Trump defends Yovanovitch attack: ‘I have freedom of speech’

President Trump on Friday defended his tweet earlier in the day attacking former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch in the middle of her public testimony in the House impeachment hearing, insisting he has the right to speak out.

“I have the right to speak. I have freedom of speech just like other people do,” Trump told reporters at the White House after making remarks on a health care initiative, adding that he’s “allowed to speak up” if others are speaking about him.

Pressed on whether his words can be intimidating, as Yovanovitch and Democrats have said, Trump said no.

“I don’t think so at all,” he said.

The remarks were Trump’s first public comments of the day, which has largely been dominated by testimony from Yovanovitch. As the former ambassador testified about a smear campaign by Trump’s allies to oust her from her post in Kyiv, the president took aim at her on Twitter.

“Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him,” Trump tweeted. “It is a U.S. President’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors.”

In a stunning moment, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) interrupted questioning from his staff counsel to read the president’s tweet aloud to Yovanovitch and asked for her reaction.

“I don’t think I have such powers,” Yovanovitch said with a slight laugh. “Not in Mogadishu, Somalia, not in other places.”

Asked what effect Trump’s tweet might have on future witnesses facing pressure from the White House not to testify, Yovanovitch described it as “very intimidating.”

Democrats on the committee and elsewhere in the House equated Trump’s tweet to witness intimidation and suggested that it could be considered when mulling articles of impeachment later in the process.

The White House on Friday morning issued a statement that Trump would not be watching Yovanovitch’s testimony beyond opening statements. But Trump himself said that he had tuned in.

“I watched a little bit of it today. I wasn’t able to yesterday because we had the president of Turkey here, and I wasn’t able to watch much,” Trump said. “I watched some of it this morning and I thought it was a disgrace.”

Trump complained that Republicans were not given a fair shake, referencing an instance where Schiff stopped Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) from questioning Yovanovitch because the rules stipulated that only the ranking member or Republican counsel could ask questions during that period.

“It’s a disgrace and it’s an embarrassment to our nation,” Trump said.

Yovanovitch is the third witness to testify publicly in the House impeachment inquiry. Several other current and former administration officials are scheduled to give public testimony next week.

[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 attacks ambassador on Twitter as she testifies that his words in Ukraine call made her feel threatened

President Donald Trump lashed out at former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch on Friday as she testified in a public impeachment hearing that his words about her in a phone call with the Ukraine president “sounded like a threat.”

“Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad,” Trump claimed in a two-part tweet blast.

“She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him. It is a U.S. President’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors,” the president wrote.

The time stamp on the tweet is 10 a.m., 30 minutes after Yovanovitch started her opening statement at the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearing.

Yovanovitch, whose career of service to the U.S. spanned more than three decades, was asked at the hearing about the tweets.

“I actually think that where I served over the years I and others have demonstrably made things better for the U.S. as well as for the countries that I served in,” she said.

“It’s very intimidating,” she added when asked again about the president’s tweets.

“I want to let you know, ambassador, that some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously,” said House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif.

Yovanovitch had served the U.S. in Ukraine from August 2016 until May 2019, when Trump ousted her. She testified that she “had no agenda other than to pursue our stated foreign policy goals” during her tenure and said she was the victim of a “smear campaign” pushed in part by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

Trump, in his July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, called Yovanovitch “bad news” and offered the cryptic remark that “she’s going to go through some things.”

That call is now at the center of the impeachment inquiry into whether Trump abused his office by asking Zelenskiy to announce investigations involving former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

Yovanovitch, who was already removed as ambassador by the time of Trump’s July 25 call, said that Trump’s remark about her “didn’t sound good. It sounded like a threat.”

“It’s not a very precise phrase,” she added. “It kind of felt like a vague threat.”

[NBC News]

Transcript Shows WH Made Up Details of Trump’s Zelensky Call

The release of the transcript of President Donald Trump’s first call in April with Ukrainian President-elect Volodomyr Zelensky was meant to bolster the case that Trump had nothing but good intentions in his dealings with Ukraine—but it also showed a White House summary of the same call released to the public shortly after it occurred was largely fabricated. 

The White House readout, a summary of the call released hours after it occurred, claimed Trump “underscored the unwavering support of the United States for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity—within its internationally recognized borders—and expressed his commitment to work together with President-elect Zelensky and the Ukrainian people to implement reforms that strengthen democracy, increase prosperity, and root out corruption.”

Such statements are nowhere to be found in the transcript of the call released by the president on Friday. That transcript shows Trump congratulating Zelensky on his recent election win, promising to arrange a White House visit for him, and recounting the large number of Ukrainian women who participated in Trump’s Miss Universe competitions.

Nowhere does Trump mention efforts to address Ukrainian corruption, economic prosperity, or democratic institutions. Nor does he even allude to its efforts to beat back the Russian occupation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on those discrepancies.

The White House released the transcript in an effort to undercut claims by congressional Democrats that Trump sought to leverage a Zelensky White House visit and delayed military aid to Ukraine to solicit an investigation by Ukrainian prospectors into the son of former Vice President Joe Biden and into conspiracy theories regarding a supposed Ukrainian role in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee in 2016.

Trump and his allies have claimed that the president was simply seeking to root out corruption in Ukraine, a stated objective of U.S. foreign policy for years. The readout of Trump’s April call with Zelensky indicated that Trump had indeed pressed Zelensky on that issue in particular.

But the transcript released Friday, which notes that it is not a “verbatim” account of the conversation, doesn’t even mention the word “corruption.”

The Trump White House has a checkered record of releasing summaries of his calls with foreign leaders, a practice viewed as standard in prior administrations. Many of those readouts have contained scant details of the conversations, even as foreign leaders put out far more detailed summaries, a practice that experts say allows foreign governments to put their own spin on highly consequential interactions with the president.

[The Daily Beast]

Trump knocks testimony from ‘Never Trumpers’ at Louisiana rally

President Trump on Thursday attacked Democratic lawmakers in personal terms and ridiculed the first two witnesses to testify publicly in the House’s impeachment inquiry as “Never Trumpers.”

In his first campaign rally since the Wednesday hearing, Trump riffed about the spectacle and insisted to a crowd of adoring supporters that he had done nothing wrong.

“The absolutely crazed lunatics, the Democrats, radical left and their media partners standing right back there are pushing the deranged impeachment witch hunt for doing nothing wrong,” Trump said during the event in Bossier City, La.

Trump briefly addressed the testimony of diplomat William Taylor and State Department official George Kent, who told the House Committees about their concerns regarding Trump’s policy in Ukraine, the focus on investigations into his political rivals and the actions of the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

“You saw yesterday how about when they asked these two Never Trumpers, ‘what exactly do you think you impeach him for?'” Trump said. “And they stood there and went like, ‘what?'”

“But they’re unraveling and their sinister plans will fail,” Trump added. “They’ve already failed as far as I’m concerned.”

The president avoided addressing any specific claims in the testimony from Taylor and Kent. Instead, he turned his ire toward House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), whom he mocked at length.

“He’s got the little 10-inch neck,” Trump said of the Democratic lawmaker, who is overseeing the impeachment hearings.

“He will not make the LSU football team, that I can tell you,” Trump added.

The president also read aloud from a post on The Daily Wire, a conservative publication that published quotes from a Ukrainian official that distanced the country from allegations against Trump.

Trump rallied in Louisiana for the second time in a week and the third time in a month as he makes a final push for Republican gubernatorial candidate Eddie Rispone. Thursday’s event came one day after the first public hearing in the House impeachment inquiry. 

Taylor in particular laid out in rich detail the timeline of events that led him to believe the president’s policy in Ukraine was inappropriate.

He delivered a damning new piece of testimony when he told the House Intelligence Committee that one of his staffers overheard a call between Trump and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland in which the president asked about investigations. The Associated Press reported earlier Thursday that a second staffer overheard the call as well.

But Trump and his allies have landed on a clear talking point in the aftermath of the hearing, noting that neither Taylor nor Kent had direct interactions with the president or first-hand information about potential wrongdoing.

Trump is facing a gauntlet of upcoming witness testimony that could produce more damaging revelation. Former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is set to testify in public on Friday morning. She has previously told lawmakers behind closed doors that Giuliani led a concerted effort to smear her and remove her from her post.

Several more witnesses, including Sondland, will testify in public next week. The House committees leading the impeachment inquiry will also hear private deposition from additional administration officials in the coming days.

Earlier on Thursday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) portrayed Trump’s actions as a clearly impeachable offense.

“What President Trump has done on the record — in terms of … [asking] a foreign power to help him in his own election and the obstruction of information about that, the cover up — makes what Nixon did look almost small,” she said at a press conference. “Almost small.”

Trump reiterated his belief that the impeachment process will ultimately benefit Republicans at the polls, despite public polling showing an even split among those in favor of impeachment and those opposed to it.

But in what appeared to be a more sincere moment from the free-wheeling president, Trump indicated to the crowd that the process has been difficult for his family and that he’d be happy to see it conclude.

“What a life I lead,” Trump said to the crowd. “You think this is fun, don’t you? But it’s been very hard on my family.”

[The Hill]

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]

The US Navy canceled a routine Black Sea patrol after Trump complained that it was hostile to Russia

Christopher Anderson, an aide to former Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, testified that the White House canceled a Navy freedom-of-navigation operation in the Black Sea after President Donald Trump complained to then-national security adviser John Bolton about a CNN report that framed the operation as a counter to Russia, Politico reported.

According to Anderson’s testimony, the news report in question came from CNN and characterized the operation as antagonistic toward Russia. Anderson testified that Trump called Bolton at home to complain about the article, and the operation was later canceled at the behest of the White House, Anderson said.

“In January, there was an effort to get a routine freedom-of-navigation operation into the Black Sea,” Anderson testified. “There was a freedom-of-navigation operation for the Navy. So we — we, the US government — notified the Turkish government that there was this intent.”

While Anderson in his testimony placed the report in January, details from his testimony match a story from early December, which had the headline “US makes preparations to sail warship into the Black Sea amid Russia-Ukraine tensions.”

Anderson said the White House asked the Navy to cancel the freedom-of-navigation operation because the report portrayed the operation as a move to counter Russia, which has increased its naval presence there since annexing Crimea in 2014. In November 2018, its forces attacked Ukrainian assets transiting the Kerch Strait, which connects the Black Sea with the Azov Sea. Russia seized three Ukrainian ships and held 24 Ukrainian service members captive.

“We met with Ambassador Bolton and discussed this, and he made it clear that the president had called him to complain about that news report. And that may have just been that he was surprised,” Anderson said.

“We don’t — I can’t speculate as to why, but that, that operation, was canceled, but then we were able to get a second one for later in February. And we had an Arleigh-class destroyer arrive in Odessa on the fifth anniversary of the Crimea invasion.”

The White House and the US Navy’s 6th Fleet, which conducts operations in Europe, did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment. 

[Business Insider]

TRUMP CLAIMS IVANKA ‘CREATED 14 MILLION JOBS’ BUT ONLY 5.5 MILLION HAVE BEEN CREATED DURING HIS PRESIDENCY

President Donald Trump on Tuesday spread fake news that his daughter and senior White House adviser Ivanka Trump has “created 14 million jobs,” a statement that many Twitter users quickly corrected him about.

The president credited his daughter, who has been promoting the administration’s workforce initiative, with the sky-high number during his speech at the Economic Club of New York.

“And when she started this, two and half years ago, her goal was 500,000 jobs,” the president said, regarding the administration’s ‘Pledge to America’s Workers.’

“She has now created 14 million jobs,” Trump claimed, “And they are being trained by these great companies, the greatest companies in the world because the government cannot train them. It’s a great thing.”

The president added: “14 million and going up.”

Many Twitter users shared why the president was wrong about the results of his daughter, whom he regularly praises.

Journalist James Fallows called it one of the president’s “lunatic claims.”

“TOTAL US employment rise in past 3 years, including normal population growth, is around 6 million. Share of that via Ivanka????” Fallows tweeted. “If reality mattered.”

Washington Post video editor JM Rieger noted that through August 2019, about 5.5 million jobs have been created under the Trump administration, less than half the amount the president attributed to his daughter. Rieger shared a Forbes story from September citing U.S. Department of Labor figures to show that job growth under President Trump has been weaker than forecast and that he has created 1.5 million fewer jobs than his predecessor Barack Obama.

CNN reporter Daniel Dale, whose Twitter profile states he engages in “fact-checking the president and other politicians,” explained why the president spoke “nonsensically.”

“These are education and training opportunities, many of them for existing employees and many planned before/entirely independent of the Pledge,” Dale tweeted.

A White House web page on the pledge states that since the president signed an executive order establishing the National Council for the American Worker in July 2018, “more than 300 companies and organizations have signed the Pledge, contributing to over 12 MILLION new education and training opportunities for American students and workers over the next five years.”

The council is co-chaired by Ivanka Trump. She has been traveling the United States and around the world promoting the administration’s workforce efforts including the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative, which seeks to economically empower 50 million women in developing countries by 2025.

It is not clear what specific work Ivanka Trump has done to create jobs beyond promote the administration’s programs through in-person appearances and photo ops.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Newsweek on the president’s claim and numbers to back it up.

[Newsweek]

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 Just Called DACA Recipients ‘Hardened Criminals’ Hours Before Their Supreme Court Case

Hours before the Supreme Court would hear arguments in a case to determine the legal status of nearly 700,000 immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, President Trump tweeted a message for them.

“Many of the people in DACA, no longer very young, are far from ‘angels.’ Some are very tough, hardened criminals,” wrote Trump, referring to immigrants who’ve benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

The missive came as protestors and activists swarmed the Supreme Court ahead of its hearing on the Obama-era law that gives certain immigrants temporary legal status and a work permit, which they can renew every two years. Recipients need to have come to the U.S. before age 16, graduated high school (or be enrolled), and passed a background check.

Trump’s Tuesday morning tweet echoes the language he frequently uses to describe immigrants. But according to a 2017 report from the libertarian think tank CATO Institute, DACA recipients have lower incarceration rates than people born in the U.S. And to be eligible for the program, applicants can’t have been convicted of a felony — or even a string of misdemeanors.

After he took office, Trump initially waffled on whether his administration would preserve the policy. In February of 2017, Trump called DACA beneficiaries “absolutely incredible kids.” But facing pressure from immigration hard-liners, Trump swiftly changed his tune. By September of that year, he announced that the Department of Homeland Security would end the program completely.

That fight has now arrived at the Supreme Court, which will decide whether it’s lawful for the Trump administration to end the program. Nearly 700,000 immigrants rely on DACA to live and work in the U.S., the vast majority of which are women under the age of 25.

Despite the fact that his own administration is pushing to dismantle the program, Trump has punted the issue to Democrats in Congress. He added in his tweet that, if the Supreme Court rules in his administration’s favor, the White House will work with Democrats on a plan to keep DACA beneficiaries in the U.S.

“President Obama said he had no legal right to sign order, but would anyway. If Supreme Court remedies with overturn, a deal will be made with Dems for them to stay!” Trump wrote.

[VICE]

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