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Trump news: US nuclear arsenal now 'in tippy-top shape' says president when asked about responding to Iran: 'We should all pray we don't have to use them'

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Joe Sommerlad
,Andrew Buncombe,Lily Puckett
Friday 20 September 2019 23:24 BST
Trump tells reporters border fence is 'wired' despite Army general's protestations

Donald Trump has defended himself on Twitter as his administration faces an extraordinary showdown with Congress after acting national intelligence director Joseph Maguire withheld a whistleblower’s complaint understood to concern a private conversation between the president and a foreign leader, despite its being classified a matter of “urgent concern”.

He also told reporters that they should "look into Joe Biden" when asked about the whistleblower's complaint, in an angry press conference in the Oval Office, during which he called the whistleblower "bipartisan," though he said he did not know who the person was.

Later, The Wall Street Journal reported that the president asked Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukranian president, to investigate Joe Biden's son "about eight times" during one phone call in July.

The White House said the president will meet with Mr Zelensky next week.

The House Intelligence Committee has not ruled out going to court to force Mr Maguire’s hand, according to the panel’s chairman Adam Schiff, as The Washington Post and New York Times report at least part of the mystery complaint involves Ukraine.

The president’s former secretary of state Rex Tillerson has meanwhile told Harvard University that the administration “got played” by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he described as “a bit Machiavellian”.

The president did not mention Friday's wildly successful climate strike at all today.

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Hello and welcome to The Independent's rolling coverage of the Donald Trump administration.

Joe Sommerlad20 September 2019 09:35

Donald Trump's administration is facing an extraordinary showdown with Congress after new acting director of national intelligence (DNI) Joseph Maguire withheld a whistleblower’s complaint understood to concern a private conversation between the president and a foreign leader, despite its being classified a matter of “urgent concern”.

The House Intelligence Committee has not ruled out going to court to force Magurie’s hand, according to the panel’s chairman Adam Schiff, as The Washington Post and New York Times report at least part of the mystery complaint involves Ukraine.

The administration is currently keeping Congress from even learning precisely what the whistleblower is alleging, but the intelligence community's inspector general, Michael Atkinson, said the matter involves the "most significant" responsibilities of intelligence leadership. Illinois congressman Mike Quigley said the complaint, filed on 12 August, was "based on a series of events."

The inspector general appeared before the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors on Thursday but declined, under administration orders, to reveal to members the substance of the complaint.

The standoff raises fresh questions about the extent to which Trump's allies are protecting the president from oversight and, specifically, if Maguire is working with the Justice Department to shield the president from the reach of Congress.

Trump, while giving no details about any incident, denied on Thursday that he would ever "say something inappropriate" on such a call.

"The inspector general has said this cannot wait," Schiff said on Thursday afternoon, describing the administration's blockade as an unprecedented departure from law. "There's an urgency here that I think the courts will recognise."

Schiff said that he too could not confirm whether newspaper reports were accurate because the administration was claiming executive privilege in withholding the complaint. But letters from the inspector general to the committee released on Thursday said it was an "urgent" matter of "serious or flagrant abuse" that must be shared with lawmakers.

The letters also made it clear that Maguire consulted with the Justice Department in deciding not to transmit the complaint to Congress in a further departure from standard procedure. It's unclear whether the White House was also involved, Schiff said.

Because the administration is claiming the information is privileged, Schiff said he believes the whistleblower's complaint "likely involves the president or people around him."

Trump tapped Maguire, a former Navy official, as acting intelligence director in August after the departure of Dan Coats, a former Republican senator who often clashed with the president, and the retirement of Sue Gordon, a career professional in the number two position.

Maguire has completely refused to discuss details of the whistleblower complaint but has been subpoenaed by the House panel and is expected to testify publicly next Thursday. Both Maguire and Atkinson are also expected next week before the corresponding Senate Intelligence Committee.

Atkinson wrote in letters that Schiff released on Thursday that he and Maguire had hit an "impasse" over the acting director's decision not to share the complaint with Congress.

While Atkinson wrote that he believed Maguire's position was in "good faith" it did not appear to be consistent with past practice. Atkinson said he was told by the legal counsel for the intelligence director that the complaint did not actually meet the definition of an "urgent concern." And he said the Justice Department said it did not fall under the director's jurisdiction because it did not involve an intelligence professional.

Atkinson said he disagreed with that Justice Department view. The complaint "not only falls under DNI's jurisdiction," Atkinson wrote, "but relates to one of the most significant and important of DNI's responsibilities to the American people."

The inspector general went on to say he requested authorisation to at the very least disclose the "general subject matter" to the committee, but had not been allowed to do so. He said the information was "being kept" from Congress. These decisions, he said, are affecting his execution of his duties and responsibilities.

Several lawmakers suggested the failure to disclose the complaint's contents amounted to a failure to protect the whistleblower, another violation. However, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Jason Klitenic, wrote in a letter to the committee on Tuesday that the agency was indeed protecting the whistleblower.

Andrew Bakaj, a former intelligence officer and an attorney specialising in whistleblower reprisal investigations, confirmed that he was representing the whistleblower but declined further comment.

Connecticut congressman Jim Himes said on MSNBC that the acting director "broke the law when he decided to basically intercept the inspector general's report to Congress."

That's "never been done before in the history of inspector general reports to the Congress," Himes said. "And the American people should be worried about that."

"We don't know exactly what is in the substance of this complaint. It could be nothing. It could be something very, very serious."

Joe Sommerlad20 September 2019 09:50

Ukraine, you say?

Trump is understood to have had a phone call with the country's new president Volodymyr Zelensky on 25 July and the House Democrats are now seeking a transcript of that conversation, which could well become part of the Judicary Committee's wider impeachment probe.

They are also looking into whether Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani travelled to Ukraine explicitly to pressure the government into aiding his boss's re-election bid by investigating the activities of potential rival Joe Biden's son, Hunter, who was a board member of a Ukrainian gas company accused of corruption.

Giuliani denied making any such demands of Kiev in an interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo last night - before, seconds later, admitting: “Of course I did.”

Here's Colin Drury's report.

Joe Sommerlad20 September 2019 10:05

The Pentagon will present a broad range of military options to Trump on Friday as he considers how best to respond to what administration officials say was an unprecedented Iranian attack on Saudi Arabia's oil industry.

In a White House meeting, the president will be presented with a list of potential airstrike targets inside Iran, among other possible responses, and he is also expected to be warned that military action against the Islamic Republic could escalate into war.

The national security meeting will be the first opportunity for a decision on how the US should respond to the attack. Any decision may depend on what kind of evidence the US and Saudi investigators are able to provide proving that the cruise missile and drone strike was launched by Iran.

For Indy Voices, Robert Fisk says the waning influence in the region of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has left Trump stranded on Tehran.

Joe Sommerlad20 September 2019 10:20

US Border Patrol agents have meanwhile been put in charge of a controversial new pilot programme attempting to assess whether asylum seekers have reason to feel “credible fear” for their lives in their countries of origin, according to The Los Angeles Times.

What this means in practice is that some migrants will receive their interviewed by the same law enforcement agents that apprehended them, rather than by highly-trained asylum experts well-versed in American and international law.

"They are fundamentally the wrong people to be conducting them,"Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, a policy analyst at the American Immigration Council, told CBS News. "This is because the Border Patrol has a mission to apprehend and arrest and to take people into custody, and the job of screening someone for asylum needs to be done by someone from an agency whose job isn't to deport people. It needs to be an independent decision from an agency without an incentive to send people back to their country quickly."

According to a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official, the agents assigned to the pilot programme undergo five weeks of training into "applicable laws and authorities" with US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in addition to their time at the Border Patrol academy.

But the decision to hand responsibility to the agents is being seen as a way for the Trump administration to cut down on the high percentage of migrants who pass their initial interviews, which has led to an administrative backlog in America's immigration courts.

Trump has long railed about "fraudulent" refuge claims and sought to deter further border arrivals on Wednesday after visiting his new wall near San Diego, California, by posting this dystopian warning on social media in clunky Spanish:

Seeking to reassure the public on the new protocol, one USCIS official insisted the CBP officers "will be required to show through their work that they have understood all applicable laws, regulations, policies, and procedures before being allowed to conduct interviews on their own".

Hmmm. As Reichlin-Melnick asks, how can traumatised migrants be expected to trust the same people who roughly apprehended them with "the deepest, darkest secrets of their lives"? 

Joe Sommerlad20 September 2019 10:35

Also at the border, the administration has wasted $33m (£26.3m) in the past seven weeks staffing an immigrant detention centre for unaccompanied minors in Texas that has been completely empty for over a month.

Chris Riotta has the full story.

Joe Sommerlad20 September 2019 10:50

On Twitter, Trump has been taking credit for lowering drug prices and playing the statesman by buttering up House speaker Nancy Pelosi, revealed a White House meeting with Facebook head honcho Mark Zuckerberg (while saying precisely nothing about what was discussed) and offering this decidely creepy praise to Fox News over their decision to renew the contract of business host Maria Baritromo, saying the network got a "beautiful bargain".

Where's that puke emoji...

Joe Sommerlad20 September 2019 11:05

Trump's former secretary of state, Texas oil man Rex Tillerson, has told students at Harvard University that Benjamin Netanyahu "played" his former boss, was "extremely skilled" as a diplomat but "a bit Machiavellian", warning that "a healthy amount of scepticism" is required in dealing with the Israeli PM.

"They did that with the president on a couple of occasions, to persuade him that ‘We’re the good guys, they’re the bad guys,’" Tillerson said, according to The Harvard Gazette. "We later exposed it to the president so he understood, ‘You’ve been played.’”

“It bothers me that an ally that’s that close and important to us would do that to us,” he said.

Tillerson addressed the academic gathering on his experiences with North Korea, Syria and Iran but ultimately concluded that "most of the thorniest challenges [he] faced had more to do with his relationship with his boss, President Donald Trump, than with the complexities of geopolitics," the Gazette states.

Israel wasted no time in hitting back at Tillerson.

Joe Sommerlad20 September 2019 11:20

The president and first lady Melania Trump are welcoming Australian PM Scott Morrison and his wife, Jenny, to the White House with a pomp-filled military arrival ceremony on the South Lawn on Friday morning.

Morrison is just the second world leader to be granted the high diplomatic honor of a state visit during the Trump administration.

The leaders will meet for talks and face journalists at a joint news conference in the White House East Room. Morrison will also be treated to lunch at the State Department.

They will cap the night with an opulent state dinner beneath the stars in a Rose Garden arrayed in shades of green and gold in tribute to his Australia's national colours.

The first lady released some key details, but is withholding the guest list and details about her gown until just before the festivities get under way.

Scores of guests will dine on a sunchoke ravioli starter, Dover sole entree and apple tart a la mode served on a mix of round and rectangular tables decked out in shades of yellows and green in tribute to Australia's national colours, Mrs Trump's office said late Thursday before journalists were in to see the decor. Temporary flooring has been laid over the grass in the famous garden.

Dinner centerpieces feature more than 2,500 roses from California in shades of yellow, and Australia's national flower, the golden wattle, while the garden will be decorated with white and yellow roses. Musical groups from the US military will provide the after-dinner entertainment.

As he arrived in Washington on Thursday night, Morrison said he looked forward to celebrating 100 years of "mateship" between the US and Australia.

"There are many larger, I suppose, more powerful friends that America has, but they know that they do not have a more sure and steadfast friend than Australia," he told reporters who accompanied him to Washington. "And so I'm looking forward to spending time with our American friends here over the next few days and celebrating our tremendous relationship."

Trump and Morrison will spend part of Sunday together when they tour a new, Australian-owned manufacturing facility in Ohio.

Beyond socialising, the leaders plan talks on Friday on military, intelligence and economic issues, focusing on the Indo-Pacific region. They intend to sign a memorandum of understanding to further US and Australia cooperation in space, according to a senior administration official.

Trump and Morrison also will discuss how to ensure a stable market and supply of minerals known as rare earths, which are widely used in electric cars and cellphones, the official said. They will roll out programs for the countries to work together on recycling ocean plastics, which harm marine wildlife and fishing, said the official, who was not authorised to provide details of the meetings and spoke only on condition of anonymity.


Australia last received the high diplomatic honor of a US state visit in 2006, when president George W Bush feted prime minster John Howard.

Australian pro golfer Greg Norman, a friend and sometime golf partner of Trump's, told The Associated Press in a text message that he'll be among the invited guests. Republican senator Roy Blunt of Missouri is among Congress members who accepted a coveted invitation.

Lachlan Murdoch, CEO of Fox Corp, will attend, while his father, Australian-born media mogul Rupert Murdoch sits out this dinner, a Fox representative said. The elder Murdoch was a guest at the White House state dinner for Australia some 13 years ago.

When it comes to state dinners, Trump seems to prefer being on the receiving end.

Friday's will be just the second state dinner of Trump's administration, and the first in more than a year. By comparison, he's had state visits to Japan and Britain this year, in addition to other such visits in his first two years in office, including to Beijing on what China billed as a "state visit, plus."

Trump held his first state visit for French president Emmanuel Macron last year.


Joe Sommerlad20 September 2019 11:40

The conservative American Priority Conference is meeting at the Trump Doral in Miami, Florida, from 10 to 12 October (watch out for bedbugs!), a ghastly prospect featuring Don Jr, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Charlie Kirk, Matt Gaetz, Dinesh D'Souza, Jason Chaffetz and Tom Fitton among its speaking line-up.

Right-wing nuts Joy Villa and Terrence K Williams will also be there.

More interestingly, the event is also holding a meme contest and this loon is getting his entries in early.

Joe Sommerlad20 September 2019 11:55

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