Mulvaney Acknowledges Quid Pro Quo In Trump Ukraine Call, Says ‘Get Over It’

The acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney admitted on Thursday that President Donald Trump withheld foreign aid in order to get Ukraine’s help in the U.S. election.

“We do that all the time with foreign policy,” Mulvaney responded when a reporter pointed out that withholding funding from Ukraine “unless the investigation into the Democrats’ server happens” is a “quid pro quo.”

“Get over it,” he added later. “There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy. … That is going to happen. Elections have consequences.”

[Huffington Post]

Trump Claims ISIS Fighters in Syria Were Released From Prison ‘Just For Effect’

President Donald Trump has claimed that ISIS fighters who escaped from jail in northern Syrian were released “for effect” to compel U.S. re-entry into the region.

During his Oval Office press spray with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Trump called the withdrawal of troops from Syria “strategically brilliant,” even as America’s Kurdish allies have come under attack by the Turkish military’s invasion.

After insulting the Kurds, Trump handed the fight against ISIS off to Syria and Russia, saying “you have a lot of countries over there that hate ISIS as much as we do…So they can take care of ISIS.”

“We have them captured. The United States captured them,” Trump continued. “Some were released just for effect to make us look a little bit like ‘oh gee, we have to get right back in there.’ You have a lot of countries over there that have power and that hate ISIS very much, as much as we do.”

Trump concluded by saying “we’re in a very strategically good position,” before blaming the criticism for his decision on the “fake news” media once again.

“I know the fake news doesn’t make it look that way but we’ve removed all of our 50 soldiers but much less than 50 soldiers.”

[Mediaite]

Gruesome Video of Fake Trump Killing Media in Mass Shooting Played at One of His Resorts

At a time when our nation is facing an epidemic of mass shootings, supporters of President Donald Trump showed a violent depiction of a fake Trump massacring members of the news media using a gun and other weapons at a conference held at one of the president’s resorts, the New York Times reported Sunday night.

American Priority, a group that supports the president, hosted the conference at Trump National Doral Miami. Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. and Florida Governor Rick DeSantis were all scheduled to speak at the event. But Huckabee Sanders and a source close to Trump Jr. denied either saw the video.

Bloomberg technology reporter William Turton surfaced a video matching the description from the Times on YouTube. The video appears to have been uploaded by YouTube account TheGeekzTeam in July 2018, and the account has posted other videos doctored to make it look like Trump is violently killing his enemies. Although Turton said he has not yet been able to confirm the YouTube video was the same one played at the conference, the details in the video as described by the Times line up, although portions like the Barack Obama interview at the end of the video were not reported to have been shown.

In the video,a man with Trump’s head superimposed on his body goes into a building labeled the “Church of Fake News” where people inside are labeled with logos of major news outlets including Vox, Politico, the Washington Post, HuffPost, ABC and NBC covering their heads. Trump then opens fire, killing numerous media outlets including Vox, Politico and NPR, in addition to activist group Black Lives Matter. The fake Trump begins his rampage using a gun but later switches to a wooden stake and a knife. Also in the video are Hillary Clinton, Maxine Waters, Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama, John McCain and Rosie O’Donnell — all of them are slaughtered by the killer Trump. The mass murder ends with the president driving a wooden stake into the head of a person depicted as the church’s minister with a CNN logo covering their face as DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win” plays in the background.

The footage, the Times said, was taken and doctored from a church massacre scene in the dark comedy “Kingsman: The Secret Service.”

Trump’s presidency has been marked by criticism of the news media, and recently he has even been vocally critical of his beloved Fox News. The president himself has shared a video depicting himself as violent toward the media, tweeting out a doctored video of him body slamming a man with a CNN logo over his head in 2017. Trump has also turned his ire toward reporters during his political rallies, spurring his supporters to taunt and threaten members of the media covering him.

When we are barely a year out from the tragic Capital Gazette shooting in Maryland that killed five of the newspaper’s staff not to mention other recent mass shootings in churchessynagogues and mosques, videos like this are particularly dangerous, especially when they are broadcast at events even loosely affiliated with the president and on property he owns.

[Rolling Stone]

Media

Trump hits Fox News’s Chris Wallace over Ukraine coverage

President Trump on Sunday hit Fox News anchor Chris Wallace for his coverage of the phone call between Trump and Ukraine’s president that is at the center of the House’s impeachment inquiry.

“Somebody please explain to Chris Wallace of Fox, who will never be his father (and my friend), Mike Wallace, that the Phone Conversation I had with the President of Ukraine was a congenial & good one,” Trump tweeted.

“It was only Schiff’s made up version of that conversation that was bad!” he added.

House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry after details of the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky became public.

According to a readout of the call released by the White House, Trump pressed Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, and his son Hunter Biden while discussing U.S. military aid to Ukraine.

Trump has defended the call as “perfect” and sought to frame the impeachment inquiry as a political move orchestrated by Democrats, including House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).

Wallace has said that the call and the intelligence community whistleblower complaint that brought attention to it show Trump pressing Zelensky.

Trump has in recent months ramped up attacks against several Fox News anchors, including Wallace, Ed Henry and Shepard Smith, who left the network this week.

Sunday was not the first time that Trump has criticized Wallace by invoking his father, veteran broadcaster Mike Wallace.

In May, Trump chastised Chris Wallace and Fox for giving airtime to Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, tweeting, “I like Mike Wallace better.”

A spokesperson for Fox News did not directly comment on Trump’s latest attack on Wallace, but pointed to a recent panel where the anchor responded to Trump saying he likes Mike Wallace better.

“To which my reaction is always: One of us has a daddy problem, and it’s not me,” Chris Wallace said.

[The Hill]

Trump Gloats About Shep Smith’s Fox News Exit

The question from a reporter to President Donald Trump on Friday night was, “Did you or your administration pressure Fox News to get rid of Shepard Smith?” 

Trump did not answer directly, but rather took the opportunity to gloat over his least-favorite Fox News anchor’s departure, saying, “No, I don’t know, is he leaving? Oh, that’s a shame.” 

“Did I hear Shepard Smith is leaving?” the president asked, soundly almost gleeful. “Is he leaving because of bad ratings? He had terrible ratings, is he leaving because of his ratings? If he’s leaving, I assume he’s leaving because he had bad ratings.” 

Smith, who has been the rare critical voice against the president on Fox, announced on Friday that he had requested to get out of his contract on leave the network, effective immediately. “Even in our currently polarized nation, it’s my hope that the facts will win the day,” Smith said in his final broadcast. “That the truth will always matter, that journalism and journalists will thrive.”

The move comes just two days after Attorney General Bill Barr met privately with Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch, prompting some speculation that the Trump administration had something to do with Smith’s exit. 

“Well, I wish him well,” Trump concluded. “I wish Shepard Smith well.” 

[The Daily Beast]

Media

Trump says Fox News ‘doesn’t deliver for US anymore’ after poll shows rising impeachment support

President Trump said on Thursday that Fox News “doesn’t deliver for US anymore” after the network’s latest poll showed growing support for his impeachment and removal from office.

“From the day I announced I was running for President, I have NEVER had a good @FoxNews Poll,” Trump tweeted. “Whoever their Pollster is, they suck. But @FoxNews is also much different than it used to be in the good old days.”

A Fox poll released Wednesday found 51 percent of respondents supported Trump’s impeachment and removal from office. Four percent of participants said the president should be impeached but not removed, and 40 percent were completely against impeachment. 

Trump on Thursday also lashed out at prominent Fox News employees who have been critical of him and his interactions with the president of Ukraine, which is at the heart of an impeachment inquiry by House Democrats. 

“@FoxNews doesn’t deliver for US anymore,” Trump tweeted. “It is so different than it used to be. Oh well, I’m President!”

He ripped retired Judge Andrew Napolitano, who argued that Trump had already confessed to a crime when he admitted to encouraging the Ukrainian president to look into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son.

Trump claimed that Napolitano, Fox News’s senior judicial analyst, wanted to be on the Supreme Court but that he turned the judge down. Politico reported in 2017 that Napolitano had told friends he was on Trump’s shortlist of potential nominees.

The president also ripped Fox News anchor Shepard Smith and contributor Donna Brazile. Trump has targeted both before, as Smith regularly fact checks or rebuts statements from the president during his hourly program and Brazile is the former interim leader of the Democratic National Committee.

Trump has had a hot-and-cold relationship with Fox News in recent months. He has complained about several of the network’s polls that showed him trailing his Democratic challengers in potential 2020 matchups and regularly lashes out at employees who are critical of him.

He tweeted in August that the cable network “isn’t working for us anymore” and that his supporters “have to start looking for a new News Outlet.”

But the president still regularly tweets out quotes from Fox News programming, his aides appear on Fox for interviews and former White House staffers have taken jobs at the network.

Moments after his criticism of Fox on Thursday, the president retweeted posts from Fox Business Network anchor Maria Bartiromo multiple times.

[The Hill]

Trump suggests Pelosi committed treason, should be ‘immediately impeached’


President Trump
 late Sunday suggested that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was guilty of treason and should be “immediately” impeached.

“Nancy Pelosi knew of all of the many Shifty Adam Schiff lies and massive frauds perpetrated upon Congress and the American people, in the form of a fraudulent speech knowingly delivered as a ruthless con, and the illegal meetings with a highly partisan ‘Whistleblower’ & lawyer,” he tweeted.

“This makes Nervous Nancy every bit as guilty as Liddle’ Adam Schiff for High Crimes and Misdemeanors, and even Treason. I guess that means that they, along with all of those that evilly ‘Colluded’ with them, must all be immediately Impeached!”

Members of Congress cannot be impeached, but the Constitution says each House of Congress “may determine the Rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member.” Members may also be censured.

Trump last week ratcheted up attacks targeting House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) for exaggerating a partial transcript of the July 25 call between the president and Ukraine’s leader.

At the time, Trump suggested that Schiff should be arrested for treason, which is punishable by death or a prison term.

During a televised congressional hearing, Schiff said that Trump directed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to “make up dirt on my political opponent” a full “seven times.”

The California Democrat defended his comments amid backlash from Republicans at the time, saying: “Of course, the president never said, ‘If you don’t understand me I’m going to say it seven more times,’ my point is, that’s the message that the Ukraine president was receiving in not so many words.”

It was also reported last week that the whistleblower at the center of a House impeachment inquiry into Trump contacted Schiff’s committee before filing a complaint.

Trump’s attacks late Sunday came shortly after reports emerged of a second whistleblower said to have firsthand knowledge of some of the allegations detailed in the original complaint.

Mark Zaid, an attorney at the firm that represents the whistleblower who filed the original complaint regarding Trump’s interactions with Ukraine, said that he was representing the second whistleblower.

Zaid said the second whistleblower is also an intelligence official and has direct knowledge of some of the allegations detailed in the original complaint.

According to Zaid, the second whistleblower has already spoken to the head of the intelligence community’s internal watchdog office, Michael Atkinson. However, they have not yet spoken with congressional committees investigating Trump’s communications with Ukraine.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham defended Trump after reports surfaced of the second whistleblower and said “it doesn’t matter how many people decide to call themselves whistleblowers about the same telephone call.”

She also said that it “doesn’t change the fact that he has done nothing wrong.”

[The Hill]


Trump pulls troops from northern Syria as Turkey readies offensive

The United States began withdrawing American troops from Syria’s border with Turkey early Monday, in the clearest sign yet that the Trump administration was washing its hands of an explosive situation between the Turkish military and U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters.

President Trump, in a series of Twitter messages Monday, suggested that the United States was shouldering too much of the burden — and the cost — of fighting the Islamic State. He rebuked European nations for not repatriating citizens who had joined the extremist group, claiming that the United States was being played for a “sucker.” And he chided his own Kurdish allies, who he said were “paid massive amounts of money and equipment” to fight the militants. 

“It is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home. WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN,” he tweeted.

Trump later added a warning to Turkey. “As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!),” he tweeted.

“They must, with Europe and others, watch over the captured ISIS fighters and families,” Trump continued. “The U.S. has done far more than anyone could have ever expected, including the capture of 100% of the ISIS Caliphate. It is time now for others in the region, some of great wealth, to protect their own territory. THE USA IS GREAT!”

The withdrawal followed a late Sunday statement by the White House that the United States would not intervene in a long-threatened Turkish offensive into northern Syria. The announcement, which signaled an abrupt end to a months-long American effort to broker peace between two important allies, came after a call between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

Erdogan said in a speech Monday that the withdrawal began soon after their phone call.

A U.S. official confirmed to The Washington Post that American troops left observation posts in the border villages of Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn at 6:30 a.m. local time.

In an initial reaction to the pullout, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a strong Trump supporter, indicated on Twitter that he was seeking more information on the president’s decision. But he added, “If press reports are accurate this is a disaster in the making.”

The fast-moving developments threatened a fresh military conflagration in a large swath of northern Syria, stretching from east of the Euphrates River to the border with Iraq. Syrian Kurds had established an autonomous zone in the area during more than eight years of Syria’s civil war.

Ankara, however, has been increasingly unnerved by the Kurdish presence, and by the close ties between U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a militant group that has fought a long insurgency against the Turkish state.

For months, Erdogan has been threatening an imminent invasion, as Trump administration officials attempted to work out an accommodation that would satisfy Turkish demands for border security while providing a measure of protection for the U.S.-allied Syrian-Kurdish force.

But on Sunday, the United States appeared to throw up its hands. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said the Turkish leader would “soon be moving forward” with dispatching troops to battle the Kurdish forces, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF. Ankara views the group as a terrorist-linked entity, but the SDF has fought closely alongside the U.S. military as a primary partner against the Islamic State. 

“The United States armed forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘caliphate,’ will no longer be in the immediate area,” Grisham said in a statement. ISIS is another name for the Islamic State, the militant group whose rise drew the U.S. military into Syria. 

The SDF, in a statement critical of the United States, said the American troops have begun pulling out.

“The United States forces have not fulfilled their obligations and withdrew their forces from the border area with Turkey,” the statement said. “This Turkish military operation in north and east Syria will have a big negative impact on our war against Daesh and will destroy all stability that was reached in the last few years.” Daesh is an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.

It added that the group reserves the right to defend itself against Turkish aggression.

Erdogan, who has portrayed a Turkish incursion as necessary to protect his country’s borders, has spoken in recent weeks of resettling millions of Syrian refugees in Turkey in a “safe zone” in northern Syria, a plan that has been criticized by refugee advocates as well as local Syrian Kurds who could be displaced by such a proposal.

On Saturday, Erdogan said the invasion, dubbed Operation Peace Fountain, could begin “as soon as today or maybe tomorrow.”

U.S. officials depicted the impending offensive, and the U.S. troop withdrawal, as a dramatic turn after their prolonged attempt to hammer out an arrangement that would allay the Turks’ concerns about Syrian Kurdish forces close to their border, while also averting a battle they fear will be bloody for Kurdish fighters whom the Pentagon sees as stalwart allies. 

Military officials point out that Kurdish assistance is still required to avoid a return of the Islamic State in Syria and to guard facilities where Islamic State militants and their families are being held. 

A senior U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an evolving situation, said the U.S. government “has no idea” what the Turkish operation would look like, whether it would be a small, symbolic incursion or a major offensive intended to push as far as 25 miles into Syria. 

 U.S. officials said an operation deep into Syria could further jeopardize the security of prisons holding Islamic State fighters. “There are many potential disastrous outcomes to this,” the official said.

The White House announcement comes only two days after the Pentagon completed its most recent joint patrol with Turkish forces, a central element of the U.S. effort to build trust in northern Syria. But similar patrols and other measures overseen from a joint U.S.-Turkish military hub in southern Turkey have not reduced Ankara’s impatience to establish the buffer zone it has envisioned. 

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper described ongoing U.S.-Turkish cooperation in northern Syria, saying that his Turkish counterpart had agreed in a call last week “that we need to make the security mechanism work.”

In negotiations, the United States had said it would agree to a strip along the border to be cleared of Syrian Kurdish fighters and jointly patrolled by the United States and Turkey on the ground and in the air. That strip is about five miles wide, only about a quarter of what the Turks have demanded.

The joint patrols are taking place in only about a third of the border length, with the idea of gradually expanding them. In addition to not liking U.S. terms for the agreement, Erdogan believes the United States is dragging its feet in implementing it.

“Mr. Trump gave the order; he ordered to pull out. But this came late,” Erdogan told reporters in Ankara on Monday. “We cannot accept the threats of terrorist organizations.”

Erdogan’s plan to send up to 3 million Syrian refugees into the 140-mile-long strip also runs counter to what the United States says was part of the agreement they had reached to allow only the 700,000 to 800,000 refugees who originally fled the area to resettle there. Turkey currently hosts more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees, but the government has recently begun deporting hundreds back to Syria as public sentiment turns against the migrants.

Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for Erdogan, wrote on Twitter that Turkey has no interest in occupying or changing the demographics in northeastern Syria and that the “safe zone” would serve two purposes: secure Turkey’s borders and allow refugees to return home.

After months of warning about the turmoil such a move could create, U.S. officials said they are now watching Turkey’s actions closely to inform their own decisions about how quickly they must move the hundreds of troops expected to be affected. 

“We’re going to get out of the way,” another U.S. official said. 

There are about 1,000 U.S. troops in northeastern Syria. 

The SDF also predicted that Islamic State fighters would break out of prison camps the SDF manages in different areas of Syria.

The potential for greater risk to Islamic State prisons and camps comes after months of unsuccessful efforts by the Trump administration to persuade countries in Europe and elsewhere to repatriate their citizens.

The White House statement said that “Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters” in that area. “The United States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer,” Grisham said. 

Erdogan said Monday that Turkey has “an approach to this issue” of ISIS, without specifying what it was.

The United Nations is also concerned about the impact that any Turkish operation would have on the protection of civilians in northeastern Syria, Panos Moumtzis, U.N. regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, said in a telephone interview.

“We want our message to all governments and actors on the ground to be to make sure that this latest development does not have an impact first of all on a new displacement of people,” he said.

The United Nations already provides services to approximately 700,000 people every month in the northeast. Moumtzis emphasized the importance of freedom of movement of civilians and ensuring the continuation of access to humanitarian groups. He stressed that any movement of Syrians must be done voluntarily and with safety and dignity.

“We have not had any specific instructions on” the safe zone, he said, adding that the United Nations has a contingency plan depending on how wide and deep the safe zone would be.

Turkey’s latest possible incursion comes nearly two years after Ankara launched a military offensive on Afrin, in northern Syria, in an operation that was also criticized as a distraction from the fight against the Islamic State.  

The contested legacy of Turkey’s Afrin offensive has hovered over Erdogan’s latest military plans. Ankara has argued that its past foray into Syria brought stability to parts of the north and provided a safe haven for hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. But over the last year, human rights groups have documented abuses by Turkish-backed militias in Afrin — mistreatment that they say has included kidnappings and arbitrary detentions.

And many of the refugees who returned to Afrin — which has suffered from mysterious militant attacks, including car bombs — ended up fleeing back across the border into Turkey, according to advocates for the refugees.

Kurdish leaders have accused Turkey of trying to settle Arabs in historically Kurdish lands. Arab residents, in turn, have accused the Kurds of carrying out ethnic cleansing in areas they control.

“We thank the Americans for their decision to withdraw from northern Syria, not because we hate the U.S. but because we are fed up with the SDF,” said Abu Musafir, a member of the Manbij Tribal Council, a confederation of Arab tribes in the region.

“We are fed up with the SDF’s racism, detentions, kidnappings and compulsory conscription of underaged boys and girls,” he said. “The situation was bad, and the area was on the verge of imploding.” 

[Washington Post]

Trump removed U.S. ambassador to Ukraine over complaints from Giuliani, other outsiders

President Donald Trump ordered the removal of the ambassador to Ukraine after months of complaints from allies outside the administration, including his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, that she was undermining him abroad and obstructing efforts to persuade Kyiv to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, according to people familiar with the matter.

The recall of Marie Yovanovitch in the spring has become a key point of interest in the House impeachment inquiry. A whistleblower complaint by a CIA officer alleges the president solicited foreign interference in the 2020 elections by pressing Ukraine’s president in a July 25 call to pursue investigations, including into the activities of Biden, a Democrat who is running for president.

The complaint cites Yovanovitch’s ouster as one of a series of events that paved the way for what the whistleblower alleges was an abuse of power by the president. Trump has described the call with his Ukrainian counterpart as “perfect” and the House inquiry as a “hoax.”

State Department officials were told this spring that Yovanovitch’s removal was a priority for the president, a person familiar with the matter said. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo supported the move, an administration official said. Yovanovitch was told by State Department officials that they couldn’t shield her from attacks by the president and his allies, according to people close to her.

In an interview, Giuliani told The Wall Street Journal that in the lead-up to Yovanovitch’s removal, he reminded the president of complaints percolating among Trump supporters that she had displayed an anti-Trump bias in private conversations. In Giuliani’s view, she also had been an obstacle to efforts to push Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter.

[MarketWatch]

Trump Attacks CNN International: ‘We Should Start Our Own Network’

During a speech that was ostensibly about Medicare, President Donald Trump bashed CNN and argued for the creation of a pro-Trump network to cover the United States abroad.

“Their ratings are so low that they are no longer a big difference at all, they have really bad ratings,” Trump told a crowd in Florida Thursday. “Do you know what’s bad for our country? When CNN, I go to a foreign country … CNN outside of the United States is much more important than inside the United States and a lot of what you see here is broadcast throughout the world.”

Trump then said “we used to have Radio Free Europe and Voice of America. We did that to build up our country. That isn’t working out too well.” Radio Free Europe and Voice of America are still in operation.

“CNN is a voice that really seems to be the voice out there and it’s a terrible thing for our country. We should start our own network and put some real news out there because they are so bad for our country,” Trump argued.

“We’re looking at that, we should do something about that– put in some really talented people and and get a voice out there not a voice that’s fake,” he said.

A reason CNN may be so ubiquitous as a news organization outside of the United States is because it has invested in multiple news bureaus, boasting of 27 on it’s fact sheet. In comparison, a network like Fox News only has three international bureaus–in Jerusalem, Rome and London.

[Mediaite]

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