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 Told Mar-a-Lago Pals to Expect ‘Big’ Iran Action ‘Soon’

In the five days prior to launching a strike that killed Iran’s most important military leader, Donald Trump roamed the halls of Mar-a-Lago, his private resort in Florida, and started dropping hints to close associates and club-goers that something huge was coming.

According to three people who’ve been at the president’s Palm Beach club over the past several days, Trump began telling friends and allies hanging at his perennial vacation getaway that he was working on a “big” response to the Iranian regime that they would be hearing or reading about very “soon.” His comments went beyond the New Year’s Eve tweet he sent out warning of the “big price” Iran would pay for damage to U.S. facilities. Two of these sources tell The Daily Beast that the president specifically mentioned he’d been in close contact with his top national security and military advisers on gaming out options for an aggressive action that could quickly materialize.

“He kept saying, ‘You’ll see,’” one of the sources recalled, describing a conversation with Trump days before Thursday’s strike.

Trump’s gossipy whispers regarding a “big” response in Iraq foreshadowed what was to come. After hours of silence, senior officials in the Trump administration argued that what had taken place in Iraq was not an act of aggression. Instead, they said both publicly and behind closed doors on the Hill that killing Qassem Soleimani was designed to “advance the cause of peace,” as U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Brian Hook put it in a Friday interview

Those Mar-a-Lago guests received more warning about Thursday’s attack than Senate staff did, and about as much clarity. A classified briefing on Friday, the first the administration gave to the Hill, featured broad claims about what the Iranians were planning and little evidence of planning to bring about the “de-escalation” the administration says it wants.  

According to three sources either in the room or told about the discussion, briefers from the State Department, Pentagon, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence claimed that killing Soleimani was designed to block Iranian plans to kill “hundreds” or even thousands of Americans in the Mideast. That would be a massive escalation from the recent attack patterns of Iran and its regional proxies, who tend to kill Americans in small numbers at a time. 

“This administration has absolutely not earned the benefit of the doubt when it makes these kinds of claims. When you’re taking action that could lead to the third American war in the Middle East in 20 years, you need to do better than these kinds of assertions,” said a Senate aide in the room. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also said publicly that the Iranians planned to kill hundreds of Americans before Soleimani’s killing.

Nor, said four sources who requested anonymity to discuss a classified briefing, did the briefers provide detail on a key question surrounding an act of war against a regional power: what next? 

[The Daily Beast]

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]

Trump Believed Ukraine Conspiracy Because ‘Putin Told Me’

President Trump has fixated on a theory that Ukraine stole Democratic emails in 2016 and framed Russia for the crime. The Washington Post reports that Trump told a former senior White House official that he believed Ukraine stole the emails because “Putin told me.”

The Post’s explosive report adds to an extensive body of evidence showing the degree to which Vladimir Putin has influenced Trump’s thinking. Trump is not a Russian agent, but he is a man whose thinking has obviously been heavily influenced by Russian sources. It is difficult if not impossible to find another Republican official at any level who believes, like Trump, that Montenegro is an aggressive country that might attack Russia or that the Soviets were forced to invade Afghanistan as a defense against terrorist attacks.

The Ukraine-server theory has gained somewhat wider currency in Republican circles, in large part because of Trump. The Mueller investigation found that Paul Manafort — the Trump campaign manager who had previously been hired by a Russian oligarch to help a pro-Russian presidential candidate in Ukraine — had suggested even during the campaign that Ukraine had stolen the emails to blame Russia. Manafort was working at the time alongside Konstantin Kilimnik, whom U.S. intelligence considers a Russian intelligence asset.

The Post reports that Trump’s advisers desperately tried to figure out the source of his belief that Ukraine had stolen the emails. They believed Putin shared this theory during his 2017 meeting in Hamburg and/or at a subsequent meeting in Helsinki, both of which took place without other American officials present. (After the second encounter, Trump confiscated notes from a translator.)

“The strong belief in the White House was that Putin told him,” one former official tells the Post. The paper also reports that “Trump repeatedly told one senior official that the Russian president said Ukraine sought to undermine him.”

Trump’s impeachment has focused primarily on his demand for an investigation of his political rival. But Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine began as an effort to vindicate the conspiracy theory that Putin had apparently persuaded Trump to believe. Trump asked Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to locate the server the Russians claimed Ukrainians had smuggled away and hid.

More important, Trump allegedly directed the activities of Lev Parnas, a partner of Rudy Giuliani. Parnas was paid a million dollars by a notorious Russian oligarch with close ties to Putin. On behalf of Parnas’s company, a Republican donor paid Giuliani, who represented Trump for “free.” And Giuliani, astonishingly, is still at it. After returning from another trip to Ukraine, where he met with a series of notorious Russian-allied figures, Giuliani has made his case on conservative network OANN and met with Trump, who in turn vouched for him and his work.

Proving criminal conspiracies in court is hard — especially when some of the suspects reside in a hostile foreign country, and even more so when the investigation’s principal subject has the power to pardon witnesses who withhold cooperation. The Mueller investigation failed to establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump and Russia, but Trump is working to spread Russian-originated propaganda and he handed this work off to figures who were paid by Putin allies. Whether you describe this relationship as a conspiracy or simply an alliance, it is very much ongoing.

[New York Magazine]

Trump praises Kennedy after Chuck Todd links senator’s Ukraine remarks to Putin

President Trump on Monday praised Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) for his appearance a day earlier on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” where anchor Chuck Todd questioned the senator for pushing the unsubstantiated claim that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election.

“Thank you to Great Republican @SenJohnKennedy for the job he did in representing both the Republican Party and myself against Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd on Meet the Depressed!” Trump tweeted.

The president tweeted his thanks as he flew to London for NATO meetings. He also praised two House Republicans for defending him against the impeachment inquiry in television interviews.

Kennedy has been part of controversial interviews each of the past two Sundays after making claims about Ukraine’s involvement in the 2016 election.

Kennedy last week suggested that there was still a possibility that Ukraine was responsible for the 2016 Democratic National Committee hack. He walked back those comments days later but has continued to insist Ukraine interfered in other ways. 

On “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Kennedy asserted that reporting in outlets such as Politico and The Economist indicated that the former Ukrainian president favored Clinton over Trump.

“The fact that Russia was so aggressive does not exclude the fact that President Poroshenko actively worked for Secretary Clinton,” he said.

Todd appeared exasperated with the senator and pushed back on his argument, suggesting Kennedy was furthering a narrative of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Are you at all concerned that you’ve been duped?” Todd asked. 

“No, just read the articles,” Kennedy said. 

The Intelligence Committee has concluded that Russia, not Ukraine, interfered in the 2016 election and was seeking to aid the Trump campaign. Former special counsel Robert Mueller determined he could not establish that the Trump campaign worked with Russia.

In the aftermath of that investigation, Trump and some of his allies have continued to claim Ukraine meddled in the 2016 race despite the insistence to the contrary of national security officials. 

[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]

The US Navy canceled a routine Black Sea patrol after Trump complained that it was hostile to Russia

Christopher Anderson, an aide to former Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, testified that the White House canceled a Navy freedom-of-navigation operation in the Black Sea after President Donald Trump complained to then-national security adviser John Bolton about a CNN report that framed the operation as a counter to Russia, Politico reported.

According to Anderson’s testimony, the news report in question came from CNN and characterized the operation as antagonistic toward Russia. Anderson testified that Trump called Bolton at home to complain about the article, and the operation was later canceled at the behest of the White House, Anderson said.

“In January, there was an effort to get a routine freedom-of-navigation operation into the Black Sea,” Anderson testified. “There was a freedom-of-navigation operation for the Navy. So we — we, the US government — notified the Turkish government that there was this intent.”

While Anderson in his testimony placed the report in January, details from his testimony match a story from early December, which had the headline “US makes preparations to sail warship into the Black Sea amid Russia-Ukraine tensions.”

Anderson said the White House asked the Navy to cancel the freedom-of-navigation operation because the report portrayed the operation as a move to counter Russia, which has increased its naval presence there since annexing Crimea in 2014. In November 2018, its forces attacked Ukrainian assets transiting the Kerch Strait, which connects the Black Sea with the Azov Sea. Russia seized three Ukrainian ships and held 24 Ukrainian service members captive.

“We met with Ambassador Bolton and discussed this, and he made it clear that the president had called him to complain about that news report. And that may have just been that he was surprised,” Anderson said.

“We don’t — I can’t speculate as to why, but that, that operation, was canceled, but then we were able to get a second one for later in February. And we had an Arleigh-class destroyer arrive in Odessa on the fifth anniversary of the Crimea invasion.”

The White House and the US Navy’s 6th Fleet, which conducts operations in Europe, did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment. 

[Business Insider]

Trump celebrates resignation of Bolivia’s president

President Trump on Monday hailed the ouster of Bolivian President Evo Morales as a “significant moment for democracy” even as Morales’s supporters and some U.S. lawmakers likened it to a coup.

Trump issued a statement approving of Morales’s resignation, which capped weeks of unrest following the country’s elections last month.

“After nearly 14 years and his recent attempt to override the Bolivian constitution and the will of the people, Morales’s departure preserves democracy and paves the way for the Bolivian people to have their voices heard,” Trump said in a statement.

Trump said the events in Bolivia “send a strong signal to the illegitimate regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua that democracy and the will of the people will always prevail. We are now one step closer to a completely democratic, prosperous, and free Western Hemisphere.”

Mexico on Monday offered asylum to Morales, and later said the Bolivian leader had requested it. 

Morales and his leftist government have been in power for 14 years, but the country’s first indigenous president has come under scrutiny toward the end of his tenure. Morales changed the country’s laws in order to run for office a fourth time and declared he won last month’s election despite widespread accusations of fraud.

The Washington Post reported the the heads of the armed forces and police withdrew their support for the government in recent days amid escalating protests. By Sunday, all four socialist officials atop the Bolivian government had resigned in what Morales likened to a coup.

That language was echoed by prominent liberals in the U.S. Congress, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), both self-described democratic socialists.

“I am very concerned about what appears to be a coup in Bolivia, where the military, after weeks of political unrest, intervened to remove President Evo Morales,” Sanders tweeted.

“What’s happening right now in Bolivia isn’t democracy, it’s a coup,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “The people of Bolivia deserve free, fair, and peaceful elections — not violent seizures of power.”

Trump has used socialist governments around the world to attack Democrats and their progressive policies ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

The Trump administration has pushed for the ouster of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, but has thus far been unsuccessful.

[The Hill]

Trump says he’s ‘thinking about’ attending Russia’s May Day parade

Donald Trump says he’s considering attending Russia‘s May Day parade in 2020.

The president told reporters outside the White House that he was “invited” by Russian President Vladimir Putin and is “thinking about” attending the procession, which commemorates the end of the Second World War with a display of the country’s military might.

“It’s right in the middle of our campaign season, but I would certainly think about it”, Mr Trump told reporters on Friday. 

Not to be confused with May Day parades, the Moscow Victory Day Parade on 9 May 2020 will mark the 75th anniversary of the fall of Nazi Germany on the war’s Eastern front.

“President Putin invited me to the… It’s a very big deal, celebrating the end of the war, etcetera, etcetera, a very big deal, so I appreciate the invitation”, Mr Trump said. “It is right in the middle of political season, so I’ll see if I can do it, but I would love to go if I could.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Mr Trump had been invited earlier this year.

Mr Peskov told reporters that Mr Trump had reacted positively to the invitation.

On Thursday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov reportedly confirmed to Russian news agency RIA that Mr Putin’s invitation was “received with interest”, according to Reuters, but the White House did not respond with an affirmative.

Mr Trump’s response on Friday arrives amid ongoing tensions between the two countries, including Russia’s manoeuvring in Ukraine and its interference in 2016 elections and US politics, in Washington and on social media.

Facing the president and members of his cabinet at the White House last month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is leading the impeachment charge against Mr Trump, said that she likely was thinking, “All roads lead to Putin” while addressing the president.

[The Independent]

Trump defends abandoning the Kurds by saying they didn’t help the US in WWII

President Donald Trump on Wednesday defended his decision to abandon the Kurds to a Turkish military incursion in Syria by saying they didn’t help the US during World War II. 

This came amid reports that Turkish ground troops were crossing the border into Syria after air strikes that began earlier in the day.

“They didn’t help us in the Second World War; they didn’t help us with Normandy,” Trump said of the Kurds. He added, “With all of that being said, we like the Kurds.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Trump said in a statement released by the White House that he did not endorse the Turkish military operation and thought it was a “bad idea.” But he did not refer directly to the Kurds or signal any immediate response from the US to thwart Turkey’s actions. 

The Trump administration on Sunday abruptly announced the US was withdrawing troops stationed in northeastern Syria ahead of a Turkish operation.

The move has been broadly condemned in Washington, including by top congressional Republicans and former Trump administration officials, as many feel Trump paved the way for Turkey to go after key US allies. 

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) bore the brunt of the US-led campaign against ISIS, losing about 11,000 fighters in the process.

Ahead of the Trump administration’s announcement, Kurdish forces had recently dismantled defensive positions along the Turkey-Syria border under assurances from the US it would not allow a Turkish assault. The SDF described Trump’s decision to withdraw troops as a “stab in the back” and made clear it felt betrayed by the US. 

[Business Insider]

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