Trump gives rambling defense of withdrawal from Syria8.10.19 David Knowles Editor•Trump says U.S. troops are ‘not fighting, just there’ in Syria Facing almost unprecedented criticism from members of his own party, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, over pulling U.S. troops from Syria, President Trump offered a rambling defense of his stunning reversal of long-standing American policy. “We interject ourselves into wars and we interject ourselves in to tribal wars and revolutions and all these things that are very — they’re not the kind of things that you settle the way that we’d like to see it settled. It just doesn’t work that way. Hopefully, it will all be very strong and strongly done. We’re spending tremendous amounts of money,” Trump told reporters gathered at the White House who attended the signing of a new trade agreement with Japan.Since the reconquest of the ISIS “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq, America has kept a small force in northern Syria, protecting its Kurdish allies, who did much of the fighting against ISIS. The Kurdish presence is an irritant to neighboring Turkey, which regards them as potential insurgents. The Kurds have long sought an independent state that would span parts of Iraq and Turkey.Trump reportedly settled on the move in a late-Sunday phone call with Turkish President Recep Erdogan, and by Monday morning there were reports that American soldiers were leaving their positions in Syria, while Turkey was launching a long-planned incursion into Syria to clear out Kurdish fighters, which analysts said could further destabilize the region.Trump told reporters there were only “50 soldiers in the area you’re talking about.” There are reportedly about 1,000 U.S. troops in various parts of Syria altogether.Trump campaigned in part on a pledge to reduce American military commitments abroad, but his critics questioned why the effort had to begin with a token contingent that, by Trump’s own description, wasn’t actually engaged in combat.“I can tell you that the two countries that are the most disappointed that we’re leaving are China and Russia, because they love that we’re bogged down and just watching and spending tremendous amounts of money, instead of continuing to build our forces. We have tremendous amounts of weapons under development now. We have weapons that no one can even believe, we’re going to be making some stops over the next four or five weeks, some we show, some we don’t show. But we’ve rebuilt our nuclear, we’ve renovated and rebuilt nuclear. We’re building submarines the likes of which they’ve never been even thought of before, the genius of them. Hopefully and hope to God we never have to use them, but we are doing what we have to do, but we’ve been there for many years, long, many, many, many years beyond what we were supposed to be. Not fighting, just there.”President Donald Trump speaks before signing a trade agreement with Japan in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Monday. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP)Trump’s withdrawal of troops from northern Syria caught many Republicans off guard, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said the move would benefit “Russia, Iran and the Assad regime.”McConnell’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, attended the trade-pact signing ceremony, standing directly behind Trump as he began defending the U.S. pullout of Syria, but slowly moved out of view when a reporter asked about McConnell’s stance.While Trump boasted that many in Washington supported his decision about Syria, few members of Congress — with the exceptions of Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. — rushed to his defense.Instead, politicians who have routinely backed Trump throughout his presidency portrayed the decision as a betrayal of the Kurds and an inexplicable gift to Erdogan, an authoritarian leader whom Trump admires.“I will do everything I can to sanction Turkey if they step one foot in northeastern Syria,” Sen. Lindsey Graham said Monday.Dismissing the potential that a pullout of U.S. troops could further destabilize the region and lead to the possible slaughter of the Kurdish soldiers who have fought Islamic State radicals alongside American forces, Trump said that the Turks and the Kurds were “natural enemies.”That, of course, is why the U.S. kept troops there in the first place.
White House ‘surprised that anyone would be blindsided’ by U.S. withdrawal from northern Syria Hunter Walker White House Correspondent•Trump says U.S. troops are ‘not fighting, just there’ in SyriaScroll back up to restore default view.Trump says U.S. troops are ‘not fighting, just there’ in SyriaPresident Trump responds to criticism of withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria by saying they are “not fighting, just there” in the country.WASHINGTON — President Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of northern Syria has led to criticism from Republicans and U.S. allies who say it could endanger the local Kurdish population and boost the Islamic State group. A senior administration official held a call with reporters on Monday evening to explain Trump’s rationale. The official, who the White House asked to have remain anonymous, dismissed a Fox News report that the Pentagon was “blindsided” by the pullout.“That surprises me that anyone would say that, because this is something that was discussed among senior leadership here at the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon,” the official said when asked about it on the call. “I don’t know how anyone could have been blindsided.”Asked who in government Trump consulted about the withdrawal and which officials agreed with the decision, the official declined to provide any specific names.“I’m not going to get into each and every one of the people that the president discussed these issues with, but he discussed them with his senior advisers in … defense, diplomatic and … his staff here at the White House,” the official said.Following the Fox News report, NBC News also reported top officials were “blindsided” by the decision.Syrian Democratic Forces and U.S. troops near the Turkish border in Hasakah, Syria, last November. (Photo: Rodi Said/Reuters)The administration official suggested that the “blindsided” comment originated from disgruntled government employees.“Sometimes people that don’t have the need to know or that aren’t part of the decision chain may be a little disappointed that they weren’t part of it and may call their friends in the press and tell them that they’re blindsided,” the official said.Trump’s decision, which was announced late Sunday evening, has received widespread condemnation outside the White House. Critics, including lawmakers from Trump’s own party and top U.S. allies, argue the decision to withdraw will allow Turkey to attack Kurdish forces who were allied with the United States in the fight against the Islamic State.The U.S. withdrawal and potential for a Turkish attack on Kurdish forces also prompted concerns it would be a boon for ISIS, which Trump in March claimed was defeated.In the wake of the White House announcement of the troop withdrawal, French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly released a statement on Monday expressing fears the decision could hurt international efforts to fight ISIS, which is also known as Daesh, while posing a danger to locals.“We will be paying extremely close attention as to whether this announced U.S. withdrawal, as well as a potential Turkish offensive, create a dangerous diversion. Dangerous from the perspective of the fight against Daesh and dangerous for local populations on the ground,” Parly said, adding, “We must be extremely careful to ensure that a move of this type does not strengthen Daesh — the opposite of the coalition’s goal.”On the phone call with reporters, the senior administration official said Trump decided to withdraw the troops after learning that Turkey was “intent” on mounting a military operation in the region.“Turkey appears to be set on undertaking an operation in northern Syria. That’s something that the U.S. has been able to dissuade the Turks from doing for the past two years, but it appears that the Turks are intent on some sort of military operation,” the official said. Trump and the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, discussed the potential operation in a phone call on Sunday.The official emphasized that the U.S. is not backing Turkey’s operation. According to the official, Trump wanted American troops out of the “crossfire.”“The president made it very clear publicly and privately that the United States does not endorse or support any Turkish operation in northern Syria,” the official said. “There’ll be no U.S. armed forces involvement or support of any operation that the Turks undertake.”The official said this “does not constitute a withdrawal from Syria,” stressing the pullout involves troops only in a “relatively small 20-to-30-mile” region.“We have a small number — 50 to 100 special operators in the region — and they should not be put at risk of injury, death or capture in the event that the Turks do come over the border and engage … in combat with the local Kurdish forces,” the official said.The official said Trump “made clear to the Turks” that they would be responsible for dealing with any ISIS militants who escape from Kurdish captivity or reconstitute in the region as a result of any military operation. The official also said the withdrawal was not a “green light” for Turkey to attack the Kurds.In a tweet on Monday afternoon, Trump wrote, “if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey.”The official reiterated that view on the call.“We’ve made it very clear and the president’s made it very clear that there should be no untoward action with respect to the Kurds or anyone else,” the official said.
President Donald Trump on Monday launched a harsh attack on NATO ally Turkey, threatening to destroy its economy if Ankara takes a planned military strike in Syria too far.
Trump’s warning came, however, after the U.S. leader himself opened the door for a Turkish incursion.
Trump said he would „totally destroy and obliterate” Turkey‘s economy if it took action in Syria that he considered „off limits” following his decision on Sunday to pull 50 American special forces troops from northeastern Syria.
The U.S. withdrawal will leave Kurdish-led forces in Syria that have long allied with Washington vulnerable to a planned incursion by the Turkish military, which brands them terrorists.
Trump’s stern words seemed to be aimed at placating critics who accused him of abandoning the Syrian Kurds by pulling out U.S. forces. The decision drew criticism from Democrats and a rare rebuke from some of Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
„As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!)” Trump tweeted.
Turkey does not appear „as of now” to have begun its expected incursion into northern Syria, a senior Trump administration official said on Monday.
The Turkish Defence Ministry said on Twitter late on Monday that preparations for a possible military operation into northeastern Syria had been completed.
The Trump administration official, briefing reporters on a conference call, said 50 U.S. troops in the region that Turkey has targeted would be redeployed elsewhere in Syria „where they aren’t in the crossfire.” The United States has about 1,000 troops in Syria.
Speaking later at the White House, Trump said he had told President Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call that Turkey could suffer the „wrath of an extremely decimated economy” if it acted in Syria in a way that was not humane.
Offering his rationale for the troop redeployment, Trump said his ultimate goal was to fulfill a campaign promise to bring troops home. „We’re like a police force over there. We’re not fighting. We’re policing,” he said.
In Ankara, Erdogan told reporters he planned to visit Washington to meet with Trump in the first half of November. He said the two leaders would discuss plans for a „safe zone” in Syria, and added that he hoped to resolve a dispute over F-35 fighter jets during his visit.
Turkey’s lira slid more than 2% to its lowest level in more than a month against the dollar on Monday over concerns about the planned incursion into northern Syria and Trump’s warning.
Investors have been closely watching tense ties between Ankara and Washington in recent months, with the countries at odds over a range of issues, including Syria and Turkey’s purchase of a Russian missile defence system.
Turkey has repeatedly threatened to attack U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria who have links to Kurdish guerrillas operating in Turkey.
The United States began pulling troops back from the northeast Syrian border on Monday, effectively giving Turkey a green light to move into the area.
Earlier on Monday, Trump said the United States should leave others from European allies to Iranian foes, „to figure the situation out” in the region.
He wrote on Twitter that „it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home. WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN. Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out.”
‘Stab in the back’
It is a major policy shift that was denounced as a „stab in the back” by Kurdish-led forces who have been Washington’s most capable partners in fighting Islamic State in Syria, also known by its acronym ISIS.
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, called on Trump to „reverse this dangerous decision,” saying it betrayed Kurdish allies, threatened regional security and sent a message to Iran and Russia, as well as U.S. allies, that the United States is no longer a trusted partner.
Judge says New York prosecutors can see Trump’s tax returnS•Scroll back up to restore default view.NEW YORK (AP) — With President Donald Trump under siege on Capitol Hill, a federal judge dealt him a setback on another front Monday and ruled that New York City prosecutors can see his tax returns for an investigation into matters including the payment of hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels and a Playboy centerfold.U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero emphatically rejected Trump’s attempt to keep his financial records under wraps, calling the president’s broad claim of immunity from all criminal proceedings „extraordinary” and „an overreach of executive power” at odds with the Constitution.For now, at least, the tax returns remain beyond the reach of prosecutors. The president’s lawyers appealed the judge’s ruling to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which put the matter on hold while it considers the case on an expedited basis.At issue is a request from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. that Trump’s accounting firm turn over eight years’ worth of his business and personal tax returns dating back to 2011.Vance, a Democrat, is investigating payments made to buy the silence of Daniels and model Karen McDougal, both of whom claimed to have had affairs with the president.”The Radical Left Democrats have failed on all fronts,” Trump fumed on Twitter after the judge’s ruling, „so now they are pushing local New York City and State Democrat prosecutors to go get President Trump. A thing like this has never happened to any President before. Not even close!”The district attorney’s office declined to comment.The investigation is unfolding with Trump already facing a fast-moving impeachment drive by House Democrats that was set off by his attempts to get Ukraine’s leader to investigate his political rival Joe Biden.Trump’s lawyers have said that Vance’s investigation is politically motivated and that the request for tax records should be stopped because Trump is immune from any criminal probe as long as he is president.The judge swept that claim aside as overly broad.”As the court reads it, presidential immunity would stretch to cover every phase of criminal proceedings, including investigations, grand jury proceedings and subpoenas, indictment, prosecution, arrest, trial, conviction, and incarceration,” Marrero wrote. „That constitutional protection presumably would encompass any conduct, at any time, in any forum, whether federal or state, and whether the President acted alone or in concert with other individuals.”The judge said he couldn’t accept that legal view, „especially in the light of the fundamental concerns over excessive arrogation of power” that led the founding fathers to create a balance of power among the three branches of government.Trump has steadfastly refused to make his tax returns public, breaking a tradition set by presidents and White House candidates decades ago. He has also gone to court to fight congressional subpoenas issued to his bank for various personal financial records, including his tax returns. That dispute is also before the federal appeals court.In yet another effort to pry loose Trump’s tax records, California recently passed a law requiring candidates for president or governor to turn over five years’ worth of returns, or else they cannot appear on the state’s primary ballot. A federal judge blocked the law this month, saying it is probably unconstitutional.Vance began his probe after federal prosecutors in New York completed their investigation into payments that Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, arranged to be made to the two women to keep them silent during the presidential race.Cohen is serving a three-year prison sentence for crimes that included campaign finance violations in connection with the hush money.Trump was never charged, though prosecutors said publicly that he was aware of and directed the illegal payments. Justice Department policy has long been that sitting presidents cannot be charged criminally.Grand jury proceedings and records in New York are secret. If Vance gains access to Trump’s returns through a grand jury investigation, that doesn’t necessarily mean their contents will be disclosed publicly.It is unclear what Trump’s returns might have to do with the criminal investigation or why prosecutors are reaching back as far as 2011.But the long reach of the subpoena might stem in part from testimony Cohen gave to Congress early this year when he asserted that Trump overstated his wealth to financial institutions before he became president.Cohen turned over copies of financial statements he said the president provided to Deutsche Bank during a 2014 effort to buy the Buffalo Bills. The statements showed Trump’s net worth soaring from $4.55 billion in 2012 to $8.66 billion in 2013._Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this story.
‘We Absolutely Could Not Do That’: When Seeking Foreign Help Was Out of the Question
What does the law say?
The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 protects federal employees who report a possible violation of law, fraud, waste, abuse or unnecessary government expenditures against retaliation from superiors, including demotion or termination. The protections initially did not include the intelligence community, because of concerns over classified information. In 1998, Congress extended those protections to intelligence workers through the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act. That gave officers the option of passing items of “urgent concern” to the office of the intelligence community’s inspector general (ICIG), who after a review has the option of asking the director of national intelligence to pass them to Congress.
“No action constituting a reprisal, or threat of reprisal, for making such complaint or disclosing such information to the Inspector General may be taken by any employee in a position to take such actions, unless the complaint was made or the information was disclosed with the knowledge that it was false or with willful disregard for its truth or falsity,” according to the 2010 Intelligence Authorization Act.
Supreme Court New Term
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on the start of the Supreme Court term (all times local):
The Supreme Court appears ready to require that juries in state criminal trials be unanimous.
The justices heard arguments on the first day of the term Monday in an appeal by a Louisiana man who is serving a life term for killing a woman after a jury voted 10-2 to convict him. Oregon is the only other state that allows for non-unanimous convictions for some crimes.
Louisiana voters have changed the law for crimes committed beginning this year.
There appeared to be wide agreement on the court to jettison a 1972 ruling that required unanimous verdicts in federal, but not state trials.
The Supreme Court has begun its election-year term by wrestling over whether states must allow criminal defendants to mount an insanity defense.
There was one minor surprise when the justices took the bench Monday. Only eight justices were present. The court says 71-year-old Justice Clarence Thomas is at home, likely with the flu.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was in her customary seat to the left of Chief Justice John Roberts. The 86-year-old Ginsburg asked the first question in the insanity arguments. Ginsburg was treated this summer for a tumor on her pancreas.
The justices are returning to the Supreme Court bench for the start of an election-year term that includes high-profile cases on about abortions, protections for young immigrants and LGBT rights.
The court meets Monday morning for its first public session since late June. First up is a death-penalty case from Kansas about whether states can abolish an insanity defense for criminal defendants.
The justices also will hear arguments Monday in a challenge to a murder conviction by a non-unanimous jury in Louisiana.
The term could reveal how far to the right and how fast the court’s conservative majority will move, even as Chief Justice John Roberts has made clear he wants to keep the court clear of Washington partisan politics.