Pompeo Returning From North Korea With Prisoners, Trump Says
WASHINGTON, May 9, 2018 — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on his way back from North Korea with the three Americans who’d been held captive in that country’s forced labor camps until recently, President Trump announced in a Wednesday morning tweet.
I am pleased to inform you that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the air and on his way back from North Korea with the 3 wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting. They seem to be in good health. Also, good meeting with Kim Jong Un. Date & Place set.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) 9 May 2018
“I am pleased to inform you that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the air and on his way back from North Korea with the 3 wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting,” Trump wrote. “They seem to be in good health.”
He added that he plans to meet the three Americans — Kim Hak-Song, Tony Kim and Kim Dong-Chul — on the Joint Base Andrews tarmac when Pompeo’s plane arrives there, which Trump said will happen around 2:00 am Thursday. He also noted that Pompeo had a “good meeting” with Kim, and again noted that a date and location for their upcoming summit had been set.
Trump “appreciates leader Kim Jong Un’s action to release these American citizens, and views this as a positive gesture of goodwill,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday in a statement. All three “appear to be in good condition and were all able to walk on the plane without assistance,” she added.
North Korean authorities arrested Dong-Chul in October 2015 and accused him of espionage against the Kim government, later sentencing him to a decade behind bars. The regime imprisoned Kim (no relation to the North Korean leader) and Hak-Song last year after accusing them of “hostile acts.”
Trump has made false claims about Obama’s failure to secure their release
Trump has repeatedly claimed — falsely — that the Obama administration had failed to successfully negotiate for their release. But Kim and Hak-Song were both arrested during Trump’s presidency.
Another American prisoner wasn’t so lucky
The Kim regime often releases foreign prisoners ahead of major events as a strategy of garnering goodwill. But the last American released from captivity there wasn’t so lucky.
Last June North Korea released 22-year-old Otto Warmbier after holding him for 17 months. The University of Virginia student had been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in March 2016 after authorities arrested him for attempting to steal a propaganda poster from a hotel, where he had been staying as part of a commercial tour.
But Warmbier arrived home in a medical transport plane in a vegetative state — which Pyongyang attributed to botulism poisoning — and died shortly thereafter.
However, Hamilton County Coroner Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco said Warmbier suffered extensive brain damage due to a lack of oxygen, but could not say how his injuries had occurred.
“All we can do is theorize, and we hate to theorize without science backing us up,” Sammarco said in an interview with The New York Times.
(Last updated Wednesday, May 9 at 9:42 am with the addition of a statement from White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders)
Israel Denies Visas to Omar and Tlaib After Trump Says Allowing Them Would Be ‘Weak’
WASHINGTON, August 15, 2019 — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday appeared to acquiesce to pressure from President Donald Trump to bar two Democratic lawmakers from visiting that country.
Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., had planned to visit the Israeli-controlled West Bank, which has been under Israeli control since 1967 and is home to a number of the latter’s relatives.
But those plans appeared to have gone awry after Netanyahu’s interior minister, Aryeh Deri, announced on Thursday that the pair would not be granted visas to enter the Israeli-controlled West Bank.
In a statement posted to his official Twitter account, Netanyahu said the actual decision to deny Omar and Tlaib admission had been made by Deri, and was necessitated by their status as “leading activists in promoting the legislation of boycotts against Israel in the American Congress.”
“No country in the world respects America and the American Congress more than the State of Israel,” he said.
“As a free and vibrant democracy, Israel is open to critics and criticism with one exception: Israeli law prohibits the entry into Israel of those who call for and work to impose boycotts on Israel, as do other democracies that prohibit the entry of people who seek to harm the country.”
While Israel’s law targeting supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has been in effect since 2017, it has never been enforced against American members of Congress.
But the Israeli government’s decision to do so appears to come at the explicit request of President Trump, who was reported last week to have told advisers that Israel should block their entry. Several of Trump’s top aides have close ties to Israeli leaders, including son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, whose family maintains a close friendship with Netanyahu.
Although it had been unclear in recent days whether the Israeli government would apply its anti-BDS law to visiting American lawmakers, there were early indications that Israel would allow Omar and Tlaib’s visit to go forward.
In a recent statement, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer said that Israel would allow Omar and Tlaib to enter out of respect for Israel’s strong relationship with the United States.
And even after reports emerged that Trump was sending signals that Israel should bar them from entering, it appeared that Israel’s government would heed the advice of several top Democratic lawmakers by allowing the visit to go forward.
But Democrats’ efforts were upended early Thursday after President Trump took to Twitter to encourage Israel to bar the two women.
“It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit,” Trump tweeted, before adding — without evidence — that the two congresswomen “hate Israel & all Jewish people, [and] there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds.”
Trump also appeared to suggest that a decision by Israel to bar Omar and Tlaib from entering would help the Republican candidates who will run against them in 2020.
“Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!” He wrote.
Omar and Tlaib have become frequent targets of Trump’s often-racist attacks since they entered Congress in January of this year.
Last month, Trump tweeted that Omar, Tlaib, and two other congresswomen of color — and American citizens — should “go back” to “their countries” if they disagreed with his policies.
Members of Congress and Jewish groups largely denounced the decision to bar Omar and Tlaib as detrimental to the relationship between the two countries.
In a statement, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer called the decision “outrageous,” “wrong,” and “contrary to the statement and assurances to me by Israel’s ambassador to the United States that ‘out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America, we would not deny entry to any Member of Congress into Israel.’”
“That representation was not true,” Hoyer said, adding that he had urged Netanyahu to allow the trip to go forward during a Wednesday phone conversation.
Hoyer said he appreciated Israel’s willingness to allow Tlaib to visit her family in the West Bank on humanitarian grounds, but he “strongly oppose[s]” the “unwarranted and self-destructive” decision to block the visit she’d planned.
While White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham told BeltwayBreakfast that Trump’s tweet was not an attempt to advise or encourage any action by Israel, one of Tlaib’s fellow Michiganders — Rep. Justin Amash — appeared to directly link the President’s tweet and Israel’s decision.
“Israel should stand up to President Trump and allow our colleagues to visit,” Amash tweeted. “Nobody has to agree with their opinions, but it will inevitably harm U.S.-Israel relations if members of Congress are banned from the country.”
Also weighing in against the decision was former National Security Council spokesman Ned Price, who called Netanyahu’s acquiescence to President Trump “an affront to elected American lawmakers” and “a slap in the face to the US-Israeli alliance.”
“[Netanyahu] and President Trump together have inflicted great damage on the relationship that won’t be able to be repaired overnight,” Price said.
“There are any number of foreign governments, Israel among them, that have made a risky, short-term investment in President Trump. When the dust settles, I have every expectation they’ll realize that the short-term gains were illusory and the damage to the bilateral relationship will be long-lasting.”
American Jewish organizations also largely condemned the decision as bad for US-Israel relations.
“This reported decision by Prime Minister Netanyahu is dangerous, unacceptable and wrong,” J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami said in a statement.
“The fact that President Trump has already tweeted out his own call for these representatives to be denied entry illustrates that this decision is motivated purely by politics and ideology — not by the interests of the State of Israel. It is an affront to Congress and the American people and does severe damage to the US-Israel relationship — and it must be reversed immediately.”
American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris said that Israel “did not choose wisely” by reversing its initial decision, which his organization had supported because it was made “out of respect for the fact that both are members of the U.S. Congress, and that Israel rightfully prides itself on being an open, democratic society.”
“While we fully respect Israel’s sovereign right to control entry into the country, a right that every nation employs, and while we are under no illusions about the implacably hostile views of Reps. Omar and Tlaib on Israel-related issues, we nonetheless believe that the costs in the U.S. of barring the entry of two members of Congress may prove even higher than the alternative,” Harris said.
The largest pro-Israel organization in the US, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee — better known as AIPAC — also weighed in against the decision on its’ Twitter account.
“We disagree with Reps. Omar and Tlaib’s support for the anti-Israel and anti-peace BDS movement, along with Rep. Tlaib’s calls for a one-state solution. We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand,” an AIPAC spokesperson tweeted.
Senate Votes To Block Trump’s Saudi Arms Deal
WASHINGTON, June 20, 2019 — The Senate on Thursday voted to block the Trump administration from using emergency powers to sell billions of dollars worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, with a bipartisan majority of senators rejecting President Trump’s declaration of a new national emergency to avoid obtaining Congressional approval for international arms sales.
Thursday’s vote marks the second time this year that Republican senators have joined the Democratic minority to rebuke the administration’s policy towards Saudi Arabia, and reflects a growing anger at Trump’s use of emergency powers to avoid involving Congress in national security decisions and his refusal to punish Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman for ordering the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Earlier this year both the House and Senate passed a resolution under the War Powers Act in order to end American involvement in Saudi Arabia’s ongoing war in Yemen, only to see it vetoed by President Trump.
The resolution is expected to easily pass the Democratic-led House, but faces an almost-certain veto by the President.
Haley Resigns As U.N. Ambassador, Shoots Down 2020 Speculation
WASHINGTON, October 9, 2018 — Ambassador Nikki Haley will “take a break” from public service by resigning from her position as the United States’ top U.N. envoy at the end of the year, President Trump said Tuesday morning.
Haley will be leaving “at the end of the year,” Trump said while sitting alongside her in the Oval Office, citing the former South Carolina governor’s desire to “take a break.”
“You have been very special to me, done an incredible job,” he said while addressing Haley, adding that she has done an “incredible job” and “gets it.”
The sudden announcement came less than an hour after Axios broke the surprise news of her resignation.
Within minutes of the story’s appearance online, Haley was spotted by reporters as she walked into the Oval Office with several aides. But when she appeared alongside Trump shortly after she took pains to thank Trump for allowing her to serve, and called her time representing the U.S. at the United Nations “the honor of a lifetime.”
Trump’s conduct of foreign policy, Haley continued, has caused the United States to be respected again.
“Countries may not like what we do, but they respect what we do,” she said.
While some pundits speculated that the timing was connected to the #MeToo-related drama over now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, when he and Haley appeared before cameras, Trump claimed that Haley first approached him six months ago about setting a timetable to depart before the end of the Trump administration’s second year.
Haley is one of two members of the foreign policy team to have served for the entirety of Trump’s time in office. She joined the administration at a time when very few members of the Republican foreign policy establishment wanted to serve the new president, which served him just fine, as most of them had signed open letters criticizing him.
As so-called moderates like former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were forced out after clashing with Trump over his disdain for international multilateral agreements like the Iran nuclear deal, Haley remained a fixture and an oasis of stability in an administration that has seen turnover at levels unheard of at this point in a president’s first term.
Even as other establishment-minded administration officials incurred Trump’s wrath for pushing back on his most extreme impulses and saw their own reputations sullied, Haley managed to thrive in her role at the U.N.
Her New York-based post gave her a place in the spotlight and a chance to burnish her foreign policy credentials. It also gave her enough geographic distance from Washington to avoid the contempt Trump developed for the members of his national security team who he saw more regularly.
But that geographic distance also allowed her to put political distance between her and the president at moments when she would break from him in one way or another, including the aftermath of last year’s white nationalist riot in Charlottesville, Virginia.
That distance was most evident on the occasions when she would contradict her boss by sharply criticizing the Russian government, even as he continually dismissed the idea that Russia interfered in the 2016 election as a “Democrat hoax” and attacked the Justice Department investigation into the interference as a “witch hunt.”
Haley’s frequent departures from the Gospel of Trump on those matters has made her the subject of endless rumors, most of which place her on the 2020 Republican primary ballot opposing her soon-to-be former boss. But Haley attempted to put a wet blanket on any such speculation by telling reporters that she’d be campaigning for Trump, not against him.
“No, I’m not running in 2020,” she said.