Ex-Afghan President Karzai slams Trump’s Afghanistan plan

Former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai tweeted Tuesday that he “very strongly” opposes President Donald Trump’s new approach in Afghanistan, a war that is now almost 17 years old.

“The strategy excludes bringing peace and prosperity to Afghanistan and is focused on more war and rivalry in the region,” Karzai tweeted in a three-part message. “U.S. must seek peace and stability in Afghanistan rather than extending conflict and bloodshed in #Afghanistan and the region."

Karzai has previously expressed his discontent with American military actions since January.

Trump on Monday night promised to increase U.S. troops in Afghanistan — without specifying the amount — while promising to win the conflict.

“Our troops will fight to win — we will fight to win,” Trump said to a crowd in Arlington, Virginia. “A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum for terrorists, including ISIS and Al Qaeda, would instantly fill just as happened before Sept. 11. And as we know, in 2011, America hastily and mistakenly withdrew from Iraq.”

Trump previously tweeted six times about the Afghan leader, which were all sent from 2012 to 2014, when multiple scandals and controversies about Karzai arose.

Under his leadership at that time, Karzai pardoned dozens of child suicide bombers who later attempted to detonate suicide bombs again, let electoral fraud run rampant, forged Taliban connections and mixed personal interests with his leadership.

According to The New York Times report that uncovered the covert relationship, the U.S. funded him with “tens of millions of dollars” in an underground deal to influence the Afghanistan government.

“Afghan Leader Karzai has received tens of millions of dollars IN CASH from the U.S. Government- how stupidly is our Country being run?” Trump asked on April 29, 2013 and in a Feb. 13, 2014 tweet continued criticizing the former president. “Do you believe the way Karzai talks down to the United States — zero respect!"

Source: http://www.politico.com/story/2017/08/22/trump-afghanistan-plan-hamid-karzai-241907

Trump to tout border wall — well, fence — in Yuma visit

President Donald Trump will travel Tuesday afternoon to Yuma, Ariz., which he’ll say demonstrates the benefits of a border wall — or, at least, border fencing.

The visit could set the table for a legislative battle next month over whether to include border wall money in a spending bill that Congress must pass by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government funded.

On a phone call with reporters Tuesday morning, several Department of Homeland Security officials said that in the years after Congress passed a law in 2006 authorizing construction of roughly 700 miles of fence along the U.S.-Mexican border, border arrests in the Yuma sector — a 126-mile stretch from California to Arizona — dropped significantly. From fiscal year 2006 to fiscal year 2016, arrests fell by 88 percent, according to Border Patrol statistics.

“What was once one of the least secure border areas in America is now one of the most secure areas because of those investments in border security,” said one DHS official speaking on background.

The officials blurred the distinction between Trump’s campaign vision of a border wall — big, beautiful and concrete — and the sort of fencing and other technologies that DHS relies on currently.

“We’re looking at different types of barrier. Wall is certainly a prominent part of that,” the first official said. “What is along the border in [the] Yuma sector and other areas is fence. So we sort of use those two interchangeably.”

A second DHS official stressed that the department’s border security plan goes beyond physical infrastructure. “A wall in and of itself will not give the agents the protection that they need to work safely in that space, and it won’t necessarily protect the border any better,” the second official said. The official listed sensors, physical barriers, roads, equipment and intelligence as key factors to securing the border.

Trump himself conceded, in a January phone call with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, that the wall — and getting Mexico to pay for it — was "the least important thing that we are talking about, but politically this might be the most important." At that time, Trump’s estimate of the wall’s cost was well under half of DHS’ ultimate estimate.

Trump will visit a Marine base in Yuma, where he’ll get a tour of U.S. Customs and Border Protection equipment, including a Predator drone and a Border Patrol boat and surveillance truck.

The president will then head into a closed-door briefing and later meet with Marines, according to an administration official.

In the evening, Trump will hold a campaign-style rally in Phoenix, part of a broader effort to reinvigorate his base. The rally comes one week after Trump drew fire for blaming “both sides” for violence at a rally in Charlottesville, Va., that attracted white supremacists, Ku Klux Klan members and neo-Nazis, and where one counter-demonstrator was killed.

Critics warn that tonight’s Arizona rally may further inflame tensions, and Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, a Democrat, urged Trump to delay it.

The president recently said he’s “seriously considering” a pardon of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted in July of criminal contempt in a racial profiling case. There’s been speculation Trump might announce a pardon for Arpaio at the Phoenix rally. But CNN reported that no such pardon has been cleared by the Justice Department, and Arpaio told a local news outlet Monday night that he didn’t plan to attend the rally, making an announcement in Phoenix less likely.

The DHS officials on Tuesday morning’s call said an investment in border security could help federal immigration officers make arrests in the country’s interior by freeing them up to pursue undocumented immigrants who are already here.

“An individual who crosses the border illegally and gets past the Border Patrol should no longer feel secure that they are immune from any future enforcement,” one official said.

While the overall rate of deportations has slowed significantly under the Trump administration — partly due to a drop in people crossing the border illegally — the number of deportations that stem from an arrest far from the border has increased.

According to statistics from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, removals of people arrested in the interior by ICE rose by 31 percent during the period from Jan. 22 to Aug. 5 as compared to a similar period one year earlier.

Source: http://www.politico.com/story/2017/08/22/trump-visit-yuma-border-wall-241906

Broadcast networks drew 17.5 million viewers for Trump Afghanistan speech

About 17.5 million people watched President Donald Trump’s Monday night speech on Afghanistan across the four broadcast networks, according to an initial estimate from Nielsen.

Variety reports that an average of 6.2 million viewers watched the address on NBC, where it got a 1.4 rating among 18-49 year-olds; on ABC, it drew 4.7 million viewers and a 1.2 rating; 4.1 million people on average watched on CBS, with a 0.7 rating; and 2.5 million people tuned in to Fox, which had a 0.6 rating.

Those are preliminary numbers. Cable news ratings are expected to be released later on Tuesday.

About 40.8 million Americans over 10 networks watched former President Barack Obama’s 2009 address on his Afghanistan war strategy, according to Ad Age. That figure includes viewers on the broadcast networks and cable news channels.

Source: http://www.politico.com/story/2017/08/22/how-many-people-watched-trump-afghanistan-speech-241905

Treasury aims sanctions at Chinese, Russian entities over North Korea

The Treasury Department on Tuesday announced sanctions on 16 Chinese and Russian entities and individuals it said have aided North Korea.

Treasury’s targets included three Chinese companies that the administration said were responsible for importing almost half a billion dollars’ worth of North Korean coal as well as Russians it said were involved in providing oil to the country.

The announcement follows an escalation of tensions with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program and missile tests. Early this month, the United Nations agreed to step up sanctions.

“Treasury will continue to increase pressure on North Korea by targeting those who support the advancement of nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and isolating them from the American financial system,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

“It is unacceptable for individuals and companies in China, Russia, and elsewhere to enable North Korea to generate income used to develop weapons of mass destruction and destabilize the region. We are taking actions consistent with UN sanctions to show that there are consequences for defying sanctions and providing support to North Korea, and to deter this activity in the future.”

The Senate Banking Committee is expected to consider new North Korea sanctions legislation this fall.

Source: http://www.politico.com/story/2017/08/22/sanctions-china-russia-north-korea-241900

U.S. may sanction Pakistani officials with ties to terrorists, NSC spokesman says

President Donald Trump’s new, get-tough approach with Pakistan’s government could potentially include sanctioning Pakistani government officials with ties to terrorist organizations, National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton said Tuesday morning, part of an overall regional strategy that he said has put Pakistan “on notice” that “business as usual as it has been up to now is over.”

Trump, in nationally televised address Monday night, announced that he would deploy a yet-unspecified number of additional troops to Afghanistan, bolstering the Afghan military in its fight against the Taliban. Those troops are part of a fresh regional approach, Anton said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday, that also includes demanding more from the Pakistani government when it comes to combating terrorist groups.

“I think the important takeaway for the Pakistani government last night is that, you know, they should understand that they’re on notice from this president, from this administration,” Anton said. “The United States has been really patient with Pakistan for a really long time. We haven’t been getting a good deal from them.”

As part of the new strategy, Anton said the U.S. could conceivably impose sanctions on terrorist groups including the Haqqani Network, which has ties to the Pakistani government, as well as on any Pakistani officials “who are tied to these kinds of groups, you know, in ways that they shouldn’t be.”

The Pakistani government has been an uneasy ally of the U.S. in the years following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, cooperating with American military operations in Afghanistan while at times falling short of U.S. government expectations. The U.S. gives the Pakistani government substantial security aid, Anton noted, and in return receive, at best, “indifference to border crossing and terrorist safe havens and sanctuaries” in Pakistan’s tribal regions along the Afghan border. “In the worst case,” Anton said, the Pakistani government has been guilty of “active direct support” for terrorist groups.

While cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan was relatively strong in the years immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks, issues of trust surrounding U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and the discovery of terrorist Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani city that also hosts the Pakistan Military Academy have created fissures in the relationship.

Anton said the president had benefitted from an outsider’s perspective on the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, eschewing the conventional wisdom that “however much the Pakistanis double-deal you and lie to you and don’t cooperate, you have no choice but to just keep the status quo.” The NSC spokesman put the onus on the Pakistani government to repair its relationship with the U.S.

“How do we get the Pakistan to behave better? The answer is we have leverage points over Pakistan that the strategy contemplates we will use. Ultimately whether they behave better or not is completely up to them,” Anton said.

“They may calculate that it’s more important to, you know, remain allied with terrorists, it’s more important to give terrorists safe haven, it’s more important to do all the nasty things that they’ve been doing that we don’t like than it is to have a good relationship with the Untied States,” he continued. “If so, that’s a choice that they will make and then we will make choices based on their choice.”

Source: http://www.politico.com/story/2017/08/22/trump-afghanistan-strategy-impact-details-241898

Nikki Haley says she had ‘personal’ talk with Trump about Charlottesville

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Tuesday that she had a "personal conversation" with President Donald Trump about his response to the violent clashes at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, stating matter-of-factly that she would "leave it at that."

“Well, I had a personal conversation with the president about Charlottesville, and I will leave it at that,” Haley said on CNN. “But I will tell you that there is no hate in this country. I know the pain that hate can cause, and we need to isolate haters, and we need to make sure that they know there is no place for them.”

Haley mentioned their talk again on "Good Morning America" on Tuesday, saying she was the one who instigated the talk. “I picked up the phone and I had a private conversation with the president about Charlottesville, and it was taken very well,” Haley said.

But when asked afterward, she would not confirm or deny whether Trump understood he made a mistake with his racially charged comments. “The president clarified so that no one can question that he’s opposed to bigotry and hate in this country," she said.

Trump set off a fresh furor last week when he doubled down on his claim that "both sides" were to blame for the violence in Charlottesville that left one woman dead, while seeming to express sympathy for some of the protesters associated with the white supremacist rally.

Members of his administration have generally defended Trump’s comments — or tried to avoid the question — as other Republicans have been more forceful in condemning the president’s response.

Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, had her own turn in the national spotlight in 2015 when a mass shooting at a black church by a white gunman who had posed with Confederate flags sparked a push to remove such a flag from statehouse grounds.

While Haley did not immediately decide to remove the flag after the shooting, she called for it to come down five days later, which brought her praise and criticism from across the country.

“Today, we are here in a moment of unity in our state without ill-will to say it is time to remove the flag from our capitol grounds,” Haley said on June 24, 2015. “What I realize now more than ever is people were driving by and felt hurt and pain. No one should feel pain.”

And she echoed that rhetoric to address how Trump handled Charlottesville, saying that she believes he clarified the important distinction between freedom of speech and hate speech.

“Anyone that goes and tries to spew hate on someone because of their color or religion or their place in life, that’s terribly wrong,” Haley said. “It’s something that we don’t stand for in America, and I think the president clarified that last night.”

Source: http://www.politico.com/story/2017/08/22/trump-charlottesville-nikki-haley-241897

Marijuana activists launch Roger Stone boycott; John Morgan stands by him

MIAMI — A group of marijuana activists are calling for a boycott of a major cannabis exposition because its keynote speaker next month will be Roger Stone, a longtime President Donald Trump adviser, infamous political trickster and longtime drug-decriminalization advocate.

Stone recently won praise from cannabis activists after announcing he would help lead a bipartisan group — with the help of Florida medical marijuana godfather John Morgan — that’s dedicated to persuading the Trump administration to not penalize medical marijuana states and to consider rescheduling the drug at the federal level to recognize the therapeutic properties of cannabis.

But after Trump’s incendiary comments about the racial unrest in Charlottesville, Va. — coupled with Stone’s history for making inflammatory remarks — four speakers and one sponsor of the Cannabis World Congress & Business Exposition say they’ll boycott if Stone speaks Sept. 13-15 in Los Angeles and at another expo event in Boston from October 4-6.

"Totally a Media Matters for America hit campaign … funded by George Soros," Stone told POLITICO Florida, blaming the liberal advocacy group that has hounded him and made him a feature on its website.

The boycott call began last week when the Minority Cannabis Business Association blasted Stone in a Facebook post and said it wouldn’t participate.

The Cannabis Industry Journal and Weed News weighed in against Stone as the boycott call caught fire.

“Maybe Roger Stone isn’t a racist, but you know what’s just as bad as being a racist? Using other people’s racism as a means to achieve your own political ends,” Weed News wrote. "There are plenty of well-intentioned conservatives that are coming around on our issue who don’t flirt with racism to make their point … I don’t care how connected Stone is to Jeff Sessions or Donald Trump, if our industry decides to buddy up to people who have blood on their hands, there is no way for us to come out clean.”

The head of the expo, Dan Humiston, told the Cannabis Industry Journal that Stone will still speak and that he believed “we have to be as inclusionary as we can possibly be. It is nothing more than that. I think there are some real benefits to the cannabis movement that will be gained by getting as many people under our tent as we can. … The more dialogue and more opportunities to speak with people we can’t agree on any other topic with, the better. I think he is an asset to this movement. He has raised a lot of money. He is pushing Jeff Sessions really hard and he’s got Donald Trump’s ear.”

The journal, however, said that while “it’s great to have an ally of cannabis legalization who might have Trump’s ear … we don’t want Stone’s help. There is no place for someone like him in the cannabis industry.”

For Morgan, a major Democratic donor and possible gubernatorial candidate who underwrote Florida’s successful medical marijuana initiative in 2016, the boycott is counterproductive.

“It’s a mistake. Roger has the president’s ear. Politics is not pretty. Sometimes politics makes strange bedfellows. This is such a time,” Morgan wrote by email. “With the stroke of a pen Trump could make MJ schedule 2. And it would be right and his ratings would soar.”

Source: http://www.politico.com/states/florida/story/2017/08/22/marijuana-activists-launch-roger-stone-boycott-john-morgan-stands-by-him-114056

As Menendez trial begins, corruption case brings high stakes

After spending much of his 11 years in office under legal scrutiny, but each time avoiding charges, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) is about to endure a lengthy trial in federal court as he fights accusations of fraud and bribery.

The proceedings begin Tuesday morning in U.S. District Court in Newark, New Jersey, where a team of high-profile defense attorneys and prosecutors from the Department of Justice will select 12 jurors and four alternates who will make a decision that could shape history.

The trial, expected to last two months, puts Democrats in jeopardy of losing a critical seat in the Senate and possibly ceding ground to Republicans on a number of major policy proposals that have divided Washington.

The case will also offer a test of a key decision surrounding corruption charges and could, should Menendez be found guilty, wind its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Even without that backdrop, the case would still be important. That’s because federal lawmakers are hardly ever accused of the sort of crimes Menendez is accused of committing.

“It’s so rare that a member of Congress is charged with corruption,” Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor and former executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said Monday. “This case is particularly rare because Menendez was charged with a bribe that involves a campaign contribution.”

Menendez, New Jersey’s senior senator and former chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, will stand trial beside the man from whom he’s accused to accepting bribes: Salomon Melgen, a wealthy ophthalmologist and campaign donor from Florida.

A grand jury indictment accuses the 63-year-old Menendez of dolling out political favors for Melgen, his friend, in exchange for lavish vacations, private jet flights and campaign cash.

Among the charges is that Menendez met with then-Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius to argue that the federal government was being unfair to Melgen, who was involved in a multi-million-dollar billing dispute with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Menendez is also accused of urging federal officials to pressure the Dominican Republic to honor a port security contract that would have benefited a company Melgen owned, and that he interceded with officials to get visas for then-married Melgen’s foreign girlfriends.

The son of Cuban refugees, Menendez has been involved in New Jersey politics for four decades. Since joining the Senate in 2006, he’s been targeted in at least two other criminal investigations, neither of which ever led to charges.

As he did in those investigations, Mendendez denies any wrongdoing in the case involving Melgen. His attorneys are expected to argue he did favors for a friend — and, importantly, that he did so outside of his official capacity.

His top attorney, Abbe Lowell, said his client “is in good spirits, has faith in the American system of justice, and is confident that when all the facts are heard, he will be vindicated."

"After charges were filed, Senator Menendez said in court and to the public that he was not guilty and looked forward to showing that the allegations against him were false,” Lowell, who successfully defended former U.S. Sen. John Edwards against federal charges in 2011, said in a statement. “Now, as the trial approaches, he will have the opportunity to do that so all can see.”

Melgen was found guilty in April, in a separate criminal case, of improperly billing the federal government for more than $100 million in medical insurance payments. He faces up to 20 years in prison, but sentencing has been delayed for several months, a development that had many legal observers wondering if he was preparing to cut a deal.

Sources close to the case, however, told POLITICO earlier this month the delay was due to scheduling concerns and the need for the defense to prepare for Menendez’s trial in Newark, where opening statements are scheduled for Sept. 6.

Prosecutors are expected to be spend more than a month laying out their case. Proving the broad outlines of the accusations will not be difficult: Much of what is contained in the indictment — such as the meetings, jet flights and favors done on Melgen’s behalf — is factual and won’t be disputed by defense attorneys.

The tricky part, experts say, is proving there was a bribe that took place and that both men had an agreement as to what that would mean.

“Proving the quid pro quo is difficult without a witness who will testify,” said Sloan, who now is in private practice. “Otherwise, it’s based on circumstantial evidence.”

Beyond that, the Department of Justice will also need to convince jurors the actions Menendez took on Melgen’s behalf are considered “official acts.” What that means, precisely, is a moving target after the U.S. Supreme Court last year tossed the conviction of former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, who had been found guilty of doing favors for a wealthy businessman who showered him and his wife with gifts.

The ruling, which narrowed the definition of "official acts," already led an appeals court in New York to overturn the conviction of former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Defense attorneys are sure to pursue similar arguments if the jury doesn’t come down on their side in the Menendez case, and the end result will likely have far-reaching implications.

“It’s going to further clarify the standards that were created in the McDonnell case,” Edwin Stier, a former state and federal prosecutor who worked in the U.S. Attorney’s office in New Jersey, said Monday. “And that’s really, really important because, McDonnell leaves a very, very wide area of uncertainty with respect to public official misconduct.”

Those issues are likely to be on the minds of defense attorneys and prosecutors are prospective jurors are questioned this week by District Court Judge Williams Walls.

“I think that the prosecution will just want regular people who will look at this kind of situation and know it’s wrong,” Sloan said. “Because your average person is going to think that what Melgen and Mendendez were doing is wrong. And the defense is looking for a much for sophisticated, complicated explanation.”

Should Menendez be convicted, it’s likely he will be forced to resign from the Senate. If that occurs before early next year, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — a Republican and supporter of President Donald Trump — will be charged with picking his replacement ahead of the 2018 midterms. Christie leaves office in January.

Menendez faces re-election in 2018 and has said he plans to run.

Given that the Senate’s efforts to repeal Obamacare failed by a single vote, the addition of a senator with loyalty to the president could have far-reaching consequences on Capitol Hill.

Christie, the former U.S. attorney for New Jersey, refuses to even entertainment the possibility that Menendez will be convicted and recently chastised a reporter who raised the possibility.

Asked Monday about Menendez, the governor lavished praise on the senator, noting they may disagree strongly on policy, but that he considers him “a very strong advocate for the state.”

“He’s about to go through a trial. And, you know, we’ll let the government bring their [charges] forward, and then he’ll present his defense a jury of his peers make the judgment,” Christie said at an unrelated press conference. “He’s entitled to the presumption of innocence, as is every person in this room.”

Matt Friedman contributed to this report

Source: http://www.politico.com/states/new-jersey/story/2017/08/22/as-menendez-trial-begins-corruption-case-brings-high-stakes-114054

Pence: Trump sent a message of ‘resolve and commitment’ on Afghanistan

President Donald Trump “sent a message of resolve and commitment” Monday evening with his announcement that he will deploy more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday morning.

“We haven’t been sending a clear signal about American commitment and resolve,” Pence told NBC’s “Today” show. “President Trump sent a message of resolve and commitment. He said to the people of Afghanistan we are with you. He said to Pakistan that they need to step up. He’s calling on India to be a better and more strategic partner. This is a whole new regional strategy for South Asia.”

The plan announced Monday night by Trump in an address from Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, Virginia, includes an increase in U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan as well as stepped up pressure on Pakistan to assert control over its tribal regions along the Afghan border. The strategy marked a departure from the president’s campaign rhetoric, which often included criticisms of the war in Afghanistan as a waste of money, part of Trump’s larger “America first” pledge.

That the president’s announcement was without specific troop numbers or a timeline for their deployment was by design, the vice president told “Today” anchor Matt Lauer, because such decisions will be made based on “conditions on the ground.” A refusal to identify and definitively outline specifics ahead of time represents a departure from what Pence characterized as the failed plans of former President Barack Obama’s administration.

“The truth is that the last administration engaged in a short-term surge in Afghanistan and then announced a timetable for withdrawal, literally emboldening the enemies,” Pence said. “Let me be very clear about this: What the president has decided is to deploy a sufficient number of troops at the brigade level in Afghanistan to assist the Afghans who are in the lead, who are at the tip of the spear in this fight.”

Source: http://www.politico.com/story/2017/08/22/trump-afghanistan-speech-reaction-241894