Pompeo explodes at NPR reporter, asks if she could find Ukraine on a map (She did)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly lashed out at a reporter for NPR after an interview in which he was questioned about Ukraine and issues that are at the center of the impeachment trial against President Trump.

NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly said during a segment on “All Things Considered” on Friday that Pompeo forcefully questioned whether Americans care about Ukraine and if the veteran journalist — who had recently returned from reporting in Iran — could find the former soviet country on a map.

“He asked, ‘Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?’ He used the F-word in that sentence and many others,” Kelly told her co-host Ari Shapiro, according to a transcript of the program.

“He asked if I could find Ukraine on a map. I said yes, and he called out for aides to bring us a map of the world with no writing. I pointed to Ukraine. He put the map away.”

“He said, ‘People will hear about this,’” Kelly recounted.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The secretary is expected to travel to Ukraine on Thursday, committing to a trip that was postponed in December over increasing tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

Pompeo is a key figure in the impeachment trial against Trump following testimony from multiple officials about an effort by the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to push for the removal of then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch in order to clear the way to pressure the Ukrainian government to announce investigations that would politically benefit Trump.

The secretary has been accused of failing to protect Yovanovitch from a smear campaign spearheaded by Giuliani. He has also been implicated in green-lighting Giuliani’s shadow foreign policy in Ukraine, with U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland testified that “everyone was in the loop.”

Kelly asked Pompeo if he tried to block Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine.

“The Ukraine policy has been run from the Department of State for the entire time that I have been here,” Pompeo responded. “I’ve been clear about that, I know exactly what we were doing, I know precisely what the direction our State Department gave to our officials around the world about how to manage our Ukraine policy.”

Pompeo has rarely given media interviews to mainstream outlets, typically speaking with conservative news or local outlets when traveling outside of Washington. The secretary said he agreed to sit down with NPR’s Kelly to discuss the administration’s strategy on Iran.

Kelly was recently in Tehran and reported on the fallout surrounding the U.S. targeted killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.

“You know, I agreed to come on your show today to talk about Iran,” Pompeo said when asked if he owed Yovanovitch an apology. “That’s what I intend to do.”

“I have defended every State Department official. We’ve built a great team,” he added.

Pompeo has said in previous media interviews that the State Department is obligated to launch an investigation surrounding the allegations that Yovanovitch was surveilled but has provided no details of any inquiries.

Pompeo grew increasingly irate when Kelly pressed him on his failure to speak out in defense of Yovanovitch after relentless public attacks on her professionalism and character led to her removal.

“Can you point me toward your remarks where you have defended Marie Yovanovitch?” Kelly asked.

“I’ve said all I’m going to say today,” Pompeo answered. “Thank you. Thanks for the repeated opportunity to do so. I appreciate that.”

[The Hill]

Trump hits Senate for giving impeachment ‘credibility’ by holding trial

President Trump on Sunday tweeted that Republicans risked lending credibility to the impeachment inquiry brought by the House by holding a trial in the Senate.

The president said any proceedings in the Senate would be based on “no evidence,” and appeared to urge Senate Republicans to reject the idea of holding a trial at all.

“Many believe that by the Senate giving credence to a trial based on the no evidence, no crime, read the transcripts, “no pressure” Impeachment Hoax, rather than an outright dismissal, it gives the partisan Democrat Witch Hunt credibility that it otherwise does not have. I agree!” Trump tweeted.

Trump spent much of Sunday tweeting about the upcoming Senate impeachment trial, which, he wrote in one message, “should not even be allowed to proceed.”

“Why should I have the stigma of Impeachment attached to my name when I did NOTHING wrong?” he added in another tweet. “Read the Transcripts! A totally partisan Hoax, never happened before. House Republicans voted 195-0, with three Dems voting with the Republicans. Very unfair to tens of millions of voters!”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have battled for weeks over the scope of the Senate impeachment trial, with Pelosi holding firm in her demands for McConnell to guarantee that witnesses will be called before she presents the Senate with the House-passed articles of impeachment.

Last week it was reported that McConnell had signed on to a measure that would allow the Senate to dismiss the House articles of impeachment without a trial.

[The Hill]

‘Maybe we will, maybe we won’t’: Trump doubles down on threat to take oil from Syria

Donald Trump has renewed his threats to forcibly steal oil from Syria, a move which experts say would amount to a war crime.

The president defended his decision to leave a small number of American troops in the war-torn nation after a general withdrawal in October by claiming they were only there to secure Syria’s oilfields.

“They say he left troops in Syria… do you know what I did? I took the oil,” he said during a Fox News interview.

“The only troops I have are taking the oil, they are protecting the oil.”

When the interviewer, Laura Ingraham, attempted to correct Mr Trump by insisting the soldiers were not there to take the oil but to guard the facilities, the president cut her off.

“I don’t know, maybe we should take it, but we have the oil. Right now, the United States has the oil. We have the oil.”

This is not the first time the erratic former business tycoon has publicly mused about stealing Syria’s oil reserves.

In October, shortly after his abrupt withdrawal of US forces and abandoning of their Kurdish allies in the region, Mr Trump said he wanted an American oil firm to fly in to tap Syria’s oil on behalf of the government.

“What I intend to do, perhaps, is make a deal with an ExxonMobil or one of our great companies to go in there and do it properly,” he said.

However, such a move would likely constitute pillage and looting, actions which have long been designated as illegal under international law and the rules of war.

The Geneva Convention, which the US is a signatory to, explicitly prohibits the looting of property during conflict, defining it as a war crime.

“The president appears to believe that the US can sell the oil, based on his statements in the past about Iraqi oil and Libyan oil … thinking that we can loot countries,” Benjamin Friedman, policy director at think tank Defence Priorities and adjunct professor at the George Washington University, told The Independent last year.

“I am sure people in the White House have tried to explain to him that is not how it works.

“Taking the profits from the sale of Syrian oil for the US treasury would be illegal. That would probably qualify as pillaging under the law.”

Ironically, experts say Syria’s oil fields are not much of a prize anyway. Even before the country descended in a chaotic civil war, it only produced about 380,000 barrels of poor-quality oil a day.

In 2018, after its production was several hampered by the conflict, it produced about the same amount of oil as the state of Illinois.

Before he entered the White House, Mr Trump had said several times that the US should have “taken the oil” from the other Middle Eastern nations its armed forces had intervened in, including Iraq and Libya.

Some commentators have speculated that defence officials desperate to persuade the president to permit some US forces to remain in Syria as a counter-balance to Isis and the Assad regime were forced to appeal to his oil obsession to gain his approval.

[The Independent]

Trump says US ready to strike 52 Iranian sites if Tehran attacks

The president’s remarks followed the US assassination of Qasem Soleimani, a top Iranian general, in a drone strike.

Soleimani’s killing was a major escalation between the two nations, and Iran vowed to take “severe revenge”.

Writing on Twitter, Mr Trump accused Iran of “talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets”.

He said the US had identified 52 Iranian sites, some “at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture”, and warned they would be “HIT VERY FAST AND HARD” if Tehran struck at the US.

The president said the targets represented 52 Americans who were held hostage in Iran for more than a year from late 1979 after they were taken from the US embassy in Tehran.

Shortly after the president’s tweets were posted, the website of a US government agency appeared to have been hacked by a group calling itself “Iran Cyber Security Group Hackers”. A message on the American Federal Depository Library Programme site read: “This is a message from the Islamic Republic of Iran.

“We will not stop supporting our friends in the region: the oppressed people of Palestine, the oppressed people of Yemen, the people and the Syrian government, the people and government of Iraq, the oppressed people of Bahrain, the true Mujahideen resistance in Lebanon and Palestine, [they] will always be supported by us.”

The web page contained a doctored image of President Trump, depicting him being hit in the face and bleeding at the mouth. “This is only small part of Iran’s cyber ability!” read text on the site.

[BBC]

Reality

I’m old enough to remember five years ago when conservative news was (correctly) pointing out destruction of cultural sites is an internationally recognized war crime.

Trump tells evangelical rally he will put prayer in schools

 U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday said his Democratic opponents would tear down crosses and pledged to bring prayer to public schools at a re-election rally to shore up evangelical support.

Trump spoke on the outskirts of Miami at the King Jesus International Ministry, a “prosperity gospel” church that teaches that the faithful will be rewarded with health and wealth on earth. 

“We are defending religion itself, it’s under siege,” Trump said. “A society without religion cannot prosper.”

More than 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump in the 2016 election. But a crack in evangelical support opened up last month when the magazine Christianity Today wrote a blistering editorial on Trump’s “grossly immoral character.” 

Attendees, some of them wearing Trump’s signature red campaign hats, nearly filled the room, which the church says holds 7,000. Some raised their hands in a sign of praise and swayed while music played loudly over the speakers before the president entered the room. 

Pastors gathered around Trump on the stage for an opening prayer, while much of the audience remained standing with their hands aloft. 

In his speech, Trump mocked Democratic challenger Pete Buttigieg, the Indiana mayor, for having what he said was an unpronounceable last name, and told attendees Democrats were waging war against religion. 

“These angry radicals want to impose absolute conformity by censuring speech, tearing down crosses and symbols of faith and banning religious believers from public life.” 

He got a big reaction from the crowd when he promised to bring religion into U.S. schools. A clause in the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from promoting one religion over the other, which means public schools don’t promote prayer or religious symbols. 

“Very soon I’ll be taking action to safeguard students and teachers’ First Amendment rights to pray in our schools,” Trump said. “They want to take that right along with many other ones.”

According to a 2019 survey here by the Pew Research Center, 43% of U.S. adults, or some 110 million people, identify with Protestantism; 59% of those, or 64 million are born-again or evangelical Christians. 

Christian support for Trump remained relatively constant from his inauguration until March of 2019, Pew Research shows. Some Christians believe that support has frayed since. 

Friday’s rally “is Trump’s desperate response to the realization that he is losing his primary voting bloc — faith voters,” said Doug Pagitt, the executive director of Vote Common Good, a progressive Christian group, on Friday.


[Reuters]

Trump endorses tweet comparing top Senate Democrat to Iranians

President Trump on Friday endorsed a tweet comparing the top Senate Democrat to Iran, the United States’ longtime adversary, suggesting neither could be trusted, as Democratic leaders criticized the White House for ordering a military strike to kill a powerful Iranian commander without congressional input.

Amid a flurry of reactions from U.S. lawmakers, Trump retweeted conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, who, in response to a headline about Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) not receiving advance notice of the military operation, wrote: “Neither were the Iranians, and for pretty much the same reason.”

Trump made similar insinuations about Democrats’ trustworthiness after the October raid that killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. At that time, Trump said he didn’t tell House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a former member of the Intelligence Committee, because “he wanted to make sure this kept secret.”

Trump ordered the U.S. drone strike that killed Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, whom the United States regarded as a war criminal responsible for hundreds of American deaths.

Republicans and Democrats were united in calling Soleimani an enemy of the United States and a terrorist.

‘This morning, Iran’s master terrorist is dead,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in remarks on the Senate floor. “The architect and chief engineer for the world’s most active state sponsor of terrorism has been removed from the battlefield at the hand of the United States military.”

Schumer called Soleimani a “notorious terrorist,” and added: “No one should shed a tear over his death.”

But as Republicans celebrated what they described as Trump’s decisive action, Democrats criticized the president’s order to act unilaterally while expressing grave concern that this action would move the United States closer to an in­trac­table war with Iran.

“No matter how good it may feel that Qasem Soleimani is no longer alive, he likely will end up being more dangerous to the United States, our troops and our allies, as a martyr than as a living, breathing military adversary,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

Trump, in brief remarks Friday afternoon about the attack, said he targeted Soleimani to “stop a war,” not to start one.

Presidents typically inform the so-called Gang of Eight — the House speaker and minority leader, the Senate majority and minority leaders, and the chairmen and ranking minority-party members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees — about high-level military operations.

Top Democratic leaders in Congress received no advance notification of the strike, aides said. Pelosi spoke to Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper after the attack for about 13 minutes, said an aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly.

“I’m a member of the Gang of Eight, which is typically briefed in advance of operations of this level of significance. We were not,” Schumer said in remarks on the Senate floor, adding that the administration must be “asked probing questions not from your inner and often insulated circle, but from others, particularly Congress, which forces an administration before it acts to answer very serious questions.”

It was unclear which congressional leaders were given advance notice of the strike.

[Washington Post]

Mike Pence shares 9/11 conspiracy theory about Qassem Soleimani in attempt to justify killing

Mike Pence has promoted an unsubstantiated theory linking the 9/11 terrorist attacks to Iran in his defence of the Trump administration’s assassination of Qassem Soleimani.

Donald Trump‘s vice president posted a Twitter thread on Saturday in which he described Iran’s top military commander as “an evil man responsible for killing thousands of Americans”.

In the thread, Mr Pence claimed Soleimani had “assisted in the clandestine travel to Afghanistan of 10 of the 12 terrorists who carried out the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States”.

However, his accusation is undermined by the conclusions of the official government report on the attacks.

The 9/11 commission report found “no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack”.

The report added: “At the time of their travel through Iran, the al-Qaeda operatives themselves were probably not aware of the specific details of their future operation.”

Soleimani’s killing is a major escalation in US-Iran tensions and has sparked fears of a direct war between the two countries.

The White House has said the assassination was a “decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad”.

In response to the vice president, foreign policy experts were quick to point out there were 19 terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attacks, not 12, and the majority of them came from US allies Saudi Arabia.

Katie Waldman, Mr Pence’s press secretary, later clarified that the vice president was referring to 12 of the 19 hijackers who “transited through Afghanistan”.

“For those asking: 12 of the 19 transited through Afghanistan. Ten of those 12 were assisted by Soleimani,” Ms Waldman wrote, without providing any further evidence for the commander’s involvement.

The 9/11 report does acknowledge at least eight of the hijackers “transited Iran on their way to or from Afghanistan”, but this is thought to be because they were “taking advantage of the Iranian practice of not stamping Saudi passports”.

Although Soleimani was a senior figure in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps at the time of the attacks, he is not named in the 9/11 commission report.

It is also unclear why the commander, a leading military figure in a majority Shia Muslim country, would have assisted al-Qaeda, a militant Sunni Islamist group with links to Saudi Arabia.

In a 2018 study by the think tank New America, al-Qaeda is said to view Iran as a “hostile entity” and found “no evidence of cooperation between al-Qaeda and Iran on planning or carrying out terrorist attacks” in the documents studied.

Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, said in 2019 he had no doubt “there is a connection between the Islamic Republic of Iran and al-Qaeda.”

[The Independent]

Reality

See pages 240-241.

Trump Retweets Attack Article That Names Alleged Whistleblower

U.S. President Donald Trump’s Twitter account retweeted on Thursday a tweet by the president’s re-election campaign account, the official “Trump war room” that allegedly names the whistleblower whose complaint led Democrats to launch the impeachment inquiry. 

“It’s pretty simple. The CIA ‘whistleblower’ is not a real whistleblower!” says the tweet Trump retweeted, which includes a link to a Washington Examiner piece, published Dec. 3, the alleged whistleblower’s name in the headline.

While some right-wing news outlets have named the alleged whistleblower, no major news agency has and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, the president pro tempore of the United States Senate, has argued that the whistleblower’s name must remain private to protect his safety.

[Haaretz]

Trump sides with Putin on impeachment in late Friday night tweet

President Donald Trump continues to side with Russia on questions of domestic politics.

On Friday, the commander-in-chief tweeted out Russian President Vladimir Putin’s views on impeachment, adding that it is “a total witch hunt.”

Trump has received a great deal of criticism for believing the Russian military intelligence conspiracy theory that it was actually Ukraine that interfered in the 2016.

The scandal is at the heart of the impeachment trial expected to start in January.

[Raw Story]

Bill Taylor, top US diplomat in Ukraine, to depart post ahead of Mike Pompeo’s visit

The veteran U.S. diplomat who was a key witness in impeachment hearings is departing his post in Ukraine, according to two State Department sources.

Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Kyiv who was recruited by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to fill in after President Donald Trump abruptly recalled Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, will depart in early January.

Taylor was wrapped up in the efforts by U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and Ukraine special envoy Kurt Volker, in conjunction with Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, to have Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy allegedly announce investigations to benefit Trump politically. While that effort unfolded, Taylor pushed back, infamously writing that it was “crazy” to withhold security assistance to Ukraine in exchange for those investigations.

That made Taylor a key witness in the impeachment proceedings in the House, which come to a head Wednesday with a vote on two articles of impeachment — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Both sources said the departure is because Taylor’s temporary appointment expires on Jan. 8, limited by law under the Vacancies Act. A State Department official said he will leave Jan. 1, while the other source said he will hand over his responsibilities on Jan. 1 and leave on Jan. 2.

Either way, he will be gone just ahead of Pompeo’s first trip to Ukraine in early January, according to the official — and after being attacked by Trump and Giuliani as a “Never Trumper.” Just last month, Giuliani accused Taylor of personally blocking visas for Ukrainians who have “direct evidence of Democrat criminal conspiracy with Ukrainians to prevent Donald J. Trump from being President,” he said in a letter to Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.

With Taylor gone, Pompeo avoids being seen with him in meetings in Kyiv, potentially angering Trump, whom Pompeo has fiercely defended throughout the impeachment proceedings. But it also leaves a leadership gap at a critical time in Ukraine, where U.S. support has been questioned by Trump’s efforts and amid an ongoing war with Russia in the country’s east.

Taylor, whose departure was first reported by NBC News, previously served as ambassador to Ukraine under George W. Bush and was brought in because of that expertise. But he was appointed and never confirmed by the Senate, and without a nomination for a new ambassador pending, he must depart after 210 days.

The State Department official said Pompeo is going to Kyiv at this time to show the administration’s support for Zelenskiy and for Taylor’s successor. Kristina Kvien, a career Foreign Service officer who arrived in Kyiv in May and has served as Taylor’s deputy, will become the top U.S. diplomat, known as the charge d’affaires.

The Trump administration’s potential nominee for the next ambassador to Ukraine is still in the vetting process, according to the official, who said Kvien could be the top diplomat for some time and it was important for her to be seen as having Pompeo’s backing by accompanying him during his upcoming visit.

But critics say making the visit after Taylor departs undermines Taylor and the embassy and sends the wrong message.

In a scathing letter Tuesday, Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, accused Pompeo of “unceremoniously recalling” Taylor “in a manner similar to” Yovanovitch, which, he said, “denigrate[s] the role of our frontline diplomats.”

After being asked to stay on for an additional year, Yovanovitch was recalled in May, months before her tenure was scheduled to end and after an effort by Giuliani and Ukraine’s former prosecutor general to trash her name with allegations that the State Department has called unfounded. Specifically, Giuliani told The New Yorker magazine that he “believed that I needed Yovanovitch out of the way” to get the Ukrainian government to launch investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden’s son and the energy company Burisma, as well as the debunked theory of Ukrainian election interference to support Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Despite those false allegations, Pompeo never issued a statement of support for Yovanovitch and, amid similar allegations now by Giuliani against Taylor, has remained quiet on Taylor, too.

“I am extremely concerned that this suspect decision furthers the President’s inappropriate and unacceptable linking of U.S. policy to Ukraine to his personal and political benefit, and potentially your own,” Menendez wrote to Pompeo Wednesday.

In November, after both diplomats testified in the impeachment hearings, Pompeo declined to specifically defend them, saying instead, “I always defend State Department employees. This is the greatest diplomatic corps in the history of the world.”

Menendez and all Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democrats have called on Pompeo to recuse himself from matters related to Ukraine and the House investigation — something Pompeo rejected, while declining to turn over any department documents to the three House committees investigating the administration’s actions.

[ABC News]

1 2 3 90