Far-right, anti-Islam hate group plans to hold event at Mar-A-Lago hotel

A far-right group that alleges that Islamic extremists are infiltrating the U.S. government is set to hold a banquet this weekend at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club, according to permits for the event obtained by The Washington Post.

The Center for Security Policy and its leaders have spread the lie that former President Barack Obama is a Muslim and have also falsely alleged that Muslim organizations in the United States have anti-American beliefs, according to the Post. It is labeled a designated hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center 

The group has rented a ballroom for Saturday at Trump’s club in Palm Beach, Fla., for its annual Freedom Flame Award dinner, according to the Post. This is the first time the event, which has previously been held in New York City and Washington, D.C., is being held in Palm Beach, according to the Post’s public records request.

The White House declined to comment to the Washington Post, and the Trump Organization did not respond to the newspaper’s request for comment.

The permit obtained by the Post says the event will cost approximately $53,000. The organization told the newspaper that it is “a private event.”

Fred Fleitz, a former Trump administration official who is the president and chief executive of the Center for Security Policy, told the newspaper after its initial report was published that the group is not prejudiced against Muslims.

“Muslims are part of our country and our society, this is a good thing,” Fleitz told PJ Media in January, which he cited to the Post. “But what we don’t welcome is the radical ideology that promotes violence.”

Trump cited the group’s research when he proposed “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” during his presidential campaign in 2015, the BBC reported.

According to the Post, Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations alleged that former Reagan administration official Frank Gaffney – who is the founder of the Center for Security Policy and has ties to the Trump administration – is “one of the key figures in the Islamophobia industry.”

“They get the influence they seek by handing him money, and he gets the money,” Hooper told the Post.

Earlier this year, ACT for America, which has called Islam a “cancer,” was also set to hold a banquet at Mar-a-Lago but later canceled the event, the Washington Post reported.

The Hill has reached out to the White House, the Trump organization and the Center for Security Policy for comment.

[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]

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]

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 approves plan for record low number of refugee admissions

President Trump has approved a plan to reduce the cap for refugee admissions to the country for fiscal 2020 to 18,000, the lowest level on record since the program began more than three decades ago. 

In a statement announcing the move this weekend, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that “the core of the Trump Administration’s foreign policy is a commitment to make decisions based on reality, not wishes, and to drive optimal outcomes based on concrete facts.” 

Pompeo went on to say that “this year’s determination on refugee admissions does just that, even as we sustain our longstanding commitment to help vulnerable populations and our leadership as the world’s most generous nation.” 

The plan, which was announced in late September, has drawn pushback from Democratic lawmakers, including governors who have said they will continue to welcome refugees to their states despite the steep reduction.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) said last month that her state is a “sanctuary state” and that Oregon will continue to “stand with refugees” in light of the executive order issued by the Trump administration, which allows states to turn away refugees. 

“These are people who cannot return home because they fear for their lives and their families. And to make matters worse, the Trump administration wants to slash the number of refugees our country will welcome this coming year to 18,000, the lowest ever on record,” she said then.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said in a letter to Trump last month that his state will continue to accept refugees fleeing violence and added that he was “dismayed” by the administration’s plans to drastically reduce the refugee cap to 18,000 — a significant jump from former President Obama’s proposed cap of 116,000 refugees in 2016.

“To reject refugees outright emboldens the message of those who seek to inspire hatred by saying that we, as Americans, do not have compassion or care for specific groups of people in the world facing persecution or worse,” Wolf wrote in the letter.

According to The New York Times, under the new move by the Trump administration, only 5,000 people who wish to flee their home countries for fear of persecution due to their religion will be allowed admission into the U.S. as part of the refugee program.

Fewer than 2,000 Central Americans will reportedly be allowed admission under the program going forward as well as 4,000 Iraqis who aided the United States military during the Iraq War.

The new cap for Iraqi refugees is reportedly less than half of the 9,829 who were admitted under the Obama administration in fiscal 2014. Under the Trump administration during fiscal 2019, just 153 Iraqi refugees whose applications were given high priority were admitted into the country. 

[The Hill]

Trump rails against impeachment inquiry as key White House witness testifies

President Trump on Tuesday railed against the impeachment inquiry into his alleged abuse of power ahead of key testimony from a White House official that threatens to deepen the president’s problems.

Trump tweeted or retweeted dozens of messages denying wrongdoing, chastising Democrats for their handling of the impeachment proceedings thus far and questioning the credibility of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council official who will meet behind closed doors with lawmakers on Tuesday.

“Supposedly, according to the Corrupt Media, the Ukraine call ‘concerned’ today’s Never Trumper witness,” Trump tweeted. “Was he on the same call that I was? Can’t be possible! Please ask him to read the Transcript of the call. Witch Hunt!”

In another tweet, Trump questioned “How many more Never Trumpers will be allowed to testify” and asked “why so many” people were listening in on his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The president repeatedly urged his followers on Tuesday to read a White House rough transcript of the call, which was released in September. The document shows Trump urging Zelensky to look into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and a company with ties to the Russia investigation.

Vindman on Tuesday will become the first official who was on the call to testify. He will tell lawmakers that he was troubled by Trump urging Zelensky to investigate a political rival and reported it to his supervisor, worrying that the president’s conduct threatened to undermine U.S. national security, according to a copy of his opening statement obtained by The Hill.

Vindman is a Ukrainian American immigrant and received the Purple Heart for his service in Iraq.

The July 25 call, a whistleblower complaint about the conversation and testimony from several administration officials have formed the basis of the ongoing impeachment inquiry. The House is scheduled to vote this week to formalize the inquiry and lay out rules to govern the process.

Republicans and White House allies have spent recent weeks hammering Democrats over transparency and questioning the legitimacy of the impeachment inquiry without a formal vote. But in light of Democrats agreeing to hold such a vote, the president’s backers have shifted their message.

Trump on Tuesday retweeted dozens of messages from Republican lawmakers and conservative voices blasting the process as a “sham” and disputing that holding a formal vote at this point in the process changes that.

“A vote now is a bit like un-Ringing a bell as House Democrats have selectively leaked information in order to damage President @realDonaldTrump for weeks,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) tweeted in one message shared by Trump.

“Codifying a sham process halfway through doesn’t make it any less of a sham process,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said in another message the president retweeted.

While Republicans have largely focused their complaints on process, Trump has fixated on the substance of the investigation and repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

“I’d rather go into the details of the case rather than process,” Trump said Monday. “Process is good. But I think you ought to look at the case. And the case is very simple. It’s quick. It’s so quick.”

The president’s insistence that he has done nothing wrong puts Republicans in a difficult spot, particularly in the Senate, where some GOP lawmakers have been hesitant to defend Trump’s actions.

Most Republican senators backed a resolution last week condemning the impeachment inquiry against Trump and calling on the House to hold a formal vote on the inquiry. But the document largely focused on process, and a few key senators have yet to sign on to it in support.

[The Hill]

Trump compares impeachment process to ‘a lynching’

President Donald Trump compared the impeachment process to “a lynching” on Twitter Tuesday morning.

A check of his previous tweets and public statements showed that this appeared to be the first time he has used the term as president.

“So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights,” he wrote. “All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here – a lynching. But we will WIN!”

Criticism of the president’s tweet was swift – from Democrats and some Republicans.

GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois said the word referred to a “painful scourge in our history” and called on Trump to retract his statement.

“We can all disagree on the process, and argue merits. But never should we use terms like “lynching” here. The painful scourge in our history has no comparison to politics, and @realDonaldTrump should retract this immediately. May God help us to return to a better way,” Kinzinger tweeted.

A top Democrat, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said on CNN, “”That is one word no president ought to apply to himself. You know, I’ve studied presidential history quite a bit, and I don’t know if we’ve ever seen anything quite like this.”

Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois, an African American Democratic congressman, in a reference to the historical connotations of the word, said, “Do you know how many people who look like me have been lynched, since the inception of this country, by people who look like you.”

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Rush tweeted.

But GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters that he agrees with the president calling the impeachment probe a “lynching.”

“This is a lynching in every sense,” Graham said, defending the president. “This is un-American.”

Graham said the president’s use of the word in a tweet this morning is “pretty well accurate” in describing what Democrats in Congress are doing to the president by launching an impeachment probe.

“This is a sham, this a joke,” Graham said of the probe.

“I think lynching can be seen as somebody taking the law into their own hands and out to get somebody for no good reason,” Graham said.

“What does lynching mean? When a mob grabs you, they don’t give you a chance to defend yourself. They don’t tell you what happened to you. They just destroy you,” Graham went on.

“That is exactly what is going on in the U.S. House of Representatives right now,” Graham said.

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only African American Republican in the Senate, also defended the president — if not his use of the word “lynching.”

“There’s no question that the impeachment process is the closest thing of a political death row trial, so I get his absolute rejection of the process,” Scott said.

“I wouldn’t use the word lynching,” Scott added.

Asked whether he disagreed with those who see the word as racially charged, Scott responded, “Yeah, I do actually disagree. I think the fact of the matter is that you’re talking about something that’s akin to a death row trial from a political perspective, so we should keep our focus on the fact that this is something that is something that has been done behind closed doors,” Scott said.

Trump’s tweet came amid a series of tweets apparently quoting programming on “Fox & Friends,” which included accounts about polling on impeachment and about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

While he has previously referred to both the impeachment inquiry and Mueller probe as a “coup,” Tuesday’s comments appear to be the first time Trump has publicly used the word “lynching” to describe the investigations into his potential misconduct in office.

Trump’s allies, however, have used variations of the the word in such a context.

In September, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz referred to Democratic outcry about Trump’s conversation with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky — which sparked the impeachment inquiry — as a “lynch mob.”

On the campaign trail, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary and 2020 presidential candidate Julian Castro said the president’s use of the word was “beyond shameful.”

“It’s beyond shameful to use the word ‘lynching’ to describe being held accountable for your actions,” Castro tweeted.

Sen. Kamala Harris, another 2020 presidential candidate, called Trump’s tweet “disgraceful.”

“Lynching is a reprehensible stain on this nation’s history, as is this President. We’ll never erase the pain and trauma of lynching, and to invoke that torture to whitewash your own corruption is disgraceful,” Harris said in a tweet of her own.

George Conway, lawyer and husband to White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway and a frequent Trump critic, called him “deranged.”

The president’s reference to “lynching” comes months after the Senate passed a bill that would make lynching a federal hate crime. The bill was introduced by Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris and Cory Booker — both now presidential hopefuls — and Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.

The Justice for Victims of Lynching Act referred to lynching as having “succeeded slavery as the ultimate expression of racism in the United States following Reconstruction.”

“Lynching is not a relic of a painful past — it is a present and pernicious evil that we still have yet to confront,” Booker said in a statement in February.

[ABC News]

Barr criticizes LGBT curriculums without opt-outs

Attorney General William Barr expressed opposition to LGBT curriculums that do not provide opt-out provisions for those who oppose it on religious grounds. 

He also expressed his belief that religious schools should be allowed to turn away teachers who are in same-sex marriages in a speech on Friday at Notre Dame’s law school

“Many states are adopting curriculum that is incompatible with traditional Judeo-Christian principles. … They often do this without any opt-out provision for religious families,” Barr said.

He particularly cited laws in New Jersey, California and Illinois requiring an LGBT curriculum. 

“The Orange County Board of Education in California issued an opinion that ‘parents who disagree with the instructional material … may not excuse their children from this instruction,'” he said, lamenting that in some cases parents are not “warned” about the material. 

“For anyone who has a religious faith, the most important part of exercising that faith is teaching that religion to your children,” he said. “For the government to interfere in that process is a monstrous invasion of religious liberty.”

Barr also cited support for schools that do not hire teachers in an LGBT marriage, citing the example of a teacher who sued Indianapolis’s Catholic Archbishop.

“Right here in Indiana a teacher sued the Catholic Archbishop of Indianapolis for directing the Catholic schools within his diocese that they could not employ teachers in same-sex marriages,” he said. “This lawsuit clearly infringes on the First Amendment rights of the archdiocese by interfering both with its expressive association and with its church autonomy.”

[The Hill]

Trump suggested shooting Hispanic migrants in the legs

President Trump suggested having migrants shot in their legs during a March meeting with White House advisers in the Oval Office, The New York Times reported Tuesday. 

The Times’ report is based on interviews with more than a dozen White House administration officials involved in the events the week of the meeting. The article is adapted from a forthcoming book by reporters Mike Shear and Julie Hirschfield Davis, titled “Border Wars: Inside Trump’s Assault on Immigration.” It will be published Oct. 8. 

The aides told the Times Trump suggested to advisors during the Oval Office meeting that they should shoot migrants in the legs to slow them down. 

The suggestion came after Trump had publicly suggested shooting migrants if they threw rocks, the Times reports. Trump had made the suggestion about shooting migrants that threw rocks during a speech in November

Officials who spoke to the Times also recall Trump often suggesting fortifying a border wall with a water-filled trench, stocked with snakes or alligators. 

Trump also “wanted the wall electrified, with spikes on top that could pierce human flesh,” the Times reports. 

When advisors told Trump some of his suggestions were not allowed, he reportedly became frustrated. 

“You are making me look like an idiot!” Trump shouted, according to the Times, citing multiple officials in the room’s description. “I ran on this. It’s my issue.”

The meeting was set for 30-minutes and the Times reports it lasted more than an hour. Officials in the room included then Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Customs and Border Protection Chief Kevin McAleenan, acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Steven Miller, according to the Times. 

A White House spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

[The Hill]

Trump admin delays funds for human-trafficking victims that would help non-citizens

 The Trump administration abruptly delayed a $13.5 million grant to house human trafficking victims just five days after saying that “non-citizens” could be served by the program.

The program’s funds, which were approved two years ago by multiple federal agencies, are now in limbo with no indication when money will be distributed and no public explanation for the change.

The money was intended to support housing and supportive services for victims of sex and labor trafficking, including immediate emergency shelter and short-term housing of up to 24 months, according to the notice of funding availability. The money could also be used for providing trafficking victims with furniture, child care services, trauma therapy, cell phones and household items.

The grants were to be dispersed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, in collaboration with the Department of Justice and Health and Human Services. HUD hosted a webinar on August 22 through the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness for organizations interested in applying for the money, which the council described on August 13 as an “unprecedented partnership” between the DOJ and HUD.

On September 4, the funding announcement was updated to “allow recipients [of the funds] to serve non-citizens,” including lawful permanent residents and foreign national victims, the funding notice said.

Five days later, the grant solicitation was cancelled, according to the federal government’s grants.gov website, which currently states: “This Funding Opportunity has been CANCELLED and is NO longer accepting applications.”

A spokesperson for the Justice Department told NBC News the program has been “postponed,” not cancelled and that a separate HUD website describing the grant as “cancelled” is a mistake. DOJ has not explained why, but the agency asked for the funds back from HUD and the spokesperson says DOJ will now run the program itself.

HUD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, sent a letter to HUD and DOJ on Friday criticizing the administration for abruptly stopping the grant and asked the agencies to explain what had happened. “Survivors of trafficking must have access to safe and affordable housing,” wrote Brown, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. “A decision to postpone these housing and services grants into oblivion will be a decision to waste anti-trafficking resources already on the table.”

[NBC News]

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