Trump impeachment probe to focus on more key witnesses this week

Veteran State Department officer William Taylor and at least four other witnesses will be the latest in a parade of career diplomats and current and former U.S. officials to speak before congressional committees, despite the objections of a Republican White House deriding the Democratic-led proceedings as a "kangaroo court."

The fast-developing inquiry has cast a new cloud of legal troubles over Trump's presidency, contributing to unease among fellow Republicans at a time when some have already been critical of his abrupt decision to remove U.S. troops from northeastern Syria.

https://img-s-msn-com.akamaized.net/tenant/amp/entityid/AAIYcdi.img?h=416&w=799&m=6&q=60&u=t&o=f&l=f&x=1210&y=616 Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) arrives with Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA) to hear testimony from U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland behind closed-doors, as part of the impeachment inquiry led by the House Intelligence, House Foreign Affairs and House Oversight and Reform Committees on Oct. 17. © Erin Scott/Reuters

  • Published in World

Woman Astronaut In Space Station Corrects Trump During Live Call: Report

US President Donald Trump was humiliated for a mistake while he contacted NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch at the International Space Station (ISS) to congratulate them for being the "first ever female spacewalkers", a media report said.

A delay in connection between Trump and the space station made for a short period of silence, before Meir made it clear that she and Koch were not the first female spacewalker, The Daily Express said in the report on Monday.

In 1984, Svetlana Yevgenyevna Savitskaya became the first woman to complete a spacewalk. In the 35 years since, a total of 15 women have spacewalked.

Koch, an electrical engineer, and Meir, who has a doctorate in marine biology, stepped outside in their NASA space suits on Friday night.

The mistake came as Trump sat at a table in the White House with his daughter Ivanka Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, as well as few NASA officials and a group of Girl Scouts in the background.

Staring at the camera, Trump said: "This is the first time for a woman outside of the space station."

"You are amazing people; they're conducting the first ever female spacewalk to replace an exterior part of the space station. They're doing some work, and they're doing it in a very high altitude - an altitude that very few people will ever see."

But Meir could then be heard correcting the President, explaining that the event marked the first time two women had been outside the spacecraft at the same time.

She said: "We don't want to take too much credit because there have been many other female spacewalkers before. This is the first time that there's been two women outside at the same time."

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Erdogan threw Trump’s ‘don’t be a fool’ letter in the trash – reports

The letter in which Donald Trump called on his Turkish counterpart to make a deal with Syrian Kurds and not to be ‘a tough guy’ or ‘a fool,’ was rejected and thrown into the trash by Tayyip Erdogan, reports claim.

The treatment of the missive, which sparked quite an uproar both in the US and Turkey, was reported by what the BBC described as “Turkish presidential sources.”

“President Erdogan received the letter, thoroughly rejected it and put it in the bin,” sources were cited as saying.

A similar account was reported by the Middle East Eye, which cited anonymous Turkish officials. Some Turkish journalists reported the letter being treated in that fashion.

Also on rt.com ‘Don’t be a fool!’ Trump threatens to destroy Turkey’s economy over Syria invasion in letter to Erdogan...

In his letter, dated October 9, Trump threatened Erdogan with economic sanctions should he commit to “slaughtering thousands of civilians” in the Kurdish-majority region of northern Syria and calls on him to strike a deal with the Kurds.

History “will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen. Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!” the letter read.

Erdogan launched the cross-border military operation, which he says targets Kurdish terrorist forces, on the same day he received the letter and has since repeatedly defied pressure from Trump and other Western leaders.

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A warning to Trump? Twitter reminds ‘world leaders’ aren’t immune to deplatforming

Twitter has put US President Donald Trump – and other world leaders – on notice with a clarification of its rules, letting one of the platform’s most popular users know that it can cut off his ability to go viral at any time.

Twitter clarified its rules concerning powerful political leaders in a blog post on Tuesday, never mentioning Trump by name but clearly keeping him in mind. The new guidelines seem uncontroversial enough on the surface, but leave a wide loophole for potential deplatforming of the #Resistance’s favorite punching bag.

While “direct interactions with fellow public figures, comments on political issues of the day, or foreign policy saber-rattling on economic or military issues are generally not in violation of the Twitter Rules” at the moment, they can get a belligerent world leader’s tweets placed in a no-man’s-land where they cannot be replied to, liked, or shared, Twitter warned.

Also on rt.com When social media stops being social: How Twitter and Facebook have rendered Americans uncivil, insecure & addicted...

They haven’t had to use the quarantine option yet, but they’re just reminding any tweet-happy world leader who might happen to be reading that it’s possible, and that it could stop their tweet from going viral. Not that they have any particular leader in mind, or anything.

There are some “red lines” which world leaders cannot cross, including “promotion of terrorism,” doxxing, child sexual exploitation, promoting self-harm, and – in perhaps the most obvious dig at Trump – “clear and direct threats of violence against an individual.” Context is key to the latter, Twitter explained, claiming “commentary on political and foreign policy issues would likely not result in enforcement” – but “likely” leaves the door open to the president being deplatformed for his usual belligerent posturing, should Twitter decide his latest tweetstorm doesn’t qualify as political commentary.

Also on rt.com ‘This isn’t impeachment, it’s a COUP!’ Trump warns followers Dems are out for their God-given freedoms & rights...

Harris had called for the suspension of Trump’s account after the president accused an anonymous CIA whistleblower of spying and House intel committee chief Adam Schiff of “fraud and treason,” claiming the tweets constituted threats because Trump had – offline – commented that the US “used to handle [spies and treason] a little differently than we do now.” Those tweets - plus Trump’s quote of a Fox News claim that removing him from office would cause a “civil war-like fracture” - had “put our democracy in danger,” Harris complained.

Twitter politely demurred to kick one of its most popular users off its platform then, disappointing the president’s many haters. But the new rules leave the door open for a more robust complaint to exile the president from his favorite platform, and Twitter apparently wants to make sure Trump knows it.

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John Bolton Warned Lawyers Over "Hand Grenade" Rudy Giuliani: Report

Washington: The White House's alleged effort to pressure Ukraine so alarmed former national security advisor John Bolton that he alerted a lawyer, his former aide said on Monday, according to US media.

Bolton also warned that President Donald Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, who has emerged as the point man in the president's alleged drive to pressure Ukraine to dig up dirt on Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden, is "a hand grenade who's going to blow everyone up," his aide Fiona Hill told lawmakers, according to the New York Times.

The remark, which was also reported by NBC News, came after Trump's former top Russia advisor Hill sat for an hours-long closed door deposition before US lawmakers probing whether to impeach the president.

AFP could not independently verify the report.

Following a "sharp exchange" with US ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who was working with Giuliani on the pressure campaign, Bolton instructed Hill to notify a National Security Council lawyer, according to the Times.

Referring to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Bolton also said that "I am not part of whatever drug deal Rudy and Mulvaney are cooking up," the Times reported, citing two sources familiar with Hill's deposition.

Her testimony came after allegations that Trump pushed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens in a July 25 phone call, which sparked an impeachment inquiry by the House of Representatives.

The White House's call memo shows Trump sought a "favor" from Zelensky. Democrats who control the chamber say it was a demand to investigate Biden -- the president's potential 2020 election rival -- and a Ukrainian firm that hired Biden's son Hunter.

On Monday evening, Giuliani said, "I don't know Fiona and can't figure out what she is talking about," and that the State Department arranged all his contacts with Ukraine, according to The Washington Post.

Last week, the Times reported that Giuliani was himself under federal investigation for his dealings with Kiev on Trump's behalf.

Trump in September fired Bolton, who is known for his hardline stances on Washington's archenemies, particularly Iran, North Korea and Venezuela.

Hill left the Trump administration shortly before the July call with Zelensky.

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US: New bitter questions on Trump

The most recent events involving Donald Trump are addressed by this EFE newswire.

It starts: the drumbeats of the impeachment process resounded on Monday, but the White House did not want to know.

Likewise, it points out that Trump’s answers to Democrats —characterized by no strategy at all, chaos, improvisation, and mistakes— may wind up hurting himself.

It adds that before the actual crisis, the government’s response has been inaccurate and “Trump growingly looks like himself.”

Michael Cornfield —Political Science professor at the George Washington University— stated to the press that “the President is drunk on power and he is now looking for a new fight.”

EFE warns it is necessary to know Trump’s basic behavior to understand this White House reaction.

Chris Edelson, Politics professor at the American University, highlights he has no strategy to face the upcoming impeachment.

And adds, “he is a gangster. He thinks he is the Big Boss in the mafia world. He is an abuser and authoritarian. And he believes Republicans will always support him no matter what.”

He takes last Tuesday’s phone conversation as an example. This chat was leaked to the press between the President and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, before announcing a potential impeachment inquiry.

“Hey, can we do something about this whistleblower complaint? Can we work something out?’ The head of the White House asked.

Pelosi´s answer was sharp: “Yes, you could tell your people to abide the law.”

Afterwards, Trump showed once again this behavior in a private meeting with diplomats in New York where he suggested they should “get rid of” the whistleblower.

As previously reported, the whistleblower is a CIA agent who worked at the White House.

In the meeting Trump said:

“Who’s the person who provided such information to the whistleblower? Because that’s close to a spy. You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? With spies and treason, right?” Everything he said was leaked to the press.

The aforementioned professor Edelson said that Trump’s statements reminded him of the George Orwell’s novel “1984.”

And he added, “Trump said he did not do it, but he later asserted that there were no wrongdoings if he did.” The analysts said that is the “doublethinking” language.

In recent days, the New York Times released that Trump pressed in a phone conversation his Ukrainian counterpart, Vladimir Zelenski, so he could open an inquiry on former Vice President and current Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden, to undermine his presidential run for 2020.

EFE argues that such presidential formula and his attacks against the media have brought back hefty return for him. This week only, he has raised 13 million USD for his campaign.

Contrary to the common sense, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani has attended every debate in major television networks on daily basis.

The goal was to defend his role, but he ended up incriminating himself even more, paired with other scandals.

Giuliani, via Fox News, read the messages exchanged with diplomats to prove that Trump’s contacts with Ukraine were already known by the U.S. State Department.

According to Karen Hult, expert in the dynamics of the West Wing, Giuliani has emerged as Trump's main speaker in this crisis because the White House communications office has failed to structure a strategy and currently has an "inconsistent" relationship with the leader.

The apotheosis of this entire riot occurred on Wednesday. That day the White House mistakenly sent an email to Democratic lawmakers outlining their strategy on how Republicans should answer questions about the controversial call between Trump and Zelenski.

In the brief, entitled "What you need to know," the White House advised lawmakers to use the word "myth" to describe the conversation between the two leaders and asked the Democrats to "blame a media frenzy of false accusations."

As if that were not enough, then the White House sent another message to the Democrats asking them to please return their strategy.

Here you have the small world of that powerful nation, which proclaims itself the utmost example of democratic values of the world.

And it is now sunk in a profound crisis that rushes from chaos to an unstoppable rupture that goes deeper as days pass by.

Translated by Sergio A. Paneque Diaz/CubaSi Translation Staff

  • Published in Specials

Trump Followed His Gut on Syria. Calamity Came Fast.

President Trump’s acquiescence to Turkey’s move to send troops deep inside Syrian territory has in only one week’s time turned into a bloody carnage, forced the abandonment of a successful five-year-long American project to keep the peace on a volatile border, and given an unanticipated victory to four American adversaries: Russia, Iran, the Syrian government and the Islamic State.

Rarely has a presidential decision resulted so immediately in what his own party leaders have described as disastrous consequences for American allies and interests. How this decision happened — springing from an “off-script moment” with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, in the words of a senior American diplomat — likely will be debated for years by historians, Middle East experts and conspiracy theorists.

But this much already is clear: Mr. Trump ignored months of warnings from his advisers about what calamities likely would ensue if he followed his instincts to pull back from Syria and abandon America’s longtime allies, the Kurds. He had no Plan B, other than to leave. The only surprise is how swiftly it all collapsed around the president and his depleted, inexperienced foreign policy team.

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Day after day, they have been caught off-guard, offering up differing explanations of what Mr. Trump said to Mr. Erdogan, how the United States and its allies might respond, and even whether Turkey remains an American ally. For a while Mr. Trump said he acted because the Islamic State was already defeated, and because he was committed to terminating “endless wars” by pulling American troops out of the Middle East. By the end of the week he added 2,000 — to Saudi Arabia.

One day he was inviting Mr. Erdogan to visit the White House; the next he was threatening to “totally destroy and obliterate” Turkey’s economy if it crossed a line that he never defined.

Mr. Erdogan just kept going.

Mr. Trump’s error, some aides concede in off-the-record conversations, was entering the Oct. 6 call underprepared, and then failing to spell out for Mr. Erdogan the potential consequences — from economic sanctions to a dimunition of Turkey’s alliance with the United States and its standing in NATO. He has since threatened both, retroactively. But it is not clear Mr. Erdogan believes either is a real risk.

The drama is nowhere near over. Out of necessity, the Kurds switched sides on Sunday, turning their backs on Washington and signing up with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, a man the United States has called a war criminal for gassing his own people. At the Pentagon, officials struggled with the right response if Turkish forces — NATO allies — again opened fire on any of the 1,000 or so Americans now preparing to retreat from their positions inside Syria. Those troops are trapped for now, since Turkey has cut off the roads; removing them may require an airlift.

And over the weekend, State and Energy Department officials were quietly reviewing plans for evacuating roughly 50 tactical nuclear weapons that the United States had long stored, under American control, at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, about 250 miles from the Syrian border, according to two American officials.

Those weapons, one senior official said, were now essentially Erdogan’s hostages. To fly them out of Incirlik would be to mark the de facto end of the Turkish-American alliance. To keep them there, though, is to perpetuate a nuclear vulnerability that should have been eliminated years ago.

“I think this is a first — a country with U.S. nuclear weapons stationed in it literally firing artillery at US forces,” Jeffrey Lewis of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies wrote last week.

For his part, Mr. Erdogan claims nuclear ambitions of his own: Only a month ago, speaking to supporters, he said, he said he “cannot accept” rules that keep Turkey from possessing nuclear weapons of its own.

“There is no developed nation in the world that doesn’t have them,” he said. (In fact, most do not.)

“This president keeps blindsiding our military and diplomatic leaders and partners with impulsive moves like this that benefit Russia and authoritarian regimes,” said Senator Jack Reed, the Rhode Island Democrat and longtime member of the Armed Services Committee.

“If this president were serious about ending wars and winning peace, he’d actually articulate a strategy that would protect against a re-emergence of ISIS and provide for the safety of our Syrian partners,” Mr. Reed added. “But he has repeatedly failed to do that. Instead, this is another example of Donald Trump creating chaos, undermining U.S. interests, and benefitting Russia and the Assad regime.”

The other major beneficiary is Iran, perhaps Mr. Trump’s most talked-about geo-political foe, which has long supported the Syrian regime and sought freer rein across the country.

But none of that appeared to have been anticipated by Mr. Trump, who has no fondness for briefing books and meetings in the Situation Room intended to game out events two or three moves ahead. Instead, he often talks about the trusting his instincts.

“My gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me," he said late last year. He was discussing the Federal Reserve, but could just as easily been talking foreign policy; in 2017 he told a reporter, right after his first meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, that it was his “gut feel” for how to deal with foreign leaders, honed over years in the real estate world, that guided him. “Foreign policy is what I’ll be remembered for,” he said.

But in this case the failure to look around corners has blown up on him at a speed that is rare in foreign policy and national security. The closest analogue may date back to 1950, during Harry Truman’s administration, when Secretary of State Dean Acheson described America’s new “defense perimeter” in a speech, saying it ran from southern Japan through the Philippines. That left out the Korean Peninsula, and two weeks later Joseph Stalin, the Soviet leader, appeared to have given Kim Il-sung, grandfather of the current North Korean leader, permission to launch his invasion of the South. The bloody stalemate that followed lives with the United States today.

At the time, the United States kept a token force in South Korea, akin to the one parked along the Turkish-Syrian border. And it is impossible to know whether the North Korean attack would have been launched even without Mr. Acheson’s failure to warn about American action if a vulnerable ally was attacked — just as it is impossible to know if Mr. Erdogan would have sent his troops over the border if that phone call, and Mr. Trump’s failure to object, had never happened.

It was Mr. Trump himself who, during a presidential debate with Hillary Clinton in 2016, blamed President Barack Obama for a similar error. “President Obama and Secretary Clinton created a vacuum the way they got out of Iraq,” he said, referring to the 2011 withdrawal. “They shouldn’t have been in, but once they got in, the way they got out was a disaster. And ISIS was formed.”

Even his allies see the parallel. “If I didn’t see Donald Trump’s name on the tweet I thought it would be Obama’s rationale for getting out of Iraq,” Senator Lindsey Graham, one of Mr. Trump’s most vociferous defenders in recent years, but among his harshest Republican critics for the Syria decision, said last week.

As James F. Jeffrey, who worked for Mr. Obama as ambassador to Turkey, then to Iraq, and now serves as Mr. Trump’s special envoy for Syria, noted several years ago, it’s debatable whether events would have played out differently if the United States had stayed in Iraq.

Could a residual force have prevented ISIS’s victories?” he asked in a Wall Street Journal essay five years ago. “With troops we would have had better intelligence on al Qaeda in Iraq and later ISIS, a more attentive Washington, and no doubt a better-trained Iraqi army. But the common argument that U.S. troops could have produced different Iraqi political outcomes is hogwash. The Iraqi sectarian divides, which ISIS exploited, run deep and were not susceptible to permanent remedy by our troops at their height, let alone by 5,000 trainers under Iraqi restraints.”

Mr. Trump may now be left to make the same argument about Syria: That nothing could have stopped Mr. Erdogan, that the Russians would benefit in any case, that there are other ways to push back at Iran. Perhaps history will side with him.

For now, however, he has given up most of what little leverage he had.

 

  • Published in World

ICYMI: Pulling troops out of Syria leads to geopolitical whack-a-mole for Trump (VIDEO)

Donald Trump pulled US troops out of north-eastern Syria, claiming he wants to put an end to America’s ‘endless wars.’ Unfortunately, it’s not that easy and he started a game of geopolitical whack-a-mole.

While bringing troops home might sound like a good idea, the US President soon found himself having to put out fires at every turn. He faced accusations of betraying one ally, threatened another, and was then attacked by friends and foes back home.

ICYMI asks whether there might be a very good reason why those wars are ‘endless.’

CYMI: Syria Pullout: Geo-pol Whack-a-Mole...

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