Despite Denials, Russians Were in Contact with Trump Campaign

Weeks before President Trump’s inauguration, his national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, discussed American sanctions against Russia, as well as areas of possible cooperation, with that country’s ambassador to the United States, according to current and former American officials.

Throughout the discussions, the message Mr. Flynn conveyed to the ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak — that the Obama administration was Moscow’s adversary and that relations with Russia would change under Mr. Trump — was unambiguous and highly inappropriate, the officials said.

The accounts of the conversations raise the prospect that Mr. Flynn violated a law against private citizens’ engaging in diplomacy, and directly contradict statements made by Trump advisers. They have said that Mr. Flynn spoke to Mr. Kislyak a few days after Christmas merely to arrange a phone call between President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and Mr. Trump after the inauguration.

But current and former American officials said that conversation — which took place the day before the Obama administration imposed sanctions on Russia over accusations that it used cyberattacks to help sway the election in Mr. Trump’s favor — ranged far beyond the logistics of a post-inauguration phone call. And they said it was only one in a series of contacts between the two men that began before the election and also included talk of cooperating in the fight against the Islamic State, along with other issues.

The officials said that Mr. Flynn had never made explicit promises of sanctions relief, but that he had appeared to leave the impression it would be possible.

Mr. Flynn could not immediately be reached for comment about the conversations, details of which were first reported by The Washington Post. Despite Mr. Flynn’s earlier denials, his spokesman told the Post that “while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”

During the Christmas week conversation, he urged Mr. Kislyak to keep the Russian government from retaliating over the coming sanctions — it was an open secret in Washington that they were in the works — by telling him that whatever the Obama administration did could be undone, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing classified material.

Days before Mr. Trump’s inauguration, Vice President-elect Mike Pence also denied that Mr. Flynn had discussed sanctions with Mr. Kislyak. He said he had personally spoken to Mr. Flynn, who assured him that the conversation was an informal chat that began with Mr. Flynn extending Christmas wishes.

“They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia,” Mr. Pence said on the CBS News program “Face the Nation.”

Some officials regarded the conversation as a potential violation of the Logan Act, which prohibits private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments in disputes involving the American government, according to one current and one former American official familiar with the case.

Federal officials who have read the transcript of the call were surprised by Mr. Flynn’s comments, since he would have known that American eavesdroppers closely monitor such calls. They were even more surprised that Mr. Trump’s team publicly denied that the topics of conversation included sanctions.

The call is the latest example of how Mr. Trump’s advisers have come under scrutiny from American counterintelligence officials. The F.B.I. is also investigating Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort; Carter Page, a businessman and former foreign policy adviser to the campaign; and Roger Stone, a longtime Republican operative.

Prosecutions in these types of cases are rare, and the law is murky, particularly around people involved in presidential transitions. The officials who had read the transcripts acknowledged that while the conversation warranted investigation, it was unlikely, by itself, to lead to charges against a sitting national security adviser.

But, at the very least, openly engaging in policy discussions with a foreign government during a presidential transition is a remarkable breach of protocol. The norm has been for the president-elect’s team to respect the sitting president, and to limit discussions with foreign governments to pleasantries. Any policy discussions, even with allies, would ordinarily be kept as vague as possible.

“It’s largely shunned, period. But one cannot rule it out with an ally like the U.K.,” said Derek Chollet, who was part of the Obama transition in 2008 and then served in senior roles at the State Department, White House and Pentagon.

“But it’s way out of bounds when the said country is an adversary, and one that has been judged to have meddled in the election,” he added. “It’s just hard to imagine anyone having a substantive discussion with an adversary, particularly if it’s about trying to be reassuring.”

(h/t New York Times)

Trump Blames Dust-Up Over Australia PM Call on ‘Fake News Media’

President Donald Trump on Friday thanked Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for “telling the truth” after news swirled that the two men had clashed during a phone call last weekend that abruptly ended when Trump reportedly hung up the phone.

“Thank you to Prime Minister of Australia for telling the truth about our very civil conversation that FAKE NEWS media lied about. Very nice!” Trump wrote on Twitter Friday morning.

Trump’s conversation with Turnbull last Saturday became a headline this week when The Washington Post reported details from that call. In it, Trump called a refugee agreement reached between Australia and the administration of former President Barack Obama “the worst deal ever” and that one of the individuals the U.S. agreed to take under the deal could be the “next Boston bombers.”

The president also reportedly told Turnbull that their conversation was “the worst call by far” of all that he had had with foreign leaders.

But Turnbull disputed some of that reporting, telling a radio interviewer in Australia that Trump did not hang up on him and that their phone call ended “courteously.” Beyond that, Turnbull has declined to share specifics of their conversation.

“Look, I’m not going to comment on a conversation between myself and the President of the United States other than what we have said publicly, and you can surely understand the reasons for that,” Turnbull said, according to a CNN report. “I’m sure you can understand that. It’s better these conversations are conducted candidly, frankly, privately. If you’ll see reports of them, I’m not going to add to them.”

The deal in question is one in which the U.S. would accept over 1,000 refugees currently held in Australian detention centers on islands in the Pacific Ocean. In a post to Twitter on Wednesday, Trump pledged to “study this dumb deal,” and while he has been clear that he would not have agreed to it, the president has also not said that the U.S. will not honor the agreement made by his predecessor.

“He’s been very critical of the deal that President Obama did,” Turnbull said in a radio interview in Australia that was picked up by the Associated Press. “He clearly wouldn’t have done it himself, but we persuaded him to stick with it nonetheless. That was the outcome that we wanted to achieve and that’s what I’ve achieved.”

(h/t Politico)

Trump on Phone with Australian Leader: ‘This Was the Worst Call By Far’

It should have been one of the most congenial calls for the new commander in chief – a conversation with the leader of Australia, one of America’s staunchest allies, at the end of a triumphant week.

Instead, President Donald Trump blasted Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over a refugee agreement and boasted about the magnitude of his electoral college win, according to senior U.S. officials briefed on the Saturday exchange. Then, 25 minutes into what was expected to be an hour-long call, Trump abruptly ended it.

At one point, Trump informed Turnbull that he had spoken with four other world leaders that day – including Russian President Vladimir Putin – and that “this was the worst call by far.”

Trump’s behavior suggests that he is capable of subjecting world leaders, including close allies, to a version of the vitriol he frequently employs against political adversaries and news organizations in speeches and on Twitter.

“This is the worst deal ever,” Trump fumed as Turnbull attempted to confirm that the United States would honor its pledge to take in 1,250 refugees from an Australian detention center.

Trump, who one day earlier had signed an executive order temporarily barring the admissions of refugees, complained that he was “going to get killed” politically and accused Australia of seeking to export the “next Boston bombers.”

Trump returned to the topic late Wednesday night, writing in a message on Twitter, “Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!”

U.S. officials said that Trump has behaved similarly in conversations with leaders of other countries, including Mexico. But his treatment of Turnbull was particularly striking because of the tight bond between the United States and Australia – countries that share intelligence, support one another diplomatically and have fought together in wars including in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The characterizations provide insight into Trump’s temperament and approach to the diplomatic requirements of his job as the nation’s chief executive, a role in which he continues to employ both the uncompromising negotiating tactics he honed as a real estate developer and the bombastic style he exhibited as a reality television personality.

The depictions of Trump’s calls are also at odds with sanitized White House accounts. The official readout of his conversation with Turnbull, for example, said that the two had “emphasized the enduring strength and closeness of the U.S.-Australia relationship that is critical for peace, stability, and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region and globally.”

A White House spokesman declined to comment. A senior administration official acknowledged that the conversation with Turnbull had been hostile and charged, but emphasized that most of Trump’s calls with foreign leaders – including the heads of Japan, Germany, France and Russia – have been both productive and pleasant.

Trump also vented anger and touted his political accomplishments in a tense conversation with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, officials said. The two have sparred for months over Trump’s vow to force Mexico to pay for construction of a border wall between the two countries, a conflict that prompted Peña Nieto to cancel a planned meeting with Trump.

Even in conversations marred by hostile exchanges, Trump manages to work in references to his election accomplishments. U.S. officials said that he used his calls with both Turnbull and Peña Nieto to mention his election win or the size of the crowd at his inauguration.

One official said that it may be Trump’s way of “speaking about the mandate he has and why he has the backing for decisions he makes.” But Trump is also notoriously thin-skinned and has used platforms including social-media accounts, meetings with lawmakers and even a speech at CIA headquarters to depict his victory as an achievement of historic proportions, rather than a narrow outcome in which his opponent, Hillary Clinton, won the popular vote.

The friction with Turnbull reflected Trump’s anger over being bound by an agreement reached by former President Barack Obama’s administration to accept refugees from Australian detention sites even while Trump was issuing an executive order suspending such arrivals from elsewhere in the world.

The issue centers on a population of roughly 2,500 people who sought asylum in Australia but were diverted to facilities off that country’s coast at Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. Deplorable conditions at those sites prompted intervention from the United Nations and a pledge from the United States to accept about half of those refugees, provided they passed U.S. security screening.

Many of the refugees came from Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Somalia, countries now listed in Trump’s order temporarily barring their citizens entry to the United States. A special provision in the Trump order allows for exceptions to honor “a preexisting international agreement,” a line that was inserted to cover the Australia deal.

But U.S. officials said that Trump continued to fume about the arrangement even after signing the order in a ceremony at the Pentagon.

“I don’t want these people,” Trump said. He repeatedly misstated the number of refugees called for in the agreement as 2,000 rather than 1,250, and told Turnbull that it was “my intention” to honor the agreement, a phrase designed to leave the U.S. president wiggle room to back out of the deal in the future, according to a senior U.S. official.

Turnbull told Trump that to honor the agreement, the United States would not have to accept all of the refugees but only to allow them each through the normal vetting procedures. At that, Trump vowed to subject each refugee to “extreme vetting,” the senior U.S. official said.

Trump was also skeptical because he did not see a specific advantage the United States would gain by honoring the deal, officials said.

Trump’s position appears to reflect the transactional view he takes of relationships, even when it comes to diplomatic ties with long-standing allies. Australia troops have fought alongside U.S. forces for decades, and the country maintains close cooperation with Washington on trade and economic issues.

Australia is seen as such a trusted ally that it is one of only four countries that the United States includes in the “Five Eyes” arrangement for cooperation on espionage matters. Members share extensively what their intelligence services gather and generally refrain from spying on one another.

There also is a significant amount of tourism between the two countries.

Trump made the call to Turnbull about 5 p.m. Saturday from his desk in the Oval Office, where he was joined by chief strategist Stephen Bannon, national security adviser Michael Flynn and White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

At one point, Turnbull suggested that the two leaders move on from their impasse over refugees to discuss the conflict in Syria and other pressing foreign issues. But Trump demurred and ended the call, making it far shorter than his conversations with Shinzo Abe of Japan, Angela Merkel of Germany, François Hollande of France or Putin.

“These conversations are conducted candidly, frankly, privately,” Turnbull said at a news conference Thursday in Australia. “If you see reports of them, I’m not going to add to them.”

(h/t Chicago Tribune)

Trump Tells Mexico: ‘I Might Send’ U.S. Military to Take Care of ‘Bad Hombres’

President Donald Trump threatened in a phone call with his Mexican counterpart to send U.S. troops to stop “bad hombres down there” unless the Mexican military does more to control them itself, according to an excerpt of a transcript of the conversation obtained by The Associated Press.

The excerpt of the call did not make clear who exactly Trump considered “bad hombres,” — drug cartels, immigrants, or both — or the tone and context of the remark, made in a Friday morning phone call between the leaders. It also did not contain Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto‘s response.

Still, the excerpt offers a rare and striking look at how the new president is conducting diplomacy behind closed doors. Trump’s remarks suggest he is using the same tough and blunt talk with world leaders that he used to rally crowds on the campaign trail.

A White House spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

The phone call between the leaders was intended to patch things up between the new president and his ally. The two have had a series of public spats over Trump’s determination to have Mexico pay for the planned border wall, something Mexico steadfastly refuses to agree to.

“You have a bunch of bad hombres down there,” Trump told Pena Nieto, according to the excerpt seen by the AP. “You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”

A person with access to the official transcript of the phone call provided an excerpt to The Associated Press. The person gave it on condition of anonymity because the administration did not make the details of the call public.

The Mexican website, Aristegui Noticias, on Tuesday published a similar account of phone call, based on the reporting of journalist Dolia Estevez. The report described Trump as humiliating Pena Nieto in a confrontational conversation.

Mexico’s foreign relations department denied that account, saying it “is based on absolute falsehoods,” and later said the statement also applied to the excerpt provided to AP.

“The assertions that you make about said conversation do not correspond to the reality of it,” the statement said. “The tone was constructive and it was agreed by the presidents to continue working and that the teams will continue to meet frequently to construct an agreement that is positive for Mexico and for the United States.”

Trump has used the phrase “bad hombres” before. In an October presidential debate, he vowed to get rid the U.S. of “drug lords” and “bad people.”

“We have some bad hombres here, and we’re going to get them out,” he said. The phrase ricocheted on social media with Trump opponents saying he was denigrating immigrants.

Trump’s comment was in line with the new administration’s bullish stance on foreign policy matters in general, and the president’s willingness to break long-standing norms around the globe.

Before his inauguration, Trump spoke to the president of Taiwan, breaking long-standing U.S. policy and irritating China. His temporary ban on refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, aimed at reviewing screening procedures to lessen the threat of extremist attacks, has caused consternation around the world.

But nothing has created the level of bickering as the border wall, a centerpiece of his campaign. Mexico has consistently said it would not pay for the wall and opposes it. Before the phone call, Pena Nieto canceled a planned visit to the United States.

The fresh fight with Mexico last week arose over trade as the White House proposed a 20 percent tax on imports from the key U.S. ally to finance the wall after Pena Nieto abruptly scrapped his Jan. 31 trip to Washington.

The U.S. and Mexico conduct some $1.6 billion a day in cross-border trade, and cooperate on everything from migration to anti-drug enforcement to major environmental issues.

Trump tasked his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner — a real estate executive with no foreign policy experience — with managing the ongoing dispute, according to an administration official with knowledge of the call.

At a press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May last week, Trump described his call with Pena Nieto as “friendly.”

In a statement, the White House said the two leaders acknowledged their “clear and very public differences” and agreed to work through the immigration disagreement as part of broader discussions on the relationship between their countries.

Trump Signs Muslim Ban Order Limiting Refugee Entry

President Trump signed an executive order Friday instituting “extreme vetting” of refugees, aimed at keeping out “radical Islamic terrorists.”

“I’m establishing a new vetting measure to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America,” Trump said during his signing of the order. “We don’t want them here. We want to make sure we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas.”

According to drafts of the executive action, the order bars people from the Muslim-majority countries of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen from entering the United States for 30 days and suspends the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days. The program will be reinstated “only for nationals of countries for whom” members are vetted by Trump’s administration.

In an interview Friday with the Christian Broadcast Network, Trump said he plans to help persecuted Christians.

“Do you know if you were a Christian in Syria it was impossible, at least very tough, to get into the United States?” Trump said. “If you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible and the reason that was so unfair, everybody was persecuted in all fairness, but they were chopping off the heads of everybody but more so the Christians. And I thought it was very, very unfair.”

In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union declared Trump’s action “just a euphemism for discrimination against Muslims.”

From both legal and historical perspectives, the plan to ban refugees from specific countries is within the powers granted to the president under current law and historical precedent, according to Charles Haynes, vice president of the Newseum Institute’s Religious Freedom Center. However, whether the president can limit the ban to one religious group is another question.

Many Muslims, especially Shiites, are among the religious minorities under attack, Haynes said. This “raises moral and humanitarian concerns about excluding them from entrance to the U.S. while permitting people of other faiths,” he said. “Whether this policy rises to the level of a constitutional violation is uncertain and will be debated by constitutional scholars in the coming weeks.”

Issues related to the Constitution and religion are usually associated with matters of sex, such as contraceptives and LGBT discrimination, but some observers said they expect Trump’s actions on immigration to raise new challenges for religious freedom, according to Chelsea Langston Bombino of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance at the Center for Public Justice. Several organizations, she noted, are speaking out against orders that “will hurt the very people that their organizations were established, out of a religious calling, to serve,” she said.

Trump’s actions have been decried by several religious groups this week. “The expected cutbacks to U.S. refugee programs and funding will compromise our ability to do this work and the infrastructure needed to serve refugees in the years to come,” evangelical ministry World Relief said in a statement.

And in a strongly worded statement, Rabbi Jack Moline, the Interfaith Alliance president, noted that this decision was announced on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“For decades, the United States has prided itself as a safe bastion for refugees around the globe escaping war and persecution,” he said. “President Trump is poised to trample upon that great legacy with a de facto Muslim ban.”

(h/t Washington Post)

Trump Says U.S. Should Have Stolen Iraq’s Oil, and ‘Maybe We’ll Have Another Chance’

While addressing the CIA on Saturday, President Donald Trump took a break from lambasting the media to remind everyone that he thinks the U.S. should have stolen Iraq’s oil. He also suggested that the U.S. might get another chance to violate international law.

“Now I said it for economic reasons,” Trump said while introducing Representative Mike Pompeo, his pick to lead the agency. “But if you think about it, Mike, if we kept the oil, you probably wouldn’t have ISIS because that’s where they made their money in the first place, so we should have kept the oil. But, okay, maybe we’ll have another chance.”

National Review has noted that Trump’s “odd fixation” with taking Iraq’s oil dates back to at least 2011. He made the argument numerous times on the campaign trail, suggesting that the U.S. could take Iraq’s oil while fighting ISIS. When PolitiFact examined the claim in September, numerous experts said trying to seize Iraqi oil would not be legal, feasible, or desirable. The idea is “so out of step with any plausible interpretation of U.S. history or international law that they should be dismissed out of hand by anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of world affairs,” said Lance Janda, a military historian at Cameron University.

It’s not clear what Trump meant by “maybe we’ll have another chance,” but when you’re president, people take even offhand remarks about violating international law pretty seriously. BuzzFeed spoke with several Iraqis on the front lines of the battle against ISIS, and they said they were prepared to take up arms against Americans if they attempted to take their country’s natural resources.

“I participated in the attack against the Americans by attacking them with mortars and roadside bombs, and I’m ready to do it again,” said Abu Luay, an Iraqi security official using a nom de guerre, who is currently fighting the terrorist group in northwest Iraq. “We kept our ammunition and weapons from the time the Americans left for fighting ISIS. But once ISIS is gone we will save our weapons for the Americans.”

Several other people at a base for Popular Mobilization Units, a new branch of Iraq’s armed forces consisting of former militiamen and volunteers fighting against ISIS, said the move would be counterproductive. Iraq recently took out a $5.3 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, in part to help pay for the fight against ISIS.

“There’s no way Trump could take the oil unless he launched a new military front and it be a new world war,” said Kareem Kashekh, a photographer who works for the Popular Mobilization Units.

(h/t New York Magazine)

Reality

Specifically, the Annex to the Hague Convention of 1907 on the Laws and Customs of War, which says that “private property … must be respected (and) cannot be confiscated.” It also says that “pillage is formally forbidden.”

In addition, the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Times of War provides that “any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”

For example, when Saddam Hussein (the former authoritarian leader of Iraq who Trump admires) invaded Kuwait in 1990, one of the justifications for international intervention was because Hussein seized and held Kuwaiti oil fields.

Media

Trump Threatens German Carmaker Buyers with 35 Percent U.S. Import Tax

U.S President-elect Donald Trump warned German car companies he would impose a border tax of 35 percent on vehicles imported to the U.S. market, a plan that drew sharp rebukes from Berlin and hit the automakers’ shares.

In an interview with German newspaper Bild, published on Monday, Trump criticized German carmakers such as BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen for failing to produce more cars on U.S. soil.

“If you want to build cars in the world, then I wish you all the best. You can build cars for the United States, but for every car that comes to the USA, you will pay 35 percent tax,” Trump said in remarks translated into German.

“I would tell BMW that if you are building a factory in Mexico and plan to sell cars to the USA, without a 35 percent tax, then you can forget that,” Trump said.

Volkswagen (VW) shares closed down 2.2 percent, while BMW and Daimler’s shares ended 1.5 percent lower.

Under pressure to deliver on campaign promises to revive U.S. industrial jobs, Trump has turned his fire on carmakers that use low-cost Mexican plants to serve the U.S. market. He has also warned Japan’s Toyota it could be subject to a “big border tax” if it builds its Corolla cars for the U.S. market at a planned factory in Mexico.

All three German carmakers have invested heavily in Mexico, but also pointed out on Monday that they manufacturer in the United States as well.

BMW executive Peter Schwarzenbauer told reporters the company was sticking to plans to invest around $1 billion in a new plant in Mexico, which is due to go into production in 2019 and create at least 1,500 jobs.

SERIOUS WARNING

“The president’s powers are considerable. He can legally impose tariffs of up to 15 percent for 150 days. Trump is not constrained by Congress,” said Simon Evenett, professor of international trade at Switzerland’s University of St Gallen.

“Even if foreign companies object and seek to challenge the legality of tariffs, it will take at least 18 months to get decided. Corporate strategies will be disrupted by then.”

While investing in Mexico, German carmakers have quadrupled light vehicle production in the United States over the past seven years to 850,000 units, more than half of which are exported from there, Germany’s VDA automotive industry association said.

“In the long term, the United States would be shooting itself in the foot by imposing tariffs or other trade barriers,” VDA President Matthias Wissmann said in a statement.

German carmakers employ about 33,000 workers in the United States and German automotive suppliers about 77,000 more, the VDA said.

Speaking in tabloid newspaper Bild, German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that rather than trying to penalize German carmakers, the United States should instead respond by building better and more desirable cars.

Norbert Roettgen, head of Germany’s foreign affairs committee, said Berlin needed to take Trump’s comments seriously. “He seems to be absolutely focused on short-term job interests and security interests … not that he is looking for free trade so much, but more for protection,” he told Reuters.

MEXICAN PLANS

Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz and BMW already have sizeable factories in the United States where they build higher-margin sports utility vehicles (SUVs) for export to Asia and Europe.

Around 65 percent of BMW’s production from its factory in Spartanburg, South Carolina, is exported overseas. BMW builds the X3, X4, X5 and X6 models in the United States.

“It is surprising that Trump singles out the carmaker that exports more vehicles from the United States than any other manufacturer,” Evercore ISI analysts said.

A BMW spokeswoman said the planned plant in the central Mexican city of San Luis Potosi would build the BMW 3 Series from 2019, with the output intended for the world market. The plant would be an addition to existing 3 Series production facilities in Germany and China.

In June last year, BMW broke ground on the plant, pledging to invest $2.2 billion in Mexico by 2019 for annual production of 150,000 cars.

Daimler has said it plans to begin assembling Mercedes-Benz vehicles in 2018 from a $1 billion facility shared with Renault-Nissan in Aguascalientes in Mexico. A spokesman for Daimler declined to comment on Trump’s remarks.

Last year, VW’s Audi division inaugurated a $1.3 billion production facility with 150,000 vehicle production capacity near Puebla, Mexico. Audi said it would build electric and petrol Q5 SUVs in Mexico.

Audi declined to comment on Monday. VW also declined to comment on Trump’s remarks but noted it was investing another $900 million in its U.S. plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Trump called Germany a great car producer, saying Mercedes-Benz cars were a frequent sight in New York, but claimed there was not enough reciprocity. Germans were not buying Chevrolets at the same rate, he said, calling the business relationship an unfair one-way street.

Chevrolet sales have fallen sharply in Europe since parent company General Motors (GM.N) in 2013 said it would drop the Chevrolet brand in Europe by the end of 2015. Since then, GM has focused instead on promoting its Opel and Vauxhall marques.

Asked by Reuters whether Trump could take any steps to make it easier for GM to sell more American-made cars in Europe, GM Chief Executive Mary Barra said the company aimed to build cars in markets where they are sold.

“We’re a global company so we’re going to continue that focus just because from an economic perspective that generally turns out to be the best framework,” she said. “I think there is a lot that we can work on with President-elect Trump.”

(h/t Reuters)

Donald Trump ‘supports policy’ that has killed 4,500 people in the Philippines in five months

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s plan to “kill all” the country’s suspected drug users and dealers has many foreign critics, including the United States, the European Parliament and the International Criminal Court. It now has at least one high-profile supporter: President-elect Donald Trump, at least according to Duterte.

In a statement on Saturday, Duterte shared details of a seven-minute conversation that took place on Friday. He said that during the call, Trump endorsed his campaign against drug users and dealers — a campaign that has left at least 4,500 Filipinos dead in about five months. Trump told Duterte that he was doing it the “right way,” according to Duterte’s account.

“I could sense a good rapport, an animated President-elect Trump,” he added. “And he was wishing me success in my campaign against the drug problem.”

The comments, which have not been confirmed by Trump’s team, could signal another significant twist in U.S.-Philippine ties.

The Philippines is a former U.S. colony that has been a close U.S. partner for decades. Since sweeping to power last spring, Duterte has repeatedly lashed out at his longtime ally, threatening to ditch the United States for China and Russia.

In September, when President Obama raised questions about the bloody anti-drug crusade, Duterte lectured him on colonialism, referring to him with a slang term that translates, roughly, as “son of a whore.”

In the weeks that followed, he made several surprise announcements on U.S.-Philippine military ties, calling for the ouster of U.S. Special Operations forces from the southern island of Mindanao and the end of joint U.S.-Philippine military exercises — only to backtrack repeatedly.

But Trump’s triumph in the US presidential race saw Duterte switch direction again. Weeks after railing against “uncivilized” Americans, Duterte greeted the U.S. president-elect with an enthusiastic “long live” Trump. Duterte also mused that they might get along — because they both like to swear.

For the Philippine president, an expression of support from Trump could help reset ties with the United States. But endorsing Duterte’s crackdown may put Trump at odds with allies such as the European Union, whose parliament issued a resolution urging the Philippines to halt “extrajudicial executions and killings” in connection with the drug war.

(h/t Independent)

Reality

Duterte, also an authoritarian, threatens political rivals and other enemies with baseless claims that they too are drug dealers in order to intimidate into submission or move them aside, even having one political rival murdered under police custody.

Successful Fight for Mosul Shows Trump’s Failed Military Claims

Pentagon officials said Monday that the campaign to reclaim Mosul was proceeding as planned and that so far anti-ISIS forces in Iraq are succeeding in their fight against the terror group.

The military’s upbeat assessment puts Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in an awkward position. His repeated criticism of the handling of the operation means its success could cast shadows on his argument to be the next commander in chief, while his decision to take on the Pentagon once again highlights the sacred cows he has been willing to slay during his unconventional campaign.

For weeks, Trump has lambasted the coalition effort to re-capture the city of Mosul from ISIS, calling the undertaking a “total disaster” and saying the US and its allies were “bogged-down” there even as defense officials say they are encouraged by the progress being made.

“The campaign is on track and moving forward according to plan,” Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook told reporters Monday.

“There’s no question that counter-ISIL forces continue to have the momentum in this fight,” he added, using the government’s preferred acronym for the terror organization, also known as Daesh.

Yet Trump repeated his critique of the operation on Monday.

“Did we give Mosul enough advanced notice?” he asked rhetorically during a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “Whatever happened to the element of surprise?”

Trump’s view contrasts with the assessment of military officials, who have laid out the reasons why they are discussing some — though not all — elements of the Mosul operation.

And, so far, they can point for back-up to developments on the ground to take back Iraq’s second-largest city and key holdout for ISIS.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter “continues to be encouraged by what he is seeing,” Cook said, describing the campaign as proceeding on schedule.

Cook’s view was also echoed by the US special presidential envoy for the counter-ISIS coalition,Amb. Brett McGurk, while speaking Friday in Rome.

While McGurk acknowledged that the campaign for Mosul “will be a long-term effort,” he said that “every single objective has been met and we continue to move forward.”

On the same day, the military spokesman for the anti-ISIS coalition, US Air Force Col. John Dorrian, went even further.

“They were able to get to those places faster than they anticipated that they would,” he said of local forces. “So, the Iraqis continue to be successful in the engagements against Daesh.”

Because Trump has made a concentrated effort to slam the conduct of the Mosul operation, its success could undermine his claim of superior judgment as commander in chief in the final days before the November 8 election.

Non-incumbent candidates for political office always have to walk a fine line while military operations are ongoing. Typically, this involves commending the troops on fighting on the ground while simultaneously blasting the politicians in charge.

But Trump has shown a readiness to deviate from this political playbook, as he has repeatedly done for others throughout the 2016 campaign.

In contrast, then-Sen. Barack Obama made sure to praise the military even as he was highly critical of the 2007 “surge” in Iraq during the run-up to his own campaign for the presidency.

Obama called George W. Bush’s decision to deploy thousands of more troops as part of a counterinsurgency strategy aimed at reducing violence a “course that will not succeed” during an interview that year with PBS’s Charlie Rose.

Despite slamming the Bush administration, Obama still offered praise for the US troops on the ground, saying they had “performed brilliantly” and calling Gen. David Petraeus, the surge’s architect, an able and competent leader.

Trump’s recent statements on Mosul don’t include these qualifiers of praising the US military officers in charge or the US troops on the ground, though Trump has offered general praise for US troops in other situations.

“Donald Trump is testing lots of what we thought we knew about American politics, including that no one gets elected running against the troops,” said Kori Schake, a former senior Bush official, who has endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016.
Schake, who was one of the 50 Republican national security officials that penned an open-letter slamming Trump earlier this year, argued that the Republican nominee’s comments on Mosul were undercutting morale.

“The particular way he’s done it is bad for morale of American forces as well as the allies bearing the brunt of the fight,” she told CNN.

Clinton has been quick to knock Trump for his criticism of the Mosul campaign.

Following his tweet labelling the assault “a disaster,” Clinton told a rally in New Hampshire last week, “He’s basically declaring defeat before the battle has even started. He’s proving to the world what it means to have an unqualified commander-in-chief. It’s not only wrong, it’s dangerous.”

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Chief among Trump’s criticisms has been the absence of secrecy from the fight, though most analysts believe that given its size and scope, total secrecy and surprise in an operation like Mosul would be impossible.

Pentagon officials have also noted that because the Iraqis were leading the operation, the timeline and discussion of the assault was determined by the government in Baghdad.
Military officials also pointed out that many aspects of the final attack were indeed kept under wraps.

The former dean of the Army War College, retired Army Col. Jeff McCausland, told The New York Times that the candidate’s assessment was off the mark.
“What this shows is Trump doesn’t know a damn thing about military strategy,” he said.

Trump fired back Wednesday when asked about McCausland’s remarks on ABC.
“You can tell your military expert that I’ll sit down and I’ll teach him a couple of things,” he said.

(h/t CNN)

Reality

Donald Trump once actually boasted that he knew more than the generals, and later said he could “teach them a couple of things about Mosul.”  As the long fight for Mosul shows early signs of a major success, it turns out his boast was full of hot air, and his elementary understanding of complex military tactics are not better than the generals who dedicated their lives to serving our country.

Trump Says He’ll Teach Military Expert ‘a Couple of Things’ About Mosul

Donald Trump went on the offensive against a military expert and former dean of the Army War College, Jeff McCausland, who said the Republican nominee’s comments this weekend about the battle to reclaim Mosul in Iraq show he doesn’t have a firm grasp of military strategy.

“You can tell your military expert that I’ll sit down and I’ll teach him a couple of things,” Trump told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in an exclusive interview.

On Sunday, Trump tweeted that the ongoing offensive against the ISIS stronghold of Mosul is turning out to be a “total disaster.”

“We gave them months of notice. U.S. is looking so dumb. VOTE TRUMP and WIN AGAIN!” he tweeted.

Trump doubled down on his assertion that the element of surprise is an important military strategy.

“I’ve been hearing about Mosul now for three months. ‘We’re going to attack. We’re going to attack.’ Meaning Iraq’s going to attack but with us. OK? We’re going to attack. Why do they have to talk about it?” he asked Stephanopoulos.

“Element of surprise. One of the reasons they wanted Mosul, they wanted to get ISIS leaders who they thought were, you know, in Mosul. Those people have all left. As soon as they heard they’re going to be attacked, they left,” Trump added. “The resistance is much greater now because they knew about the attack. Why can’t they win first and talk later?”

But according to The New York Times, some military experts disagree with Trump’s claims that the element of surprise is crucial to win the fight against ISIS.

“What this shows is Trump doesn’t know a damn thing about military strategy,” McCausland told the Times.

McCausland replied to Trump’s comments to Stephanopoulos in a lengthy statement today, saying, “I can’t wait to sit down with Mr. Trump and hear what he has to teach me about military strategy. I’m happy to compare my record of over 45 years working in national security affairs with his any time.

“When it comes to the question of the Mosul offensive, Mr. Trump doesn’t understand that 99.9 percent of the troops involved are Iraqi,” McCausland continued. “I reassert my statement to The New York Times: Mr. Trump doesn’t know a damn thing about military strategy.”

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton also hit Trump for his comments to Stephanopoulos yesterday at a joint campaign event with First Lady Michelle Obama in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, today.

“And yesterday when he heard a retired army colonel and former dean of the Army War College said that Donald doesn’t understand military strategy, Trump said ‘I’ll teach him a couple of things,'” she continued. “Well, actually, Donald, you’re the one who’s got a lot to learn about the military and everything else that makes America great.”

Defense Secretary Ash Carter is on the ground in Iraq and told ABC’s Martha Raddatz in an interview earlier this week that he’s “encouraged” by the progress in the fight against ISIS because it “is going according to plan … ISIL will surely be destroyed.”

Trump blamed Clinton and President Barack Obama for the need to reclaim Mosul.

“We had Mosul. We have to take it because Hillary Clinton and Obama left that big vacuum, and ISIS went in, and they took Mosul,” he said.

(h/t ABC News)

Media

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