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]

Trump’s national security advisers warned him not to congratulate Putin. He did it anyway.

President Trump did not follow specific warnings from his national security advisers when he congratulated Russian President Vladi­mir Putin Tuesday on his reelection, including a section in his briefing materials in all-capital letters stating “DO NOT CONGRATULATE,” according to officials familiar with the call.

Trump also chose not to heed talking points from aides instructing him to condemn Putin about the recent poisoning of a former Russian spy in the United Kingdom with a powerful nerve agent, a case that both the British and U.S. governments have blamed on Moscow.

The president’s conversation with Putin, which Trump called a “very good call,” prompted fresh criticism of his muted tone toward one of the United States’s biggest geopolitical rivals amid the ongoing special counsel investigation into Russia’s election interference and the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian officials.

Although the Trump administration has taken a tougher stance toward Russia recently — including new sanctions last week on some entities for election meddling and cyber attacks — the president has declined to forcefully join London in denouncing Moscow for the poisoning of Sergie Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury this month. They remain critically ill.

Trump told reporters that he had offered his well wishes on Putin’s new six-year term during a conversation on a range of topics, including arms control and the security situations in Syria and North Korea. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that Skripal’s case was not discussed. Information on Syria and North Korea were also provided to the president in writing before the call, officials said.

“We’ll probably be meeting in the not-too-distant future,” Trump said of Putin, though Sanders emphasized that nothing was planned.

The White House press office declined to comment on the briefing materials given to Trump. Two people familiar with the notecards acknowledged that they included instructions not to congratulate Putin. But a senior White House official emphasized that national security adviser H.R. McMaster did not mention the issue during a telephone briefing with the president, who was in the White House residence ahead of and during his conversation with Putin.

It was not clear whether Trump read the notes, administration officials said. Trump, who initiated the call, opened it with the congratulations for Putin, one person familiar with the conversation said.

The president’s tone drew a rebuke from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, who wrote on Twitter: “An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections. And by doing so with Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election.”

But Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, appeared less concerned, noting Trump has also offered congratulations to other leaders of more totalitarian states. “I wouldn’t read much into it,” Corker said.

Putin’s latest consolidation of power came in what foreign policy analysts said was a rigged election in which he got 76 percent of the vote against several minor candidates. Some world leaders have hesitated to congratulate Putin, since his reelection occurred in an environment of state control of much of the news media and with his most prominent opponent barred from the ballot.

[Washington Post]

Trump fires Rex Tillerson, selects Mike Pompeo as new Secretary of State

President Donald Trump asked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to step aside, the White House confirmed Tuesday, replacing him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

In a tweet, Trump thanked Tillerson for his service and said Pompeo “will do a fantastic job.”

The ouster ends months of discord between Trump and Tillerson, who often seemed out of the loop or in disagreement with the president on major foreign policy decisions. The president also named Gina Haspel as the new head of the CIA, pending the confirmation process. Those hearings are expected to dredge up debates about controversial interrogation tactics, like waterboarding, that might make her path to permanence a rocky one.

The exit was not a voluntary one, the State Department confirmed in a startling statement Tuesday. Tillerson “did not speak to the President and is unaware of the reason” for his firing, Under Secretary of State Steve Goldstein said in a statement Tuesday morning, “but he is grateful for the opportunity to serve.”

Hours after Goldstein’s statement contradicting the White House’s account on Tillerson, a senior State Department official confirmed to NBC News that he had also been fired.

NBC News learned Tuesday from sources familiar with the situation that Chief of Staff John Kelly spoke with Tillerson by phone on Friday and told him that Trump intended to ask him to “step aside.” In that call — which came while Tillerson was traveling through Africa — Kelly did not specify when that change might come. Kelly also called Tillerson again on Saturday, a senior White House official said, expressing once again the president’s “imminent” intention to replace his secretary of state.

The Associated Press, citing senior State Department officials, reported Tuesday that Tillerson had been even more blindsided, saying that Kelly had warned him on that Friday call that there might be a tweet from the president coming that would concern him, but did not detail what the tweet might say or when it would post.

A senior State Department official told NBC that Tillerson officially found out that he had been fired when Trump tweeted the news that he’d been replaced.

Tillerson, said Goldstein, had “every intention of staying because of the critical progress made in national security.”

[NBC News]

Reality

Trump regularly fires people who do not display total loyalty to him and Tillerson did not.

Tillerson once called Trump a “moron” disagreed with him on Putin, the Paris Climate Agreement, Iran Nuclear Deal, North Korea, moving the Jerusalem embassy, etc…

Trump says he rejected Mexico request about border wall

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Saturday he rejected a demand from Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto that Trump say Mexico would not have to pay for a proposed U.S. border wall.

At a campaign rally in western Pennsylvania for a Republican congressional candidate, Trump gave some details of a testy phone call he had last month with Pena Nieto that led to the postponement of plans for the Mexican leader’s first visit to the White House.

Trump brought up the issue when the crowd started chanting “Build that Wall.”

Trump called Pena Nieto a “really nice guy” who made his request respectfully.

“He said, ‘Mr. President, I would like you to make a statement that Mexico will not pay for the wall,'” Trump said.

“I said, ‘Are you crazy? I am not making that statement,'” Trump said he replied.

When Pena Nieto said yes, Trump said he told him, “Bye, bye. There is no way I’m making that deal.”

Officials in Pena Nieto’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Trump’s remarks.

The Mexican leader’s visit to Washington has yet to be rescheduled. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, traveled to Mexico City last week to try to smooth over the tensions.

Trump is set to visit a prototype of his long-sought wall in the San Diego area on Tuesday.

[Reuters]

Donald Trump Didn’t Actually Do Anything To Free UCLA Players Detained In China

Remember when Donald Trump made a big stink about he personally liberated three UCLA basketball players who were arrested for shoplifting in China? According to a new report from ESPN, Trump didn’t actually do shit.

LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley, and Jalen Hill were arrested for shoplifting during a team trip to China on Nov. 8. According to a Nov. 14 New York Times story, under the credulous headline “How Trump Helped Liberate UCLA ‘Knuckleheads’ From China,” the president intervened on the players’ behalf a few days later, while he was meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping. White House chief of staff John Kelly told the Times that he spoke to the players while they were under house arrest, and told them that Trump had pulled some strings for them. From the Times:

Mr. Kelly said Mr. Trump’s intervention, as well as diplomatic efforts by State Department diplomats, led to the reduction of the charges to the equivalent of misdemeanors as well as the release of the three players to their hotel, where they were placed under temporary house arrest. It was there that Mr. Kelly talked to Chris Carlson, an associate athletic director at U.C.L.A., and to the players on the phone the next day.

But according to a team source cited in ESPN’s report, the players were not under house arrest when Trump got involved, and had in fact already had their passports returned to them and flights home booked. From ESPN:

“The players were already checked into the hotel before the public discovered they were arrested,” a team source said. “They also were not under house arrest. It was our decision to keep them at the hotel until the situation was resolved. The charges were dropped, they weren’t reduced, and that happened two days before we heard from Gen. Kelly.”

So it looks like LaVar Ball was right when he said that Trump didn’t really do anything to free his son, and that Trump was being an even bigger shithead than we thought he was when he tweeted, “I should have left them in jail!” in response.

[Deadspin]

Qatar Refused to Invest in Kushner’s Firm. Weeks Later, Jared Backed a Blockade of Qatar.

Jared Kushner’s father met with Qatar’s minister of finance last April, to solicit an investment in the family’s distressed asset at 666 Fifth Avenue, according to a new report from the Intercept.

The Qataris shot him down.

Weeks later, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates organized a blockade of Qatar. The Gulf monarchies claimed that this act of aggression was a response to Donald Trump’s call for the Arab world to crack down on terrorists — after taking in the president’s majestic sermon in Riyadh, the Saudis simply couldn’t live with themselves if they didn’t take action to thwart Qatar’s covert financing of Islamist extremism.

In reality, the Saudis’ primary aim was to punish Doha for asserting its independence from Riyadh by, among other things, engaging with Iran and abetting Al Jazeera’s journalism. This was obvious to anyone familiar with the Saudis’ own affinity for (shamelessly) exporting jihadism — which is to say, anyone with a rudimentary understanding of Middle East politics.

And it was equally obvious that the United States had nothing to gain from a conflict between its Gulf allies. Qatar hosts one of America’s largest and most strategically important air bases in the Middle East. Any development that pushes Doha away from Riyadh pulls it toward Tehran. Thus, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — and virtually every other arm of the U.S. government — scrambled to nip the blockade in the bud.

But Jared Kushner was (reportedly) an exception. Donald Trump was more than happy to endorse the idea that his speech had moved mountains, and commended the Saudis for punishing Qatar — first on Twitter, and then during a press conference in the Rose Garden. According to contemporary reports, his son-in-law was one of the only White House advisers to approve of this stance.

Perhaps, Kushner’s idiosyncratic view of the blockade had nothing to do with Qatar’s rejection of his father. Maybe the senior White House adviser simply wanted to tell Trump what the latter wished to hear. Alternatively, it’s at least conceivable that contemporary reports were wrong, and that Kushner played no significant role in Trump’s decision to support the blockade.

Regardless, the senior White House adviser is adamant that there was no relationship whatsoever between his family’s business dealings and the administration’s policy. “It is fantasy and part of a misinformation campaign for anyone to say or any media to report that Mr. Kushner took any action with respect to Qatar or any other country based on whether anyone in that country did or did not do business with his former company from which he disengaged before coming into the government,” Peter Mirijanian, a spokesperson for Mr. Kushner’s attorney, Abbe Lowell, said in a statement. “Mr. Kushner has not taken part in any business since then. This is nonsense.”

The government of Qatar, however, suspects otherwise. As NBC News reports:

Qatari government officials visiting the U.S. in late January and early February considered turning over to Mueller what they believe is evidence of efforts by their country’s Persian Gulf neighbors in coordination with Kushner to hurt their country, four people familiar with the matter said. The Qatari officials decided against cooperating with Mueller for now out of fear it would further strain the country’s relations with the White House, these people said.

It’s worth noting that the project the Qatari foreign minister refused to finance wasn’t just one more item in the Kushner family’s portfolio; it was Jared’s baby — his misbegotten, sickly, drowning baby.

In 2007, Jared Kushner decided that the real-estate market had nowhere to go but up. And so the 26-year-old mogul decided to plow $500 million of his family’s money — and $1.3 billion in borrowed capital — into purchasing 666 Fifth Avenue for twice the price it had previously sold for. Even if we’d somehow avoided a global financial crisis, this would have been a bad bet: Before the crash, when the building was almost fully occupied, it generated only about two-thirds of the revenue the Kushners needed to keep up with their debt payments.

After the crisis, however, things got really hairy. The Kushners were forced to sell off the building’s retail space to pay their non-mortgage debt on the building — and then to hand over nearly half of the office space to Vornado as part of a refinancing agreement with the real-estate giant.

The office space that the Kushners retained is worth less than its $1.2 billion mortgage — which is due early in 2019. If their company can’t find some new scheme for refinancing and redeveloping the property by then, Kushner will have cost his family a fortune.

And Jared really doesn’t want that to happen. In the months between his father-in-law’s election and inauguration, Kushner divided his time between organizing the transition, and seeking capital from (suddenly quite interested) investors aligned with foreign governments: During that period, Kushner attempted to secure a $400 million loan from the Chinese insurance firm Anbang, and a $500 million one from former Qatari prime minister and billionaire investor Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, also known as “HBJ.” Anbang pulled out once the deal attracted critical media scrutiny, and HBJ jumped ship when the Kushners failed to find a second major source of capital.

In those same weeks, Kushner met with Sergey Gorkov, head of the Kremlin-affiliated Vnesheconombank. The senior White House adviser has insisted that this meeting was strictly political; Gorkov maintains it was strictly business.

All of these interactions are currently being scrutinized by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

They have also, apparently, been studied by top government officials in the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel, and Mexico — all of whom have privately discussed strategies for exploiting Jared Kushner’s business interests for geopolitical gain, according to a report from the Washington Post on Wednesday.

And if America’s allies and adversaries are looking for further (circumstantial) evidence that U.S. foreign policy might be for sale, the New York Times provided some this week, when it revealed that Kushner’s family company had won $500 million in financing last year from a pair of American firms right after their top executives had White House meetings with one Jared Kushner.

Maybe all of this looks worse than it is. But it looks like the president’s son-in-law worked to sour relations with a key U.S. ally in the Middle East — which has since drifted further into the orbit of a regime hostile to the United States — because it refused to bail out his family’s underwater real-estate investment.

Even if this is appearance is deceiving, why isn’t the mere semblance of such high corruption enough to bounce Kushner from the White House? Are Kushner’s personal skills really more valuable than his conflicts of interest are toxic? Is a real-estate heir who has no policy-making experience, background in geopolitics, or security clearance — but does have significant business interests in Israel — really such an ideal choice for brokering peace in the Middle East?

Kushner’s sole qualification for his senior White House position (beyond having been born and betrothed to the right people) is the business savvy that allowed him to avoid squandering his family’s enormous fortune — and if he doesn’t auction off American foreign policy for an emergency loan, he very well may have to delete that item from his résumé.

[New York Magazine]

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