White House video shows Israel without Golan and West Bank

http://www.timesofisrael.com/white-house-video-shows-israel-without-golan-and-west-bank/

 

A screen shot from a White House video promoting US President Trumps first visit overseas / whitehouse.gov

 

A map of Israel on a video the White House produced about US President Donald Trump’s upcoming visit showed the country without the West Bank (where Israel does not claim sovereignty) or the Golan Heights (where it has extended Israeli law).

The short clip, which was meant to promote the president’s first trip abroad, highlighted five destinations in four countries he’s slated to visit: Saudi Arabia, Israel, Italy (including the Vatican) and Belgium.

By Friday evening the video appeared to have been removed and was no longer available.

In the video, a map of Israel was shown within the pre-June 1967 ceasefire lines. During that year’s Six Day War — Israel is currently marking the war’s 50th anniversary — the Jewish state captured East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Sinai, the West Bank and the Golan.

Israel has since returned the Sinai to Egypt, annexed East Jerusalem and the Golan, withdrawn from Gaza, and built large numbers of settlements in the West Bank without extending sovereignty there.

The international community, including all previous US administrations, has never recognized Israeli sovereignty over any of these areas. Many Israelis might nonetheless be surprised to see that the current US administration, which has repeatedly affirmed its unwavering support of and friendship to Israel’s right-wing government, signaling its adoption of the widespread international position, especially as regards the Golan Heights.

US recognition of Israel’s extension of its law over the Golan, which Israel captured from Syria, is seen as a key request Jerusalem wants to make of Trump during his visit, Israeli ministers have said.

The promotional video could anger Palestinians too. While Israel was shown without the West Bank in a map, the text that listed Trump’s schedule in each location did not distinguish between the two. Trump’s planned meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem was included under the heading “Israel,” alongside his meetings with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem’s western half.

Many in the international community do not consider any part of Jerusalem to be part of Israel, arguing that the city’s status must be determined through negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Previous US administrations carefully avoided stating that Jerusalem is part of Israel.

In contrast, the clip spoke of “Rome & Vatican City” as opposed to merely saying “Italy.”

At the United Nations General Assembly, the Vatican and the “State of Palestine” have the same status as non-member observer states.

“In Jerusalem, President Trump will meet with the President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, and lay a wreath at Yad Vashem. He will then deliver remarks at the Israel Museum celebrating the unique history of Israel and of the Jewish people,” a text accompanying the clip stated.

“Later that day, the President will meet with the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. They will be joined by First Lady Melania Trump and Mrs. Sara Netanyahu for a private dinner. President Trump will meet the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, in Bethlehem and will urge Palestinian leaders to take productive steps toward peace. The President will also visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wall.”

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White House legal team said to be researching impeachment

Lawyers at the White House have begun to study the impeachment process in preparation for any potential efforts to remove US President Donald Trump from office, CNN reported Friday.

Although White House officials still consider an attempt to impeach Trump unlikely, the White House Counsel’s Office is said to be seeking the advice of legal experts on how a potential impeachment bid would move forward, according to the CNN report.

A White House official told CNN in response that the report was “not true,” while an unnamed attorney cited in the report said he did not believe White House Counsel Don McGahn would have allowed members of his legal team to research impeachment.

Despite calls for Trump’s impeachment from some corners, Republicans are believed to still back the president, while the majority of Democrats have not yet joined calls for the US president’s ouster.

This file photo taken on November 15, 2016 shows Don McGahn, then general counsel for US President-elect Donald Trump's transition team,in the lobby at Trump Tower in New York City. (AFP Photo/Getty Images North America/Drew Angerer)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Friday said that she was not encouraging — or discouraging — such talk.

“I’m not feeding the flame of any impeachment talk,” said Pelosi, who’s spent three decades in Congress. “But members are going to do what they’re going to do, and their constituents think that the behavior of the president is appalling.”

Pelosi also said that Trump has made himself “very vulnerable personally” amid investigations of his campaign ties with Russia, pointing to his reported request to now-fired FBI Director James Comey to lay off an investigation of Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser.

“I think the Flynn thing is where the president is very vulnerable personally,” Pelosi told The Associated Press in an interview in her office. “If the president in fact asked Comey to let up on … Flynn — you don’t do that.”

Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in her office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, May 19, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The California Democrat also questioned Trump’s fitness for office and said if anyone does it, “the person who’s going to impeach Donald Trump is Donald Trump.”

Pelosi also reacted to news being reported by The New York Times that Trump told Russian diplomats in his office a day after firing Comey that the FBI director was “a nut job” and the pressure he faced because of Russia was now “taken off.”

“I think every day the president gives us more reason to believe that he does not respect the office that he holds. This is a ridiculous statement for him to make,” Pelosi said. “Again it’s elevating the Russians as his confidante at the expense of our justice system in our country.”

Trump told Russian diplomats last week his firing of “nut job” James Comey had eased the pressure on him, even as the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation had moved into the White House, according to reports Friday that pursued the president as he began his maiden foreign trip.

White House hopes that Trump could leave scandalous allegations at home were crushed in a one-two punch of revelations that landed shortly after his departure. A Washington Post report, citing anonymous sources familiar with the matter, said a senior Trump adviser is now considered a “person of interest” in the law enforcement investigation into whether Trump’s campaign associates coordinated with Russia in an effort to sway the 2016 election.

And The New York Times reported that the president had told Russian officials he felt the dismissal of his FBI director had relieved “great pressure” on him. The White House has said the firing was unrelated to the FBI’s Russia investigation.

Late Friday, the Senate intelligence committee announced that Comey had agreed to testify at an open hearing at an undetermined date after Memorial Day.

Comey will certainly be asked about encounters that precipitated his firing, including a January dinner in which, Comey has told associates, Trump asked for his loyalty, and his alleged request to stop the Flynn probe.

James Comey Hid in the White House Curtains to Avoid Trump

 

Former FBI Director James Comey once tried to hide from President Donald Trump, camouflaging himself with White House curtains the same color of his suit to avoid interacting with the president.

The New York Times reported Comey attempted to avoid Trump’s gaze at a ceremony following the inauguration, held for law enforcement officials who had provided security during the event, by trying to blend into curtains in the White House’s blue room.

Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a friend of Comey’s, said the former FBI director initially did not want to go to the ceremony two days after Trump was sworn in.

Read More: Trump suggests imprisoning journalists over leaks, Comey memo alleges

Comey, like most modern FBI heads, had looked to keep the White House at arm’s length but his involvement in investigating Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton during the campaign made him wary of appearing to be too close to the new administration.

Comey told Wittes at a lunch in March that he went to the event to represent the bureau. The compromise seemed to be that he would hide his 6 feet, 8 inch frame in the curtains.

“He thought he had gotten through and not been noticed or singled out and that he was going to get away without an individual interaction,”  Wittes said.

Those efforts, however, were in vain. “Oh here’s Jim,” Trump said as he spotted Comey. “He’s more famous than me.” What followed, Witte told PBS NewsHour, was a hug that made Comey feel “disgusted.”

“Right at the end, Trump singles him out in a fashion that he regarded as sort of calculated,” Wittes said. “Trump grabs the hand and kind of pulls him into the hug, but the hug is entirely one-sided. Comey was just completely disgusted by the episode.”

In the past ten days, the Trump administration has struggled to overcome controversy following the president’s firing of the former FBI director.

The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Trump had attempted to persuade Comey to drop a federal investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who resigned for misleading Vice President Mike Pence, and his possible ties to Russia.

The White House denied Comey’s version of events, saying in a statement that the president had never asked Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including that of Flynn.

Wittes said that in a series of interactions with Trump, Comey felt the president was trying to befriend him. He said the attempts took on a more sinister turn when Trump asked Comey to give him his loyalty. The White House denies the president ever made such a request.

“Trump fired Jim Comey because the most dangerous thing in the world, if you’re Donald Trump, is a person who tells the truth, is dogged, you can’t control, and who is as committed as Comey is to the institutional independence of an organization that has the power to investigate you,” Wittes told PBS.

REPORT: SHELDON ADELSON (KIKE) ‘FURIOUS’ OVER WHITE HOUSE STALLING ON US EMBASSY MOVE

 

http://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Report-Adelson-furious-over-White-House-stalling-on-US-embassy-move-490757

 

Billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson is reportedly “furious” by comments made by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson after America’s top diplomat appeared to waver on the US president’s pledge to relocate the US Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, according to online publication Axios Monday.

Two sources close to the Jewish entrepreneur told the news site that Adelson was outraged with the White House’s apparent shift in rhetoric surrounding the embassy issue.

 

Speaking in an interview aired Sunday with Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press, Tillerson said the president’s decision will be informed “by the parties involved” in the Middle East peace process.

“The president, I think rightly, has taken a very deliberative approach to understanding the issue itself, listening to input from all interested parties in the region, and understanding, in the context of a peace initiative, what impact would such a move have,” Tillerson said.

US President Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to move the embassy, but quickly changed course after taking office, advised by Middle East allies that such an action would roil the region and undermine his efforts to jumpstart peace talks.

During the 2016 US presidential election, Adelson publicly supported Trump’s bid for the White House, reportedly donating to the then-Republican candidate an estimated $25 million, according to Fox News.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later publicly disputed Tillerson’s charge that Israel might not want the US Embassy relocated to Jerusalem at this time.

“Israel has clearly stated its position to the US and to the world multiple times. Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem won’t harm the peace process.”

“The opposite is true. It will correct a historic injustice by advancing the [peace process] and shattering a Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem isn’t Israel’s capital,” Netanyahu said.

While Netanyahu has publicly called for the embassy’s relocation, there is wide-ranging speculation that he has hesitated, possibly to not lose support for wider, behind-the- scenes alliances with moderate Arab states with regard to Iran.

Marc Zell, who chairs Republicans Overseas Israel, told The Jerusalem Post that the embassy has not been moved “because of a request coming from this side of the ocean.”

The Israeli government wants the embassy moved, but “it’s a question of timing,” said Zell, who just returned from Washington, where he had dinner with Vice President Mike Pence.

Meanwhile, Adelson is scheduled to appear in Israel next week to provide testimony in a corruption probe swirling around the premier. His visit will coincidentally coincide with Trump’s first official state visit to the holy land since taking office, which is dated for May 22.

It is unknown if the two will meet while in the country.

White House: Western Wall comments ‘unauthorized,’ do not represent Trump’s stance

WASHINGTON — The White House on Monday said that comments from a US official who told his Israeli counterparts that the Western Wall is not part of Israel were “unauthorized” and do not represent the stance of the Trump administration.

“The comments about the Western Wall were not authorized communication and they do not represent the position of the United States and certainly not of the president,” a senior administration official told The Times of Israel.

In a bitter diplomatic incident, a senior member of the US delegation making preparations for Trump’s visit to Israel next week angrily rejected a request that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accompany the president when he visits the Western Wall, and then sniped at his Israeli counterparts that the Western Wall is “not your territory. It’s part of the West Bank,” Channel 2 reported Monday.

The angry exchanges, according to the report, began when the Israeli team working with the American delegation asked whether Netanyahu could accompany Trump when he visits the Western Wall, a key stop expected on his May 22-23 visit to Israel and the West Bank.

This file photo taken on October 19, 2016 shows Jewish worshippers performing the annual Cohanim prayer (priest's blessing) at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on October 19, 2016. (AFP/Gil COhen-Magen)

No serving US president has ever visited the Western Wall, because US policy has been that the final status of Jerusalem has yet to be resolved in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

The US team reportedly rejected the request for Netanyahu to join Trump, saying it would be “a private visit” by the president and that he would go on his own. The Israelis then asked whether a TV crew providing live coverage of the Trump visit could at least continue to film there.

At this point, the TV report said, a senior American official rudely responded: “What are you talking about? It’s none of your business. It’s not even part of your responsibility. It’s not your territory. It’s part of the West Bank.”

These comments led to vociferous protests by the Israelis, with the discussion descending into shouting, and the Israelis reminding the US officials that the Western Wall and adjacent area “is territory holy to Israel.”

An official at the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed the report, telling the Times of Israel that Israeli officials were “shocked” by the comments and have asked the Trump administration about the incident.

The White House official did not say whether Netanyahu will be able to join Trump when he visits the Western Wall on his trip.

New US ambassador to Israel David Friedman kisses the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on May 15, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

Ironically, the angry exchanges were reported soon after Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, arrived in the country and went immediately to the Western Wall, where he said he prayed for the president and for the success of next week’s visit.

The Western Wall, part of the retaining walls of the ancient Temple compound, is the closest point of prayer for Jews to the site of the Temple itself and thus the Jewish people’s holiest place of prayer.

It was captured along with the rest of the Old City and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War, and then annexed by Israel as part of its united capital — a move not recognized internationally.

Trump’s visit to Israel will take place from May 22 to 23 — just before Jerusalem Day — after he stops in Saudi Arabia and before he goes on to the Vatican. He will also travel to Brussels and Sicily for NATO and G7 summits on the final leg of his trip.

While in the region, he will meet with both Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, as part of his efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and strike “the ultimate deal,” as he has called it.

US President Donald Trump meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the Oval Office of the White House on May 3, 2017. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

Trump has already hosted both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders at the White House. He’s also sent his Special Envoy for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt to the Middle East to go on a “listening tour” and meet with various stakeholders in the conflict.

Trump’s travel plans have spurred intense speculation over whether he would use the occasion to follow through on his campaign pledge move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognize the holy city as Israel’s capital.

He seemingly backed off on this promise early in his presidency, but the White House told reporters last week that Trump “has not made a decision yet and is still reviewing that.

Shortly after Trump’s visit to Israel, he will have to make a decision whether to not to waive a congressional mandate — passed in a 1995 law — to relocate the embassy, but allowing the president to exercise a six-month delay on national security grounds.

The most recent waiver, signed by former president Barack Obama, expires on June 1.

The leak of the incident over Trump’s Western Wall visit ignited sharp response from both Israelis and American Jewish leaders.

The head of the Anti-Defamation League said the Trump administration needed to make clear its posture on the Western Wall’s status.

“The Kotel is 100% part of Israel & holy to Jews around world,” Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted. “We strongly urge [the] White House to clarify statement.”

White House grapples with newest crisis amid report Trump gave secret info to Russians

WASHINGTON — Closed-door emergency meetings. Hallways packed with reporters. Statements rushed out, but few questions answered.

It’s become a familiar scenario in the crisis-prone Trump White House, where big news breaks fast and the aides paid to respond seem perpetually caught off-guard.

The Washington Post report Monday led to the latest feeding frenzy. The news that Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian officials in a meeting last week prompted another round of bizarre scenes, just days after Trump’s decision to fire FBI director James Comey sent his communications team into a tizzy.

They included a surprise encounter between reporters and Trump’s top national security adviser and an attempt to drown out conversations with a blaring television.

White House officials denied the story in several statements, including a 45-second on-camera statement delivered by Trump’s national security adviser. But officials refused to answer specific questions, including what precisely the report had gotten wrong, ensuring it would dominate a week that White House officials hoped would be quiet in advance of the president’s first foreign trip, which includes stops in Israel, Saudi Arabia, the Vatican, as well as Brussels and Sicily for NATO and G7 summits.

Reporters started gathering in the hallway outside Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s office right after the Post story broke. As the group grew to more than 20 people, press aides walked silently by as journalists asked for more information. Soon, three of the four TV channels being played in the press area were reporting the Post story.

At one point National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, who would later deliver the televised denial, stumbled into the crowd of journalists as he walked through the West Wing.

US National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster denies the report of US President Donald Trump revealing classified information to Russian officials in the Oval Office, during a statement to the press outside of the West Wing at the White House in Washington, DC, May 15, 2017. (AFP / SAUL LOEB)

“This is the last place in the world I wanted to be,” he said, nervously, as he was pushed for information. “I’m leaving. I’m leaving.”

Not long after, the press office sent a trio of short, written statements. Then Spicer briefly appeared to say McMaster would speak outside soon, prompting a mass exodus to a bank of microphones set up in the West Wing driveway.

“I was in the room, it didn’t happen,” McMaster told reporters after emerging.

“The president and the foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries including threats to civil aviation,” McMaster said. “At no time, at no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed and the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known.”

But what, precisely, had been misreported?

The Post cited current and former US officials who said Trump had shared classified details with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. They said the information, which had been provided by a US partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement, was considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the US government.

This handout photo released by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, shows President Donald Trump meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (Russian Foreign Ministry via AP)

The Post story did not claim that Trump revealed any specific information about how the intelligence was gathered, as McMaster’s denial suggested.

Reporters immediately returned to Spicer’s office, hungry for answers.

As they huddled in a hallway, one eagle-eyed reporter for the conservative One America News Network spotted a handful of staffers, including Spicer and spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, walking not far from Spicer’s office.

Soon after, faint, muffled sounds were heard coming from that direction.

It was unclear precisely where they were coming from or what they were — but after a reporter tweeted about the noise, White House staffers quickly turned up the volume on the office television, blaring a newscast loudly enough to drown out any other potential noise.

Buzzfeed’s White House correspondent Adrian Carrasquillo tweeted that yelling could be heard coming from the room where Spicer and Sanders were and that chief strategist Steve Bannon was in there too.

WH comms staffers just put the TVs on super loud after we could hear yelling coming from room w/ Bannon, Spicer, Sanders

Around 7:30 p.m., Sanders emerged to announce that White House officials would not be answering any more questions for the evening.

“We’ve said all we’re going to say,” she said, asking reporters to clear the hallway.

They obliged.

White House Proposes Tougher Sanctions On NK After Latest Missile Test

After another missile test by North Korea this past weekend, the Trump administration called for yet another round of sanctions against Kim Jong Un’s regime.

According to Fox News, the launch was conducted in the early hours of Sunday morning in North Korea. The missile, referred to by North Korean state media as the Hwasong-12, landed in the Sea of Japan roughly 60 miles from Vladivostok in Russia.

The test was notable for several reasons. First, Japanese officials say that the missile flew for 30 minutes and a little less than 500 miles, hitting an “unusually high” maximum altitude of 1,240 miles. That indicates some development in North Korean missile technology — and could put Russia within range of Pyongyang’s military grasp.

Second, official state media outlet KCNA reported that the Hwasong-12 was “capable of carrying a large-size heavy nuclear warhead.” They also noted that after Kim Jong Un witnessed the test, he “hugged officials in the field of rocket research, saying that they worked hard to achieve a great thing.”

While North Korean propaganda can usually be taken with a 40-pound bag of Morton’s Salt, the test still represents a disturbing development — and the Trump administration was quick to respond.

“Let this latest provocation serve as a call for all nations to implement far stronger sanctions against North Korea,” a statement from the White House said, according to Newsmax, adding that North Korea “has been a flagrant menace for far too long.”

The statement also brought a new player into the matter, nothing that the missile landed “so close to Russian soil … (that) the president cannot imagine that Russia is pleased.”

China’s foreign ministry, meanwhile, sounded a much softer tone.

“All relevant parties should exercise restraint and refrain from further aggravating tensions in the region,” a statement from the foreign ministry said.

Sorry, but that kind of “restraint” clearly isn’t cutting it. After years of “strategic patience” did nothing to erode the North Korean menace. Real leadership — tough leadership — is needed, and the White House seems more than willing to provide that. North Korea needs to feel the consequences of their actions, and not just militarily. They need to suffer economically as well.

Acting FBI chief, Andrew McCabe (White Freemason), contradicts White House on Comey firing, Russia probe

WASHINGTON (AP) — Piece by piece, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe undermined recent White House explanations about the firing of FBI Director James Comey during testimony before a Senate committee Thursday.

Since President Donald Trump’s surprise ouster of Comey on Tuesday, the White House has justified his decision, in part, by saying that the director had lost the confidence of the rank and file of the FBI as well as the public in general.

“That is not accurate,” McCabe said in a response to a senator’s question about the White House assertions. “I can tell you also that Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day.”

The firing of Comey left the fate of the FBI’s probe into Russia’s election meddling and possible ties to the Trump campaign deeply uncertain. The investigation has shadowed Trump from the outset of his presidency, though he’s denied any ties to Russia or knowledge of any campaign coordination with Moscow.

McCabe called the investigation “highly significant” — another contradiction of the White House portrayal — and assured senators Comey’s firing will not hinder it. He promised senators he would tolerate no interference from the White House and would not provide the administration with updates on its progress.

“You cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing,” he declared. He said there has been no interference so far.

Trump, in a letter to Comey dated Tuesday, contended that the director had told him “three times” that he was not personally under investigation. McCabe said it is not standard FBI practice to tell someone he or she is or isn’t under investigation.

Former FBI Director James Comey walks at his home in McLean, Va., Wednesday, May 10, 2017. President Donald Trump fired Comey on Tuesday, ousting the nation's top law enforcement official in the midst of an investigation into whether Trump's campaign had ties to Russia's election meddling. (AP/Sait Serkan Gurbuz)

The White House refused Wednesday to provide any evidence or greater detail. Former FBI agents said such a statement by the director would be all but unthinkable. McCabe told senators he could not comment on conversations between Comey and the president.

Days before he was fired, Comey requested more resources to pursue his investigation, U.S. officials have said, fueling concerns that Trump was trying to undermine a probe that could threaten his presidency. McCabe said he was not aware of any such request and said the Russia investigation is adequately resourced.

It was unclear whether word of the Comey request, put to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, ever made its way to Trump. But the revelation intensified the pressure on the White House from both political parties to explain the motives behind Comey’s stunning ouster.

Trump is the first president since Richard Nixon to fire a law enforcement official overseeing an investigation with ties to the White House. Democrats quickly accused Trump of using Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation as a pretext and called for a special prosecutor into the Russia probe. Republican leaders brushed off the idea as unnecessary.

Defending the firing, White House officials said Trump’s confidence in Comey had been eroding for months. They suggested Trump was persuaded to take the step by Justice Department officials and a scathing memo, written by Rosenstein, criticizing the director’s role in the Clinton investigation.

US President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House on May 10, 2017 (AFP Photo/Jim Watson)

“Frankly, he’d been considering letting Director Comey go since the day he was elected,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, a sharply different explanation from the day before, when officials put the emphasis on new Justice complaints about Comey.

Sanders, speaking Thursday on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” said, “I have heard that directly from him (Trump), that that information was relayed directly to him from Director Comey.” On NBC’s “Today,” Sanders said she would defer to the president himself for any additional details.

Outraged Democrats called for an independent investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia’s election interference, and a handful of prominent Republican senators left open that possibility. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, with the support of the White House, brushed aside those calls, saying a new investigation would only “impede the current work being done.”

The Senate intelligence committee on Wednesday subpoenaed former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn for documents related to its investigation into Russia’s election meddling. Flynn’s Russia ties are also being scrutinized by the FBI.

The White House appeared caught off guard by the intense response to Comey’s firing, given that the FBI director had become a pariah among Democrats for his role in the Clinton investigation. In defending the decision, officials leaned heavily on a memo from Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, criticizing Comey’s handling of the Clinton investigation.

But Rosenstein’s own role in Comey’s firing became increasingly murky Wednesday.

Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general nominee for US President Donald Trump, listens during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., US, on Tuesday, March 7, 2017. Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Three US officials said Comey recently asked Rosenstein for more manpower to help with the Russia investigation. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said that while he couldn’t be certain the request triggered Comey’s dismissal, he said he believed the FBI “was breathing down the neck of the Trump campaign and their operatives and this was an effort to slow down the investigation.”

Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores denied that Comey had asked Rosenstein for more resources for the Russia investigation.

Trump advisers said the president met with Rosenstein, as well as Attorney General Jeff Sessions, on Monday after learning that they were at the White House for other meetings. One official said Trump asked Rosenstein and Sessions for their views on Comey, then asked the deputy attorney general to synthesize his thoughts in a memo.

The president fired Comey the following day. The White House informed Comey by sending him an email with several documents, including Rosenstein’s memo.

It’s unclear whether Rosenstein was aware his report would be used to justify the director’s ouster.

White House and other US officials insisted on anonymity to disclose private conversations.

A farewell letter from Comey that circulated among friends and colleagues said he does not plan to dwell on the decision to fire him or on “the way it was executed.”

Trump to meet top Russian diplomat at the White House

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump will meet Wednesday with Vladimir Putin’s top diplomat at the White House on Wednesday, the White House said, marking the highest level, face-to-face contact with Russia of the American leader’s young presidency. It would also signal that the two countries have improved ties that Trump recently described as being at an “all-time low.”

Trump’s talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take place after the Russian’s meetings earlier in the day with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

A Russian plan to stabilize Syria after more than six years of civil war is the most urgent foreign policy topic on the agenda. But the meeting will be impossible to separate from the Trump administration’s unfolding political drama in Washington, where FBI and congressional investigations are looking into possible collusion between Trump campaign associates and the Kremlin related to last year’s presidential election. U.S. intelligence agencies accuse Moscow of meddling to help Trump’s chances of victory.

The sigma of the Russia probes has been impossible for Trump to shake. Trump on Tuesday abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey, dramatically ousting the nation’s top law enforcement official in the midst of the bureau’s investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia.

This file photo taken on January 22, 2017 shows  US Vice President Mike Pence, 2nd left, shaking hands with FBI Director James Comey, right, watched by Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy, left, and US President Donald Trump, 3rd right, during the reception for law enforcement officers and first responders in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington, DC. (AFP/ MANDEL NGAN)

Less than a month into Trump’s presidency, he fired his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, saying Flynn misled senior administration officials about his pre-inauguration talks with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador in Washington.

In a Senate hearing Monday, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates said she bluntly warned Trump’s White House in January that Flynn “essentially could be blackmailed” by the Russians because he apparently had lied to his bosses about his contacts with Kislyak.

Trump has said he has no ties to Russia and isn’t aware of any involvement by his aides in any Russian election interference. He calls the various investigations a “hoax” driven by Democrats still bitter that their candidate, Hillary Clinton, was defeated last year.

But in the meantime, his hopes for a possible rapprochement with Moscow, so regularly repeated during the campaign, have been derailed. Ties soured further in April after the U.S. blamed a Russian ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, for a deadly chemical weapons attack on civilians and Trump fired some 60 cruise missiles at a Syrian air base in response.

After Tillerson visited Putin and Lavrov in Moscow on April 12, Trump said flatly, “Right now we’re not getting along with Russia at all.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrive to attend a press conferece after their talks in Moscow on April 12, 2017. (AFP Photo/Alexander Nemenov)

Still, Tillerson’s meeting provided a blueprint for how the former Cold War foes might go about improving ties.

A main focus is Syria, where both governments want to end a civil war that has killed up to 400,000 people, contributed to a global refugee crisis and allowed the Islamic State group to emerge as a global terror threat. The continued fighting between rebels and Assad’s military has complicated US efforts to defeat IS.

Lavrov will be coming to the American capital with a Russian plan to end the violence, after hashing out an agreement with Iran and Turkey last week.

It focuses on the creation of four de-escalation zones. Critical details still need to be finalized and the U.S. response has been cautious, with top officials such as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis saying they’re still studying the concept and its various unanswered questions. The would-be safe zones would not cover areas where the U.S.-led coalition is fighting IS.

Despite the lack of clarity, the possibility of a meeting between Trump and Lavrov would in itself be a sign of some progress.

The Russian diplomat hasn’t visited Washington at all since 2013, a year before Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and two years before it intervened militarily in Syria to help Assad remain in power.

WHITE HOUSE: TRUMP WILL CONTINUE TALKING TO NETANYAHU ABOUT SETTLEMENTS

 

http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Politics-And-Diplomacy/White-House-Trump-will-continue-talking-to-Netanyahu-about-settlements-489505

 

President Donald Trump will continue to talk to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about Israeli settlement activity, the White House said on Monday following reports that Israel plans to build 15,000 new settlement homes in east Jerusalem.

“I’m sure that we’ll continue to have conversations with the prime minister and … that’ll be something that the president will continue to discuss,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer told a news briefing after being asked if Netanyahu was snubbing the US president.

 

Trump, who has vowed to work for a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, told Netanyahu during a news conference in February that he would like to see Israel “hold back on settlements for a little bit.”

While Spicer did not elaborate further, the White House’s declared intention to continue holding talks with the Israeli premier seems more significant than ever as Israel braces for Tuesday’s UNESCO vote on a resolution that seeks to reject the country’s sovereignty in Jerusalem.

Spicer’s comment regarding President Trump’s clear intention to continue discussing the issue of Israel’s settlements enterprise come a mere week after a White House official confirmed to The Jerusalem Post that the American president was considering paying a visit to Israel in late May or in early June. “We are exploring the possibility of a future visit to Israel,” the official told the Post in a confirmation that further emphasized for both leaders to discuss several pressing issues, including Trump’s plan to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to the capital of Jerusalem.

Should Trump make the visit to Israel in the upcoming month it’s timing will be especially crucial; on June 1, a waiver on a Congressional mandate to move the embassy in Israel will finally expire.

And while the US president has mostly been perceived so far as supportive of Israel in his public statements, just this past February a senior administration official told the Post that “we urge all parties to refrain from taking unilateral actions that could undermine our ability to make progress, including settlement announcements. The administration needs to have the chance to fully consult with all parties on the way forward.”