As it happenedended1565382387

Trump news: President defends gun rights and ICE raids, amid controversy over thumbs-up photo with El Paso baby

Chris Riotta
New York
,Joe Sommerlad
Friday 09 August 2019 16:21
Comments
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley calls Donald Trump 'a bully and a coward'

Donald Trump is facing criticism after new video footage emerged of him bragging about the size of the crowd at his El Paso rally earlier this year as he visited people recovering in hospital having been injured in last Saturday’s Walmart mass shooting, in which 22 people died.

The president is seen comparing his audience favourably to that summoned by “crazy” Beto O’Rourke, the local politician and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate who has led the community – and the condemnation of President Trump – since the tragedy.

Mr Trump heads off on his summer golfing holiday on Friday with new gun control legislation no closer to realisation, his trade war with China still raging and the opposition-led House Judiciary Committee plotting an impeachment inquiry.

Speaking with reporters before departing the White House for the weekend, Mr Trump said that he received a “beautiful” three-page letter from Kim Jong Un and predicted that the two leaders would have more talks to try resolving the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Mr Trump has said he’s not bothered by the flurry of missiles that Mr Kim has launched in recent days, rattling US allies in the region.

The president said they were all short-range missiles and reiterated that North Korea has never broken its pledge to pause nuclear tests.

Mr Trump said Mr Kim told him in the letter that he was upset about recent US-South Korea military exercises, which North Korea sees as a threat.

The two leaders have met three times — in Singapore, Hanoi and the Korean Demilitarized Zone late last month — but no new talks have been scheduled.

At their second meeting in Vietnam in February, Mr Trump rejected Mr Kim’s demand for widespread sanctions relief in return for dismantling the North’s main nuclear complex, a partial disarmament step.

Mr Trump said he’d received the letter on Thursday. “It was hand-delivered. It wasn’t touched by anybody,” Mr Trump told reporters on Friday at the White House.

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“It was a very positive letter. I think we’ll have another meeting. He really wrote a beautiful, three-page letter ... a really beautiful letter," he said.

Additional reporting by AP. Please allow a moment for our liveblog to load

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Joe Sommerlad9 August 2019 09:20
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Donald Trump is facing criticism after new video footage emerged of him bragging about the size of the crowd at his El Paso rally earlier this year as he visited people recovering in hospital having been injured in last Saturday’s Walmart mass shooting, in which 22 people died.

The president is seen comparing his audience favourably to that summoned by “crazy” Beto O’Rourke, the local politician and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate who has led the community – and the condemnation of President Trump – since the tragedy.

O'Rourke had said he would prefer that Trump not come to El Paso, blaming his racist rhetoric for inspiring 21-year-old shooter Patrick Crusius, who lamented the "Hispanic invasion of Texas" in the white nationalist manifesto he posted on 8chan prior to carrying out the killings.

Trump lashed out at O'Rourke on Twitter late on Tuesday night in childish fashion, mocking his name and polling numbers and ordering him to "be quiet", inspiring a passionate but defiant response from the candidate.

This latest embarrassment brought CNN's Anderson Cooper to lament: "Even pretending to care was too much for Trump."

Here's Tom Embury-Dennis on those same patients expressing reluctance to meet the president on Wednesday.

Joe Sommerlad9 August 2019 09:30
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Trump is heading off on his annual August summer holiday today to his lush New Jersey golf club. He departs leaving behind a veritable storm of crises, at home and abroad, that could set the course for his upcoming re-election bid. 

With his poll numbers stalled and his ability to rally the country questioned, he's being tested by an escalating trade war with China that may slow the economy, rising tensions with both Iran and North Korea and, in the aftermath of the latest mass shootings, pressure to act on guns and face accusations of his own role in fostering an environment of hate. 

The dark clouds are converging as the president's bid for a second term takes on new urgency. Trump exudes confidence but as the two dozen Democrats eager to take his job sharpen their attacks, the White House - or, for the next 10 days, the clubhouse in Bedminster, New Jersey - will have to mount a multi-front effort rooted in maintaining his base rather than trying to expand it. 

Trump has long bristled at the term "vacation" and is expected to hold a handful of official events and trips while settled in New Jersey's horse country. But aides say his attention will be focused on golf, cable news and Twitter. They often worry about the scattershot outbursts - such as his "fire and fury" to North Korea in 2017 - that can emerge when Trump escapes Washington and has more access to his friends and less to his staff. 

When Robert Mueller's Russia probe wound down, culminating in the special counsel's appearance before Congress last month, a sense of relief permeated the West Wing, which was finally free of the investigation that has shadowed the administration since its earliest days. But Trump's punitive trade tariffs, his racially inflammatory language and now a renewed national call for action on gun control have created internal pressure on the president and his staff. 

His re-election strategy, which has placed white grievance and immigration at the forefront in an effort that his aides say is designed to activate his base of conservative voters, represents an approach not seen by an American president in the modern era. Already condemned by Democrats, Trump's language has come under increased scrutiny this week as a result of the El Paso gunman's aforementioned hate screed. 

The president's response to the shootings - nine more people were killed in Ohio a few hours after El Paso - has been uneven (to put it mildly). He largely stayed out of view last weekend - when he was also in Bedminster, playing a few rounds and crashing another MAGA wedding - before Wednesday's visits to the two grieving cities of El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, which amount to an awkward mix of hugs and handshakes followed soon after by aggressive political attacks against Democrats on Twitter, including Dayton's mayorNan Whaley.

Some Democrats have accused Trump of giving licence to the hate lurking in dark corners of American life, even contending he has blood on his hands for the weekend of violence. 

"It's both clear language and in code: This president has fanned the flames of white supremacy in this nation," said former vice president Joe Biden in Iowa on Wednesday. "If Donald Trump is reelected, I believe he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation." 

But Trump's problems extend beyond America's borders. After he pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear deal, Tehran upped its enriched uranium production, sending it last month over the limit specified by the agreement. Tension in the Persian Gulf has accelerated as Iran shot down a US drone and seized control of ships in the Strait of Hormuz. American forces returned the favour, shooting down an Iranian drone. 

The president opted against a military strike last month and indicated he would be open to talks, but Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has said he would only negotiate if all of the crippling US sanctions were lifted. And he warned on Tuesday that anyone's conflict with Iran would "be the mother of all war." 

Trump has also mused about pulling American forces out of Afghanistan by the 2020 election, a move some aides fear would be premature and could lead to a dangerous vacuum in the region. 

The president is personally invested in North Korea. 

Just over a month ago, he became the first US president to step into North Korea and, in a meeting with Kim Jong-un, negotiated a restart to talks that had broken down during a Hanoi summit in February. Trump has repeatedly praised Kim and the letters he has sent, believing that a close relationship is the key to nuclear breakthrough. 

But since the meeting at the DMZ, with negotiations yet to resume, North Korea has tested several short-range missiles, a provocation that Trump has had to resort to diplomatic gymnastics to brush aside. 

The president's top preoccupation of late, however, has been the escalating trade dispute with China. He fumed last week when negotiations in Shanghai broke down, and, against the advice of advisers, he slapped additional tariffs on China. 

His moves rattled the financial markets, which have been volatile for days, and have worried West Wing aides who fear a battle with Beijing could not only hurt Trump voters, including farmers at the mercy of China's retaliatory tariffs, but could undermine the president's best argument for reelection, a strong economy. 

The president himself does not seem bothered. 

"He doesn't think he is facing any challenges. His attitude is, 'The economy is doing great, I am putting the hammer down on China, the rest is just noise,"' said former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci. "The media is against him, his supporters are for him and the Democrats don't seem like a threat." 

"He's going on vacation feeling smug." 

Additional reporting by AP

Joe Sommerlad9 August 2019 09:45
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In addition to all of that, House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler appeared on Erin Burnett's show OutFront on CNN and on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show to talk impeachment.

Nadler said his congressional panel will decide by the end of the year whether to refer formal articles of impeachment against Trump to the floor of the House of Representatives, stating for the first time that his committee's work amounts to a formal impeachment inquiry.

"We are investigating all the evidence, we're gathering the evidence," Nadler told Burnett. "And we will at the conclusion of this - hopefully by the end of the year - vote to vote articles of impeachment to the House floor. Or we won’t. That’s a decision that we’ll have to make. But that’s exactly the process we’re in right now."

"We are going into court to get witnesses all with a view toward deciding and recommending to the House whether to impeach the president," he said.

Currently around half of the 235 Democrats in the House have publicly backed impeachment. The opposition would need to secure 218 votes in the lower chamber to hold a majority and see any impeachment motion passed.

But House speaker Nancy Pelosi has so far dug in her heels over the matter, calling the process "too divisive" for the nation and stating that Trump is "not worth it".

Nadler, however, said the speaker “has been very cooperative” with his committee's recent investigative efforts, adding that she signed off on recent court filings that clarified whether to brand their probe an impeachment inquiry.

Nadler's comments were met with the partisan response you'd expect from his peers.

On Wednesday, the committee asked a federal court to compel former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify about President Trump's alleged efforts to impede the federal probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

In a lawsuit filed in the US District Court in Washington, the committee insisted that McGahn's testimony is needed to decide whether to recommend Trump's impeachment over actions the Democrats view as criminal attempts to obstruct then-special counsel Robert Mueller's 22-month investigation.

"McGahn... is the most important witness, other than the president, to the key events that are the focus of the Judiciary Committee's investigation," the lawsuit said.

Joe Sommerlad9 August 2019 10:02
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In other business, Trump has named a new acting national intelligence director, part of a leadership shake-up at the agency that oversees 17 spy agencies. Joseph Maguire, the nation's top counter-terrorism official, will become acting director on 15 August, taking over from the outgoing Dan Coats.

That will also be the same day that deputy national intelligence director Sue Gordon will be walking out of the door. Democrats have accused Trump of pushing out two dedicated intelligence professionals.

Trump tweeted last night:

Coats also praised Maguire, saying in a statement that he "has had a long, distinguished career" and will lead the intelligence community with distinction. It's unclear if the president, who has had an uneven relationship with the intelligence agencies since he took office, plans to also nominate Maguire to formally replace Coats.

After Coats announced his retirement late last month, the president nominated Texas GOP representative John Ratcliffe to be the new director of national intelligence. But  Ratcliffe removed himself from consideration after just five days amid criticism about his lack of intelligence experience and qualifications for the job.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has been in upheaval since Coats, who had bumped elbows with Trump, announced late last month that he was stepping down.

Then on Thursday, Gordon, who has worked in the intelligence field for three decades, announced she was leaving the same day with Coats.

But it was clear that Gordon was not resigning by choice.

"I offer this letter as an act of respect and patriotism, not preference," she wrote in a note to Trump that accompanied her two-paragraph resignation letter.

"You should have your team. Godspeed, Sue."

Joe Sommerlad9 August 2019 10:20
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Former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe has announced he is suing the bureau and the Department of Justice (DOJ) over his dismissal, saying he was sacked as part of a plot to clear those institutions of officials not loyal to Trump.

Andrew McCabe (AP)

As The Washington Post explains it: "McCabe asked that a federal judge declare his termination a ‘legal nullity’ and essentially allow him to retire from the FBI as planned, with all the benefits that would have afforded him. He was fired from the bureau in March 2018, a little more than 24 hours before McCabe was set to retire, costing him significant retirement benefits. The termination came after the Justice Department inspector general found that McCabe made an unauthorised disclosure to the media, then lied to investigators about it.

"It was Trump’s unconstitutional plan and scheme to discredit and remove DOJ and FBI employees who were deemed to be his partisan opponents because they were not politically loyal to him,' the lawsuit alleges, adding that McCabe’s firing 'was a critical element of Trump’s plan and scheme'."

Joe Sommerlad9 August 2019 10:40
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As the gun violence debate resumes in the US, under pressure Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has said he now wants to consider background checks and other bills, setting up a potentially pivotal moment when lawmakers return to DC in the autumn. 

While the Republican leader won't be calling senators back to work early, as Democrats have demanded, he told a Kentucky radio station that Trump had called him on Thursday morning and they had talked about several ideas. The president, he said, is "anxious to get an outcome and so am I." 

Stakes are high for all sides, but particularly for Trump and his party. Republicans have long opposed expanding background checks - a bill passed by the Democratic-led House is stalled in the Senate - but they face enormous pressure to do something after mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton that killed 31 people. McConnell, who is facing protests outside his Louisville home, can shift attention back to Democrats by showing a willingness to engage ahead of the 2020 election. 

"What we can't do is fail to pass something," McConnell said. "What I want to see here is an outcome."

McConnell said he and Trump discussed various ideas on the call, including background checks and the so-called "red flag" laws that allow authorities to seize firearms from someone deemed a threat to themselves or others. 

"Background checks and red flags will probably lead the discussion," McConnell told Louisville's WHAS-AM. He noted "there's a lot of support" publicly for background checks. "Those are two items that for sure will be front and center as we see what we can come together on and pass." 

Trump has been interested in federal background checks before - and tweeted on Monday about them - only to drop the issue later, a turnaround similar to his reversal on gun proposals after the 2018 high school shooting at Parkland, Florida. 

The powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) and its allies on Capitol Hill have long wielded influence but the gun lobby's grip on Democrats started slipping some time ago, and it's unclear how much sway the NRA and other gun groups still hold over Republicans in the Trump era. 

House Speaker Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Trump had assured them in phone calls on Thursday he will review the House-passed bill that expands federal background checks for firearm sales. 

In a joint statement, they said Trump called them individually after Pelosi sent a letter asking the president to order the Senate back to Washington immediately to consider gun violence measures. 

Schumer and Pelosi said they told Trump the best way to address gun violence is for the Senate to take up and pass the House bill. Trump, they said, "understood our interest in moving as quickly as possible to help save lives." 

The politics of gun control are shifting amid the frequency and toll of mass shootings. Spending to support candidates backing tougher gun control measures - mostly Democrats - surged in the 2018 midterms, even as campaign spending by the NRA declined.

NRA chief Wayne LaPierre said in rare public statement on Thursday that some federal gun-control proposals "would make millions of law-abiding Americans less safe and less able to defend themselves and their loved ones."

The organisation said proposals being discussed in Congress would not have prevented the mass shootings in Texas and Ohio that killed 31 people. 

Earlier, more than 200 mayors, including those in Dayton and El Paso, urged the Senate to return to the Capitol. "Our nation can no longer wait," they wrote. McConnell on Thursday rejected the idea of reconvening the Senate, saying calling senators back now would just lead to people "scoring points and nothing would happen." 

Instead, the GOP leader wants to spend the August recess talking with Democratic and Republican senators to see what's possible. Senators have been talking among themselves, and holding conference calls, to sort out strategy. 

"If we do it prematurely it'll just be another frustrating position for all of us and for the public," he said. 

The politics of gun violence are difficult for Republicans, including McConnell. He could risk losing support as he seeks re-election in Kentucky if he were to back restricting access to firearms and ammunition. Other Republicans, including those in Colorado, Maine and swing states, also would face difficult votes, despite the clamor for gun laws. 

GOP senators are also considering changes to the existing federal background check system, modeled on a law signed last year that improved the National Instant Criminal Background Check system, as well as increased penalties for hate crimes. 

While many of those proposals have bipartisan support, Democrats are unlikely to agree to them without consideration of the more substantive background checks bill. 

"We Democrats are not going to settle for half-measures so Republicans can feel better and try to push the issue of gun violence off to the side," Schumer said on Wednesday. 

Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who, along with Senator Pat Toomey, is pushing a bill to expand background checks, said Trump's support will be the determining factor in whatever gets done. 

"At this point in time leadership comes from President Trump," Manchin said. 

Additional reporting by AP

Joe Sommerlad9 August 2019 11:00
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Speaking of McConnell, Trump’s re-election team and national Republican groups have vowed to stop buying Twitter advertisements until the Senate leader's campaign account is reinstated after being frozen as punishment for sharing a video of protesters screaming obscenities outside the Kentucky Republican’s home.

"#MassacreMitch trended on Twitter for a full day, and they did nothing,” Kevin McLaughlin, executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, griped on the site. "Someone threatens to stab the Majority Leader, @TeamMitch posts the video and THEY get locked out. @NRSC is not spending $ until this is adequately addressed."

Joe Sommerlad9 August 2019 11:15
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Democratic 2020 front-runner Joe Biden has kept up his attack on Trump over his encouragement of white supremacists on a trip to the Iowa State Fair on Thursday.

"I believe that everything the president says and has done encourages white supremacists, and I’m not sure there’s much of a distinction," Biden told reporters when asked about Trump’s perceived racism.

"As a matter of fact, it may be even worse. In fact, he’ll be out there trying to... curry the favour of white supremacists or any group that… is anathema to everything we believe in. So, whether he is or is not a white supremacist, he encourages them. Everything he does, he speaks to them. He’s afraid to take them on."

Here's Clark Mindock's report.

Joe Sommerlad9 August 2019 11:30
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It has to be said Biden did much less well later when he told the Asian & Latino Coalition PAC that poor children are just as “talented as white kids”.

It was his second gaffe of the day, after he accidentally confused our own former prime minister Theresa May with her Tory ancestor Margaret Thatcher, the second time he has made that same error.

Zamira Rahim has this report on the ex-veep's latest foot-in-mouth moment.

Joe Sommerlad9 August 2019 11:45

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