Posts Tagged ‘Donald Trump’

Hamas chief calls for fresh protests against Trump Jerusalem move (Initial round of protests sputtered out)

December 14, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Hamas supporters take part in a rally marking the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Islamist movement, in Gaza City, on December 14, 2017

GAZA CITY (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES) (AFP) – The head of Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas called Thursday for fresh protests across the world against US President Donald Trump’s controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”We demand the Islamic world make every Friday a day of anger and revolution in every capital and city until we bring down Trump’s decision,” Ismail Haniya said.

Image result for Ismail Haniya, photos

Ismail Haniya with Iran’s Supreme Leader

“We ask churches, the Pope and our Christian brothers to devote their Sunday prayers to Jerusalem,” he added.

Image result for Ismail Haniya, photos

Ismail Haniya

Speaking in front of tens of thousands of supporters in Hamas-run Gaza at an event to commemorate the Islamist movement’s 30th anniversary, Haniya railed against Trump’s December 6 announcement that he would move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem and recognise the city as Israel’s capital.

“We will bring down Trump’s decision once and for all,” he added.

The event was attended by major Hamas figures as well as politicians from other political parties, including longtime rivals Fatah.

The two signed an October reconciliation agreement that was supposed to see Hamas hand over control in Gaza by December 1, but the deal has faltered.

Hamas seized control of Gaza from Fatah in 2007 and has fought three wars with Israel since.

It is considered a terrorist organisation by Israel, the United States and others.

Since Trump’s controversial announcement last week, at least 12 rockets or mortars have been fired from Gaza towards Israel.

In response the Jewish state’s army has hit at least 10 targets in Gaza, mostly Hamas bases.

Protests in other parts of the Palestinian territories, as well as across the Arab world, have broken out since Trump’s announcement.

© 2017 AFP

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China’s ‘long arm’ of influence stretches ever further

December 14, 2017
 December 14 at 1:00 AM
The Washington Post
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For more than a year, Americans have fretted over the extent to which Russia influenced the outcome of last year’s presidential election. A special counsel probe into Russian meddling continues to roil politics in Washington and may yet ensnare more figures linked to the Trump administration. The specter of Kremlin collusion has darkened U.S.-Russia diplomatic relations; the proliferation of Russian “bots” on social-media platforms such Facebook and Twitter has led to difficult reckonings within U.S. tech and social media companies.

But, in the longer term, U.S. strategists may be less worried about the influence of Moscow abroad than that of Beijing. On Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) convened a hearing on the “Long Arm of China,” focusing on China’s capacity to launch influence operations abroad to gain leverage over democratic rivals. “We have a lot of discussion of Russian interference in our elections, but the Chinese efforts to influence our public policy and our basic freedoms are much more widespread than most people realize,” Rubio told my colleague Josh Rogin ahead of the session.

 

The discussion was timely. On Tuesday, as you may have read in yesterday’s edition, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a ban on foreign political donations, citing “disturbing reports about Chinese influence.” These include the allegations surrounding Sam Dastyari, a Labor Party senator “accused of endorsing China’s controversial actions in the disputed South China Sea, against his party’s platform, in return for support from donor Huang Xiangmo,” as The Post’s Simon Denyer wrote. “He was also reported to have given Huang advice on how to evade Australian surveillance and to have unsuccessfully tried to pressure Labor’s deputy leader not to meet a Hong Kong pro-democracy activist in 2015.”

 

Australian opposition lawmaker Sam Dastyari pledged to resign from Parliament Dec. 12 after allegations emerged that he had been acting in China’s interests.

On Wednesday, attention in Australia centered on a Chinese letter calling on Australian Chinese to vote against the ruling Liberal Party; its origins, though murky, appeared to have some connection to an agency within the Chinese Communist Party. China’s Foreign Ministry and the state mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, rebuffed any suggestion of manipulation, asking Australians to “discard their political biases and prejudices.”

Australia and New Zealand have so far allowed foreign donations. But the growing clout of China, which retains huge economic interests in the Antipodes, is causing alarm. In its own annual report to Parliament, Australia’s domestic intelligence agency warned of foreign influence posing “a threat to our sovereignty, the ­integrity of our national institutions, and the exercise of our citizens’ rights.” In September, a comprehensive report by New Zealand academic Anne-Marie Brady on Chinese soft power there — including Chinese patronage networks reaching into the political elite and the use of the country’s dairy farms to test Chinese satellites — shook up  New Zealand’s election campaign.

China is, of course, a world power, and it is natural for it to cultivate extensive ties in foreign lands. Chinese investments and other soft-power influences have factored into election campaigns in developing countries as diverse as ZambiaPeru and Nepal. That is a reality Americans can hardly begrudge, given their own nation’s lengthy history of meddling in elections elsewhere.

In many cases, China’s interests are primarily economic. As new studies point out, its cultivation of foreign assets follows rather traditional lines: making connections through people-to-people exchanges, wooing the political elite with generous gifts and hospitality, and using partnerships with local universities and its vast network of Chinese government-sponsored Confucius Institutes to influence attitudes about China abroad.


China is investing in more powerful surveillance software and other tools to restrict dissent on the Internet. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

But Rubio and others warn of a more dangerous ideological edge to China’s international agenda. They argue that as China creates an increasingly sophisticated online police state at home — built on maximizing surveillance and censorship — it is intensifying efforts to explore other countries’ vulnerabilities. “In an era of hyperglobalization, the regimes in Russia and China have raised barriers to external political and cultural influence at home while simultaneously preying upon the openness of democratic systems abroad,” wrote the researchers for a new report from the National Endowment for Democracy that focuses on the “sharp power” of authoritarian regimes.

“The Chinese government has spent tens of billions of dollars to shape norms, narratives, and attitudes in other countries,” said Shanthi Kalathil of the National Endowment for Democracy, speaking at Wednesday’s hearing.

Chinese authorities also appear to be deepening their monitoring of their citizens on foreign soil. “China’s influence campaign appears to have extended further in Australia,” wrote Joshua Kurlantzick of the Council on Foreign Relations. “China’s state security forces have reportedly engaged in a campaign to monitor Chinese nationals, including many students there — even warning them not to offer any criticism of Beijing lest their relatives in China be harmed.”

In his Dec. 10 article, Rogin wrote: “China’s overriding goal is, at the least, to defend its authoritarian system from attack and at most to export it to the world at America’s expense.”

On Wednesday in Washington, Rubio said the emerging Chinese strategy “directly threatens our most deeply held values and our national interest.” He added: “Chinese leaders are engaged in the long game. And it is something that policymakers in the United States and our like-minded allies must take seriously.”

With President Trump in office, however, there is little sign that the United States has a long game of its own. Trump’s trip to Asia this year was marked by its policy incoherence as well as the president’s inability to extract any meaningful concessions while being feted in Beijing.

“The problem for Australia is that China’s willingness to use coercion to achieve its dream of renewed greatness is becoming a defining feature of its foreign policy,” wrote Alan Dupont, founder of the Cognoscenti Group consultancy, in the newspaper the Australian. “With the U.S. in self-declared retreat from its global leadership role and lacking a coherent Asia policy under Donald Trump, there are diminishing external constraints on Chinese behavior and ambitions.”

Brady, the New Zealand academic, argued that what is taking root has less to do with Beijing’s particular agenda than the complacency of democracies. “It’d be the same if it was any country,” she told the New Zealand Herald. “It’s not about China, but it’s our country and our democracy where we value freedom of speech and association. It’s our right to choose our government.”

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 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/12/14/chinas-long-arm-of-influence-stretches-ever-further/?utm_term=.dd06c48cf06a
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White House Corrects Tillerson on Whether U.S. Will Talk to North Korea — The White House distanced itself from Tillerson’s overture

December 14, 2017

WASHINGTON — President Trump and Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson are once again at odds over how to deal with nuclear-armed North Korea after Mr. Tillerson declared on Tuesday that the United States was ready to open talks with the North “without precondition.”

The secretary’s comments were remarkably conciliatory for an administration that has repeatedly threatened North Korea with military action, and ruled out any negotiations, if it did not curb its missile and nuclear programs. But a few hours later, the White House distanced itself from his overture.

In an unusual statement released to reporters on Tuesday evening, the press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said Mr. Trump’s position on North Korea had not changed — namely, that talks were pointless if the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, continued to menace his neighbors.

“North Korea is acting in an unsafe way not only toward Japan, China, and South Korea, but the entire world,” she said. “North Korea’s actions are not good for anyone and certainly not good for North Korea.”

It was only the latest example of a public rift between the president and his chief diplomat over North Korea.

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday the U.S. wants to have a dialogue with North Korea “anytime,” backing away from Washington’s previous demand that Pyongyang give up its nuclear weapons before they come to the table. Photo: AP

In October, Mr. Trump tweeted that Mr. Tillerson was “wasting his time” trying to open diplomatic lines to Pyongyang. But this time, the comments follow reports that the White House is laying the groundwork for the secretary’s departure from the State Department and his replacement by Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director.

White House officials were alarmed by Mr. Tillerson’s conciliatory tone, according to several people, because they feared that it would sow confusion among allies after Mr. Trump rallied them behind a policy of “maximum pressure.”

There were no signs that Mr. Tillerson intended to signal a change in policy. He was speaking to the Atlantic Council in what was billed as a wrap-up of foreign-policy challenges in the administration’s first year.

Asked about the prospects for diplomacy with the North, he said, “We’re ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk, and we’re ready to have the first meeting without precondition.”

“Let’s just meet and let’s — we can talk about the weather if you want,” he continued. “We can talk about whether it’s going to be a square table or a round table, if that’s what you’re excited about. But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face?”

To some extent, Mr. Tillerson was merely playing the role he has played throughout the administration’s confrontation with North Korea — the diplomat offering a softer line while Mr. Trump and other White House officials warn about the consequences if North Korea does not back off.

But Mr. Tillerson indicated an urgency about getting to the table with North Korea, which officials said runs counter to the White House’s view that negotiations are unlikely to happen anytime soon, given Mr. Kim’s repeated tests of nuclear devices and ballistic missiles.

Read the rest:https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/13/world/asia/north-korea-trump-tillerson.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fworld&action=click&contentCollection=world&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=8&pgtype=sectionfront

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Marco Rubio: ‘Vladimir Putin chose to interfere in US elections’

December 14, 2017

US Senator Marco Rubio, who ran against President Donald Trump during the Republican primaries, tells DW’s Zhanna Nemtsova that talk of US President Donald Trump’s impeachment over alleged Russian ties is premature.

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 http://www.dw.com/en/marco-rubio-vladimir-putin-chose-to-interfere-in-us-elections/a-41769103

Watch video18:14

DW talks to US Senator Marco Rubio

DW:US President Donald Trump is making headlines across the world because of his Russia connections [the Robert Mueller-led investigation into alleged US collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential election — the ed.]. What might be the final political consequences for him?

Marco RubioWell, one thing about the US, compared to Vladimir Putin’s government, is that we have a system of checks and balances and a system of rule of law. Right now there are suspicions and allegations that have been made that are being investigated by professional investigators who will make decisions based on the facts. Ultimately, we will let it play itself out and go wherever the truth takes us, that’s the way our system works.

And the people that are accused have a right to defend themselves and prove their innocence. And the government has a burden to prove that. We are not at that stage yet. But what is abundantly clear is that Vladimir Putin chose to interfere in the US elections — in my opinion, not so much to favor one candidate over another, but to sow instability. In many ways he blames the United States for the protests against corruption and against him that took place in 2009, 2010, or 2011. He thinks that the United States was behind it. In many ways, this was a part of getting revenge for that. And the other part of it is that he wanted to destabilize the US, to be able to go back and say to his own people and to the world that America is in no position to lecture anyone about democracy, as their own democracy is flawed. I don’t necessarily disagree that we’re not perfect. The difference is that our imperfections are debated openly in a free society and not presented through a state-controlled media, loyal to one person and one regime.

But I’m talking about this particular investigation. If they prove that Trump had connections to Russia, what would the consequences be for him and his political career? How big is the risk of impeachment, for example?

Well, we’re way ahead of ourselves when talking about impeachment. Right now we have an ongoing investigation, and it may lead to nothing. We’ve already seen a couple of indictments, but it may not ultimately prove that the president did something wrong. We need to wait for that. I don’t want to prejudge that — it would be unfair and prejudicial to do so. But ultimately, I am confident that those doing the investigation are serious and professional people. The truth is going to be out there for courts to look at — in the case of the individuals that have been indicted or may be indicted, and for the voters to look at — in the case of anybody else who is in elected office.

In your estimation, how big is the real impact of Russia’s interference in the US presidential election?

Trump and Putin talking to each otherDid you hear the one about me and the Democrats?

I don’t think it impacted the outcome. But we most certainly need to be aware that foreign governments tried to exploit legitimate divisions in American society for purposes of creating chaos. I think that Vladimir Putin’s ultimate goal was not the election of one candidate versus another, although he may have personally preferred one candidate. But his ultimate goal was to ensure that whoever was elected the next US president, they did so with their credibility damaged. I also think that he wanted to exploit the already existing divisions in American society for the purpose of forcing us to go through what we’re going through right now — investigations, divisive debates, talk about impeachment, and the like.

It’s destabilizing. This is a pattern that has repeated itself not simply in the US elections — we saw an attempt to do it in France, Germany, Montenegro, Bulgaria, and even potentially in Mexico this year. This is a sort of hybrid warfare type concept that he has adopted, and it is in line with his training as a KGB officer and the sort of propaganda efforts that existed during the Cold War, without the internet and without Twitter and Facebook.

 http://www.dw.com/en/marco-rubio-vladimir-putin-chose-to-interfere-in-us-elections/a-41769103

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More Rockets From Gaza, More Israeli Air Strike in Retaliation — Israel, Militants Trade Fire for Eighth Straight Day

December 14, 2017

AFP

© AFP | A Palestinian child rescues belongings from his home which was damaged in an Israeli air strike on a nearby Hamas base in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on December 13, 2017

GAZA CITY (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES) (AFP) – Israel carried out a series of air strikes against Islamist group Hamas in Gaza early on Thursday, the army said, hours after rockets were fired from the Palestinian enclave.In a statement, the Israeli army said it had targeted three Hamas military facilities in different parts of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

“The military facilities were used as training and weapons storage compounds,” the army said.

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Rocket fired from the Gaza Strip — FILE Photo

“This was in response to the projectiles fired at Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip.”

A Palestinian security source said there were more than 10 strikes on the targets, which included a Hamas naval facility and a military base near the Shati refugee camp in northern Gaza.

The source said there had been significant damage to the targets, as well as lesser damage to nearby houses, where some residents suffered minor injuries.

There was no immediate confirmation of the injuries from the health ministry in Gaza.

The strikes came hours after Israel’s air defence system intercepted two rockets fired from Gaza.

Such rockets are generally fired by fringe Islamist groups but Israel holds Gaza’s Hamas rulers responsible for any fire from the territory.

The army also announced it would close the border crossings between Gaza and Israel — Kerem Shalom for goods and Erez for people — from Thursday “due to the security events and in accordance with security assessments”.

A military spokeswoman could not say whether the closure would be for one day or more.

There has been an uptick in violence from Gaza since US President Donald Trump announced he would recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last week.

Four Gazans have been killed, two in clashes along the border and two Hamas militants in an Israeli air strike in retaliation for rocket fire.

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Gaza Tensions Rise as Israel, Militants Trade Fire for Eighth Straight Day

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Israel strikes Hamas targets after three rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel earlier on Wednesday

By Yaniv Kubovich Dec 14, 2017 10:11 AM
Haaretz

FILE PHOTO: An area reportedly hit by an Israeli strike in Beit Lahia, Gaza, Dec 12, 2017

FILE PHOTO: An area reportedly hit by an Israeli strike in Beit Lahia, Gaza, Dec 12, 2017 Mahmud Hams / AFP

The Israeli military struck three Hamas targets late Wednesday night in response to three rockets fired from the Gaza Strip at Israel earlier in the day, the IDF confirmed.

A statement from the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit noted that the targets struck were Hamas weapon storage facilities and training sites, and that Israel will not allow for its citizens to be harmed or targeted by “the Hamas terror organization that leads Gazan residents to a life of poverty, devastation, and despair.”

Three rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel earlier Wednesday. Two were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system and one fell into an open area as alarm sirens sounded in southern Israeli districts and cities including Sderot.

Magen David Adom emergency responders said that a 30-year-old man wounded his leg while running for cover, and two others were being treated for shock.

The rocket fire on Israel from the Gaza Strip Wednesday evening is returning the residents of the Gaza border region back to a state of tension they haven’t experienced since Operation Protective Edge over three years ago. No less than 15 rockets have been fired into Israeli territory since U.S. President Donald Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem, and although the Israel Defense Forces  has been showing restraint, it will have a hard time holding back for much longer.

Israel struck a Hamas military compound in the southern Gaza Strip early Wednesday morning after a rocket was fired from the Strip toward southern Israel Tuesday. The exchange was the latest incident in a week of escalated tensions along the border, marked by rocket fire at Israel by terror groups and responses in turn from the army.

The Health Ministry in Gaza on Wednesday said that three people in Gaza were lightly wounded in the Israeli strike.

The Israeli military said late Monday it struck Hamas positions in the Gaza Strip in retaliation for two rockets fired at southern Israel. One of the rockets was shot down by Israel’s missile defense system.

Yaniv Kubovich
read more: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.828893

Palestinians, a large Jerusalem minority, feel Trump snub

December 14, 2017

Above, Palestinians walk by a national flag in east Jerusalem. Palestinians make up 37 percent of Jerusalem’s population of 866,000, up from 26 percent in 1967 when Israel captured east Jerusalem. (AP)

JERUSALEM: President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has stirred defiance and new fears of marginalization among the city’s Palestinian residents.

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Trump has said he simply acknowledged reality with his nod to Israel, but omitted a specific mention of Jerusalem’s large Palestinian minority, or 37 percent of the population.
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Despite Israel’s portrayal of Jerusalem as united, stark differences have emerged on the ground between Arab and Jewish neighborhood.
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Palestinians make up 37 percent of Jerusalem’s population of 866,000, up from 26 percent in 1967 when Israel captured east Jerusalem, expanded the city’s boundaries into the West Bank and annexed the enlarged municipal area to its capital.
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The international community says east Jerusalem is occupied territory and its must be determined in negotiations with the Palestinians.
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The FBI’s Trump ‘Insurance’

December 14, 2017

More troubling evidence of election meddling at the bureau.

Democrats and the media are accusing anyone who criticizes special counsel Robert Mueller as Trumpian conspirators trying to undermine his probe. But who needs critics when Mr. Mueller’s team is doing so much to undermine its own credibility?

Wednesday’s revelations—they’re coming almost daily—include the Justice Department’s release of 2016 text messages to and from Peter Strzok, the FBI counterintelligence agent whom Mr. Mueller demoted this summer. The texts, which he exchanged with senior FBI lawyer Lisa Page, contain…

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-fbis-trump-insurance-1513210929

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‘We Can’t Take That Risk’ — FBI Officials Discussed ‘Insurance Policy’ Against Trump Presidency

By CHUCK ROSS
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Two FBI officials who worked on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation exchanged text messages last year in which they appear to have discussed ways to prevent Donald Trump from being elected president.

“I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office — that there’s no way [Trump] gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk,” FBI counterintelligence official Peter Strzok wrote in a cryptic text message to Lisa Page, an FBI lawyer and his mistress.

“It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40,” Strzok wrote in the text, dated Aug. 15, 2016.

Andy is likely Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe.

The text message is one of 375 released Tuesday night ahead of a House Judiciary Committee hearing with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. (RELATED: Strzok Called Trump An ‘Idiot’ In Text To Fellow Mueller Investigator)

Several congressional panels have sought the text messages since their existence was revealed earlier this month. Strzok, who was a top investigator on both the Trump investigation and the Clinton email probe, was kicked off of Mueller’s team over the summer after the text messages were discovered.

It remains unclear why the existence of the texts was not disclosed until nearly four months after Strzok was removed from the Mueller investigation.

Strzok and Page’s exchanges show a deep disdain for Trump and admiration for Clinton. In a text sent on Oct. 20, 2016, Strzok called the Republican a “f*cking idiot.”

In on Aug. 6 text, Strzok responded to an article shared by Page by replying, “F Trump.”

The pair exchanged another cryptic text message that same day.

“Maybe you’re meant to stay where you are because you’re meant to protect the country from that menace,” Page wrote.

“I can protect our country at many levels, not sure if that helps,” Strzok replied.

Like many of the exchanges, the full context of the message is not entirely clear.

Strzok also offered praise for Clinton while suggesting that he planned to vote for her.

In a March 2, 2016 text Strzok said he would likely vote for Clinton. In another exchange he wrote that if Trump won the Republican primary, Clinton would likely win the presidency.

“God Hillary should win 100,000,000 – 0,” he told Page.

Strzok also congratulated Page after Clinton clinched the Democratic party nomination.

“Congrats on a woman nominated for President in a major party! About damn time!” he wrote in a July 26, 2016 text.

While he was praising Clinton, Strzok was working at the center of the investigation into the Democrat’s use of a private email server. He emailed Clinton on July 2, 2016 — three days before then-FBI Director James Comey cleared her of criminal wrongdoing. (RELATED: FBI Agent Praised Hillary Clinton While Leading Email Investigation)

In the weeks before and after his politically-charged texts, Strzok interviewed several Clinton aides who sent and received classified emails that ended up on Clinton’s email server.

Two of those aides were Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills. Both appear to have provided misleading responses to questions about their awareness of Clinton’s use of a private server. But despite their false statements, neither Abedin nor Mills were charged with lying to the FBI. (RELATED: Clinton Aides Went Unpunished Despite Giving Misleading Statements In FBI Interview)

That’s in contrast with another Strzok interview subject: Retired lieutenant general Michael Flynn.

Strzok interviewed the then-national security adviser at the White House on Jan. 24 regarding Flynn’s conversations during the presidential transition period with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Flynn pleaded guilty earlier this month to lying to the FBI during that interview.

Strzok was picked to oversee the Russia investigation at the end of July 2016, several weeks after the Clinton probe ended.

http://dailycaller.com/2017/12/13/fbi-officials-discussed-insurance-policy-against-trump-presidency/

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‘Trump still committed to a two-state solution,’ says Saudi foreign minister Jubeir

December 13, 2017

OPINION | GEORGE J. MITCHELL AND ALON SACHAR

Enduring belief in the two-state solution as a path to peace

.Jewish settlers (left) and a Palestinian family (right) watched as Palestinians clash with Israeli forces in the street below in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday.

THOMAS COEX/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Jewish settlers (left) and a Palestinian family (right) watched as Palestinians clash with Israeli forces in the street below in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday.

Two months ago President Trump said, “I want to give [the peace process] a shot before I even think about moving the embassy to Jerusalem.” Last week, without explaining why, the president reversed himself. His decision was premature and unwise, given the circumstances in the Middle East today. The announcement adversely affects longstanding US policy and interests. Every recent president, including Trump in his statement, has favored direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians as the only feasible route to an agreement to end their longstanding conflict. That has already proved to be difficult; the president made it more difficult, as the worldwide adverse reactions of Arab and Muslim leaders and our other allies make clear.

Jerusalem is and always will be the capital of Israel. That is not in doubt. The real and more difficult question is what the boundaries of Jerusalem will be and whether, through negotiations, there can emerge an independent, sovereign state of Palestine with a capital in the eastern part of Jerusalem. Fortunately, the president did not exclude that outcome. Indeed, to the contrary, he said that the United States is not taking a position on any final-status issues, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or on its borders. He also called on the parties to maintain the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites.

Nonetheless, the president’s statement will hearten those Israelis and Palestinians who oppose a two-state solution and will be used by them to advance their political agendas. In Israel, a growing and confident right, which includes several ministers in the government, is adamantly opposed to there ever being a Palestinian state on the West Bank or a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem. They will be emboldened by Trump’s statement. On the Palestinian side, President Mahmoud Abbas’s approach will be further weakened. For decades he has opposed violence against Israel, favoring instead diplomacy and security cooperation as a means to achieving Palestinian independence. Israel’s security officials routinely laud his efforts in that regard. Already weakened by the lack of progress toward a Palestinian state, he will be undermined by Trump’s statement. His opponents, including Hamas, deride diplomacy, oppose cooperating with Israel, and insist on retaining the use of force to achieve political gains. They, too, will be emboldened.

Although it has not yet been achieved, there is no feasible alternative to two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace. The Israeli and Palestinian publics still largely support that outcome, and virtually all security officials on both sides agree that the alternatives to two states are less secure and less stable. There is no feasible way to get an agreement other than through direct negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Trump’s statement did not help to achieve those goals, but since he did not explicitly exclude a possible Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, he at least left open the possibility of progress.

The United States has a clear and compelling national interest in remaining involved in the Middle East and in doing all we can to reduce violence and upheaval and to combat radical Islamic extremism. We remain heavily engaged in the region, working to protect the American people from acts of terrorism; to ensure Israel’s security; to resist Iran’s drive for regional hegemony; to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria; to help other Arab countries, as well as Iraq, resist terrorism and achieve stability; and to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan and to stabilize that country, among other objectives. Inevitably there will be many more years of disruption, and no single policy or action can solve all of the region’s problems. But a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be a significant step that might enable some of these countries, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, to cooperate in opposing their common foes: Iran and terrorist organizations, those supported by, and those opposed to, Iran.

We believe there is no such thing as a conflict that cannot be ended. Conflicts are created and conducted by human beings; they can be ended by human beings. We recognize the daunting difficulties that lie ahead. We acknowledge the long litany of failed past efforts. We are especially mindful of the many other conflicts and complexities in the region that work against an early resolution. Yet we firmly and realistically believe there is a path to peace through a two-state solution and that all of us who care about the region and its people, in particular the Israelis and Palestinians, must do whatever we can to advocate and work for an end to the conflict.

George J. Mitchell served as the US Senate majority leader and as US envoy for Middle East peace. Alon Sachar served as an adviser to the US ambassador to Israel and to the US envoy for Middle East peace.

https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2017/12/11/enduring-belief-two-state-solution-path-peace/NRwKpTazA7XpAVCTub6E3O/story.html

House, Senate Negotiators Strike Deal in Principle on Tax Bill

December 13, 2017

Image may contain: 4 people, people sitting

By Alexander Bolton and Scott Wong
The Hill

December 13, 2017

Negotiators strike deal in principle on tax bill

Senate and House Republicans have struck an “agreement in principle” on a sweeping tax-cut bill that if passed would be the first major piece of legislation signed by President Trump.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) told reporters about noon Wednesday of the deal between Senate and House negotiators on taxes.

“We’re going to talk to our members of conference about it at noon,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

Senate Republican leaders say they have the votes to pass the legislation next week.

“I’m confident we’ll pass the bill next week,” Cornyn said. “Earlier is better.”

GOP sources familiar with the conference committee talks said negotiators are now just cleaning up some of the details on paying for last-minute changes to the bill, which would lower the top individual tax rate to 37 percent and set the corporate tax rate at 21 percent, according to a person briefed on the package.

That’s slightly higher than the 20 percent initially favored by President Trump, a rate that outside groups have lobbied to keep in the package.

House conservatives said they didn’t like the bump in the corporate rate. But with a tax victory so close, they said the tweak would not be a deal breaker.

“We don’t like it; it causes some consternation. I am concerned about the business rate,” Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative 155-member Republican Study Committee caucus, told The Hill on Wednesday. “When these business communities are looking to build, every percentage point is a major factor in this, so we want to be careful in going in that direction.

“But it’s not a deal breaker,” he added.

The bill would also cap the popular mortgage interest deduction at $750,000, a midpoint compromise between the Senate and House bills.

Senate Republicans planned to hold a meeting midday Wednesday in the Mike Mansfield Room off the chamber floor to go over the details of the agreement.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will brief House Republicans at 3 p.m. in the Capitol.

Lawmakers are rushing to get the bill done before the Christmas holiday.

The deal will have been struck before the first official House-Senate conference on the bill, set to be held later Wednesday.

Democrats have generally been locked out of the process as Republicans have sought to finish their legislation before the end of the year.

The legislation will repeal the federal mandate requiring people to buy insurance — a core piece of ObamaCare.

The bill also would give some relief to people in high-tax areas by allowing them to deduct up to $10,000 in state and local property or income taxes.

The deduction for pass-through companies will be set at 20 percent, somewhat lower than the 23 percent included in the Senate-passed bill. But that will be offset by lowering the top individual income rate to 37 percent from its current level of 39.6 percent.

Negotiators also knocked out a House-passed provision that would eliminate the student loan interest deduction.

Meanwhile, a provision to set a corporate alternative minimum tax — which would have raised $40 billion over 10 years — has been stripped out.

Several Senate Republicans are not happy about the proposal to lower the top individual rate to 37 percent but they acknowledged they needed to give some ground to House negotiators.

“It would not have been one of my high priorities, there would have been other priorities for me but we’re dealing with the House. We all know we’re not going to get everything we want,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.).

Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also balked at lowering the top individual rate to 37 percent but it’s likely not enough to change their votes.

“I’m going to wait and look at the entire conference report once it comes out,” she said.

The Trump administration and GOP leaders have helped win over Collins by promising to pass legislation to shore up the individual health insurance markets.

Vice President Mike Pence assured Collins of the commitment to pass legislation authorizing the payment of subsidies to insurance companies and funding states to set up high-risk reinsurance pools to keep premiums in check.

“I had a very good discussion with the vice president yesterday about that issue and I feel certain the agreement that I negotiated will be kept — this year,” she said.

Updated: 1:22 p.m.

http://thehill.com/policy/finance/364699-negotiators-strike-deal-in-principle-on-tax-bill

TAGS: SUSAN COLLINS, DONALD TRUMP,  ORRIN HATCH, MIKE ROUNDS , JOHN CORNYN, MARK WALKER, MARCO RUBIO, MIKE PENCE, PAUL RYAN , TAX REFORM

Rosenstein stands by Mueller probe as Republicans fume over ‘insider bias’

December 13, 2017

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein stood by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe Wednesday, despite a newly unearthed trove of damning text messages and other details that Republicans said show an “insider bias” on the investigative team.

Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller and has overseen the Russia probe since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself, testified before the House Judiciary Committee — and faced a grilling from GOP lawmakers.

They zeroed in on anti-Trump text messages exchanged between two FBI agents who once worked on the Mueller team.

“This is unbelievable,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, voicing concern that the “public trust” in the probe is gone.

Republicans for weeks have raised concerns that some investigators may be biased, citing everything from their political donations to past work representing top Democratic figures and allied groups including the Clinton Foundation.

MORE CLINTON TIES ON MUELLER TEAM: ONE DEPUTY ATTENDED CLINTON PARTY, ANOTHER REP’D TOP AIDE

But when committee Ranking Member Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., pressed Rosenstein over whether he had seen “good cause” to remove Mueller from his post, Rosenstein pushed back.

“No,” Rosenstein said.

Nadler asked whether Rosenstein would fire Mueller if he were ordered to do so.

FILE - In this Oct. 28, 2013, file photo, former FBI Director Robert Mueller is seated before President Barack Obama and FBI Director James Comey arrive at an installation ceremony at FBI Headquarters in Washington. A veteran FBI counterintelligence agent was removed from special counsel Robert Mueller's team investigating Russian election meddling after the discovery of an exchange of text messages seen as potentially anti-President Donald Trump, a person familiar with the matter said Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

Special Counsel Robert Mueller discusses his investigation with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.  (AP)

“I would follow regulation. If there were good cause, I would act. If there was no good cause, I would not,” Rosenstein replied, doubling down that he has seen “no good cause” to do so.

He suggested the probe is being conducted appropriately at this stage.

But just hours prior to Rosenstein’s testimony, the Justice Department released hundreds of texts messages between two FBI officials—Peter Strzok and Lisa Page—who worked on Mueller’s team and were romantically involved. Many were anti-Trump and pro-Clinton.

In one exchange from August 2016, Page forwarded a Donald Trump-related article to Strzok, writing: “And maybe you’re meant to stay where you are because you’re meant to protect the country from that menace.”

TEXTS SHOW FBI AGENTS FUMING OVER TRUMP: ‘PROTECT THE COUNTRY FROM THAT MENACE’ 

He responded: “Thanks. It’s absolutely true that we’re both very fortunate. And of course I’ll try and approach it that way. I just know it will be tough at times. I can protect our country at many levels, not sure if that helps.’”

In March 2016, Page texted Strzok, “God, Trump is a loathsome human.”

“Yet he many[sic] win,” Strzok responded. “Good for Hillary.”

Later the same day, Strzok texted Page, “Omg [Trump’s] an idiot.”

“He’s awful,” Page answered.

The messages were given to the House Judiciary Committee.

“We are now beginning to understand the magnitude of this insider bias on Mueller’s team,” Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said in his opening statement on Wednesday. He cited the “extreme bias” shown in the text messages between Strzok and Page; Mueller investigator Andrew Weissmann’s “awe” of former acting Attorney General Sally Yates for defying President Trump; and Mueller investigator Jeannie Rhee’s representation of the Clinton Foundation. He also cited the case of another DOJ official demoted amid scrutiny of his contacts with the firm behind the anti-Trump dossier.

“Aren’t DOJ attorneys advised to avoid even the ‘appearance of impropriety’?” Goodlatte asked, calling the “potential bias” of certain career Justice Department officials and lawyers on Mueller’s team “deeply troubling.” “DOJ investigations must not be tainted by individuals imposing their own political prejudices.”

Rosenstein told lawmakers that he has “discussed this with Robert Mueller.”

“It’s our responsibility to make sure those opinions do not influence their actions,” Rosenstein said. “I believe Director Mueller understands that, and recognizes people have political views but that they don’t let it [affect their work.]”

Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, pushed back, calling the appearance “sad.”

“Rather than wearing stripes like a referee, the Mueller team overwhelmingly ought to be attired with Democratic donkeys or Hillary t-shirts, not shirts that say ‘Make America Great Again,’ because I think the American people deserve more than the very biased team they have under Mueller,” Chabot said. “It’s really sad.”

But Rosenstein defended Mueller’s investigation, stressing he has “oversight authority” over Mueller.

“I know what he’s doing,” Rosenstein said of Mueller’s investigative actions. “He consults with me about their investigation, within and without the scope.”

FUSION GPS ADMITS DOJ OFFICIAL’S WIFE NELLIE OHR HIRED TO PROBE TRUMP 

When pressed over whether Mueller has attempted to “expand” the original scope of his investigation, Rosenstein said that he had given his “permission” to Mueller to investigate what he requests if it was necessary, noting that the special counsel team “does have authority” to investigate “obstruction.”

“If I thought he was doing something inappropriate, I would take action,” Rosenstein said.

In terms of any potential “impropriety” in Mueller’s office, cited by multiple committee Republicans, Rosenstein said he was not aware.

“I am not aware of any impropriety. Special Counsel is subject to oversight by the Department of Justice and I’m not aware of any violations of those rules,” Rosenstein said. “Appearance is, to some extent, in the eye of the beholder. We apply the department’s rules and regulations, and career ethics attorneys provide us counsel on that.”

Rosenstein underscored that he, Mueller and FBI Director Chris Wray are “accountable” and will ensure “no bias” in the special counsel’s findings.

Brooke Singman is a Politics Reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter at @brookefoxnews.

Contains video:

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/12/13/rosenstein-stands-by-mueller-probe-as-republicans-fume-over-insider-bias.html