Trump administration holds off on new Russia sanctions, despite law

The Trump administration said on Monday it would not immediately impose additional sanctions on Russia, despite a new law designed to punish Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, insisting the measure was already hitting Russian companies.

“Today, we have informed Congress that this legislation and its implementation are deterring Russian defense sales,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. “Since the enactment of the … legislation, we estimate that foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions.”

Seeking to press President Donald Trump to clamp down on Russia, the U.S. Congress voted nearly unanimously last year to pass a law setting sweeping new sanctions on Moscow.

Trump, who wanted warmer ties with Moscow and had opposed the legislation as it worked its way through Congress, signed it reluctantly in August, just six months into his presidency.

Under the measure, the administration faced a deadline on Monday to impose sanctions on anyone determined to conduct significant business with Russian defense and intelligence sectors, already sanctioned for their alleged role in the election.

But citing long time frames associated with major defense deals, Nauert said it was better to wait to impose those sanctions.

“From that perspective, if the law is working, sanctions on specific entities or individuals will not need to be imposed because the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent,” she said in a statement.

The measure, known as the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act,” or CAATSA, required the administration to list “oligarchs” close to President Vladimir Putin’s government and issue a report detailing possible consequences of penalizing Russia’s sovereign debt.

[Reuters]

Trump cancels UK visit and blames Obama

US President Donald Trump has cancelled his visit to the UK in February, during which he was to open a new embassy in London. He tweeted that he was not a “big fan” of the $1bn (£738m) building in Vauxhall, in the south of the city, commissioned by his predecessor Barack Obama. The ceremony may now be overseen by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Trump had enraged politicians in the UK in November when he retweeted several inflammatory videos from far-right group Britain First – a move that Mrs May said was “wrong” and which prompted British MPs to describe Mr Trump as “fascist”, “stupid” and “racist, incompetent or unthinking”.

This planned trip was not the full state visit agreed between the UK and the US, but for which no date has yet been set.

[BBC, Financial Times]

Reality

The president is claiming he’s not going to visit a top ally because he’s unhappy about a real estate decision by the Obama administration, however the decision to build a new embassy was made in October 2008 during the George W. Bush administration.

Trump referred to Haiti and African countries as ‘shithole’ nations

President Donald Trump on Thursday referred to Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries” during a meeting with a bipartisan group of senators at the White House, a Democratic aide briefed on the meeting told NBC News.

Trump’s comments were first reported by The Washington Post, which said the group of nations referred to also included El Salvador.

The comments came as senators huddled in the Oval Office with the president to discuss a path forward on an immigration deal. Trump questioned why the United States would want people from nations such as Haiti while he was being briefed on changes to the visa lottery system.

According to the aide, when the group came to discussing immigration from Africa, Trump asked why America would want immigrants from “all these shithole countries” and that the U.S. should have more people coming in from places like Norway. Thursday’s meeting came one day after Trump met with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg at the White House.

A source familiar with Thursday’s meeting told NBC News the president was particularly frustrated during discussions about the visa lottery system — a program Trump has railed against repeatedly in recent months.

The White House issued a statement that did not deny the remarks.

“Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah told NBC Thursday, as part of a lengthy statement that did not directly dispute the language reportedly used in the meeting.

“He will always reject temporary, weak and dangerous stopgap measures that threaten the lives of hardworking Americans, and undercut immigrants who seek a better life in the United States through a legal pathway.”

It’s not the first time reports have surfaced of Trump speaking unfavorably about immigrants, and Haitians in particular. The New York Times reported in December that Trump said Haitian immigrants “all have AIDS,” during a summer 2017 meeting about immigration.

According to the Times, Trump also targeted Nigerian immigrants during that meeting, complaining that once they came the United States they would never “go back to their huts.” The White House vigorously denied the claims in the story at the time.

[NBC News]

Israel invested in “Mideast peace” Trump adviser Jared Kushner

A new report indicates that President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner holds a series of strong and shady financial ties to Israel, even as the administration insists he serves as a legitimate broker for potential peace efforts in the Middle East.

His family real estate business, Kushner Companies, received a $30 million investment from Menora Mivtachim, an insurer that is one of the largest financial institutions in Israel, The New York Times reported. The deal was private and took place shortly before Kushner and Trump visited Israel in May on their first diplomatic trip.

The deal “pumped significant new equity into 10 Maryland apartment complexes controlled by Mr. Kushner’s firm,” the Times reported. Despite the fact that Kushner sold parts of his business upon taking a job in the White House, he still holds a significant share in his family’s company, which include the Baltimore-area apartment buildings.

But the Menora deal only scratches the surface of Kushner’s financial conflicts of interests in the region that make the prospect of a fair solution seem bleak at the absolute best.

“The ethics laws were not crafted by people who had the foresight to imagine a Donald Trump or a Jared Kushner, Robert Weissman, the president of the nonprofit government ethics group, Public Citizen, told the Times. “No one could ever imagine this scale of ongoing business interests, not in a local peanut farm or a hardware store but sprawling global businesses that give the president and his top adviser personal economic stakes in an astounding number of policy interests.”

The Trump administration has defended itself, with a White House official saying Kushner “takes the ethics rules very seriously and would never compromise himself or the administration,” the Times reported.

Kushner’s disclosure forms had “100 errors and omissions and multiple updates,” Newsweek reported in October.

Kushner’s family foundation also continues to donate heavily to a group that constructs the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a group largely seen as “one of the main obstacles to a two-state solution,” ProPublica reported.

The Kushners have also engaged in real estate deals with “at least one member of Israel’s wealthy Steinmetz family to buy nearly $200 million of Manhattan apartment buildings, as well as to build a luxury rental tower in New Jersey.” Beny Steinmetz, the most well-known member of the family, is the subject of a bribery investigation by the Justice Department, the Times reported.

“A lot of people wonder whether the United States has ever been an honest broker in the Middle East, and given the positions of the Trump administration, it’s probably even more vulnerable to those claims,” Richard W. Painter, the former chief ethics lawyer for the Bush administration told the Times. Using Kushner, the U.S. is “sending over a special envoy who has already identified himself personally more with the hawkish views,” he added.
“He [Kushner] is getting money from wealthy citizens and businesses in one particular country,” Painter said. “You’ve got a situation that is going to be abused by people who don’t like the United States. He’s going to make it that much worse.”

The Kushner family ties to Israel obviously run quite deep, and it’s difficult to imagine the president’s son-in-law as a fair and unbiased broker of a solution for peace in the Middle East — especially with zero prior experience of diplomatic work. Trump has received international condemnation for his brash decision, which has only further stoked tensions with the Palestinians, as well as isolated the U.S. and Israel.

[Salon]

Trump Threatens to End American Aid: ‘We’re Watching Those Votes’ at the U.N.

President Trump threatened on Wednesday to cut off American aid to any country that votes in favor of a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly denouncing his recent decision to formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Mr. Trump’s statement, delivered at his last Cabinet meeting of the year, followed a letter from the American ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, in which she warned that the United States would take note of any country that votes in favor of the measure.

“All these nations that take our money and then vote against us at the Security Council or the assembly, they take hundreds of millions of dollars and billions of dollars and they vote against us,” Mr. Trump said. “Well, we’re watching those votes. Let them vote against us, we’ll save a lot. We don’t care.”

Mr. Trump added that “people are tired of the United States — people that live here, our great citizens that love this country — they’re tired of this country being taken advantage of and we’re not going to be taken advantage of any longer.”

It is difficult to see how Mr. Trump could deliver on his threat to cut financial assistance, since it could involve cutting off aid to a number of strategic allies. The United States has given $77.4 billion in foreign aid to Egypt between 1948 and 2016, according to the Congressional Research Service, including about $1.3 billion in annual military aid since 1987.

The General Assembly is scheduled to vote on Thursday on a resolution that would condemn Mr. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem, which is fiercely contested by Israelis and Palestinians, and urge other countries not to move their embassies to that city from Tel Aviv.

Mr. Trump said earlier this month that the United States would move its embassy to Jerusalem, though administration officials said a move was several years away because of logistical issues in constructing a new embassy complex.

On Monday, the United States used a rare veto to block a resolution in the Security Council calling for the administration to reverse its decision on Jerusalem. The vote on the resolution, which was drafted by Egypt, was 14 to 1, suggesting there would be a similarly lopsided margin against the United States in the 193-member General Assembly.

[The New York Times]

Trump Scolds the Wrong Theresa May After Criticism Over Him Sharing Anti-Muslim Videos

The President of the United States, who shared a racist far-right group’s unverified anti-Muslim videos, responded to criticism from the office of Prime Minister Theresa May––who felt that the President of the United States should NOT be sharing a racist far-right group’s unverified anti-Muslim videos––by saying that she should not “focus on me” and focus on radical Islam instead, but in doing so he TAGGED THE WRONG THERESA MAY.

The account he linked to does not belong to the British prime minister, it belongs to another woman named Theresa who’s about to get a lot of angry and confused tweets.

Theresa May’s account is @theresa_may.

[Mediaite]

Reality

There’s no evidence of extremist takeover of areas in Europe or the United States. This is a myth pushed by Fox News that has no basis in reality.

Update

The President deleted the tweet and corrected it.

Trump uses Egypt attack to plug border wall, immigration restrictions

In denouncing the terror attack on a mosque in Egypt, President Trump on Friday renewed his calls for for tighter immigration screening in the U.S, and a wall along the border with Mexico.

Trump said he would Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi “to discuss the tragic terrorist attack, with so much loss of life,” adding on Twitter: “We have to get TOUGHER AND SMARTER than ever before, and we will. Need the WALL, need the BAN! God bless the people of Egypt.”

Egyptian state media reported that at least 235 people died and more than 130 were injured during an attack on a Sufi mosque in Egypt’s North Sinai region, the deadliest attack ever on Egyptian civilians by Islamic militants.

Earlier Friday, Trump tweeted: “Horrible and cowardly terrorist attack on innocent and defenseless worshipers in Egypt. The world cannot tolerate terrorism, we must defeat them militarily and discredit the extremist ideology that forms the basis of their existence!”

In a readout after the call, the White House said Trump offered his condolences to the people of Egypt after the “heinous attack” on worshippers. Trump “reiterated that the United States will continue to stand with Egypt in the face of terrorism,” the statement said. “The international community cannot tolerate barbaric terrorist groups and must strengthen its efforts to defeat terrorism and extremism in all its forms.”

Trump has used previous terror attacks to promote immigration restrictions that are the subject of many political and legal disputes.

The administration’s proposed ban on immigration from six Muslim majority countries has faced a number of legal challenges. And congressional Democrats have moved to block funding for the proposed wall on the nation’s southern border.

Democrats said the nation has long screened immigrants in an effort to block potential terrorists, and they have accused Trump of making his proposals to keep Muslims and Hispanics out of the United States.

[USA Today]

Reality

Trump proposes a border wall with Mexico to keep out Egyptians and a Muslim ban that does not include Egypt as solutions to prevent terrorism after a terror attack at a mosque in Egypt.

Trump throws Twitter tantrum over Russia relations and Kim Jong-un calling him ‘old’

President Donald Trump on Saturday lashed out at North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un after state-run media called him a “lunatic old man.”

North Korea also criticized Trump as a “warmonger” as the president toured Asia to drum up support against Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

Trump also lashed out at the “haters and fools” who had criticized his meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin. The two spoke together during the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic Leaders’ Meeting in Vietnam.

Trump faced a backlash after saying he believed Putin, who told him that Russia did not meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

[Raw Story]

Trump voices support for Saudi leaders amid political purge

President Donald Trump said Monday he has “great confidence” in King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi Arabian leaders whose regime carried out an apparent purge of royals, ministers and businessmen in recent days amid a political crackdown that has resulted in mass arrests.

“I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing,” the president tweeted Tuesday while traveling in Asia as a part of his first diplomatic trip in the region.

The president added: “Some of those they are harshly treating have been ‘milking’ their country for years!”

Over the weekend bin Salman oversaw the arrest of 11 princes, including billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, in what the country’s attorney general referred to as “phase one” of the regime’s crackdown on political opponents.

The moves, which targeted royal political opponents within Salman’s own family, are widely-seen as the latest step in the 32-year-old’s attempt to consolidate power since King Salman, his father, took the throne in 2015.

The comments from Trump come just over a week after Jared Kushner, his senior adviser and son-in-law, took an unannounced trip to Saudi Arabia, marking his third visit to the country this year.

Kushner, whose trip was not announced to the public, was accompanied by deputy national security adviser Dina Powell and Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt.

Trump traveled to Saudia Arabia in September to meet with their political leaders. At the time, he expressed a more cooperative tone as president than he did as a candidate. During the 2016 campaign, Trump criticized the country for its human rights record and blasted Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, for accepting Saudi donations through the Clinton Foundation.

[Politico]

‘I’m The Only One That Matters,’ Trump Says Of State Dept. Job Vacancies

President Trump says: “I’m the only one that matters” in setting U.S. foreign policy, thus downplaying the importance of high-level jobs such as the assistant secretary of state, which is currently vacant.

“Let me tell you, the one that matters is me,” Trump said in an interview that aired on Fox News on Thursday night. “I’m the only one that matters, because when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be. You’ve seen that, you’ve seen it strongly.”

The president was responding to a question from Fox’s Laura Ingraham, who asked him, “Are you worried that the State Department doesn’t have enough Donald Trump nominees in there to push your vision through?”

Ingraham added, “other State Departments, including Reagan’s, at times, undermined his agenda. And there is a concern that the State Department currently is undermining your agenda.”

Trump said, “So, we don’t need all the people that they want. You know, don’t forget, I’m a businessperson. I tell my people, ‘Where you don’t need to fill slots, don’t fill them.’ But we have some people that I’m not happy with their thinking process.”

Trump also briefly blamed Democrats for obstructing his nominees in the Republican-controlled Senate. He then said, “We don’t need all of the people. You know, it’s called cost-saving.”

The president’s remarks on his diplomatic corps came as he prepares to leave Washington for a five-nation trip to Asia, including stops in South Korea and China.

In August, concerns were raised that key East Asia jobs had been left empty as tensions rose between the U.S. and North Korea. Trump has not nominated an ambassador to South Korea.

For months, Trump’s administration has been criticized over budget cuts to the State Department and its pace of nominations for high-profile ambassadorships in Asia and the Middle East.

As NPR’s Michele Kelemen reported in September, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “has raised a lot of eyebrows, maintaining a hiring freeze long after it was lifted for the rest of the federal government. Secretary Tillerson has also hired outside consulting groups.”

For Trump, the approach extends beyond the State Department. His recent remarks echo what he said in October, when he told Forbes, “I’m generally not going to make a lot of the appointments that would normally be — because you don’t need them.”

The president went on to complain about the “massive” size of some federal agencies.

As of last month, the Trump administration had installed roughly a quarter of the personnel needed to fill some 600 appointed positions that require Senate confirmation, as NPR’s Tamara Keith has reported.

[NPR]

Media

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