Lawmakers call Trump’s performance ‘bizarre,’ ‘shameful’
By LISA MASCARO
AP Congressional Correspondent
Monday, July 16
WASHINGTON (AP) — Key members of Congress, including some Republicans, are criticizing President Donald Trump’s performance at a press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin as “bizarre,” ”shameful” and a “missed opportunity” to stand up to Russia.
House Speaker Paul Ryan delivered a strongly worded statement, saying there’s “no question” that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, and noting that U.S. intelligence agencies and a House panel agreed.
“The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally,” Ryan said, in what was, for the mild-mannered speaker, akin to a reprimand. Ryan said Russia “remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals.”
Other high-profile Republicans also expressed dismay.
“I never thought I would see the day when our American President would stand on the stage with the Russian President and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression,” tweeted Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. “This is shameful.”
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., called it “bizarre” and “flat-out wrong” for Trump to suggest that both the U.S. and Russia are to blame for the deteriorated state of the two countries’ relationship.
Even Trump’s sometimes ally Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called the summit a “missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections.”
Graham quipped that Trump ought to check a soccer ball Putin gave to Trump for listening devices, “and never allow it in the White House.”
The Republican rebuke from Capitol Hill came largely from those lawmakers who have been willing to openly criticize the president. But key Republicans, Democrats and others in Washington appeared stunned that Trump refused to publicly condemn Russian interference in the 2016 election or warn against future meddling during the joint press conference with Putin in Finland.
Trump appeared to take the Russian president’s denial of interference at face value while calling the U.S.’s own Justice Department special counsel’s probe as a “disaster.” That U.S. investigation, led by special counsel Robert Mueller, unveiled an indictment Friday against 12 Russian intelligence officers accused of hacking Democratic emails during the 2016 campaign.
At the joint appearance in Finland with Putin, Trump repeated the Russian leader’s denials about involvement in the election.
“He just said it’s not Russia,” Trump said of Putin. “I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
Former intelligence chiefs who served under President Barack Obama were scathing in their criticism of his remarks. John Brennan, who served as CIA director between 2013 and January 2017, called the president’s comments “treasonous.”
“Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???” Brennan tweeted.
James Clapper, who was director of national intelligence under Obama between 2010 and 2017, described Trump remarks as “truly unbelievable.”
“On the world stage in front of the entire globe the president of the United States essentially capitulated and seems intimidated by Vladimir Putin,” Clapper told CNN. “It was amazing and very, very disturbing.”
Clapper described Putin as an “arch enemy of the United States” who seeks to undermine its democracy and elections. “He has got to be celebrating on the way home to Moscow.”
Democrats sounded similar alarm. Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, tweeted, “For the President to side with Putin over his own intelligence officials and blame the United States for Russia’s attack on our democracy is a complete disgrace.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the minority leader, says never in the history of the country has a president supported an American adversary the way Trump supported Putin. “For the president of the United States to side with President Putin against American law enforcement, American defense officials, and American intelligence agencies is thoughtless, dangerous, and weak.”
Yet while Trump’s remarks drew criticism in both parties, the reaction was more muted from the Republican side. Key GOP lawmakers at least initially refrained from directly attacking Trump’s performance, and at least one echoed the president’s criticism of the special counsel probe.
Rep. Darrell Issa of California he takes the charges filed by Mueller’s team seriously, but added, “I personally would neither rule in nor rule out the validity of a very interesting and odd-timed indictment of people who can never be brought to justice.”
Associated Press writers Matthew Daly, Mary Clare Jalonick, Alan Fram and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.
US: Sanction exemptions open to those reducing Iran imports
By SUSANNAH GEORGE
Monday, July 16
WASHINGTON (AP) — Countries and businesses that continue to import Iranian oil could avoid penalties by making “significant reductions” as Washington re-imposes sanctions on Tehran later this year, according to top U.S. officials.
“We want people to reduce oil purchases to zero, but in certain cases if people can’t do that overnight, we’ll consider exemptions,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told journalists as he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo returned to the U.S. from Mexico late last week.
Pompeo maintained that the possible wiggle room didn’t undermine the U.S. commitment to restrict Iran’s economy.
“Make no mistake about it,” Pompeo said, “we’re determined to impose these sanctions globally and broadly.”
Harsh economic sanctions on Iranian entities and groups with links to Tehran have been central to the Trump administration’s policy in the region. President Donald Trump has repeatedly called Iran the most destabilizing force in the Middle East, pointing to armed groups the country supports in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
Pompeo said the punishing sanctions were aimed at depriving Iran of the resources to “continue to foment terror and malign activity around the world.”
The U.S. has faced significant pushback from key European allies over the planned imposition of so-called “secondary” sanctions that target businesses that continue to buy Iranian oil. While Germany, France and Britain didn’t withdraw from the landmark 2015 nuclear accord with Tehran, the global financial system is so interconnected and so tied to New York that it is almost impossible for anyone anywhere in the world to continue their business with Iran without risk of violating U.S. sanctions.
Uncertainly surrounding the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions has already rocked Iran, contributing to the Iranian rial falling sharply against the U.S. dollar and sparking waves of protests across the country.
Iranian oil exports — they are the world’s sixth largest — have been of particular importance to global market stability. The White House says Saudi Arabia could raise oil production to make up for any shortfall, but Riyadh has not announced any plans.
Crude oil prices sank Monday on reports the U.S. will take a softer stance on countries that import oil from Iran after sanctions on Iran’s energy sector go back into effect.
Benchmark U.S. crude fell 4.2 percent to $68.06 in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 4.4 percent to $71.99 a barrel in London.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has accused the U.S. of stoking an “economic war” and suggested Iran could immediately ramp up its production of uranium in response to U.S. pressure. Potentially that would escalate the very situation the nuclear deal sought to avoid — an Iran with a stockpile of highly enriched uranium that it could use to build atomic bombs.
“The mission is to get Iran to become a normal country,” Pompeo said, explaining that the economic pressure is aimed at stopping Iran from “assassinating people” and “launching missiles around the world.”
“So, yes, we’re using every element of American power to try and achieve (that) end, to try and get Iran to behave in a way that is rational and normal,” he said.
The officials spoke to reporters traveling with them on condition that their remarks not be reported until Monday.
Judge temporarily halts deportation of reunified families
By ELLIOT SPAGAT and COLLEEN LONG
Monday, July 16
SAN DIEGO (AP) — A federal judge on Monday ordered a temporary halt to deportations of immigrant families reunited after being separated at the border, as the Trump administration races to meet a July 26 deadline for putting thousands of children back in their parents’ arms.
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw imposed a delay of at least a week after a request from the American Civil Liberties Union, which cited “persistent and increasing rumors … that mass deportations may be carried out imminently and immediately upon reunification.”
Justice Department attorney Scott Stewart opposed the delay but did not address the rumors in court.
The ACLU requested that parents have at least one week to decide whether to pursue asylum in the U.S. after they are reunited with their children. The judge held off on deciding that issue until the government outlines its objections in writing by next Monday.
ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt told reporters that he was “extremely pleased” by the halt and that parents need time to think over with their children and advisers whether to seek asylum.
“It’s hard to imagine a more profound or momentous decision,” he said.
The hearing in San Diego occurred as the government accelerated reunifications at eight unidentified U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement locations. The families are scattered around the country, the adults at immigration detention centers, the children at shelters overseen by the government.
Annunciation House, a shelter in El Paso, said the government has begun transporting children in a “tremendous amount of airline flights” to El Paso and elsewhere. Director Ruben Garcia said he is preparing to take in as many as 100 reunified families a day.
Late last month, Sabraw ordered the government to reunite the thousands of children and parents who were forcibly separated at the border by the Trump administration this spring. He set a deadline of July 10 for children under 5 and gave the government until July 26 to reunite more than 2,500 youngsters ages 5 to 17.
On Monday, the judge commended the government for a plan submitted over the weekend to reunify the older children. The plan calls for DNA testing and other screening measures only if red flags are raised during background checks.
Jonathan White of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, who is overseeing the government’s effort, assured the judge that some reunifications of older children already occurred, and “it is our intent to reunify children promptly.” He went into detail on how the process was working.
The judge praised White’s testimony, saying, “What is in place is a great start to making a large number of reunifications happen very, very quickly.”
Justice Department attorneys also assured Sabraw the children were well cared for, offering him a visit to a shelter if he wanted. The judge replied that the main concern wasn’t whether the children were well cared for.
“Obviously the concern that has been at issue has been the passage of time,” he said. “No matter how nice the environment is, it’s the act of separation from a parent, particularly with young children, that matters.”
Sabraw has scheduled three more hearings over the next two weeks to ensure compliance with his order.
Also Monday, advocates said in federal court in Los Angeles that immigrant children in government custody are being given poor food, kept in unsanitary conditions and face insults and threats.
The allegations came amid a long-running effort by attorneys to have a court-appointed monitor oversee the U.S. government’s compliance with a decades-old settlement governing the treatment of immigrant children caught on the border.
Attorneys interviewed immigrant parents and children in June and July about their experiences in Border Patrol facilities, family detention and a youth shelter. They described much of the testimony as “shocking and atrocious.”
Families described meals of frozen sandwiches and spoiled food, overflowing toilets and guards yelling at them and kicking them while they slept. Children said they were hungry and scared when their parents were taken away.
Long reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Amy Taxin in Santa Ana, California, and Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico, contributed to this report.
US challenges China, EU and others at WTO over steel tariffs
By PAUL WISEMAN
AP Economics Writer
Monday, July 16
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration on Monday brought cases against China, the European Union, Canada, Mexico and Turkey at the World Trade Organization for retaliating against American tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.
The United States has imposed tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum on the grounds that the imported metals pose a threat to U.S. national security. China, the EU, Canada, Mexico and Turkey have counterpunched with taxes on more than $24 billion worth of U.S. exports.
U.S. Trade Rep. Robert Lighthizer said their retaliation violates the rules of the Geneva-based WTO, which mediates trade disputes.
“Instead of working with us to address a common problem, some of our trading partners have elected to respond with retaliatory tariffs designed to punish American workers, farmers and companies,” Lighthizer said.
If the WTO agrees that the retaliatory duties violate its rules, it would assess the damage and calculate the tariffs that the United States would be entitled to impose in response — retaliation for the retaliation. But WTO proceedings can drag on for years.
In taxing imported steel and aluminum from some countries in March and others in June, President Donald Trump deployed a little-used weapon in American trade policy: Under the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, presidents are empowered to impose unlimited tariffs on imports that the Commerce Department asserts are threats to America’s national security.
The WTO gives countries broad leeway to determine national security interests. But there was long an unwritten agreement that WTO member countries would use the national-security justification only very sparingly to avoid abuses.
Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs broke that taboo. Now the Commerce Department is pursuing another, bigger national-security case against auto imports. Hearings on the proposed auto tariffs are set for Thursday and Friday in Washington.
Separately, Trump is engaged in a trade war with China over the aggressive tactics Beijing has used to challenge U.S. technological dominance. According to the Trump administration, these include outright cybertheft and forcing U.S. companies to hand over trade secrets in exchange for access to the Chinese market.
Last week, the administration announced 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods, which won’t take effect until at least September. On Monday, China said that it filed a WTO challenge against those proposed U.S. tariffs.
This story has been corrected to read that the Trump administration brought the cases at the WTO on Monday, not Tuesday.
Homeless individuals given 72 hours to leave downtown camp
By ANGIE WANG
Monday, July 16
CINCINNATI (AP) — Dozens of homeless people were given 72 hours to vacate a downtown Cincinnati encampment consisting of tents, furniture and blankets under an order issued by city officials Monday.
Citing health and safety issues, city officials said they will close the site located under an overpass by the end of the week. Residents have until Thursday morning to gather their belongings and leave. Officials will begin to sanitize the area Friday.
A city spokesman said officials handed out about 40 notices to residents, mostly men and some women.
But they weren’t in a hurry to leave. Instead, they lounged in plastic lawn chairs, joking with one another. Some napped to avoid the midday heat. Supporters drove their cars up to the encampment to deliver donations of clothes, toiletries and peanut butter crackers. Two crates of milk cartons — placed as far out of the sun as possible — spoiled quickly, but people drank them anyway.
One camp resident, Latasha Butte, 22, combed through a bag of women’s clothes before spending her afternoon reading. Butte, who’s pregnant with twins, is a relative newcomer to the community below the underpass, but her husband Jeff Stark has lived there on and off for 15 years. Stark said the encampment is just like any other neighborhood, complete with its own local artist and grocery store. Everyone runs errands for one other, sharing whatever they can in exchange.
Stark said it was ridiculous the entire area would be closed off. “People have been here for years,” he said. “We’re out of the elements and out of everyone else’s way.”
Some residents are adamant they will stay. One man who gave his name as Wow Wow said he plans to stage a sit-in. Others said they’re waiting until Friday morning to decide what to do.
On Friday, crews will begin to remove hazardous items such as makeshift bathrooms, contaminated syringes and soiled mattresses, and any remaining items will be considered abandoned, Acting City Manager Patrick Duhaney said in a memo to the city council.
City officials should help people find permanent rather than just temporary housing because homeless individuals who live on the streets in such encampments have opted not to live in temporary shelters, according to a recommendation Kevin Finn, president of Strategies to End Homelessness, relayed to Duhaney last week.
About 85 percent of Hamilton County’s homeless population already lives in shelters, and local shelters do have the capacity to house more, Finn said. But the rest may prefer making a home for themselves on the streets for several reasons, including substance abuse and mental health issues.
Shelters, which often house upward of 200 people, do not seem livable to individuals with paranoia and anxiety, the most common mental health issues facing the homeless population. Shelters also will not allow those with substance dependencies to use drugs or alcohol overnight.
Some couples without children, who are not eligible to live together in shelters, would rather live on the streets than be separated.
City officials said they have not studied how much it would cost to permanently house those living in the encampment, but Finn said he estimates an annual cost of less than $400,000 for 40 people — a figure he passed along to Duhaney’s office. In his memo, Duhaney said the city will spend an unspecified amount to fund a temporary shelter.
“If the problem is homelessness, the answer is permanent housing,” Finn said.
Since 2013, Hamilton County has seen a 42 percent drop in homeless individuals who live on the street, Finn said. Outreach crews that hit the street every day in 2017 counted 979 people, compared to 1,692 in 2013. Over the same period, more have sought housing in temporary shelters.
Over the last few years, Finn said he’s noticed that those who sleep on the streets have begun to set up tents and take shelter in more visible spaces because they think they’re less prone to attacks in more open, trafficked locations. But those spaces are also more likely to garner attention and complaints.