Trump’s ‘been clear to me’ to try to rebuild Russia ties: Tillerson

UNTV News   •   June 6, 2017   •   3581

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson talks with New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English during a media conference at Premier House in Wellington, New Zealand, June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Charlotte Greenfield

U.S. President Donald Trump told his top diplomat that the dispute over probes into links between his inner circle and Russia should not undermine U.S. efforts to rebuild relations with Moscow, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday.

Speaking in New Zealand after a trip to Australia, Tillerson reiterated the U.S. commitment to the Asia-Pacific region as global leaders have expressed growing mistrust over the Trump administration, which has withdrawn from key international agreements since taking office.

At home, Trump’s administration has been plagued by questions over links to the Russian government. Tillerson said Trump told him to try to improve ties with Russia regardless of the U.S. political backdrop.

“I can’t really comment on any of that because I don’t have any direct knowledge,” Tillerson told a news conference in Wellington, when asked how worried he was that the U.S. political crisis could take down the Trump administration.

“The president’s been clear to me: do not let what’s happened over here in the political realm prevent you from the work that you need to do on this relationship and he’s been quite clear with me… that we might make progress. I’m really not involved in any of these other issues,” he said after a meeting with New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in January that Moscow tried to tilt the election campaign in Trump’s favor, including by hacking into the emails of senior Democrats, a charge the Kremlin denies.

Trump has denied any collusion but the FBI and congressional probes into the Russia matter have dogged the early months of his presidency.

Tillerson said the Asia-Pacific region remained “extremely important” for the United States both in terms of national security and economic interests.

The Trump administration has come under fire for withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and more recently the Paris Climate accord – both key to the region and to the small island nation of New Zealand.

His visit was met by protesters, who threw condoms filled with water at a figure of Trump in front of parliament, protesting against the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris agreement and urging English to take a tougher stance, according to media.

“We do believe that engaging globally remains important and we will be seeking ways to remain engaged and there are many ways we can do that, through the U.N. intergovernmental panel on climate change as well as economic and trade forums that we will obviously be very active in as well,” he said.

The visit also comes at a time when China, one of New Zealand’s top trading and diplomatic partners, is projecting itself as the leader of free trade particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. — By Ana Nicolaci da Costa and Charlotte Greenfield | WELLINGTON

(Editing by Nick Macfie)

Duterte turns down Trump invite to attend US-ASEAN meet

Robie de Guzman   •   January 24, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte said he has decided to reject the invitation of United States President Donald Trump to attend the US-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit to be held in Las Vegas this March.

Duterte announced his decision during an interview with Russian International Television Network RT.

“I just received an invitation to go to the United States together with the ASEAN leaders. I haven’t been to the States. I was invited by [former US President Barack] Obama a while back. But I did not go,” he said in a video posted on Thursday.

When asked if he will attend the upcoming summit between the US and ASEAN, Duterte replied with: “No, no.”

During the interview, the president recalled the time when Obama criticized him and his campaign against illegal drugs.

“One time when I was being criticized by Obama in a press conference, he should have realized that I’m also the head of a sovereign state. He should have criticized me in the proper venue,” he said, referring to a September 2016 press conference where Obama urged Duterte to conduct his campaign “the right way.”

The president said Obama’s move to castigate him in a press briefing got him “so mad” and prompted him to curse the former president.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo earlier said that the chief executive is “still pondering” on whether he would accept Trump’s invitation as he is mindful of the possibility of getting barred from entering the US since he doesn’t have a visa, and making some American senators “unhappy” seeing him there. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Rosalie Coz)

Trump inauguration organization committee sued for alleged corruption

UNTV News   •   January 23, 2020

President Donald Trump (l) takes the oath of office at his inauguration ceremony in Washington DC on Jan. 20, 2017. EFE-EPA/Justin Lane/File/Summary EPA Photos of the Year January 2017

Washington – District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine on Wednesday sued the nonprofit committee designated by President Donald Trump to organize his January 2017 inauguration and the businesses overseeing Trump International Hotel in Washington, alleging that the committee coordinated with the mogul’s family members to overpay for event space in a way that enriched the Trumps.

The lawsuit contends that the Presidential Inaugural Committee coordinated with the Trump family to pay $1.03 million to rent space in the hotel, which included a dance hall and meeting rooms, a price far above the going market rate normally charged by the hotel.

Moreover, the text of the complaint states that the inaugural committee knew it was paying prices far above the market rate and did not consider other less expensive alternatives and even paid for hotel space on days on which no events were scheduled.

The DC Attorney General’s Office found that Rick Gates, who was the No. 2 official on Trump’s 2016 campaign committee, personally dealt with the Trump hotel as vice president for the inaugural committee to rent space for the inaugural celebration.

According to the suit, a member of the committee, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, tasked with planning the event, expressed her concern over the high price the Trump hotel asked to the president’s oldest child Ivanka Trump and to Gates.

The AG’s Office also says that the committee allegedly used nonprofit funds to stage a private party for the Trump family that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“District law requires nonprofits to use their funds for their stated public purpose, not to benefit private individuals or companies,” said Racine in a statement regarding the lawsuit. “In this case, we are seeking to recover the nonprofit funds that were improperly funneled directly to the Trump family business.”

In his statement, Racine notes that the presidential inaugural committee planned and organized assorted activities to celebrate Trump’s ascension to the presidency.

The committee was headed by Thomas Barrack, a real estate investor friend of Trump’s, and other associates of the president such as casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, oil businessman Harold Hamm and coal company CEO Joseph Craft were also on it.

Last December, Gates was sentenced to 45 days in prison and three years probation for fraud and for lying to investigators after finally admitting that he had helped Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort hide in foreign bank accounts $75 million obtained for consulting work for Ukrainian politicians.

Trump’s hotel – which he has often visited as president – is just a few block away from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC.

The Trump Organization has called the lawsuit’s claims completely false, asserting that the case is just a “PR stunt.”

“The AG’s claims are false, intentionally misleading and riddled with inaccuracies,” a Trump Hotels spokesperson said in a statement provided to CBS News. “The rates charged by the hotel were completely in line with what anyone else would have been charged for an unprecedented event of this enormous magnitude.” EFE-EPA

Democrats make their case against Trump at Senate impeachment trial

UNTV News   •   January 23, 2020

House impeachment manager Adam Schiff (C), with managers Jerry Nadler (R), Jason Crow (L), responds to a question from the news media during a press conference in the US Capitol in Washington, on 22 January 2020. EFE/EPA/SHAWN THEW

Washington – The Democratic “managers” of the Senate impeachment trial against President Donald Trump on Wednesday began laying out in detail their case against him over his alleged attempt to pressure Ukraine and asked that he be removed from office because he has shown that “he believes that he is above the law and (is) scornful of constraint.”

During the second day of the impeachment trial in the Senate, the seven Democratic congressmen from the House who were appointed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to serve as managers – with the duties of prosecutors – began their argument indicting Trump, a process that could last until Friday and be divided into three eight-hour days.

“Donald J. Trump … has acted precisely as (the US Founding Fathers) had feared. President Trump solicited foreign interference in our democratic elections, abusing the power of his office by seeking help from abroad to improve his reelection prospects at home. And when he was caught, he used the powers of that office to obstruct the investigation into his own misconduct,” said Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Schiff expounded at length on the Democratic argument that Trump conditioned the delivery of almost $400 million in military aid to Ukraine and a White House meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on having Kyiv fulfill his demand to announce – though not necessarily pursue – an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter for corruption, the ex-VP being his possible Democratic rival in the 2020 election.

“President Trump withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to a strategic partner at war with Russia to secure foreign help with his reelection, in other words, to cheat,” thus engaging in “corruption,” Schiff said.

“His scheme was undertaken for a simple but corrupt reason: to help him win reelection in 2020. But the effect of his scheme was to undermine our free and fair elections and place our national security at risk,” continued the California Democrat.

Trump and his supporters, including a number of White House officials, have claimed that the aid, which had been pre-approved by Congress, was ultimately delivered to Ukraine for reasons quite apart from pressuring the Ukrainian government, although it was not released until after a whistleblower complaint was filed on the matter.

But then “President Trump obstructed an impeachment inquiry into that abuse of power in order to cover up his misconduct” and “ordered the entire Executive Branch of the United States of America to categorically and completely obstruct the House’s impeachment inquiry,” Schiff added.

He summarized the two impeachment articles that the House passed last month against Trump, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, and said that “The House believes that an impartial juror, upon hearing the evidence that the managers will lay out in the coming days, will find that the Constitution demands the removal” of the president from office.

“If not remedied by his conviction in the Senate and removal from office, President Trump’s abuse of his office and obstruction of Congress will permanently alter the balance of power among our branches of government, inviting future presidents to operate as if they too are also beyond the reach of accountability, congressional oversight, and the law,” the Democrat declared.

He went on to say that “we are here today to consider a much more grave matter, and that is an attempt to use the powers of the presidency to cheat in an election,” adding that “For precisely this reason, the President’s misconduct cannot be decided at the ballot box – for we cannot be assured that the vote will be fairly won.”

Schiff said that this week the Democratic managers will provide “overwhelming evidence” of Trump’s wrongdoing.

But he also warned that the Senate trial would not be “fair” if the White House did not turn over more documents it has withheld to date, documents requested by the Democrats, and also not block former National Security Adviser John Bolton and other witnesses with first-hand knowledge of the pressure on Ukraine and its cover-up from testifying during the Senate trial, something the president and Senate Republicans have tried to prevent. EFE-EPA


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