Bullet-riddled U.S. flag that survived D-Day comes home 75 years later

U.S. President Donald Trump, Dutch art collector Bert Kreuk, Netherlands' Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch look at a flag that flew on the first U.S. invading ship on D-Day during a White House ceremony after it was donated by Kreuk to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, U.S., July 18, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Shot through by German machine-gun bullets and tattered by the wind, an American flag that flew on the first U.S. invading ship on D-Day came home on Thursday in a White House ceremony.

The flag handover was a main part of the visit to the White House by Mark Rutte, prime minister of the Netherlands, who held Oval Office talks with President Donald Trump.

The flag has been owned by retired Dutch businessman and art collector Bert Kreuk, who paid $514,000 for it at auction three years ago with the intention of donating it to the United States.

“I cannot keep it myself. It needs to go to the right institution. I need to give it back,” Kreuk said in a telephone interview ahead of the ceremony, at which he spoke.

The flag is to be put on display at the Smithsonian Institution.

The 48-star flag was on the U.S. Navy’s Landing Craft Control 60, which was one of three advance ships directing troops onto Utah Beach on the Normandy coast on June 6, 1944.

The LCC 60 was the only one of the three to complete its mission in the chaos of D-Day.

The ship and its 14-member crew were commanded by U.S. Navy Lieutenant Howard Vander Beek, a one-time Iowa teacher who brought the flag home from the war and kept it in his basement until he died in 2014.

“It is my honor to welcome this great American flag back home where it belongs,” said Trump, who called it a “reminder of the supreme sacrifice of our warriors and the beautiful friendship between the Dutch and the American people.”

To Kreuk, 54, the flag represented the liberation effort that saved his family from Nazi rule during World War Two. He said he lost family members during a German bombing raid on Rotterdam in 1940.

Kreuk said his donation of the flag is aimed at remembering World War Two. “For many of you, this will be the first time that you will see the flag,” but for many on D-Day, “it was the last time.”

Trump attended ceremonies in Normandy on June 6 marking the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Life-threatening rains pound U.S. capital; White House basement offices leak

Flood waters are pictured in North Arlington, Virginia, U.S., July 8, 2019 in this picture grab obtained from social media video. Twitter/Hope Hodge Seck/@hopeseck/via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Driving rains flooded parts of Washington, D.C., on Monday, shattering a daily record in just an hour, forcing 15 swift-water rescues from stranded cars and causing an undeniable leak in the White House.

“This is a life-threatening situation. Seek higher ground now!” the National Weather Service warned amid torrential rains that dropped 3.3 inches (8.4 cm) at Reagan National Airport from 9 a.m. through 10 a.m. ET (1200-1300 GMT), shattering in one hour the previous record of 2.2 inches (5.6 cm) set in 1958.

It was the seventh-wettest July day since record-keeping began in 1871, said NWS meteorologist Marc Chenard.

“They broke their daily record in an hour,” he said.

Even more rainfall was recorded further northwest, in Arlington, Virginia, where about 5 inches (12.7 cm) fell from 9 to 10 a.m., Chenard said.

The rains eased by late morning and were expected to end by midday, Chenard said.

Torrents of water streamed through the ceiling of Metro stations, and major arteries serving Washington’s top museums and memorials shut down due to high water as local emergency personnel reported rescuing several people from cars. By midday, DC Fire and EMS said it had saved 15 drivers.

Firefighters used yellow rubber lifeboats to rescue those trapped by the flood waters.

Twitter images showed a photograph of a very wet floor beneath office chairs and desks on the basement level of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

“White House is leaking,” CNN journalist Betsy Klein tweeted with the picture.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington, additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Scott Malone and Dan Grebler)

Trump says immigration roundup will start next week

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs the White House on travel to Orlando, Florida from the White House in Washington, U.S., June 18, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump repeated on Tuesday that immigration authorities would next week target migrants in the country illegally in large-scale arrests, but still gave no details about the planned action.

“They’re going to start next week, and with people coming to our country, and they come in illegally – they have to go out,” he told reporters at the White House before a trip to Florida where he will formally launch his re-election campaign. Trump also praised Mexico for action he said it has taken to stem the flow of immigrants to the United States.

Former officials and immigration experts said it would be unlikely for immigration authorities to move quickly to deport “millions” of people, but Trump’s tweet on Monday saying as much put cities around the country on high alert.

Trump has made illegal immigration a centerpiece of his administration and is likely to highlight it in his campaign for the 2020 election, but so far he has not brought arrests and deportations up to levels seen in President Barack Obama’s first term as resources are stretched by an influx of migrants at the Mexico border. Trump is fighting the battle on two fronts, trying to stop migrants from coming in the first place and deporting those who have been released into the United States.

In March, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said arrests of immigrants in the interior of the United States dropped in the first quarter of the 2019 fiscal year, which began last October.

New York City’s commissioner of immigrant affairs, Bitta Mostofi, said Trump’s comments are  “part and parcel of an agenda that is seeking to instill fear in immigrant communities that is hurting our ability to advance our city’s interests.” Mostofi said New York has increased resources for immigrant legal defense programs to respond to increased enforcement actions.

ICE said on Tuesday that it will continue to conduct “routine targeted enforcement operations” and referred questions about Trump’s tweets to the White House.

Any increase in ICE arrests would require additional detention space for those arrested and processed before deportation.

As of June 8, ICE had almost 53,141 people in adult detention centers, much higher than the levels for which it is funded by Congress, which would put logistical brakes on the possible scale of any operation.

ICE’s dedicated family detention centers are currently operating below capacity, however, with a population of 1,662 as of June 17.

Mexico has pledged to do more on illegal immigration, in order to stave of threatened U.S. tariffs on its goods.

“Mexico has been doing a very good job the last four days. … I appreciate the job they’re doing,” Trump said.

“Guatemala, likewise is much different than it was under past administrations, so we’ll see how that works out,” he said.

Vice President Mike Pence suggested last week that Guatemala could receive asylum seekers from its neighbors as a safe third country agreement, which might force asylum seekers from other Central American countries to seek refuge there before applying in the United States.

Guatemala’s interior minister, Enrique Degenhart, on Tuesday said there was no such agreement yet.

“We have not said we accept being a safe third country. … We’re in discussions to find a measure that suits both countries,” Degenhart told reporters, saying he welcomed that the United States saw Guatemala as a “safe country.”

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Leslie Adler)

U.S. working to designate Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group: White House

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders talks to reporters at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 29, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration is working to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organization, the White House said on Tuesday, which would bring sanctions against Egypt’s oldest Islamist movement.

“The president has consulted with his national security team and leaders in the region who share his concern, and this designation is working its way through the internal process,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in an email.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi asked President Donald Trump to make the designation, which Egypt has already done, in a private meeting during a visit to Washington on April 9, a senior U.S. official said, confirming a report in the New York Times on Tuesday.

After the meeting, Trump praised Sisi as a “great president” while a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers raised concerns about Sisi’s record on human rights, efforts to keep him in office for many years and planned Russian arms purchases.

Sisi, who ousted President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 and was elected president the following year, has overseen a crackdown on Islamists as well as liberal opposition in Egypt.

White House national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo support the designation but officials at the Pentagon and elsewhere have been opposed and have been seeking more limited action, the senior official said.

The Brotherhood, which estimates its membership at up to 1 million people, came to power in Egypt’s first modern free election in 2012, a year after long-serving autocrat Hosni Mubarak was toppled in a popular uprising. But the movement is now banned and thousands of its supporters and much of its leadership have been jailed.

The Egyptian government blamed the organization for a 2013 suicide bomb attack on a police station that killed 16 people. The Brotherhood condemned that attack and denies using violence.

Some conservative and anti-Muslim activists have argued for years that the Brotherhood, which was founded in Egypt in 1928 and sought to establish a worldwide Islamic caliphate by peaceful means, has been a breeding ground for terrorists.

Designating the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist designation could complicate Washington’s relationship with NATO ally Turkey. The organization has close ties with President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party and many of its members fled to Turkey after the group’s activities were banned in Egypt.

Turkey is under threat of U.S. sanctions if it pursues plans to purchase Russian S-400 missile defense systems, which are not compatible with NATO systems.

Washington also says Turkey’s purchase of the S-400s would compromise the security of F-35 fighter jets, which are built by Lockheed Martin Corp and use stealth technology.

The U.S. administration debated the terrorist designation for the Muslim Brotherhood shortly after Trump took office in January 2017.

Some branches of the Brotherhood, including the Palestinian group Hamas, have engaged in anti-government violence and provoked violent government reactions. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda, was once a member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

Other offshoots in Turkey and Tunisia have forsworn violence and come to power by democratic means.

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Franklin Paul and Bill Trott)

Strong growth gives U.S. leverage in China trade talks-White House adviser

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs for travel to Indianapolis, Indiana from the White House in Washington, U.S., April 26, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Jason Lange and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Strong U.S. economic growth and modest inflation are giving Washington leverage over Beijing in trade talks, the White House’s top economic adviser said on Friday as U.S. and Chinese negotiators prepared for a new round of meetings next week.

Larry Kudlow, director of the White House’s National Economic Council, also said on CNBC television that strong growth could give the Federal Reserve room to cut interest rates.

He spoke after the Commerce Department reported that first-quarter U.S. economic growth accelerated to a 3.2 percent annualized rate, driven by a smaller trade deficit and a jump in business inventories.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are headed to Beijing for talks starting next Wednesday, while Chinese Vice Premier Liu He is scheduled to return to Washington on May 8.

“I hope additional progress will be made; I’m cautiously optimistic about the outcome for a deal,” Kudlow said of next week’s talks.

“China’s economy is slumping and has been slumping for quite some time,” Kudlow added. “The U.S. economy, as I say, is in this prosperity cycle with no end in sight. So we believe that does give us some leverage if you will, but we believe also that China may be open to a lot of good trade reforms.”

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday repeated that China trade talks were “going very well,” a day after he said that he would soon host Chinese President Xi Jinping at the White House. Trump has said he expects to finalize a deal in a meeting with Xi.

Asked about prospects for a such a meeting on Fox News Channel, Kudlow said Trump would like to meet Xi and close a deal if it is “a great one for America. … We’re not there yet.”

The world’s two largest economies have been locked in a tariff war for nearly 10 months, levying hundreds of billions of dollars in duties on each other’s goods, and are trying to negotiate a way out.

The United States is demanding that China make major changes to its economic policies to better protect American intellectual property and end cyber theft of trade secrets and policies that force U.S. companies to turn over technology to Chinese firms.

Washington also wants Beijing to curb subsidies for Chinese state enterprises, increased access to China’s markets for U.S. companies and increased purchases of U.S. agricultural, energy and manufactured products by China.

China is seeking removal of U.S. tariffs on some $250 billion worth of Chinese goods imposed by Trump.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Jason Lange; Writing by David Lawder and Makini Brice; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Trump says he has not seen or read Mueller’s Russia probe report

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs for travel to Texas from the White House in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he had not seen or read a report into Russian election meddling by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a day after his attorney general would not say whether he had briefed the White House or shared the report.

Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday declined to say whether he had briefed the White House or shown them the report when questioned at a congressional hearing.

“I have not read the Mueller report, I haven’t seen the Mueller report. As far as I’m concerned I don’t care about the Mueller report. I’ve been totally exonerated. No collusion, no obstruction,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

Barr told lawmakers at a hearing he intended to release “within a week” a redacted version of the long-awaited report, which Mueller submitted to Barr on March 22 after a 22-month investigation.

The 400-page report is expected to shed light on some of the more contentious episodes of Trump’s election bid and presidency, including his firing of FBI Director James Comey in 2017 and his campaign’s contacts with Russians.

In a March 24 letter to Congress, Barr said Mueller’s investigation did not establish that members of Trump’s presidential campaign had conspired with Russia.

He said Mueller presented evidence “on both sides” about whether Trump obstructed justice, but did not draw a conclusion one way or the other.

Barr said the White House did not review his letter to Congress laying out Mueller’s findings before he sent it.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

White House defers on release of Mueller’s report, Kremlin warms

U.S. President Donald Trump reacts as he returns to the White House after U.S. Attorney General William Barr reported to congressional leaders on the submission of the report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller in Washington, U.S., March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Makini Brice and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House said on Monday it was up to the U.S. Justice Department to decide if detailed findings from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation would be made public, a day after the attorney general said President Donald Trump had been cleared of any collusion.

Mueller wrapped up his investigation after nearly two years on Friday and submitted his findings to Attorney General William Barr, who on Sunday released a four-page summary saying there was no evidence of criminal collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia in the 2016 election. Mueller’s report left unresolved whether Trump obstructed justice.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin on Monday said President Vladimir Putin was ready to improve ties with the United States following the release of Barr’s summary and called on the United States to formally recognize there was no collusion between Russia and Trump’s campaign.

Trump last week openly backed the public release of the report from the investigation, which he had repeatedly lambasted as a “witch hunt.”

U.S. Attorney General William Barr leaves his house after Special Counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence of collusion between U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia in the 2016 election in McClean, Virginia, U.S., March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

U.S. Attorney General William Barr leaves his house after Special Counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence of collusion between U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia in the 2016 election in McClean, Virginia, U.S., March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

The Barr summary handed Trump a political victory ahead of his 2020 re-election effort, even as Democratic challengers and lawmakers vowed to press on with other investigations into his business and personal dealings.

Democrats also called for the full findings from Mueller to be released to Congress and the public and vowed to call Barr to appear before lawmakers to answer questions.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said that while Trump wanted the special counsel’s report to come out, it was not up to him.

“I think that the president is doing exactly what he should and that’s leaving that decision into the hands of the attorney general and we’ll see what decision he makes on that front,” Sanders said in an interview on NBC’s “Today” program on Monday.

Sanders declined to comment on whether Trump would invoke presidential privilege to withhold any information. But Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s personal lawyers, said it “would be very inappropriate” to release the president’s written answers to the special counsel, saying they were confidential. Despite lengthy negotiations, Mueller never obtained an in-person interview with the president.

“As a lawyer, you don’t waive privileges and you don’t waive investigative detail absent either a court order or an agreement between the parties,” Sekulow told CNN in an interview, adding that Barr would make the final decision.

Trump embraced the summary’s findings, retweeting Barr’s assessment and related headlines news media despite years of decrying the “fake news” as #ReleaseTheFullMuellerReport trended nationwide on social media.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, in a conference call with reporters, called on Washington to make the first move to reset ties and repeated Moscow’s denial of any interference in U.S. elections and internal affairs or those of any other country.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry also said the allegations of election meddling against a number of Russians were politically motivated.

Mueller’s investigation led to charges and guilty pleas against dozens of people, including a series of Russian nationals and companies as well as several advisers to President Donald Trump, including this former campaign chairman and national security adviser.

 

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Makini Brice; Editing by Bill Trott)

Islamic State no longer holds territory in Syria: White House

Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) stand together in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said

BAGHOUZ, Syria (Reuters) – Islamic State no longer holds any territory in Syria, a White House spokeswoman said on Friday after Washington’s local ally in Syria reported that fighting with the jihadists continued at the site of their last enclave.

U.S. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan briefed President Donald Trump as he was traveling to Florida on Air Force One, spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has yet to announce a final territorial defeat of Islamic State in its last enclave in Baghouz and said on Friday that though it has captured most of the area, there are still pockets of jihadist fighters.

A Reuters journalist at Baghouz heard air strikes there on Friday afternoon and saw smoke rising.

The SDF has been battling for weeks to defeat Islamic State in Baghouz in southeastern Syria at the Iraqi border, all that remained of the territory the militants ruled, which once spanned a third of Syria and Iraq.

Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office, told Reuters SDF fighters had captured most of the Baghouz area and clashed overnight with IS militants in more than two positions where they were refusing to surrender.

The jihadists were holed up in what appeared to be caves in a rocky shelf overlooking Baghouz, and in trenches by the nearby Euphrates River, he said. “Our forces are trying to force them to surrender, but so far the clashes are continuing.”

Though the defeat of Islamic State at Baghouz ends its grip overpopulated territory, the group remains a threat, with fighters operating in remote territory elsewhere and capable of mounting insurgent attacks.

(Reporting by Rodi Said in Qamishli, a Reuters journalist in Baghouz and Roberta Rampton aboard Air Force One; Writing by Tom Perry and Angus McDowall; Editing by Robert Birsel/Mark Heinrich)

New round of U.S.-China trade talks to begin in Washington on Tuesday

Aides set up platforms before a group photo with members of U.S. and Chinese trade negotiation delegations at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China February 15, 2019. Mark Schiefelbein/Pool via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A new round of talks between the United States and China to resolve their trade war will take place in Washington on Tuesday, with follow-up sessions at a higher level later in the week, the White House said.

The talks follow a round of negotiations that ended in Beijing last week without a deal but which officials said had generated progress on contentious issues between the world’s two largest economies.

The talks are aimed at “achieving needed structural changes in China that affect trade between the United States and China. The two sides will also discuss China’s pledge to purchase a substantial amount of goods and services from the United States,” the White House said in a statement.

The higher-level talks will start on Thursday and be led by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, a strong proponent of pressing China to end practices that the United States says include forced technology transfers from U.S. companies and intellectual property theft.

China, which denies that it engages in such practices, confirmed that Vice Premier Liu He will visit Washington on Thursday and Friday for the talks.

The White House said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, economic adviser Larry Kudlow and trade adviser Peter Navarro would also take part in the talks.

U.S. tariffs on $200 billion in imports from China are set to rise to 25 percent from 10 percent if no deal is reached by March 1.

Trump, who suggested last week that he could extend the deadline for the talks, reiterated in a speech on Monday that the negotiations had been fruitful.

“We’re making a lot of progress. Nobody expected this was going to be happening,” he told a crowd in Florida.

Speaking in Beijing on Tuesday, the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, told a visiting U.S. business delegation that everyone was “paying attention” to the talks.

“If our two countries can respect each other and cooperate it will not only be the right choice for us but it is also the common hope of international society,” Wang told the group, which included U.S. Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Myron Brilliant and former U.S. deputy secretary of the treasury Robert Kimmitt.

Brilliant said that in the last year or so there had been “serious discussions about economic issues”.

“We are hopeful that the two sides will reach a comprehensive, bold and significant trade agreement that will be enduring and long-lasting. This is the challenge for both governments.”

(Reporting by Jeff Mason in WASHINGTON and Ben Blanchard and Lusha Zhang in BEIJING; Editing by Paul Tait)

No need for Shinzo Abe: Trump already nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

FILE PHOTO - U.S. President Donald Trump listens to Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, U.S., September 26, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Gwladys Fouche

OSLO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is not saying whether or not he nominated Donald Trump for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, but the question may be moot: the U.S. president has been put forward by others for the prestigious award.

During a White House news conference on Friday, Trump said the Japanese premier had given him “the most beautiful copy” of a five-page nomination letter to the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

Since then Abe has declined to say whether he had done so. Regardless, Trump has already been nominated by two Norwegian lawmakers.

“We have nominated him of course for the positive developments on the Korean Peninsula,” Per-Willy Amundsen, who was Justice Minister in Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s cabinet in 2016-2018, told Reuters.

“It has been a very difficult situation and the tensions have since lowered and a lot of it is due to Trump’s unconventional diplomatic style,” he added.

Amundsen, who is a member of the rightwing Progress Party, wrote a letter to the award committee together with his parliamentary colleague Christian Tybring-Gjedde, he said.

The letter was submitted in June, immediately after a summit Trump held in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un aimed at easing tensions and tackling Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

Tybring-Gjedde, who sits on the Norwegian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, also confirmed the joint nomination of Trump when contacted by Reuters.

“A possible award would, of course, depend on the talks leading to a credible disarmament deal,” he said.

A wide range of people can nominate for the Nobel Peace Prize, including members of parliaments and governments, heads of state, university professors of history, social sciences or law and past Nobel Peace Prize laureates, among others.

The deadline for nominations for the 2019 prize, which will be announced on Oct. 11., was Jan. 31.

The five-strong Norwegian Nobel Committee, which decides who wins the award, does not comment on nominations, keeping secret for 50 years the names of nominators and unsuccessful nominees.

Still, it did say earlier this month that 304 candidates were nominated for this year’s prize, of which 219 are individuals and 85 are organizations.

Last year’s prize was jointly awarded to Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege and Yazidi human rights activist Nadia Murad.

(Editing by Frances Kerry)