makes the exertion. From the start of Trump’s Presidency to the beginning of this month, Kessler’s team had “documented 4,229 false or misleading claims from the president—an average of nearly 7.6 a day.”

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Most of these falsehoods Trump has got away with, but he may not get away with his denials and dodges regarding the Daniels and McDougal payments. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York—having secured the coöperation of Cohen and the reported coöperation of David Pecker, who is the head of the company that owns the National Enquirer, and Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization—already seems to have strong evidence that Trump was part of a conspiracy to evade campaign-finance laws. Last week, Cohen told a federal court that, in helping arrange the payoffs to Daniels and McDougal, he acted “at the direction of a candidate for federal office.” According to the Wall Street Journal, Pecker “told federal prosecutors that Mr. Trump had knowledge of Mr. Cohen’s payments to women.”

Some of Trump’s defenders are complaining that the Feds, having failed to nail the President on the charge of conspiring with Russia to influence the 2016 election, are now “trying to Al Capone the President”—that is, get him on a technicality. Others in the Trump camp are falling back on the legal argument that a sitting President can’t be indicted, or that Hillary Clinton’s campaign also violated campaign laws. But, apart from Trump himself, virtually nobody seems to be claiming that he didn’t direct the payoffs.

It would be an irony, of course, if it were the Stormy Daniels story, rather than the Russia probe, that brought Trump to book. It wouldn’t be entirely surprising, though. Sometime, somewhere, Trump’s crooked past was going to catch up with him.

Here’s a quick reminder of the rap sheet. Turning a blind eye to money laundering at his New Jersey casinos. Operating a bogus university that bilked middle-income seniors out of their retirement savings. Stiffing his suppliers as a matter of course. Selling condos to Russians and other rich foreigners who may well have been looking to launder hot money. Entering franchising deals with Eastern European oligarchs and other shady characters. For decades, Trump has run roughshod over laws and regulations.

To protect himself from whistle-blowers, financial cops, and plaintiffs, Trump relied on nondisclosure agreements, lax enforcement, and his reputation for uncompromising litigiousness. But since May, 2017, when he fired James Comey and opened the door to the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel, things have been slowly unraveling for the President. (Indeed, Mueller’s team tipped off the Southern District about Cohen’s alleged misdeeds.) Last week, the unwinding process seemed to speed up.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean Trump is finished. Whatever happens on the investigative front, it is hard to believe that his own Justice Department will approve an indictment of him while he remains in office. And, as long as the vast majority of G.O.P. voters continue to support him, the Party’s leaders on Capitol Hill, whose continued support he needs, are very unlikely to turn on him.

A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which was taken after the news about Cohen’s plea and the conviction of Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, shows that Trump’s approval rating has barely budged. So does the weekly Gallup poll, which was updated on Monday. In both surveys, Trump’s rating is in the low forties, where it has been for months. “We’ve had this enormous series of events, and these numbers don’t change very much,” Bill McInturff, one of the pollsters who carried out the NBC/Wall Street Journalpoll, told the Journal. And so we go on.

Trump administration could be holding 30,000 border kids by August

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER)

 

Trump administration could be holding 30,000 border kids by August, officials say

The Trump administration could be holding 30,000 illegal immigrant children by the end of August as a result of its push to enforce federal immigration laws, which has led to the separation of children from their parents and guardians as those adults are prosecuted.

A senior administration official who asked not to be identified said the Department of Health and Human Services has been taking in about 250 children per day in recent weeks. HHS is the agency that is taking in children when they are separated from their families.

An HHS official added that the agency expects to be taking about 250 kids each day at least for the next two months. If that estimate holds, HHS could be caring for 18,500 more children by the end of August.

The HHS official said as of Friday, HHS was already holding 11,500 children, which means the total could hit 30,000 by August.

The practice of separating children from illegal immigrant adults has become highly controversial in the last few weeks, and is something Democrats have highlighted as a practice that needs to stop.

The Trump administration has defended the policy by saying illegal immigrants need to know that if they try entering the U.S., they will be prosecuted, which could lead to separation from their children. Officials have said U.S. citizens face the same risk when they commit crimes.

But administration officials have also said they support a change to the federal law that requires prosecution and family separation, and have blamed Democrats for current law.

Illegal immigration along the southwestern U.S. border has spiked in the last few months, even though administration officials have said they expect Trump’s zero-tolerance policy to eventually dissuade more from coming. A Justice Department spokesman told the Washington Examiner last week the zero-tolerance policy is not expected to lead to a decline in the number of illegal immigrants attempting to make the trek to the U.S. from primarily Central American countries until early fall.

Under current practice, HHS takes care of unaccompanied illegal immigrant children as well as now those under the age of 18 who must be cared for while the adults they were apprehended with are prosecuted for illegal entry. This spring, Sessions directed federal prosecutors stationed at the border to bring charges against all migrants that U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers took into custody.

However, family units that arrive at ports of entry and request asylum will not be prosecuted because they have not attempted to enter the country illegally, several DHS officials confirmed to the Washington Examiner. They will also be kept together as they go through the asylum process. These groups are detained in DHS facilities while minors are directed to HHS.

In an attempt to secure housing for the coming flood of children, HHS selected the Tornillo Land Port of Entry near El Paso, Texas, last week as the first back-up site to temporarily house around 360 minors.

The Trump administration is also advancing a plan to tentatively house unaccompanied minors in tent cities located on three Texas military bases due to increasing border apprehensions and a shortage of beds for the underage immigrants.

“[Health and Human Services] is running out of space because of the implications of the zero tolerance policy, but also because we continue to see this uptick in numbers,” an official confirmed to the Washington Examiner last week.

HHS officials are looking at Fort Bliss near El Paso, Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, and Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, the official confirmed.

‘What the hell?’ Trump-Kim love fest ignores human rights nightmare

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE POLITICO NEWS AGENCY)

 

Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump are pictured. | Getty Images
Few observers expected President Donald Trump to challenge Kim Jong Un on human rights. The subject in general hasn’t been a priority for him. | Kevin Lim/The Strait Times/Handout/Getty Images

‘What the hell?’ Trump-Kim love fest ignores human rights nightmare

The president once raged at the North Korean leader as a ‘madman’ and a killer, but showed little concern for his brutal style during their meeting in Singapore.

Almost exactly one year ago, North Korea returned an imprisoned 22-year-old American college student to his family in the United States. It was not a happy reunion.

Otto Warmbier, whom the North Koreans had imprisoned for more than a year, arrived in a coma and died a few days later — spurring President Donald Trump to rail against the “brutality” of a North Korean government that lacked “basic human decency.” Trump gradually focused his attacks on the regime’s leader, Kim Jong Un, calling him a “sick puppy” and a “madman who doesn’t mind starving or killing his people.”

In Singapore this week, Trump warmly embraced that so-called madman.

He called Kim a “smart” and “funny guy” who “loves his people.” He predicted the two of them would have a “terrific relationship.” Trump told reporters that human rights had come up only briefly, but he gave no indication that he had confronted Kim about Warmbier’s death, whose precise cause remains unclear.

Still, Trump described what happened to Warmbier as a catalyst for the sudden, if uncertain, rapprochement between America and North Korea, saying the University of Virginia student “did not die in vain.”

Trump’s public turnabout on Kim and his regime’s atrocious human rights record was among the most dizzying developments of the past 48 hours, which saw the two leaders meet in Singapore for an unprecedented nuclear summit. It dismayed lawmakers, human rights activists and others who — while supportive of diplomacy — fear that Trump went overboard in his flattery of Kim to the point of normalizing his rule.

“Kim’s gulags, public executions, planned starvation, are legitimized on the world stage,” Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut raged on Twitter. “What the hell?”

“Talking to dictators is one thing; embracing them is another,” former Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement, denouncing “the horrendous human rights abuses North Korea’s leaders perpetrate against their own people.”

“It was really over the top and excessive,” added Sarah Margon, Washington director for Human Rights Watch.

Amid the outrage is the question of what, practically speaking, Trump could have accomplished.

Past American presidents have pressed Middle Eastern and Asian autocrats over lists of political prisoners numbering in the dozens or hundreds. Kim has imprisoned many thousands of people for what amount to thought crimes, and political executions are commonplace. As a self-proclaimed supreme ruler, it may be nearly impossible for him to concede that he has governed in anything but a judicious way.

Some activists nevertheless argued that Trump could have used his interaction with Kim to win a broad gesture such as granting the United Nations access to his forced labor camps, and that if Kim agreed, it would have bolstered the credibility of his pledge to denuclearize. But Kim offered no hint that he is prepared to address the subject, and a joint statement he and Trump signed after their meeting made no mention of it.

Kim’s totalitarian regime may be the world’s cruelest, with practices reminiscent of the Nazis and the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin. The government, run by Kim’s father and grandfather before him, is believed to keep as many as 100,000 people— quite possibly more — in gulags and other detention sites, many in slave-like conditions. Defectors describe a terror state with zero tolerance for dissent, in which entire families are often punished for the actions of one member.

The young Kim — thought to be in his early- to mid-30s — has ruled just as ruthlessly as his father, who died in 2011. He’s alleged to have consolidated power by having an uncle executed — reportedly by anti-aircraft guns — and ordering his half-brother’s murder with nerve agent in a Malaysian airport.

Few observers expected Trump to challenge Kim vigorously on human rights. The subject in general hasn’t been a priority for the Republican president.

Just a few months ago, however, North Korea was an exception to that rule: Throughout 2017, as Trump ramped up sanctions on Pyongyang, he repeatedly highlighted the “depraved” Kim regime’s human rights abuses.

During a visit to South Korea last fall, Trump denounced the “horror of life” across the border, saying that people “would rather be slaves than live in North Korea.” In January, Trump invited to his State of the Union address Ji Seong-ho, a North Korean amputee who’d fled the country on crutches that he raised in defiance as Trump hailed his bravery on national television.

And by all accounts, Trump was genuinely distressed by the fate of Warmbier, whom the North Koreans held captive for 17 months for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda poster from a hotel where he was staying during a visit. (In a statement Tuesday, Warmbier’s family said: “We appreciate President Trump’s recent comments about our family. We are proud of Otto and miss him. Hopefully something positive can come from this.”)

But Trump is a real estate mogul who puts great stock in personal relationships, and he appears to have decided it’s more productive to be nice to a ruthless autocrat already accustomed to being treated like a god.

When asked by Voice of America’s Greta Van Susteren how Kim reacted when Trump raised human rights, Trump said: “Very well,” before acknowledging it was only a small part of the conversation. Trump went on to indicate that the reason Kim has been a “rough guy” is because that’s the only way his family has known how to rule.

“He’s doing what he’s seen done,” Trump said, suggesting that Kim can change. “He’s smart, loves his people, he loves his country. He wants a lot of good things, and that’s why he’s doing this.”

Although Trump is the first sitting president willing to meet face-to-face with a North Korean leader, other U.S. presidents have sat down with autocrats from friendly and adversarial countries alike.

Former President Richard Nixon made history when he met China’s Mao Zedong in February 1972. Trump’s immediate predecessor, Barack Obama, met with Cuba’s Raúl Castro. Plenty of U.S. presidents have met, and even held hands, with the monarchs who’ve led Saudi Arabia.

James Carafano, a foreign policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation, said that in the long run the United States must engage North Korea on its human rights practices but that diplomacy at this stage requires prioritization.

“In good U.S. diplomacy human rights is always on the menu. That doesn’t mean it’s always the first course,” Carafano wrote in an email.

Several U.S. lawmakers, including top Democrats, sent out carefully crafted statements that either didn’t raise or made scant mention of human rights — reflecting a widespread belief that ridding North Korea of its nuclear weapons through diplomacy is a much higher priority.

“We must remain sober about who Kim Jong Un is: a brutal dictator who has killed his family, overseen campaigns of mass murder and starvation, and masterfully manipulated his rivals on the global stage,” Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said at the end of a lengthy statement.

One concern is that Kim — who rarely leaves North Korea and has limited diplomatic experience — will take Trump’s lack of emphasis on human rights as a sign of American indifference to how he treats his people.

Amnesty International spearheaded a letter to Trump in advance of the summit urging him to seize the opportunity this week to ask Kim for immediate positive moves on human rights. Francisco Bencosme, who handles Asia-related issues for Amnesty, stressed that it’s not known exactly what Trump said to Kim about human rights, but it doesn’t appear the president took a strong stance.

Bencosme said Trump could have asked Kim to give U.N. officials access to North Korean prisoners, or urged him to help reunite North and South Korean families torn apart by the Korean War. Such moves would have been “a way of opening up the aperture on human rights issues,” Bencosme said.

And such moves are not without precedent.

The Obama administration’s outreach to Myanmar, long an isolated, pariah regime, included requests that the government free hundreds of political prisoners to help demonstrate its seriousness about improving ties with the United States. That led to freedom for at least 1,500 people, including some very prominent opponents of the junta that had run the country. But even within the Obama administration there were fierce debates over how much to push Myanmar on human rights.

When asked by a reporter Tuesday whether he had “betrayed” the people trapped in North Korea’s gulag system, Trump grew defensive — then suggested those prisoners should think long-term.

“I think I’ve helped them because I think things will change,” Trump said. “That large group of people that you’re talking about — I think ultimately they are going to be one of the great winners as a group.”

Asked about Warmbier, Trump said the college student’s tragic death had played a pivotal role in bringing about the summit — even though he had not previously mentioned it as a reason for his diplomatic push with Kim.

“I think without Otto, this would not have happened. Something happened from that day. It was a terrible thing. It was brutal. But a lot of people started to focus on what was going on, including North Korea,” Trump said.

“I really think that Otto is someone who did not die in vain.”

Omarosa tweet to Nigerian President: ‘He said it’ (Trump Calling Nigeria A Sh-t Hole)

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Omarosa tweet to Nigerian President: ‘He said it’

Washington (CNN)Former White House aide Omarosa Manigault-Newman seemed to say Monday that President Donald Trump did call certain African nations “shithole countries” during a January meeting in the Oval Office.

In a tweet on Monday afternoon, the former “Apprentice” star turned assistant to the President and communications director for the Office of Public Liaison addressed visiting Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and wrote, “President @MBuhari FYI he said it. #Naija.”
Earlier this year, Trump denied making that remark after news reports about it and assured reporters who questioned him about it that he was not a racist.
Trump had been asked about the comments Monday during a news conference with Buhari and made no such denial.
“You do have some countries that are in very bad shape and very tough places to live in,” he said in the Rose Garden. “We didn’t discuss it, because the President knows me, and he knows where I’m coming from and I appreciate that.”
When asked for his side, Buhari had said he didn’t know whether to believe news reports about Trump’s remarks.
“The best thing for me is to keep quiet,” he said.
CNN has reached out to Manigault-Newman for comment.
Manigault-Newman has been increasingly critical of Trump since she departed the White House last year. During an appearance on the show “Celebrity Big Brother” in February, she said she would never “in a million years” vote for him again.
Though she issued a tweet herself Monday, she previously said she wasn’t a fan of her former boss’ activity on Twitter.
“I was haunted by tweets every single day, like what is he going to tweet next?” a tearful Manigault-Newman said in a “Celebrity Big Brother” clip.
Manigault-Newman resigned from her position at the White House in December. She reportedly had a tense relationship with White House chief of staff John Kelly; both Kelly and former chief of staff Reince Priebus wanted to let her go, a former White House official told CNN.

The People Of Russia, China And U.S. Aren’t Enemy’s: Only Our Leaders Are That Stupid

The People Of Russia, China And U.S. Aren’t Enemy’s: Only Our Leaders Are That Stupid

The people of the great country’s of Russia and America have no interest in killing each other. Both of our nations people want the same things, peace, prosperity and security for ourselves and our families. We the people of almost all nations do not want warfare, only Generals, people in the ‘security agencies’, and people who make the war machines want armed conflicts with each other. It is only they and a few ignorant morons in the Kremlin and in the West Wing at the White House who would ever wish such ignorance to exist. The people of Russia and the people of the United States know that there is over a billion people on this planet who hate all of us, but it is not each other! The average citizen of both country’s want a good roof over their heads, enough food for our families, transportation, heat and air conditioning, lights, and the trash to get picked up off our streets at least once a week. It is the job of our governments to provide these things in exchange for their salaries and benefit packages. It is not their jobs to try to cause wars with other nations people for the end results of such stupidity is always the same, a lot of dead innocent civilians.

 

I knew that from the time the Berlin wall fell in November of 1989 up until the time that President Putin first took office in 1999 that the American politicians and Hollywood movies painting all of Russia, their leaders, and their military as a bunch of incompetent clowns, that they were making a huge mistake. Russia’s former Communist military leaders, and KGB leaders did what all such people do, they threw incompetence and graft destroy their own country’s and imprison their own people. Those who dare disagree with them or point their evil out to the public or their shortfalls end up dead or in prison. Hollywood, our political leaders, and our military leaders just kept stepping all over the pride of the people of the great country of Russia and quite frankly they were doing this same thing toward China. These idiots kept saying that America was the ‘ last remaining super power’ while stomping all over the national pride of these great nations.

 

Russia, America, and China all have one common enemy and only fools pit us against each other when we all have an enemy that wants everyone in all three of these nations to die as quickly as possible. What appears obvious to me is that none of our top leaders seem to understand the level of the danger they are putting their own people in by dividing their attention away from our real enemy. All three of these nations leaders are making huge mistakes by working against each other when we should all be striving to be working on economic and security partnerships. This common enemy of all the nations on Earth is the religion of Islam. China, Russia, and the United States have all lost thousands of our innocent men, women and children to this religion that is based in pure hate. The President of the great people of China, Mr. XI seems far more interested in expanding his military reach to the east and south when he should know damn well that their real enemy lies at their west and southwest.

 

This article today though is mostly about the leaders of Russia and America. I am directly speaking about President Putin and President Trump. This paragraph is going to be about President Trump thus saving the end of the article to talk to President Putin. Those of you who follow this blog know that I have followed the career of Mr. Trump since he became the face of greed and hypocrisy. As I have stated several times the opinion that I formed of him ten years or more ago has not changed in that everything he has done as the President has only strengthened that opinion of him. This opinion is that he is and has always been a person of no faith system as his religion, what he worships is himself and he is no friend to any of our three nations. The world suffered through eight years of the war criminal George W Bush now we get a President who is nothing short of a traitor (my opinion/belief).

 

I would like to finish this article talking about President Putin of Russia. When President Putin first took office in 1999 I understood the Russian people voting in “a strong man”, a man of guts and a strong will. President Putin was able to help the nation to regain its pride and swagger and that is a very good thing but his efforts to spread his ‘military wings’ has been at the expense of the lives and lively hood of the Russian people. If Mr. Putin had retired after those first ten years in office his people would be in much better shape financially than they are today. From the outside looking in it appears that Mr. Putin has been doing his best to revert the country back to having a Communist Dictator, himself. President Putin, just like President Trump, have been working with and cutting deals in the Middle-East. President Putin seems set on backing the Countries of Shiite Islamic Nations and kicking sand in the face of the Sunni Nations. President Trump on the other hand seems to have aligned our policies with the Sunni Islamic Nations. The people of these Islamic believing nations hate the guts of all the Russian and American people. There is no such thing as having any of them as ‘a friend or ally’. I totally understood President Putin’s stance on backing President al-Assad of Syria (Shiite) being that he allowed Russia to have a Naval Base located there. It obviously didn’t hurt that Syria for an Islamic country was quite secular in its makeup. But now that Syria is in this horrible civil war President Putin has become cozier with the Shiite governments of Iraq and of Iran which makes all the Sunni nations like Saudi Arabia very upset.

 

The leaders of these big three nations had better wake up very soon and decide to come together to combat the terminal cancer which is Islam itself. If the leaders of Russia, China, and America do not wise up and stop trying to show each other who has the biggest cannon they will all three drown in the blood of their own people. The people of Russia, China, and America are not each others enemy, we have no interest in these ‘military games’. From this side of the ocean it appears that President Putin has gone rogue on his own people and is steeling all of Russia’s wealth for himself and his associates. That sounds just like the Republicans and the Democrats here in America. These three leaders, these three governments must work together as trading partners and friends otherwise it is the people of the world, not just our three country’s that will go up in black flag induced smoke.

White House’s Rob Porter debacle is a sign of incompetence or hubris — or both  

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

The Fix

The White House’s Rob Porter debacle is a sign of incompetence or hubris — or both

 February 8 at 8:59 AM 
 6:15
Ex-wife of White House aide alleges emotional and physical abuse

Rob Porter’s ex-wife Jennie Willoughby told The Post in an interview that the White House aide was abusive during their marriage.

“Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor, and I can’t say enough good things about him,” White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly said in an initial statement Tuesday about allegations that the top White House aide had abused an ex-wife.

By Wednesday afternoon, Porter resigned amid allegations that he had abused another ex-wife, who produced photographs of her black eye. And Kelly was suddenly “shocked.”

“I was shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter. There is no place for domestic violence in our society,” Kelly said. But, he added: “I stand by my previous comments of the Rob Porter that I have come to know since becoming chief of staff, and believe every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation.”

Kelly was the man brought in to restore order to a White House in chaos. The Porter controversy has displayed once again how rudderless the West Wing remains.

It would be one thing for the White House to keep its powder dry as Porter faced allegations — to say what Kelly said at the end of his Wednesday statement: That “every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation.” The RNC recently has said it would let an investigation play out before returning money raised by its now-resigned former finance chair, Steve Wynn, who faces multiple sexual assault allegations.

But the White House decided to, instead, provide Porter a ringing endorsement. It opted to provide the kind of statements you would expect if they were convinced of Porter’s innocence.


Images of Colbie Holderness after an alleged incident with her then-husband Rob Porter in the early 2000s. (Courtesy of Colbie Holderness)

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was just as effusive.

“I have worked directly with Rob Porter nearly every day for the last year, and the person I know is someone of the highest integrity and exemplary character,” Sanders said. “Those of us who have the privilege of knowing him are better people because of it.”

Exactly how these statements found their way into the public domain is something we’re likely to see reporters dig into Thursday. Could it have been steered by communications director Hope Hicks, who is reportedly dating Porter? Was it merely an overreaction spurred by a siege mentality? Did Kelly, who has earned growing criticism for his comments this week about how young undocumented immigrants were “too lazy” to sign up for DACA (and then doubled down after a backlash), decide he wasn’t going to bow to media pressure?

Whatever the case, and whether this was emotion or calculation, it is remarkable just how wrong the White House got this one. Porter has reportedly not received a full security clearance, despite his high-ranking role as staff secretary — a gatekeeper serving closely alongside Kelly. Both ex-wives told The Post that they informed the FBI of Porter’s abuse during background interviews. And one of his ex-wives, Jennie Willoughby, told The Post that after she wrote a blog post about the abuse in April — without naming Porter — he repeatedly asked her to take it down and cited delays in his clearance process.

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Assuming all of that is accurate, it’s an indictment of how the White House handled Porter’s entire employment and an even bigger indictment of the staff’s initial reactions to the news Tuesday. It’s tough to believe nobody was asking questions about why Porter hadn’t received a full security clearance. But even if nobody cared to ask before, you have to believe they would ask once the Daily Mail confronted them with the allegations from the first ex-wife.

And if all of that is true, it’s impossible to understand how Kelly was truly “shocked” by any of this. It’s also really, really hard to understand why the White House didn’t check to make doubly sure that their initial statements about Porter wouldn’t come back to bite them — especially on an issue as sensitive as domestic abuse.

President Trump has repeatedly assured that he only hires the best people. This episode suggests the White House staff is either incompetent or has way too much hubris.

Trump White House Protects Known Serial Wife Beater

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

White House officials knew about Porter’s abuse allegations and scrambled to protect him

(CNN)Allegations of domestic abuse levied against top White House staffer Rob Porter by his ex-wives were known among senior aides to President Donald Trump for months, even as his stock in the West Wing continued to rise, multiple sources told CNN on Wednesday.

Porter denied the allegations but resigned on Wednesday.
A scramble ensued inside the West Wing to defend him when the claims became public this week, the sources said. That effort continues even after his resignation.
Senior White House officials were aware for months of the allegations made against Trump’s staff secretary, two sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday after Porter resigned.
Trump himself first learned of the allegations this week, two sources familiar with the matter said. He was upset when shown reports of the abuse, which first emerged on Tuesday. His daughter Ivanka Trump, serving as a White House senior adviser, was also deeply disturbed by the allegations, particularly by photographs of the alleged abuse, the sources said.
Porter’s ex-wives detailed the allegations to the FBI over the course of a routine background check, they told CNN’s MJ Lee on Wednesday. A year into the administration, Porter does not hold a security clearance.
By early fall, it was widely known among Trump’s top aides — including chief of staff John Kelly — both that Porter was facing troubles in obtaining the clearance and that his ex-wives claimed he had abused them. No action was taken to remove him from the staff.
Instead, Kelly and others oversaw an elevation in Porter’s standing. He was one of a handful of aides who helped draft last week’s State of the Union address. He traveled instead of Kelly to the World Economic Forum in Davos last month. And he was one of a select group of aides who shook Chinese President Xi Jinping’s hand during a state visit to Beijing in November.
The White House declined to comment on Wednesday when asked about Kelly’s knowledge of the allegations against Porter.

CNN obtained this 2005 photo of Colbie Holderness, who is the first ex-wife of White House staff secretary Rob Porter. Porter resigned on Wednesday, February 7.

Colbie Holderness, Porter’s first wife, and Jennifer Willoughby, Porter’s second wife, both said their ex-husband’s consistent abuse was the reason for their respective divorces.
Porter denied the allegations in a statement issued in the wake of his resignation.
“These outrageous allegations are simply false,” Porter said in his statement. “I have been transparent and truthful about these vile claims, but I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign.”

Intensive defense

The appearance of a top aide accused of abusing two ex-wives led to an intensive defense campaign on Tuesday evening, when the reports first emerged in the Daily Mail. Before the allegations first surfaced on Tuesday, the White House prepared a response defending Porter. Hope Hicks, who serves as the White House communications director and has been romantically involved with Porter, helped draft a supportive statement from Kelly, who spent much of Tuesday on Capitol Hill in immigration talks.
“Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor and I can’t say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him,” the statement from Kelly read. Hicks worked with White House press secretary Sarah Sanders and Josh Raffel, another White House spokesman who is close to Porter, to draft the statement, people familiar with it said.
Top officials remained staunch in their support of Porter on Wednesday. Kelly, who encouraged Porter to remain in his post despite the allegations, did not alter his effusive statement. Trump himself has “full confidence in his abilities and his performance,” according to Sanders.
When Hicks and Kelly discussed the matter on Tuesday, both agreed the White House should defend Porter, sources said. But by the next day, it was evident the show of support wouldn’t quiet the controversy.
Neither Porter nor Hicks were present in a Wednesday morning senior staff meeting, a White House official said. The White House press office was sent scrambling after more allegations against Porter were made, and several staffers spent the morning preparing to deal with the fallout.
Kelly, who has relied on Porter to execute a strict system of information control to the President, insisted that he’d be able to weather the allegations and remain in his job, according to a White House official. But Porter resigned anyway, over Kelly’s objections. Kelly has long insisted that Porter stay in his job, even as he considered approaches from the private sector, including from Uber, according to one administration source.
A person familiar with West Wing dynamics said Porter has expressed interest in an elevated policy role over the past weeks, beyond the position he currently holds. Last month he told colleagues that he wasn’t planning on leaving the White House to take an outside role.

White House responsibilities

As staff secretary, Porter’s responsibility was mainly in the flow of paper that crossed Trump’s desk, including the wave of executive orders and actions that Trump inked during the first months of his tenure. A lawyer, Porter also participated in the process of legally vetting the myriad documents that require the President’s signature.
Porter’s role was under-the-radar, and Trump himself remained largely unfamiliar with him for weeks before his role was explained. The President was impressed by Porter’s educational credentials — including degrees from Harvard and Oxford — a person familiar with the matter said.
When John Kelly replaced Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff, Porter’s role expanded. Kelly — looking to correct an issue that plagued the White House under Priebus — imposed a strict system of information flow to the President, elevating the importance of Porter’s task in managing the documents, news clippings and briefing books that entered the Oval Office.
Many aides in the West Wing described themselves as shocked at the allegations, which they said are not in character with the mild-mannered lawyer they have worked alongside over the past year.
And some expressed dismay that the allegations against Porter weren’t acted upon when senior members of Trump’s team became aware of them.

Another uncomfortable moment

It proved another uncomfortable situation for a White House that has been largely out of step with the #MeToo movement that has swept the country. Trump, given the range of sexual harassment and assault allegations against him, has long struggled to respond to the nationwide focus on the mistreatment against women.
During the election, at least 15 women accused Trump of ranging from sexual harassment and sexual assault to lewd behavior around women. They came forward in the wake of a 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape of Trump released in October 2016 caught him saying on a hot mic: “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab them by the p****. You can do anything.”
But the White House — through spokespeople Sarah Sanders and others — have dismissed all the allegations against him as old news that had been litigated during the 2016 campaign.
Trump told the British broadcaster Piers Morgan in January that he was not a feminist because he was “for everyone.”

Trump Flip Flops On Iran Sanction-Again

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Despite threats, Trump to extend sanctions relief for Iran — sources

US president likely to link decision with new, targeted sanctions on businesses and people connected with regime

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, right, listen as President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House, January 10, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, right, listen as President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House, January 10, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — US President Donald Trump is expected this week to extend relief from economic sanctions to Iran as part of the nuclear deal, citing progress in amending US legislation that governs Washington’s participation in the landmark accord, according to US officials and others familiar with the administration’s deliberations.

But Trump is likely to pair his decision to renew the concessions to Tehran with new, targeted sanctions on Iranian businesses and people, the six people briefed on the matter said. The restrictions could hit some firms and individuals whose sanctions were scrapped under the 2015 nuclear agreement, a decision that could test Tehran’s willingness to abide by its side of the bargain.

The individuals — two administration officials, two congressional aides and two outside experts who consult with the government — weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity. They cautioned that Trump could still reject the recommendation from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis and national security adviser H.R. McMaster and that no final decision had been made. They said heated discussions were going on within the administration and with key Republican lawmakers.

The State Department and White House didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Trump must decide by Friday to extend the nuclear-related sanctions relief for Iran’s central bank or re-impose the restrictions that President Barack Obama suspended two years ago.

An Iranian man reads a copy of the daily newspaper ‘Omid Javan’ bearing a picture of US President Donald Trump with a headline that reads in Persian ‘Crazy Trump and logical JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action),’ on October 14, 2017, in front of a kiosk in the capital Tehran. (AFP Photo/STR)

The old, central bank sanctions largely cut Iran out of the international financial system, and are considered to be the most powerful of the penalties imposed by the US during the Obama era, along with global penalties for buying Iranian oil. Some Iran hawks want to see both sets of restrictions return, but the six people with knowledge of Trump’s plans say the president isn’t planning to reinstate either at this point.

The individuals said Trump’s top national security aides appear to have successfully made a different case to the president: Waiving anew for 120 days the nuclear-linked sanctions while simultaneously imposing new measures to punish Iran’s ballistic missile testing, alleged terrorism support and human rights violations.

Such a balance could satisfy Trump’s demand to raise pressure on Iran, while not embarking on a frontal assault on the most central trade-offs of the nuclear agreement. While the US and other world powers rolled back economic restrictions on Tehran, the Iranians severely curtailed their enrichment of uranium and other nuclear activity. Trump has complained that many of the Iranian restrictions expire next decade and has vacillated between talk of toughening the deal and pulling the US out entirely.

A senior State Department official told reporters Wednesday that Tillerson and Mattis would be meeting with Trump on the matter before an announcement Friday. Trump, Tillerson and Vice President Mike Pence were scheduled to have lunch Wednesday at the White House after a formal Cabinet meeting.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson listens as US President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House, Dec. 20, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The decision coincides with the administration’s efforts to secure a face-saving fix from Congress on the requirement for Trump to address Iran’s compliance every three months. In October, Trump decertified the nuclear deal under US law, saying the sanctions relief was disproportionate to Iran’s nuclear concessions, and describing the arrangement as contrary to America’s national security interests.

Tillerson told The Associated Press in an interview last week that he and others were working with Congress on ways to amend the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, or INARA, to resolve concerns Trump has with the deal. That will be coupled with diplomacy with European government on addressing Iran’s missile testing and support for the Hezbollah militant movement, Shiite rebels in Yemen and Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“The president said he is either going to fix it or cancel it,” Tillerson said of the overall deal. “We are in the process of trying to deliver on the promise he made to fix it.”

On the INARA law, it’s unlikely Congress could move fast enough to codify changes by Friday. So Tillerson and others are hoping to convince the president there’s enough momentum to warrant another extension of sanctions relief and not jeopardizing the entire agreement. The goal would be for Congress to make the changes sometime before May, when Trump is next required to address the sanctions.

The new Iranian long-range missile Khoramshahr is displayed during the annual military parade marking the anniversary of the outbreak of its devastating 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, on September 22,2017 in Tehran. (AFP/str)

Trump has repeatedly dismissed the Iran deal, one of Obama’s signature foreign policy achievements, as the worst ever negotiated by the US He has particularly bristled at having to give Iran a “thumbs up” every few months by acknowledging that it is meeting the requirements to invest in foreign banks, sell petroleum overseas, buy US and European aircraft, and so forth.

Iran hawks in Congress and elsewhere worry the changes being discussed don’t strengthen the nuclear deal enough.

One would automatically re-impose, or “snap back,” suspended sanctions if Iran commits certain actions, possibly including things unrelated to its nuclear program. Currently, Congress must act for the sanctions to snap back.

Another proposal would require snapback if Iran refuses a request from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s atomic watchdog, to inspect a military site not currently being monitored. Iran hawks worry the IAEA, fearing a confrontation with Iran, won’t even ask for such an inspection.

Other debates center on Iran’s missile testing. Hardline Republican senators Tom Cotton, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz want sanctions back if Iran launches any ballistic missiles capable of targeting territory outside of Iran, such as Israel or Saudi Arabia, and not just an intercontinental missile.

Senate Democrats, generally more supportive of the nuclear deal, are pushing their own suggestions. One would let a simple House and Senate majority stop any effort to snap back sanctions, unless the president vetoes the block. While such a mechanism is unlikely to threaten Trump in the short term, some anti-deal Republicans fear it could be used against them under a future Democratic president.

READ MORE:

White House: 200 Year Old ‘Jackson Magnolia Tree’ To Be Removed

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

A large portion of a famed Jackson magnolia tree, at left, will be removed, White House officials said Tuesday. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

The enormous magnolia tree stood watch by the South Portico of the White House for nearly two centuries. Its dark green, glossy leaves shaded politicians and heads of state. Its ivory flowers bloomed through times of peace and war. It is the oldest tree on the White House grounds, a witness to Easter egg rolls and state ceremonies, a resignation, a plane crash, all the tumult and triumph of 39 presidencies.

But the iconic magnolia is now too old and badly damaged to remain in place, the White House announced Tuesday. At the recommendation of specialists from the National Arboretum, first lady Melania Trump called for a large portion of the tree to be removed this week.

The decision, first reported by CNN, comes after decades of attempts to hold the aged tree up with a steel pole and cables. Arboretum experts said that rigging is now compromised and that the wood of the magnolia’s trunk is too delicate for further interventions. Any other tree in that condition would have been cut down years ago.

But this is not any other tree. According to White House lore, the stately evergreen was brought to Washington as a seedling by Andrew Jackson. The magnolia was a favorite tree of his wife, Rachel, who had died just days after he was elected. Jackson blamed the vicious campaign — during which his political opponents questioned the legitimacy of his marriage — for his wife’s untimely death.

The new planting, which came from the couple’s Tennessee farm, the Hermitage, would serve as a living monument to her in the place she despised; before her death, Rachel had reportedly said, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of God than live in that palace at Washington.”

Long after Jackson left office, his magnolia remained. Other trees were planted to supplement it, and the tree became a fixture in White House events. Herbert Hoover reportedly took breakfast and held Cabinet meetings at a table beneath its sprawling branches. Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke with Winston Churchill in its shade. Richard Nixon strode past it as he left the White House for the last time after his resignation. In 1994, a Maryland man piloting a stolen plane clipped the tree before suffering a deadly crash against the White House wall. And for decades, the magnolia was featured on the back of the $20 bill.

“No tree on the White House grounds can reveal so many secrets of romance and history,” longtime White House butler Alonzo Fields once told the Associated Press.

In 2006, when the National Park Service initiated a “Witness Tree Protection Program” to study historically and biologically important trees in the Washington area, the Jackson magnolia was at the top of the program’s list. By then, the tree was tall enough to reach the White House’s second-story windows and had already eclipsed the minimum life expectancy for its species — about 150 years.

According to a report from the NPS program, workers attempted to repair a gash in the tree in the 1940s. But within a few decades, much of the interior portion of the tree had decayed, leaving behind a “rind” of brittle wood. Those surviving portions were held in place by a 30-foot pole and guy-wires. “It is doubtful that without this external support the specimen would long survive,” the report said.

Ultimately, those measures could not allay safety concerns about the tree, said White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham. Visitors and members of the press are frequently standing right in front of the magnolia when the president departs on Marine One; the high winds from the helicopter could make a limb collapse more likely.

Keith Pitchford, a D.C.-based certified arborist, is familiar with the Jackson magnolia but has not professionally assessed it. He wondered whether the removal may be premature: “If you can lower the tree and make it a bit more squat, it really prolongs the life of these trees we thought were hazardous,” he said.

According to Grisham, the first lady requested that wood from the magnolia be preserved and seedlings be made available for a possible replanting in the same area.

Already, progeny of the historic tree are thriving in other spots nationwide. It’s said that Lyndon B. Johnson had a seedling from the magnolia planted outside a friend’s home in Texas so that when Lady Bird stayed there she could look out the window and imagine the president at work in the White House. Ronald Reagan gifted a cutting to chief of staff Howard Baker Jr. for his retirement in 1988. Then-first lady Michelle Obama donated a seedling to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “people’s garden” in 2009.

Jackson’s original magnolia at the Hermitage was destroyed along with hundreds of other trees during a devastating tornado in the late 1990s. It was ultimately replaced by new trees donated from the Museum of Appalachia in Norris, Tenn. According to Michael Grantham, gardens manager for the Hermitage, staff always said that those trees were clones of the White House magnolia — but without an identifying label, no one knew for sure. So Grantham sent tissue samples to a plant genetics lab at Cornell University.

“It was not an exact match,” he said. “What we got was probably seedlings from underneath the tree.”

Someday, Grantham would like to bring a cutting, or an exact clone, of the White House magnolia back to the Hermitage. “I know there are some out there,” he said. In those trees, Jackson’s two-century-old tribute lives on.

Adrian Higgins contributed to this report.

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