Trump says he agrees with Navy Capt. Crozier’s firing

President Donald Trump defended the firing of Navy Capt. Brett Crozier during a coronavirus task force press conference Saturday afternoon, calling Crozier’s letter asking for help for the sailors of the USS Theodore Roosevelt “not appropriate.” 

Trump said he did not make the decision to fire Crozier, but he disagreed with Crozier’s actions and suggested the captain was at fault for the coronavirus infections on board the aircraft carrier for docking the ship in Vietnam.

“Perhaps you don’t do that in the middle of a pandemic,” Trump said, adding the letter was “not appropriate” and “he shouldn’t be talking that way in a letter.” 

Crozier had circulated a four-page letter later obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle asking for “decisive action” as the coronavirus ravaged his crew. 

“We are not at war, and therefore cannot allow a single Sailor to perish as a result of this pandemic unnecessarily,” Crozier wrote. 

Four days after he pleaded for help, Crozier was fired by the Navy. 

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said Crozier had “exercised extremely poor judgment” in distributing the letter. 

The Navy said Saturday 44% of the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt had been tested for the coronavirus, and 155 service members had tested positive. About 1,548 service members had been moved onshore. None had been hospitalized. 

[USA Today]

Navy captain fired by Trump administration for trying to save his crew

The Navy captain fired by the Trump administration for issuing a stark warning about the risk to his crew from the coronavirus outbreak has been given a standing ovation as he left his post.

Captain Brett Crozier, was relieved of his command of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt on Thursday after his superiors lost confidence in his ability to lead.

As Capt Crozier left on Thursday night he was given a standing ovation and cheered on by members of the 5,000-strong crew, who chanted “Captain Crozier, Captain Crozier” as he departed.

Earlier in the week, Capt Crozier sent a letter to the Navy, obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle, asking for the crew to be isolated completely in order to try and stop the spread of a coronavirus outbreak onboard the ship.

“Removing the majority of personnel from a deployed US nuclear aircraft carrier and isolating them for two weeks may seem like an extraordinary measure…This is a necessary risk,” he wrote.

“Keeping over 4,000 young men and women on board the TR is an unnecessary risk and breaks faith with those Sailors entrusted to our care.”

During his press conference on Thursday evening, acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said the decision to sack Capt Crozier was his alone and explained that the captain’s actions forced his hand.

“I have no doubt in my mind that Captain Crozier did what he thought was in the best interest of the safety and well-being of his crew,” he said. “Unfortunately, it did the opposite. It unnecessarily raised the alarm of the families of our sailors and Marines with no plans to address those concerns.”

Mr Modly added his admiration for the captain: “I expect no congratulations for it. Captain Crozier is an incredible man.”

Earlier in the day, at his daily press conference, President Donald Trump was asked by a reporter if he thought the decision was the correct one, replying: “No, I don’t think that at all.”

The decision to relieve the captain of his duties was criticised by the Democratic frontrunner for the presidential nomination, Joe Biden, who released a statement on Thursday evening saying that Capt Crozier should not have been fired.

“Donald Trump’s Acting Navy Secretary shot the messenger – a commanding officer who was faithful to both his national security mission and his duty to care for his sailors, and who rightly focused attention on a broader concern about how to maintain military readiness during this pandemic,” said Mr Biden.

“The Navy sent a chilling message to the rest of the fleet about speaking truth to power. The poor judgment here belongs to the Trump Administration, not a courageous officer trying to protect his sailors.”

According to a tracking project hosted by Johns Hopkins University, upwards of 245,601 people have tested positive for coronavirus in the US. The death toll has reached at least 6,058.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended a two-week ban on gatherings of more than 50 people as part of the battle to contain the spread of the contagion.

[The Independent]

Trump suggests military should consider additional discipline for Vindman

President Trump on Tuesday suggested the military should consider additional disciplinary action against Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who provided damaging testimony against Trump in the impeachment inquiry and was reassigned from his White House job last week.

“We sent him on his way to a much different location, and the military can handle him any way they want,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. “Gen. Milley has him now. I congratulate Gen. Milley. He can have him.”

Gen. Mark Milley is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Asked specifically if the Pentagon should pursue further action against Vindman, Trump said it would be “up to the military.”

“But if you look at what happened, they’re going to certainly, I would imagine, take a look at that,” he said.

The president’s comments on Tuesday signaled he was open to additional punishment for officials who testified against him in the impeachment inquiry. Some of his allies have sought to cast the ouster of witnesses like Vindman as justifiable reassignments rather than retribution.

Trump added that there were more departures to come, but it was unclear if he was referring specifically to impeachment witnesses.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Friday signaled there would be no punishment for Vindman, saying the Pentagon protects service members from retribution. 

“We protect all of our persons, service members, from retribution or anything like that. We’ve already addressed that in policy and other means,” Esper told reporters at the Pentagon during a press conference with his Colombian counterpart.

Vindman had been working temporarily at the White House as a member of the national security council when he was dismissed. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland was fired later the same day.

Both officials were among those who testified about Trump’s conduct toward Ukraine during House impeachment inquiry hearings last year. The House ultimately impeached Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, alleging he withheld security aid from Ukraine to pressure the country to investigate his political rivals.

The Senate acquitted Trump last week in a party-line vote.

Vindman proved to be one of Democrats’ most memorable witnesses. A Purple Heart recipient, Vindman testified that he believed Trump’s conduct on a July 25 call with the Ukrainian president was inappropriate and that he reported it to his superior.

Trump has mocked Vindman for wearing his military uniform during the hearing and complained about the contents of his testimony.

On Tuesday, the president accused Vindman of leaking and going outside the chain of command

[The Hill]

Trump justifies firing Alexander Vindman for being “insubordinate”

President Trump tweeted on Saturday morning to explain why he fired national security official Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who had testified before the House Intelligence Committee that the president’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was “improper.”

“I don’t know [Vindman], never spoke to him or met him (I don’t believe!) but, he was very insubordinate, reported contents of my ‘perfect’ calls incorrectly…….and was given a horrendous report by his superior, the man he reported to, who publicly stated that Vindman had problems with judgement, adhering to the chain of command and leaking information. In other words, ‘OUT.'”

Context: Vindman was fired on Friday just before U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland was dismissed. The firings took place two days after Trump was acquitted by the Senate.

  • Trump “expressed deep anger … over the attempt to remove him from office because of his actions toward Ukraine,” the Washington Post writes.

[Axios]

Reality

If any other person in America retaliated against witnesses like Donald Trump is doing, they would be in jail. But today we have a monarch.

Trump Is Purging People Who Testified Against Him During the Impeachment Hearing

Two prominent witnesses in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump were recalled from their positions on Friday evening in what appeared to be a retaliatory purge after the president’s acquittal this week.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council aide, was removed from his post at the White House this afternoon—along with his twin brother, Yevgeny Vindman, a lieutenant colonel in the Army. Just a couple hours later, Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, said he had been told he would be recalled.

Vindman’s attorney, David Pressman, said that Vindman and his brother, who is a lawyer for the NSC, were escorted out of the White House after they received the news on Friday. Vindman had already said that he planned to leave his post months ahead of schedule. The two will now be reassigned to positions at the Pentagon.

During the House impeachment inquiry, Vindman had emphasized that he was apolitical and motivated by nothing but loyalty to public service when he testified against Trump. In that testimony, he said that Trump’s July 25 phone call in which he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens was “inappropriate” because of “significant national security implications.”

In a statement Friday night, Sondland said that he “was advised today that the President intends to recall me effective immediately as United States Ambassador to the European Union.” During his appearance in the impeachment inquiry, Sondland said explicitly that there had been a “quid pro quo” in Trump’s discussions with Zelensky. Sondland, unlike Vindman, was a Trump appointee with a background in business, rather than government. He was put in his position after donating $1 million to Trump’s inauguration.

Pressman, the lawyer for Vindman, said in a statement that there was no doubt about the White House’s motive. “There is no question in the mind of any American why this man’s job is over,” he said. “LTC Vindman was asked to leave for telling the truth.”

He added that because of Vindman’s commitment to telling the truth, “the most powerful man in the world” had “decided to exact revenge.”

Earlier Friday, Trump was asked what his press secretary meant when she said the president’s opponents should be “held accountable.” Trump responded, “Well, you’ll see.” When asked if he would have Vindman removed, Trump indicated that his actions were driven by spite. “Well, I’m not happy with him,” he told reporters. “You think I’m supposed to be happy with him?” The previous day, Trump had mentioned Vindman and Vindman’s twin brother in a speech boasting about his acquittal in the impeachment trial.

Democrats spoke out against the president upon hearing the news on Friday.

After news of Sondland’s firing, the president’s son appeared to confirm the critics’ interpretation of Trump’s actions. “Allow me a moment to thank—and this may be a bit of a surprise—Adam Schiff,” he tweeted. “Were it not for his crack investigation skills, @realDonaldTrump might have had a tougher time unearthing who all needed to be fired. Thanks, Adam!”

[Slate]

‘All is well!’ Trump tweets after Iran targets and injures U.S. forces in missile attack in Iraq

Despite early reports that no Americans were harmed, 11 U.S. service members did sustain injuries in a ballistic missile attack this month that required transport for follow-up care, officials with U.S. Central Command have confirmed.

On Jan. 8, Iran struck Iraqi bases at Al Asad and Erbil, where U.S. and Iraqi troops trained together. The attack was in retaliation for a U.S. airstrike days before that killed Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani. While U.S. officials have not yet released a full accounting of damage sustained on the bases, it was described by President Donald Trump the following day as “minimal.”

“I’m pleased to inform you: The American people should be extremely grateful and happy no Americans were harmed in last night’s attack by the Iranian regime,” Trump said in a Jan. 9 address to the nation. “We suffered no casualties, all of our soldiers are safe, and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases.”

On Thursday, however, DefenseOne first reported that 11 troops were actually hurt in the blast, requiring medical evacuation to locations in Germany and Kuwait.

In a statement released late Thursday night, CENTCOM spokesman Navy Capt. Bill Urban confirmed the reporting.

“While no U.S. service members were killed in the Jan. 8 Iranian attack on Al Asad Air base, several were treated for concussion symptoms from the blast and are still being assessed,” he said. “As a standard procedure, all personnel in the vicinity of a blast are screened for traumatic brain injury, and if deemed appropriate are transported to a higher level of care.”

Eight individuals were transported to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, he said, and three were moved to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait for follow-on screening in what Urban described as an “abundance of caution.”

“When deemed fit for duty, the service members are expected to return to Iraq following screening,” he said. “The health and welfare of our personnel is a top priority and we will not discuss any individual’s medical status.”

In a Thursday briefing, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman credited military early warning systems with detecting incoming missiles and allowing troops to reach shelter as the strikes began.

Follow-up reporting, though, has made clear that missiles did come frighteningly close to where troops sheltered and operated. One Army drone operator told the New York Times “it was like a scene from an action movie;” photographs from the publication show the wreckage of a hangar and other structures destroyed by the blasts.

[Military]

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 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 administration raids military for border wall

The Trump administration is carrying out plans to raid $3.6 billion in military construction projects to build the border wall, further inflaming lawmakers who have accused President Donald Trump of illegally overriding Congress’ spending decisions.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper informed congressional leaders on Tuesday of the cash grab from a total of 127 military projects. Roughly half the money will come from funds previously dedicated to upgrading military bases abroad and the other half in the United States.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Esper told him some of the money will come from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in his home state of New York.

“It is a slap in the face to the members of the Armed Forces who serve our country that President Trump is willing to cannibalize already allocated military funding to boost his own ego and for a wall he promised Mexico would pay to build,” Schumer said in a statement.

Trump declared a national emergency in February in order to divert $8 billion from various federal accounts to build a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, including a Treasury Department fund and Defense Department efforts to interdict illegal drugs.

Tuesday’s announcement comes on top of $2.5 billion the Pentagon already diverted from its budget toward the border barrier this spring over objections from leaders on the House and Senate Armed Services and Appropriations committees.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Esper told him some of the money will come from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in his home state of New York.

“It is a slap in the face to the members of the Armed Forces who serve our country that President Trump is willing to cannibalize already allocated military funding to boost his own ego and for a wall he promised Mexico would pay to build,” Schumer said in a statement.

Trump declared a national emergency in February in order to divert $8 billion from various federal accounts to build a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, including a Treasury Department fund and Defense Department efforts to interdict illegal drugs.

Tuesday’s announcement comes on top of $2.5 billion the Pentagon already diverted from its budget toward the border barrier this spring over objections from leaders on the House and Senate Armed Services and Appropriations committees.

[Politico]

Trump Slams U.S. Military Exercises, Helps Kim Jong Un Blame America for Missile Launches

President Donald Trump released some details of the “beautiful letter” that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un sent him recently, which apparently included a “small apology” for the recent missile tests, which Kim blamed on the U.S. military exercises that Trump called “ridiculous and expensive.”

During an impromptu press gaggle on the South Lawn of the White House Friday, Trump told reporters that he “got a very beautiful letter from Kim Jong Un yesterday,” and while he gushed about the beauty and three-page (“right from top to bottom”) length of the letter, Trump would not reveal its beautiful contents.

But on Saturday morning, Trump did reveal some of Kim’s letter, writing that the dictator mostly complained about our country’s military exercises, and promised to end missile tests once those exercises stop. Trump called the exercises “expensive and ridiculous.”

Since Trump announced receipt of that beautiful letter, North Koreas has reportedly conducted another missile launch, its fifth in recent weeks. Trump has been a consistent critic of the U.S. military’s joint military exercises with South Korea, which Trump and the North Koreans call “war games.”

Watch Trump describe the beautiful three full page, right from top to bottom, feat of correspondence above, via CBS.

[Mediaite]

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