Politics White House chief of staff vows that Democrats will ‘never’ see Donald Trump’s tax returnsWilliam Cummings•Trump says he’s not inclined to provide tax info Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney vowed Sunday that congressional Democrats will „never” see President Donald Trump’s tax returns and characterized their attempts to obtain copies of the returns as a „political stunt.”
Last week, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., asked the IRS to hand over six years of Trump’s tax returns by April 10. Neal cited his authority to request the returns under a law that says the Treasury Department „shall furnish” the committee with „any return or return information” upon request. Mulvaney said during an interview on „Fox News Sunday” that Democrats „knew they’re not going to get these taxes” and that „one of the fundamental principles of the IRS is to protect the confidentiality of you and me and everybody else who files taxes.”
Democrats „know the terms under law by which the IRS can give them the documents, but political hit job is not one of those reasons,” Mulvaney said.
When asked if he thought Democrats would ever see Trump’s tax returns, Mulvaney said, „Oh, no, never. Nor should they.”
He said the push for Trump’s taxes was driven by hatred of the president, which he called „Trump derangement syndrome.”
„If they don’t get what they want on the Mueller report, they’re going to ask for the taxes. If they don’t get what they want on the taxes, they’ll ask for something else,” Mulvaney said. He said the issue of Trump’s tax returns „was already litigated during the election.”
„Voters knew the president could have given his tax returns, they knew that he didn’t and they elected him anyway, which is, of course, what drives the Democrats crazy,” Mulvaney said.
During the campaign, Trump said that he couldn’t release his tax returns because he was under audit and that he would release them once the audit was complete. He has repeated that position since taking office. Friday, during his visit to the U.S.-Mexican border, Trump said, „I’m under audit. When you’re under audit, you don’t do it.”
IRS officials have said taxpayers under audit are free to release their returns.
In his statement announcing the request for Trump’s returns, Neal said one of the committee’s main motivations was making sure that the „audits are conducted fully and appropriately” and that „the IRS is carrying out its responsibilities.”
„This request is about policy, not politics,” Neal said, and was „in no way based on emotion of the moment or partisanship.”
Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said Sunday on ABC’s „This Week” that the request lacks a required „legitimate legislative purpose” and accused Democrats of trying to „use the IRS as a political weapon.”
Friday, attorneys for Trump sent a letter to the Treasury Department’s general counsel stressing the importance of protecting taxpayer’s privacy and arguing that handing over the returns would „set a dangerous precedent.”
‘A gross abuse of power’: Trump’s lawyer blasts demand for tax returns, seeks delay
Treasury Secretary Mnuchin to Congress: ‘We will protect the president’ if tax returns are requested
Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, disputed that argument in an interview Sunday.
„It’s certainly not a Pandora’s box,” Kildee said on ABC’s „This Week.” He said Congress exercised its „legitimate authority” to conduct oversight of „the least transparent president that we’ve had in half a century.”
„He’s broken precedent by not releasing his tax returns,” Kildee said. „We wouldn’t need to go through this exercise if he had simply done what he had promised to do.
„This is not an autocracy. The president does not get to decide for himself and for Congress what a legitimate subject of inquiry might be,” he said.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said Sunday on NBC’s „Meet the Press” that he would like „the president to follow through and show his tax returns.”
President Trump says Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is leaving.
Foreign affairs and interior ministers of G7 nations meet in Dinard
By John Irish and Richard Lough
DINARD, France (Reuters) – The Group of Seven nations ended a foreign ministers’ meeting in western France without quarreling on Saturday, as they looked to lay the groundwork for a leaders’ summit in August despite the absence of the U.S. Secretary of State.
U.S. President Donald Trump had thrown last year’s summit of the club of major industrial countries in Canada into disarray, backing out of a joint communique and firing barbs at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
France, which now has the G7 presidency, scaled back its ambitions for the latest meeting, focusing on areas where consensus could be found including the dangers of cyber crime for democracy, tackling inequalities between men and women, and trafficking in Africa’s Sahel region.
„Last year there was an end of G7 that did not go very well but the G7 here in Dinard went very well,” France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters, seeking to put a positive spin on the two-day meeting.
The meeting was overshadowed by the absence of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who sent his deputy in his place. One diplomat said it sent a message that he „had better things to do”.
However, it did lay out ambitions for a cyber security initiative designed to help protect liberal democracies and defend civil liberties from digital attacks, though it was the turmoil in Libya that appeared to unite them the most.
As eastern commander Khalifa Haftar swept toward Tripoli, they pressed him to halt his forces’ advance on the capital as concerns grow of a civil war resurgence.
Urging restraint from all factions, the G7 said Libya’s oil installations should not be used by any group for political gain. „At least there seems to be a good degree of convergence on Libya from the international community,” Italy’s Foreign Minister Enzo Milanesi told reporters.
Despite that unity, Le Drian pointed out that differences on key issues were still evident, especially on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how to handle Iran.
„Despite the crisp air of Dinard, we couldn’t overcome some of our differences,” Le Drian said.
A spokeswoman for Japan’s foreign ministry described the debate as friendly but at times heated and frank.
President Trump last year pulled the United States out of Iran’s international nuclear deal, rejecting the approach favored by Washington’s allies to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
The final communique made no mention of the Iran accord, which France, Britain and Germany continue to abide by. However, it outlined concerns over Iran’s regional and ballistic missile activities, and its human rights record.
„We intend to continue our work to counter Iran’s regional proliferation of ballistic missiles and its unlawful arms transfers,” the communique said.
The biggest difference was on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In March, Trump recognized Israel’s 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights in an election boost for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, drawing direct or implied criticism from the European Union and European capitals.
„We had an exchange of views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and there were clear differences,” the communique read.
G7 leaders meet in southwest France at the end of August.
(Reporting by John Irish, Julie Carriat and Marine Pennetier; Editing by Richard Lough and David Holmes)
By Alissa de Carbonnel and Giulia Paravicini
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini sends texts with smileys to French far-right leader Marine Le Pen and posts selfies with Austrian far-right politician Heinz-Christian Strache.
The face of the leader of Italy’s far-right League party is beamed onto big screens at right-wing rallies from Prague to Sofia.
Buoyed by his own success and voter fatigue with mainstream parties, Salvini is trying to build bridges before elections on May 26 to the European Parliament, the European Union’s legislature.
With the two biggest political blocs expected to lose their combined majority, he and other far-right leaders hope to form an opposition, eurosceptic alliance with enough seats in the assembly to block or hold up legislation.
„Our idea is to come together … into a new party that better reflects the euroskeptical views that unite us,” Salvini’s foreign affairs advisor Marco Zanni told Reuters. „Now is our chance to unite forces once and for all.”
But when Salvini starts his campaign for the elections on Monday in Milan, representatives of only three, relatively small far-right European parties will be present.
Le Pen will not be there. Nor will representatives of Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s Law and Justice party (PiS), which governs Poland.
Salvini promises a much bigger rally next month. But the absence of Le Pen and other leading far-right and nationalist leaders speaks to the policy differences and rivalries that have long stood in the way of unity among such groups.
Far-right leaders share the broad ideological goals of curbing the EU’s perceived liberal course and returning power to the member states’ capitals. But they differ in other areas, and an attempt by U.S. President Donald Trump’s former strategist, Steve Bannon, to act as a power broker among Europe’s populist groups has fizzled.
BIRDS OF A FEATHER?
Investors expect heightened political uncertainty after the May 26 election, in which 705 members of the European Parliament (MEPs) will be elected, or 751 if Britain fails to leave the EU as planned.
General dissatisfaction over slow economic growth, security threats posed by Islamist militants and a backlash against migration across open EU borders have boosted support for eurosceptic nationalists in many member states.
„There is a growing confidence of voters to go against the norm,” said Susi Dennison, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. „The ‘anti- forces’ are much more motivated right now than the pro-Europeans.”
Their gains and Britain’s planned departure from the EU will mean a shake-up of the pan-national groups created by parties in the EU parliament, whose main role is checking and amending EU laws drawn up by the executive European Commission.
Salvini’s anti-immigrant League is forecast to more than quadruple its representation in the EU assembly with 27 seats.
Along with the projected rise for Le Pen’s National Rally and Strache’s Freedom Party of Austria, which is in a coalition government with Strache as vice-chancellor, the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group to which they belong could be boosted to 61 seats from 37.
Salvini, whose party co-rules Italy, wants to embrace other leaders whose parties are in rival groups such as Kaczynski.
The two held a meeting in Warsaw in January, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban hailed the prospect of them forming an alliance as one of the greatest developments of this year.
Forming one big political group can also unlock funds and opportunities for patronage.
„They’re going to get much more resources if they’re able to sit together,” said Cas Mudde, an expert on the far-right at the University of Georgia.
But policy differences make it likely that parties critical of the EU will remain divided into at least two groupings, one centered around Salvini and the other around Kaczynski.
Salvini admires Russian President Vladimir Putin – Kaczynski vilifies him. Both are anti-immigration but at odds over how to handle it. Italy is net giver to the EU budget, Poland is a net receiver. Their views on the economy do not align.
For right-wing parties in Denmark, Finland and Sweden which see Russia as a threat, Salvini and Le Pen’s pro-Kremlin sympathies are also a red line.
„It is a crucial aspect for many countries,” Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Akesson told Reuters. „It will not succeed, there will be no such group.”
Many parties competing at the national level will also find it difficult to sit together.
Orban has chosen to remain with the parliament’s biggest political grouping despite being suspended from it last month. For all his praise of coalition-building among eurosceptics, being in a group with Europe’s power brokers confers a mainstream respectability that other populists lack.
Some hope that will change after the election.
„Leaving a strong group to join a weak group is a difficult political decision, but leaving to join a group that is also quite strong and growing is less so,” said Ryszard Legutko, a PiS lawmaker and co-chair of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group.
„It is the first time there’s a real chance things might change, that this political, even ideological monopoly can be somehow undermined,” Legutko said.
IN FROM THE COLD
Links among the far-right remain largely limited to personal relationships. When leaders who have long been isolated at home and lack influence abroad attend each other’s rallies, it is about showing they are not marginal.
„It is about validating one another,” said Duncan McDonnell, Professor of Politics in the School of Government and International Relations at Griffith University. But he said the far-right increasingly saw itself as „part of a new wave”.
The Alternative for Germany (AfD) could win many more seats in the next European Parliament, opinion polls show, and might throw its hat in with Salvini’s ENF group. The polls show the Forum for Democracy (FvD) in the Netherlands, led by Thierry Baudet, could win four new seats in the EU assembly and it has said it will join Poland’s PiS in the ECR.
Spanish newcomer Vox has become the darling of eurosceptic groups following its success in a regional election last December in Spain, which until then had been resistant to the populist currents sweeping Europe.
Vox is now being courted by both by Poland’s PiS and Salvini’s League. But looking ahead to the next European Parliament – where polls suggest Vox will win about five seats, up from none today — Vox leader Santiago Abascal told Reuters: „It may be that we’ll be alone.”
Vox has capitalized on domestic tensions over Catalan separatism – it regards Catalonia as an integral part of Spain – but some other far-right parties do not share its view.
„Their support of the (separatists’) coup d’etat by Catalonia is an enormous barrier (to cooperation),” he said.
Even if parties are not the same group, Zanni of Salvini’s League says there will be greater cooperation to try to influence or thwart EU policy.
„The risk is longer-term paralysis,” Dennison said, „that over time will erode the idea of EU as an effective actor.”
But European Parliament strategists say younger right-wing political groups have shown far weaker party discipline.
„The eurosceptics are a wing of many feathers, and I’m not sure it will beat effectively,” said one senior official in the European People’s Party, the main centre-right group.
(Additional reporting by Johan Ahlander in Stockholm, Belén Carreño and Ingrid Melander in Madrid, Joanna Plucinska and Justyna Pawlak in Warsaw, Robert Muller in Prague, Simon Carraud in Paris and Crispian Balmer in Rome, Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel, Editing by Timothy Heritage)
A member of Libyan National Army (LNA), commanded by Khalifa Haftar, is seen as he heads out of Benghazi to reinforce the troops advancing to Tripoli, in Benghazi
By Ahmed Elumami and Ayman al-Warfalli
TRIPOLI/BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – Eastern Libyan forces carried out air strikes on the southern part of Tripoli on Sunday and made progress toward the city center, residents said, escalating an operation to take the capital as the United Nations failed to achieve a truce.
The Libyan National Army (LNA) force of Khalifa Haftar, which backs a parallel administration in the east, last week launched an advance on Tripoli in the west, home to the internationally recognized government.
The offensive intensifies a power struggle that has fractured the oil and gas producer since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.
The LNA reached the southern outskirts of the capital on Friday and says it took the former international airport, though the Tripoli military officials deny this.
At least one warplane carried out an air strike in the area, a resident said.
„The air force took part for the first time in the military operations,” said LNA spokesman Ahmed Mismari. „It conducted a very successful operation to secure the airport road (to city center),” he added.
The LNA moved up north from on the road from former airport in the district of Khalat Furgan, coming some 11 km from the city center, a resident said, adding he could see the troops as forces loyal to the Tripoli government withdrew.
The U.N. mission to Libya (UNSMIL) called on Sunday for a truce for two hours in southern Tripoli to evacuate civilians and wounded, it said in a statement without giving details.
But the true was not observed by evening, one U.N. official said.
In another sign of the situation worsening on the ground, a contingent of U.S. forces supporting the U.S. Africa Command evacuated Libya for security reasons, a U.S. statement said. It gave no details.
Forces allied to the Tripoli government meanwhile announced their own operation called „Volcano of Anger” to defend the capital, a spokesman said, without giving details.
The offensive has taken the United Nations by surprise, undermining plans to find agreement on a road map for elections to resolve the protracted instability in Libya.
Lawless since Gaddafi was toppled by rebels backed by NATO air strikes, Libya has become the transit point hundreds of thousands of migrants trekking across the Sahara with the objective of reaching Europe across the Mediterranean Sea.
Haftar, 75, who casts himself as a foe of Islamist extremism but is viewed by opponents as a new dictator in the mould of Gaddafi, enjoys the backing of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which see him as a bulwark against Islamists and have supported him militarily, according to U.N. reports.
The UAE, however, has joined Western countries in expressing its deep concern about the fighting.
„No justification for LNA move on Tripoli,” UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt tweeted, adding he was watching the situation very closely and would discuss the „next steps” with the European Union on Monday.
In the past, Haftar has struck deals with armed factions outside Tripoli to advance his forces. But gaining control of Tripoli – the ultimate prize for Haftar’s eastern parallel government – would be far more complicated.
Armed groups allied to the Tripoli government have moved more machinegun-mounted pickup trucks to defend Tripoli from Misrata down the coast. Misrata is known for a spirit of resisting „old regime” figures, developed during 2011 when pro-Gaddafi forces besieged it for three months.
(Reporting by Ahmed Elumami, Ayman Al-Warfalli, Ulf Laessing, Nayera Abdallah and John Irish; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Keith Weir and Peter Graff)