Sarah Sanders Called Out For Tweeting Misleading Photo Celebrating Syria Strike

On Saturday evening, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted out a photo of the Situation Room, stating that the president had put “our adversaries on notice” the previous night. The implication of the photo was that Trump and his staff were reacting to Friday night’s military strike on Syria.

Only one problem with the tweet — Vice President Mike Pence wasn’t in Washington on Friday evening. The photo shows Pence at the table thus highlighting that it was taken earlier in the week as the vice president was in Peru on Friday.

[Mediaite]

Trump tweets “Mission Accomplished!” after Syria bombing

Less than 24 hours after ordering missile strikes in Syria, President Donald Trump declared, “Mission Accomplished!” in a tweet on Saturday.

The reaction was swift: Twitter users and political pundits immediately drew parallels with President George W. Bush’s now-infamous 2003 speech just over a month into the Iraq War, in which he announced an end to “major combat operations” in Iraq under a “Mission Accomplished” banner. In actuality, the war was far from over and would stretch on for years.

Trump on Sunday defended his use of the phrase on Twitter and said he’s trying to bring it back in vogue. He said he knew the “Fake News Media” would “seize on this but felt it is such a great Military term.” He said he wants to bring it back and “use often!”

The missile strike that Trump was referring to occurred on Friday night. In an announcement, Trump said the attack was underway in retaliation for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons on rebel-held areas of the country. The attacks left at least 42 adults and children dead. The United States, Britain, and France hit three targets in the country, including the capital of Damascus, in what Defense Secretary Jim Mattiscalled a “one-time shot.”

Trump, who has publicly telegraphed his thinking on Syria on Twitter in recent days, took to the platform to take a victory lap after the bombing.

“A perfectly executed strike last night,” he wrote. “Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!”

The Pentagon backed Trump’s assertion. “We met our objectives. We hit the sites, the heart of the chemical weapons program. So it was mission accomplished,” spokesperson Dana White said in a statement to ABC News.

[Vox]

Reality

US military officials have already acknowledged that the strikes did little to blunt Syria’s capacity to manufacture and deliver chemical weapons. The mission was a compromise from the start, targeting facilities that would result in the lowest possible probability of loss of civilian life. And the US warned Russia in advance using the deconfliction line between the US and Russian militaries that there would be an operation over Syria, tipping off Russia and Syria of the strike Trump had already promised was coming.

The strike did accomplish a few things besides blowing up (apparently empty) buildings. It demonstrated how the US, French, and British militaries are capable of orchestrating a joint strike operation on (relatively) short notice, as well as the effectiveness of two relatively new weapons systems. It also demonstrated how some of the oldest weapons systems in the US military’s inventory can still serve a role in these sorts of operations. And the strike gave nearly everyone but the US Army and US Coast Guard an opportunity to take part.

There is also the possibility that these strikes were illegal and unconstitutional.

Two top Trump officials were registered lobbyists for Russian-born businessman linked to Putin

A new investigation from Vice News reveals that two senior Trump administration officials were once registered lobbyists for a Russian-born businessman who has deep ties to Putin-connected Russian oligarchs.

According to Vice, Makan Delrahim — the Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division in the Department of Justice — and David Bernhardt — who is currently the No. 2 official at the Department of the Interior — were registered lobbyists for Access Industries, a holding company under the control of Soviet-born billionaire Leonard Blavatnik.

Blavatnik, who is a naturalized dual U.S.-U.K. citizen, is connected to Russian oligarchs via Access Industries’ large stake in Russian aluminum company UC Rusal. Two other men who have large stakes in UC Rusal are Oleg Deripaska and Viktor Vekselberg — Russian businessmen who were recently hit with sanctions by the United States Treasury Department.

What is particularly notable about Blavatnik, notes Vice, is that he once spread out campaign donations fairly evenly between Republicans and Democrats — before shifting heavily in favor of the GOP during the 2016 election cycle, when President Donald Trump was the party’s nominee.

What’s more, he’s continued to give to Republicans since Trump’s election.

“Although he didn’t donate directly to Trump’s campaign, after Trump won, Access Industries gave a further $1 million to the Presidential Inaugural Committee,” Vice News reports. “And according to The Wall Street Journal, Blavatnik gave $12,700 in April 2017 to a Republican National Committee fund that was used to help pay for the team of private attorneys representing Trump in the probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.”

Read the whole report here.

[Raw Story]

Trump: US, France and UK launch strikes on Syria

President Donald Trump announced on Friday he ordered strikes on the Syrian regime in response to a chemical weapons attack last weekend.

“I ordered the United States armed forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapon capabilities of Syrian dictator of Bashar al-Assad,” Trump said from the White House Diplomatic Reception Room.

US aircraft and ships were used in the attack, according to multiple US defense officials.

Trump said the strikes were in coordination with France and the United Kingdom, adding that the purpose of the campaign is to “establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons.”

“The combined American, British and French response to these atrocities will integrate all instruments of our national power: military, economic and diplomatic,” Trump said.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement that she “authorized British armed forces to conduct co-ordinated and targeted strikes to degrade the Syrian Regime’s chemical weapons capability and deter their use.”

Trump indicated the strikes would continue until the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons ends.

“We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents,” Trump said.

The President also insisted that the US would not remain engaged in Syria forever under any circumstances. He has previously told his national security team he wants US troops to exit Syria within six months.

“America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria,” Trump said from the White House.

“As other nations step up their contributions we look forward to the day we can bring our warriors home.”

Trump told the nation in his address the US “cannot purge the world of evil or act everywhere there is tyranny.”

And he described the Middle East as a “troubled place.”

“We will try to make it better but it is a troubled place,” Trump said. “The US will be a partner and a friend. But the fate of the region lies in the hands of its own people.”
He criticized Russia’s support of the Syrian regime saying “Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path.”

Trump also called out Russia’s promise in 2013 that they would guarantee the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons.

[CNN]

Trump Pardons Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney’s Former Chief of Staff

President Donald Trump pardoned I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Friday, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney who was convicted in 2005 of perjury and obstruction of justice after a leak that disclosed a CIA agent’s name.

“I don’t know Mr. Libby, but for years I have heard that he has been treated unfairly,” Trump said in a statement from the White House. “Hopefully, this full pardon will help rectify a very sad portion of his life.”

ABC News and The Washington Post both reported this week that Trump had been considering the pardon for a few months, but there was no clear timeline for when it might happen.

The chief prosecutor in Libby’s case, Patrick Fitzgerald, also happens to be friends with former FBI Director James Comey.

Libby was charged in 2005 with lying to the FBI, perjury and obstruction of justice following an investigation into who leaked the identity of Valerie Plame, a covert CIA operative at the time, to various journalists. Libby, according to prosecutors, lied about where he learned of her identity and what he discussed with reporters.

He pleaded not guilty but resigned from his position and was disbarred until 2016. He was also sentenced in 2007 to 30 months in prison and fined $250,000 for his role in the leak case.

President George W. Bush refused to grant a pardon to Libby, despite Cheney pushing for it, although the former president did commute Libby’s 30-month prison sentence.

Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage eventually admitted in 2006 that he was the one who inadvertently revealed Plame’s identity.

Trump’s most controversial pardon to date was that of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio last August. Arpaio had been convicted of criminal contempt for violating a federal judge’s order to stop detaining individuals the sheriff believed were in the country illegally. Arpaio had a long history of discrimination and unlawful policing toward Hispanics. He’s now running for Senate.

[Huffington Post]

Justice Department Will Pause A Legal Advice Program For Detained Immigrants

The Department of Justice will temporarily suspend funding for a legal-advice program for detained immigrants as well as a telephone help line at the end of the month, according to officials.

On Tuesday, the department alerted the Vera Institute of Justice, an immigrants rights organization that runs the Legal Orientation Program and the Immigration Court Helpdesk, that the government needs time to review the effectiveness of the program.

The most recent review occurred in 2012. According to public statements, the annual price tag of the program is about $6 million.

The Justice Department declined to explain why it has chosen to review the program when the contract expires on April 30. Officials also declined to provide a timeline for the review.

According to the Vera Institute of Justice, the program serves more than 50,000 people per year in 38 Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers across the country. The nonprofit works with a network of 18 legal aid organizations to provide information in multiple languages about immigrant rights and how the legal system operates.

“Without this program immigrants are effectively being stripped of access to even the most basic information,” Claudia Cubas, the litigation director for Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, told NPR.

Cubas’ Washington, D.C.-based group provides services for undocumented immigrants in six detention centers in Maryland and Virginia. In addition to an orientation session explaining terminology and the processes of immigration cases, the nonprofit groups also try to pair individuals with pro bono attorneys who can then represent them in immigration court, Cubas said. In instances where staff members take on cases, Cubas said, the lawyers are not paid through the government program.

The program was created in 2003 under President George W. Bush.

“Without this funding, we don’t know if we’ll be able to respond to the growing detention population that we’re seeing at a local level. And given concerns about the immigration court backlog this is an incongruous decision because studies show people who get legal help can more quickly make decisions about their case,” she said.

A 2012 cost analysis by the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review concluded that 94 percent of detained migrants who were provided services on or before the day of their first immigration court hearing spent 11 fewer days in ICE detention and completed their immigration proceedings 16 days faster than those who did not.

The same study found that the program created a net savings for the government of nearly $18 million.

In recent months, the Justice Department has made several changes to the nation’s immigration courts intended to clear a vast backlog, now estimated to be about 685,000 cases, according to Syracuse University.

The Department of Justice also announced last week that immigration judges’ job performance will be evaluated by how quickly they close cases.

[NPR]

Trump orders Postal Service review after blasting Amazon deal

After accusing Amazon for months of not paying its fair share of postage, President Trump has ordered a review of the US Postal Service’s finances via an executive order issued late Thursday night. The order calls for a task force to evaluate the operations and finances of the USPS. The order does not mention Amazon by name, but it seems clear that Trump is trying to back his claim that the USPS is losing “many billions of dollars a year” due to the financial arrangement with its biggest shipper of packages, or about $1.50 for every Amazon package it delivers.

Trump may very well be correct regarding the numbers, although his rage seems misplaced. Experts, and even Trump’s own advisers, have said that the enormous volume of packages shipped by Amazon have helped keep the Postal Service afloat. Rather, the long, slow decline in junk and first-class mail are the reasons for the USPS’s mounting financial losses. Trump’s executive order acknowledges this.

“A number of factors, including the steep decline in First-Class Mail volume, coupled with legal mandates that compel the USPS to incur substantial and inflexible costs, have resulted in a structural deficit,” the president says in the order. “The U.S.P.S. is on an unsustainable financial path and must be restructured to prevent a taxpayer-funded bailout.”

It’s unclear how quickly the task force will begin its review, but it has 120 days to respond to the president with a summary of its findings and recommendations. Trump created a similar commission last year to support his claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election — a claim thoroughly debunked by election experts from both parties. The commission was dissolved in January.

Trump often screams “FAKE NEWS!” on Twitter after The Washington Post, owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, publishes incriminating stories about Trump or his administration. Last week Trump calledThe Post “Amazon’s ‘chief lobbyist,’” a claim he’s fond of repeating. And during his presidential campaign, Trump saidthat Amazon had a “huge anti-trust problem” and “is getting away with murder, tax-wise.” It all makes you wonder what Trump’s real angle is.

[The Verge]

 

Trump slams Comey as ‘weak and untruthful slime ball’

President Donald Trump slammed James Comey on Friday as a “weak and untruthful slime ball” and a “proven LEAKER & LIAR,” the day after explosive excerpts from the former FBI director’s tell-all book surfaced in media reports.

“James Comey is a proven LEAKER & LIAR. Virtually everyone in Washington thought he should be fired for the terrible job he did-until he was, in fact, fired. He leaked CLASSIFIED information, for which he should be prosecuted. He lied to Congress under OATH,” Trump tweeted. “He is a weak and untruthful slime ball who was, as time has proven, a terrible Director of the FBI. His handling of the Crooked Hillary Clinton case, and the events surrounding it, will go down as one of the worst “botch jobs” of history. It was my great honor to fire James Comey!”

Comey’s book “A Higher Loyalty,” of copy of which CNN obtained, details his conversations with the President, compares Trump to a mob boss, and slams the “forest fire that is the Trump presidency.”

Comey testified in June that he gave some of his memos of conversations he had with Trump to a Columbia University professor and that he had written the memos specifically to avoid including classified information.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders also attacked Comey’s credibility Friday.
“One of the few areas of true bipartisan consensus in Washington is Comey has no credibility,” Sanders wrote on Twitter Friday morning.

Her post also included the link to a GOP video titled “Comey Not Credible, Just Ask Democrats.”

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on Friday also criticized the former FBI director.

“We find Mr. Comey has a revisionist view of history and seems like a disgruntlement ex-employee,” Conway told reporters outside the White House.

Trump’s allies have prepared an extensive campaign to fight back against Comey’s publicity tour, trying to undermine his credibility by reviving the blistering Democratic criticism of him before he was fired nearly a year ago.

The battle plan against Comey, obtained by CNN Thursday, calls for branding him “Lyin’ Comey” through a website, digital advertising and talking points to be sent to Republicans before his memoir is released next week.

The White House signed off on the plan, which is being overseen by the Republican National Committee.

[CNN]

 

McMaster’s No. 2 to leave White House amid Bolton overhaul

Former national security adviser H.R. McMaster’s No. 2 is exiting the White House, a spokesperson confirmed Thursday, marking the fourth senior staffer to unveil plans to leave the National Security Council as John Bolton takes over.

White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters told reporters that Ricky Waddell, the deputy national security adviser to President Donald Trump, “plans to step down from his position at the White House.”

Walters said Waddell “will stay on board for the immediate future to help ensure a smooth and orderly transition.”

Waddell, an Army reserve major general, became the deputy to McMaster last May. He previously served as commander of the 76th Operational Response Command.

The deputy is the fourth top official to announce they will leave the NSC since Trump fired McMaster and appointed the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to succeed him.

On Wednesday the White House confirmed that deputy national security adviser for strategy Nadia Schadlow will resign effective April 27. Like Waddell, Schadlow said in a statement she will stay on board until then to “help with the transition” of Bolton.

Earlier this week Tom Bossert, a prominent voice on counterterrorism and cybersecurity in the Trump administration and a homeland security adviser, said he will step down. On Sunday, a day before Bolton’s first day at the NSC, agency spokesman Michael Anton announced plans to leave the administration.

The string of departures signals that Bolton, whose hawkish foreign policy views have raised concern among some officials, will have the opportunity to reshape the agency’s leadership structure to this liking.

“Dr. Waddell is highly respected and very well liked within the White House and the United States Army,” Walters added. “We thank him for his continued service.”

News of Waddell’s exit plans was first reported by Axios.

[Politico]

Trump’s latest nominee for district judge is not sure about desegregation

Wendy Vitter is Trump’s latest nominee for district judge in Louisiana. Her nomination is highly controversial, and not only because the counsel for New Orleans’ Catholic archdiocese has only ever judged one federal case, over two decades ago. During her confirmation hearing, Vitter also made waves by refusing to discuss certain established US civil rights.

Yesterday, Vitter was questioned by lawmakers about her long-held anti-abortion and anti-contraception views. The nominee refused to disavow false claims about birth control, hormonal contraceptives, and abortion that she has made in the past: In 2013, while leading a panel titled “Abortion Hurts Women” Vitter claimed that that oral contraceptives can be linked to adultery and a promiscuous lifestyle that can expose women to increased risk of “violent death.” At the same panel, she encouraged anti-abortion doctors to offer brochures claiming that abortion causes cancer—a statement for which there is no scientific evidence. At a 2013 rally against Planned Parenthood, she falsely claimed that the organization “kills 150,000 female a year.”

If confirmed as a judge, Vitter could end up deciding cases invoking the right to abortion provided by the Supreme Court’s historic decision in Roe v Wade. Based on past statements, her stance on abortion and birth control could threaten Louisiana women’s access to birth control and abortion, in a state where there are only three abortion providersleft.

But while the judge nominee’s antagonism towards reproductive rights was known ahead of the hearing, another civil rights wrinkle emerged during her confirmation hearing. Asked whether Vitter supports the Supreme Court 1945 decision on Brown vs Board of Education, which ended the racial segregation in schools, she responded that she would “get into a difficult area” by commenting on SCOTUS decisions which, she says, though correctly decided, “she may disagree with.”

However, Vitter did say that as district judge she would set aside her own “personal, political and religious views” to respect the Supreme Court’s legal precedent.

“It is binding,” Vitter says, “I would be bound by it and of course I would uphold it.”

[Quartz]

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