Trump offers to guarantee ASAP Rocky’s bail in Sweden

President Trump said he spoke with Sweden’s prime minister Saturday about jailed rapper ASAP Rocky and “offered to personally vouch for his bail.”

Trump tweeted that during a “a very good call” with Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, he also “assured him that A$AP was not a flight risk.” The platinum-selling, Grammy-nominated artist has been in custody since early this month over an alleged fight.

Urged on by the first lady and celebrities including Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West, the president had said in a Friday tweet that he would intervene to try to free Rocky, whose real name is Rakim May.

“Our teams will be talking further, and we agreed to speak again in the next 48 hours!” Trump wrote Saturday after speaking with Lofven.

Lofven said in a statement earlier Saturday that he would be glad to speak with Trump about ASAP Rocky’s detention but that his government “cannot and will not attempt to influence prosecutors or courts.”

“I understand that President Trump has a personal interest in the case …. He has expressed the desire for a conversation with me, which is certainly positive,” Lofven said. “I will explain that the Swedish judicial system is independent. In Sweden, everyone is equal before the law, and this includes visitors from other countries.”

Rocky has been behind bars while Swedish police investigate the fight in Stockholm he was allegedly involved in before appearing at a music festival. Videos published on social media appear to show a person being violently thrown onto the ground by Rocky. A defense lawyer has said Rocky acted in self-defense.

Other recording artists have also spoken out on his behalf, including Sean “Diddy” Combs, Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, Nicki Minaj and Post Malone.

[Los Angeles Times]

Trump denies calling Meghan ‘nasty’ despite audio recording

US President Donald Trump has denied calling the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, “nasty” despite the comments being recorded.

“I never called Meghan Markle ‘nasty’,” he tweeted on Sunday, adding: “Made up by the Fake News Media, and they got caught cold!”

Mr Trump made his remarks about the duchess in a Sun newspaper interviewahead of his state visit to the UK.

The US former actress has been a vocal critic of Mr Trump.

She supported his Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton, in the 2016 election and has referred to him as “divisive” and a “misogynist”.

Told of her comments during his interview with the Sun, President Trump said it was the first time he had heard them.

“I didn’t know that. What can I say? I didn’t know that she was nasty,” he said.

He went on to say that he was glad she had joined the royal family and he believed she would make a “very good” princess.

“It is nice, and I am sure she will do excellently,” he said.

On Saturday the Sun posted an audio recording of the interview on its website.

Following Mr Trump’s denial on Twitter the day after the interview was published, several commentators pointed out that the remarks were on tape.

The duchess, married to Britain’s Prince Harry, gave birth to the couple’s first child in May. She is on maternity leave and not expected to meet President Trump during his visit from 3 to 5 June.

[BBC]

Trump calls Meghan Markle ‘nasty’ ahead of London visit

President Trump said Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, was “nasty” ahead of his state visit to the United Kingdom.

“I didn’t know that she was nasty,” Trump told The Sun.

The American actress called Trump “misogynistic” and said she would consider remaining in Canada where she was filming if he won the 2016 presidential election. She married Prince Harry in May 2018 and gave birth to their first child earlier this month.

President Trump said Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, was “nasty” ahead of his state visit to the United Kingdom.

“I didn’t know that she was nasty,” Trump told The Sun.

The American actress called Trump “misogynistic” and said she would consider remaining in Canada where she was filming if he won the 2016 presidential election. She married Prince Harry in May 2018 and gave birth to their first child earlier this month.

Meghan, who is still on maternity leave, is not expected to meet with Trump during his visit.

[Washington Examiner]

Trump Cabinet Member Literally Bans a Word Because He Can’t Explain it to Trump

Trump U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer — a cabinet-level official — tried repeatedly to explain what a “Memorandum of Understanding” is to Trump before finally giving up and promising never to use the term again, all during a nationally-televised photo op.

During remarks in the Oval Office prior to a meeting with Vice Premier Liu He of China Friday, Trump was asked about Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) between China and the United States, and Trump told reporters “I don’t like MOUs because they don’t mean anything. To me, they don’t mean anything. I think you’re better off just going into a document. I was never a fan of an MOU.”

“An MOU is a contract,” Lighthizer explained, adding that “It’s the way trade agreements are generally used,” that “It’s an actual contract between the two parties,” that “A memorandum of understanding is a binding agreement between two people,” and that “It’s detailed; it covers everything in great detail.”

“It’s just called a memorandum of understanding,” Lighthizer explained again, for a fifth and sixth time. “That’s a legal term. It’s a contract.”

Moments later, Trump said “I disagree. I think that a memorandum of understanding is not a contract to the extent that we want. We’re going to have — we’re doing a memorandum of understanding that will be put into a final contract, I assume. But, to me, the final contract is really the thing, Bob — and I think you mean that, too — is really the thing that means something.”

Trump again told Lighthizer that an MOU “doesn’t mean very much,” and asked, “how long will it take to put that into a final, binding contract?”

“From now on, we’re not using the word ‘memorandum of understanding’ anymore,” Lighthizer said, to laughter from the room. “We’re going to the term ‘trade agreement.’ All right? No more. We’ll never use the term again.”

“Good,” Trump said.

“We’ll have the same document,” Lighthizer added. “It’s going to be called a ‘trade agreement.’ We’re never going to use ‘MOU’ again.”

And so the MOU goes out, not with a bang, but with a whimper. Here’s hoping nobody ever tries to explain “Bill of Rights” to Trump.

Watch the video above, from The White House.

[Mediaite]

A Trump Call That Went Rogue Hands Erdogan a Surprise Win on Syria

Donald Trump was supposed to tell his Turkish counterpart to stop testing his patience with military threats in Syria. That is, if the American president stuck to the script.

Instead, during a lengthy phone call earlier this month, Trump shocked even those in his inner circle by yielding to a suggestion from Recep Tayyip Erdogan to reverse the Pentagon’s Syrian strategy, handing the Turkish president his biggest diplomatic victory ever.

Erdogan pressed Trump on the Dec. 14 call to explain why American forces were still in Syria even after they met their objective of defeating Islamic State, according to people with direct knowledge of the conversation.

Erdogan had a point about the defeat of ISIS, Trump said, repeating his long-held conviction that American troops should be out of Syria anyway, according to the people, including an American official who spoke on condition of anonymity while discussing the call.

Then the American president dropped a bombshell, asking National Security Adviser John Bolton — whom he addressed as “Johnny” — about the feasibility of an immediate pullout, according to two of the people. He got a reassuring “yes” in response and the ball started rolling, the people said.

Days later, Trump announced the pullout of all 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria, facing withering criticism from both sides of the political spectrum for leaving a key part of the Middle East exposed to Russian and Iranian influence. Then on Thursday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned.

While Trump faced political heat, Erdogan became a hero at home, seen as a leader who got his way with the world’s biggest superpower by convincing Washington to end its support for Turkey’s nemesis in Syria, a Kurdish militant group called the YPG. Erdogan says the group — which has allied with America for some of the toughest fighting in northern Syria — is linked to domestic terrorists he has long sought to wipe out.

The developments illustrate how Erdogan has managed to become a more central player in both Mideast politics and U.S. foreign policy, capitalizing on an American president eager to fulfill promises to extricate American troops from Middle East quagmires. They come just months after Trump and Erdogan were facing off over new American tariffs, Turkey’s refusal to release an American pastor and Erdogan’s demands that the U.S. extradite a cleric it views as behind a failed 2016 coup.

[Bloomberg]

Trump Announces All Asylum Seekers Must Now ‘Stay in Mexico’ Until Claims Approved in Court

On Saturday, President Donald Trump announced via a pair of tweets that migrants seeking asylum will now have to remain in Mexico until their claims are approved in court.

“Migrants at the Southern Border will not be allowed into the United States until their claims are individually approved in court. We only will allow those who come into our Country legally. Other than that our very strong policy is Catch and Detain. No ‘Releasing’ into the U.S.,” Trump wrote.

He then added in a second tweet: “All will stay in Mexico. If for any reason it becomes necessary, we will CLOSE our Southern Border. There is no way that the United States will, after decades of abuse, put up with this costly and dangerous situation anymore!”

Trump’s announcement comes just days after the Washington Postreported on plans to implement the policy as early as Friday.

According to DHS memos obtained by The Washington Post on Wednesday, Central American asylum seekers who cannot establish a “reasonable fear” of persecution in Mexico will not be allowed to enter the United States and would be turned around at the border.

The plan, called “Remain in Mexico,” amounts to a major break with current screening procedures, which generally allow those who establish a fear of return to their home countries to avoid immediate deportation and remain in the United States until they can get a hearing with an immigration judge. Trump despises this system, which he calls “catch and release,” and has vowed to end it.

At the time, Department of Homeland Security spox Katie Waldman said the policy will not start “this week.”

Yet, Trump also teased plans to close the entire border while speaking with reporters on Thanksgiving Day.

Earlier today, WaPo also reported that the Trump administration had reached a deal with Mexico to allow migrants to wait in the country. However, incoming Interior Minister Olga Sanchez has since deniedsuch deal exists.

The ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy is likely to meet court challenges in the days ahead especially since just this past Monday a San Francisco judge ruled Trump may not rewrite immigration laws.

[Mediaite]

Trump: US to ‘begin cutting off’ aid to countries associated with migrant caravan

President Trump on Monday said that the U.S. will begin to cut off or reduce aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador as citizens of those countries flee for the U.S. as part of a so-called caravan of migrants.

In a trio of tweets, the president escalated his rhetoric surrounding the group of migrants, declaring a national emergency as they approach the border and claiming that “unknown Middle Easterners” had joined the group.

Trump, in the tweets, did not offer any evidence for the charge that people from the Middle East were among those crossing the border.

“Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were not able to do the job of stopping people from leaving their country and coming illegally to the U.S. We will now begin cutting off, or substantially reducing, the massive foreign aid routinely given to them,” Trump wrote in a tweet.

“Sadly, it looks like Mexico’s Police and Military are unable to stop the Caravan heading to the Southern Border of the United States. Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in. I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National [Emergency]. Must change laws!”

Trump had previously threatened to cut off aid to those countries if they did not act to stop their citizens from fleeing. It’s unclear if Trump will take unilateral action to reduce foreign aid, as Congress is not scheduled to return to Washington until after the midterm elections.

Experts have noted that human rights laws restrict actions a government can take to prevent its citizens from leaving its borders.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill about plans to cut foreign aid or to declare a national emergency.

[The Hill]

Trump says US is ending decades-old nuclear arms treaty with Russia

President Donald Trump announced Saturday that the US is pulling out of the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, a decades-old agreement that has drawn the ire of the President.

“Russia has violated the agreement. They’ve been violating it for many years,” Trump told reporters before boarding Air Force One to leave Nevada following a campaign rally.

“And I don’t know why President Obama didn’t negotiate or pull out. And we’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons and we’re not allowed to,” he said. “We’re the ones that have stayed in the agreement and we’ve honored the agreement.

“But Russia has not, unfortunately, honored the agreement. So we’re going to terminate the agreement. We’re gonna pull out,” he said of the agreement, which was signed in December 1987 by former President Ronald Reagan and former USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev.

Following the announcement, Russia’s state-run news agency, RIA Novosti, reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to discuss the decision with US national security adviser John Bolton when he visits Russia this week.

According to the report, the Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said, “It’s likely that an explanation from the US will be required following the latest scandalous statements.”

What is the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty?

The treaty forced both countries to eliminate ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between approximately 300 and 3,400 miles. It offered a blanket of protection to the United States’ European allies and marked a watershed agreement between two nations at the center of the arms race during the Cold War.

Former State Department spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby, a CNN military and diplomatic analyst, explained that the treaty “wasn’t designed to solve all of our problems with the Soviet Union,” but was “designed to provide a measure of some strategic stability on the continent of Europe.”

“I suspect our European allies right now are none too happy about hearing that President Trump intends to pull out of it,” he said.

Why leave the agreement now?

The Trump Administration has said repeatedlythat Russia has violated the treaty and has pointed to their predecessors in the Obama administration who accused Russia of violating the terms of the agreement.

In 2014, CNN reported that the US had accused Russia of violating the INF Treaty, citing cruise missile tests that dated to 2008. CNN reported in 2014 that the United States at the time informed its NATO allies of Russia’s suspected breach.

However, it wasn’t until recently that NATO officially confirmed Russia’s activity constituted a likely violation.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said earlier this month that the military alliance remained “concerned about Russia’s lack of respect for its international commitments, including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the INF Treaty.”

“This treaty abolishes a whole category of weapons and is a crucial element of our security,” Stoltenberg said, speaking at a defense ministers’ meeting. “Now this treaty is in danger because of Russia’s actions.”

He continued, “After years of denials, Russia recently acknowledged the existence of a new missile system, called 9M729. Russia has not provided any credible answers on this new missile. All allies agree that the most plausible assessment would be that Russia is in violation of the treaty. It is therefore urgent that Russia addresses these concerns in a substantial and transparent manner.”

Moscow’s failure to adhere to the agreement was also addressed in the most recent Nuclear Posture Review published by the Defense Department in February, which said Russia “continues to violate a series of arms control treaties and commitments.”

“In a broader context, Russia is either rejecting or avoiding its obligations and commitments under numerous agreements and has rebuffed U.S. efforts to follow the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with another round of negotiated reductions and to pursue reductions in non-strategic nuclear forces.”

What does this mean for US security?

Pulling out of the treaty could provoke a similar arms race across Europe akin to the one that was occurring when the agreement was initially signed in the 1980s.

“I don’t think we’re at the stage right now that if we pull out of the INF Treaty, you’ve got to go sort of build a bunker in your backyard,” Kirby said.

“I don’t think we’re at that stage at all,” he said. “But I do think, if we pull out, we really do need to think about how we are going to, right now because we don’t have the same capability as the Russians have with this particular missile. How are we going to try and counter that? How are we going to try and help deter use of it on the continent of Europe?”

How does China work in all of this?

Administration officials believe the treaty has put the US at a disadvantage because China does not face any constraints on developing intermediate-range nuclear missiles in the Pacific and it does not allow the US to develop new weapons.

Trump, speaking with reporters on Saturday, referenced China when explaining his reasoning for pulling out of the agreement.

“Unless Russia comes to us and China comes to us and they all come to us and say, ‘Let’s really get smart and let’s none of us develop those weapons.’ But if Russia’s doing it and if China’s doing it and we’re adhering to the agreement, that’s unacceptable,” Trump said.

In 2017, the head of US Pacific Command, Adm. Harry Harris, told Congress that approximately 95% of China’s missile force would violate the INF Treaty if they were part of the agreement.

“This fact is significant because the U.S. has no comparable capability due to our adherence to the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia,” Harris said in a statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

National security adviser John Bolton is expected to discuss the treaty with Russian officials on his trip to Moscow next week.

Kirby said he thinks the Russians will be OK with the decision.

“This gives Putin an excuse to just continue doing what he’s doing, only doing it more blatantly,” Kirby said.

Outspoken Russian senator Alexey Pushkov tweeted Sunday that the “United States is bringing the world back to the Cold War” in reaction to Trump’s decision, which he called a “massive blow to the entire system of strategic stability in the world.”

Senior Russian lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev warned on his Facebook page that “the consequences would be truly catastrophic.” However, he said it’s not official that the US has pulled out of the INF, saying “it’s still possible to consider Trump’s statement as continuous blackmail rather than a completed legal act.”

[CNN]

John Bolton Threatens Sanctions for ‘Illegitimate’ International Criminal Court: ‘Already Dead to Us’

National Security Advisor John Bolton delivered his expected condemnation of the International Criminal Court on Monday, vowing to bring sanctions against the organization if it continues to investigate American activity in the Middle East.

As Bolton spoke before the Federalist Society, he promised retaliation for the ICC’s “unjust prosecution” of alleged war crimes committed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He called the organization a threat to American national security, saying it “claims authority separate from, and above, the Constitution of the United States. It is antithetical to our nation’s ideals.”

“We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We will not join the ICC,” said Bolton. “We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.”

The speech continued with Bolton describing the ICC as an “illegitimate” investigative body that failed to adequately prosecute illegal activity abroad despite its “dangerous” levels of unchecked accountability. He said the U.S. will ban the ICC’s court judges from the country and enforce sanctions against any nation cooperating with them if they continue to prosecute America or its allies.

“We will take the following steps, among others, in accordance with the American Service-Members’ Protection Act and our other legal authorities. We will negotiate even more binding bilateral agreements to prohibit nations from surrendering U.S. persons to the ICC,” said Bolton. “We will do the same for any company or state that assists in ICC investigation of Americans. We will take note if any countries cooperate with ICC investigations of the U.S. and its allies, and we will remember that cooperation.”

[Mediaite]

Putin Tells Diplomats He Made Trump a New Offer on Ukraine at Their Summit

Vladimir Putin told Russian diplomats that he made a proposal to Donald Trump at their summit this week to hold a referendum to help resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine, but agreed not to disclose the plan publicly so the U.S. president could consider it, according to two people who attended Putin’s closed-door speech on Thursday.

Details of what the two leaders discussed in their summit in Helsinki, Finland, remain scarce, with much of the description so far coming from Russia. While Putin portrayed the Ukraine offer as a sign he’s seeking to bring the four-year-old crisis to an end, a referendum is likely to be a hard sell with Ukraine and its backers in Europe, who remain committed to an 2015 European-brokered truce deal for the Donbas region, parts of which are controlled by Russian-backed separatists.

White House officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. If Putin’s account of Trump’s reaction is accurate, it would suggest a more flexible approach than the U.S. has shown to date on the issue. At the Helsinki meeting, Trump also agreed to consider a Putin request to question the former U.S. ambassador to Moscow over U.S. campaign-finance violations that critics say Trump should have dismissed outright.

Putin gave his latest account of the meeting during at a conference with top Russian ambassadors and officials at the Foreign Ministry in Moscow, the people said, asking not to be identified discussing the president’s comments to the part of the session that was closed to the public. One of the people said that Trump had requested Putin not discuss the referendum idea at the press conference after the summit in order to give the U.S. leader time to mull it.

Referendum Proposal

Putin’s proposal would call for a vote conducted under international auspices by the residents of the separatist territories on their status, the people said. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on the details of what Putin said about Ukraine at the summit, saying only, “Some new ideas were discussed. They will be worked on.”

On Twitter Thursday, Trump called the summit “a great success” and cited Ukraine among the areas discussed, without providing details.

Putin’s proposal will alarm Ukrainian officials after Trump last week appeared to leave open the possibility of recognizing Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, which triggered the crisis that led to fighting in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Ukraine has offered the areas autonomy under its rule and backs the deployment of international peacekeepers in the region.

The U.S. and the European Union have repeatedly accused Russia of sending troops and weapons to support separatists in eastern Ukraine. Russia denies the charge, though Ukraine has captured a number of Russian soldiers and weaponry on its territory.

Putin pointed to a 2014 referendum, which wasn’t internationally recognized, that was held in Crimea to justify Russia’s annexation at his press conference with Trump after the summit in Helsinki on Monday. “We believe that we held a referendum in strict compliance with international law,” he said. “This case is closed for Russia.”

‘Farce’ Votes

Leaders of so-called rebel republics in Donetsk and Luhansk held referendums in May 2014 that declared independence. The votes were rejected as illegal by the U.S. and the European Union, while Ukraine called them a “farce.” Russia said at the time that it “respects” the votes, which showed as much as 96 percent support for breaking away from Ukraine.

Last year, Putin angered his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, by signing a decree recognizing passports and other documents issued by the separatist governments in Luhansk and Donetsk, which have already declared the ruble their official currency.

If a referendum was held in rebel areas of eastern Ukraine, “the result would be the same as in Crimea,” which voted to join Russia, Igor Plotnitsky, who was then leader of the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic, told Russian state-run RIA Novosti news service in March last year.

[Bloomberg]

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