Sarah Huckabee Sanders warns reporter not to question a 4-star general amid mounting John Kelly controversy

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders sidestepped questions about the validity of chief of staff John Kelly’s claim that Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida had bragged about securing funds for an FBI field office in 2015.

“[Kelly] said there was a lot of grandstanding,” Sanders said during Friday’s White House press briefing. “He was stunned she had taken that opportunity to make it about herself.”

When pressed as to whether Kelly could elaborate further, Sanders said he “addressed that pretty thoroughly yesterday.”

But the reporter noted that the money was secured before Wilson was in Congress, which prompted Sanders to invoke Kelly’s military career.

“If you want to go after General Kelly that’s up to you but I think that if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that’s something highly inappropriate,” Sanders said.

After Wilson suggested that President Donald Trump was inappropriate on a phone call with the widow of a US Special Forces soldier killed in Niger, Kelly criticized the Democratic congresswoman in an attempt to clarify the White House’s account of the call.

On Friday, the South Florida Sun Sentinel released a video of Wilson’s speech, which showed that she did not brag about securing the buildings funds, but did boast about rushing through Congress the renaming of the building in honor of two fallen FBI agents, Jerry L. Dove and Benjamin P. Grogan.

[Business Insider]

Reality

Old tweets posted by President Trump in which he attacked generals resurfaced Friday after the White House said it was “inappropriate” to criticize them.

Media

 

Anger over Donald Trump’s UK crime tweet

Donald Trump has been accused of fuelling hate crime with a tweet erroneously linking a rise in the UK crime rate to “radical Islamic terror”.

He said crime in the UK had risen by 13% amid the “spread” of Islamist terror – despite the figure referring to all crimes, not just terrorism.

The Labour MP, Yvette Cooper, said the statement was “inflammatory and ignorant”, while ex-Labour leader Ed Miliband said Mr Trump was “a moron”.

The Home Office declined to comment.

Mr Trump’s tweet used data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS)’s latest crime update, which reported a 13% increase across all offences in the 12 months to June.

It covered England and Wales, not the whole of the UK.

Police recorded 5.2m offences in the last year, the bulk of which were not associated with terrorism.

Rises were recorded in crime public order offences, stalking and harassment, possession of weapons and robbery.

The statistics – which made no reference to “radical Islamic terror” – showed that 35 out of the 664 homicides in England and Wales were caused by terror attacks in London and Manchester.

US media outlets have speculated whether Mr Trump’s tweet followed a TV report on One America News Network, a conservative TV channel, which aired the statistics on Friday morning.

Donald Trump is half right.

Crime has gone up by 13% – but not in the UK. The increase announced yesterday covered England and Wales whereas Scotland and Northern Ireland publish their data separately.

But overlooking that mistake, what about the phrase that appears to connect the increase to the “spread of radical Islamic terror”?

The number of cases of murder and attempted murder linked to Islamist-related extremism, has indeed gone up substantially.

Of the 664 homicides recorded in the year ending June 2017, 34 resulted from the Westminster Bridge, Manchester Arena and London Bridge attacks – there were no such deaths last year.

The attacks also accounted for the majority of the 426 additional attempted murders registered by police.

Arrests for terror-related offences went up as well, from 226 to 379, across England, Wales and Scotland, though that number also includes people detained for far-right extremism.

But in terms of overall offending, this increase in terror-related crime represents a fraction, when you consider that there were an extra 579,553 offences recorded by police compared with the year before.

[BBC News]

CIA director rebuked for false claim on Kremlin’s election meddling

CIA Director Mike Pompeo drew sharp criticism Thursday after wrongly stating that the U.S. intelligence community had found that Russian meddling did not tilt the 2016 presidential election.

Pompeo made the inaccurate claim at an event hosted by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a conservative think tank close to the Trump administration. His comments come amid growing evidence of Russian interference in last year’s campaign, the scale of which remains unclear.

“The intelligence community’s assessment is that the Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the election,” Pompeo said.

The intelligence community has made no such assessment. A report by the CIA and the National Security Agency released in January found that the Kremlin hacked emails and disseminated propaganda in order “to help [then-candidate Donald Trump’s] election chances.”

But the report’s authors explained that they “did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.”

“I warned in January that Director Pompeo’s views on Russia shifted with those of the president,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote on Twitter. “Today is more evidence of that sad fact.”

President Donald Trump, who has doubted whether Russia interfered in the election at all, has repeatedly made the blanket assertion that any Kremlin meddling had no ultimate impact. “The Russians did not affect the vote,” Trump told NBC in May.

“Not true,” former CIA Deputy Director David Cohen tweeted after Pompeo’s remark Thursday. “The Intelligence Community Assessment specifically said the IC made no judgment on whether Russian interference affected election.”

And Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) posted on Twitter that Pompeo was either “parroting POTUS talking points” or “making major split from rest of the IC on Russia meddling.”

A CIA official insisted that neither was true.

“The intelligence assessment with regard to Russian election meddling has not changed, and the director did not intend to suggest that it had,” CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani told POLITICO.

Pompeo could have meant only that Russia did not manipulate the final vote count. The January intelligence report, citing the Department of Homeland Security, said that while Russia hacked into several state and local election databases, those systems were “not involved in vote tallying.”

But many Democrats, including Trump’s defeated 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, strongly reject the wider claim that a scheme by Russian President Vladimir Putin could not have influenced voter attitudes enough to swing the election.

“Because no evidence has emerged yet of direct vote tampering, some critics insist that Russian interference had no impact on the outcome at all. This is absurd,” Clinton wrote in her recent memoir about the election, “What Happened.”

“The Kremlin’s information warfare was roughly equivalent to a hostile Super PAC unleashing a major ad campaign if not worse. Of course it had an impact,” she added.

Emails from the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party that were hacked and made public by Russian operatives dominated media coverage for months. And growing evidence of sophisticated Russian propaganda on Twitter and Facebook is fueling Democratic beliefs that the Kremlin might have tipped narrowly decided states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania in Trump’s favor.

Last month, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told CNN the intelligence community assessed that Russian interference “cast doubt on the legitimacy of [Trump’s] victory in the election.” Pompeo made his Thursday statement in response to a question about Clapper’s comment.

The January intelligence report did not even try to reach a formal conclusion about the impact of Russian interference, noting that the US intelligence community “does not analyze U.S. political processes or U.S. public opinion.”

Pompeo has been criticized before for what he has said about Russia’s role in the election. During a July appearance at the Aspen Security Forum, he seemed to downplay the Kremlin’s 2016 election interference, calling it nothing new.

“It is true” that Russia intervened in the last election, Pompeo said. “And the one before that, and the one before that. They have been at this a hell of a long time.”

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said, “This is not the first time the director has made statements minimizing the significance of what the Russians did, but it needs to be the last.”

During his January confirmation hearing, held shortly after the intelligence community report, Pompeo stressed the importance of the official findings.

“It’s pretty clear what took place here,” Pompeo told the Senate Intelligence Committee. “I’m very clear-eyed about what that intelligence report says.”

“My obligation as director of the CIA,” he added, “is to tell every policymaker the facts as best the intelligence agency has developed them.”

[Politico]

Trump calls lawmaker ‘wacky,’ says she told ‘total lie’ about military call

President Donald Trump on Thursday again rebutted a Florida congresswoman’s account of a call between him and the widow of a soldier killed in Niger, accusing her of listening in on the conversation and telling a “total lie” to the media.

“The Fake News is going crazy with wacky Congresswoman Wilson(D), who was SECRETLY on a very personal call, and gave a total lie on content!” the president tweeted late Thursday.

The comments come as another direct rebuke of Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida, who on Tuesday said that during a call with the widow of Army Sgt. La David Johnson, Trump had said that “he knew what he signed up for … but when it happens, it hurts anyway.”

Trump on Wednesday morning quickly denied the claims, saying Wilson “totally fabricated” the comments and that he had “proof” to the contrary — proof he has yet to unveil. Wilson returned fire by calling Trump “a liar” and saying that the conversation had been put on speakerphone and overheard by four witnesses.

“The sad part about it is, he didn’t know La David’s name,” Wilson told POLITICO on Wednesday.

Cowanda Jones-Johnson, the mother of the soldier’s mother, told The Washington Post Wednesday that she was present during the call and that she stood by Wilson’s description.

The White House said Wednesday that it did not have a recording of the conversation.

The nasty exchange between public officials ignited a furor over the White House’s response to fallen military officers, just days after Trump insinuated that his predecessors had not always extended the same courtesies to military families while in office.

White House chief of staff John Kelly on Thursday delivered an impassioned defense of the president’s conversation with the Johnson family, but also didn’t deny that Trump uttered the words that Wilson said he used. Kelly did rebuke Wilson, calling her “selfish” for criticizing the president’s words during a condolence call.

“I was stunned when I came to work yesterday morning and brokenhearted at what I saw a member of Congress doing,” he told reporters at the White House press briefing. “A member of Congress who listened in on a phone call from the president of the United States to a young wife — and in his way tried to express that opinion that he’s a brave man, a fallen hero.”

[Politico]

Trump questions who paid for dossier: ‘Russia, the FBI or the Dems (or all)?’

President Trump on Thursday questioned who paid for a controversial and unverified dossier about his alleged connections to Russia.

“Workers of firm involved with the discredited and Fake Dossier take the 5th. Who paid for it, Russia, the FBI or the Dems (or all)?” Trump asked on Twitter.

The tweet from the president comes after Fox News reported Wednesday that two officials from Fusion GPS, the political research firm behind the dossier, took the Fifth Amendment in front of the House Intelligence Committee.

The House Intelligence Committee last week subpoenaed the political research firm. The dossier was compiled by former MI6 officer Christopher Steele.

“We cannot in good conscience do anything but advise our clients to stand on their constitutional privileges, the attorney work product doctrine and contractual obligations,” Fusion GPS’s counsel, Josh Levy, wrote in a letter to the committee obtained by Business Insider earlier this week.

The attorney said the subpoenas violated “the First Amendment rights” of the firm’s three founders, adding that they would prevent future candidates “from conducting confidential opposition research in an election.”

“Should you compel any of our three clients to appear at the scheduled deposition, they will invoke their constitutional privileges not to testify,” Levy said. “Since that will be the case, we ask that the Committee excuse them from appearing.”

[The Hill]

 

Trump offered a grieving military father $25,000 in a call, but didn’t follow through

President Trump, in a personal phone call to a grieving military father, offered him $25,000 and said he would direct his staff to establish an online fundraiser for the family, but neither happened, the father said.

Chris Baldridge, the father of Army Cpl. Dillon Baldridge, told The Washington Post that Trump called him at his home in Zebulon, N.C., a few weeks after his 22-year-old son and two fellow soldiers were gunned down by an Afghan police officer in a suspected insider attack June 10. Their phone conversation lasted about 15 minutes, Baldridge said, and centered for a time on the father’s struggle with the manner in which his son was killed.

“I said, ‘Me and my wife would rather our son died in trench warfare,’ ” Baldridge said. “I feel like he got murdered over there.”

Trump’s offer of $25,000 adds another dimension to the president’s relations with Gold Star families, an honorific given to those whose loved ones die while serving in support of the nation’s wars. The disclosure follows questions about how often the president has called or written to grieving military families.

The Washington Post contacted the White House about Baldridge’s account on Wednesday morning. Officials declined to discuss the events in detail.

But in a statement Wednesday afternoon, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said: “The check has been sent. It’s disgusting that the media is taking something that should be recognized as a generous and sincere gesture, made privately by the President, and using it to advance the media’s biased agenda.”

Trump said this week that he has “called every family of somebody that’s died, and it’s the hardest call to make.” At least 20 Americans have been killed in action since he became commander in chief in January. The Washington Post interviewed the families of 13 and found that his interactions with them vary. About half had received phone calls, they said. The others said they had not heard from the president.

In his call with Trump, Baldridge, a construction worker, expressed frustration with the military’s survivor benefits program. Because his ex-wife was listed as their son’s beneficiary, she was expected to receive the Pentagon’s $100,000 death gratuity — even though “I can barely rub two nickels together,” he told Trump.

The president’s response shocked him.

“He said, ‘I’m going to write you a check out of my personal account for $25,000,’ and I was just floored,” Baldridge said. “I could not believe he was saying that, and I wish I had it recorded because the man did say this. He said, ‘No other president has ever done something like this,’ but he said, ‘I’m going to do it.’ ”

The president has faced worsening backlash since details emerged of his phone call Tuesday with the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, who was killed Oct. 4 alongside three other U.S. soldiers in Niger. After not addressing the incident for 12 days, Trump on Monday falsely claimed that previous presidents never or rarely called the families of fallen service members. In fact, they did so regularly.

[Washington Post]

Trump: Ask Gen. Kelly If Obama Called When His Son Died

President Donald Trump on Tuesday defended his false claim that his predecessor didn’t call the families of soldiers killed in action by alluding to former Gen. John Kelly’s son, a Marine who died in Afghanistan.

“You could ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?” Trump said in a radio interview with Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade.

Kelly, who came on as Trump’s chief of staff in July, does not often speak about the son he lost in 2010. 1st Lt. Robert Michael Kelly, 29, was killed in combat in Afghanistan after stepping on a landmine.

“I don’t know what Obama’s policy was. I write letters and I also call,” Trump said, adding he has called “virtually everybody” during his past nine months as commander in chief.

Trump’s comments Tuesday come a day after he falsely claimed that President Barack Obama did not call the families of soldiers killed in action after being asked why he had not yet addressed the deaths of American troops killed in Niger earlier this month.

When pressed by NBC News on how he could make that claim, Trump said he was told that Obama “didn’t often” call families of fallen soldiers.

“President Obama, I think, probably did sometimes, and maybe sometimes he didn’t. I don’t know. That’s what I was told. All I can do — all I can do is ask my generals,” he said.

According to a 2011 profile in The Boston Globe, Kelly has avoided speaking publicly about his son so as not to draw attention.

“We are not inclined to make ourselves out to be any different, just because I’m a lieutenant general in the Marines,” Kelly said then. “We are just one family. It’s not worse for us; it’s not easier for us.”

A White House official told NBC News on Tuesday that Obama did not call Kelly after the death of his son. But a person familiar with the breakfast for Gold Star Families at the White House on May 30, 2011, told NBC News that Kelly and his wife attended the private event and were seated at first lady Michelle Obama’s table.

A former senior Obama administration official disputed Trump’s initial claim on Monday that Obama didn’t call Gold Star families, calling it “wrong.”

“President Obama engaged families of the fallen and wounded warriors throughout his presidency through calls, letters, visits to Section 60 at Arlington, visits to Walter Reed, visits to Dover, and regular meetings with Gold Star Families at the White House and across the country,” the ex-official told NBC.

Trump said Tuesday that he had to allow a little time to pass but he “will be calling, have called, and will be calling the parents and loved ones, wives of the soldiers that recently were killed.”

The White House said later that the president was scheduled to call the families of the four soldiers killed in Niger on Tuesday.

[NBC News]

Trump falsely claims Obama, other past presidents didn’t call families of fallen soldiers

President Trump on Monday claimed former President Obama and other past presidents didn’t call the families of fallen soldiers.

Trump made the remark after being asked about the four U.S. soldiers killed in Niger last week.

The president said he planned to call the parents and families of those who were killed, something he said he has done “traditionally.”

“The toughest calls I have to make are the calls where this happens – soldiers are killed,” Trump said.

“It’s a very difficult thing. Now it gets to a point where you make four or five of them in one day, it’s a very, very tough day. For me that’s by far the toughest,” he said.

“So the traditional way, if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls, a lot of them didn’t make calls. I like to call when it’s appropriate, when I think I’m able to do it.”

Trump’s remarks were immediately criticized online, as Obama and other past presidents did make calls to the families of fallen soldiers.

Obama and former President George W. Bush have both described the difficultly in making those calls.

About 15 minutes later, as the news conference continued, Trump was pressed on his claim and said that he was “told” Obama didn’t often call the families of slain soldiers.

“And a lot of presidents don’t, they write letters. … I do a combination of both. Sometimes, it’s a very difficult thing to do, but I do a combination of both. President Obama, I think, probably did sometimes, and maybe sometimes he didn’t, I don’t know, that’s what I was told,” Trump said.

Trump said again that other presidents did not call.

“And some presidents didn’t do anything,” he said. “I like, when I can, the combination of a call and also a letter.”

[The Hill]

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Reality

A quick search of news archives reveals multiple times Obama met with military family members in which he offered thanks and condolences for their sacrifice.

We’ll even defend George W. Bush here too:

Later in the press conference, Trump was asked what evidence he had that Obama never called the families of fallen soldiers, and he said that it was simply something he had heard about and could not recall from who.

Trump says he spoke to Virgin Islands’ ‘president’ — which is him

President Donald Trump accidentally referred to the Virgin Islands’ governor as their President during a speech Friday — even though he is technically their President.

“I will tell you I left Texas and I left Florida and and I left Louisiana and I went to Puerto Rico and I met with the President of the Virgin Islands,” he told the audience of the Values Voter Summit in Washington.

“We are one nation and we all hurt together, we hope together and we heal together,” he said, later adding, “The Virgin Islands and the President of the Virgin Islands, these are people that are incredible people, they suffered gravely and we’re be there, we’re going to be there, we have really, it is not even a question of a choice.”

Trump appeared to be referring to Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp, instead of the “President” who is Trump himself. The Virgin Islands is a US territory.

The White House did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment. But in the official White House transcript after the speech, his reference to Mapp as President was corrected to “governor.”

He was referring to how the Virgin Islands was hit first by Hurricane Irma, then Hurricane Maria, which ravaged the island.

[CNN]

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Trump Believes a Corporate Stock Market Rally Reduces Government National Debt

President Trump falsely claimed Wednesday that, “in one sense,” the stock market rally since his election reduces the $20 trillion national debt.

Let’s break down his astonishing claim.

“The country — we took it over, it owed $20 trillion,” Trump Sean Hannity of Fox News in Pennsylvania.

So far, so good. It’s correct that the U.S. owed nearly $20 trillion when Trump took office.

“As you know, the last eight years, they borrowed more than it did in the whole history of our country. So, they borrowed more than $10 trillion dollars, right?”

Also, more or less accurate — $9 trillion to be exact.

“And yet, we picked up $5.2 trillion just in the stock market. Possibly picked up the whole thing in terms of the first nine months in terms of value. So, you can say in one sense we’re really increasing values; and maybe in a sense we’re reducing debt.”

Huh? To say this is a head-scratcher is an understatement.

Trump is right that the stock market has added trillions in value since his election.

But higher stock prices reflect corporate profits. Shareholders and investors reap the rewards. When investors get richer, it does not reduce the amount of money Congress and the federal government has already spent and owes.

The national debt, which he correctly states is $20 trillion, is the result of the government spending more than it takes in. To cut the debt, Congress has to spend less or raise taxes. That would free up cash to pay down what the U.S. owes.

“The stock market’s gains have virtually nothing to do with the size of the national debt, which continues to rise because government spending far exceeds government receipts,” political economist Greg Valliere told CNNMoney.

“A higher stock market encourages consumers and companies to spend more, which helps the overall economy,” said Valliere of Horizon Investments. “But it’s absurd to contend that the national debt has fallen because of this.”

In fact, the president wants to cut taxes and potentially add to the debt if spending cuts cannot be found to offset those tax cuts.

The White House, in a statement, said Trump “was simply making the point that we’ve seen enormous growth in the stock market since his election, that means more money in the pocket of everyday citizens, and more circulating in our economy as a whole.”

As for that stock market rally, the Standard and Poor’s 500 is up nearly 20% since his election — an impressive rally. No question investors cheer this president’s pro-business, anti-regulation, lower taxes agenda. But under the Obama Administration that same index rose 235%. And no, that stock market rally did not reduce or offset the national debt either.

[CNN]

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