Trump’s eldest son faces questions in Congress about Russia

Trump's eldest son faces questions in Congress about Russia

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., returned to Congress on Wednesday to face questions from lawmakers about alleged Russian efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. election and possible collusion with Moscow by his father’s presidential campaign.

Trump arrived shortly before 10 a.m. EST (1500 GMT) for what was expected to be several hours of questioning by members of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, one of three main congressional committees investigating the matter.

Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert Mueller is also conducting a broad investigation of the matter. He has announced the first indictments of Trump associates, and President Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, has pleaded guilty to lying to Federal Bureau of Investigation agents.

Trump Jr.’s appearance on Wednesday came amid mounting criticism of the Russia probes by some of his father’s fellow Republicans in Congress, who accuse investigators of bias against Trump.

The committee meeting was conducted behind closed doors, and Trump Jr. was not seen by reporters waiting outside the meeting room, although congressional officials confirmed he had arrived.

The younger Trump testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee in September. The Senate Intelligence Committee has also said it wants to talk to him.

Lawmakers said they want to question him about a meeting with a Russian lawyer in June 2016 at Trump Tower in New York at which he had said he hoped to get information about the “fitness, character and qualifications” of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democrat his father defeated in last year’s race for the White House.

Trump Jr., like his father, denies collusion with Russia. U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia attempted to influence the 2016 campaign to boost Trump’s chances of defeating Clinton. Moscow denies any such effort.

Some of Trump’s fellow Republicans criticized Mueller, the FBI and the Department of Justice at a news conference on Wednesday, ahead of congressional testimony on Thursday by the director of the FBI, Christopher Wray.

The Republican House members accused Justice, the FBI and Mueller of being biased against President Trump and having been too easy on Clinton during the investigation of her use of a private email server while leading the State Department.

While the Republicans have complained about the FBI, Clinton has made no secret of her belief that then-FBI Director James Comey’s announcement, shortly before the election, that the bureau was investigating potential new evidence in the lengthy email probe helped cost her the White House.

Republican Representative Matt Gaetz accused investigators of “unprecedented bias” against the president over the Russia matter, compared with their treatment of Clinton.

Republican Representative Jim Jordan told the news conference that investigators have “two standards of justice.”

Trump and some of his closest Republican allies in Congress, have frequently criticized the Justice Department, arguing that it has focused too many resources on the Russia investigation while neglecting conservative concerns.

Separately on Wednesday, Representative Bob Goodlatte, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Department of Justice, announced a hearing next week with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, citing “serious concerns” about reports on the political motives of staff on Mueller’s team.

And Republican Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley said he was asking the FBI for documents relating to the activities of FBI agent Peter Strzok after reports the agent had shown political bias while handling matters in both the Clinton and Trump investigations.

Republicans control majorities in both the House and Senate.

Other lawmakers, Republicans as well as Democrats, say the goal of their investigation is to guarantee the integrity of U.S. elections, not to target Trump and his associates.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Palestinians seethe at Trump’s ‘insane’ Jerusalem move

Palestinians seethe at Trump's 'insane' Jerusalem move

By Ali Sawafta

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Palestinians seethed with anger and a sense of betrayal over U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize the disputed city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Many heard the death knell for the long-moribund U.S.-sponsored talks aimed at ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel. They also said more violence could erupt.

“Trump wants to help Israel take over the entire city. Some people may do nothing, but others are ready to fight for Jerusalem,” said Hamad Abu Sbeih, 28, an unemployed resident of the walled Old City.

“This decision will ignite a fire in the region. Pressure leads to explosions,” he said.

Jerusalem — specifically its eastern Old City, home to important shrines of Judaism, Christianity and Islam — is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israeli captured Arab East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East War then later annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. Palestinians want it to be the capital of a future independent state and resolution of its status is fundamental to any peace-making.

Trump is due to announce later on Wednesday that the United States recognizes the city as Israel’s capital and will move its embassy there from Tel Aviv, breaking with longtime policy..

“This is insane. You are speaking about something fateful. Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Palestine and neither the world nor our people will accept it,” said Samir Al-Asmar, 58, a merchant from the Old City who was a child when it fell to Israel.

“It will not change what Jerusalem is. Jerusalem will remain Arab. Such a decision will sabotage things and people will not accept it.”

Palestinian newspapers also decried the move.

“Trump Defies the World,” thundered Al-Ayyam. Another, Al-Hayat, roared “Jerusalem is the Symbol of Palestinian Endurance” in a red-letter headline over an image of the city’s mosque compound flanked by Palestinian flags.

Palestinian leaders have also warned the move could have dangerous consequences. Although winter rains dampened protests called for East Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip, few doubted fresh bloodshed now loomed.

Israeli security forces braced for possible unrest but police said the situation in Jerusalem was calm for now.

That could quickly change, given the religious passions that swirl around the Old City, where Al Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest shrine, abuts the Western Wall prayer plaza, a vestige of two ancient Jewish temples.

Palestinians mounted two uprisings, or intifadas, against Israeli occupation from 1987 to 1993 then from 2000 to 2005, the latter ignited by a visit by then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the shrine area, known to Jews as Temple Mount.

Violent confrontations also took place in July when Israel installed metal detectors at an entrance to Al-Aqsa compound after Arab gunmen holed up there killed two of its policemen. Four Palestinians and three Israelis died in ensuing violence.

ANGRY IN GAZA

In the Palestinian coastal enclave of Gaza, demonstrators chanted “Death to America”, “Death to Israel” and “Down with Trump”. They also burned posters depicting the U.S., British and Israeli flags.

Youssef Mohammad, a 70-year-old resident of a refugee camp, said Trump’s move would be a test for Arab leadership at a time of regional chaos and shifting alliances.

“Let him do it. Let’s see what Arab rulers and kings will do. They will do nothing because they are cowards,” the father of eight said.

The Jerusalem uproar could affect Egyptian-brokered efforts to bring Gaza, which has been under Islamist Hamas control for a decade, back under the authority of U.S.-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who favors negotiation with Israel.

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said Trump’s planned moved showed the United States was biased.

“The United States was never a neutral mediator in any cause of our people. It has always stood with the occupation (Israel),” he said.

He said Abbas’ administration should “rid itself of the illusion that rights can be achieved through an American-backed deal”.

(Corrects Ariel Sharon’s title to opposition leader)

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Editing by Ori Lewis and Angus MacSwan)

Trump likely to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital next week: official

Trump likely to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital next week: official

By Steve Holland and Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump is likely to announce next week that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a senior administration official said on Friday, a move that would upend decades of American policy and possibly inflame tensions in the Middle East.

Trump could make the controversial declaration in a speech on Wednesday though he is also expected to again delay his campaign promise to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. The senior official and two other government sources said final decisions had not yet been made.

The Palestinians want Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, and the international community does not recognize Israel’s claim on all of the city, home to sites holy to the Jewish, Muslim and Christian religions.

Word of Trump’s planned announcement, which would deviate from previous U.S. presidents who have insisted the Jerusalem’s status must be decided in negotiations, drew criticism from the Palestinian Authority and was sure to anger the broader Arab world.

It could also unravel the U.S. administration’s fledgling diplomatic effort, led by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, to restart long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and enlist the support of U.S. Arab allies.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would “destroy the peace process” and “destabilize the region.”

Such a move, however, could help satisfy the pro-Israel, right-wing base that helped Trump win the presidency and also please the Israeli government, a close U.S. ally.

The senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said details were still being finalized and could still change.

Another U.S. official said Trump appeared to be heading toward recognizing Israel’s claim to Jerusalem but that it was not a done deal.

“We’ve nothing to announce,” said a spokesperson with the White House National Security Council.

INTERNAL DELIBERATIONS

Trump’s impending decisions on Jerusalem, one of the most sensitive core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, follow intense internal deliberations in which the president has personally weighed in, one White House aide said.

Trump is likely to continue his predecessors’ practice of signing a six-month waiver overriding a 1995 law requiring that the U.S. embassy be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, two officials told Reuters on Thursday.

But seeking to temper his supporters’ concerns, another option under consideration is for Trump to order his aides to develop a longer-term plan for the embassy’s relocation to make clear his intent to do so eventually, the officials said.

It was unclear, however, whether any public recognition by Trump of Israel’s claim on Jerusalem would be formally enshrined in a presidential action or be more of a symbolic statement.

Trump pledged on the presidential campaign trail last year that he would move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

But in June, Trump waived the requirement, saying he wanted to “maximize the chances” for a new U.S.-led push for what he has called the “ultimate deal” of Israeli-Palestinian peace. Those efforts have made little, if any, progress so far and many experts are skeptical of the prospects for success.

The status of Jerusalem is one of the major stumbling blocks in achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem during the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed it, a move not recognized internationally.

Arab governments and Western allies have long urged Trump not to proceed with the embassy relocation, which would reverse long-standing U.S. policy by granting de facto U.S. recognition of Israel’s claim to all of Jerusalem as its capital.

Visiting Washington this week, Jordan’s King Abdullah warned lawmakers that moving the U.S. embassy could be “exploited by terrorists to stoke anger, frustration and desperation,” according to the Jordanian state news agency Petra.

Some of Trump’s top aides have privately pushed for him to keep his campaign promise to satisfy a range of supporters, including evangelical Christians, while others have cautioned about the potential damage to U.S. relations with Muslim countries.

(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington, Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Richard Chang)

Democrats skip Trump meeting, raising risk of government shutdown

Democrats skip Trump meeting, raising risk of government shutdown

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic leaders in Congress skipped a meeting with President Donald Trump on Tuesday that was to have focused on the budget, raising the risk of a government shutdown next month with both sides far apart on the terms of an agreement.

After Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi informed Trump they would not attend the meeting at the White House, the president and Republican congressional leaders went ahead with the talks without them.

Trump left empty seats on either side of him, with name cards for Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, and Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives. He also criticized them as the cameras rolled during a picture-taking session.

“We have a lot of differences,” Trump said. “So they’ve decided not to show up. They’ve been all talk and they’ve been no action and now it’s even worse. Now it’s not even talk.”

Schumer and Pelosi said they pulled out of the meeting because of a tweet Trump sent earlier in the day attacking them as weak on illegal immigration and bent on raising taxes.

“I don’t see a deal!” the Republican president wrote on Twitter.

Pelosi tweeted after Trump’s White House session that “his empty chair photo opp showed he’s more interested in stunts than in addressing the needs of the American people. Poor Ryan and McConnell relegated to props. Sad!” she added, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan,

Trump said he would “absolutely blame the Democrats” if a government shutdown takes place.

A Dec. 8 deadline is looming for passing a spending measure needed to fund a wide range of federal government programs.Although Republicans control both chambers of the U.S. Congress, their leaders will likely need to rely on at least some Democratic votes to pass the measure.

Democrats have said they will demand help for the “Dreamers” – young people brought to the United States illegally as children – as part of their price for providing votes on the budget measure.

But Trump said in a tweet late on Tuesday: “I ran on stopping illegal immigration and won big. They can’t now threaten a shutdown to get their demands.”

Congress has three choices: approve a massive bill for more than $1 trillion to keep the government operating through Sept. 30, 2018; pass a shorter extension of current funding to buy more time; or fail to pass anything and risk a partial government shutdown.

On Capitol Hill, Schumer said he and Pelosi believed the best path forward would be to negotiate with Republican leaders in Congress instead of going to the White House for a “show meeting.”

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Peter Cooney)

At North Korea’s doorstep, Trump warns of U.S. power while also striking conciliatory note

At North Korea's doorstep, Trump warns of U.S. power while also striking conciliatory note

By Steve Holland, Matt Spetalnick and Christine Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Tuesday warned North Korea he was prepared to use the full range of U.S. military power to stop any attack, but in a more conciliatory appeal than ever before he urged Pyongyang to “make a deal” to end the nuclear standoff.

Speaking on North Korea’s doorstep during a visit to Seoul, Trump said that while “we hope to God” not to have to resort to the use of full U.S. military might, he was ready to do whatever was necessary to prevent the “North Korean dictator” from threatening millions of lives.

“We cannot allow North Korea to threaten all that we have built,” Trump said after talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has supported diplomatic outreach to Pyongyang.

But at times taking a more measured, less confrontational tone, Trump also urged North Korea to “do the right thing” and added that: “I do see some movement,” though he declined to elaborate.

“It really makes sense for North Korea to come to the table and make a deal,” Trump told reporters at a joint news conference with Moon.

Despite Trump’s renewed threats against North Korea, it was a far cry from the more strident approach he has pursued in recent months, including his previous dismissal of any diplomatic efforts with Pyongyang as a waste of time.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has made clear, however, that he has little interest in negotiations, at least until he has developed a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.

Landing earlier at Osan Air Base outside Seoul, the president and First Lady Melania Trump stepped down from Air Force One onto a red carpet as he began a 24-hour visit that could aggravate tension with North Korea.

He then flew by helicopter to Camp Humphreys, the largest U.S. military base in the country, and met U.S. and South Korean troops, along with Moon.

The White House billed Trump’s trip as intended to demonstrate U.S. resolve over a hardline approach to the North Korean nuclear and missile threats.

But many in the region had expressed fear that any further bellicose rhetoric by Trump toward Pyongyang could increase the potential for a devastating military conflict.

TRUMP PRAISE FOR MOON

Trump praised Moon for “great cooperation” despite differences in the past over how to confront North Korea and over a trade pact between the United States and South Korea.

At the news conference, the leaders said they had agreed to renegotiate the trade agreement in a timely fashion.

In formal talks after an elaborate welcoming ceremony outside the presidential Blue House in Seoul, Moon told Trump he hoped his visit would relieve some of South Koreans’ anxiety over North Korea.

Pyongyang’s recent nuclear and missile tests in defiance of U.N. resolutions and an exchange of insults between Trump and Kim have raised the stakes in the most critical international challenge of Trump’s presidency.

At the news conference, Trump said Pyongyang must understand the “unparalleled strength” that Washington had at its disposal.

He cited three U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups that are converging on the Western Pacific for exercises as well as a nuclear submarine he said was also in position.

Trump has rattled some U.S. allies with his vow to “totally destroy” North Korea if it threatens the United States and by deriding Kim as a “Rocket Man on a suicide mission.”

Kim responded by calling Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.”

Trump’s senior aides privately have since urged him to avoid “personalizing” the conflict any further, U.S. officials say.

On the second leg of his five-nation trip, Trump toured the sprawling Camp Humphreys garrison, which lies about 100 km (60 miles) from the border with reclusive North Korea, and met commanders and troops.

The base visit gave him a first-hand view of the massive military assets the United States has in place in South Korea, but it also could serve as a reminder of the cost in U.S. military lives – as well as the potential massive South Korean civilian losses – if the current crisis spirals into war.

“MAY YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE”

Trump wrapped up his first day with a dinner hosted at the Blue House, dining on grilled sole, beef ribs and chocolate cake while being serenaded by a K-pop singer with an orchestra in the background.

“Mr President, may your dreams come true,” Trump said to Moon, raising his glass in a toast.

North Korea has not conducted a missile test for 53 days, the longest such lull in testing this year. North Korean state media has not commented on Trump’s arrival in the South.

South Korea’s spy agency said last week that North Korea may be preparing another missile test, raising speculation that such a launch could be timed for Trump’s trip to the region.

U.S. officials have said privately that intercepting a test missile is among options under consideration, though there is disagreement within the administration about the risks.

Trump had previously criticized Moon over his support for diplomatic engagement with Pyongyang – something the U.S. president once called “appeasement” – but both leaders used Tuesday’s news conference to stress common ground.

Moon urged maximum pressure from sanctions against North Korea to force it to negotiate abandonment of its nuclear program, something Pyongyang says it will never give up.

Several hundred supporters and protesters lined the streets of downtown Seoul as Trump’s motorcade passed by en route to the Blue House, waving flags and posters, with some saying, “No Trump, No War, Yes Peace,” while others cheered, “Trump! Trump!”

will deliver a speech on Wednesday to South Korea’s National Assembly expected to focus heavily on his North Korea policy, which has stressed sanctions and military pressure instead of diplomatic engagement with Pyongyang.

The North accuses the United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean war, of planning to invade and regularly threatens to destroy it and its Asian allies. Washington denies any such intention.

(Additional reporting by Soyoung Kim, James Pearson, Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin in Seoul, Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali in Washington; writing by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Nick Macfie)

U.S. lawmakers release sample of Russian-bought Facebook ads

An aide puts out examples of Facebook pages, as executives appear before the House Intelligence Committee to answer questions related to Russian use of social media to influence U.S. elections, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 1, 2017.

By Dustin Volz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers released a batch of Russian-bought Facebook Inc ads on Wednesday that showcased politically charged content allegedly spread on social media by Moscow ahead of the 2016 U.S. election.

Some of the ads criticized candidates, while others sought to organize or promote simultaneous rallies for opposite sides of divisive issues. The sample posted on a House committee website pulled from the roughly 3,000 ads Facebook provided to congressional investigators last month.

Tech companies recently acknowledged that Russia-based content on U.S. politics and social issues like gun rights, immigration, religion and race had spread on their platforms before and after the election.

Some of the ads sampled specifically dealt with the U.S. election and were critical of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. One from an account called “Army of Jesus” said Clinton was supported by evil forces.

“Hillary is a Satan, and her crimes and lies had proved just how evil she is,” the post read. It added that Republican candidate Donald Trump was “an honest man” who “cares deeply for this country.”

Other ads appeared to be aimed at setting up clashes over hot-button issues.

One ad from a group calling itself “Heart of Texas” promoted a rally in Houston on May 21, 2016 to “Stop Islamization” in the U.S. state. Another ad from a separate Facebook page promoted a pro-Islam rally at the same time and venue.

The Russian government has denied any attempts to sway the 2016 election, in which U.S. President Donald Trump defeated Clinton.

The ads were released at a U.S. House Intelligence Committee hearing, where lawyers from Facebook, Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google testified about Russian influence on their networks.

It was the second straight day the companies attempted to ward off criticism from lawmakers that they were slow to respond to Russian abuse.

Facebook, the world’s largest social media network, again came under the most scrutiny from lawmakers, who expressed frustration with the company because of its role in targeted marketing.

Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch told the committee that 16 million Americans may have been exposed to Russian information on Facebook’s picture-sharing service Instagram beginning in October 2016. The election was on Nov. 8.

An additional four million may have seen such material on Instagram before October, though that data was less complete, Stretch said.

Twitter Acting General Counsel Sean Edgett, Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch and Google Senior Vice President and General Counsel Kent Walker are sworn in before the House Intelligence Committee to answer questions related to Russian use of social media to influence U.S. elections, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 1, 2017.

Twitter Acting General Counsel Sean Edgett, Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch and Google Senior Vice President and General Counsel Kent Walker are sworn in before the House Intelligence Committee to answer questions related to Russian use of social media to influence U.S. elections, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 1, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

‘YOU FAILED’

The Instagram figures were in addition to the 126 million Americans who may have seen Russian-backed political content on Facebook over a two-year period, a number the company disclosed earlier this week.

The companies’ visit to Washington this week reflected shifting political fortunes for the U.S. tech industry, which after decades of relatively little regulatory scrutiny is now on the defensive on a range of policy issues.

“In the past election, you failed,” said Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, who normally is considered a strong ally of Silicon Valley.

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the campaign, including through social media, to try to influence the vote in favor of Trump.

A U.S. Justice Department special counsel and several congressional panels are investigating Russian meddling and any potential collusion by Trump’s campaign.

Trump has said there was no collusion with Moscow ahead of the election.

Democrats and Republicans both said in Wednesday’s Senate intelligence hearing that the tech companies need to do more to police against foreign government abuse on their platforms.

Some Republicans, however, sought to distance that scrutiny from questions about the legitimacy of Trump’s election victory.

Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the panel, said it was impossible to measure the impact or know the motivation of the Russian operation to spread political material on social media.

Any conclusions that Trump benefited from Russia, perhaps in a decisive way, to win the White House ignored the complexity of the issue, Burr said.

“I’m here to tell you this story does not simplify that easily,” he said.

A combination of social media posts, which were provided to the House Intelligence Committee during a hearing on Russian use of social media to influence U.S. 2016 presidential elections, is seen after their release in Washington, D.C. U.S. November 1, 2017.

A combination of social media posts, which were provided to the House Intelligence Committee during a hearing on Russian use of social media to influence U.S. 2016 presidential elections, is seen after their release in Washington, D.C. U.S. November 1, 2017. Social Media/Handout via REUTERS

‘UNDERESTIMATING’ THE PROBLEM

Some Republicans also sought to portray the amount of Russian content as miniscule compared to the total amount of political material online.

The campaigns of Trump and Clinton spent a combined $81 million on Facebook ads, Stretch said, compared to about $46,000 in ad buys from the Internet Research Agency, a suspected Russian troll farm.

Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the panel, said he was disappointed the companies appeared be confining reviews to information linked to the Internet Research Agency, and suggested there could have been far more undetected Russian content.

Some senators criticized the companies for sending lawyers, not chief executives, to testify.

“If we go through this exercise again, we would appreciate seeing the top people who are making the decision,” said Senator Angus King, an independent.

 

(Reporting by Dustin Volz; Additional reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Frances Kerry and Meredith Mazzilli)