House GOP urges Joe Biden to reverse ‘baffling’ decision allowing Russia Nord Stream 2

House GOP urges Biden to reverse ‘baffling’ decision allowing Russia Nord Stream 2

Blinken calls waiving of sanctions an acknowledgment of pipeline as 'fait accompli'

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Tugboats get into position on the Russian pipe-laying vessel "Fortuna" in the port of Wismar, Germany, Thursday, Jan 14, 2021. The special vessel is being used for construction work on the German-Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in the Baltic … more >

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By Valerie Richardson

The Washington Times

Monday, June 7, 2021

More than 60 House Republicans on Monday urged President Biden to reconsider his “baffling” decision to clear the way for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline even as Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called the Russian energy project a “fait accompli.”

The letter signed by the GOP House leadership and headed by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, asked the administration to reverse its decision to waive sanctions and “permanently stop completion” of the Russia-to-Germany natural gas pipeline.

“The completion of Nord Stream 2, which was slowed during the Trump Administration, will be a gift to Putin and his efforts to increase geopolitical influence in Europe,” said the letter. “Waiving sanctions for Nord Stream 2 ‘because it’s almost completely finished’ is the wrong message to our allies and partners and undermines our credibility and global leadership.”

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They pointed out that Mr. Biden opted not to fight the project even though on his first day in office, he canceled the cross-border permit for the U.S.-Canada Keystone XL pipeline.

“Furthermore, given your open hostility to domestic pipelines like the Keystone XL pipeline, which also was a top priority for our Canadian allies, it is baffling that you are willing to green-light Russia‘s Nord Stream 2 pipeline,” said the letter.

“The Keystone XL pipeline would enhance our energy security and create job opportunities for Americans. Lifting these sanctions, however, prioritizes Russian energy over American energy and Russian jobs over American jobs,” the House members noted.

The 68 House Republican signers included Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, Republican Conference chair Elise Stefanik of New York, and Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana, the ranking member of the House Select Climate Committee.

@RepGarretGraves, @cathymcmorris and I led a letter w/68 house republicans, including @SteveScalise and @RepStefanik, pushing back on the Biden Admin for waiving sanctions on Nordstream 2, allowing Russia’s pipeline to go through. This is a gift to Putin. #RussiaHypocrisy https://t.co/3V8GImyyjX

— Rep. Andy Barr (@RepAndyBarr) June 7, 2021

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced last month the lifting of sanctions imposed in 2019 by President Trump, citing the Biden administration’s “commitment to energy security in Europe” and Mr. Biden’s “pledge to rebuild relationships with our allies and partners in Europe.”

At a Monday hearing, Mr. Blinken told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the completion of the Nord Stream 2 was inevitable, given that it was about 90% finished when Mr. Biden took office.

“As a practical matter, the physical completion of the pipeline was, I think, a fait accompli,” Mr. Blinken said, adding that “we have an opportunity to make something positive out of a bad hand that we inherited when we came into office.”

Blinken defends the administration’s waiver of Nord Stream 2 sanctions – calling the pipeline’s completion a ‘fait accompli’ and insisting Washington can mitigate any negative effects such as Russia using gas as leverage against Europe.

— Patricia Zengerle (@ReutersZengerle) June 7, 2021

Mr. Trump had argued that the 760-mile pipeline expansion would make Germany a “hostage of Russia,” and threatened sanctions on any firm that cooperated with Russian energy giant Gazprom.

Rep. Michael T. McCaul of Texas, ranking House Foreign Affairs Committee member, said Monday that the move would enrich Russian President Vladimir Putin and was “absolutely not in our U.S. national interests.”

The House Republicans cited the recent shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline, calling it an example of “Russians looking to undermine American energy,” and climate-unfriendly Russian natural gas, which has a “life cycle greenhouse gas emissions profile 41% higher” than U.S. liquified natural gas exported to Europe.

Republicans also played the “Russian election meddling” card, arguing that for four years, “congressional Democrats obsessed over unfounded claims of Russian influence over Trump Administration policies.”

“Democrats would have quickly called for an investigation had President Trump waived sanctions on a friend of Putin that also resulted in making American resources less competitive, increased Russian global influence, transported dirtier Russian fossil fuel to our allies in Europe, and increased global greenhouse gas emissions,” said the letter.

They said the move will result in the delivery of more Russian natural gas to Europe and place “U.S. resources at a distinct competitive disadvantage, costing American jobs and reducing America’s geopolitical influence.”

Joe Biden open to Iran talks, re-entering nuclear deal

Republicans rip Biden administration’s move to new talks with Iran

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In this Feb. 4, 2021, photo, Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the State Department in Washington. The Biden administration on Feb. 18 rescinded former president Donald Trump’s restoration of U.N. sanctions on Iran, an announcement that could help … more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Top Biden administration officials said Thursday that the U.S. would accept an invitation from the European Union to join multilateral talks with Iran, extending an olive branch that could pave the way for Washington to re-enter a landmark global nuclear deal with Tehran or craft another to take its place.

In a concrete sign of the change in Washington, U.S. diplomats Thursday announced they were repudiating an order by President Trump that all U.N. sanctions should be restored and separately announced an easing of stringent restrictions on the domestic travel of Iranian diplomats posted to the world body.

Leading Republicans quickly slammed the move and accused the Biden administration of making concessions to Iran without receiving any firm assurances that the Iranian regime is prepared to roll back its uranium-enrichment activities and come back into compliance with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which former President Trump exited in 2018.

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The State Department’s brief statement late Thursday offered little in the way of specifics, other than to make clear Washington is willing to talk.

“The United States would accept an invitation from the European Union high representative to attend a meeting of the P5+1 and Iran to discuss a diplomatic way forward on Iran’s nuclear program,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

The P5+1 refers to the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, and China — and Germany. Those nations, along with Iran, signed the JCPOA in 2015. The deal put firm limits on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for major economic sanctions relief.

Since Mr. Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 and sanctions were put back in place, Iran has ramped back up its uranium enrichment beyond the thresholds it agreed to as part of the nuclear deal.

Until Thursday’s State Department comments, neither side seemed prepared to act first. The U.S. insisted that Iran come back into full compliance with the deal, while Tehran said Washington must make the first move by lifting sanctions.

“We’ll follow ACTION w/ action,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted Thursday.
Republicans warned the administration was moving ahead without demanding action by Tehran.

“It is concerning the Biden Administration is already making concessions in an apparent attempt to re-enter the flawed Iran deal. The Trump administration created leverage for President Biden on Iran — we should not squander that progress,” said Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“We need to secure a better deal that keeps the American people safe from the full range of Iran’s malign threats,” he said. “The Biden administration must prioritize bipartisanship and stick to their assurance not to re-enter the deal until Iran comes back into full compliance with the JCPOA.”

But some Democrats praised the move. House Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, California Democrat, said in a statement that Mr. Trump’s unilateral hard line had only pushed Iran closer to getting a nuclear weapon.

“Consequently, I welcome the Biden administration’s announcement that it intends to pursue a renewed diplomatic effort, in close cooperation with our European allies,” Mr. Schiff said. “…And I hope the administration will pursue additional requirements that constrain Iran’s nuclear program for a longer time period and address its other malign activities, including its missile program and sponsorship of terror.”

Biden taps Obama nuclear deal architect as Iran envoy

Biden taps Obama nuclear deal architect as Iran envoy

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The State Department headquarters is located in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington. (Associated Press) ** FILE ** more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Friday, January 29, 2021

The Biden administration has appointed a former Obama White House Mideast adviser Robert Malley to be the State Department’s new Special Envoy for Iran policy.

Mr. Malley, who has spent recent years heading the International Crisis Group think tank, is widely credited as one of the architects of the 2015 nuclear deal that the Obama administration reached with Iran and other world powers. He will now have a central role in the Biden administration.

Speculation has swirled since Mr. Biden’s November election win that the new administration has plans to try and quickly re-enter the nuclear deal that former President Trump withdrew the U.S. from in 2018. The nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) had seen Tehran limit its nuclear activities in exchange for relief from international sanctions.

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President Trump disparaged the JCPOA for failing to address other matters such as Tehran’s ballistic missile program that violates U.N. Security Council resolutions and the Iranian government’s support for destabilizing militants in various nations around the Middle East.

After pulling out of the deal, the Trump administration unilaterally re-imposed U.S. sanctions on Iran. In response to the re-imposed sanctions, the Iranian government resumed high-level nuclear enrichment activities.

Newly-confirmed Secretary of State Antony Blinken made headlines this week by saying Iran must act first if it wants to salvage the deal, suggesting the Biden administration will not ease sanctions until Tehran has halted uranium enrichment activities that violate the Obama-era accord.

Talking with reporters on his first full day on the job Wednesday, Mr. Blinken stopped short of laying out explicit preconditions for talks with the Iranian, saying that the Biden administration will reciprocate only “if Iran comes back into full compliance.”

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement Friday that Mr. Blinken is now “building a dedicated team, drawing from clear-eyed experts with a diversity of views” for the Iran policy.

“Leading that team as our Special Envoy for Iran will be Rob Malley, who brings to the position a track record of success negotiating constraints on Iran’s nuclear program,” Mr. Price said.

Donald Trump a ‘flight risk’ if criminal charges filed, experts say

Trump a ‘flight risk’ if criminal charges filed: ‘He’s got money, he’s got property’

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By Jeff Mordock

The Washington Times

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

President Trump potentially faces a torrent of criminal charges when he leaves office, including charges linked to the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, making prosecutors worry that he is a flight risk.

Mr. Trump’s real estate empire extends to multiple luxury properties in countries that don’t have extradition treaties with the United States. And Mr. Trump himself publicly mused in October that he’d leave the country if he lost to Democrat Joseph R. Biden.

Douglas McNabb, a private attorney with expertise in international extradition defense, said that if criminal charges are brought, Mr. Trump fits the bill for becoming a fugitive from justice.

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“He’s got money. He’s got property. He’s got access,” Mr. McNabb said. “The government would argue that he’s a flight risk.”

The White House did not respond to requests for comment.

If charged, Mr. Trump could flee to any number of properties he owns around the world. He owns a luxury hotel and tower in the United Arab Emirates and an unfinished hotel project in Azerbaijan, two countries that don’t have extradition treaties with the United States.

But Mr. Trump may also be protected if he goes to his country club in Scotland or his resort in Ireland. Extradition is a notoriously difficult process even when countries have a solid agreement.

“He’s not going back to New York and he is not going to enjoy the comfort at Mar-a-Lago he would have in the pre-Capitol-ransacking world,” said retired Brig. Gen. Peter Zwack, a former Army intelligence officer. “I’ll bet the feasibility of fleeing has come up because, in my mind, it is the only way to avoid instant accountability and reckoning.”

While several world leaders have fled to other countries, usually in the wake of the coups or revolutions that overthrew them, no U.S. president has ever taken flight to escape the law.

Claire Finkelstein, director of the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, said the prospect of a former president on the lam is “extremely embarrassing.”

“It would make us look like a Middle Eastern dictatorship. But the whole thing is embarrassing. The insurrection at the Capitol is deeply embarrassing,” she said.

The president was already facing a legal onslaught from prosecutors in New York. Both the New York Attorney General and Manhattan District Attorney are probing a myriad of accusations, including possible charges related to Mr. Trump’s financial dealings and hush money paid to two women with whom he reportedly had sexual relations.

Those investigations predate last week’s riot at the Capitol, which began after the president told supporters at a rally to march on Congress.

Karl Racine, the attorney general for the District of Columbia, said he’s looking at a charge of inciting violence, against anyone who spoke at the rally.

Washington’s U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin pointedly refused to rule out charging Mr. Trump in connection to the riot. He said “anyone who had a role” could face criminal liability.

If he left for Scotland, Mr. Trump would be subject to one of the strongest extradition treaties in the world. That U.S.-U.K. agreement nevertheless has loopholes and is not immune from political considerations.

A British judge this month refused to extradite WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States, despite finding legal merit in the U.S. government’s claims, ruling that his mental health problems would create a suicide risk if he were turned over.

The United Kingdom last year also refused to extradite two Islamic State terrorists who killed aid workers in Syria unless the U.S. dropped plans to execute them.

“It would be a very complicated thing to get a country to turn Donald Trump over to U.S. authorities,” Ms. Finkelstein said. “It is really extraordinary that Julian Assange is sitting in the U.K. and we couldn’t get him on an extradition agreement.”

Once overseas, Mr. Trump would have an array of legal protections he could raise to block extradition.

One rarely used defense that could apply to a former president is the political offense exception.

Under the political offense exception, an exiled world leader can claim his alleged crimes were in the context of a political struggle and should not be treated like ordinary crimes.

Mr. McNabb said the potential charges in Washington may be avoided under that exemption.

“The exception is often raised by politicos, but they don’t fall within it,” he said. “President Trump could fall within because to qualify, an individual has to show there was an immediate physical riot or uprising and their charges arise out of that uprising.”

To raise that exception, however, Mr. Trump would be forced to acknowledge he played a role in the uprising.

The president could also seek political asylum, arguing that he would be a political prisoner if he returned to the U.S.

It would be up to the country whether or not to grant asylum. Some countries could reject the request fearing alienating themselves from the Biden administration, while other countries might enjoy the opportunity to thumb their nose at the U.S.

“This is a guy that will fashion himself as the exile-in-chief,” Mr. Zwack said. “I don’t think a lot of countries are going to want to take the heat for that unless it is a true adversary.”

As an ex-president, Mr. Trump is entitled to Secret Service protection. While federal law would bar agents from leaving the country with him if he fled to escape justice, agents could accompany him if he legally visited another country.

If an arrest warrant or criminal charges are issued while he’s overseas, the foreign country’s law enforcement would be required to carry out the arrest. Under that scenario, the Secret Service would be required to stand down.

“The Secret Service would have to step back, but it would be an interesting situation,” Mr. McNabb said. “If they continued to protect President Trump that would make them part of a conspiracy to prevent a criminal defendant from returning to the United States.”

Trump wishes French President Emmanuel Macron a speedy recovery from COVID-19

Trump wishes Macron a speedy recovery from COVID-19

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French President Emmanuel Macron is seen on a screen as he attends by video conference a round table for the National Humanitarian Conference (NHC), taken at the Foreign Ministry in Paris,Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020. French President Emmanuel Macron tested positive … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Friday, December 18, 2020

President Trump wished Emmanuel Macron a speedy recovery from COVID-19 in a phone call with the French president, the White House said Friday.

Mr. Trump spoke to Mr. Macron on Thursday after the 42-year-old’s diagnosis was announced.

The French leader went into a seven-day quarantine and is feeling symptoms such as headaches, fatigue and a dry cough. Mr. Macron said he is working “a bit more slowly” but is still plugging away at issues such as the pandemic and Brexit.

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“President Trump wished President Macron a speedy recovery and quick return to his full duties,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere said. “President Trump also extended his best wishes for a Merry Christmas to President Macron, his family, and the people of France.”

National Defense Authorization Act presses Pentagon on substandard military housing

National Defense Authorization Act presses Pentagon on substandard military housing

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“I will continue to fight on behalf of our military families so that they no longer feel powerless when rightfully demanding a healthy housing environment for their children,” Sen. Mark Warner said. (ASSOCIATED PRESS) more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Aggressive and ambitious rivals such as China and Russia aren’t the only threats the U.S. military is dealing with these days.

Judging from the pending National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the Pentagon’s own budget requests, U.S. military leaders next year appear poised to take aim at a wave of cases across the country where military families have been forced to live in government-owned homes that were squalid and mold-encrusted.

In the sprawling NDAA bill, which passed Congress despite a still-looming veto threat from President Trump, lawmakers took a number of steps to press the Pentagon to deal with the substandard housing problem, one that has become a PR black eye for the military.

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Among the provisions: a repeal of regulations allowing the Department of Defense to place families in substandard housing units and a mandate to update minimum health and safety standards for all military base housing.

The government established the Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MPHI) in 1996, ostensibly to improve the quality of life for service members by allowing private companies to run on-base housing. But the annual NDAA underscores the perception that major problems persist.

Advocates with the Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN) said they were encouraged that Congress has turned its attention to the question of family housing for service members and the impact the issue can have on morale in the ranks.

The bill “recognizes the need to ensure all government-owned and government-controlled military housing, like barracks and housing for those stationed overseas, also meet proper standards,” said MFAN Executive Director Shannon Razsadin. “A healthy place to live is a basic need, and the latest provisions related to housing recognize that service members and their families should feel confident that their military housing meets standards of comfort, safety and habitability”

Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia praised the housing provisions in the NDAA, saying it was important keep the pressure on privatized military housing companies by implementing additional accountability measures.

“I will continue to fight on behalf of our military families so that they no longer feel powerless when rightfully demanding a healthy housing environment for their children,” Mr. Warner said.

The bill requires the secretary of defense to implement military housing reforms outlined in a recent report from the Pentagon’s inspector general, and also mandates that the IG conduct an audit of medical conditions of service members and their families who have stationed in unsafe or unhealthy privatized housing units.

The FY 2021 NDAA also includes a 3% increase in base pay for troops, an increase in military hazardous duty pay — from $250 to $275 per month — and $8.4 billion for new military construction projects.

The bill directs the secretary of Defense to set up a working group to create best practices for mold mitigation in privatized military family housing. It also requires the Pentagon to disclose the methods used to determine how the private housing companies receive incentive fees from the government.

Jim Moriarty, a Vietnam veteran and Texas-based lawyer representing several military families in lawsuits against the housing companies, said he wasn’t the Pentagon’s spending plans would address more fundamental issues on housing and oversight. The budget also authorizes an additional $60 million for “oversight and improvement” of the privatized housing initiative and to continue addressing environmental and maintenance issues in government-owned family housing.

“It’s absolutely throwing good money after bad. Money isn’t going to cure the problem,” Mr. Moriarty said. “The problem is leadership and rules and requiring the leaders to follow the rules.”

Unlike civilians, military families are not able to withhold rent if the housing conditions are substandard or otherwise unhealthy, he said.

“If you give [tenants] the ability to cut off the rent, something will change and it will change very quickly,” Mr. Moriarty said. “These people should have the same rights that every other citizen in our country has, to hold their landlord accountable. Nobody is holding these companies accountable.”

The House and Senate both passed the compromise version of the NDAA with veto-proof majorities last week. President Trump insists he will veto the bill, citing provisions that would rename U.S. military bases named for Confederate figures and the failure of lawmakers to include an unrelated provision stripping legal protections for social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter.

Louisiana governor: Time for people to acknowledge Biden win

Louisiana governor: Time for people to acknowledge Biden win

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President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting about the coronavirus with Gov. John Bel Edwards, D-La., in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, April 29, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By MELINDA DESLATTE

Associated Press

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday “it’s well past time” for people to accept President-elect Joe Biden‘s victory, even as most Republican members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation refuse to acknowledge the impending change at the White House.

Louisiana’s Democratic governor said Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry’s support of a Texas lawsuit seeking to overturn Biden‘s election win and throw out millions of votes was “unfortunate.” The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit last week.

“I’m a lawyer. I know our courts exist to resolve disputes, but the dispute needs to be real,” Edwards said on his monthly radio call-in show, in his first detailed comments about the election’s outcome.

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“If there were real evidence of the kind of voter fraud that has been alleged on a scale to make a difference in the outcome … you would think that in all the weeks since Nov. 3 that they would have been able to produce some evidence of that,” he said. “Really, they haven’t produced any.”

Edwards, who has avoided criticizing President Donald Trump, noted that multiple state and federal courts around the country have dismissed lawsuits trying to reverse Trump’s loss to Biden.

Still, while Edwards said individuals should accept the election’s outcome, only one of the seven Republican members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation has acknowledged Biden‘s victory.

In a tweet posted on Nov. 23, U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy said: “President Trump’s legal team has not presented evidence of the massive fraud which would have had to be present to overturn the election. I voted for President Trump but Joe Biden won.”

Even Biden‘s decisive victory in Monday’s Electoral College vote hasn’t prompted acknowledgment from Louisiana’s GOP congressional members. A spokesperson for U.S. Sen. John Kennedy said Wednesday the senator “is continuing to watch the legal and constitutional processes, which are ongoing.”

U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins issued a statement disputing Biden‘s legitimacy as president-elect.

Joe Biden may indeed be inaugurated on January 20th, 2021. In my studied opinion, it would be an unjust inauguration, the product of a compromised presidential election. A somber day for our republic,” Higgins said.

The offices of Republican U.S. Reps. Steve Scalise, Mike Johnson, Ralph Abraham and Garret Graves didn’t respond to requests for comment from the Associated Press about whether the congressmen accept the election results and Biden‘s upcoming inauguration.

“A democracy is best served when the loser acknowledges defeat, gracefully exits and works to make sure there’s a smooth transition,” Edwards said.

He never mentioned Trump directly in his comments Wednesday.

While he’s acknowledged voting for Biden, Edwards – Louisiana’s only Democratic statewide elected official – didn’t wade into presidential campaign politics publicly ahead of the election. He said Wednesday that he doesn’t intend to travel to Washington for the January inauguration.

Edwards has maintained a working relationship with Trump and sidestepped any complaints about the Republican president’s tenure in office. Trump and members of his administration have regularly praised Edwards’ handling of the coronavirus pandemic, even though Trump campaigned unsuccessfully to oust Edwards from office in Louisiana’s 2019 gubernatorial election.

___

Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.

DOJ official defends foreign-lobbying prosecution record from conservative critics

DOJ official defends foreign-lobbying prosecution record from conservative critics

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The American flag flies outside of the Justice Department building, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) more >

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By Jeff Mordock

The Washington Times

Friday, December 4, 2020

A top Justice Department official on Friday said foreign lobbying violations were rarely prosecuted because of the challenges to gathering evidence in those cases.

Conservatives have long griped that the Justice Department had ignored violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, until special counsel Robert Mueller began wielding it as a tool against Trump associates in his Russia collusion investigation.

Mr. Mueller in 2017 brought seven FARA cases against key Trump confidants Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, and Michael Flynn.

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That is as many prosecutions as the Justice Department brought between 1966 and 2017, leading President Trump and his supporters to cry foul over the long-dormant law’s revival.

Some conservatives accused the department of engaging in selective prosecution by using the obscure law to target Trump allies.

Deputy Assistant Attorney General for National Security Adam Hickey acknowledged the criticism Friday but also disputed it.

The defense of the department’s use of FARA in the Mueller probe comes more than a year after the investigation ended and nearly two years after conservative criticism had died down.

Mr. Hickey said the Justice Department lacked a strategy for prosecuting FARA violations and was hampered by its inability to gather evidence.

“It is not that we were declining FARA prosecutions; the problem was that we were not gathering the evidence that would prove up such a violation,” he said. “In too many cases, the FARA Unit took ‘no’ for an answer, perhaps because it felt like it had no choice but to accept a conclusory response to its questions.”

In his remarks before the American Conference Institute’s National Forum on FARA, Mr. Hickey credited the Mueller team with helping the Justice Department craft a FARA strategy. He noted that by 2014, FARA registrations declined by 60 percent from their peak in the late 1980s.

“The special counsel’s office undeniably helped reverse that decline by highlighting FARA’s relevance to modern challenges of covert foreign influence and injecting adrenaline into the department’s enforcement efforts,” he said.

Still, Mr. Hickey acknowledged that President Trump‘s supporters see a double standard when it comes to FARA prosecutions.

“By taking a more aggressive approach in our administrative inquiries, we ferreted out failures to register and false registrations that ultimately led to criminal prosecutions by the Special Counsel. Sometimes those prosecutions were criticized, coming as they did after decades in which few other criminal FARA cases were brought, and sometimes in cases where the defendants did belatedly register.”

“I think the evidentiary record makes clear why we have chosen to prosecute the individuals we have,” Mr. Hickey said, pointing to the convictions and guilty pleas by the Trump associates ensnared in FARA probes without specifically naming anyone.

US provides missiles, renews pledge to defend Philippines

US provides missiles, renews pledge to defend Philippines

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U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien speaks during the turnover ceremony of defense articles at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Pasay City, Philippines Monday, Nov. 23, 2020. (Eloisa Lopez/Pool Photo via AP) more >

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By JIM GOMEZ

Associated Press

Monday, November 23, 2020

MANILA, Philippines (AP) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration provided precision-guided missiles and other weapons to help the Philippines battle Islamic State group-aligned militants and renewed a pledge to defend its treaty ally if it comes under attack in the disputed South China Sea.

National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien represented Trump in Monday’s ceremony at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila, where he announced the delivery of the missiles and bombs to the Philippine military. Trump pledged to provide the $18 million worth of missiles in a phone conversation with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in April, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said.

O’Brien expressed condolences to the Philippines after back-to-back typhoons left a trail of death and devastation in the country and outlined U.S. help to the country to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

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The U.S. assistance projects normalcy in Washington’s foreign relations as Trump works to challenge the results of the Nov. 3 presidential election, claiming he was a victim of fraud. Duterte had asked Filipino Americans to vote for Trump but congratulated Joe Biden, through his spokesperson, for winning the election.

Asked in an online news briefing if any of the officials he met in Vietnam and the Philippines voiced concern about the post-election situation in the U.S., O’Brien said nobody did. “There will be a transition if the courts don’t rule in President Trump’s favor,” he said.

O’Brien represented Trump in a recent online summit between the U.S. and leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and an expanded East Asia summit of heads of state attended by China and Russia that was also held by video and hosted by Vietnam.

In his remarks at the turnover of the U.S. missiles in Manila, O’Brien cited the Trump administration’s role in the defeat of the Islamic State group in the Middle East and last year’s killing of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in Syria, and renewed its commitment to help defeat IS-linked militants in the southern Philippines.

“President Trump is standing with President Duterte as we combat ISIS here in Southeast Asia,” O’Brien said. “This transfer underscores our strong and enduring commitment to our critical alliance.”

He expressed hope for the continuance of a key security agreement that allows American forces to train in large-scale combat exercises in the Philippines. Duterte moved to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement with the U.S. early this year but later delayed the effectivity of his decision to next year, a move welcomed by O’Brien.

He said the U.S. stands with the Philippines in its effort to protect its sovereign rights in the South China Sea. The Philippines announced last month that it would resume oil and gas explorations in or near Reed Bank, which lies off the country’s western coast and is also claimed by China.

“They belong to the Philippine people. They don’t belong to some other country that just because they may be bigger than the Philippines they can come take away and convert the resources of the Philippine people. That’s just wrong,” O’Brien said.

He repeated U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement early this year that “any armed attack on Philippine forces aircraft or public vessels in the South China Sea will trigger our mutual defense obligations.” The allies have a 69-year-old mutual defense treaty.

In July, Pompeo escalated the Trump administration’s attacks against China by declaring that Washington regards virtually all Chinese maritime claims in the disputed waterway as illegitimate. China reacted angrily by accusing the U.S. of sowing discord between Beijing and neighboring Asian states.

Joe Biden faces delicate dilemma in Afghanistan War handoff

Biden faces delicate dilemma in Afghanistan War handoff

Talks just getting started as the troops are coming home

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Afghan security police stand guard at the entrance gate of Kabul University after a deadly attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. The brazen attack by gunmen who stormed the university has left many dead and wounded in the … more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Presumptive President-elect Joseph R. Biden is facing pressure from all sides in the war in Afghanistan, with Taliban leaders urging him to continue a rapid drawdown of American troops while the U.S.-backed government in Kabul is pleading for a cautious approach and a rock-solid commitment to counterterrorism.

Perhaps no other foreign policy challenge will prove trickier for Mr. Biden to finesse in his first days in office than Afghanistan, as violence escalates on the ground, power-sharing talks midwifed by the Trump administration have barely started, and a U.S. troop withdrawal is gaining momentum.

It seems certain that Mr. Biden’s big-picture, long-term approach to the country — home to the longest war in American history and still a hotbed of Islamic extremism — will in many ways mirror that of President Trump, with the former vice president repeatedly pledging to wind down the “forever wars” that have consumed the U.S. military in the post-9/11 era. Analysts say it’s clear that Mr. Biden’s position has been heavily influenced by Mr. Trump’s largely successful effort to reframe the debate around U.S. involvement in Afghanistan — now nearing its 20th year — and a clear desire among the American public to see the troops finally come home.

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But those same analysts say it’s unlikely that Mr. Biden will simply follow Mr. Trump’s playbook to the letter. Mr. Biden has indicated that he is willing to station as many as 2,000 troops in the Middle East and retain a small number in Afghanistan, a move that would require changes to the landmark U.S.-Taliban peace pact struck in February.

That agreement calls for all American forces to leave the country by next summer in exchange for security and political guarantees from the Taliban. The insurgent group this week publicly pressed Mr. Biden to stick to the agreement and quickly move out the remaining 4,500 American troops, while the Kabul government is urging Washington to revisit aspects of the deal and avoid premature withdrawals.

Many predict Mr. Biden’s foreign policy team will continue diplomatic engagement with the Taliban but abandon Mr. Trump’s expedited withdrawal timeline, instead adopting a strict conditions-based approach favored by many Pentagon leaders. A Biden administration is also likely to work more closely with the Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani, which was largely sidelined in the early stages of negotiation between Washington and the Taliban.

Biden will likely continue the ‘counterterrorism-plus’ strategy which would see 1,500 to 2,000 troops remain in the country,” said former Defense Department official Michael Rubin, now a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “The biggest difference between Biden and Trump would be that Biden’s negotiators … would be far less likely than [those of the Trump administration] to cut out the Afghanistan government from key negotiations.”

In addition to the U.S. troop drawdowns, the deal also called for direct talks between the Taliban and Afghan government, which are ongoing in Qatar. It also required the Taliban to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorist groups.

But even with the talks underway, new Pentagon assessments have warned that al Qaeda and Islamic State fighters remain active in remote areas of the country near the Pakistan border. As Mr. Biden seeks to bring troops home, he has made clear that terrorism remains a major concern.

“These ‘forever wars’ have to end. I support drawing down the troops,” Mr. Biden told Stars and Stripes in September. “But here’s the problem: We still have to worry about terrorism.”

Growing pressure

Meanwhile, both sides of the Afghanistan conflict are angling for influence as the Biden transition team prepares for power. In a statement this week, Mr. Ghani congratulated Mr. Biden on his apparent election victory but made clear what he expects of his new partner.

Afghanistan looks forward to continuing and deepening our multilayered strategic partnership with the U.S. — our foundational partner — including in counterterrorism and bringing peace to Afghanistan,” he said.

Other Afghan officials were much more aggressive in their comments, calling on Mr. Biden to ditch Mr. Trump’s approach.

“We hope that Biden does not follow in the footsteps of Trump, who has discredited the U.S. and committed a betrayal both to the U.S. and Afghanistan through the deal with the Taliban,” Hamidullah Tokhi, a lawmaker from Afghanistan’s Zabul province, told Arab News this week. “Biden needs to think about U.S. and Afghanistani honor. He can pull the troops out, but not in a hasty manner. First, he needs to reconcile the two sides.”

Meanwhile, military clashes between the Taliban and Afghan security forces continue. The bloody battles have led the U.S. in recent weeks to step up its own bombing campaign against Taliban targets to keep them from capturing key strategic territory in Helmand province and elsewhere.

U.S. officials also have warned recently that the Taliban’s continued violence could undermine the very foundation of the peace deal.

Taliban leaders are brushing off those warnings. In its own statement this week, the insurgent group pressed Mr. Biden to continue along the path set out by Mr. Trump.

“The Islamic Emirate would like to stress to the new American president-elect and future administration that implementation of the agreement is the most reasonable and effective tool for ending the conflict between both our countries,” the Taliban said. “Withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan, noninterference in our country and not allowing the use of Afghanistan to threaten America are in the interest of both our peoples and our nations.”

About 12,000 U.S. troops were in Afghanistan when the peace deal was signed in February. That number has steadily dropped and now stands at about 4,500.

Administration officials have said it will be down to 2,500 by early next year. Those figures offer a reminder of how dramatically America’s footprint in Afghanistan has changed over the past 10 years.

A decade ago, Mr. Biden and then-President Obama — reluctantly — presided over a massive surge of U.S. forces to Afghanistan, with the number ultimately topping 100,000 in 2010. It was down to about 8,400 when the two men left office in January 2017.

Now, Mr. Biden’s official campaign platform stresses that Washington can no longer stay “entrenched in unwinnable conflicts” in chaotic corners of the world, and promises that the former vice president will bring home “the vast majority” of U.S. troops from the Middle East.

Some analysts say such comments — and Mr. Biden’s use of Trump-esque terms such as “forever wars” — are evidence of just how significantly Mr. Trump’s “America First” policy has reshaped foreign affairs conversations and dictated the options for those who come after him.

“One of the many ironies in President Trump’s legacy is that while he was further to the left on key aspects of foreign policy and international trade than President Obama, the political left gave him no credit for it,” said J.D. Gordon, a former Trump campaign national security adviser and Pentagon spokesman.

Newly released text messages show Joe Biden had involvement in son Hunter’s business dealings

Texts from Hunter Biden’s business partner show Joe Biden involved in China deal talks

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Tony Bobulinski, center seated, who says he is a former associate of Hunter Biden, waits for the start of the second and final presidential debate Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) more >

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By Rowan Scarborough

The Washington Times

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Hunter Biden’s former business partner is releasing a trove of text messages that show that former Vice President Joseph Biden was brought into discussions on his son’s China business ventures.

The texts from whistleblower Tony Bobulinski show Hunter talked of the “family brand” when discussing investments. Another partner warned Mr. Bobulinski “don’t mention Joe being involved. It’s only when u are face to face.”

Mr. Bobulinski suddenly emerged in the Hunter Biden financial scandal on Wednesday when he issued a statement saying he met with Mr. Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate, to discuss Hunter’s business ventures.

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This adds to evidence casting doubt on Mr. Biden’s categorical statement that he has never discussed Hunter’s foreign businesses. They include being on the payrolls of Russian and Ukraine oligarchs and doing deals with wealthy Chinese close to the communist party and military.

The Hunter Biden scandal erupted earlier this month when Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s attorney, began releasing emails and texts from Hunter Biden’s discarded MacBook Pro laptop. The messages show that an executive of Burisma Group, a Ukraine energy firm for which Hunter sat on the board of directors, thanked Hunter for setting up a meeting with the vice president in 2015.

Also, Devon Archer, Hunter’s principal business partner, arranged for a delegation in 2011 of top Chinese business leaders and communist party members to visit the Obama White House and meet with Mr. Biden, according to emails reported by Breitbart.

The Bobulinski texts, first reported by Fox News, show that Hunter Biden went on a tirade in a June 2017 message to partner James Gilliar with complaints about Mr. Bobulinski.

“Explain to me one thing Tony brings to MY table that I so desperately need that I’m willing to sign over my family’s brand and pretty much the rest of my business life,” Hunter Biden says. “Why in gods name would I give this marginal bully the keys my family’s only asset? Why?”

The “only asset” appears to be a reference to the Biden name, or Joseph Biden himself.

Mr. Bobulinski entered into partnership as CEO of Sinohawk Holdings with Hunter Biden and a Chinese billionaire, Ye Jianming, then chairman of CEFC or China Energy Co.

Two Republicans, Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa issued a Step. 23 report outlining Hunter’s deep financial ties to Mr. Ye.

The report detailed million-dollar payments based on committee-acquired Treasury Department suspicious activity reports (SARS).

Mr. Bobulinski said the Senate report opened his eyes to the fact Hunter was secretly withdrawing huge sums of money from the partnership.

“I just saw behind the Biden curtain and I grew concerned with what I saw,” he said. “The Biden family aggressively leveraged the Biden family name to make millions of dollars from foreign entities even though some were from communist controlled China.”

Hunter Biden left his computer at a Wilmington, Del., repair shop in April 2019. With the computer abandoned, the shop owner became alarmed by its contents and notified the FBI, which took possession. He also provided a hard drive copy to Mr. Giuliani.

One email showed Hunter Biden demanding $10 million annually from Mr. Ye for “introductions alone.”

Another was a May 2017 email from Mr. Gilliar to Hunter Biden and Mr. Bobulinski on a new venture with Mr. Ye in which 10 percent stake would be “held by H for the big guy?”

Mr. Bobulinski says the “big guy” is the former vice president.

The FBI interviewed Mr. Bobulinski on Friday.

Joseph Biden said at Thursday night’s debate with President Trump that Hunter has taken no money from China–––an assertion disproven by the Senate report.

The campaign says there are no Chinese proceeds on his tax returns.

A business partner informed Mr. Bobulinski that Hunter referred to his dad as “the chairman.”

Mr. Bobulinski wrote to Mr. Gilliar, “U need to stress to H, does he want to be the reason or factor that blows up his dad’s campaign, things need to be done right and protective of that fact.”

Nebraska Sen. Sasse rips Trump over COVID-19, foreign policy

Nebraska Sen. Sasse rips Trump over COVID-19, foreign policy

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Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., speaks during the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Ken Cedeno/Pool via AP) more >

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By

Associated Press

Thursday, October 15, 2020

WASHINGTON (AP) – Republican U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse told Nebraska constituents in a telephone town hall meeting that President Donald Trump has “flirted with white supremacists,” mocks Christian evangelicals in private, and “kisses dictators’ butts.”

Sasse, who is running for a second term representing the reliably red state, made the comments in response to a question about why he has been willing to publicly criticize a president of his own party. He also criticized Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and said Trump’s family has treated the presidency “like a business opportunity.”

The comments were first reported by the Washington Examiner after it obtained an audio recording of the senator’s comments, which has been posted on YouTube. Sasse spokesman James Wegmann said the call occurred Wednesday.

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Two other Nebraska Republicans, U.S. Rep. Dan Bacon and state GOP executive director Ryan Hamilton, told the Omaha World-Herald that they disagree with Sasse’s characterizations of the president.

“Senator Sasse is entitled to his own opinion,” U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith, another Nebraska Republican, said in a statement. “I appreciate what President Trump has accomplished for our country and will continue to work with him on efforts which help Nebraska.”

Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh declined to comment on Sasse’s comments, the World-Herald said.

Sasse has positioned himself as a conservative willing to criticize Trump, and he is seen as a potential presidential candidate for 2024. His comments Wednesday were in response to a caller who asked about his relationship with the president, adding, “Why do you have to criticize him so much?” Trump carried Nebraska by 25 percentage points in 2016.

The senator said he has worked hard to have a good relationship with Trump and prays for the president regularly “at the breakfast table in our house.” He praised Trump’s judicial appointments.

But he said he’s had disagreements with Trump that do not involve “mere policy issues,” adding, “I’m not at all apologetic for having fought for my values against his in places where I think his are deficient, not just for a Republican, but for an American.”

Sasse began his list with, “The way he kisses dictators’ butts,” and said Trump “hasn’t lifted a finger” on behalf of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

“I mean, he and I have a very different foreign policy,” Sasse said. “It isn’t just that he fails to lead our allies. It’s that we – the United States – regularly sells out our allies under his leadership.”

Sasse said he criticizes Trump for how he treats women and because Trump “spends like a drunken sailor,” saying he criticized Democratic President Barack Obama over spending.

“He mocks evangelicals behind closed doors,” Sasse said. “At the beginning of the COVID crisis, he refused to treat it seriously. For months, he treated it like a news cycle-by-news cycle PR crisis rather than a multi-year public health challenge, which is what it is.”

Trump tweet about Christmas troop withdrawal sows confusion on timetable in Afghanistan

Trump tweet about Christmas troop withdrawal sows confusion on timetable in Afghanistan

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President Trump announced that all troops in Afghanistan would be home by Christmas on Twitter on Wednesday. Pentagon officials had no comment on Thursday about the accelerated timeline. (Associated Press) more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Thursday, October 8, 2020

President Trump announced via Twitter a sharply accelerated schedule for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from the 19-year conflict in Afghanistan by Christmas, even as peace talks with the Taliban have barely gotten off the ground and Pentagon officials scrambled in the face of the surprise new timeline.

Mr. Trump has made no secret of his desire to end the U.S. mission in the “endless” conflict in Afghanistan, and a deal with the Taliban early this year outlined a schedule for a string of drawdowns leading to a full pullout by mid-2021.

The schedule was also supposed to be conditioned on a reduction in violence by the Taliban against the U.S.-backed government and a promise by the insurgents not to work with terror groups such as al Qaeda and Islamic State.

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But Mr. Trump announced on Twitter on Wednesday night that “we should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas.”

The announcement came as Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper was out of the country, much of the top brass at the Pentagon was quarantining after possible exposure to COVID-19, and the power-sharing talks between the warring Afghan factions were just getting underway.

Pentagon officials had no comment Thursday about the Christmas deadline, referring all questions to the White House. A top Pentagon official for the region told a House hearing three weeks ago that the U.S. would still have as many as 5,000 troops in Afghanistan at the end of November, with further reductions dictated by conditions on the ground.

A Taliban spokesman, however, immediately welcomed Mr. Trump’s tweet and called it a positive step toward reaching a peace deal.

The Taliban “is also committed to the contents of the agreement and hopes for good and positive relations with all countries, including the U.S., in the future,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.

Private analysts were uncertain how seriously to take Mr. Trump’s revelation.

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said the president’s message shows that a deal hammered out between the Taliban and the U.S. is more about securing an American military withdrawal rather than a lasting peace or the security of the U.S.-allied government of President Ashraf Ghani.

“U.S. credibility with allies everywhere and (counter-terrorism) efforts are being sacrificed for a timetable driven by politics, not conditions on the ground,” Mr. Haass said in his own Twitter statement.

But James Carafano, a security analyst with The Heritage Foundation and retired Army officer, said all sides needed to calm down and not take Mr. Trump’s missive as a shift in American policy.

“The president often tweets, ‘This is what I would like to happen,’” Mr. Carafano said Thursday. “Rather than trying to interpret the president’s tweets like they’re goat bones in a mud hut, we should wait and see what policies actually unfold on the ground.”

When the president said American troops “should” be out of Afghanistan by Christmas, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s repudiating the policy of his own administration, Mr. Carafano said. The same day Mr. Trump released the tweet, his national security adviser, Robert C. O’Brien, was telling an audience in Las Vegas that the U.S. troop levels will be cut to 2,500 early next year.

That’s still a major step toward fulfilling Mr. Trump’s campaign promise — there were more than 13,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan at the start of 2020.

“He also wants to get the troops out of Syria. We’re four years into it and they’re all still there,” Mr. Carafano said. “This administration reduces forces based on the facts on the ground as opposed to a calendar.”

But Mr. Trump’s obvious desire to pull American forces out could undercut U.S. security interests, said Bradley Bowman, an Afghanistan War veteran who now heads up the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

American and allied troops, working with Afghan security forces, are preventing the country from becoming another launch pad for terrorist attacks against the U.S., Mr. Bowman said, as happened with the Sept. 11 attacks.

“If we relieve pressure on terrorists there, they will have the time and space to plot and launch attacks against us,” he said.

He said Mr. Trump risks repeating the mistake of President Obama in agreeing to pull U.S. forces out of Iraq prematurely in 2011, a move critics say created the security vacuum that gave rise to the Islamic State.

“President Trump is about to make a similar mistake in Afghanistan and American national security will be among the leading victims,” Mr. Bowman said.

Russia, Israel, France send wishes of support to Donald Trump, first lady after COVID-19 diagnoses

Russia, Israel, France send wishes of support to Trump, first lady after COVID-19 diagnoses

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President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump walk to board Air Force One to travel to the first presidential debate in Cleveland, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, in Andrews Air Force Base, Md. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) more >

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By Lauren Toms

The Washington Times

Friday, October 2, 2020

President Trump and first lady Melania Trump have received an outpouring of well-wishes from world leaders after they announced overnight that both had tested positive for COVID-19.

Mr. Trump tweeted the diagnosis around midnight local time after learning that Hope Hicks, a senior presidential aide, contracted the novel coronavirus earlier in the week.

While speculation mounts about the impact the diagnosis will have on the Trump administration, the White House has said that the Trumps have entered isolation and the president is in the “recovery process.”

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Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has kept a close bubble during the coronavirus pandemic in an effort to reduce the chance of infection, was among the first to send his well-wishes to the president.

“I am certain that your inherent vitality, good spirits and optimism will help you cope with this dangerous virus,” Mr. Putin said in a telegram to Mr. Trump, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.

“My wife Sarah and I are sending our friends President Trump and his first wife, Melania Trump, our best wishes for a speedy and complete recovery,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted Friday.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, “Wishing my friend @POTUS @realDonaldTrump and @FLOTUS a quick recovery and good health.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this year and was hospitalized due to complications from the virus, said, “My best wishes to President Trump and the First Lady. Hope they both have a speedy recovery from coronavirus.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping has been quiet on the matter since Mr. Trump announced the test results. However, the editor-in-chief of China’s Global Times newspaper, which is known as a mouthpiece for the Chinese government, offered a more somber message to the president and said Mr. Trump has “paid the price for his gamble to play down the COVID-19.”

“The news shows the severity of the US’ pandemic situation,” Hu Xijin tweeted. “It will impose a negative impact on the image of Trump and the US, and may also negatively affect his reelection.”

A spokesperson for French President Emmanuel Macron also highlighted Mr. Trump’s prior resistance to acknowledge the severity of the virus and told French media, “This demonstrates that the virus spares no one, including those who have shown skepticism. I wish him a swift recovery.”

Confederate military base name change prompts sharp Trump veto threat

Confederate military base name change prompts sharp Trump veto threat

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In this Jan. 4, 2020, file photo a sign for at Fort Bragg, N.C., is shown. A warrant officer stationed at Ft. Bragg was convicted in a civilian court of sexual abuse of a minor, but must be additionally convicted … more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

President Trump on Tuesday issued a blistering threat to veto the House’s version of the massive 2021 defense policy bill if it contains language that would rename military bases that honor Confederate leaders.

The veto threat, which also attacked provisions to curb the president’s plans to reduce troops in Afghanistan and Germany, came as lawmakers in both the House and Senate moved toward approving their separate versions of the $740.5 billion National Defense Authorization Act, which sets policy and spending standards for the coming year.

On a 295-125 vote, the Democratic-controlled House on Tuesday evening approved its version of the NDAA, which includes a provision that would mandate the names of 12 military bases that are named for Confederate leaders within one year. The bill, which includes a 3% pay raise for military personnel, attracted enough support to theoretically override a presidential veto, including more than 100 House Republicans.

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The Senate’s version of the bill, which is expected to be voted on this week, includes similar language but would mandate the change over the period of three years.

The name change attracted some Republican support in both chambers.

“If [the House NDAA] were presented to the president in its current form, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto it,” said the 13-page memo addressed to the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Armed Services Committee.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly threatened to veto the must-pass legislation if it contains provisions to rename the military bases. His latest veto threat applies heightened pressure to congressional Republicans, many of whom have already backed amendments to implement the changes.

The White House has not yet issued a formal threat to veto the Republican-led Senate’s version of the NDAA.

“President Trump has been clear in his opposition to politically motivated attempts like this to rewrite history and to displace the enduring legacy of the American Revolution with a new left-wing cultural revolution,” the memo said.

Calls for the military to confront racism within its ranks were sparked following George Floyd’s death, a Black man who died in police custody. Defense Secretary Mark Esper last week announced an effective ban on the display of Confederate flags at military facilities, but did so without mentioning the symbol by name.

Despite the political firestorm, Mr. Trump could point to a nationwide poll released Tuesday found that half of Americans do not support renaming military bases that honor Confederate leaders.

Fifty percent of U.S. adults said they are against renaming military bases named after Confederate generals, and 42% said they support it, according to ABC News/Washington Post polling. By a 52% to 43% margin, Americans also said they are against removing statues honoring Confederate generals from public places.

Mr. Trump argues that casting Confederate figures and symbols as racist is absurd, given that the sites have served as key training grounds for soldiers who went on to fight in World War II and other conflicts.

But lawmakers of both parties have backed efforts to rename North Carolina’s Fort Bragg, Virginia’s Fort Lee and the other 10 Army installations that bear the names of Confederate figures. Republican members have introduced legislation to block the move, but the efforts have failed in both chambers.

Several prominent retired generals have also supported the move to rename bases, arguing that the Confederate figures not only supported the slave states, but that they had tried to destroy the United States.

In the veto threat, the Trump administration also cited bipartisan policy issues included in the House’s bill that seek to curtail Mr. Trump’s hopes of reducing the number of American troops in Afghanistan and Germany, as well as limiting the amount of military funds that can be used for construction of a border wall with Mexico.

“[The White House] also has serious concerns about provisions of the bill that seek to micromanage aspects of the executive branch’s authority, impose highly prescriptive limitations on the use of funds for Afghanistan, and otherwise constrain the President’s authority to protect national security interests,” the Office of Management and Budget argued in the veto message.

“Many of these provisions would pose significant challenges to continued execution of the [National Defense Strategy].”

German politicians ask Congress to keep U.S. troops in their country

German politicians ask Congress to keep U.S. troops in their country

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German governors sent a letter to Congress to convince President Trump to back down from his plan to withdraw almost 10,000 U.S. troops from their country. (ASSOCIATED PRESS) more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Monday, July 20, 2020

German politicians representing areas where large numbers of American military personnel are based want Congress to force President Trump to back down on his plans to withdraw almost 10,000 U.S. troops from Germany.

The troops represent the “backbone of the U.S. military presence in Europe and NATO’s ability to act,” the governors of Bavaria, Hesse, Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate wrote in a letter sent recently to more than a dozen U.S. lawmakers.

Among those who received it were several influential Republicans, including Sen. Jim Inhofe from Oklahoma, who is both a strong ally of President Trump and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

SEE ALSO: Sen. Mitt Romney slams Germany troop withdrawal as ‘slap in the face’ to ally

While there was no immediate comment on the letter from Capitol Hill on Monday, several members of Congress have previously spoken out against Mr. Trump’s troop withdrawal plan, including some prominent Republicans.

In June, Mr. Trump ordered the American troop presence in Germany to be reduced from about 34,500 to 25,00. The president has said he wanted the numbers reduced because Germany takes advantage of the U.S. in trade policy and won’t sufficiently invest in its own defense.

Luke Coffey, a foreign policy expert with the Heritage Foundation, said Mr. Trump has a point about Germany’s lack of defense spending. But, in an interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Coffey said such factors shouldn’t warrant a U.S. pullout.

“I think there are plenty of good reasons to keep U.S. forces in Europe. I would like to see them increased,” he said, asserting the U.S. military presence in Germany protects Americans interests in Europe by strengthening allies and deterring adversaries.

The letter from the German governors draws attention to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and the Grafenwoehr training area as constituting essential to the U.S. presence in Europe, according to a copy obtained by The Associated Press. Americans and Germans have worked together for decades to develop those structures, along with the headquarters for the U.S. European Command, the governors wrote.

“They provide the necessary foundation for a partnership-based contribution to peace in Europe and the world, to which we all share a common commitment,” they wrote. “We therefore ask you to support us as we strive not to sever the bond of friendship but to strengthen it and to secure the U.S. presence in Germany and Europe in the future.”

Domestic political considerations and the need to placate constituents is more likely at the center of the letter from the German chief ministers than geopolitical strategic concerns, said Mr. Coffey, who noted the loss of 10,000 well-paid American military personnel would be a major hit to the economies of the four German regions represented in the letter.

At the same time, Mr. Coffey argued such considerations also should not be a factor in weighing the strategic value of U.S. troops in Germany.

Sen. Mitt Romney, Utah Republican and one of Mr. Trump’s most ardent political foes, was one of the recipients of the letter. He was already firmly opposed to the president’s order — having called it a “gift to Russia” — and last month introduced an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act aimed at blocking any serious withdrawal of U.S. personnel from Germany.

“In addition to undermining our NATO alliance, a withdrawal would present serious logistical challenges and prevent our military from performing routine military readiness exercises,” Mr. Romney said on introducing the measure.

Final details around Mr. Trump’s troop withdrawal plan remain murky.

Pentagon officials have not indicated which troops would be moved and what their next location would be. Some are expected to be transferred east, possibly to Poland which has been constructing facilities in hope of an influx of American military personnel. Most are expected to move back to the U.S.

There is precedent, meanwhile, for foreign politicians to try and play the U.S. legislative and executive branches off each other on sensitive national security matters. In March 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was invited to speak before a joint meeting of Congress in opposition to the Obama era Iranian nuclear negotiations. Some saw it as a breach of diplomatic and political protocol.

While the German politicians may be attempting a similar end run around the White House with their letter to U.S. lawmakers, Mr. Coffey said Mr. Trump may not even have been made aware of the attempt.

“I’m not even sure this will be raised to his level in terms of briefings,” Mr. Coffey said. “But if [German chancellor Angela Merkel] starts firing off letters to various senators and congressmen, that would change.”

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Qassem Soleimani deaths absent from Donald Trump campaign pitch

Trump’s top counterterrorism triumphs missing from campaign pitch

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President Donald Trump salutes as he arrives on Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017, as he returns from Springfield, Mo. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Monday, July 20, 2020

President Trump’s two highest-profile counterterrorism victories have been largely absent from his reelection pitch, a departure from recent elections in which the winning candidate made a prominent case for fortitude in battling jihadis.

Unlike President George W. Bush, who ran for reelection during his war on terror, or President Obama, who made the raid that killed 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden a cornerstone of his 2012 campaign, Mr. Trump and his team have yet to fully capitalize on the president’s successes against terrorism.

Neither the mission in October that resulted in the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi nor the January strike that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani has been given significant attention in Mr. Trump’s battle with presumptive Democratic nominee Joseph R. Biden.

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The successful operations, which eliminated two of the world’s most powerful and dangerous terrorist leaders and seemingly offer powerful ammunition for a commander in chief who prides himself on strength, have been mostly missing from Mr. Trump’s recent speeches. His campaign also hasn’t made them the focus of a major concerted advertising blitz in the way political observers might expect.

Analysts say there are several reasons why. The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated economic free fall, as well as recent racial justice protests, have consumed so much political space that there is little room for foreign policy on the campaign trail let alone a serious appetite among voters to hear about it.

But political insiders say other factors are also at play. They say a more aggressive pitch on the president’s counterterrorism successes could backfire.

One concern is that the deaths of al-Baghdadi and Soleimani, while important victories in the fight against extremism, wouldn’t have the same emotional impact among voters as bin Laden’s demise.

“President Trump has had many foreign policy successes to advertise, though admittedly it’s hard to compare killing terrorist leaders who aren’t household names with the man responsible for 9/11 attacks,” said J.D. Gordon, a former Trump campaign national security adviser and Pentagon spokesman.

“Another complicating factor in getting that positive message out is that since many of our 2016 campaign advisers were framed as Russian agents by the #Resistance, including Democrats in Congress and legacy media, it could be safer for the current campaign to avoid foreign policy altogether,” he said.

Foreign policy record

The Biden campaign and its liberal allies have been taking the foreign policy fight to Mr. Trump. They say the president has been soft on Russia, bungled relations with China, unnecessarily stoked tensions with Iran, abandoned American allies in Syria and made a host of other serious missteps.

The backdrop of the political attacks is broader turmoil inside the Trump campaign.

Last week, Bill Stepien was tapped as Mr. Trump’s new campaign manager in a seeming demotion for Brad Parscale.

Although campaign officials denied that Mr. Parscale had been punished or demoted, the development added to an appearance of internal upheaval at a moment of questionable polling numbers for the president.

Recent polls have shown Mr. Biden with a commanding lead over Mr. Trump nationally and in key battleground states.

One of the big questions heading into the campaign’s final three months centers on the extent to which Mr. Trump may or may not try to steer public attention toward his foreign policy record.

As it tries to regain its footing, the Trump campaign seems willing to fight over foreign policy when attacked. Top campaign officials are quick to contrast the president’s record with that of Mr. Biden, who served as vice president while the Islamic State rose to power in Iraq and Syria.

Mr. Biden and Mr. Obama also oversaw the Iran nuclear deal, which lifted some economic sanctions on Tehran but, as critics assert, allowed millions of dollars to flow to Soleimani’s Quds Force and the various terrorist outfits it backs across the Middle East.

A matter of messaging

Trump campaign officials say they are aware of the president’s wins on counterterrorism and are prepared to tout them publicly within a wider narrative of national security success over the past four years.

“President Trump kept his promise to rebuild the American military after it was severely depleted under the Obama/Biden administration,” Ken Farnaso, the campaign’s deputy national press secretary, told The Washington Times. “And his ‘America First’ agenda has secured the elimination of two most-wanted terrorists, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Qassem Soleimani, the destruction of the ISIS caliphate, and sustained strong political and economic pressure on adversaries like Iran, Venezuela and Russia.”

The president and his surrogates have made those arguments, but there are key differences between the way the Trump campaign is handling the issue this year and how the Obama camp approached it in 2012.

Mr. Obama was reelected in the year after the raid that killed bin Laden, capping nearly a decade of searching for the man behind the 9/11 attacks. The Obama campaign team used the event as a sharp political weapon and suggested that Republican nominee Mitt Romney might not have ordered the mission as commander in chief.

The narrative proved effective in portraying Mr. Obama as a strong, decisive leader and blunting Republican efforts to once again cast a Democrat as weak on international affairs.

One of the more memorable campaign advertisements of 2012 featured former President Bill Clinton saying it was a momentous decision for Mr. Obama to order the assault on bin Laden’s secret compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

“Suppose the Navy SEALs had gone in there and it hadn’t been bin Laden. Suppose they’d been captured or killed. The downside would have been horrible for him,” Mr. Clinton said in the commercial. “He took the harder and the more honorable path, and the one that produced, in my opinion, the best result.”

The ad then asked, “Which path would Mitt Romney have taken,” before highlighting the Republican’s questioning about whether the U.S. should launch counterterrorism strikes in Pakistan or spend time and resources searching for a single terrorist leader.

Successes overshadowed

Mr. Trump has aired some memorable campaign commercials, but some political analysts say none has brought his counterterrorism achievements to the forefront the way the Bill Clinton ad did for Mr. Obama.

Some specialists also argue that there may be little the Trump campaign can do at this point to effectively capitalize on the al-Baghdadi and Soleimani operations.

Talking about the strikes or crafting multimillion-dollar ad campaigns to highlight foreign policy achievements of the past, they said, likely would turn off voters who are rightfully consumed with domestic crises playing out at the moment.

“When you have people dying at the numbers they’re dying at in the United States right now, the threat from international terrorism seems to pale by comparison,” said Stephen Zunes, a professor at the University of San Francisco who studies the intersection of politics and foreign policy.

“If Trump embraced that,” Mr. Zunes said, “it could even backfire.”

Trump joins Hagerty in tele-town hall as early voting begins

Trump joins Hagerty in tele-town hall as early voting begins

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Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill Hagerty speaks to supporters on Friday, July 17, 2020, after casting an early voting ballot at the Nashville Public Library Bellevue Branch in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Jonathan Mattise) more >

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By KIMBERLEE KRUESI

Associated Press

Friday, July 17, 2020

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – President Donald Trump on Friday once again threw support behind his former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty, a Republican running in the primary for an open U.S. Senate seat in Tennessee.

Hagerty, 59, has frequently touted Trump’s endorsement ever since the president broke the news the former ambassador was running for political office nearly a year ago.

“I’ll never forget I went to Japan and he knew every person over there, he knew the businessmen, he could pronounce those names I had a hard time with,” Trump said in a tele-town hall with Hagerty. “I had a very hard time pronouncing those names.”

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Trump encouraged Tennesseans to vote early, warning that it was critical to elect senators in office who would vote in favor of the judges he appoints.

“Your Second Amendment is under siege. If I weren’t here I don’t think you would have a Second Amendment,” Trump added while praising Hagerty’s support of law enforcement. “You would certainly have a very weak one.”

Hagerty’s main opponent in the Senate primary is trauma surgeon Manny Sethi, who is also seeking the position being vacated by outgoing Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander. The two candidates have recently increased attacks on one another as early voting kicked off Friday.

In a recent ad, Sethi attacked Hagerty’s past political donations to Republican Mitt Romney – the only Republican to vote to convict the president during his impeachment trial.

“Why is the establishment attacking a nice guy like me?” Sethi asks. “Well, folks are finding out that Bill Hagerty’s endorsed by Mitt Romney.”

Romney has not publicly endorsed Hagerty since the former ambassador joined the race, but Romney had previously supported the idea, according to the Wall Street Journal in mid-2019.

Meanwhile, Hagerty criticized Sethi in an ad as a “liberal elitist.”

“I volunteered full-time for six months when nobody else was supporting President Trump, certainly not Manny Sethi – didn’t lift a finger, didn’t donate a dime back in 2016 to help President Trump get elected,” Hagerty told The Associated Press on Friday.

Early voting ahead of the Aug. 6 primary will be open Monday through Saturday until Aug. 1.

For those who do not want to vote in person, a judge is giving all eligible voters the option to vote absentee during the pandemic. Absentee ballots can be requested until July 30. First-time voters can only vote absentee if they have shown ID at a county election office.

___

Associated Press writer Jonathan Mattise in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.

Iranian dissidents rally for regime change in Tehran

Iranian dissidents rally for regime change in Tehran

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Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), waves the traditional Iranian flag as she prepares to speak at the “Free Iran Global Summit: Iran Rising Up for Freedom” on July 17. (Siavosh Hosseini/The Media Express) more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Friday, July 17, 2020

Iran’s theocracy is at the weakest point of its four-decade history and facing unprecedented challenges from a courageous citizenry hungry for freedom, Iranian dissidents and prominent U.S. and European politicians said Friday at a major international rally calling for the downfall of the dictatorship in Tehran.

The annual “Free Iran Global Summit,” held virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, brought together Iranian resistance groups and their allies around the world behind the common cause of pushing to replace Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s regime with a nonviolent democracy.

The summit — organized and hosted by the multinational umbrella organization the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its associate group, the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK) — was something of a technical marvel, uniting via Zoom tens of thousands of participants from 102 countries and 30,000 separate locations around the world.

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Some Iranian resistance activists were even broadcasting into the summit from inside Iran at tremendous risk to their own safety, given the Khamenei regime’s history of violently cracking down on internal opposition.

Behind the logistical triumph was a simple message from the NCRI organizers that Iran’s clerics and terrorist sympathizers are living on borrowed time, facing unprecedented anger from within and crushing external pressure as the Trump administration’s financial sanctions campaign against Tehran continues to squeeze the Iranian economy.

“This generation is a constant nightmare for the mullahs. Indeed, the clerics have come face to face with a rebellious generation against which they are vulnerable,” acting NCRI President Maryam Rajavi said during a passionate address Friday morning. “Today in Iran, one of the greatest battles and one of the greatest tests of our time rages on between freedom and religious fascism, between democracy and religious fundamentalism. This is a battle intertwined with the destiny of contemporary humanity and global peace and security.”

Mrs. Rajavi delivered her address from the Ashraf-3 complex in Albania, which has become the headquarters of the movement and is home to MEK dissidents and resistance fighters dedicated to overthrowing an oppressive government that has ruled Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Leaders of the NCRI, which is comprised of multiple other organizations, say the council has seen its stature grow to the point that Iranian officials can no longer deny its influence.

The NCRI has many American supporters, including some with close relationships to Mr. Trump, such as former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, one the president’s personal lawyers. They say the organization not only has galvanized tens of thousands of Iranians behind its cause but also has fashioned itself into something of a shadow government that could potentially step into power in Tehran if the regime falls.

“We know the truth and they know the truth: They know this organization is a total threat to them,” Mr. Giuliani said during a speech delivered to Friday’s virtual summit.

“When they see today, this gathering of people taking advantage of Zoom and the new modern methods of communication,” he said. “They realize they have a formidable foe. They realize and can foresee how this group could easily stand up an interim government that could be a bridge to a permanent, democratic, free, prosperous and wonderful Iran.”

Other prominent American figures from both political parties participating represented a who’s who list of American “formers,” including former Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, retired Marine Commandant James T. Conway and others. Several current U.S. officials also delivered remarks, including Sen. Martha McSally, Arizona Republican, and Rep. Brad Sherman, California Democrat.

Mrs. Rajavi, Mr. Giuliani and other speakers said the wave of popular protests inside Iran over the past three years prove that the time is ripe for dramatic change. In 2017, 2018, 2019, and again in January, swarms of protesters took to the streets to demonstrate against Iran’s leaders and their policies.

Thousands of those protesters, the NCRI and others have estimated, were killed or imprisoned as a result, though the Iranian government denies those claims.

Friday’s Free Iran summit was the first since Tehran and Washington came to the brink of all-out war last summer. After a series of military encounters in the Strait of Hormuz and Iranian-backed attacks on Americans inside Iraq, President Trump ordered an airstrike to kill Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s Quds Force and a designated terrorist.

Iran responded by firing rockets at U.S. personnel stationed in Iraq, though no Americans were killed. The two nations ultimately pulled back from the brink of war, but the administration continued its economic pressure campaign and urged its European allies to fully scrap the Obama-era nuclear deal. Mr. Trump exited the deal in 2018, arguing that it was too weak and still gave Tehran a pathway to nuclear weapons.

That pact was designed to offer Iran economic relief in exchange for giving up its nuclear weapons program. But instead of investing in its people, critics argue Iran’s leaders used the money they received to enrich themselves and covertly deliver funds to terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah.

“They’d rather send people to bomb us in Paris or to kill some of you in America than to feed their people,” Mr. Giuliani said Friday.

Even across Europe, where the Iran nuclear deal was much more popular than it was in the U.S., officials say Iran’s leadership has proven it can’t deliver for its people.

“The Iranian people want change, to have democracy, finally to have human rights, to finally have economic wealth, no more hunger. The will of the people is much stronger than any oppressive measure of an Iranian regime,” said Martin Patzelt, a member of German Parliament.

Whether it was the Iran nuclear deal or other policies, all efforts to reform the government in Tehran have failed and the only remaining option is for the Iranian people to rise up and install new leadership, said former U.S. Sen. Lieberman.

“We have reached a point where we can conclude, after all that has been tried with this criminal syndicate that is holding the people and history and culture of Iran hostage, that everything that has been tried has not worked,” he said. “It will come from the resistance fighters in Iran … and when they do turn their resistance into rebellion, we and the rest of the world — particularly the United States — must stand with them and support them. I am convinced that is a day that is coming.”

China gets free pass on taxes on U.S. debt dividends

China gets free pass on taxes on U.S. debt dividends

Sen. Joni Ernst wants Treasury to reveal 'billions' that China escapes because of trade deal

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Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, asks a question during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on police use of force and community relations on on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, June 16, 2020, in Washington. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Pool via AP) more >

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By Stephen Dinan

The Washington Times

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

China holds more than $1 trillion in U.S. government debt — and thanks to a decades-old tax treaty doesn’t have to pay tax to Uncle Sam on the income it derives from dividends from the interest on that debt.

Sen. Joni Ernst, Iowa Republican, wants the Treasury Department to report exactly how much that costs the U.S. in lost revenue.

“Think about that: We are borrowing money from China to pay China for lending us money, and sweetening the bargain with a tax loophole that literally goes all the way to China,” Ms. Ernst said Tuesday as she awarded the trade deal terms her “Squeal award” for the month of June.

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Ms. Ernst won election in 2014 in part on a campaign ad where she recalled her Iowa childhood castrating hogs, and vowed to make Washington squeal under the budget scalpel.

In this case, her target is the terms of trade with the Chinese government, which she says allows China to run a massive trade surplus with the U.S., while avoiding taxes on the dividend income from U.S. debt.

In a letter last week to Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, the senator said China has reneged on agreements with President Trump to buy more U.S. products such as soybeans.

She said as those trade negotiations continue, both the U.S. and China deserve to know how much income Uncle Sam is forgoing because of the dividend tax matter. She said it would be good to know what other countries also are excused from paying.

“I would, therefore, request that the Treasury Department begin calculating and publicly posting the amount of interest paid to the top ten major foreign holders of U.S. Treasury securities as well as the cost of foregone tax revenues resulting from any exemptions granted by trade deals or other agreements with those nations,” she wrote.

EU to list which citizens can enter; U.S. likely to miss out

EU to list which citizens can enter; U.S. likely to miss out

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In this Sunday, June 14, 2020 file photo, a crane removes the concrete blocks that closed customs access, in Thonex near Geneva, Switzerland. The European Union is set to make public on Tuesday, June 30, 2020, a list of countries … more >

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By Lorne Cook

Associated Press

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union on Tuesday is announcing a list of nations whose citizens will be allowed to enter 31 European countries, but most Americans are likely to be refused entry for at least another two weeks due to soaring coronavirus infections in the U.S.

As Europe’s economies reel from the impact of the coronavirus, southern EU countries like Greece, Italy and Spain are desperate to entice back sun-loving visitors and breathe life into their damaged tourism industries.

More than 15 million Americans are estimated to travel to Europe each year, while some 10 million Europeans head across the Atlantic.

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Still, many people both inside and outside Europe remain wary of travel in the coronavirus era, given the unpredictability of the pandemic and the possibility of second waves of infection that could affect flights and hotel bookings. Tens of thousands of travelers had a frantic, chaotic scramble in March to get home as the pandemic swept across the world and borders slammed shut.

EU envoys to Brussels have launched a written procedure which would see the list endorsed Tuesday as long as no objections are raised by member countries. The list is expected to contain up to 15 countries that have virus infection rates comparable to those in the EU.

Infection rates in Brazil, Russia and India are high too, and they are also unlikely to make the cut.

The countries would also have to lift any bans they might have on European travelers. The list of permitted nations is to be updated every 14 days, with new countries being added or even dropping off depending on if they are keeping the disease under control.

The daily number of new confirmed cases in the United States has surged over the past week. The U.S. has the world’s worst coronavirus outbreak, with nearly 2.6 million people confirmed infected and over 126,000 dead, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University that experts say understates the pandemic’s true toll due to limited testing and other reasons.

In contrast, aside from a notable recent outbreak tied to a slaughterhouse in western Germany, the virus’s spread has generally stabilized across much of continental Europe.

In March, President Donald Trump suspended all people from Europe’s ID check-free travel zone from entering the U.S., making it unlikely now that U.S. citizens would qualify to enter the EU.

The EU imposed restrictions on non-essential travel to its 27 nations, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, which are part of the Schengen open-borders area, in March to halt the spread of the virus. Non-EU citizens who are already living in Europe are not included in the ban.

The EU list does not apply to travel to Britain, which left the EU in January. Britain now requires all incoming travelers – bar a few exceptions like truck drivers – to go into a self-imposed 14-day quarantine, although the measure is under review and is likely to ease in the coming weeks. The requirement also applies to U.K. citizens.

White House says Trump, Pence weren’t briefed on intel about Russian bounties to kill U.S. troops

Trump, Pence were not briefed on intel about Russian bounties to kill U.S. troops: White House

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In this file photo, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Monday, June 22, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) **FILE** more >

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By Dave Boyer

The Washington Times

Saturday, June 27, 2020

The White House said Saturday that President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were not briefed on U.S. intelligence that Russia offered bounties to militants in Afghanistan to kill coalition forces, including U.S. troops.

“While the White House does not routinely comment on alleged intelligence or internal deliberations, the CIA Director, National Security Advisor, and the Chief of Staff can all confirm that neither the President nor the Vice President were briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence,” said White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany in a statement.

She said her comments do not “speak to the merit of the alleged intelligence, but to the inaccuracy of the New York Times story erroneously suggesting that President Trump was briefed on this matter.”

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The Times reported Friday that U.S. intelligence concluded months ago that Russian military intelligence agents had offered the bounties. The paper said Mr. Trump was briefed on the matter, and that the National Security Council held a meeting about it in late March.

Rep. Ted Lieu, California Democrat, asked former acting Director of Intelligence Richard Grenell on Twitter, “Did you really not tell @realDonaldTrump and @VP Pence that Russia was paying militants to kill US troops? Or is @PressSec lying?”

Mr. Grenell replied to the lawmaker, “I never heard this. And it’s disgusting how you continue to politicize intelligence. You clearly don’t understand how raw intel gets verified. Leaks of partial information to reporters from anonymous sources is dangerous because people like you manipulate it for political gain.”

He said critics are “basing a whole bunch of assumptions on an anonymous source from the NYT.”

Former Obama National Security Advisor Susan Rice said on Twitter of the White House’s explanation, “I don’t believe this for a minute, but if it were true, it means that Trump is not even pretending to serve as commander in chief. And no one around him has the guts to ask him to. More evidence of their deadly incompetence.”

Julian Assange case: 10 major developments since WikiLeaks publisher’s arrest

Julian Assange case: 10 major developments since WikiLeaks publisher’s arrest

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In this May 1, 2019, file photo, buildings are reflected in the window as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is taken from court in London. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File) more >

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By Andrew Blake

The Washington Times

Thursday, June 25, 2020

The superseding indictment unsealed against WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange Wednesday is the latest in a growing list of developments to emerge since he was arrested last April. Here is a list of 10 key moments in the Australian’s case that have transpired in the 14 months that followed as he remains jailed in London fighting a U.S. extradition request.

1) April 11, 2019

The U.S. Department of Justice unseals a criminal indictment charging Assange shortly after he is arrested at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he had lived since 2012. Filed under seal by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, Va., the indictment charges him with a single count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion for allegedly having offered to help former WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning try to hack into a protected military network eight years earlier. The Justice Department says the U.S. will accordingly seek Assange’s extradition from the U.K.

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2) May 23, 2019

A superseding indictment is filed charging Assange with 17 additional counts, all violations of the U.S. Espionage Act, related to receiving, obtaining and publishing classified material that Manning admittedly gave to WikiLeaks in 2010 to be published. Manning, a former Army analyst, previously served roughly seven years in military prison for her part.

3) May 31, 2019

Nils Melzer, the United Nation’s special rapporteur on torture, strongly condemned the Justice Department’s prosecution of Assange after visiting him at Belmarsh Prison in London. In a statement, the UN expert said that he believed that the time Assange spent confined within the embassy and then imprisoned behind bars amounted to “psychological torture.”

4) September 20, 2019

President Trump, who had praised WikiLeaks during his 2016 campaign for publishing material damaging to his Democratic opponent in the race, declined to comment when asked about his government’s case against Assange. “Well, you know, that’s a question I haven’t heard in a long time. I’ll leave that to you to determine,” Mr. Trump said while fielding questions from reporters following a bilateral meeting with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

5) October 9, 2019

Spain’s National Court announces it is investigating a Spanish security firm accused of spying on Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy. Assange alleges the firm, Undercover Global SL, installed covert microphones and cameras throughout the compound that recorded his private conversation and meetings with visitors including doctors and lawyers, as seen in hidden video footage that has subsequently leaked. Undercover Global has called the allegations “totally false.”

6) November 26, 2019

Australia media reports that Mr. Morrison, the nation’s prime minister, said he is “unable to intervene” in efforts to have Assange extradited to the U.S., dismissing calls to get involved in the Aussie’s case.

7) February 19, 2020

A lawyer for Assange claims that former Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican who holds the distinction of being the only sitting U.S. Congressman to have visited Assange at the embassy, said during their 2017 meeting that Mr. Trump was prepared to offer a pardon if the WikiLeaks publisher cleared Russia of involvement in his website’s acquisition of internal Democratic National Committee that it later published leading up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Spokespeople for the White House and Mr. Rohrabacher have denied the allegation.

8) Feb. 24, 2020

Extradition proceedings begin in London with a round of hearings held over the course of four days at Woolwich Crown Court in London. Another round had been scheduled to commence in May but has been postponed due to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic and has yet to take place.

9) April 11, 2020

Stella Moris-Smith Robertson, a lawyer close to Assange, reveals they conceived two children together while he lived at the embassy and that she and Assange are engaged to be married.

10) June 24, 2020

The Justice Department unseals a second superseding indictment against Assange. It does not charge Assange with any additional counts, but rather it broadens the scope of the conspiracy to commit computer intrusions charge to allege that he also recruited individuals involved with the Anonymous hacktivist movement to steal data for WikiLeaks. Reacting on Twitter the next day, WikiLeaks dismissed the latest filing as a “desperate PR move.”

Assange, 48, remains imprisoned at Belmarsh pending the outcome of his extradition trial, which is currently set to resume in London in September but could be postponed further. He faces a maximum sentence of 175 years imprisonment if sent to the U.S. and convicted of all counts.

Assange maintains he acted as a journalist by releasing the classified material he is charged with making public, which includes hundreds of thousands of U.S. State Department diplomatic cables, previously unpublished information about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and details about the foreign detainees held by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay, among other documents leaked by Manning.

Bob Menendez, Eliot Engel seek to restrict funds for U.S. troop withdrawal from Germany

Menendez, Engel seek to restrict funds for U.S. troop withdrawal from Germany

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In this Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019, file photo, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Eliot Engel D-N.Y., speaks during the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on Venezuela at Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File) more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Democratic leaders of the House and Senate Foreign Relations committees on Thursday unveiled legislation to restrict funding to withdraw U.S. troops from Germany and other European allied countries.

President Trump confirmed on Monday that he’s prepared to recall about half of the U.S. soldiers stationed in Germany if that nation doesn’t pay more to NATO and treat Washington more fairly on trade issues.

The plan has received swift backlash from Democratic lawmakers and European leaders who say a U.S. troop withdrawal would hinder the historic U.S.-European alliance and could pave the way for Russian interference in the region.

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Sen. Bob Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Eliot L. Engel, New York Democrat and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, announced the legislation that prohibits the use of funds to reduce the presence of U.S. armed forces in Europe unless requested by the host country, the president gives 180 days notice of the withdrawal, or the Secretaries of State and Defense publicly testify on Capitol Hill within 14 days of the announcement.

“The current U.S. troop presence in Germany is in the U.S. national security interest. Full stop,” Mr. Menendez said in a statement. “The Administration has made no effort to explain how our country is stronger because of this drawdown decision. Because we’re not,” he continued. “This drawdown weakens America and Europe. And [Russian President] Vladimir Putin understands and appreciates that better than anyone.”

“Rather than heeding the overwhelming bipartisan rebuke from Congress about this scheme and its catastrophic consequences, President Trump has once again made foreign policy decisions based solely on his absurd affection for Vladimir Putin, a murderous dictator who has attacked America and our allies,” Mr. Engel said. “President Trump’s disastrous decision to withdraw thousands of troops from and reduce the total force cap in Germany endangers our national security. Our legislation will stop the Administration from carrying out this calamitous policy.”

Although around 50,000 American troops are authorized to be stationed in Germany, currently there are about 34,000 U.S. troops deployed in Germany. There has also been speculation that some of the forces in Germany could be redeployed in Poland and elsewhere in Europe closer to Russia.

Mr. Trump suggested Monday that he could change his mind about the withdrawal of troops if Germany also gives the U.S. more favorable terms on trade in its dealings with the European Union.

“We’re negotiating with them on that,” Mr. Trump said, “but right now I’m not satisfied with the deal they want to make.”

Trump orders Pentagon to slash number of U.S. troops stationed in Germany

Trump orders Pentagon to slash number of U.S. troops stationed in Germany

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In this July 30, 2014 file photo the flags of the United States and Germany fly behind a sign at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. On June 5, 2020, the Pentagon announced President Trump has ordered a 28% reduction of U.S. … more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Friday, June 5, 2020

President Trump wants a major reduction in the number of U.S. military personnel based in Germany and has ordered the Pentagon to cut thousands of troops by September, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The move would reduce by about 28% the number of U.S. military personnel in the country, pulling back 9,500 from the 34,500 who are now there, according to the newspaper.

The president’s decision to cut the number of troops comes amid strains in relations with Germany, the Wall Street Journal said, and the country’s level of military spending.

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The identity of any Army or Air Force units that would be affected by the order or the location where the personnel would be sent to wasn’t immediately known.

Netanyahu and settlers clash over West Bank annexation plans

Netanyahu and settlers clash over West Bank annexation plans

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Palestinians burn pictures of U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a protest against Trump’s mideast initiative, in the West Bank city of Nablus, Saturday, May 30, 2020.(AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed) more >

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By

Associated Press

Thursday, June 4, 2020

JERUSALEM (AP) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has harshly criticized Jewish West Bank settler leaders for disparaging President Donald Trump over what they perceive to be his less than adequate plan allowing Israel to annex parts of the West Bank.

Despite what is widely viewed as a pro-Israel peace plan, settler leaders have voiced concern that the maps they have seen leave many settlements as isolated enclaves. They also reject any recognition of a Palestinian state, as outlined in the American plan, and have pressed Netanyahu to make changes.

On Wednesday, David Elhayani, chairman of the umbrella Yesha Council representing the settlers, told the Haaretz daily that the plan proved Trump was “not a friend of Israel.”

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Netanyahu, having just met settler leaders to hear their grievances, lashed back.

“President Trump is a great friend of Israel‘s. He has led historic moves for Israel’s benefit,” Netanyahu said in a statement Wednesday. “It is regrettable that instead of showing gratitude, there are those who are denying his friendship.”

Speaker of Parliament Yariv Levin, who has been involved in implementing the plan, went even further, calling Elhayani’s remarks “rude and irresponsible.” He said they exhibited an ungratefulness that was particularly damaging at a time when there was “an important effort to advance the historic process of applying sovereignty” to parts of the West Bank.

Netanyahu has announced that he will annex parts of the West Bank, including the strategic Jordan Valley and dozens of Jewish settlements, in line with Trump’s Mideast plan. He has signaled he will begin moving forward with annexation next month.

The U.S. plan envisions leaving about one third of the West Bank, which Israel captured in 1967, under permanent Israeli control, while granting the Palestinians expanded autonomy in the remainder of the territory. The Palestinians, who seek all of the West Bank as part of an independent state, have rejected the plan, saying it unfairly favors Israel.

They have already cut off key security ties with Israel and say they are no longer bound to agreements signed. On Thursday, the Palestinians announced they would refuse to accept the tax money Israel routinely collects for them. The moves have raised concerns of a return to violence if the plan is actually carried out.

The annexation plan has also come under harsh criticism from some of Israel’s closest allies, who say that unilaterally redrawing the Mideast map would destroy any lingering hopes for establishing a Palestinian state and reaching a two-state peace agreement.

U.S. offers $1.2B to support AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine effort

U.S. offers $1.2B to support AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine effort

Trump sees 'tremendous promise in the effort to block coronavirus

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In this Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, file photo, a view of the AstraZeneca logo, on a building, in South San Francisco, Calif. Drugmaker AstraZeneca secured its first agreements Thursday, May 21, 2020, for 400 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The U.S. government is committing over $1 billion to secure at least 300 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine that’s being developed by Oxford University in Britain and licensed to pharma-giant AstraZeneca.

“I think it holds tremendous promise,” President Trump said during a tour of a Ford plant in Michigan. “But we have many other companies that are just about as far along.”

Initial-phase studies of the vaccine candidate are underway in the U.K.

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The developers are using a platform technology that allows them to ramp up production rapidly, with support from the Trump administration through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

Mr. Trump is eyeing a number of vaccine candidates, also name-checking Johnson and Johnson ahead of a trip to Michigan.

“We have a lot of things happening on the vaccine front, on the therapeutic front,” he told reporters, predicting “a lot of big announcements” over the next week or two.

A vaccine is considered the critical piece in getting the world back to normal following the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Trump wants to see a vaccine by the end of the year, if not before, and has launched a campaign called “Operation Warp Speed” to get there.

“This contract with AstraZeneca is a major milestone in Operation Warp Speed’s work toward a safe, effective, widely available vaccine by 2021,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. “Getting a vaccine to the American public as soon as possible is one part of President Trump’s multi-faceted strategy for safely reopening our country and bringing life back to normal, which is essential to Americans’ physical and mental well-being in so many ways.”

Liz Cheney says Communist China spread virus on purpose

Communist China spread coronavirus on purpose: Cheney

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In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping wearing a protective face mask speaks to residents as he inspects the novel coronavirus pneumonia prevention and control work at a neighbourhoods in Beijing, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. … more >

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By Rowan Scarborough

The Washington Times

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Rep. Liz Cheney said today that China made a strategic decision to spread the coronavirus to make sure the world, not just Beijing, suffered economic hardship.

The Wyoming Republican said on “Fox and Friends” that China cannot be “a member of civilized community of nations because of what they’ve done.”

The evidence, she said, is that China realized it had an epidemic on its hands in the city of Wuhan and Hubei Province and responded by restricting domestic travel. But the ruling communist party continued to let Wuhan-area citizens fly internationally to the U.S. and Europe, the first regions to be hit hard by the COVID-19 disease which has killed over 285,000 people.

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China has issued no apologies and gone on the attack via its global propaganda machine. Chinese social media blames the U.S. for planting the virus and mocks President Trump’s response.

Ms. Cheney, the third ranking House Republican, struck a theme increasingly gaining acceptance in the GOP to explain why China deceptively told the world in mid-January the disease was not transmitted person-to-person when it knew the virus was contagious. President Trump has suggested China let the germ spread globally.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and other party members in Congress have mostly refrained from criticizing the Chinese Communist Party. They funnel blame on to Mr. Trump for not stopping the pandemic.

Ms. Cheney issued a general indictment of China, not just for the virus, but for its long history of being at war with the U.S. As part of statecraft, Chinese military units hack into U.S. companies and computer data bases to steal intellectual property and millions of personal identities.

The Trump Justice Department has indicted Huawei, China’s communications conglomerate, for alleged criminal activity. It is also is investigating China’s practice of infiltrating college campuses to steal U.S. scientific knowhow.

“Look I think there’s no question the Chinese Community Party, the Chinese government, [are] absolutely directly responsible for this pandemic, for the death, for the economic devastation that we’re seeing,” Ms. Cheney said. “I think they clearly decided at some point when they knew they had human-to-human transmission in Wuhan, they understood that the economic devastation was going to be huge and I think they believed they would rather have that spread around the globe than simply something they suffered from.

“So we watched them stop travel from Wuhan into the rest of China. But then let the travel continue around the world. There’s no question they caused this virus to be spread. They have to be held accountable. And I think given their role in the world, the extent to which they clearly cannot continue to be a member of civilized community of nations because of what they’ve done, because of the lies.

“It’s something that we’ve got to take a very close look at. And I think you’re going to see across-the-board steps both to make sure we remove our supply chains, steps to insure that they do not have a seat at the table that they have had in the past, steps to insure that we educate the American people so they understand the vast array of steps the government of China has been taking for so many years now to really try to defeat us.

“And we’ve got to make sure that we’re defending ourselves and that the United States leads the Free World. That the world has got to live by rules set by countries that believe in freedom, not set by the communist Chinese Party.”

Kenneth Braithwaite, nominee to be secretary of Navy, acknowledges ‘rough seas’ for service

Braithwaite, nominee to be secretary of Navy, acknowledges ‘rough seas’ for service

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Kenneth Braithwaite, nominated to be Secretary of the Navy, testifies during a Senate Armed Services Committee nominations hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 7, 2020. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP) more >

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By Ben Wolfgang and Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Thursday, May 7, 2020

The culture of the U.S. Navy has been “tarnished” by a string of disciplinary and operational missteps in recent years, most recently with the handling of the coronavirus outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, President Trump’s pick to lead the troubled military branch said Thursday.

Kenneth Braithwaite, a retired rear admiral now serving as U.S. ambassador to Norway, told a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing Thursday he would set the proper tone at the top and work to restore the appropriate culture if confirmed as the next secretary of the Navy.

“It saddens me to say that the Department of the Navy is in rough waters due to many factors, but primarily the failure of leadership,” he told lawmakers in a visibly distanced hearing room on Capitol Hill beside bottles of hand sanitizer and disinfectant.

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In a break with congressional tradition, the nominee’s family was unable to attend the hearing due to precautions in place throughout Congress to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Mr. Braithwaite was tapped to the top civilian post in the Navy last November, but his confirmation process had moved slowly. If confirmed, the former naval aviator will succeed former Secretary Richard Spencer, who lost his job after clashing with President Trump over the legal ordeal of Navy SEAL Chief Special Operator Edward Gallagher, who was accused of war crimes in Iraq.

Mr. Braithwaite, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who worked on Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign, would face arguably the toughest task of his career should he be confirmed.

A host of recent scandals have generated near-constant negative headlines for the service, at a time when the Navy also is struggling to ward off Russian power plays in the Arctic, Chinese expansion in the South China Sea and other key geopolitical priorities.

But the Navy’s internal politics have overshadowed those challenges.

Most recently, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, Mr. Spencer’s interim successor, was himself forced to step down following a public clash with Capt. Brett Crozier, who headed the USS Theodore Roosevelt as COVID-19 swept through the ship and forced the nuclear-powered carrier to dock in Guam.

Mr. Modly relieved the captain of his command after a letter Capt. Crozier wrote urging action to help his stricken crew was leaked to the press, and then flew to Guam to publicly and profanely scold the Roosevelt crew for cheering their fired commander.

Mr. Modly resigned in the PR firestorm that followed, and Pentagon officials now are weighing whether to restore Capt. Crozier to his post on the Roosevelt.

“The Navy chain of command is in disarray,” said Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, the committee’s ranking Democrat, citing the Roosevelt fiasco.

“It goes to trust,” Mr. Reed continued. “It goes to the culture of the Navy. It goes to reliance on the chain of command by the authorities, getting advice and supporting them.”

Mr. Braithwaite told the committee that the Navy’s recent run of problems, including collisions at sea, troubles with the military judicial system and the USS Roosevelt incident were “all indicative of a breakdown in the trust of those leading the service.”

He said that he supports an expanded inquiry into the Roosevelt incident and told lawmakers that “whenever you’re confronted with a challenge like this, it’s best to pause, consider all the facts and then make the right decision.”

“I learned that in flight school, as a young naval aviator, that whenever any bell or whistle went off in your cockpit, the most important thing to do is to sit on your hands for two seconds, … because then you can assess the problem correctly before shutting down the wrong system.”

On another issue, Mr. Braithwaite vowed to be a strong advocate for a 355-ship Navy, the goal many on Capitol Hill have called for but one many in the Navy itself have only reluctantly embraced.

“Sir, [the fleet] needs to be minimally 355 ships,” Mr. Braithwaite told committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican. “Hopefully we build beyond that.”

“That’s a good, brief answer. I appreciate that. I won’t ask why because I agree with you,” Mr. Inhofe responded.

The committee is expected to advance Mr. Braithwaite’s nomination, and a full Senate vote will likely be held in the coming weeks.

Trump hawking of U.S. military hardware to global leaders now harder

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Defense industry are by no means immune to effects of global pandemic

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In this April 13, 2018, file photo, Taiwanese F-16 jet fighters fly in close formation during a navy exercise at Suao naval station in Yilan County, northeastern Taiwan. China demanded Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018, that the U.S. cancel a $330 … more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Along with canceled political rallies and missed teetimes, the coronavirus crisis is threatening another favorite activity of President Trump — the touting of U.S. military hardware and the hard sell for global leaders who visit the Oval Office.

As the self-described dealmaker-in-chief, Mr. Trump routinely touts the lethality and overall excellence of U.S. military hardware — along with thousands of U.S. jobs and hundreds of billions of dollars their exports can generate. In February, on his last overseas trip before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down economies and threatened defense budgets around the world, the president was hailing a $3 billion arms deal with India.

“We make the greatest weapons ever — airplanes, missiles, rockets, ships. We make the best and we’re dealing,” President Trump told a cheering New Delhi crowd standing alongside Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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But in the past few weeks, it has become abundantly clear that governments and the defense industry are by no means immune to the effects of the global pandemic, said Rachel Stohl, an expert in the international arms trade at the Washington-based Stimson Center.

A number of defense manufacturers and vendors have been forced to significantly curtail if not altogether suspend their operations. In the U.S. alone, that figure included more than 100 businesses, although some have already resumed operations, Ms. Stohl said.

Other countries, including allies such as Indonesia, South Korea and Thailand, are already talking about significantly reduced military budgets in the coming year as their revenue base crumbles. In Europe, NATO allies battered by the virus face new pressures not to meet Mr. Trump’s oft-stated demand for more military spending as they try to rescue their economies.

Oil-dependent states such as Saudi Arabia, long one of the biggest buyers in the global arms bazaar, could face a double whammy on military spending, as record low oil prices on top of the coronavirus panic play havoc with their original spending projections.

“There are really challenges that will impact military expenditures and arms transfers for many years to come,” Ms. Stohl said.

Before the novel coronavirus pandemic made its appearance on the world stage, global defense spending had been on a steady rise. Now analysts forecast governments will almost certainly be forced to cut back on buying military hardware over COVID-19 concerns, cuts which would hit the U.S. industry hard as the largest arms exporter.

From 2015-2019, the U.S. constituted 35% of all the world’s arms exports, according to the Stockholm International Peace Register Institute (SIPRI). Last year, global defense spending reached $1.9 trillion.

“Not many of us really know how much $1.9 trillion really is. We’re talking about a substantial amount of money,” said Nan Tian, an analyst with SIPRI.

Market peak?

The coronavirus shock, analysts note, comes as a time when global defense spending may already have peaked and were on a downward track.

“It was unlikely this year was ever going to look like last year anyway, which was a recent high of foreign military sales,” said Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense specialist with the American Enterprise Institute. “Yes, there’s going to be the COVID effect but it was already going to be” lower.

According to SIPRI, worldwide military spending in 2019 represented 2.2% of global gross domestic product, which amounts to about $249 per person. Global military expenditures were 7.2% higher last year than it was in 2010, indicating that military spending had accelerated in recent years.

“What we can expect is that spending [is] really going to decrease,” Nan Tian, a defense spending expert with the institute, said Tuesday during a Stimson Center webcast. “We’ve seen this historically following the [2008 and 2009 financial] crisis, where many countries in Europe really started to cut back on military spending.”

There is no avoiding the fact that the supply chain disruption in the U.S. defense industry is massive and will have effects downstream, Ms. Eaglen said.

“Even with some companies that have been determined to be ‘essential’ or ‘critical,’ 30% to 50% of the employees are not showing up,” she said. “This alone is going to cause issues with foreign partners or allies that are struggling to keep up their own national industrial capacity.”

Maiya Clark, a researcher at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense, said the federal government is trying to ease some of the coronavirus-related disruptions for the defense industry, including easing regulations and time lines on licensing for foreign deals.

“It’s just being extended a short amount of time to tide them over,” she said.

Governments recognize the national security imperative of keeping their defense firms solvent.

“It’s much harder to have it die off and bring it back than it is to maintain it as much as they can during this rocky time,” Ms. Clark said.

Just holding the line of defense spending and foreign sales would be preferable to a decrease, retired Air Force Gen. Hawk Carlisle, president of the National Defense Industrial Association, told the Defense One website.

“This is going to be years to climb out of,” Gen. Carlisle said.

The disruption in the industrial base and the economic slowdown brought on by the coronavirus may even cause some governments to rethink their national security strategy.

“You’re going to see that trend from other governments,” said Ms. Eaglen. “‘Why do we need these fighters? What is national security?’” she said. “I think we’re even going to see that here to some extent.”

Even with the coronavirus pandemic, there have been some bright spots in the arms industry, analysts point out. This week, General Electric won a $707 million contract to supply F-16 engines to Slovakia, Bulgaria, Taiwan and Qatar.

“Countries, including the United States, recognize the importance of national defense. So governments that still have the ability to be shopping right now are still shopping for their defense needs,” Ms. Clark said. “These countries are still trying to hold to their acquisition schedules.”

The Pentagon has done what it can to assist the defense industry during the coronavirus pandemic by modifying thousands of contracts with vendors and not penalizing them for delays. Even so, Ms. Eaglen with AEI said the foreign military sales issue isn’t currently”bubbling up” with U.S. defense officials at this point.

“This just isn’t on their radar yet,” she said. “But it will be once they get their heads above water.”