Trump plugs Mar-a-Lago during Japanese PM’s visit

President Trump plugged his Mar-a-Lago resort on Tuesday at the start of a visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — saying that world leaders were clamoring for an invite to his fave Florida destination.

“Many of the world’s great leaders request to come to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach. They like it. I like it, we’re comfortable, we have great relationships,” Trump said before offering a somewhat patchy history of the storied waterfront property.

“As you remember, we were here and President Xi of China was here. It was originally built as the Southern White House. It was called the Southern White House. It was given to the United States, and then Jimmy Carter decided it was too expensive for the United States so they fortunately for me gave it back and I bought it.”

Mar-a-Lago was built as a residence for Post cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post beginning in 1924.

When she died in 1973, she bequeathed it to the National Park Service in the hopes that it could be used as a “Winter White House.”

But because it was so expensive to maintain, the property was returned to the Post Foundation by Congress in April 1981, when President Reagan was in office. Trump bought it in 1985.

“It was a circuitous route but now indeed it is the Southern White House,” the president continued. “Again, many of the leaders want to be here, they request specifically.”

The president also said that he and Abe would hit the links on Wednesday before holding bilateral discussions on trade, the Koreas and other topics.

Korea is coming along. South Korea is meeting and has plans to meet with North Korea to see if they can end the war and they have my blessing on that,” he said.

“People do not realize the Korean War has not ended. It’s going on right now and they are discussing an end to the war,” Trump said.

The fighting stopped on the peninsula when the parties signed an armistice in 1953, but the war was never officially declared over.

Trump is spending the week at Mar-a-Lago, the 17th time he has visited the resort since taking office.

[New York Post]

Media

Trump just blocked his own administration’s Russia sanctions

It appears that President Trump just blocked his own administration’s plan to sanction Russia.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, announced Sunday that the Trump administration was going to hit Russia with new sanctions on Monday over its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons program in the wake of the April 7 chemical attack in Douma, Syria, that killed dozens of people. The sanctions were explicitly focused on Russian companies that deal in equipment linked to Assad’s chemical weapons program.

But just a day later, the White House backtracked, with press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying that the administration was merely “considering additional sanctions on Russia” and that “a decision will be made in the near future.”

So why the awkward reversal? Apparently President Trump wasn’t on board with sanctioning Russia.

According to the Washington Post, after Haley announced the sanctions on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday morning, Trump told national security advisers he was “upset the sanctions were being officially rolled out because he was not yet comfortable executing them.”

It unclear whether Haley just mistakenly announced the sanctions prematurely before the president had officially signed off on them, or if something else entirely went wrong.

But two things are obvious: The administration is once again botching the rollout of a fairly straightforward policy, and Trump is personally taking steps to ensure that he doesn’t anger Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A Russian foreign ministry official said on Monday that the Trump administration contacted the Russian embassy on Sunday and told them that the sanctions that Haley had mentioned were not actually coming.

[VOX]

Trump: US, France and UK launch strikes on Syria

President Donald Trump announced on Friday he ordered strikes on the Syrian regime in response to a chemical weapons attack last weekend.

“I ordered the United States armed forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapon capabilities of Syrian dictator of Bashar al-Assad,” Trump said from the White House Diplomatic Reception Room.

US aircraft and ships were used in the attack, according to multiple US defense officials.

Trump said the strikes were in coordination with France and the United Kingdom, adding that the purpose of the campaign is to “establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons.”

“The combined American, British and French response to these atrocities will integrate all instruments of our national power: military, economic and diplomatic,” Trump said.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement that she “authorized British armed forces to conduct co-ordinated and targeted strikes to degrade the Syrian Regime’s chemical weapons capability and deter their use.”

Trump indicated the strikes would continue until the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons ends.

“We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents,” Trump said.

The President also insisted that the US would not remain engaged in Syria forever under any circumstances. He has previously told his national security team he wants US troops to exit Syria within six months.

“America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria,” Trump said from the White House.

“As other nations step up their contributions we look forward to the day we can bring our warriors home.”

Trump told the nation in his address the US “cannot purge the world of evil or act everywhere there is tyranny.”

And he described the Middle East as a “troubled place.”

“We will try to make it better but it is a troubled place,” Trump said. “The US will be a partner and a friend. But the fate of the region lies in the hands of its own people.”
He criticized Russia’s support of the Syrian regime saying “Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path.”

Trump also called out Russia’s promise in 2013 that they would guarantee the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons.

[CNN]

Trump says missiles ‘will be coming’

US President Donald Trump has tweeted that Russia should “get ready” for missiles to be fired at its ally Syria, in response to an alleged chemical attack near Damascus on Saturday.

“Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!'” Mr Trump said in his tweet.

Senior Russian figures have threatened to meet any US strikes with a response.

President Bashar al-Assad’s government denies mounting a chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Douma.

In one of his tweets on Wednesday, Mr Trump called the Syrian leader a “gas killing animal”.

In another, he painted a dark picture of US-Russia relations but said it did not have to be that way.

The US, UK and France have agreed to work together and are believed to be preparing for a military strike in response to the alleged chemical attack at the weekend.

[BBC]

Ivanka Trump’s clothing company will be spared from tariffs, thanks to her dad

The steel and aluminum industries in China will soon be slapped with tariffs up to $50 billion by President Donald Trump. On Thursday, after China announced their intentions to retaliate against the United States with $50 billion in tariffs of their own against U.S. goods, Trump warned that his administration would respond with another set of tariffs, this time targeting $100 billion worth of Chinese goods.

Exempt from the proposed tariffs against China, however, is the clothing manufacturing industry.

U.S. officials say they used an algorithm to determine which goods to exclude from new tariffs. According to the Washington Post, the list was drafted to achieve “the lowest consumer impact,” ensuring goods like clothing and toys were excluded so as not to raise the cost on domestic consumer goods.

Exempting clothing from the tariffs provides a big break to American clothing companies that hold trademarks in China. One of those clothing companies belongs to the First Daughter of the United States, Ivanka Trump.

A recent report by the Huffington Post found that the president’s daughter and closest adviser rakes in a total of $1.5 million a year from the Trump Organization while still working at the White House.

Her dual role as adviser to the president and private business executive has continuously raised ethical red flags. No one can be entirely sure that public policy by this administration isn’t being driven by business motives, or whether countries may pursue business deals with the Trump family as a means to curry political favor with the administration.

The clearest example of this ethical line-blurring comes from early in the Trump presidency, when Ivanka dined with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Trump family’s resort in West Palm Beach on the same day China approved three new trademarks for Ivanka’s company.

[ThinkProgress]

Former ambassador to Vietnam: Trump wanted me to send back refugees

Former U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius said he resigned from his post last year after the Trump administration asked him to pressure the Vietnamese government to receive more than 8,000 Vietnamese refugees marked in the U.S. for deportation.

The vast majority of the people targeted for deportation — sometimes for minor crimes — were war refugees who had established lives in the U.S. after fleeing the Vietnam War more than 40 years ago, Osius wrote in an essay this month for the American Foreign Service Association.

“And they were to be ‘returned’ decades later to a nation ruled by a communist regime with which they had never reconciled. I feared many would become human rights cases, and our government would be culpable,” he wrote.

The State Department declined to comment Friday. The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Osius, now vice president of Fulbright University Vietnam, a private, nonprofit institution in Saigon, described his three-year tour as U.S. ambassador in Hanoi as “the high point of my 30-year career in the Foreign Service and the honor of a lifetime.” Efforts to reach him through the university and the foreign service association Friday were unsuccessful.

Osius’s admission took on significant resonance in San Jose, which is home to more than 100,000 Vietnamese Americans, one of the largest populations of Vietnamese-born people outside of Vietnam.

It comes months after Vietnamese activists across the country, including many in the Bay Area, raised concerns that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was rounding up undocumented immigrants from Vietnam in unprecedented numbers that left communities shocked and fearful. They estimated more than 100 Vietnamese were detained across the country in October alone.

The surge in ICE activity appeared to spring in part from the Trump administration’s aggressive efforts to deport immigrants with criminal records, even in circumstances where their home countries haven’t traditionally cooperated with U.S. removal orders. In the past, immigrants in that situation have been allowed to stay in the U.S., but the Trump administration has been pressing Cambodia and Vietnam, in particular, to take back their deportees.

The result is that immigrants who have established roots and lives in the U.S. in spite of their eligibility for deportation are suddenly being detained and shipped out.

Vietnamese and U.S. officials in 2008 signed a repatriation memorandum that in part said Vietnamese immigrants who arrived in America before 1995 would not be subject to deportation. Activists, however, say some of the individuals being detained arrived before 1995, leaving them to wonder whether some of these deportations are illegal. Several organizations filed a lawsuit against the federal government in February for violating its repatriation agreement with Vietnam.

“It falls in line with what we predicted about this administration,” said Nate Tan, a member of the Asian Prisoner Support Committee in Oakland. “I’m not shocked. It’s disheartening and not surprising that this administration is working so hard to deport people who are refugees.”

In his essay, Osius said he feared “this repulsive policy” would destroy any chances Trump had in fulfilling other goals for relations with Vietnam, among them reducing trade deficit, strengthening military relations and coping with regional threats, such as those from North Korea.

“I voiced my objections, was instructed to remain silent, and decided there was an ethical line that I could not cross if I wished to retain my integrity. I concluded that I could better serve my country from outside government, by helping to build a new, innovative university in Vietnam,” he wrote.

Phi Nguyen, litigation director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Atlanta, said she’s happy the former diplomat spoke out.

“A lot of what’s been happening has happened behind closed doors,” she said. “I’m encouraged to see somebody going public with speaking out against this policy that the Trump administration is implementing, not only with respect to Vietnam but also with Cambodia, Iraq and Somalia and all of the countries that historically have not repatriated people who are ordered deported.”

[Mercury News]

Trump asked CIA official why drone strike didn’t also kill target’s family

President Trump reportedly asked an official at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) why they didn’t kill a terrorist target’s family during a drone strike.

The Washington Post reported Thursday after watching a recorded video of a Syrian drone strike where officials waited until the target was outside of his family’s home, Trump asked, “Why did you wait?”

The agency’s head of drone operations explained to an “unimpressed” Trump there are techniques to limit the number of civilian casualties.

Trump called for the CIA to start arming its drone in Syria and reportedly asked for it to be started in days.

[The Hill]

Reality

All four Geneva Conventions from 1949 contain “Common Article 3,” which applies to “armed conflict not of an international character.” What does that mean? The U.S. Supreme Court, in the 2006 case Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld, ruled that “armed conflict not of an international character” means a war that is not fought against a sovereign state. (A sovereign state simply means a country with a recognized government.) Since groups like ISIS are not considered sovereign states, that means that Common Article 3 applies to the current war on terrorism.

According to Common Article 3, people who are taking no active part in the hostilities “shall in all circumstances be treated humanely… To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever … violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture.”

Experts said this language would make Trump’s approach a violation of the Geneva Conventions, assuming that the family members were not taking part in terrorist activities.

Trump: Saudi Arabia Might ‘Have to Pay’ For U.S. to Keep Troops in Syria

President Donald Trump said in his joint presser with Baltic leaders that Saudi Arabia might “have to pay” for the United States to maintain a military presence in Syria.

“As far as Syria is concerned, our primary mission in terms of that was getting rid of ISIS,” Trump responded to a question. “We’ve almost completed that task.”

“And we’ll be making a decision very quickly in coordination with others in the area as to what we’ll do,” he added. “Saudi Arabia is very interested in our decision. And I said, well, you know, you want us to stay maybe you’re going to have to pay.”

Trump continued:

But we do a lot of things in this country, we do them for — we do them for a lot of reasons. But it is very costly for our country. And it helps other countries a hell of a lot more than it helps us. So we’re going to be making a decision. We’ve had a tremendous military success against ISIS as you know. It is close 100% as I just said. And we’ll be making a decision as to what we do in the very near future. We’ll be consulting also with the groups of our people and groups of our allies.

Reuters White House reporter Steve Holland asked Trump if he is “inclined to pull the troops out” of Syria, to which the president replied:

“I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home. I want to start rebuilding our nation. We will have as of three months ago, $7 trillion in the Middle East over the last 17 years. We get nothing out of it. Nothing.”

[Mediaite]

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince reportedly bragged about having Jared Kushner ‘in his pocket’ after being told classified information meant for Trump

Jared Kushner reportedly discussed classified information obtained from the President’s Daily Brief with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who bragged that he had Kushner “in his pocket,” according to a report by The Intercept.

Presidential son-in-law-turned-advisor Jared Kushner reportedly had a penchant for reading President Donald Trump’s daily brief, a highly sensitive intelligence update that is only meant to be seen by the president and his top advisers, before being stripped of his top security clearance and access to the daily brief in February.

Before losing his security access, Kushner was particularly interested about information on the Middle East, the Intercept reported, citing several former White House and US government officials.

When Salman became the new heir to the throne in June last year, the daily brief reportedly began to focus on shifting political allegiances in Saudi Arabia, and named several Saudi royals who were opposed to the crown prince’s position.

Kushner then made a surprise trip to Riyadh in October, reportedly staying up until 4 a.m. with Salman to discuss strategy.

Several sources told the Intercept that following the meeting, Salman told close confidants that Kushner had spilled the names of the Saudi royals “disloyal” to the prince, although Kushner’s camp strongly denies the claim.

Salman reportedly told the United Arab Emirates’ Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed about the meeting with Kushner, bragging that he had Kushner “in his pocket,” sources told the Intercept.

Just a week after the meeting Salman began his large-scale corruption crackdown, which saw 200 officials arrested. According to the report, Saudi officials mentioned in the daily briefs were among those detained.

The “two princes” have forged a close bond

Kushner has built a close relationship with the Salman, setting the stage for close communication between the the US and Saudi Arabia.

Kushner and Salman began their friendship at a lunch meeting at the White House last year, according to the Washington Post, citing sources familiar with their relationship. The two have been tasked with leading negotiations on Israel-Palestine peace, and have consulted frequently in private phone calls over several months, according to the Post.

A source close to Kushner told CNN that Kushner’s relationship with the Saudi prince is more personal and close than other professional relationships between the US and world leaders, and that Kushner seeks to use that bond to deepen ties between the countries.

Kushner is said to be playing an important role in Salman’s visit to the US this week.

Kushner attended official meetings between the president and the Saudi delegation, and is scheduled in for several dinners with Salman and other US and Saudi officials.

[Business Insider]

Trump Goes After the ‘Crazed’ Media Over Russia Call, Defends His ‘Congratulations’ to Putin

President Trump this afternoon tweeted an attack on the media (again) over its “crazed” coverage of his call with Vladimir Putin.

“I called President Putin of Russia,” POTUS tweeted, “to congratulate him on his election victory (in past, Obama called him also). The Fake News Media is crazed because they wanted me to excoriate him. They are wrong! Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing.”

Some Republicans were critical of Trump congratulating Putin as well––particularly John McCain––but the President is standing by his message and dinging the media for getting worked up about it.

Oh, and he wasn’t done:

“They can help solve problems with North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, ISIS, Iran and even the coming Arms Race,” he continued. “Bush tried to get along, but didn’t have the “smarts.” Obama and Clinton tried, but didn’t have the energy or chemistry (remember RESET). PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH!”

[Mediaite]

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