Netanyahu calls on Europe to back Trump’s sanctions on Iran

Robie de Guzman   •   July 9, 2019   •   808

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commenting on Iran at the Christians United for Israel Conference in Washington via satellite link from Jerusalem | Courtesy: Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday (July 8) again called on Europe to impose punitive sanctions on Tehran after Iran said it is fully prepared to enrich uranium at any level and with any amount, in further defiance of U.S. efforts to squeeze it with sanctions.

Speaking at the Christians United for Israel summit in Washington, Netanyahu said Europe needed to respond by joining President Donald Trump in imposing sanctions.

“We should stand up to Iran’s aggression now, and Europe should back the sanctions instituted by President Trump. We certainly do,” Netanyahu said in remarks broadcast live at the summit via satellite link from Jerusalem.

Senior Iranian officials said Tehran, which has denied seeking nuclear arms, would keep reducing its commitments every 60 days unless signatories of the 2015 nuclear deal moved to protect it from U.S. sanctions.

If any one of the three European parties to the accord believe Iran has violated the agreement, they can trigger a dispute resolution process that could, within as few as 65 days, end at the U.N. Security Council with a reimposition of U.N. sanctions on Tehran. (REUTERS)

(Production: Katharine Jackson)

Trump asks Supreme Court to block subpoena for his tax returns

Robie de Guzman   •   November 15, 2019

US President Donald J. Trump waves as he walks on the South Lawn of the White House upon his return from a campaign rally in Bossier City, Louisiana; in Washington, DC, USA, 15 November 2019. EPA-EFE/YURI GRIPAS / ABACA / POOL world rights

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s personal attorneys on Thursday asked the US Supreme Court to quash an attempt by prosecutors in New York to obtain his tax records for the last eight years.

The filing comes after a US district court and a federal appellate panel ruled that Trump’s accountants, Mazars USA, had to comply with a grand jury subpoena for the documents.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., whose office has been trying to enforce the subpoena, said he would delay action to allow the president’s lawyers to ask the Supreme Court to consider the case in the current term, according to The New York Times.

“For the first time in our nation’s history, a state or local prosecutor has launched a criminal investigation of the President of the United States and subjected him to coercive criminal process,” Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow said. “Politically motivated subpoenas like this one are a perfect illustration of why a sitting president should be categorically immune from state criminal process.”

The dispute goes back to August, when Vance’s office demanded that Mazars hand over the tax records as part of an investigation into whether the Trump campaign’s 2016 hush-money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal violated the laws of New York State.

Both women said they had affairs with Trump, who denies the claims.

On Wednesday, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals let stand an earlier ruling that Mazars must also provide eight years of Trump’s tax returns to the Oversight and Reform Committee of the US House of Representatives.

The committee is seeking the tax records for “legitimate legislative pursuits, not an impermissible law-enforcement purpose,” the appellate judges concluded.

Trump’s legal team plans to ask the Supreme Court to take up that case as well.

While the US Department of Justice has long held that a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime, Trump attorney William S. Consovoy has maintained that his client enjoys “temporary presidential immunity,” not only from prosecution, but also from investigation. – EFE-EPA

llb/dr

Trump’s greatest interest in Ukraine was to investigate Biden, says diplomat

Robie de Guzman   •   November 14, 2019

US President Donald Trump

WASHINGTON – The major interest US President Donald Trump had in Ukraine was ensuring that Kyiv conduct investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden, a top US diplomat said in sworn testimony on Wednesday in the House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing.

Trump has been accused of trying to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into investigating Biden but has denied any wrongdoing.

William Taylor, the highest-ranking US diplomat in Ukraine, said that Biden, one of the front-running candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, was Trump’s main concern.

Taylor made the statements during his testimony before House lawmakers on Wednesday in a hearing which could lead to an impeachment trial of Trump in the Senate if a majority of congressmen believe he abused the power of the presidency by asking Ukraine to investigate a political rival.

Taylor has said that he told top US officials that Trump’s decision to condition-release of some $400 million in military aid to Ukraine on a commitment by Kyiv to investigate the Bidens was “crazy.”

The diplomat also revealed the existence of a telephone call that occurred in July between Trump and the US ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, another of the protagonists in the controversy – a call that was conducted by Sondland at a restaurant in the presence of one of Taylor’s team members, David Holmes.

In the call, Holmes – who could hear the president’s voice on Sondland’s cellphone, and thus his side of the conversation – said that Trump asked the EU envoy about “the investigations.”

After the call, Taylor’s assistant asked Sondland about the president’s opinion on Ukraine and testified that Holmes told him that “Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which (Trump’s personal attorney Rudy) Giuliani was pressing for.”

Ukraine has strengthened its relationship with the US since 2014 when Moscow annexed the Crimea – an integral part of Ukraine – and over the past five years, the US Congress has authorized $1.6 billion in military assistance to Kyiv.

Taylor said Trump’s personal lawyer, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, was the driving force behind a “highly irregular” back-channel of communication with Ukraine that was undermining the official objectives of US diplomacy in the East European country.

Those official objectives include energy reforms and an ongoing fight against corruption, which has been endemic in that country.

The phone call between Trump and Sondland allegedly occurred on July 26, a day after the now-controversial telephone conversation in which the US president asked his Ukrainian counterpart to do him a favor and investigate the Bidens.

Taylor said the US president discussed two things in that July 25 call – the delivery to Ukraine of $400 million in military aid and the scheduling of a White House meeting between Trump and Zelensky, on the condition that Kyiv publicly commits to investigating the Bidens and the Democrats.

The other witness testifying simultaneously with Taylor on Wednesday was Deputy Assistant Secretary in the European and Eurasian Bureau at the US Department of State George Kent, who appeared wearing a colorful bowtie, causing something of a stir on the social networks.

Kent, a career diplomat who was the No. 2 US official at Washington’s embassy in Ukraine from 1025-2018, was very critical of Trump’s attitude, saying that he did not think the US should ask other countries to launch investigations of a political nature against the rivals of sitting US leaders because such acts undermine the rule of law.

Trump, meanwhile, said he was “too busy” to watch the public hearing live.

“I’m too busy to watch it. It’s a witch hunt, it’s a hoax, I’m too busy to watch it. So, I’m sure I’ll get a report. There’s nothing,” the president said.

However, the president has shown signs that he is very concerned about the hearings, having retweeted 22 Twitter messages related to the hearings since they began in the House and even before they began on Wednesday morning had fired off seven tweets on the issue.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Joe Biden’s campaign said that the former vice president also was not following the hearings live, but noting that the House was doing its job and Biden was doing his: namely working to defeat Trump in the 2020 election.

In response to the many mentions of his name in the Wednesday impeachment hearing testimony, Giuliani told CNN that he had “done nothing wrong” in terms of his work on Ukraine, saying that anything he had done was on a personal level and had nothing to do with Trump, whom he has tried to shield from the scandal.

The public House impeachment hearings are being broadcast live and without commercial interruption by the main television networks.

These are the first impeachment hearings of a US president in two decades since President Bill Clinton had to answer questions about his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, proceedings in which he was ultimately acquitted. – EFE-EPA

PH military vows to continue anti-terror efforts after death of ISIS leader Baghdadi

Robie de Guzman   •   October 28, 2019

An undated file image taken from a video released by the militant group calling itself Islamic State (IS), purportedly showing the caliph of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, giving a speech in an unknown location (reissued 27 October 2019). According to media reports on 26 October 2019 citing US officials, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a US Special Forces raid in Idlib province, Syria. EPA-EFE/ISLAMIC STATE VIDEO

MANILA, Philippines – The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Monday said government troops would remain alert and will continue its efforts to counter terrorists who threaten the country following the reported death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

In a statement, AFP spokesman Marine Brigadier General Edgard Arevalo said, the death of Baghdadi dealt a severe blow on terrorist organizations across the globe.

“We expect that his death will impact negatively on the leadership of terrorists in various parts of the world,” Arevalo said.

“The AFP will continue with our vigorous efforts to prevent or counter terrorist extremists who continue to threaten our country,” he added. “Our troops in the frontlines remain on high alert to thwart possible attempts to ride on this development.”

The military issued the statement after United States President Donald Trump announced that Baghdadi killed himself by detonating a suicide vest during a raid launched by US troops on Saturday. Baghdadi led the jihadist group in controlling and declaring a caliphate in large areas of Syria and Iraq at one point.

Arevalo also vowed to continue blocking the Daesh-inspired groups from recruiting new members and exploiting the situation in the countryside, calling their attempt towards resurgence as “futile.”

“We will build from our triumph in Marawi in frustrating ISIS move to establish a caliphate in our country,” he said.

The military also urged the public anew to stay alert and be actively involved in reporting to authorities any suspicious persons or activities in their localities.

“Vigilance will surely help security forces in our campaign to deny the ISIS foothold in our country,” Arevalo said.

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