Trump repeats debunked Ukraine conspiracy theory in Oval Office
Dylan Stableford Senior Writer•President Trump on Wednesday promoted a conspiracy theory about Ukraine that his aides had warned him repeatedly was “completely debunked.”Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, Trump defended his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s pursuit of alleged corruption in Ukraine — an effort that is now part of the impeachment inquiry into the president.During a July 25 phone call that was flagged by an intelligence community whistleblower, Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to work with Giuliani or Attorney General William Barr to investigate Joe Biden, his son Hunter and the Democratic National Committee server that was hacked by Russia in 2016.“Rudy was one of many people that was incensed at the corruption that took place during that election,” Trump said. “For instance, I still ask the FBI, ‘Where is the server?’ How come the FBI never got the server from the DNC? Where is the server? I want to see the server.”President Trump speaks to reporters in the Oval Office on Wednesday as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo looks on. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP)U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies concluded that the hack of the DNC server was carried out by Russians. According to CNN, the FBI “looked at the imaged copies of the DNC — essentially an electronic copy of everything that was on the server” and determined that Moscow was behind the hack. The fact that investigators never looked at the physical server has led some conspiracy theorists, and now the president, to suggest foul play.The president claimed “they say” the server “is being held by a company owned by an individual who is from Ukraine.”“They” would appear to be wrong. CrowdStrike, a U.S. cybersecurity firm that helped the DNC conduct the investigation, was referenced by Trump during his call with Zelensky. Fringe conspiracy theorists have falsely claimed that CrowdStrike’s founder, Dmitri Alperovitch, is Ukrainian and would therefore have a motive to blame the hack on Russia. But Alperovitch is not Ukrainian; he is a Russian-born U.S. citizen.In an interview with ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” in late September, Tom Bossert, who served as Trump’s first homeland security adviser, said he and his staff repeatedly told the president there was no basis to the theory that Ukraine, not Russia, intervened in the 2016 election.“It is completely debunked,” Bossert said. “I am deeply frustrated with what he and the legal team is doing and repeating that debunked theory to the president. It sticks in his mind when he hears it over and over again, and for clarity here, George, let me just again repeat that it has no validity.”
What’s Really in the Trade Deal Trump Announced With China
There are good reasons to be skeptical about those claims. The deal appears likely to benefit American farmers by increasing Chinese purchases of agricultural goods and gives some other businesses more access to the Chinese market. But the “agreement in principle” is limited in scope and exact details have yet to be put in writing — a process that has derailed negotiations with China in the past.
U.S. officials said Friday that they would work with China on finalizing an initial agreement in the coming weeks, with hopes of signing a deal when Trump and President Xi Jinping attend a summit of global leaders in Chile in mid-November.
Here’s what we know so far about what the agreement might contain.
What’s in the Deal
— Agricultural Products
From Trump’s perspective, the centerpiece of the pact is a commitment by China to purchase between $40 billion to $50 billion of American agricultural products per year. Administration officials said that target would be reached within the second year of the pact’s enactment.
That volume would represent a huge increase over what China was purchasing before the start of the trade war. American farm exports to China peaked at around $25.5 billion in 2016, according to the American Farm Bureau, then dipped to $24.3 billion in 2017.
Since then, exports of soybeans, pork and other products have collapsed under pressure from the trade war. American farm exports to China fell to just $13.4 billion in 2018 and are on track for a similar total this year, according to the same data.
U.S. officials have not specified which products would be purchased, or how they arrived at a $50 billion figure. But to many analysts, that level of exports seems hard to achieve. Trump himself acknowledged this on Saturday, saying in a tweet that “there is a question as to whether or not this much product can be produced.”
“Our farmers will figure it out. Thank you China!” the president added.
- Twelve 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have qualified for the fourth Democratic primary debate, which CNN and The New York Times will co-host tonight, October 15, 2019.
- CNN anchors Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett as well as New York Times national editor Mark Lacey will moderate the debate.
- The debate will be hosted at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio and will air at 8 p.m. ET.
- In addition to airing live on all CNN, CNN en Español, and CNN International, the debate will be live-streamed on CNN.com and nytimes.com.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Twelve 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have qualified for the fourth Democratic primary debate, which CNN and The New York Times will co-host tonight, October 15, 2019.
Twenty candidates qualified for both the June round of debates hosted by NBC and the July round hosted by CNN, prompting them to be split up between two nights each time.
In the September debate, ten candidates all debated on one stage for the first time. Since then, two more candidates — Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and businessman Tom Steyer — have qualified, making for the most crowded debate stage yet.
Steyer, a billionaire financier and first-time political candidate who has poured tens of millions of dollars into his own campaign, will appear on a presidential debate stage for the very first time in October. Gabbard qualified for the June and July debates, but narrowly missed the cut for the September debate.
The Democratic National Committee set much stricter thresholds for candidates to qualify for the September and October primary debates, requiring contenders to secure 130,000 unique donors and reach 2% support in four DNC-approved polls.
For the next debate to be held on November 20, contenders have to secure 3% in four DNC-approved national polls or 5% in two early-state polls in addition to obtaining 165,000 unique donors.
The field is significantly narrowing down, with multiple lower-tier candidates dropping out of the race after failing to meet the debate requirements, running out of money, or both.
GAZIANTEP, Turkey—After eight years of Syrian civil war, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, and the displacement of half the Syrian population, U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s decisions have created conditions for Bashar al-Assad’s regime to re-assert control over nearly one-third of the country that had been outside its grip since 2012.
Far from reining in U.S. adversaries, Trump’s presidency will likely be remembered as one through which Assad, this century’s greatest mass murderer, managed finally to claw his way back to a position of undisputed authority.
This is the way that’s playing out on the ground in what is, admittedly, still a complicated situation.
The news began Tuesday morning with Russian pro-Kremlin journalist Oleg Blokhin streaming a live video from inside the recently abandoned American al-Sa’idi’a base in Syria on the western outskirts of the Manbij countryside.
“Good morning to everyone from Manbij,” exclaimed Blokhin. “I’m at the American military base right now, where they were until yesterday morning. Already, we’re here [instead]. We’re going to examine now how they were living here, what they were so busy with, and what’s going on.”
A second video would show Blokhin as he mockingly played with a boom barrier at the entrance to the base, appearing to check whether or not it worked. “It’s in good condition,” he assured the cameraman, with a slight grin.
Blokhin, who works for the pro-Kremlin ANNA news network, previously covered the activities of Russian private military contractor Wagner as it trained pro-Assad militiamen in January, and later accompanied Russian and pro-Assad forces during the latter’s successful August campaign to take back the town of Khan Sheikhoun. Now, he stood gloating on a former U.S. military base.
Other pro-Assad media soon conducted similar tours of other U.S. bases abandoned by American soldiers. Reports throughout the day Tuesday would also claim U.S. troops pulled out of two new additional locations including the eastern town of Tal Baydar and the Kharab Ashak base west of Ain Aissa. Shortly before U.S. troops withdrew, ISIS families still being detained at a nearby prison facility in Ain Aissa reportedly set fires throughout the camp in a renewed attempt to try to escape.
In addition to exemplifying the momentous shift underway as Assad’s vital ally Russia finally replaces the United States as the primary party in northern Syria capable of liaising with most all of the parties to the conflict, Blokhin’s livestream carried a special significance for locals in Manbij.
Over the past week, including several days after Trump’s shock announcement that U.S. troops would withdraw from Syria, American soldiers at the al-Sa’idi’a base actually continued carrying out near-daily patrols in the western and northern Manbij countryside that helped successfully ward off previous attempts by Syrian regime forces to set up positions in the area.
That offered hope to those in Manbij who oppose the regime—that U.S. military institutions might be capable of coercing the Turkish president to adopt a compromise that saw U.S. troops remain in the area until Turkish-backed forces were capable of assuming control. But those hopes along with more than 16 months of U.S.-Turkish diplomacy were dashed Tuesday as the American troops made their final withdrawal from the area, paving the way for Russian and Syrian regime forces to roll in free and unopposed.
Elsewhere, in Ain Aissa and Tal Tamr, towns located along the M4 highway, northern Syria’s main artery and transportation route, Russian and regime forces established permanent checkpoints and bases to ensure control of the strategic route in the face of oncoming Turkish assaults. Those reinforcements appeared to have helped the SDF capture three villages from Turkish-backed forces in the immediate vicinity north of Tal Tamr later that night.
While the arrival of regime forces undoubtedly has provided much needed relief for the SDF on several fronts, doing so will come with a cost. As the SDF welcomes more Syrian regime reinforcements into its territory, the group undoubtedly will lose future leverage it would need in order to preserve a role for itself within civil governing institutions throughout northeast Syria.
On Monday, the SDF’s largely toothless civil wing, the Syrian Democratic Council, issued a directive to local councils in the area to continue to perform their duties “as previously,” insisting that “nothing has changed” and that the agreement with the regime constituted no more than a temporary military alliance to protect Syria’s borders.
However it’s unlikely that the SDF, the Syrian Democratic Council, or other SDF-backed institutions within the group’s self-proclaimed “Autonomous Administration” will be able to preserve any modicum of independence as their reliance on the Assad regime becomes more solidified. And, following the failure of Russian-Turkish negotiations throughout Tuesday to reach a ceasefire between the warring parties, that reliance looks set to intensify.
Negotiations between Moscow and Ankara began Tuesday morning following condemnation of Turkey’s campaign by the Kremlin’s special envoy to Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev.
A high-ranking Free Syrian Army military source in Manbij told The Daily Beast that Turkey gave orders Tuesday morning to its FSA proxies to halt temporarily their assault while both sides attempted to reach a solution. During that time, numerous pro-regime demonstrations were held in Manbij as the Syrian army sent several armored tanks into the city. According to local sources on the ground, some of these demonstrations were led by pro-regime figures that previously had been arrested by the SDF but were recently released following the Russian and Syrian regime entrance to the city.
The Russian-Turkish talks come one day after the official Facebook page for the Russian defense ministry’s Hmeimim base issued a stern warning for Turkey and its allies not to “behave recklessly in entering an open war with government troops.” That was issued shortly after the Russians allegedly concluded an agreement with the SDF to allow Russian and regime troops to enter the cities of Kobani and Manbij.
Yet despite the repeated warnings and attempts to hold talks, by Tuesday night Turkish-backed forces re-launched their assault. Thousands of civilians fled the border city of Kobani as a result of renewed Turkish assaults on the city in an attempt by the latter to capture the site of a former U.S. base recently abandoned nearby. Shortly after, our military source would claim renewed orders had been given by Ankara to re-launch operations in Manbij by dawn.
Speaking to Reuters while returning from the Azerbaijaini capital Baku, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared undeterred by recent U.S. sanctions imposed on Ankara, by the arrival of regime reinforcements into the area, or by international condemnation of his country’s assault.
“They say ‘declare a ceasefire.’ We will never declare a ceasefire,” Erdogan said. “They are pressuring us to stop the operation. They are announcing sanctions. Our goal is clear. We are not worried about any sanctions.”
Shortly after, local media and activists would report a Turkish airstrike on the strategic town of Aun al-Dadat, the site of a former U.S. base in the north Manbij countryside along the al-Sajur River that has since been occupied by SDF and regime units.
Nawaf al-Mustafa, an activist living several miles away in Manbij city, said he could hear the explosion from his home. “I heard an explosion and thought it might have been an ISIS suicide attack,” he said. “But it wasn’t, news came in shortly after that Turkish forces instead were bombing Aun al-Dadat.”
Ahmed Qalqali, another anti-regime activist, would send out an alert to the families of FSA fighters to several WhatsApp groups used by locals to follow the news. “Any young man in Manbij who has a brother fighting on the front lines with the FSA should avoid sleeping at home tonight,” hinting at the possibility of SDF-regime house raids in response to the attacks. “Try to stay with a friend or someone to whom you’re not blood related.”
Despite the Turkish insistence to continue fighting, in reality the tide seems to be turning against Ankara and its proxies. Despite managing to gain control of the strategic border town of Tal Abyad, after nearly one week of fighting Turkish-backed forces have been unable to capture Ras al-Ain, a city of just over 30,000 that has managed to put up stiff resistance and ward off Turkish incursions. Manbij, a city of nearly 100,000, will require much greater strength and political will in order to be captured.
Recent U.S. sanctions imposed by the Trump administration on key Turkish ministers and cabinet officials will also likely further hamper Ankara’s ability to freely wage war against the SDF, while significantly raising the cost of doing so. Nonetheless, these factors are unlikely to push Erdogan to end the campaign, as domestic pressures to create space to resettle Syrian refugees that have proven a burden to the Turkish economy threaten to destabilize his government.
What will likely ensue will be a committed, albeit slow and protracted campaign to achieve Ankara’s goal of carving out a safe zone in Manbij and along the entirety of Turkey’s border with Syria. However, the likely delay in achieving further Turkish gains will also give the Syrian regime a larger window to calmly mobilize and deploy its forces throughout the region while still being able to exploit the threat posed to the SDF by Ankara in order to slowly grab more power in northeastern Syria.
Further, the expansion of Syrian regime troops throughout the area doesn’t seem to be a prospect that much bothers the Turkish president, so long as they don’t mix with SDF and other armed Kurdish elements.
Also while speaking to reporters in Baku, Erdogan stated, “The regime entering Manbij is not very negative for me. Why? It’s their lands after all,” he said. “But, what is important to me is that the terrorist organization does not remain there… I told this to Mr. Putin as well. If you are clearing Manbij of terrorist organizations, then go ahead, you or the regime can provide all the logistics. But if you are not going to do this, the people there are telling us to save them.” By “terrorist organizations,” Erdogan means primarily the Kurds who were backed by the United States in the fight against ISIS.
Such a statement from a head of state who for eight years has been among the most enthusiastic supporters of the Syrian revolution to topple Assad is indicative of the extent to which international calculus surrounding the Syrian issue has changed. It will likely encourage the Assad regime to consider the possibility of going after and eliminating the SDF itself if doing so may once and for all put an end to the activities of their meddlesome Turkish neighbor.
Such a prospect may occur as part of a broader swap or deal whereby Turkey would also agree to withdraw its troops from the broader Idlib region, where Ha’it Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an offshoot of al Qaeda’s former Syrian branch, Jabhat al-Nusra, and other FSA groups have been engaged in a bloody standoff with the Syrian regime for over a year.
Erdogan’s statements make perfectly clear that, following Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops, the cards increasingly lie in the hands of the Assad regime and its Russian ally.
Key point: More than just anti-ship missiles.
Aircraft carriers have been the primary capital ship of naval combat since the 1940s, and remain the currency of modern naval power. But for nearly as long as carriers have existed, navies have developed plans to defeat them. The details of these plans have changed over time, but the principles remain the same. And some have argued that the balance of military technology is shifting irrevocably away from the carrier, driven primarily by Chinese and Russian innovation.
So let’s say you want to kill an aircraft carrier. How would you go about it?
On September 17, 1939, the German submarine U-29 torpedoed and sank HMS Courageous. Courageous was the first aircraft carrier lost to submarine attack, but would not be the last. Over the course of World War II, the United States, the UK and Japan lost numerous carriers to submarines, culminating in the destruction of the gigantic HIJMS Shinano in 1944.
Submarine-fired torpedoes remain a critical threat to modern carriers. Russian and Chinese submarines regularly practice attacks on U.S. carrier groups, as do those of allied navies. Modern torpedoes cause damage by exploding beneath a ship, an impact that can break the ship’s back with dramatic effects. Fortunately, no such torpedo has ever hit a ship the size of a U.S. supercarrier, although the U.S. Navy did conduct a variety of tests on the hulked USS America in 2005. Those tests, which may have involved underwater charges (of the sort that damaged USS Cole) did not result in America’s sinking; she was scuttled in the wake of the process. The short answer is that no one knows how many modern torpedoes a U.S. carrier could take before sinking, but we can estimate with little doubt that even a single torpedo would cause extensive damage, and severely impede operations.
The U.S. military should consider buying a huge arsenal of long-range, hypersonic missiles instead of trying to maintain a large fleet of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.
That’s one idea that Mike Griffin, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, proposed at a Washington, D.C. conference in September 2019.
“Let’s just propose a thought experiment,” Griffin said, according to Defense News. “Which do you think the Chinese leadership would fear more: 2,000 conventional strike missiles possessed by the United States and its allies in the western Pacific capable of ranging Chinese targets, or one new carrier? Because those two things cost about the same amount of money. Those are the kinds of questions we need to be asking ourselves.”
The Chinese military is moving quickly to field hypersonic missiles, outpacing the Pentagon’s own efforts to deploy similar munitions.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy is struggling to pay for the ships it says it needs in order to grow from a front-line fleet of around 290 ships today to one with more than 350 ships, including at least 11 large aircraft carriers.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army on Oct. 1, 2019 revealed a new hypersonic missile that could pose a major threat to U.S. forces in the Pacific region.
The DF-17 hypersonic glide vehicle, or HGV, made its public debut as part of the PLA’s sprawling, 15,000-person military parade in Beijing commemorating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
While other countries also are working on hypersonic weapons — meaning powered or gliding precision-guided munitions that can travel faster than five times the speed of sound — the DF-17 apparently is the first or second hypersonic glide vehicle in the regular inventory of any military. Russia claimed it also would deploy an HGV in 2019.