Trump Commands Latvian President to Call on ‘Real News, Not Fake News’ Reporter in Stunning Presser

During his press conference with fellow world leaders from the Baltics, President Donald Trump asked the president of Latvia to take questions from the international press corps because the American media is all “fake news.”

Latvia’s Raimonds Vejonis stood with Trump today as they and their counterparts from Estonia and Lithuania took questions from the room. At one point, Trump pointed at Vejonis and beckoned him to choose the next reporter to speak.

“A Baltic reporter ideally,” Trump said. “Real news, not fake news.”

Vejonis grinned as a tangible awkwardness took hold, though Trump kept calling on him to pick a reporter. Trump warned him however to not pick the same journalist who asked the last question because he “was very tough.”

[Mediaite]

Media

Trump says he will put U.S. military on southern border

President Trump said Tuesday that he plans to deploy U.S. troops along the southern border to prevent illegal crossings “until we can have a wall.”

“Until we can have a wall and proper security, we are going to be guarding our border with the military. That’s a big step,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

Defense Secretary James Mattis was sitting next to Trump when he made his comments.

Such a move would significantly escalate the U.S. presence along the frontier with Mexico. The U.S. Border Patrol — not the military — is tasked with protecting the border.

Trump has recently reverted back to his hard-line stance on immigration, backing away from his efforts to compromise with Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Over the past several days, the president has closed the door to a deal to protect young immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children, called on Mexico to step up efforts to detail illegal border crossers and sounded the alarm about a so-called “caravan” of Central American migrants heading for the U.S. border.

“If it reaches our border, our laws are so weak and so pathetic…it’s like we have no border,” Trump said.

Trump tied the caravan to the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals program that he ended last fall, even though it does not cover people who crossed the border this year.

The president is coming under mounting pressure from his base to secure a policy win on immigration, after he failed to secure $25 billion to build his proposed border wall in a government funding bill.

Trump even floated the possibility of pulling out of the North American Free Trade Agreement if Mexico does not take steps to curb the flow of immigrants crossing the border illegally.

The president on Tuesday claimed the caravan is breaking up “very rapidly” in part because of his threat.

Sending troops the border would be an unusual, but not unprecedented, step.

Presidents Obama and George W. Bush both deployed National Guard troops at the border to help stop illegal immigration. The temporary moves came as they were trying to win conservative support for immigration reforms that would allow millions to seek U.S. citizenship.

“The United States is not going to militarize the southern border,” Bush said when announcing the deployment in 2006. “Mexico is our neighbor, and our friend.”

[The Hill]

Reality

A defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity had no immediate details as to how many troops would be used, or what authorities they would have, but said the presence could be similar to the 2006-2008 patrols U.S. military personnel conducted under Operation Jump Start.

In that operation, President George W. Bush called for up to 6,000 National Guard members to secure parts of the border. Eventually 29,000 military personnel from all over the country were involved in the mission, which had a projected cost of around $1.2 billion in then-year dollars.

In 2012, President Barack Obama deployed Army forces from Ft. Bliss to the Tucson, Arizona and El Paso, Texas areas for Operation Nimbus, a joint operation between U.S. Northern Command and Customs and Border Patrol.

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 congratulates Putin on winning sham election

President Donald Trump spoke to Vladimir Putin over the phone Tuesday morning, after the Russian leader’s overwhelming re-election victory.

“I had a call with President Putin and congratulated him on the victory, his electoral victory,” Trump said later Tuesday. He added that the two leaders “will probably get together in the not-too-distant future” to discuss the international arms race.

Trump and Putin will also talk about North Korea, Ukraine and Syria, among “various other things,” the U.S. said.

The election win keeps Putin in office as Russia’s president for another six years. His closest rival in the election, which was held Sunday, scored nearly 12 percent of the vote, while his most vocal opponent, Alexei Navalny, was barred from running in the race.

Putin’s overwhelming victory and the circumstances leading to it have prompted criticism from Russia watchers. The White House, however, skirted the issue Tuesday.

“We’re focused on our elections. We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at Tuesday’s White House press briefing. “What we do know is that Putin has been elected in their country.”

The arms race

Trump’s comment on the arms race came as the top nuclear commander for the U.S. made a case Tuesday for America adding another nuclear weapon to its arsenal.

“I strongly agree with the need for a low-yield nuclear weapon,” Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said of the Pentagon’s request for a low-yield warhead for submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

“That capability is a deterrence weapon to respond to the threat that Russia in particular is portraying,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

Late last month, Putin made waves by boasting about an arsenal of new nuclear weapons, including an underwater drone, a new hypersonic missile and a cruise missile that has a “practically unlimited range.”

Hyten has previously called Russia the “most significant threat” to the U.S. because the the nation poses “the only existential threat to the country right now.”

Sanctions and election meddling

The call between Trump and Putin also comes as the special counsel’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election intensifies. Trump has denied that his campaign colluded with Russia, and Putin has rejected accusations that the Kremlin had anything to do with any election interference.

The Trump administration announced last week that it was sanctioning several Russians and entities linked to the Kremlin for meddling in the 2016 election as well as for cyberattacks against U.S. infrastructure, such as the energy grid.

Trump had resisted calls to punish Russia for its malfeasance, despite U.S. intelligence agencies’ claims that Kremlin-backed operatives did interfere in the campaign.

On Tuesday, Sanders told reporters Tuesday that she doesn’t believe the subject of 2016 election meddling came up in the Putin-Trump phone call. “But it is something that we’ve spoken extensively about,” she said.

The war in Syria

Trump has expressed admiration for Putin dating back to the years before he ran for president, but he is not the only U.S. commander in chief to call the Russian leader after an election victory.

President Barack Obama called Putin in 2012 to congratulate him for his win that year, although Russia-U.S. relations were especially contentious during Obama’s administration due in large part to the conflict in Syria. Russia has backed Syrian President Bashar Assad’s brutal war.

Trump, for his part, has criticized Obama over his handling of the Syrian war. “President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a ‘red line’ against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing,” Trump said in August after a suspected chemical attack in Syria. “The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this intolerable attack.”

The war in Syria continues to rage, and a Russian military leader recently threatened action against U.S. forces there if Americans target Russian servicemen.

[NBC News]

Reality

Trump joins authoritarians, Xi Jinping, Rouhani, Mohammed bin Salman, Nicolas Maduro,  Evo Morales, Raul Castro, al-Sisi

  • China’s Xi Jinping
  • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
  • Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
  • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro
  • Bolivia’s President Evo Morales
  • Cuban President Raul Castro
  • Egyptian President Fatah al-Sisi

Trump Insists U.S. Has Trade Deficit With Canada After Tapes Leak of Him Admitting It Doesn’t

President Donald Trump is now apparently doubling down on false comments that he admitted saying to Canadian PM Justin Trudeau.

After The Washington Post obtained audio of Trump telling Republican donors about a meeting with Trudeau in which he asserted that we have a trade deficit with Canada, a claim that the president admitted he had “no idea” was right or wrong at the time, the president tweeted this statement:

“We do have a Trade Deficit with Canada, as we do with almost all countries (some of them massive),” Trump wrote. “P.M. Justin Trudeau of Canada, a very good guy, doesn’t like saying that Canada has a Surplus vs. the U.S.(negotiating), but they do…they almost all do…and that’s how I know!”

As many have pointed out, Trump’s own government acknowledges that U.S. has a trade surplus with Canada — of $12.5 billion:

To recap: The president had, by his own admission, “absolutely no idea” whether the U.S. had a trade deficit with Canada; he and Trudeau had to send people out of the room to find out the facts, they came back and said that, as Trudeau claimed, there was no trade deficit; then, Trump tweeted that there actually is a trade deficit with Canada, despite there being audio evidence of him admitting the opposite; his conclusion that there is a trade deficit is because “almost all countries” have one, “and that’s how I know!”

[Mediaite]

Reality

Trump’s own administration says we have a trade surplus with Canada..

 

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]

Peña Nieto calls off visit to White House after confrontational call with Trump

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has called off an official trip to Washington to meet with President Donald Trump after a tense phone call brought the two leaders to a policy-driven standstill.

Peña Nieto was tentatively planning the trip for March, a White House official said, but the official confirmed to CNN that the trip was put on hold following the phone call, which took place on February 20.

According to The Washington Post, which first reported the cancellation, officials from both countries told the paper that Peña Nieto “called off the plan after Trump would not agree to publicly affirm Mexico’s position that it would not fund construction of a border wall.”

A White House official told CNN that any meeting would be awkward and counterproductive given Trump’s vow that Mexico would pay for the wall.

The official said the call was “less hostile” than the one that occurred between the two leaders a year ago, but “no more productive” than that call either.

At least one Mexican official, who spoke to the Post on the condition of anonymity, said Trump “lost his temper.” US officials described the President as being “frustrated and exasperated, saying Trump believed it was unreasonable for Peña Nieto to expect him to back off his crowd-pleasing campaign promise of forcing Mexico to pay for the wall.”

According to the Post’s report, the two leaders “devoted a considerable portion” of this year’s call to discussing the wall.

According to the paper, officials from both countries confirmed that Peña Nieto’s “desire to avoid public embarrassment — and Trump’s unwillingness to provide that assurance — that proved to be the dealbreaker.”

[CNN]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[The New York Times]

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

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

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

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

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

[Raw Story]

Lawmakers want immediate review of travel restriction on Putin critic

The United States government has revoked travel privileges for a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, stirring alarm on Capitol Hill.

Bill Browder, a crusader for the Magnitsky Act designed to punish Russian human rights abusers, found himself blocked from traveling to the United States in recent days.

The situation appears to be triggered by Russia’s decision to place Browder on the Interpol wanted list in pursuit of his arrest.

“The Department of Homeland Security should expedite an immediate review of the decision to revoke Mr. Browder’s visa,” Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said in a statement on Monday.

The senators said it “would be unfortunate if the U.S. decided to bar him based on a decision by those same Russian officials who have been targeted by this important legislation.”

Browder, a British citizen, told The Hill in an interview Monday that he was notified late last week that the Department of Homeland Security had revoked his status as a member of the Global Entry program, which is administered by Customs and Border Protection and allows trusted travelers expedited entry into the country.

When Browder tried to book a flight to the United States, he further discovered that his privileges to enter the U.S. ad a citizen of Great Britain had been revoked. Browder uses the Electronic System for Travel Authorization to gain entry into the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program.

“I discovered that my Global Entry status had been revoked,” Browder said. “We then checked into a flight to Newark and the airline wouldn’t let me check in, wouldn’t let me board because of the visa issue.”

“At that point, I then contact my contacts in law enforcement and it was confirmed to me that Russia had added me using the Interpol diffusion system on the 17th of October,” Browder added.

Browder is a British financier who has been a major driving force behind the Magnitsky Act, a bipartisan law was passed in 2012 to punish human rights abusers in Russia. The law is named for Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer, who was jailed after discovering a tax fraud scheme and who died under suspicious circumstances. Browder was one of Magnitsky’s clients.

Browder’s support for the law has made him an enemy of Moscow. Russia has on four previous occasions petitioned to get Interpol to secure Browder’s arrest, though the international police organization has rejected the requests, deeming them politically motivated.

In the past, Browder’s visa privileges were revoked as a result of Russia’s actions, but he said the U.S. government previously had resolved the issue within hours.

“I am hopeful that this is just a technical issue driven by Interpol and it will be resolved quickly,” Browder said Monday.

The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for more information. Browder said he received little information from Homeland Security when he inquired about his Global Entry status in recent days.

[The Hill]

Update

After the firestorm, Browder has been cleared again to enter the US.

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