On Veterans Day, Trump Laments Passing Whistleblower Law Meant to Improve VA: ‘To Think I Signed!’

On Veterans Day, President Donald Trump lamented passing a whistleblower law meant to increase protections for employees who uncovered wrongdoing in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“To think I signed the Whistleblower Protection Act!” Trump said Monday, stepping on an announcement from the White House twitter account praising Trump’s accomplishments for veterans.

The actual Whistleblower Protection Act was passed in 1998, but Trump has passed at least two laws related to whistleblower protections, according to a review of the congressional record.

The White House tweet is apparently referring to the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, which was sponsored by GOP Sen. Marco Rubio. The law passed the Senate via voice vote.

The law established a new special office in the VA to protect whistleblowers from retaliation and makes it easier to fire employees accused of misconduct. However, an Inspector General report released late last month found the office had largely failed in its mission to protect whistleblowers and conducted corrupt investigations.

Trump also signed the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 into law, which is named for a VA doctor who was ousted and later killed himself after he blew the whistle on the over-prescription of opiates at his VA facility.

[Mediaite]

Trump Wants Whistleblower’s Lawyer Sued ‘Maybe for Treason,’ Which Definitely Isn’t a Thing

President Donald Trump tried his hand at tort law on Friday by suggesting the intelligence community whistleblower “should be revealed” and that their lawyer should be sued “maybe for treason.”

“So the whistleblower is a disgrace to our country” Trump said. And the whistleblower, because of that, should be revealed. And his lawyer who said the worst things possible two years ago, he should be sued and maybe for treason. Maybe for treason, but he should be sued. His lawyer is a disgrace.”

It appears that Trump was referring to attorney Mark Zaid. The comments were made during a press assemblage on the White House lawn where the president also addressed the closed-door impeachment hearings and the state of the 2020 presidential race.

The suggestion of treason as a civil action, however, quickly sent legal commentators into a tailspin of eyebrow-raising ridicule.

First Amendment attorney and legal commentator Adam Steinbaugh noted: “you… you can’t be sued for treason.”

That’s true. Treason is a criminal charge. Suing someone is an action taken in a civil court. Criminal charges are leveled by the state. Civil actions–which we usually call lawsuits–are usually filed by the state or private individuals in an effort to obtain money or information.

Treason, in other words, is a suggestion that simply makes no sense whatsoever under the present circumstances. This isn’t an issue that’s subject to debate. There’s plainly and clearly no cause of action known as “treason” under any state or federal law in the United States. (And this probably shouldn’t even have to be explained.)

Under the laws of the United States, treason has a very specific and very limited definition. Per the U.S. Constitution, Article III, Section 3:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

There’s also a separate codification of treason under at 18 U.S. Code § 2381 which barely tweaks the constitutional definition and also assigns specific penalties for committing the criminal act.

No concept, provision or sleight of legalese that exists in the U.S. legal order would be capable of transmogrifying the above potential crimes into something that anyone could sue anyone else for. The point, now a bit belabored, is basically the end of the story.

Except for maybe the jokes.

“Treasonous infliction of emotional distress, dude,” offered Reason‘s criminal justice reporter C.J. Ciaramella. “Look it up.”

On Thursday, it should be noted, one of the intelligence community whistleblower’s attorneys sent White House Counsel Pat Cipollone a cease-and-desist letter demanding that Trump stop calling for their client’s identity to be exposed and to stop using “rhetoric that may endanger their life.”

“I am writing to respectfully request that you counsel your client on the legal and ethical peril in which he is placing himself should anyone be physically harmed as a result of his, or his surrogates’, behavior,” attorney Andrew P. Bakaj wrote.

The whistleblower’s attorney later laid it on the line:

In the best light, such statements seek to intimidate my client–and they have. As I am sure you are aware, my firm was in the process of coordinating with the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to have my client deposed by congressional investigators. However, as a direct consequence of the President’s irresponsible rhetoric and behavior, my client’s physical safety became a significant concern, prompting us to instead state our willingness to only answer written interrogatories [questions].

Trump’s campaign to expose and smear the intelligence community whistleblower has, effectively, given the whistleblower pause about how and whether they should testify. Bakaj says that’s a crime.

“In light of this, it is reasonable to submit that your client’s activity constitutes a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512, Tampering with a witness, victim, or an informant,” Bakaj continued. “Furthermore, because my client is a lawful whistleblower and a prospective congressional witness, any threats to influence, obstruct, or impede my client’s cooperation is a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1505, Obstruction of proceedings before departments, agencies, and committees. Finally, reprisal against my client for cooperating with a congressional inquiry would be a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1513, Retaliating against a witness, victim, or an informant.”

Despite this warning, Trump once again called for the whistleblower’s identity to be revealed.

The 45th president is arguably skilled at asymmetric attempts to muddy the waters and that’s as good an explanation as any for what happened on the White House lawn Friday morning. That doesn’t mean necessarily mean any of this is well-advised. 

Those most recent attacks on these attorneys and their clients are exactly the sorts of statements cautioned against in the cease-and-desist missive. They’re also the sort of statements that congressional investigators are likely to add to any eventual articles of impeachment.

[Law and Crime]

Trump Threatens to Expose Information on Vindman

Donald Trump on Sunday appeared to threaten to expose information on Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the decorated veteran who reportedly testified that the president omitted certain key words and phrases from the White House’s memo of the Ukraine phone call at the center of an impeachment inquiry. While speaking to reporters outside the White House, Trump repeated unfounded claims that Vindman is a “Never Trumper,” a label he also bestowed on former Ukraine Ambassador William Taylor after his impeachment inquiry testimony outlined how Trump officials made demands of the Ukrainian government in exchange for investigations into the Bidens. 

Vindman, a decorated Iraq War veteran and National Security Council official, reportedly testified that he was instructed by White House counsel John Eisenberg to keep quiet about the call after voicing his concerns. “It’s a whole scam… it’s between the Democrats and the fake news media,” Trump said of the inquiry. When asked what evidence he had that Vindman is a “Never Trumper,” the president responded: “We’ll be showing that to you real soon.”


[The Daily Beast]


Trump threatens to end federal aid to California in tweets slamming Gov. Gavin Newsom

Just days after Gov. Gavin Newsom praised the federal government for its response to catastrophic wildfires and power outages affecting millions, President Donald Trump on Sunday slammed the California Democrat — and threatened to cut off future federal funding to the fire-battered state.

Trump, in a spate of postings on Twitter, lambasted what he called Newsom’s “terrible job” regarding the state’s forest management practices, saying the governor should stop listening to environmentalist “bosses” and “clean” the forest floors. He also slammed Newsom for state water-management practices, suggesting that California must open up what he called “ridiculously closed water lanes.”

Saying Newsom had repeatedly requested federal funds, Trump threatened to cut him off.

“Every year, as the fire’s rage & California burns, it is the same thing—and then he comes to the Federal Government for $$$ help. No more,” the president tweeted.

He then tweaked Newsom’s leadership: “Get your act together Governor.”

The governor responded a short time later.

“We’re successfully waging war against thousands of fires started across the state in the last few weeks due to extreme weather created by climate change while Trump is conducting a full on assault against the antidotes,” he told POLITICO in a statement.

His office also pushed back hard against Trump, noting that the governor’s fire prevention and management projects included an investment of $225.8 million to help streamline programs specifically aimed at “reducing fuels in the forest, increasing forest health, and defensible space around homes.’’ The governor’s office in addition said there are currently 35 priority projects in addition to the redeployment of National Guard personnel to assist the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection in controlling the fires.

Newsom in recent weeks has laid into PG&E, the investor-owned utility that has been blamed for sparking catastrophic fires because of its outdated equipment and failed infrastructure. He has said he may explore a takeover of the utility unless it emerges from bankruptcy with a solid plan to protect California homeowners and consumers and avoid widespread outages before the 2020 fire season.

Sunday was not the first time the president has vowed to withdraw federal funding from the state — though he has never made good on the threat. He did so in January, saying that “unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered FEMA to send no more money.”

After that tweet, following the Paradise-based Camp Fire, which killed more than 80 people, Newsom responded that “disasters and recovery are no time for politics,’’ and said the state was working hard to “modernize and manage our forest and emergency responses.”

Scott McLean, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, cited the governor’s leadership in directing the agency to pursue 35 priority projects to reduce wildfire risk in vulnerable communities. That’s in addition to Cal Fire’s regularly scheduled prescribed burns and fuel reductions, he added.

“We are in a good place, and we’re very active,” McLean said.

He added that California experienced one of its “best winters in a long time,” meaning that state firefighters now had enough water access to combat blazes. McLean also noted that oversight of the state’s land was divided between local governments, Cal Fire and the U.S. Forest Service — meaning the Trump-controlled federal agency had some responsibility for the current situation, too.

Trump’s string of tweets on California kicked off Sunday with: “ The Governor of California@GavinNewsom has done a terrible job of forest management. I told him from the first day we met that he must ‘clean’ his forest floors regardless of what his bosses, the environmentalists, DEMAND of him. Must also do burns and cut fire stoppers.”

He finished: “But our teams are working well together in….. … putting these massive, and many, fires out. Great firefighters! Also, open up the ridiculously closed water lanes coming down from the North. Don’t pour it out into the Pacific Ocean. Should be done immediately. California desperately needs water, and you can have it now!”

ISIS leader killed in daring U.S. raid in Syria, Trump says

Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died in a U.S. raid in northwestern Syria, President Donald Trump announced Sunday, describing in detail a daring mission by Army Delta Force commandos that he said had been planned for five months.

Baghdadi, whose self-declared caliphate once covered large swaths of Syria and Iraq, detonated a suicide vest, killing himself and three children after he was cornered in a tunnel.

“The thug who tried so hard to intimidate others spent his last moments in utter fear, in total panic and dread, terrified of the American forces bearing down on him,” Trump said from the White House. “Baghdadi’s demise demonstrates America’s relentless pursuit of terrorist leaders and our commitment to the enduring and total defeat of ISIS and other terrorist organizations.”

No U.S. personnel were lost in the raid and Defense Secretary Mark Esper told CNN that two who suffered minor injuries have been returned to duty.

The death of Baghdadi, long considered the most wanted man in the world, came amid weeks of acrimonious debate in Washington about the U.S. role in Syria after Trump’s efforts to remove troops from the region. The abrupt withdrawal allowed scores of ISIS prisoners to escape and set off warning that of a rebirth of an Islamic State sanctuary, which has been the focus of an intense U.S.-led air campaign backed by small number of troops on the ground and local allies, since 2015.

After years of rare and unconfirmed sightings, Baghdadi resurfaced in an unverified video in April, rallying his followers in Iraq and Syria following the group’s loss of its so-called caliphate.

The United States had placed a $25 million bounty on the ISIS leader’s head.

Russia in June 2017 claimed to have killed Baghdadi in an airstrike on Raqqa, Syria. A month later reports of his death again surfaced, this time from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Baghdadi is believed to have been born in 1971 in Samarra, Iraq. He was a cleric in a Baghdad mosque during the 2003 U.S. invasion that toppled Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. He joined the insurgency against U.S. forces in Iraq in its early days and spent 10 months in U.S. military detention in 2004.

Baghdadi become the leader of al-Qaida’s Iraq faction in 2010. In 2014, he declared the Islamic State a global caliphate from the Al-Nuri mosque in Mosul, in what is his only known public appearance as the leader of the terrorist organization.

Trump called ISIS “among the most depraved organizations in history” and listed some of the group’s victims: the Iraqi Yezidi minority group against whom it committed “genocidal mass murder,” the Jordanian fighter pilot burned alive in a cage after his plane crashed in ISIS territory, and the American hostages Jim Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig, and Kayla Mueller who died in the group’s custody.

“His evil acts of beheadings, enslavement of women, rape, torture, and pure brutality follows him to his grave,” Secretary of State Milke Pompeo said in a statement.

Foley’s mother, Diana, thanked Trump and the troops. “I hope this will hinder the resurgence of terror groups and pray that captured ISIS fighters will be brought to trial and held accountable,” she said.

The mission to kill or capture Baghdadi was launched from Iraqi territory. “This raid was impeccable and could only have taken place with the acknowledgment and help of certain other nations and people,” Trump said. “I want to thank the nations of Russia, Syria, Turkey, and Iraq, and I also want to thank the Syrian Kurds for certain support they were able to give us.”

The raid, which lasted two hours inside Baghdadi’s compound, was immediately hailed by both parties as a major victory in the fight against Islamic terrorism.

“The death of al-Baghdadi is a triumph for our nation’s anti-terrorism efforts and is a testament to the persistence and expertise of our military and intelligence services,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat and member of the Armed Services Committee. “Al-Baghdadi spread a heinous terrorist ideology which must continue to be snuffed out in Syria and around the world.

“I congratulate President Trump, our allies who assisted in this effort, and, in particular, those who risked their lives in this raid,” she added in a statement.

“It’s tremendous news that the U.S. has ended Baghdadi’s bloody jihad,” added Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican and member of the Intelligence Committee. “The President made the right call to take out this bloodthirsty monster who led ISIS as it raped and pillaged its way through Iraq and Syria.”

But Sasse and others also warned in a statement about letting up the pressure. “As Americans celebrate this victory, we must remain clear-eyed that this is no time to let off the gas: Baghdadi is gone but another animal will take his place as ISIS works to regroup.”

“Removing the leadership of terrorist groups is not on its own a decisive win. It never has been,” said Eric Robinson, a former intelligence official. “Saying that the caliphate is going to crumple as a result of this is just wrong. It will endure.”

The death of its leader won’t mark the defeat of ISIS, agreed Michael Nagata, a retired Army lieutenant general and former senior intelligence official who fought the Islamic State’s predecessor organization in Iraq and was the top special operations commander in the Middle East during the early years of the ISIS campaign.

“I’ve never seen the death of a senior leader be the catalyst for the elimination or destruction of a powerful, well-entrenched, global terrorist movement. It’s a necessary step but it’s never a decisive step,” Nagata said in an interview.

“There are a lot of parallels to be drawn to the impact of Osama bin Laden’s death,” said Nagata, who was also the senior U.S. military official in Pakistan at the time of the 2011 raid that killed the founder of al-Qaida. “It was important at the time and had enormous symbolic value but it is mostly strategically irrelevant now. That’s the trajectory I expect the impact of Baghdadi’s death to follow.”

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Mick Bednarek, who was the top U.S. officer at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad during ISIS’ rise in 2014 and 2015, said in an interview it is “incredible news and speaks highly once again of our collective intelligence agencies and more specifically our special operators.”

But Bednarek, who four years ago called the battle against ISIS “the fight of our lifetime,” cautioned against taking too many victory laps.

“When you eliminate the head or figurehead, does that mean the demise of the Islamic State terror organization? Absolutely not. Who is the next emergent leader? It is going to have an impact, but it is not going to be the be all end all where we can rest on our laurels.”

Trump used unusually vivid, even gory, language in describing Baghdadi’s final moments — descriptions that that some regional experts feared could further inflame extremists in the region.

“He died after running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming,” Trump said. “The compound had been cleared by this time, with people either surrendering or being shot and killed. Eleven young children were moved out of the house un-injured. The only ones remaining were Baghdadi in the tunnel, who had dragged three children with him to certain death. He reached the end of the tunnel, as our dogs chased him down. He ignited his vest, killing himself and the three children. His body was mutilated by the blast, but test results gave certain and positive identification.”

“He was a sick and depraved man, and now he’s gone,” Trump said, adding at one point that he would support making public Baghdadi’s final moments.

Trump also said Baghdadi “died like a dog. He died like a coward.” The reference particular could anger Islamist extremists because they view the animals as unclean.

Dana Shell Smith, a former U.S. ambassador to Qatar, warned that being so descriptive could backfire by stoking more anger toward the United States.

She pointed out that former President Barack Obama was far more careful in describing al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden’s killing. The Obama administration even pointed out that it gave bin Laden’s body an Islamic funeral ritual before slipping it into the ocean.

“It was important for our relationships in the region and safety of our military and diplomats,” the former ambassador wrote on Twitter. “It’s how America rolls. With honor. We don’t delight in death like the terrorists do.”

Bednarek said the president’s extended remarks, in which he also repeatedly took credit for the raid and the defeat of ISIS, struck him as “a bit disquieting.”

“But that is his penchant to do.”

Still, the damage inflicted on the group is undeniable, Esper said.

“This is a devastating blow,” he told CNN. “This is not just their leader, it’s their founder. He was an inspirational leader in many ways. He’s the one that when he — he formed ISIS in 2014, he led to the establishment of physical caliphate throughout the region, so this is a major blow to them. And we’re going to watch carefully next steps and as a new leader and leaders pop up, we’ll go after them as well.”

[Politico]

Reality

Let’s take a moment to recognize this is exactly what we expect a President of the United States to do, find the terrorist organization and break it up.

But taking a step back there are several issues with what had transpired.

First, the only reason how we had information on al-Baghdadi’s location is because of Kurdish intelligence, the same Kurd allies who Trump abandoned a week prior just to get off of the phone with Turkish Dictator Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, then blasted the Kurds as ‘no angels.’

Second, according to reporting by The New York Times we’ve been following al-Baghdadi for some time, but the military had to act because of Trump’s surprise decision to pull troops from northern Syria. So the operation happened despite Trump, not because of Trump. This put our service men and women at a much greater risk.

Third, Trump compared this a bigger get than Osama bin Laden, who President Barack Obama gave the go-ahead to the mission that brought him to justice. That’s just an incredibly dumb statement to compare the ISIS-inspired attacks to the world-changing event on 9/11, orchestrated by bin Laden.

Fourth, Trump turned our national security into partisanship by keeping this operation secret from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. It was okay for him to let Russia know, but not Nancy Pelosi, or even Mitch McConnell? This is on-brand for Trump’s style of politics where he’d rather be friends with our enemies than work with his fellow Americans.

Fifth, the operation occurred at 3:30pm, Trump was golfing at a resort he still owns, operates, promotes, and receives profits from at that exact time. It’s possible when he got to the White House around 5:30pm the operation was still ongoing, but this image is too staged with most people looking at the camera.

Finally, Donald Trump announcement of the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi revealed a slew of sensitive details about the secret military operation that could imperil future raids, special operations and intelligence. He has no care of national security.

Trump Lashes Out at Coverage of Awarding G7 to Resort He Owns, Also Extolls Resort’s ‘Tremendous Ballrooms’

President Donald Trump reacted angrily Saturday to criticism of his administration announcing it would hold a summit of foreign leaders at a resort Trump owns.

“I thought I was doing something very good for our Country by using Trump National Doral, in Miami, for hosting the G-7 Leaders,” Trump said Saturday night.

Trump went on to praise the features of his resort like “tremendous ballrooms” and claimed again that he would not “profit” from the summit.

Trump also highlighted Doral’s proximity to Miami International Airport as a positive, but Chuck Todd and David Fahrenthold pointed to that as a negative on Friday, both of them agreeing it was a security risk for the high-profile event.

“Doral is right on the Miami airport flight paths,” Todd said. “I think one of my reporters told me there’s like 20 different flight paths that are going to have to be diverted.”

“This is such a security nightmare to put it in the middle of a neighborhood where you’re going to have the neighbors coming and going,” Fahrenthold said.

[Mediaite]

Trump Rages at Pelosi, Mattis, and Communists During ‘Meltdown’ in White House Meeting

President Donald Trump invited Democratic Party leaders to the White House on Wednesday and proceeded to have what those leaders described as a “meltdown” in front of them. Before the lawmakers left early, Trump managed to rail against communists, his own former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom he called “a third-rate politician,” according to the Democratic leaders and sources’ descriptions of the meeting.

Shortly after the brief, cross-partisan meeting with the president in the Cabinet Room—which was convened to discuss Syria- and Turkey-related matters—Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) emerged to give a readout to reporters on what was, in Schumer’s words, Trump’s “nasty diatribe.”

“What we witnessed on the part of the president was a meltdown—sad to say,” Pelosi told reporters. “I think that vote, the size of the vote—more than two-to-one of the Republicans voted to oppose what the president did [on troops in Syria]—it probably got to the president, because he was shaken up by it [and] that’s why we couldn’t continue in the meeting because he was just not relating to the reality of it.”

Schumer asserted that Pelosi “kept her cool completely” even while Trump sniped that “there are communists involved [in Syria] and you guys might like that.”

The president even took a shot at his former defense secretary—who quit late last year over policy disagreements—when the conversation on Wednesday afternoon touched on foreign policy and a potential rejuvenation of ISIS fighters in Syria.

According to a Democratic source familiar with what happened in that meeting, Schumer at one point pulled out a piece of paper featuring quotes from Mattis’ interview on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday. The Democratic leader began reading to the president the statement that Mattis made on that Sunday show, that “if we don’t keep the pressure on, then ISIS will resurge. It’s absolutely a given that they will come back.”

Trump, this source said, then interrupted Schumer, and insisted that Mattis was “the world’s most overrated general.”

“You know why?” the president continued, according to the source. “He wasn’t tough enough. I captured ISIS. Mattis said it would take two years. I captured them in one month.” Trump also repeatedly claimed that of the ISIS prisoners who escaped when Turkish forces invaded northeast Syria (an invasion Trump all but greenlit), only the “least dangerous” individuals got out.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, asked to confirm the president’s assertion that those ISIS prisoners who escape were the “least dangerous,” told Schumer he didn’t know, according to the source.

At one point, Trump is said to have claimed that “someone wanted this meeting so I agreed to it,” despite the White House having called the meeting.

Pelosi, for her part, told Trump that Russia has long wanted a “foothold in the Middle East,” adding that because of the president’s actions, the Russian government now has it. “All roads with you lead to Putin,” the House speaker jabbed, according to one senior Democratic aide.

“I hate ISIS more than you do,” Trump shot back at Pelosi, this aide noted, with Pelosi replying, “You don’t know that.”

Later in the day, Pelosi, in the escalating round of insults hurled between the West Wing and Capitol Hill, told reporters, “I think now we have to pray for [Trump’s] health. Because this was a very serious meltdown on the part of the president.”

There was even a point in this meeting, the Democratic aide said, that President Trump distributed to attendees the Oct. 9 letter he sent to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the one that read, “You don’t want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy—and I will.” Trump’s letter also includes the lines, “Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool! I will call you later.”

This was taken as an attempt by the president to demonstrate to all the Republicans and Democrats in the room that he was being sufficiently tough on Erdogan, and as an effort to convince those present that he did not greenlight the Turkish invasion, which is currently causing political backlash at home, and slaughter and mayhem abroad.

The president’s aides, meanwhile, sought to place the blame for the derailed meeting on the Democratic leaders’ decision to walk out over Trump’s “nasty” words directed at Pelosi.

“Her decision to walk out was baffling, but not surprising,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham emailed The Daily Beast shortly after the Democrats’ comments to White House press. “Speaker Pelosi had no intention of listening or contributing to an important meeting on national security issues.  While Democratic leadership chose to storm out and get in front of the cameras to whine, everyone else in the meeting chose to stay in the room and work on behalf of this country.”

Trump later tweeted a flurry of photos from the meeting that he claimed showed the Democrats had tanked the meeting, including one in which he accused Pelosi of having an “unhinged meltdown.”

This wouldn’t be the first time this year that a meeting at the White House involving Trump, Pelosi, and Schumer completely degenerated so quickly. Early this year, during a Friday meeting on the government shutdown, President Trump started the gathering by launching a 15-minute, profanity-encrusted rant that included him demanding his border wall, and, unprompted, complaining about Democratic lawmakers who want to impeach him. 

At the time, Trump told attendees that he was, simply put, too popular a president to impeach.

Today, Trump and his administration are currently fighting back against an ongoing, rapidly accelerating impeachment inquiry, with Democrats on Capitol Hill hoping to hold a vote on his impeachment before the end of the year.

[The Daily Beast]

Trump defends abandoning the Kurds by saying they didn’t help the US in WWII

President Donald Trump on Wednesday defended his decision to abandon the Kurds to a Turkish military incursion in Syria by saying they didn’t help the US during World War II. 

This came amid reports that Turkish ground troops were crossing the border into Syria after air strikes that began earlier in the day.

“They didn’t help us in the Second World War; they didn’t help us with Normandy,” Trump said of the Kurds. He added, “With all of that being said, we like the Kurds.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Trump said in a statement released by the White House that he did not endorse the Turkish military operation and thought it was a “bad idea.” But he did not refer directly to the Kurds or signal any immediate response from the US to thwart Turkey’s actions. 

The Trump administration on Sunday abruptly announced the US was withdrawing troops stationed in northeastern Syria ahead of a Turkish operation.

The move has been broadly condemned in Washington, including by top congressional Republicans and former Trump administration officials, as many feel Trump paved the way for Turkey to go after key US allies. 

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) bore the brunt of the US-led campaign against ISIS, losing about 11,000 fighters in the process.

Ahead of the Trump administration’s announcement, Kurdish forces had recently dismantled defensive positions along the Turkey-Syria border under assurances from the US it would not allow a Turkish assault. The SDF described Trump’s decision to withdraw troops as a “stab in the back” and made clear it felt betrayed by the US. 

[Business Insider]

Trump suggests Pelosi committed treason, should be ‘immediately impeached’


President Trump
 late Sunday suggested that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was guilty of treason and should be “immediately” impeached.

“Nancy Pelosi knew of all of the many Shifty Adam Schiff lies and massive frauds perpetrated upon Congress and the American people, in the form of a fraudulent speech knowingly delivered as a ruthless con, and the illegal meetings with a highly partisan ‘Whistleblower’ & lawyer,” he tweeted.

“This makes Nervous Nancy every bit as guilty as Liddle’ Adam Schiff for High Crimes and Misdemeanors, and even Treason. I guess that means that they, along with all of those that evilly ‘Colluded’ with them, must all be immediately Impeached!”

Members of Congress cannot be impeached, but the Constitution says each House of Congress “may determine the Rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member.” Members may also be censured.

Trump last week ratcheted up attacks targeting House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) for exaggerating a partial transcript of the July 25 call between the president and Ukraine’s leader.

At the time, Trump suggested that Schiff should be arrested for treason, which is punishable by death or a prison term.

During a televised congressional hearing, Schiff said that Trump directed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to “make up dirt on my political opponent” a full “seven times.”

The California Democrat defended his comments amid backlash from Republicans at the time, saying: “Of course, the president never said, ‘If you don’t understand me I’m going to say it seven more times,’ my point is, that’s the message that the Ukraine president was receiving in not so many words.”

It was also reported last week that the whistleblower at the center of a House impeachment inquiry into Trump contacted Schiff’s committee before filing a complaint.

Trump’s attacks late Sunday came shortly after reports emerged of a second whistleblower said to have firsthand knowledge of some of the allegations detailed in the original complaint.

Mark Zaid, an attorney at the firm that represents the whistleblower who filed the original complaint regarding Trump’s interactions with Ukraine, said that he was representing the second whistleblower.

Zaid said the second whistleblower is also an intelligence official and has direct knowledge of some of the allegations detailed in the original complaint.

According to Zaid, the second whistleblower has already spoken to the head of the intelligence community’s internal watchdog office, Michael Atkinson. However, they have not yet spoken with congressional committees investigating Trump’s communications with Ukraine.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham defended Trump after reports surfaced of the second whistleblower and said “it doesn’t matter how many people decide to call themselves whistleblowers about the same telephone call.”

She also said that it “doesn’t change the fact that he has done nothing wrong.”

[The Hill]


Trump pulls troops from northern Syria as Turkey readies offensive

The United States began withdrawing American troops from Syria’s border with Turkey early Monday, in the clearest sign yet that the Trump administration was washing its hands of an explosive situation between the Turkish military and U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters.

President Trump, in a series of Twitter messages Monday, suggested that the United States was shouldering too much of the burden — and the cost — of fighting the Islamic State. He rebuked European nations for not repatriating citizens who had joined the extremist group, claiming that the United States was being played for a “sucker.” And he chided his own Kurdish allies, who he said were “paid massive amounts of money and equipment” to fight the militants. 

“It is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home. WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN,” he tweeted.

Trump later added a warning to Turkey. “As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!),” he tweeted.

“They must, with Europe and others, watch over the captured ISIS fighters and families,” Trump continued. “The U.S. has done far more than anyone could have ever expected, including the capture of 100% of the ISIS Caliphate. It is time now for others in the region, some of great wealth, to protect their own territory. THE USA IS GREAT!”

The withdrawal followed a late Sunday statement by the White House that the United States would not intervene in a long-threatened Turkish offensive into northern Syria. The announcement, which signaled an abrupt end to a months-long American effort to broker peace between two important allies, came after a call between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

Erdogan said in a speech Monday that the withdrawal began soon after their phone call.

A U.S. official confirmed to The Washington Post that American troops left observation posts in the border villages of Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn at 6:30 a.m. local time.

In an initial reaction to the pullout, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a strong Trump supporter, indicated on Twitter that he was seeking more information on the president’s decision. But he added, “If press reports are accurate this is a disaster in the making.”

The fast-moving developments threatened a fresh military conflagration in a large swath of northern Syria, stretching from east of the Euphrates River to the border with Iraq. Syrian Kurds had established an autonomous zone in the area during more than eight years of Syria’s civil war.

Ankara, however, has been increasingly unnerved by the Kurdish presence, and by the close ties between U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a militant group that has fought a long insurgency against the Turkish state.

For months, Erdogan has been threatening an imminent invasion, as Trump administration officials attempted to work out an accommodation that would satisfy Turkish demands for border security while providing a measure of protection for the U.S.-allied Syrian-Kurdish force.

But on Sunday, the United States appeared to throw up its hands. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said the Turkish leader would “soon be moving forward” with dispatching troops to battle the Kurdish forces, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF. Ankara views the group as a terrorist-linked entity, but the SDF has fought closely alongside the U.S. military as a primary partner against the Islamic State. 

“The United States armed forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘caliphate,’ will no longer be in the immediate area,” Grisham said in a statement. ISIS is another name for the Islamic State, the militant group whose rise drew the U.S. military into Syria. 

The SDF, in a statement critical of the United States, said the American troops have begun pulling out.

“The United States forces have not fulfilled their obligations and withdrew their forces from the border area with Turkey,” the statement said. “This Turkish military operation in north and east Syria will have a big negative impact on our war against Daesh and will destroy all stability that was reached in the last few years.” Daesh is an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.

It added that the group reserves the right to defend itself against Turkish aggression.

Erdogan, who has portrayed a Turkish incursion as necessary to protect his country’s borders, has spoken in recent weeks of resettling millions of Syrian refugees in Turkey in a “safe zone” in northern Syria, a plan that has been criticized by refugee advocates as well as local Syrian Kurds who could be displaced by such a proposal.

On Saturday, Erdogan said the invasion, dubbed Operation Peace Fountain, could begin “as soon as today or maybe tomorrow.”

U.S. officials depicted the impending offensive, and the U.S. troop withdrawal, as a dramatic turn after their prolonged attempt to hammer out an arrangement that would allay the Turks’ concerns about Syrian Kurdish forces close to their border, while also averting a battle they fear will be bloody for Kurdish fighters whom the Pentagon sees as stalwart allies. 

Military officials point out that Kurdish assistance is still required to avoid a return of the Islamic State in Syria and to guard facilities where Islamic State militants and their families are being held. 

A senior U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an evolving situation, said the U.S. government “has no idea” what the Turkish operation would look like, whether it would be a small, symbolic incursion or a major offensive intended to push as far as 25 miles into Syria. 

 U.S. officials said an operation deep into Syria could further jeopardize the security of prisons holding Islamic State fighters. “There are many potential disastrous outcomes to this,” the official said.

The White House announcement comes only two days after the Pentagon completed its most recent joint patrol with Turkish forces, a central element of the U.S. effort to build trust in northern Syria. But similar patrols and other measures overseen from a joint U.S.-Turkish military hub in southern Turkey have not reduced Ankara’s impatience to establish the buffer zone it has envisioned. 

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper described ongoing U.S.-Turkish cooperation in northern Syria, saying that his Turkish counterpart had agreed in a call last week “that we need to make the security mechanism work.”

In negotiations, the United States had said it would agree to a strip along the border to be cleared of Syrian Kurdish fighters and jointly patrolled by the United States and Turkey on the ground and in the air. That strip is about five miles wide, only about a quarter of what the Turks have demanded.

The joint patrols are taking place in only about a third of the border length, with the idea of gradually expanding them. In addition to not liking U.S. terms for the agreement, Erdogan believes the United States is dragging its feet in implementing it.

“Mr. Trump gave the order; he ordered to pull out. But this came late,” Erdogan told reporters in Ankara on Monday. “We cannot accept the threats of terrorist organizations.”

Erdogan’s plan to send up to 3 million Syrian refugees into the 140-mile-long strip also runs counter to what the United States says was part of the agreement they had reached to allow only the 700,000 to 800,000 refugees who originally fled the area to resettle there. Turkey currently hosts more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees, but the government has recently begun deporting hundreds back to Syria as public sentiment turns against the migrants.

Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for Erdogan, wrote on Twitter that Turkey has no interest in occupying or changing the demographics in northeastern Syria and that the “safe zone” would serve two purposes: secure Turkey’s borders and allow refugees to return home.

After months of warning about the turmoil such a move could create, U.S. officials said they are now watching Turkey’s actions closely to inform their own decisions about how quickly they must move the hundreds of troops expected to be affected. 

“We’re going to get out of the way,” another U.S. official said. 

There are about 1,000 U.S. troops in northeastern Syria. 

The SDF also predicted that Islamic State fighters would break out of prison camps the SDF manages in different areas of Syria.

The potential for greater risk to Islamic State prisons and camps comes after months of unsuccessful efforts by the Trump administration to persuade countries in Europe and elsewhere to repatriate their citizens.

The White House statement said that “Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters” in that area. “The United States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer,” Grisham said. 

Erdogan said Monday that Turkey has “an approach to this issue” of ISIS, without specifying what it was.

The United Nations is also concerned about the impact that any Turkish operation would have on the protection of civilians in northeastern Syria, Panos Moumtzis, U.N. regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, said in a telephone interview.

“We want our message to all governments and actors on the ground to be to make sure that this latest development does not have an impact first of all on a new displacement of people,” he said.

The United Nations already provides services to approximately 700,000 people every month in the northeast. Moumtzis emphasized the importance of freedom of movement of civilians and ensuring the continuation of access to humanitarian groups. He stressed that any movement of Syrians must be done voluntarily and with safety and dignity.

“We have not had any specific instructions on” the safe zone, he said, adding that the United Nations has a contingency plan depending on how wide and deep the safe zone would be.

Turkey’s latest possible incursion comes nearly two years after Ankara launched a military offensive on Afrin, in northern Syria, in an operation that was also criticized as a distraction from the fight against the Islamic State.  

The contested legacy of Turkey’s Afrin offensive has hovered over Erdogan’s latest military plans. Ankara has argued that its past foray into Syria brought stability to parts of the north and provided a safe haven for hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. But over the last year, human rights groups have documented abuses by Turkish-backed militias in Afrin — mistreatment that they say has included kidnappings and arbitrary detentions.

And many of the refugees who returned to Afrin — which has suffered from mysterious militant attacks, including car bombs — ended up fleeing back across the border into Turkey, according to advocates for the refugees.

Kurdish leaders have accused Turkey of trying to settle Arabs in historically Kurdish lands. Arab residents, in turn, have accused the Kurds of carrying out ethnic cleansing in areas they control.

“We thank the Americans for their decision to withdraw from northern Syria, not because we hate the U.S. but because we are fed up with the SDF,” said Abu Musafir, a member of the Manbij Tribal Council, a confederation of Arab tribes in the region.

“We are fed up with the SDF’s racism, detentions, kidnappings and compulsory conscription of underaged boys and girls,” he said. “The situation was bad, and the area was on the verge of imploding.” 

[Washington Post]

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