China’s Action on Trump Trademark Requests Renews Ethics Concerns

China has given preliminary approval to a raft of trademark requests from President Donald Trump’s business empire, renewing concerns of ethics watchdogs that the president’s private dealings conflict with his role as leader of a world superpower, and therefore violate the U.S. Constitution.

Trump attorneys filed the 38 trademark applications last April, while Trump was still a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. China’s Trademark Office signaled its tentative approval over the past two weeks.

If there is no objection, the trademarks will be officially registered in 90 days. They cover a wide variety of Trump interests, including hotels, restaurants, golf clubs, bars, real estate, finance, and escort and concierge services.

The Trump Organization also received a single trademark approval in February for Trump-branded construction services. That approval came after a 10-year legal battle.

Preferential treatment possible?

Presidential ethics experts say China’s favorable consideration of Trump requests buttresses their argument that foreign governments seeking to curry favor with the president would be inclined to show preferential treatment to the president’s business interests.

Representatives of the Trump Organization, however, say securing trademarks is a natural part of doing business in countries around the globe in keeping with international law.

CREW lawsuit

The Trump ethics question is already the subject of a federal lawsuit filed in January by the liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW. The complaint was filed in federal court in New York days after the president was inaugurated. The suit claims Trump’s business dealings create “countless conflicts of interest, as well as unprecedented influence by foreign governments.”

Attorneys for the plaintiff include Norman Eisen, who served as ethics adviser to President Barack Obama, and Richard Painter who held the same position under President George W. Bush. Other attorneys involved include prominent legal luminaries such as Harvard University law professor Laurence Tribe and University of California-Irvine Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky. They argue that Trump’s competing interests violate the U.S. Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits public servants from accepting anything of value from a foreign government.

In an email conversation with VOA this week, Eisen said, “This new large group of 38 trademarks granted to Trump while he occupies the Oval Office raises similar concerns because of their unprecedented scope and scale.” Eisen said he expected to add the latest trademark issue to the January lawsuit, asking, “How can we be sure he [Trump] will advance U.S. interests in his engagements with that country, for example by staunching the flow of American jobs out from the U.S. to China?”

TV royalties

The CREW lawsuit also notes that Trump collects royalties from his TV shows, some of which are broadcast on stations owned or controlled by foreign governments. It points to other examples of Trump properties in Scotland, Indonesia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

“When Trump the president sits down to negotiate trade deals with these countries,” it asks, “the American people will have no way of knowing whether he will also be thinking about profits of Trump the businessman.”

‘Natural result’ of previous actions

The White House declined to comment on the issue, but in a statement emailed to VOA, Trump Organization spokeswoman Amanda Miller said the group had been actively enforcing its intellectual property rights in China for over a decade. “The latest registrations are a natural result of those long-standing, diligent efforts and any suggestion to the contrary demonstrates a complete disregard of the facts as well as a lack of understanding of international trademark law,” it said.

Before he was elected, candidate Trump argued that the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution did not apply to the president. Reacting to a reporter’s question about the CREW lawsuit in January, the president called it “totally without merit.”

The lawsuit has also drawn criticism from many conservative-leaning ethicists. Hadley Arkes, professor of American institutions at Amherst College in Massachusetts, told VOA, “The claim that this arrangement would violate the Emoluments Clause strikes me as specious — and contrived for this president only. The implication could be that any businessman, with substantial holdings, doing business in China, could be charged with violating the Constitution if he curiously became president.”

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US State Department Rethinks Plan Not to Take Media on Asia Trip

The U.S. State Department held out the possibility on Thursday that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson might take reporters with him to Asia after it initially broke with decades of tradition by telling the media he would not.

“We are still working out the logistics for this trip, so [we] cannot yet speak definitively as to whether we’ll be able to accommodate any press on the Secretary’s plane,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner wrote in an email.

“Going forward, the State Department will do everything it can to accommodate a contingent of traveling media on board the Secretary’s plane.”

The State Department told reporters earlier this week that Tillerson would not take any of them on a March 15-19 trip to Japan, South Korea and China — countries of strategic, military and economic interest to the United States.

A bigger plane?

Major news organizations complained, among them the BBC, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post and Reuters.

North Korea, which fired four ballistic missiles into the sea off Japan’s northwest coast on Monday, angering both South Korea and Japan, is likely to be a key topic of Tillerson’s trip.

Asked earlier this week why Tillerson was not taking media with him, a State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters the plane “is too small to accommodate … he carries a much smaller footprint in terms of personnel, and that’s not just press.”

Toner did not respond when asked whether Tillerson had tried to get a larger Air Force plane or how the department would respond to critics who described the plan as self-defeating.

Decision questioned

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and other past State Department officials questioned Tillerson’s plan, saying that by including reporters, the chief U.S. diplomat could make the administration’s case and prevent other countries from dominating coverage of U.S. policy.

Albright, secretary of state under Democrat Bill Clinton, told MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” on Wednesday that taking the news media demonstrates a U.S. commitment to a free press.

President Donald Trump, a Republican, has accused news outlets of “fake news” and called journalists “the enemy of the people.”

Media travel on earlier trips

Richard Boucher, a retired U.S. diplomat who served as State Department spokesman from 2000 to 2005 under Albright as well as Republicans Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, could not recall a time during his tenure when reporters did not fly on the plane.

Since becoming secretary of state on February 1, Tillerson, a former ExxonMobil Corp chief executive, has traveled to Germany and Mexico, in both cases inviting fewer media than his predecessors for at least the last 50 years.

Veteran State Department television correspondent Marvin Kalb said William Rogers, Richard Nixon’s first secretary of state, began taking press with him in 1969 and — with rare exceptions such as Henry Kissinger’s secret trip to China in 1971 — that had remained the practice.

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White House: Trump Unaware of Flynn’s Foreign Agent Work

President Donald Trump was not aware that his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had worked to further the interests of the government of Turkey before appointing him, the White House said Thursday.

The comments came two days after Flynn and his firm, Flynn Intel Group Inc., filed paperwork with the Justice Department formally identifying him as a foreign agent and acknowledging that his work for a company owned by a Turkish businessman could have aided Turkey’s government. Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday called the action “an affirmation of the president’s decision to ask General Flynn to resign.”

At the White House, asked whether Trump knew about Flynn’s work before he appointed him as national security adviser, press secretary Sean Spicer said, “I don’t believe that that was known.”

Pence said in an interview later with Fox News that he also did not know about Flynn’s paid work.

Flynn and his company filed the registration paperwork describing $530,000 worth of lobbying before Election Day on behalf of Inovo BV, a Dutch-based company owned by Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin. In an interview with The Associated Press, Alptekin said Flynn did so after pressure from Justice Department officials.

The filing this week was the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s first acknowledgement that his consulting business furthered the interests of a foreign government while he was working as a top adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign.

Flynn’s disclosure that his lobbying — from August through November — may have benefited Turkey’s authoritarian government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came as Flynn has drawn scrutiny from the FBI for his contacts with Russian officials. Trump fired Flynn last month for misleading Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak.

In paperwork filed with the Justice Department’s Foreign Agent Registration Unit, Flynn and his firm acknowledged that his lobbying “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.” The lobbying contract ended after Trump’s election in November, according to the paperwork.

A spokesman for Flynn, Price Floyd, said the general was not available for an interview Thursday. Floyd referred the AP to Flynn’s filing in response to questions about why he and his firm had decided to register this week.

Flynn’s attorney, Robert Kelner, declined to comment through a spokesman for his law firm, Covington & Burling. The Turkish Embassy also didn’t respond to questions from the AP.

Spicer said he didn’t know what Flynn had disclosed about his background and lobbying work during the White House’s vetting of him for appointment as national security adviser.

Spicer said Flynn was free to do the lobbying work because it occurred while he was a private citizen.

“There’s nothing nefarious about doing anything that’s legal as long as the proper paperwork is filed,” Spicer said. He declined to say whether Trump would have appointed Flynn if he had known about the lobbying.

After Flynn joined the Trump administration, he agreed not to lobby for five years after leaving government service and never to represent foreign governments. Flynn’s newly disclosed lobbying would not have violated that pledge because it occurred before he joined the Trump administration in January, but the pledge precludes Flynn from ever doing the same type of work again in his lifetime.

Under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, U.S. citizens who lobby on behalf of foreign governments or political entities must disclose their work to the Justice Department. Willfully failing to register is a felony, though the Justice Department rarely files criminal charges in such cases. It routinely works with lobbying firms to get back in compliance with the law by registering and disclosing their work.

More than a month before Flynn was appointed as national security adviser, news accounts and Democratic senators had raised questions about potential conflicts of interest regarding Flynn’s work for the Turkish company. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., criticized Flynn’s work and late disclosure again Thursday as troubling.

“Gen. Flynn’s behavior seems to be part of a larger pattern of poor judgment from members of this administration,” she said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in a statement that Flynn should return any foreign money he received.

“This astonishing admission is more appalling evidence of foreign entanglements and conflicts of interest involving the Trump team,” he said. He said a special prosecutor should be appointed to look into ties between Trump officials and foreign governments.

Alptekin told the AP that Justice Department officials had pushed for Flynn and his firm to register as foreign agents in recent weeks. He said the filing was a response to “political pressure” and he did not agree with Flynn’s decision to file the registration documents with the Justice Department. He also said that he had asked for some of his money back because of his dissatisfaction with the company’s performance.

“I disagree with the filing,” he said in a phone call from Istanbul. “It would be different if I was working for the government of Turkey, but I am not taking directions from anyone in the government.”

Flynn’s consulting firm had previously disclosed to Congress that it worked for Inovo BV, a Dutch-based company owned by Alptekin. But neither Flynn nor his company had previously filed paperwork with the Justice Department, which requires more extensive disclosures about work that benefits foreign governments and political interests.

Flynn Intel and S.G.R. LLC Government Relations and Lobbying pressured congressional aides to investigate a cleric who Erdogan had accused of directing a botched coup last summer. The two firms orchestrated meetings with U.S. officials — including congressional staffers and Arkansas Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, a Republican — as well as journalists. They also worked on research, informational materials and a video on the cleric, Fethullah Gulen.

Flynn met privately in September in New York with two senior Turkish government officials, including the government’s ministers of foreign affairs and energy. Flynn’s company did not name the officials, but the current Turkish energy minister is Berat Albayrak, who is Erdogan’s son-in-law.

Alptekin told the AP he set up the meeting at a New York hotel between Flynn and the two officials while the officials were attending U.N. sessions and a separate conference Alptekin had arranged. Alptekin is a member of a Turkish economic relations board run by an appointee of Erdogan, who has accelerated a crackdown against the nation’s weakening secularist faction since the failed coup last summer.

Erdogan has accused cleric Gulen of orchestrating the aborted coup and called for his extradition from the U.S., where he lives in a compound in Pennsylvania.

According to the filing, Flynn Intel’s work involved collecting information about Gulen and pressuring U.S. officials to take action against the cleric.

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Hate Crimes in US Are Rising, Particularly in Big Cities 

Hate crimes, including attacks against American Jews and Muslims, spiked in several key U.S. cities in 2016, underscoring an upsurge that started during the presidential campaign and has continued unabated, according to data collected by researchers at California State University, San Bernardino.

Previously unpublished data by the university’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism show that hate crimes in at least seven major urban centers, including New York City, Chicago and Columbus, Ohio, registered double-digit increases last year.

Among them:

 New York City notched an uptick of 24 percent in hate crimes, the highest in over a decade.
 New York state had an increase of 20 percent.
 Chicago saw a rise of 24 percent, the highest since at least 2010.
 Cincinnati, Ohio, saw hate crimes jump by 38 percent.
 Columbus, Ohio, reported an increase of nearly 10 percent.
 Montgomery County in Maryland, adjacent to the nation’s capital, had an increase of more than 42 percent.
 Seattle, Washington, registered an increase of 6 percent in malicious harassment.

While this is preliminary data, based on information provided by state and local law enforcement and government agencies, the findings represent an initial glimpse into trends in hate crimes in 2016.

Hate crimes

The Federal Bureau of Investigations defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity.”

The FBI’s most recent hate crime report, the full report, issued last November, showed an increase of 7 percent in hate crimes in 2015, with incidents targeting Muslim-Americans jumping 67 percent.

Brian Levin, a criminologist who heads the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, said it remains to be seen whether the surge he’s seen in these seven U.S. areas will be reflected in overall national trends.

The seven jurisdictions “do have a decent population and a statistically relevant number of cases where we can at least draw some preliminary conclusions about an overall trend,” Levin said. “But a lot of this is not only related to things that are going on nationally, but also locally in each jurisdiction.”

The uptick has continued into this year in several regions, partly reflecting a recent wave of bomb threats against Jewish community centers and schools and phoned-in threats against mosques and Muslims.

Many crimes go unreported

In New York City, there were 100 hate crimes from January 1 through March 5 of this year, compared with 47 during the same period last year, according to Levin’s data. Anti-Semitic hate crimes in New York City jumped 189 percent, from 19 during the first two months of 2016 to 55 this year.

In Chicago, the police department tallied 22 hate crimes in the three months following November’s election, including 13 during the first five weeks of 2017 — more than triple the number recorded in the first five weeks of last year.

Betsy Shuman-Moore, director of fair housing and hate crimes projects for the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said hate crimes in Chicago, as in many other cities, often go unreported, either because victims are unacquainted with hate crime laws or are too fearful to report them.

“It is a very underreported crime,” Shuman-Moore said.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a group based in Montgomery, Alabama, that is well-known for its tracking of hate crimes, tallied 1,372 reported incidents of hate, harassment or intimidation during the three months following the presidential election.

Rise in anti-Islam groups

“Based on everything we look at, it seems hate crimes are growing,” said Ryan Lenz, a senior investigative reporter for the center.

The number of hate groups in the United States rose to 917 in 2016 from 892 in 2015, the center reported last month. The most dramatic increase was in the number of anti-Muslim hate groups, which jumped to 101 in 2016 from 34 in 2015.

The driving force behind the surge in hate crimes is manifold. While recent terrorist attacks and acerbic political rhetoric have been blamed for encouraging violence against Muslims, Lenz said anti-Semitism is being fueled by the rise of white-nationalist sentiment during the presidential campaign.

“You can’t look at this rise in hate crimes without considering the political climate in which we live, and which has taken an extremist ideology into the mainstream of our political machine,” he added.

Presidential condemnation

In his joint address to Congress on February 28, President Donald Trump condemned recent attacks against American Jews and Indians, saying “we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms.”

Meanwhile, every U.S. senator has signed a letter to the FBI, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, asking this week for more federal help for Jewish centers and schools dealing with numerous bomb threats.

Shuman-Moore, of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee, said her organization has been in contact with officials from the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, “and they’ve shown their commitment to fighting hate crime.”

However, she said, “It’s very important that the president make a really strong statement against hate crime.”

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Thousands Rally Across US to Participate in ‘A Day Without a Woman’

Many women and some men participated in rallies in cities across the U.S. Wednesday in what’s been called “A Day Without a Woman.” Some businesses allowed their employees to participate in this “strike” to show support for women. The motivations behind why some people participated are different. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee explains.

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Report: Former Ambassador Huntsman Offered Russia Post

President Donald Trump has offered former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman the position as U.S. ambassador to Russia, a high-profile and sensitive post amid investigations into the contacts between Russian officials and the Trump campaign.

Trump made the offer to Huntsman earlier this week, according to a White House official not authorized to discuss the move publicly until it is announced. Huntsman has indicated that he will accept the post, the official said Wednesday. The former governor did not immediately return a request for comment.

Huntsman has twice before served as an ambassador. He was the nation’s top diplomat to Singapore under President George H.W. Bush and then served in that role in China under President Barack Obama. Huntsman, who ran for president in 2012, was also briefly under consideration to be Trump’s secretary of state.

Rocky relationship

The former governor, a Mormon, had an up-and-down relationship with Trump during last year’s campaign. He was slow to endorse any candidate for the Republican nomination though did back Trump once he became the presumptive nominee. But Huntsman then called for Trump to drop out after the October release of a 2005 video in which Trump is captured on a hot microphone making lewd comments about women.

He said then that the “campaign cycle has been nothing but a race to the bottom” and called for Trump’s running mate, then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, to top the GOP ticket.

Trump also went after Huntsman during his tenure as ambassador to Beijing. In a series of tweets in 2011 and 2012, the celebrity businessman called Huntsman a “lightweight” and “weak” and claimed that China “did a major number on us” during his tenure.

But Huntsman and Trump buried their differences during the transition, the official said.

High-profile job

If confirmed, Huntsman would become one of the highest-profile U.S. ambassadors, helming the diplomatic mission to a country that has seen its relationship with the US deteriorate in recent years, particularly after accusations that Russia meddled with last year’s election.

Huntsman would also take the post amid ongoing investigations into contacts between Trump’s team and the Kremlin.

Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was forced to resign after misleading Pence about the nature of his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States. And Attorney General Jeff Sessions has faced Democratic calls for his resignation after he did not say in his Senate confirmation hearing that he had two conversations with that same ambassador. Sessions has recused himself from any investigation of Trump’s ties to Russia.

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China Grants Preliminary Approval to 38 New Trump Trademarks

China has granted preliminary approval for 38 new Trump trademarks, paving the way for President Donald Trump and his family to develop a host of branded businesses from hotels to insurance to bodyguard and escort services, public documents show.

Trump’s lawyers in China applied for the marks in April 2016, as Trump railed against China at campaign rallies, accusing it of currency manipulation and stealing U.S. jobs. Critics maintain that Trump’s swelling portfolio of China trademarks raises serious conflict of interest questions.

 

China’s Trademark Office published the provisional approvals on Feb. 27 and Monday.

 

If no one objects, they will be formally registered after 90 days. All but three are in the president’s own name. China already registered one trademark to the president, for Trump-branded construction services, on Feb. 14.

 

If President Trump receives any special treatment in securing trademark rights, it would violate the U.S. Constitution, which bans public servants from accepting anything of value from foreign governments unless approved by Congress, ethics lawyers from across the political spectrum say. Concerns about potential conflicts of interest are particularly sharp in China, where the courts and bureaucracy are designed to reflect the will of the ruling Communist Party.

 

Dan Plane, a director at Simone IP Services, a Hong Kong intellectual property consultancy, said he had never seen so many applications approved so quickly. “For all these marks to sail through so quickly and cleanly, with no similar marks, no identical marks, no issues with specifications boy, it’s weird,” he said.

 

The trademarks are for businesses including branded spas, massage parlors, golf clubs, hotels, insurance, finance and real estate companies, retail shops, restaurants, bars, and private bodyguard and escort services.

 

Spring Chang, a founding partner at Chang Tsi & Partners, a Beijing law firm that has represented the Trump Organization, declined to comment specifically on Trump’s trademarks. But she did say that she advises clients to take out marks defensively, even in categories or subcategories of goods and services they may not aim to develop.

 

“I don’t see any special treatment to the cases of my clients so far,” she added. “I think they’re very fair and the examination standard is very equal for every applicant.”

 

Richard Painter, who served as chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, said the volume of new approvals raised red flags.

 

“A routine trademark, patent or copyright from a foreign government is likely not an unconstitutional emolument, but with so many trademarks being granted over such a short time period, the question arises as to whether there is an accommodation in at least some of them,” he said.

 

Painter is involved in a lawsuit alleging that Trump’s foreign business ties violate the U.S. Constitution. Trump has dismissed the lawsuit as “totally without merit.”

 

China’s State Administration for Industry and Commerce, which oversees the Trademark Office, and Trump Organization general counsel Alan Garten did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

 

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Russia Controversy Continues to be Distraction for Trump White House

Aides to President Trump continue to defend his accusation that former President Barack Obama tapped his phones during last year’s presidential campaign. Obama denied the allegation, as has the former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper. It’s the latest twist in a long-running saga of unanswered questions about links between the Trump campaign and Russia during last year’s election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

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Hawaii Challenging New Trump Travel Ban

A U.S. federal court has ordered arguments be held next week on a legal challenge to President Donald Trump’s new executive order suspending the nation’s refugee admissions program and barring entry to people from six majority-Muslim countries.

The state of Hawaii had initially filed a legal challenge to Trump’s original order, signed in January, but that case was put on hold after another federal court ruled the government could not enforce the order.

Now that Trump has issued a new executive order, the government is withdrawing its appeal of the court ruling, and thus Hawaii says its challenge to the travel ban should move forward.

Under a timeline agreed to by both sides, as described in court documents filed Tuesday, Hawaii will file its amended challenge on Wednesday, with the government’s response due March 13 and arguments to take place March 15.

The executive order goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. March 16 Washington time, but Hawaii’s time zone is six hours behind, so the order will begin late on March 15 there.

The travel ban lasts for 90 days and prohibits the issuance of new visas to people from Iran, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Sudan.It also suspends refugee admissions for 120 days.The Trump administration says the order is necessary to protect national security, and has dismissed critics who say it is targeted at Muslims.

Hawaii’s Attorney General Doug Chin said Monday the new order is nothing more than a new version of a Muslim ban.

“Under the pretense of national security, it still targets immigrants and refugees,” Chin said.

The executive order cites a need to improve vetting and security procedures, and says the countries included in the travel ban have a compromised ability to provide the necessary information to ensure people entering the U.S. do not pose a threat.

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Trump Rebuffs Reports of White House Chaos

U.S. President Donald Trump is trying to knock down reports that his White House is engulfed in turmoil.

“Don’t let the FAKE NEWS tell you that there is big infighting in the Trump Admin.,” Trump wrote in a comment on his Twitter account Tuesday. “We are getting along great, and getting major things done!”

Trump offered his commentary after several days of accounts in major U.S. news outlets that he was angry at his staff for their handling of controversies that have erupted around him.

It was Trump’s latest broadside against mainstream U.S. publications and television networks, which have published or aired numerous stories depicting behind-the-scenes accounts of Trump’s White House, often based on anonymous accounts or leaked documents.

Trump has assailed the stories, repeatedly calling them the product of “fake news” and what he claims are fictitious, unnamed sources.

Much of the conflict has centered on Trump’s own actions or those of his aides, who then have been left to defend Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that former President Barack Obama wiretapped his Trump Tower headquarters in New York last year and contacts his aides have had with Russians in the run-up to the November election and since then.

 

Caught on camera

Through a window, a CNN television camera captured pictures, but no sound, of a heated exchange last Friday in the White House Oval Office between Trump and aides.

The accounts of White House turmoil have reported Trump was particularly incensed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions removed himself from oversight of the Justice Department’s probe into the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion Russia meddled into last year’s U.S. presidential election in an effort to help Trump win.

Trump had said he did not think Sessions needed to recuse himself, but the attorney general did just that, leaving Trump angered at his aides for their handling of the controversy.

Sessions, a vocal Trump supporter last year, had been asked at his Senate confirmation hearing in January whether he had had any contacts with Russians during the campaign and he said he had not. But it came to light, after Sessions had taken office as the country’s top law enforcement official, that he had met twice last year with Moscow’s ambassador to Washington.

Since then, Sessions says that he had met with Sergey Kislyak in his capacity as member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, not as part of Trump’s presidential campaign.

Unproven wiretapping allegation

Trump sparked more controversy with his claim that his predecessor, Obama, had wiretapped him in the weeks before the election.

The publisher of the Newsmax Media website, Christopher Ruddy, a friend of Trump’s, wrote Sunday the president told him, “This will be investigated. It will all come out. I will be proven right.”

Ruddy said he has never seen Trump as angry as he was over the handling of the Sessions matter and then complaints from both opposition Democrats and Republican colleagues of Trump that his wiretap claim was unfounded.

Trump has denied any links to Russia, but several of his aides have met with Kislyak.

Trump ousted his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, after just 24 days on the job after he lied to Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials about the nature of his conversations with Kislyak.

 

 

 

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CNN Chief: Politicians Should Oppose Trump’s Attack on Media

The president of CNN says it is “shocking” to watch the political establishment’s silence regarding President Donald Trump’s attacks on the media, calling it an abdication of their responsibility.

Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide, told the INTV media conference in Jerusalem on Tuesday that Trump’s labeling of the media as the enemy of the state was dangerous and that “words can have consequences.” He also said he was stunned politicians had not spoken out fiercely against the assault on the free press. He singled out Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham as two of the only ones to have the courage to stand up for their convictions.

Since taking office, Trump has lashed out repeatedly at CNN as “fake news.” He’s upbraided its reporters publicly and attacked Zucker personally.

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Trump Calls Republican Health Plan ‘Wonderful,’ but Its Fate Is Uncertain

U.S. President Donald Trump says a new Republican plan to overhaul the country’s national health care system is “wonderful,” but its fate in Congress is uncertain.

Trump, in Twitter comments Tuesday, claimed the current law, championed by former President Barack Obama, “is a complete and total disaster” and “is imploding fast!”

The new president said he is working on a system to promote competition among drug manufacturers to cut the price of expensive medicines and to allow health care insurance to be sold across state lines in hopes of lowering the cost of insurance premiums.

“Pricing for the American people will come way down!” Trump vowed on drug prices.

Republicans have long sought to repeal the U.S. health law, popularly known as Obamacare. But the new proposal advanced by Republican congressional leaders drew immediate attacks from conservative Republicans in both the House of Representatives and Senate, along with derisive comments from Democratic lawmakers who want to keep Obamacare.

‘Obamacare Lite’

Republican critics of their own leaders’ proposal mocked it as “Obamacare Lite,” saying it is too much like the law they promised voters they would repeal.

“I don’t see any significant change here,” said Congressman Jim Jordan, one of the conservative Republican critics of the proposal. “This is Obamacare by a different form.”

Republican critics especially voiced opposition to the proposal to give tax credits to low-income Americans to help them buy insurance, calling it a new government “entitlement program” that could prove costly in the years to come.

“This is a Republican welfare entitlement,” one conservative congressional group said. “Writing checks to individuals to purchase insurance is, in principle, Obamacare. It does allow more choices for individuals, and is more patient-centered, but is fundamentally grounded on the idea that the federal government should fund insurance purchases.”

Surcharge, but no requirement to buy

The new proposal would rescind Obamacare’s chief component, a requirement that all Americans buy health insurance or pay a penalty if they do not — a provision Republicans say has been an unwarranted overreach by the national government into peoples’ personal lives.

The new proposal, however, would have a similar penalty, a 30-percent surcharge against those who let their insurance coverage lapse and then decide to buy a new policy. Both the surcharge and Obama penalty are aimed at encouraging people to buy insurance before they get sick and need health care.

The Republican proposal also would retain two of Obamacare’s most popular provisions: allowing young people to stay on their parents’ insurance policies until they are 26, and blocking insurance companies from refusing to insure Americans with pre-existing medical conditions that are costly to treat.

Obamacare has added insurance coverage for 20 million previously uninsured people, but critics such as Trump say the cost of insurance for the individuals who buy policies under Obama’s law has risen so fast that it is no longer affordable for many people.

Democrats say the Republican plan would leave more Americans without health insurance.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Trump, in criticizing Obamacare, “doesn’t even have the faintest idea of what he’s talking about.”

She added, “Republicans have decided that affordable health care should be the privilege of the wealthy, not the right of every family in America.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer tweeted, “Trumpcare doesn’t replace the Affordable Care Act — it forces millions of Americans to pay more for less care.”

Schumer said the new plan will “force Americans to pay more so insurance companies can pad their bottom line.”

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Ben Carson Compares Slavery to Immigration to America

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson on Monday compared slavery to immigration in the United States, a view that experts on slavery called inaccurate and a misleading reading of American history.

 

Carson, who was confirmed as HUD secretary last week and is the only black member of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, was talking about the work ethic and dreams of immigrants who came to the United States through Ellis Island in his first speech at the department.

 

“There were other immigrants who came here on the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less,” Carson said as he walked across a stage holding a microphone.

 

A HUD spokesman declined to comment on Carson’s statement. The department later tweeted: “This is the most cynical interpretation of the Secretary’s remarks to an army of welcoming HUD employees. No one honestly believes he equates voluntary immigration with involuntary servitude!”

 

Carson has been considered a hero and motivational speaker in African-American communities for his accomplishments in medicine, and became a prominent speaker in conservative circles after entering politics.

 

The retired neurosurgeon has drawn criticism before when making comparisons to slavery. In 2013 he branded “Obamacare,” the Affordable Care Act championed by President Barack Obama, “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.”

 

Rana Hogarth, a history professor and expert on American slavery at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said comparing slaves with immigrants was “inappropriate and wildly inaccurate.” She said immigration “suggests a desire of a person to make the journey.”

 

“I think that he’s either misinformed or made a mistake,” Hogarth said. “His beginning on Ellis Island tells me there’s a major gap in his knowledge of how we talk about different ways people settled the United States and what circumstances they settled in United States.”

 

Rebecca Scott, a University of Michigan law and history professor, said slavery in the United States was a “dramatically distinct form of migration,” and that slavery made realizing the American dream much more difficult for captured Africans.

 

“That people had aspirations for their children regardless of how they were brought to the United States was certainly true,” Scott said. “Their capacity to see their aspirations realized was starkly limited by slavery.”

 

Carson spoke to HUD employees as he began his first full week leading the department. The Senate confirmed him last week.

 

The agency, with a budget of about $47 billion, provides housing assistance to low-income people through vouchers and public housing, enforces fair housing laws and provides development block grants to communities.

 

In his speech to a standing-room-only audience, Carson pledged to lead HUD with a “very big emphasis on fairness for everybody. Everything that we do, every policy. No favorites for anybody. No extras for anybody, but complete fairness for everybody.”

 

He praised HUD employees for their dedication to HUD’s “mission of really helping the downtrodden, helping the people in our society to be able to climb the ladder. Because to me, that really is what it’s all about.”

 

Democrats and housing advocates have expressed concern about his lack of government and housing policy experience. Carson said he plans to embark on a listening tour of communities and HUD field offices around the country to “see what works and what doesn’t work.”

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Impact of Latest Travel Ban on International Students Unclear

The Trump administration’s revised executive order temporarily suspending travel by people from six predominantly Muslim countries could affect an estimated 15,000 international students.

Of those, about 12,000 come from Iran, which is one of the countries named in the ban.

Students who have valid visas are not expected to be affected.

“The new order signed today … [applies] only to foreign nationals outside the United States who do not have a valid visa,” said Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly. “It is important to note that nothing in this executive order effects current lawful permanent residents or persons with current authorization to enter our country.”

“If you have a current valid visa to travel, we welcome you,” Kelly wrote in a release from DHS.

However, it remains unclear what impact the order will have on students who will need to renew their U.S. visa to continue their studies.

Peter Asaad, an immigration attorney and partner at Quarles and Brady in Washington, advised that “although the executive order purportedly will not automatically invalidate current unexpired visas, individuals from the six countries should be advised to refrain from exiting the U.S. when possible.”

“And those outside the U.S. should seek to enter as soon as possible until there is greater clarity,” Asaad said.

There are more than a million international students in the U.S., a number that has nearly doubled in the past decade.

Several well-known universities pushed back against the original executive order announced in January, which was later suspended following legal challenges.

Some 17 universities filed legal papers February 13 against the first travel ban, calling it “serious and chilling” to international education. They included Brown, Columbia, Harvard, John Hopkins, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton, Stanford, Vanderbilt and Yale.

“The new travel ban will surely get litigated,” Asaad said. “The court will look at whether there is a rational basis for the travel ban, which may again stop the president’s action under the same rationale as the Washington District Court’s nationwide ban.”

Students took to social media to air their opinions.

“There have been more deaths from vending machines falling over than from the nationals of 6 Muslim-majority countries,” tweeted Ali Nazari, a student at the University of Texas-Dallas, in response to the latest executive order.

The U.S. green card is available to international students who show exceptional ability in the sciences, arts or business, and who can certify that they have a job offer. The U.S. limits those EB-2 visas to 40,000 holders each year. Students may obtain a green card through family channels, as well, by being the spouse, minor child, married or unmarried son or daughter, or brother or sister of a U.S. citizen who is 21 or older.

They may also be priority workers through an EB-1 visa if they have extraordinary abilities or are outstanding professors or researchers on a tenure track position.

In addition to green card holders, those excluded from the new restrictions are dual nationals using passports from unaffected countries; persons with valid U.S. visas or other travel documents; persons on diplomatic or similar passports; and persons who have been granted asylum in the U.S.

Consular officers may also make exceptions on a case-by-case basis for individuals with business, study or family connections to the United States. Individuals already in the United States are also excluded.

The new order includes a temporary halt to refugee admissions and approval for admissions for 120 days. Some exceptions are possible, but they are limited. The order also calls for refugee admissions for all of 2017 to be capped at 50,000. This could be called a “refugee cap” or “refugee limit.”

Last year, international students added $32.4 billion to the U.S. economy.

VOA interns Devon Sgubin, Elly Kim and Hitender Rao contributed to this report. Hitender is a journalist with Hindustan Times and is studying in the U.S. as a Fulbright Fellow.

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