US leaving UN Human Rights Council — ‘a cesspool of political bias’

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley announced the United States is withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council Tuesday, accusing the body of bias against US ally Israel and a failure to hold human rights abusers accountable.

The move, which the Trump administration has threatened for months, came down one day after the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights slammed the separation of children from their parents at the US-Mexico border as “unconscionable.”
Speaking from the State Department, where she was joined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Haley defended the move to withdraw from the council, saying US calls for reform were not heeded.
“Human rights abusers continue to serve on, and be elected to, the council,” said Haley, listing US grievances with the body. “The world’s most inhumane regimes continue to escape its scrutiny, and the council continues politicizing scapegoating of countries with positive human rights records in an attempt to distract from the abusers in its ranks.”

‘Deeply disappointed’

“For too long,” Haley said, “the Human Rights Council has been a protector of human rights abusers, and a cesspool of political bias.”
Based in Geneva, the Human Rights Council is a body of 47 member states within the United Nations tasked with upholding human rights.
Membership on the council gives countries like the United States a voice in important debates over human rights atrocities, but the council’s critics, including Haley, say abusers use their membership to guarantee their own impunity.
Vice President Mike Pence tweeted a statement: “Today the U.S. took a stand against some of the world’s worst human rights violators by withdrawing from the United Nations Human Rights Council. By elevating and protecting human rights violators and engaging in smear campaigns against democratic nations, the UNHRC makes a mockery of itself, its members, and the mission it was founded on. For years, the UNHRC has engaged in ever more virulent anti-American, and anti-Israel invective and the days of U.S. participation are over.”
The UN expressed disappointment. “The Secretary-General would have much preferred for the United States to remain in the Human Rights Council,” Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesman for UN Secretary-General António Guterres, said in response to the US announcement. “The UN’s Human Rights architecture plays a very important role in the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide.”
The move was immediately condemned by a dozen charitable groups, who wrote to Pompeo to say they were “deeply disappointed with the Administration’s decision to withdraw the United States from the United Nations Human Rights Council, the premier intergovernmental human rights body at the global level.”

‘A so-called Human Rights Council’

“This decision is counterproductive to American national security and foreign policy interests and will make it more difficult to advance human rights priorities and aid victims of abuse around the world,” they added.
Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s secretary-general, said: “Once again President Trump is showing his complete disregard for the fundamental rights and freedoms the US claims to uphold. While the Human Rights Council is by no means perfect and its membership is frequently under scrutiny, it remains an important force for accountability and justice.”
US withdrawal from the council follows efforts by Haley and the US delegation to implement reforms, including more stringent membership criteria and the ability to remove members with egregious human rights records.
“When a so-called Human Rights Council cannot bring itself to address the massive abuses in Venezuela and Iran, and it welcomes the Democratic Republic of Congo as a new member, the council ceases to be worthy of its name,” said Haley. “Such a council, in fact, damages the cause of human rights.”
Haley also blasted the council for a “disproportionate focus and unending hostility toward Israel,” citing a series of resolutions highlighting alleged abuses by the Israeli government of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
Haley said the United States will continue to promote human rights outside of the council and would consider rejoining it in the future if reforms are made.
“We have used America’s voice and vote to defend human rights at the UN every day,” she said, “and we will continue to do so.”

[CNN]

Trump says he ‘hates’ family separations at border

President Donald Trump on Friday condemned the practice of separating children from their parents at the border and reiterated an incorrect assertion that the Democrats are to blame for the practice.

“I hate the children being taken away. The Democrats have to change their law. That’s their law,” Trump said to a group of reporters on the White House lawn in an impromptu appearance on “Fox and Friends“ Friday morning.

The “zero tolerance” approach to immigration that the Trump administration adopted resulted in the controversial policy of border agents separating families. But Trump insisted that the ball is in the Democrats’ court.

“The Democrats gave us the laws. Now, I want the laws to be beautiful, humane, but strong. I don’t want bad people coming in,” Trump said. “We can solve that problem in one meeting. Tell the Democrats and your friends to call me.”

House Republicans on Thursday released a bill intended to keep migrant children with their families if they are detained. Immigration-rights advocates, however, have criticized the proposal for “prolonging detention and hastening deportation” because it allows children to be held in detention centers with their parents.

Thursday night, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also pushed forward the administration’s message that Democrats are responsible for the separation of families in a tense exchange with White House reporters.

“Illegal alien families is the product of the same legal loopholes that Democrats refuse to close. And these laws are the same that have been on the books for over a decade,” she said.

[Politico]

Trump says he wants “my people” to sit at attention for him like people do for Kim Jong Un

President Trump declared in a spur-of-the-moment interview with “Fox and Friends” Friday morning that he wants people to sit at attention for him like they do for North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

Kim stands accused of leading a murderous regime that starves its own people. But Mr. Trump has heaped praise on Kim since meeting with him in Singapore, saying repeatedly that the two have “good chemistry.”

“Hey, he is the head of a country and I mean he is the strong head,” Mr. Trump told Fox News’ Steve Doocy on the White House lawn Friday. “Don’t let anyone think anything different. He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.”

Pressed by a reporter about those remarks moments later, Mr. Trump said he was “kidding.”

“I’m kidding, you don’t understand sarcasm,” the president said.

The spur-of-the-moment White House lawn interview was, in the memory of those present, unprecedented.

Mr. Trump was later asked how he can mourn the death of American Otto Warmbier, who was held hostage in North Korea, while defending Kim’s disastrous human rights record.

“I don’t want to see a nuclear weapon destroy you and your family,” Mr. Trump said. “I want to have a good relationship with North Korea. I want to have a good relationship with many countries.”

Those comments come after a different Fox News interview earlier this week, when the president also downplayed Kim’s human rights record.

“You know you call people sometimes killers, he is a killer. He’s clearly executing people,” Fox News’ Bret Baier told Mr. Trump.

“He’s a tough guy,” the president responded.

“Hey, when you take over a country, tough country, with tough people, and you take it over from your father, I don’t care who you are, what you are, how much of an advantage you have,” the president continued. “If you can do that at 27 years old, I mean that’s one in 10,000 that could do that. So he’s a very smart guy, he’s a great negotiator. But I think we understand each other.”

[CBS News]

Media

Trump blames Obama for Crimean annexation yet again

Amidst the furor of new trade tensions with the U.S.’s G7 partners, President Donald Trump let slip the latest in a series of criticisms leveled at former President Barack Obama for allegedly allowing Russia to invade Ukraine.

Obama, according to Trump, was “the one that let Crimea get away,” adding that his predecessor in the White House “allowed Russia to take Crimea. I may have had a much different attitude.”

While the criticism was pointed, it fits a prior pattern of Trump accusing Obama of emboldening Russia to invade Ukraine. Indeed, the criticism mirrors prior comments Trump has made vis-a-vis Obama and Crimea.

Now, added to those criticisms are Trump’s most recent comment on Crimea this weekend.

As the president said about Crimea, “it’s been done a long time.” It was unclear if the president was speaking specifically about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, or simply its claims in Crimea. However, in the context of calling to readmit Russia to the G7 — it had been the G8 until Moscow was expelled due to its actions in Ukraine — Trump’s comments appeared to hint that the White House was creeping closer to de jure recognition of Russia’s control of the Ukrainian peninsula.

Trump has insinuated in the past that he’d be open to recognizing Russia’s annexation outright, the first forced annexation in Europe since the outset of World War II. In 2015, Trump distanced the U.S. from the issue, saying the Russian invasion remains “Europe’s problem.”

A year later, Trump leaned even closer to outright recognition — even managing to lend credence to Russian propaganda points on the annexation, which was illegal according to Ukrainian law and which didn’t feature any legitimate election observers. (The peninsula’s indigenous Crimean Tatar population, which had been deported en masse from Crimea under Joseph Stalin, largely boycotted the vote.)

As Trump said in 2016, “The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were. And you have to look at that, also.” Around the same time, Trump added that as president he would be “looking at” recognition.

If Trump does eventually follow through on recognition, he will join a small club of despotic governments and client-states that have supported Russia in Crimea, from North Korea and Kazakhstan to Cuba and Venezuela.

[ThinkProgress]

Media

Trump says he’s ‘not above the law’ but insists he can pardon himself

President Donald Trump said Friday he is “not above the law” while insisting he has the “absolute right” to pardon himself should criminal wrongdoing be unearthed in the probe into Russian election meddling in the 2016 election.

Top Democratic lawmakers expressed deep concern after Trump claimed earlier this week he was entitled to pardon himself, blasting the probe by special counsel Robert Mueller into contacts between his campaign officials and Russia as “unconstitutional.” Trump’s assertion was further undercut by House Speaker Paul Ryan, who on Wednesday said Trump “obviously” shouldn’t pardon himself because “no one is above the law.”

The president, speaking to reporters outside the White House on Friday, expressed a similar sentiment when asked about the topic.

“No, I’m not above the law, I never want anybody to be above the law,” Trump said.

But Trump went on to stress that pardons “are a very positive thing for a president.” And the president reasserted his belief that he is entitled to pardon himself, even as he denied any wrongdoing.

“Yes, I do have an absolute right to pardon myself, but I’ll never have to do it because I didn’t do anything wrong and everybody knows it,” Trump said.

Trump has repeatedly slammed the probe by Mueller into Russian election interference as a “witch hunt,” and the White House and his legal team have called for the special counsel to wrap up its investigation.

[Politico]

Trump’s White House Iftar Is Missing Major American Muslim Groups

America’s largest Muslim organizations will not be attending President Donald Trump’s first iftar dinner on Wednesday night ― an absence that highlights the tumultuous relationship the president has had with American Muslim communities.

Since the Clinton administration, the White House has hosted holiday iftar dinners for foreign diplomats, Cabinet officials and Muslims from civil society organizations in honor of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The Trump White House declined to host an iftar dinner last year, but surprised many Muslim advocates by announcing that it was planning one for Wednesday.

The official guest list for the event has not been released, but press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said about 30-40 people were expected to attend, The Associated Press reports.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

[Huffington Post]

Trump: I have the right to pardon myself

President Trump on Monday said he has the right to pardon himself but insisted he has no reason to do so because he has not committed a crime, doubling down on an argument his lawyers made to the special counsel leading the Russia investigation.

“As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?” the president wrote in an early morning tweet.

“In the meantime, the never ending Witch Hunt, led by 13 very Angry and Conflicted Democrats (& others) continues into the mid-terms!”

Trump’s statements will almost certainly inflame the debate over whether he can use his presidential powers to protect himself if Mueller accuses him of wrongdoing in the probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The question was reignited over the weekend when The New York Times published a January letter from the president’s legal team that opened the door to Trump shutting down the obstruction investigation into him or even pardoning himself.

“He could, if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon if he so desired,” the attorneys wrote to Mueller.

Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani was not a member of the team when the letter was sent, but he nonetheless agreed with the expansive view of the president’s powers shared by his predecessor, John Dowd.

Giuliani said on ABC News’s “This Week” that while the president “probably” does have the power to issue himself a pardon, it would not be politically expedient.

“I think the political ramifications of that would be tough. Pardoning other people is one thing. Pardoning yourself is another,” the former New York City mayor said.

The idea of a self-pardon received pushback from legal scholars and Democrats, who said it shows the president believes he is above the law.

They fear that a string of politically tinged pardons made by Trump is a sign he could be gearing up to use clemency to shield his associates who have been indicted in the Russia probe — or even himself.

Some Republican allies of Trump also warned him not to pardon himself.

“I don’t think a president should pardon themselves,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

[The Hill]

Trump lawyers’ secret memo argues president has complete control over federal investigations

Lawyers for President Donald Trump argued in a secret memo submitted to special counsel Robert Mueller III in January that Trump could not have obstructed the FBI‘s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election in part because, as president, he holds complete control over federal investigations.

The president has the power to “order the termination of an investigation by the Justice Department or FBI at any time and for any reason,” Trump lawyers John Dowd and Jay Sekulow argued in the letter to Mueller, which was published Saturday by the New York Times.

As the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, Trump could “even exercise his power to pardon if so desired,” they argued. A person familiar with the letter confirmed its authenticity.

The 20-page letter offered a sweeping assertion of the powers of the presidency as well as a detailed and robust defense of Trump’s actions in dealing with the unfolding Russia probe, including his firing of FBI Director James Comey in May 2017. It concluded that Trump’s actions were in keeping with the expansive powers of the presidency and could not constitute crimes.

Ultimately, Trump’s lawyers argued that the president should not be compelled to sit for an interview to assist Mueller’s effort, arguing that the White House provided full access to documents and interviews with other senior staff that was sufficient to answer Mueller’s questions about the Trump’s actions.

“The President’s prime function as the Chief Executive ought not be hampered by requests for interview. Having him testify demeans the Office of the President before the world,” they wrote.

The arguments parallel those that the president’s attorneys have pressed publicly for months, even as quiet negotiations over whether Trump might agree to sit voluntarily for an interview have continued. They help underscore the legal battle now underway between the White House and the special counsel. Should Mueller seek to compel Trump’s testimony with a subpoena, the arguments advanced in the letter could ultimately form the basis of a courtroom battle that would probably reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

After former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani replaced Dowd as Trump’s chief lawyer in March, he reopened negotiations with Mueller about forestalling that kind of public battle through a voluntary interview. Giuliani, at first, expressed confidence that he could resolve the matter within weeks.

But the debate has dragged on and, more recently, Giuliani has expressed wariness over having his client sit for an interview and said he would only agree if the special counsel’s office first turns over internal documents that shed light on the beginnings of the FBI’s probe in 2016, before Mueller’s appointment.

He told The Washington Post last week that Trump’s lawyers are drafting a letter to Mueller laying out those terms and that Jane and Marty Raskin, a husband-and-wife team from Florida assisting Trump’s defense, are in contact with Mueller’s office three times a week.

Mueller’s team has told the president’s lawyers that they think they have the power to issue Trump a subpoena and compel his testimony, but they have not yet sought to go down that route.

“They may do a subpoena. The subpoena would then be contested. That would be going on for months,” Giuliani said.

In a statement Saturday, Sekulow noted the consistency of Trump’s legal position while bemoaning the leaking of the internal document.

“We have maintained a consistent legal argument throughout the many months of this inquiry. Our legal team would not disclose internal communications with the office of special counsel. We continue to maintain cooperative relations with the office of special counsel,” he said.

Likewise, in a tweet sent shortly before the New York Times story was posted online, Trump questioned whether Mueller’s team might have been responsible for the leak. “Is the Special Counsel/Justice Department leaking my lawyers letters to the Fake News Media?” he asked.

A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment.

The letter also provides new details about Trump’s actions in dealing with the Russia probe. For instance, his lawyers reveal that former national security adviser Michael Flynn twice told senior White House officials, including the vice president, before his firing in February 2017 that he had been informed that the FBI had closed its investigation into his contacts with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition.

Comey has said that Trump asked him to let the case against Flynn go in an Oval Office meeting the day after Flynn’s firing. In their letter, Trump’s lawyers contested that account, but also argued that the president could not have been attempting to interfere in an investigation he was not aware was underway.

Trump’s lawyers also argued that the president could not have obstructed justice by firing Comey several months later. Trump’s decision to dismiss the FBI director was an appropriate use of presidential power intended to exert oversight over the bureau as a result of its missteps in the 2016 investigation of Hillary Clinton‘s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, they wrote.

They asserted that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is now supervising Mueller’s probe, “actually helped to edit” Trump’s letter terminating Comey and “actively advised the President accordingly.” At the time, Rosenstein also wrote his own memo criticizing Comey’s handling of the Clinton case.

Trump’s lawyers wrote that it would be “unthinkable” for a president acting under his constitutional authority and with the “overt participation” of his deputy attorney general to have obstructed justice.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

In another episode Mueller has been probing, Trump’s lawyers conceded for the first time that in July 2017, Trump “dictated” a statement to be released on behalf of his son Donald Trump Jr. about a meeting that the son had taken with a Russian lawyer during the campaign.

The Post first reported in July that the president had authored his son’s statement, which misleadingly said the meeting was “primarily” about Russian adoptions. In fact, Donald Trump Jr. had accepted the meeting after being told the lawyer would provide dirt about Clinton.

In their letter, Trump’s lawyers contended that the statement was “short but accurate,” and a “private” matter to be hashed out between the president and the New York Times, which had requested the statement, rather than an issue for federal prosecutors.

[Chicago Tribune]

Reality

Read the letter here.

 

Trump says NFL players who kneel during national anthem ‘maybe shouldn’t be in the country’

Taking a knee during the national anthem during a National Football League game should “maybe” be a deportable offense, President Donald Trump appeared to say in an interview that aired Thursday morning.

Speaking just moments after the NFL announced that all players who are on the field when the national anthem is heard before a game must stand and show respect — or can choose to remain in the locker room without penalty — Trump praised the new policy but also said it didn’t go far enough in punishing players who might continue to take a knee during the anthem.

“Well, I think that’s good. I don’t think people should be staying in locker rooms. But still, I think it’s good. You have to stand proudly for the national anthem, or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country,” Trump said in a wide-ranging sit-down with “Fox and Friends” that took place Wednesday but wasn’t aired until Thursday.

“You have to stand proudly for the national anthem, and the NFL owners did the right thing,” he added.

Under the new policy, teams will be subject to a fine if a player does not comply.

The NFL had previously suggested that players should stand, but it stopped short of enforcing fines. The new policy says clubs can still develop their own work rules for players and personnel who don’t stand, but they must be “consistent with the above principles.” That means teams could choose to pass along fines to players.

The controversy over players who kneel during “The Star-Spangled Banner” has raged since 2016, when Colin Kaepernick, then a quarterback with the 49ers, first refused to stand as a lone protest against police brutality, particularly against black Americans, and racial oppression. Protests expanded, prompting Trump to criticize the the kneeling as “disgraceful.”

Trump, in the interview with Fox, took credit for creating the issue but said it was “the people” who “pushed it forward.”

“I think the people pushed it forward, not me. I brought it out. it could have been taken care of when it first started,” he said.

Trump, in his interview, also discussed immigration, the MS-13 gang and his decision last year to fire former FBI Director James Comey.

“I’ve done done a great service for the country by firing him,” Trump claimed.

The president, who spoke to the network Wednesday following a roundtable discussion on MS-13 and immigration in New York, added that he would not consider an immigration bill that did not include provisions to build his border wall.

“Unless it includes a wall, I mean a real wall … there will be no approvals from me,” Trump said. He said he was “watching one or two” of the bills that are expected to be voted on in the House, following an expected forced vote process by moderate Republicans known as a discharge petition.

The petition would force a vote on bipartisan legislation unveiled in March that would allow for the consideration of four different proposals, including: a conservative immigration bill proposed by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.; a bipartisan version of the Dream Act; and a bipartisan bill to protect people covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program while enhancing border security.

Trump, however, said, “it’s time to get the whole package,” referring to his desire that any immigration deal include not only money for his wall and protections people covered by DACA, but also increased border security measures like ending so-called “chain migration.”

[NBC News]

Trump Quotes ‘Fox & Friends’ in Claim Ex-CIA Director Could Go to Jail for Starting Russia Investigation

President Donald Trump quoted a conservative radio host who appeared on Fox & FriendsMonday morning for an attack on former CIA director John Brennan. The slamming of Brennan appeared to be in response to him challenging Republican leadership Sunday following Trump’s “demand” for the Justice Department to investigate whether his campaign was “infiltrated or surveilled” for “political purposes” or if any Obama administration officials had directed such an inquiry.

The president, who often cites information he’s viewed on Fox News’ morning program, took three tweets to sum up the accusations made by Dan Bongino about Brennan, who the former Secret Service agent called “disgraced” and “largely responsible for the destruction of Americans faith in the intelligence community…”

“John Brennan is panicking. He has disgraced himself, he has disgraced the Country, he has disgraced the entire Intelligence Community,” Trump tweeted citing Bongino. “He is the one man who is largely responsible for the destruction of American’s faith in the Intelligence Community and in some people at the top of the FBI. Brennan started this entire debacle about President Trump.”

Trump continued, quoting Bongino: “We now know that Brennan had detailed knowledge of the (phony) Dossier…he knows about the Dossier, he denies knowledge of the Dossier, he briefs the Gang of 8 on the Hill about the Dossier, which they then used to start an investigation about Trump. It is that simple. This guy is the genesis of this whole Debacle. This was a Political hit job, this was not an Intelligence Investigation. Brennan has disgraced himself, he’s worried about staying out of Jail.”

The president has in recent days increased his attacks on the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, exactly what one of his personal attorneys, Rudy Giuliani, said would happen at the one-year anniversary of Robert Mueller’s appointment.

Over the weekend, Trump referenced a New York Times report that detailed how his eldest child, Donald Trump Jr., had met with a representative for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in August 2016. Like a Russian lawyer who met with Trump Jr. and other campaign representatives two months prior, they too were offering to help the Trump campaign.

“The Witch Hunt finds no Collusion with Russia – so now they’re looking at the rest of the World. Oh’ great!” Trump tweeted Sunday.

[Yahoo News]

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