‘Maybe we will, maybe we won’t’: Trump doubles down on threat to take oil from Syria

Donald Trump has renewed his threats to forcibly steal oil from Syria, a move which experts say would amount to a war crime.

The president defended his decision to leave a small number of American troops in the war-torn nation after a general withdrawal in October by claiming they were only there to secure Syria’s oilfields.

“They say he left troops in Syria… do you know what I did? I took the oil,” he said during a Fox News interview.

“The only troops I have are taking the oil, they are protecting the oil.”

When the interviewer, Laura Ingraham, attempted to correct Mr Trump by insisting the soldiers were not there to take the oil but to guard the facilities, the president cut her off.

“I don’t know, maybe we should take it, but we have the oil. Right now, the United States has the oil. We have the oil.”

This is not the first time the erratic former business tycoon has publicly mused about stealing Syria’s oil reserves.

In October, shortly after his abrupt withdrawal of US forces and abandoning of their Kurdish allies in the region, Mr Trump said he wanted an American oil firm to fly in to tap Syria’s oil on behalf of the government.

“What I intend to do, perhaps, is make a deal with an ExxonMobil or one of our great companies to go in there and do it properly,” he said.

However, such a move would likely constitute pillage and looting, actions which have long been designated as illegal under international law and the rules of war.

The Geneva Convention, which the US is a signatory to, explicitly prohibits the looting of property during conflict, defining it as a war crime.

“The president appears to believe that the US can sell the oil, based on his statements in the past about Iraqi oil and Libyan oil … thinking that we can loot countries,” Benjamin Friedman, policy director at think tank Defence Priorities and adjunct professor at the George Washington University, told The Independent last year.

“I am sure people in the White House have tried to explain to him that is not how it works.

“Taking the profits from the sale of Syrian oil for the US treasury would be illegal. That would probably qualify as pillaging under the law.”

Ironically, experts say Syria’s oil fields are not much of a prize anyway. Even before the country descended in a chaotic civil war, it only produced about 380,000 barrels of poor-quality oil a day.

In 2018, after its production was several hampered by the conflict, it produced about the same amount of oil as the state of Illinois.

Before he entered the White House, Mr Trump had said several times that the US should have “taken the oil” from the other Middle Eastern nations its armed forces had intervened in, including Iraq and Libya.

Some commentators have speculated that defence officials desperate to persuade the president to permit some US forces to remain in Syria as a counter-balance to Isis and the Assad regime were forced to appeal to his oil obsession to gain his approval.

[The Independent]

Trump tells evangelical rally he will put prayer in schools

 U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday said his Democratic opponents would tear down crosses and pledged to bring prayer to public schools at a re-election rally to shore up evangelical support.

Trump spoke on the outskirts of Miami at the King Jesus International Ministry, a “prosperity gospel” church that teaches that the faithful will be rewarded with health and wealth on earth. 

“We are defending religion itself, it’s under siege,” Trump said. “A society without religion cannot prosper.”

More than 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump in the 2016 election. But a crack in evangelical support opened up last month when the magazine Christianity Today wrote a blistering editorial on Trump’s “grossly immoral character.” 

Attendees, some of them wearing Trump’s signature red campaign hats, nearly filled the room, which the church says holds 7,000. Some raised their hands in a sign of praise and swayed while music played loudly over the speakers before the president entered the room. 

Pastors gathered around Trump on the stage for an opening prayer, while much of the audience remained standing with their hands aloft. 

In his speech, Trump mocked Democratic challenger Pete Buttigieg, the Indiana mayor, for having what he said was an unpronounceable last name, and told attendees Democrats were waging war against religion. 

“These angry radicals want to impose absolute conformity by censuring speech, tearing down crosses and symbols of faith and banning religious believers from public life.” 

He got a big reaction from the crowd when he promised to bring religion into U.S. schools. A clause in the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from promoting one religion over the other, which means public schools don’t promote prayer or religious symbols. 

“Very soon I’ll be taking action to safeguard students and teachers’ First Amendment rights to pray in our schools,” Trump said. “They want to take that right along with many other ones.”

According to a 2019 survey here by the Pew Research Center, 43% of U.S. adults, or some 110 million people, identify with Protestantism; 59% of those, or 64 million are born-again or evangelical Christians. 

Christian support for Trump remained relatively constant from his inauguration until March of 2019, Pew Research shows. Some Christians believe that support has frayed since. 

Friday’s rally “is Trump’s desperate response to the realization that he is losing his primary voting bloc — faith voters,” said Doug Pagitt, the executive director of Vote Common Good, a progressive Christian group, on Friday.


[Reuters]

Trump sides with Putin on impeachment in late Friday night tweet

President Donald Trump continues to side with Russia on questions of domestic politics.

On Friday, the commander-in-chief tweeted out Russian President Vladimir Putin’s views on impeachment, adding that it is “a total witch hunt.”

Trump has received a great deal of criticism for believing the Russian military intelligence conspiracy theory that it was actually Ukraine that interfered in the 2016.

The scandal is at the heart of the impeachment trial expected to start in January.

[Raw Story]

Trump suggests Schiff should be punished like ‘in Guatemala’ – laments ‘because of immunity he can’t be prosecuted’

President Donald Trump appeared to suggest House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff should be violently punished, and lamented that because the California Democratic Congressman has “immunity” he won’t be prosecuted.

The irony of the president’s hypocrisy appeared to escape Trump. In the Mueller report alone at least ten possibly criminal acts Trump appears to have committed were outlined, but because of a DOJ policy he cannot be prosecuted.

The president attacked Chairman Schiff for an early impeachment hearing in which the Chairman delivered opening remarks clearly summarizing via parody the effects of Trump’s infamous July 25 call with the president of Ukraine.  Trump and Republicans have latched on to those comments claiming Schiff was lying or somehow falsifying the record, which is untrue.

In his Tuesday remarks to reporters President Trump, meeting with the President of Guatemala, blasted Chairman Schiff.

“When you have a guy like Shifty Schiff go out and make up a statement that I made, he said, this is what he said but I never said it. He totally made it up. In Guatemala they handle things much tougher than that,” he said, referring to Schiff’s remarks.

[The New Civil Rights Movement]

Media

Trump praises Kennedy after Chuck Todd links senator’s Ukraine remarks to Putin

President Trump on Monday praised Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) for his appearance a day earlier on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” where anchor Chuck Todd questioned the senator for pushing the unsubstantiated claim that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election.

“Thank you to Great Republican @SenJohnKennedy for the job he did in representing both the Republican Party and myself against Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd on Meet the Depressed!” Trump tweeted.

The president tweeted his thanks as he flew to London for NATO meetings. He also praised two House Republicans for defending him against the impeachment inquiry in television interviews.

Kennedy has been part of controversial interviews each of the past two Sundays after making claims about Ukraine’s involvement in the 2016 election.

Kennedy last week suggested that there was still a possibility that Ukraine was responsible for the 2016 Democratic National Committee hack. He walked back those comments days later but has continued to insist Ukraine interfered in other ways. 

On “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Kennedy asserted that reporting in outlets such as Politico and The Economist indicated that the former Ukrainian president favored Clinton over Trump.

“The fact that Russia was so aggressive does not exclude the fact that President Poroshenko actively worked for Secretary Clinton,” he said.

Todd appeared exasperated with the senator and pushed back on his argument, suggesting Kennedy was furthering a narrative of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Are you at all concerned that you’ve been duped?” Todd asked. 

“No, just read the articles,” Kennedy said. 

The Intelligence Committee has concluded that Russia, not Ukraine, interfered in the 2016 election and was seeking to aid the Trump campaign. Former special counsel Robert Mueller determined he could not establish that the Trump campaign worked with Russia.

In the aftermath of that investigation, Trump and some of his allies have continued to claim Ukraine meddled in the 2016 race despite the insistence to the contrary of national security officials. 

[The Hill]

Trump pardons and reinstates three more war criminals against his own DOD

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday pardoned two Army officers accused of war crimes in Afghanistan and restored the rank of a Navy SEAL platoon commander who was demoted for actions in Iraq, a move critics have said would undermine military justice and send a message that battlefield atrocities will be tolerated.

The White House said in a statement Trump granted full pardons to First Lieutenant Clint Lorance and Major Mathew Golsteyn, and ordered that the rank Edward Gallagher held before he was convicted in a military trial this year be restored.

“For more than two hundred years, presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country. These actions are in keeping with this long history,” the statement said.

A Pentagon spokesperson said the Department of Defense has confidence in the military justice system.

“The President is part of the military justice system as the Commander-in-Chief and has the authority to weigh in on matters of this nature,” the spokesperson said.

In recent weeks, Pentagon officials had spoken with Trump about the cases, provided facts and emphasized the due process built into the military justice system.

The White House said in a statement Trump granted full pardons to First Lieutenant Clint Lorance and Major Mathew Golsteyn, and ordered that the rank Edward Gallagher held before he was convicted in a military trial this year be restored.

“For more than two hundred years, presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country. These actions are in keeping with this long history,” the statement said.

A Pentagon spokesperson said the Department of Defense has confidence in the military justice system.

“The President is part of the military justice system as the Commander-in-Chief and has the authority to weigh in on matters of this nature,” the spokesperson said.

In recent weeks, Pentagon officials had spoken with Trump about the cases, provided facts and emphasized the due process built into the military justice system.

But presidents have occasionally granted pardons preemptively to individuals accused of or suspected of a crime.

The most famous such case was the blanket pardon President Gerald Ford bestowed on his predecessor, Richard Nixon, after Nixon’s resignation during the Watergate scandal in 1974.

[Reuters]

Trump: Erdoğan has ‘great relationship with the Kurds’

President Trump on Wednesday said his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has a “great relationship with the Kurds” amid concerns of possible ethnic violence against the minority group in northern Syria.

The two leaders met for the first time in Washington one month after Turkey launched its offensive into northeastern Syria against Kurdish forces allied with the U.S. in the fight against ISIS. Turkey claims the Kurdish group is an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is designated as a terrorist group by both Ankara and Washington.

“I think the president has a great relationship with the Kurds,” Trump said. “Many Kurds live currently in Turkey, and they’re happy, and they’re taken care of, including health care — we were talking about it before — including health care and education and other things, so that’s really a misnomer.”

The question came from reporter Rahim Rashidi of the Iraqi Kurdistan network K24, who was dubbed “Mr. Kurd” by Trump during a press conference last year when discussing the fight against ISIS. Rashidi has adopted the nickname, putting it on business cards and introducing himself that way when interviewing the president and other lawmakers.

Erdoğan reasserted that Turkey’s offensive is rooting out “terrorist organizations.”

“We have no problems with the Kurds. We have problems with terrorist organizations, and of course you’re not going to own up to the terrorists, are you?” he asked.

Turkey is home to one of the largest populations of Kurdish minorities, about 19 percent of its population.

[The Hill]

Trump celebrates resignation of Bolivia’s president

President Trump on Monday hailed the ouster of Bolivian President Evo Morales as a “significant moment for democracy” even as Morales’s supporters and some U.S. lawmakers likened it to a coup.

Trump issued a statement approving of Morales’s resignation, which capped weeks of unrest following the country’s elections last month.

“After nearly 14 years and his recent attempt to override the Bolivian constitution and the will of the people, Morales’s departure preserves democracy and paves the way for the Bolivian people to have their voices heard,” Trump said in a statement.

Trump said the events in Bolivia “send a strong signal to the illegitimate regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua that democracy and the will of the people will always prevail. We are now one step closer to a completely democratic, prosperous, and free Western Hemisphere.”

Mexico on Monday offered asylum to Morales, and later said the Bolivian leader had requested it. 

Morales and his leftist government have been in power for 14 years, but the country’s first indigenous president has come under scrutiny toward the end of his tenure. Morales changed the country’s laws in order to run for office a fourth time and declared he won last month’s election despite widespread accusations of fraud.

The Washington Post reported the the heads of the armed forces and police withdrew their support for the government in recent days amid escalating protests. By Sunday, all four socialist officials atop the Bolivian government had resigned in what Morales likened to a coup.

That language was echoed by prominent liberals in the U.S. Congress, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), both self-described democratic socialists.

“I am very concerned about what appears to be a coup in Bolivia, where the military, after weeks of political unrest, intervened to remove President Evo Morales,” Sanders tweeted.

“What’s happening right now in Bolivia isn’t democracy, it’s a coup,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “The people of Bolivia deserve free, fair, and peaceful elections — not violent seizures of power.”

Trump has used socialist governments around the world to attack Democrats and their progressive policies ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

The Trump administration has pushed for the ouster of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, but has thus far been unsuccessful.

[The Hill]

Trump publicly urges China to investigate Bidens amid impeachment inquiry

 President Donald Trump urged another foreign government to probe Joe Biden and his son Thursday, saying the Chinese government should investigate the former vice president and son Hunter Biden over the latter’s involvement with an investment fund that raised money in the country.

“China should start an investigation into the Bidens because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine,” Trump told reporters outside the White House.

While Trump said he hasn’t requested Chinese President Xi Jinping investigate the Bidens, the public call mirrors the private behavior on which Democrats are partially basing their impeachment inquiry — using the office of the presidency to press a foreign leader to investigate a political rival.

It is “certainly something we can start thinking about, because I’m sure that President Xi does not like being on that kind of scrutiny, where billions of dollars is taken out of his country by a guy that just got kicked out of the Navy,” Trump said Thursday of asking China to probe the Bidens. “He got kicked out of the Navy, all of the sudden he’s getting billions of dollars. You know what they call that? They call that a payoff.”

The U.S. in the midst of a tense trade war with China. The president, discussing progress on negotiations with Beijing on a possible trade agreement just moments prior to his remarks about the Bidens, told reporters that “if they don’t do what we want, we have tremendous power.”

Chinese officials will be in Washington next week in another attempt to revive talks, Trump said.

Trump, seeking to expand his corruption accusations against the Bidens beyond Ukraine, has in recent days repeatedly accused Hunter Biden of using a 2013 trip on Air Force Two with his father, then the vice president, to procure $1.5 billion from China for a private equity fund he had started.

Prior to Thursday, Trump had not called for an investigation of the matter. The White House declined to comment on Trump’s remarks.

Despite Trump’s accusations, there has been no evidence of corruption on the part of the former vice president or his son. In a statement, Biden’s deputy campaign manager and communications director, Kate Bedingfield, said the president “is flailing and melting down on national television, desperately clutching for conspiracy theories that have been debunked and dismissed by independent, credible news organizations.”

“As Joe Biden forcefully said last night, the defining characteristic of Donald Trump’s presidency is the ongoing abuse of power. What Donald Trump just said on the South Lawn of the White House was this election’s equivalent of his infamous ‘Russia, if you’re listening’ moment from 2016 — a grotesque choice of lies over truth and self over the country,” Bedingfield said.

Trump, during a 2016 campaign rally, encouraged the country to meddle in the 2016 election by trying to access Hillary Clinton’s emails, saying, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation found that within hours of Trump‘s invitation, Russian military intelligence initiated a hack against Clinton’s office. Trump and his allies have said he wasn’t serious when he made the comment.

In pushing back on Trump, Biden’s campaign previously pointed to a fact-check from The Washington Post that found Trump’s claims false while tracing the origins of the $1.5 billion figure to a 2018 book published by conservative author Peter Schweizer.

In addition, Hunter Biden’s spokesman, George Mesires, told NBC News previously that Hunter Biden wasn’t initially an “owner” of the company and has never gotten paid for serving on the board. He said Hunter Biden didn’t acquire an equity interest in the fund until 2017, after his father had left office.

And when he did, he put in only about $420,000 — a 10 percent interest. That puts the total capitalization of the fund at the time at about $4.2 million — a far cry from the $1.5 billion that Trump has alleged.

Trump also said Thursday that he still wants Ukraine to conduct “a major investigation” into Joe and Hunter Biden.

[NBC News]

Reality

Lawfare: Former federal prosecutor and current professor at the University of Alabama School of Law Joyce White Vance concisely yet methodically explained why Trump’s statements constituted a crime.

“Trump just committed a felony violation of law by soliciting something of value in connection with a US election from a foreign government on national TV. 52 U.S. Code § 30121. Violating the law isn’t necessary for Impeachment but it certainly warrants it,” Vance wrote (including a citation to a statute).

She then explained how previously documented accounts of similar behavior render Trump’s conduct here even more culpable than in earlier instances of his requests for foreign assistance.

“The statute requires knowledge your conduct is a crime. After the Mueller investigation, there’s no way Trump was unaware this violates the law. Ukraine/China can you hear me is even worse than Russia, if that’s possible, because it comes from a sitting president,” she wrote.

Trump slammed for congratulating China on 70 years of Communist rule

President Trump faced a backlash online and from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle Tuesday for congratulating China on the 70th anniversary of Communist rule.

“Congratulations to President Xi and the Chinese people on the 70th Anniversary of the People’s Republic of China!” the president said in a tweet that was slammed for ignoring decades of human rights abuses in the country.

Trump has generally spoken favorably about Xi, though relations between the two nations have deteriorated since he took office and has launched a trade war with Beijing.

His shoutout came amid violent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, where an 18-year-old was hit in the chest by a live round fired by police in the Chinese territory.

House Republican Conference chairwoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming released a statement pointing to China’s oppressive governing tactics, according to the Washington Post.

“This is not a day for celebration,” she said in a joint statement with Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.).

The US will use the occasion to “rededicate ourselves to ensuring that the Chinese Communist Party is left on the ash heap of history,” they added.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) also issued a statement that contrasted sharply with the president’s message.

“Today Chinese tyrants celebrated 70 years of communist oppression with their typically brutal symbolism: by sending a police officer to shoot a pro-democracy protester at point-blank range,” Sasse said.

“The freedom-seekers in Hong Kong mourn this anniversary, and the American people stand with them against those who deny their God-given dignity.”

In a statement, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said: “From the Great Leap Forward to the Cultural Revolution to the camps in Xinjiang today, it has been a ghoulish 70 years of Chinese Communist Party control.”

And Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), a Trump ally, tweeted a terse “I will pass” in response to the president’s wishes.

On Twitter, Trump’s followers also didn’t hold back in calling him out.

“Don’t forget to send timely salutations to the other loves of your life, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, Rodrigo Duterte, and Jair Bolsonaro!” Karen Walz wrote.

User Michael Lebowitz wrote: “Are you kidding me. Congratulations to a nation that has killed more people than Hitler and Stalin in the effort to uphold communism. They are morally corrupt and certainly not deserving of congratulations.”

“Mr. President, I regret to point out you are literally congratulating your greatest enemy, the biggest threat to the US: you are congratulating the CCP,” @WBYeats1865 tweeted.

“Today the CCP just showed off their missiles capable of striking Taiwan, Japan, Guam, and USA soil, and they said it PROUDLY!” he added, referring to the Chinese display of military might on Tuesday.

And another user, Jim Clarke, said: “Never thought I see the day a US President celebrates the anniversary of communism!”

[New York Post]

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