Trump Threatens Legal Action after Lawrence O’Donnell Accuses Him of Working with Russian OligarchsJack Crowe•Update 4:36p.m.: In a Wednesday afternoon tweet drafted hours after Trump’s legal threat went public, O’Donnell admitted that he made a “error in judgment” in publicly accusing the president of co-signing loans with Russian oligarchs and promised to address the issue on his program.Lawrence O’Donnell@Lawrence Last night I made an error in judgment by reporting an item about the president’s finances that didn’t go through our rigorous verification and standards process. I shouldn’t have reported it and I was wrong to discuss it on the air. I will address the issue on my show tonight.President Trump’s attorney sent a letter to NBCUniversal Wednesday threatening the company with legal action in response to what he charged was an unfounded claim made on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell the previous night.In the demand letter, which was obtained by the the Hollywood Reporter, Trump attorney Charles Harder threatens to file a defamation suit against NBCUniversal if the company refuses to retract O’Donnell’s claim that Russian oligarchs co-signed a series of loans Deutsche Bank extended to Trump.“The Program and Tweet make the false and defamatory statements that ‘Russian oligarchs’ co-signed loans provided to Mr. Trump by Deutsche Bank, and described these ‘co-signers’ as ‘Russian billionaires close to Vladimir Putin,’” the letter reads.Harder argues that the accusation is easily disproven and suggests the network neglected its due diligence out of a desire to tar a political enemy.“The only borrowers under these loans are Trump entities, and Mr. Trump is the only guarantor,” the letter continues. “Numerous documents for each of these loans are also recorded, publicly available and searchable online. Thus, actual malice can easily be proven based on your reckless disregard of the truth and unreasonable reliance on an alleged ‘source’ who you will not even identify in your story and likely is seeking to mislead you and the public for political reasons or other ulterior motives.”O’Donnell raised the Deutsche Bank loans during his Tuesday night program in the context of House Democrats’ ongoing legal battle to secure records from the bank. The White House has resisted a congressional subpoena for the documents on the grounds that there is no legitimate legislative purpose that would justify such a demand.White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham lambasted O’Donnell Wednesday for publishing a single-sourced, unverified claim that would have profound implications if true.“This is one of the reasons that a majority of Americans have lost trust in the media. Instead of applying ethics and standards to their reporting, journalists and left-wing outlets have weaponized the media, using it to attack and harass people with little to no regard for the truth,” Grisham told Fox News.Critics of the president have speculated that Trump or one of his allies had some leverage over Deutsche Bank that allowed the Trump organization to continue procuring loans from the institution for projects that all other major banks refused to support.NBCUniversal did not respond to a request for comment by press time and NBC News had not, as of the time of this writing, published any article supporting O’Donnell’s claims.
The former secretary previously stated that the book would focus more on his career and how he ended up in the position than his futile relationship with the president, who had no prior military experience. That wish may not be met, as the memoir is already being scrutinised for insight into the Trump administration’s brash military action. Still, the book does touch on the former secretary’s role, particularly noting his surprise as being asked to serve at all.“I figured that my strong support of Nato and my dismissal of the use of torture on prisoners would have the president-elect looking for another candidate,” he writes about his shock at the vice president elect Mike Pence calling him to discuss the job.He then details an “amiable” meeting at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey during Thanksgiving in 2016, after comparing his role to taking oxygen mask during a plane crash he imagined on his cross-country flight to the club.”On my flight out of Denver, the flight attendant’s standard safety briefing caught my attention: If cabin pressure is lost, masks will fall…Put your own mask on first, then help others around you,” he writes, in an excerpt obtained by The Wall Street Journal. „In that moment, those familiar words seemed like a metaphor: To preserve our leadership role, we needed to get our own country’s act together first, especially if we were to help others.”Mr Mattis in fact had to be given a special waiver to serve as secretary of defence, having only been out of the military for three years; federal law dictates that the secretary must have seven years of distance from active duty. In his new book, he expresses surprise that he was asked to bypass this rule. He also maintains that he would have taken for either party’s president.”When it comes to the defence of our experiment in democracy and our way of life, ideology should have nothing to do with it,” he writes. „Whether asked to serve by a Democratic or a Republican, you serve.”He resigned in December 2018, writing in his letter of resignation: “Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defence whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.”In his new memoir, he declines to make those views clear, but does voice concern for the country’s current “internal divisiveness.”“We are diving into hostile tribes cheering against each other, fuelled by emotion and a mutual disdain that jeopardizes our future, instead of rediscovering our common ground and finding solutions,” a passage reads.It’s unclear what he is talking about.
Ex-Pentagon chief Mattis warns US cannot survive without allies
Washington (AFP) – Former US Defense Secretary Warned Wednesday that the United States cannot survive without its allies, days after the G7 summit showed President Donald Trump out of step with America’s key partners.
„An oft-spoken admonition in the Marines is this: When you’re going to a gunfight, bring all your friends with guns,” Mattis wrote in the Wall Street Journal, in his first public comments since quitting in a policy dispute with Trump last December.
„A leader must display strategic acumen that incorporates respect for those nations that have stood with us when trouble loomed,” Mattis wrote.
„Nations with allies thrive, and those without them wither. Alone, America cannot protect our people and our economy.”
Mattis’s opinion column was published just hours before his successor, Mark Esper, gives his first on-camera press briefing since being confirmed as Pentagon chief last month.
Esper has the responsibility of implementing Trump’s demands for a withdrawal of most US troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, the policies Mattis fell out with the president over.
Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general, said he had to step down after his „concrete solutions and strategic advice, especially keeping faith with our allies, no longer resonated,” with the US leadership.
Mattis also blasted the hyper-partisan political atmosphere in Washington as contributing to the erosion of US leadership in the world, saying he had little taste for „the political fratricide practiced in Washington.”
„What concerns me most as a military man is not our external adversaries; it is our internal divisiveness,” he said.
„Unlike in the past, where we were unified and drew in allies, currently our own commons seems to be breaking apart.”
„To preserve our leadership role, we needed to get our own country’s act together first, especially if we were to help others.”
In exclusive WSJ excerpts from his new book, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says he resigned form the Trump administration “when my concrete solutions and strategic advice, especially keeping faith with our allies, no longer resonated. Without mentioning Mr. Trump’s battles with friendly nations, Mr. Mattis stresses the importance of alliances.
The 360 shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories.
On Monday, former tea party Congressman Joe Walsh announced his bid to challenge Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination in 2020. Walsh said he wants to offer voters an alternative to Trump, who he called “completely unfit to be president.”
Walsh had been a host on conservative radio since shortly after finishing his term in Congress in 2013. He said he lost his show after announcing his run for president.
Walsh had previously been a vocal proponent of Trump but has since apologized for that support. He also said he regrets his history of saying “racist things” about former President Barack Obama, Muslims and black people generally.
Walsh is the second Republican to formally launch a run against Trump for the party nomination. Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who is politically to the left of Trump and Walsh on a number of issues, announced his candidacy in April. Mark Sanford, a former congressman and governor of South Carolina, has said he’s considering entering the field. There is also speculation that former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and ex-Ohio Gov. John Kasich may run.
Why there’s debate:
Chances are slim that Walsh, Weld or any other challenger could steal the Republican nomination. Though Trump’s overall approval ratings have hovered around 40 percent, the primary will be decided by members of his party, among whom he has extraordinary support.
History shows, however, that primary challengers can harm an incumbent’s reelection chances. In fact, every sitting president in recent American history who has faced a serious primary fight has ultimately lost his reelection bid. Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush were all defeated in the general election after defeating challengers from within their own party.
Some experts believe that criticism from fellow Republicans might be able to reach voters who tend to get their news from platforms that Democrats don’t typically appear on. Others argue that the cumulative effect of critiques from several different challengers might dampen enthusiasm for the president and suppress Republican turnout in the general election.
Walsh is basing his candidacy on the belief that there is a quiet discontent about Trump among Republicans who, until recently, didn’t “have an alternative.” It will take time to see whether that coalition emerges, if it exists at all. Meanwhile, Republican leadership in some states is reportedly considering steps to insulate the president from challengers, including canceling their statewide primaries altogether. President Trump tweeted Tuesday about his challengers: „Can you believe it? … I should be able to take them!”
Trump is too popular with Republicans for primary challengers to be a problem
“The problem for Walsh — or any other conservative challenger — is that Trump remains extremely popular with GOP voters.” — Benjamin Hart and Chas Danner, New York
Months of criticism from multiple challengers might chip away at Trump’s support
“I think the more Republicans you have that are sort of chipping away at him and hammering him, I think the more problematic it becomes over time. … Having to deal with a primary challenge isn’t going to topple you from the party, but could create poor conditions for you in a general election.” — David Drucker, Fox News
None of the potential challengers is a strong enough candidate to move the needle
“Unfortunately, the alternatives for traditional conservatives are not great, and the odds of another Republican winning the GOP nomination in 2020 are infinitesimal.” — Jim Geraghty, National Review
Primary challengers may be a sign that Trump is vulnerable
“Challengers to an incumbent president run to signal something is terribly wrong, to shake the electorate awake and to stir doubt about the incumbent. It’s a demonstration that party loyalty should not be paramount.” — Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post
Criticism of Trump from within the Republican Party may be more potent
“Trump supporters probably will never listen to Democrats, but these [Republican challengers] might be effective at reaching those on the right who have grown increasingly uncomfortable with Trump.” — Dean Obeidallah, CNN
Walsh may be the answer for conservatives who disapprove of Trump’s values
“Imagine if Walsh could get some buzz in Iowa or in New Hampshire, finding some honest-to-goodness conservatives who are looking for a candidate who’d actually represent their views rather than his own whims and business interests. … At the moment, it’s only a dream, but in six months or so, it could be so much more. It could be a conservative’s dream come true.” — Editorial, Mass Live
Trump’s structural advantages may be too much for a challenger to overcome
“Sitting presidents always exert control over the national party to try to quash would-be rivals, but GOP observers say Trump’s reelection campaign already has heavily brought its influence to bear.” — Will Weissert, Associated Press
Trump’s challengers hold antiquated beliefs about what Republican voters want
“The Republican Party these men are dreaming of — of deficit hawks and ‘normal’ conservatism — no longer exists.” — Jane Coaston, Vox
Is there a topic you’d like to see covered in The 360? Send your suggestions to email@example.com.
A federal appeals court ruled that atheists and others who do not believe in God can be prohibited from delivering an invocation at the Pennsylvania statehouse.
The 2 to 1 ruling from the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia on Friday upheld a state House of Representatives policy that stipulates the chamber’s opening invocation may be led only by a current member of the House or “a member of a regularly established church or religious organization.”
The court found that the rules governing the opening invocation, which also require the invocation to be “respectful of all religious beliefs,” do not infringe on the First Amendment since the invocation falls under government speech and goes along with the “historical tradition of legislative prayer.”
“First, only theistic prayer can satisfy all the traditional purposes of legislative prayer. Second, the Supreme Court has long taken as given that prayer presumes invoking a higher power,” the court stated.
A lower court halted the policy last summer, ruling that there is “no justification to sanction government’s establishment of a category of favored religions — like monotheistic or theistic faiths — through legislative prayer,” but Friday’s ruling overturns that decision.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represented the plaintiffs who complained about the rule, panned the “disappointing ruling,” saying it gives “special privileges to people because they believe in a god.”
Mexico Unknown Border
PLAYA BAGDAD, Mexico (AP) — At the very eastern end of the U.S.-Mexico border there’s a long strip of sand where the Rio Grande meets the sea. It is called Playa Bagdad — or ‘Bagdad Beach.’
Unlike the Tijuana-Imperial Beach border on the western end, here there are no steel pilings marching out to sea to stop migrants from swimming, wading or paddling across to the United States.
In Playa Bagdad, which is spelled ‘Playa Baghdad’ by the Drug Enforcement Agency, it’s apparently unnecessary: This is a beach for drugs and crime, not migrants.
As attention focuses on the migrant crisis along the border that has drawn harsh rhetoric and actions from President Donald Trump, Playa Bagdad seems to have escaped notice.
Here, there are no walls or border guards, just miles of dunes and Gulf coast beaches marked only by simple wooden huts or awnings held up by sticks.
The only highway ends abruptly in a handful of structures populated by beachgoers looking for alcohol and fishermen who might catch sharks one day and unload cocaine the next.
On the U.S. side, there is not much more besides a single Customs and Border Protection checkpoint, a gun store complete with a shooting range, and a SpaceX hangar where some rockets that might reach Mars are being tested. The nearest city of Brownsville, Texas is 25 miles (40 kilometers) away.
Where the two countries meet lies an expanse of water perhaps 25 yards (23 meters) wide, so shallow that you could walk across at low tide, but few people do.
The reason it’s kept under wraps is simple: Cartels tend to use these coastal plains for purposes like transporting drugs — or as the DEA notes, dumping bodies clandestinely. And they put a premium at keeping migrants away.
„They want to keep the heat off this spot,” said Marco Antonio Álvarez, a rail-thin old man with a greying beard and leather-like skin toughened by the sun.
Álvarez, who spent time in U.S. jails for migrant smuggling, says he still gets paid $300 per month — he won’t say by whom — to watch the expanse of water and two boats.
„If people start crossing the river, you start seeing (CBP) patrol vehicles show up on the other side,” said Álvarez, who usually sits sheltered from the sun in the shade of an old plywood camper that once served as a seafood stand.
Playa Bagdad appeared on maps in 1848, when the border was drawn during the Mexico-American War. Later, it became the seaport for cotton produced in Texas during the Civil War.
The origin of the settlement’s name is lost to the annals of history. A ship might have run aground and been looted there, a scene that might have reminded some of „Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves.” Or the person who named it might have been a fan of „1,001 Nights.”
Mike Vigil, a former DEA operation chief, remembered one story which maintains that the U.S. Army might have stationed some camels at Playa Bagdad during its experiments with those animals in the 19th century.
But contraband has always been here in one form or another. Centuries back, silver was trafficked through. During Prohibition, alcohol could be procured. And in the 1980s and 1990s, it was marijuana and Colombian cocaine that made its way across.
DEA Special Agent Sammy Parks said Playa Bagdad is now a center for loading and unloading drugs bound for the U.S. market.
„It is a short, easy route without much law enforcement,” added Vigil.
Of the 1,215 members of the National Guard that Mexico has deployed to Tamaulipas, none are seen in Playa Bagdad. They are mainly in the conflictive border cities further west along the Rio Grande Valley.
Three decades ago, people like Álvarez combined fishing with small-scale migrant smuggling, guiding people across to Brownsville for $20 per head. That all ended in the 1980s and 1990s.
„When they started to sell crack, you couldn’t do business anymore because everything was controlled by the mafia,” Álvarez said.
The city of Matamoros, whose territory covers Playa Bagdad, touts the beach as a great tourist destination.
But Álvarez said that drug cartels completely control it.
„You have to pay them a quota and get their permission,” he notes.
For years, the violent state of Tamaulipas, where Playa Bagdad is located, has been ruled by silence and fear, and the state government itself is suspected of having been infiltrated by drug gangs, with two former governors currently on trial on corruption charges.
One of the key drug-cartels operating in the area is the now-splintered Gulf Cartel.
In 2000, the Gulf Cartel’s armed enforcement wing, The Zetas, split and began an all-out offensive. The Zetas later split themselves again, but still control the westernmost part of the state, while the Gulf Cartel has also fractured and controls the east.
The federal government did not respond to requests for comment, although the current state government headed by an opposition-party governor says it is actively collaborating with U.S. and Mexican federal authorities to combat cartels, often by sharing information.
These days though, the only law enforcement The Associated Press saw were four state police officers who rode through quickly on two ATVS and just as quickly left.
According to the DEA, small fishing boats load drugs in Playa Bagdad and run it up the coast to Padre Island, in Texas. Other boats are known to drop off goods which are then loaded onto vehicles and taken into the U.S. by highway.
Some of the border crossings themselves are under de facto cartel control on the Mexican side.
One man who was fishing with friends at the mouth of the Rio Grande, recalled seeing a would-be border crosser who cartel gunmen brought back from the river between the two countries at gunpoint.
„They pointed guns at him and brought him back,” he said. „If you want to cross, it is with them.”
He was one of the few who were willing to talk, and even then, the conversation died down every time a boat passed. „You never know who is listening,” said the man, declining to give his name.
There are more than 6,000 disappeared persons in Tamaulipas alone.
„Mass graves have been discovered in the Playa Baghdad area, and there’s a local threat about being ‘taken to the beach,’ which implies someone will disappear,” said Parks, the DEA agent.
The only official presence is a sandbag guard post on the highway between Playa Bagdad and Matamoros, although locals protested at the post this month, saying it was only used to demand bribes.
For Álvarez, „the Guard” doesn’t mean President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s National Guard either. Instead it means „former soldiers, marines and police who report to the gangs.”
Further down the coast in the hamlet of Playa Bagdad, there is a lively scene. Small seafood restaurants stand on stilts and the sound of mariachi music mixes with the shouts of vendors selling oysters. A marine guard post offered some semblance of protection to tourists.
Then, a big man with close-cropped hair descended from a truck selling roast chickens to ask what journalists were doing in the area.
„As tourists you can film whatever you want,” the man said, emphasizing the word tourists and suggesting anybody else should get out.
„Here there is freedom of expression.”