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Monthly Archives: June 2018

Opinion: When Did Caging Kids Become the Art of the Deal?

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(PhatzNewsRoom / NYT Editorial Board)    —    Watching President Trump blame Democrats for his administration’s inhumane practice of snatching immigrant children from their parents at the border evokes nothing so much as an abusive husband blaming his wife for the beatings he delivers:

Why do you make me do this? I hate doing this! If you’d only be reasonable and listen to me, things wouldn’t have to be this way.

As anyone paying even minimal attention to politics knows, this immoral policy is not “the Democrats fault for being weak and ineffective with Boarder Security and Crime,” to quote one randomly spelled and capitalized tweet out of three to that effect in a little over 12 hours. It’s not really Republicans’ fault, either — at least not yet. Both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations began efforts to curtail the flow of people across the southern border, but neither went so far as to pursue a “zero tolerance” approach that tore apart families en masse. Congress has not passed any bills requiring the practice since then. This bit of nastiness belongs entirely to Mr. Trump — he has made a choice to torment undocumented families — and his attempt to pass the buck is dishonest and gutless. In other words, it’s what we’ve come to expect when Mr. Trump finds himself in an uncomfortable spot.

But the horror show at the border has gotten awkward for Mr. Trump. When the normally fawning Rev. Franklin Graham and other conservative religious leaders start publicly questioning this president’s inerrancy, you know Mr. Trump has really distinguished himself in his iniquity. Even the first lady felt moved to publicly distance herself from her husband’s cruelty, calling for a nation “that governs with heart.” Things have gotten so radioactive that, at a Monday briefing, the homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, found it easiest to fall back on incoherence, alternating between blaming Congress for the situation and denying that any such situation existed.

Perhaps recognizing the growing political hazard, the president is headed to Capitol Hill Tuesday evening to try to drag Republican House members deeper into his dumpster fire. Marc Short, his legislative affairs director, has said that the president will explain to Republican lawmakers the logic and “history” behind the decision to split up families. “The policy is incredibly complicated, and it is one we need to do a better job of communicating,” Mr. Short said.

Right, that’s the root of the problem here: inelegant messaging.

Mr. Trump is also expected to inject himself into the conference’s already fraught debate over immigration legislation, voicing support for two proposals that the G.O.P. House will likely be voting on in the coming days.

The president’s preferred bill is a hard-line plan fathered by Representative Bob Goodlatte, the Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. That bill would, among other steps, tighten asylum standards, slash legal immigration by 25 percent by ending both the diversity visa lottery and doing away with most family-based immigration, and consign Dreamers to permanent limbo by requiring them to re-up their status every three years. And, of course, the bill would fund The Wall. It all fits nicely with Mr. Trump’s tendency to talk about immigrants as though every one of them is an aspiring MS-13 foot soldier.

The president also has said — after some initial confusion on his part, according to the White House — that he’d be willing to sign the “compromise” plan hammered out in large part by House leadership. The Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2018, much like Mr. Goodlatte’s bill, would tighten asylum standards, kill the diversity visa and fund The Wall. It would be somewhat more flexible about family-based immigration and make provisions for some Dreamers to ultimately apply for green cards. It would deal with the current policy of splitting up families by allowing for children to be kept in ICE detention along with their parents. Jailing families together: This is what is considered progress in the current immigration climate.

Whatever the details, Mr. Trump will be using the Tuesday meeting as an opportunity for some additional arm-twisting. If Republican lawmakers have any sense of self-preservation, much less moral decency, they will refuse to engage with Mr. Trump over immigration while he is attempting such grotesque political blackmail.

For the president, this vile border mess has become a test to see how hard he can squeeze lawmakers. The White House has made clear that it regards immigrant children as useful levers to force Congress to pass legislation. With the midterms looming, Republican House members are desperate to look like they’re making progress on this issue. Mr. Trump (whose administration is planning a fresh wave of immigration crackdowns in the coming months) is betting that, with enough pressure, he can bend enough nervous moderates to pass a bill through the House on a party-line vote — and maybe, if he keeps hammering away at Democrats, even squeak it through the Senate.

In reality, by making the immigration topic even more radioactive, Mr. Trump has made a rational legislative debate much less likely. House Democrats would be nuts, politically and on policy grounds, to swallow either of the unpalatably conservative plans they are being offered. And even if a bill passes the lower chamber, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, is unlikely to let his troops take a politically noxious vote during a high-stakes election cycle. No matter how much Mr. Trump beats his chest, it’s hard to see any proposal becoming law any time soon.

Lawmakers should not negotiate with the president until he puts a stop to this “zero tolerance” insanity. Even if Republican members can’t be swayed by the immorality of the practice, they should look at this situation in terms of preserving their own power: If they let Mr. Trump roll them by using innocent children as hostages, he will learn the lesson that brutality is the key to getting what he wants.

Maintaining checks and balances can be tricky with any president, but that’s especially true when a commander in chief has authoritarian impulses. As made evident by his slavering over such brutal autocrats as Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un, Mr. Trump believes that effective leadership is all about crushing anyone who stands in your way, collateral damage be damned. If lawmakers aren’t willing to stand up to him in a case where justice and public sentiment are so clearly on their side, they might as well hand him the keys to the Capitol right now.

Immigration Crisis: Trump, GOP to huddle as outrage builds over border policy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Calls are mounting on Capitol Hill for the Trump administration to end the separation of families at the southern border ahead of a visit from President Donald Trump to discuss legislation.

Trump’s meeting late Tuesday afternoon with House Republicans comes at a time when lawmakers in both parties are up in arms over the administration’s “zero tolerance” approach to illegal border crossings.

Under the policy, all unlawful crossings are referred for prosecution — a process that moves adults to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and sends many children to facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services. Under the previous administration, such families were usually referred for civil deportation proceedings, not requiring separation.

Nearly 2,000 children were separated from their families over a six-week period in April and May.

The fight is erupting at a time when the House was already embroiled in an election-year struggle over immigration legislation that threatens to depress voter turnout in November.

Democrats have seized on the family separation issue, swarming detention centers in Texas to highlight the policy. They are demanding that the administration act to keep migrant families together. Republicans are increasingly joining Democrats in that call.

Michigan Republican Rep. Fred Upton called for an immediate end to the “ugly and inhumane practice,” adding, “It’s never acceptable to use kids as bargaining chips in political process.” Kansas GOP Sen. Pat Roberts said he is “against using parental separation as a deterrent to illegal immigration.”

“The time is now for the White House to end the cruel, tragic separations of families,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said in a statement.

The Trump administration insists the family separations are required under the law.

At a White House briefing Monday, Homeland Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen declared, “Congress alone can fix it.” That line has been echoed by others in the administration, including Trump himself, who has falsely blamed a law passed by Democrats for the “zero tolerance” approach to prosecutions of families crossing the border.

Two immigration bills under consideration in the House could address the separations, but the outlook for passage is dim. Conservatives say the compromise legislation that GOP leaders helped negotiate with moderates is inadequate.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a member of the Freedom Caucus, said he’s skeptical that even a full-throated endorsement from Trump will be enough to get the compromise bill through the House.

The compromise bill shifts away from the nation’s longtime preference for family immigration to a new system that prioritizes entry based on merits and skills. It beefs up border security, clamps down on illegal entries and reinforces other immigration laws.

To address the rise of families being separated at the border, the measure proposes keeping children in detention with their parents, undoing 2-decade-old rules that limit the time minors can be held in custody.

Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., another Freedom Caucus member, said he expects the GOP compromise bill to be defeated if it reaches the floor. “There’s not enough votes because it doesn’t solve the problem,” he said.

Faced with the prospect of gridlock in the House, senators appear willing to take matters into their own hands.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican leader, said Senate Republicans are working on language to address the family separations that could receive a floor vote, potentially as part of a spending bill package.

“I don’t think the answer to family separation is to not enforce the law. I think the answer to family separation is: Don’t separate families while you’re enforcing the law,” Cornyn told reporters. “It’s all within our power, and people have to overcome their desire to preserve an issue to campaign on.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he wants to do away with a legal settlement that requires the government to release children from custody and to their parents, adult relatives or other caretakers, in order of preference.

GOP senators including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine also said they’ve been discussing family separation legislation.

Graham told reporters the measure would keep migrant families together, provide additional judges so detained families would face shorter waiting periods, and supply facilities for the families to stay. He said he did not know how much the proposal would cost.

The administration, meanwhile, is hoping to force Democrats to vote for the bills or bear some of the political cost in November’s midterm elections. Democrats brushed aside that pressure.

“As everyone who has looked at this agrees, this was done by the president, not Democrats. He can fix it tomorrow if he wants to, and if he doesn’t want to, he should own up to the fact that he’s doing it,” said Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

Senate Democrats have rallied behind an immigration bill from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. Her bill would prohibit the separation of migrant children from their parents, with exceptions for findings of child abuse or trafficking. If separations occur, Homeland Security would have to provide clear guidelines for how parents can contact their kids.

One House Republican in a swing district, Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado, said he’s willing to endorse the Feinstein bill if that’s what it takes.

“I reached out to Sen. Feinstein’s office to let her know I want to help her put a stop to this human rights disaster at the border. If that means introducing her bill in the House, I’d be honored to stand with her,” he said.

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See AP’s complete coverage of the debate over the Trump administration’s policy of family separation at the border: https://apnews.com/tag/Immigration

Kim Jong Un visits China to discuss next steps on nukes

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BEIJING (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is making a two-day visit to Beijing starting Tuesday in which he’s expected to discuss with Chinese leaders his next steps after his nuclear summit with U.S. President Donald Trump last week.

Kim’s visit to Beijing, while expected, is one way for China to highlight its crucial role in U.S. efforts to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear program. The U.S. has long looked to China to use its influence with North Korea to bring it to negotiations, but the visit comes as ties between Beijing and Washington are being tested by a major trade dispute.

Chinese President Xi Jinping “is exerting a lot of influence from behind the scenes,” said Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Glaser said it was predictable Xi would want to be briefed by Kim directly about the North Korean leader’s talks with Trump.

“I expect they will talk about the path going forward and where priorities should lie,” Glaser said. Those priorities, from China’s perspective, would be to ensure that Beijing is included in any peace treaty talks and in creating an environment on the Korean Peninsula that will make it unnecessary for U.S. troops to remain.

Chinese state media reports North Korean leader Kim Jong Un starts a two-day visit to Beijing on Tuesday, following his summit with President Trump. It didn’t report if Kim had already arrived, but a large motorcade was seen leaving the airport. (June 18)

Security was tight Tuesday morning at the Pyongyang airport, where another flight was unexpectedly delayed, and later at the Beijing airport, where paramilitary police prevented journalists from shooting photos. A motorcade including sedans, minibuses, motorcycles and a stretch limo with a golden emblem similar to one Kim used previously was seen leaving the airport.

Roads near the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, where senior Chinese officials meet with visiting leaders, were closed and the same motorcade was later seen heading into the compound. A ring of police vehicles and black sedans surrounded the perimeter of the guesthouse, where Kim stayed on his first visit earlier this year.

A similar convoy of vehicles was seen leaving the state guesthouse in the direction of the Great Hall of the People in central Beijing on Tuesday afternoon. Kim’s presence in Beijing and the schedule of his visit, including any meetings with Xi, have not been confirmed.

Kim was diplomatically isolated for years before making his first foreign trip as leader in March to meet with Xi in Beijing. This is his third visit to China, North Korea’s main ally and key source of trade and economic assistance. Following his summit with Trump, Kim was expected to meet with Chinese leaders to discuss progress in halting his country’s missile and nuclear weapons programs in exchange for economic incentives.

China’s foreign ministry refused to provide details on Kim’s visit other than to say that Beijing hopes it will help deepen relations between the countries.

Geng Shuang, a ministry spokesman, said at a regular briefing Tuesday that the visit would “strengthen our strategic communication on major issues to promote regional peace and stability.”

Geng said Beijing supported Russia’s calls last week for unilateral sanctions on North Korea — ones that aren’t imposed within the United Nations framework — to be canceled immediately.

“China always stands against the so-called unilateral sanctions outside the Security Council framework. This position is very clear and we believe sanctions themselves are not the end,” Geng said.

While Beijing and Moscow have supported U.N. restrictions, they bristle at Washington imposing unilateral sanctions to put pressure on North Korea.

The Singapore meeting resulted in a surprise announcement of a U.S. suspension of military drills with its South Korean ally, a goal long pursued by China and North Korea. That move is seen as potentially weakening defenses and diplomacy among America’s Asian allies, while bolstering China and Russia.

The U.S. has stationed combat troops in South Korea since the Korean War, in which China fought on North Korea’s side and which ended in 1953 with an armistice and no peace treaty.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said Kim’s visit to China highlights the “constructive role” Beijing could play in disarming North Korea.

Ministry spokesman Noh Kyu-duk said Seoul and Beijing share a “strategic goal” in achieving the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula and that progress in nuclear diplomacy has been facilitating high-level contacts between North Korea and its neighbors.

Noh also downplayed concerns that improving relations between China and North Korea could result in loosened Chinese sanctions against North Korea, saying that Beijing has repeatedly stated its commitment to U.N. Security Council resolutions against the North.

Chinese state media’s treatment of Kim’s visit departed from past practice of not announcing his travels until Kim returned home. Analysts said Beijing appeared to be trying to normalize such visits.

Cheng Xiaohe, an associate professor at Renmin University’s School of International Studies in Beijing, said that unlike previous visits, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV announced Kim’s visit before his departure.

“This is an improvement. This shows that China is moving toward a healthier and more normal direction in relations with North Korea,” Cheng said. He added that the frequency of Kim’s visits was “unprecedented.”

Yang Mu-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said Kim’s repeated visits to Beijing this year show that the recent chill in the two countries’ ties over Kim’s development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles had fully lifted.

“I believe that indicates that the blood alliance between the North and China has been completely restored,” Yang said.

The visit comes as a dispute over the large trade imbalance between China and the U.S. has been escalating, straining ties between the world’s two largest economies and moving them closer to a potential trade war.

Trump recently ordered tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese goods in retaliation for alleged intellectual property theft. The tariffs were quickly matched by China on U.S. exports, a move that drew the president’s ire. On Tuesday morning China woke to news that Trump had directed the U.S. Trade Representative to prepare new tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese products, a move swiftly criticized by Beijing.

A trade war with the U.S. could make it less attractive for China to use its influence over North Korea to help the U.S. achieve its objectives of denuclearization.

“The potential comprehensive trade war will make the cooperation between China and U.S. in North Korea’s nuclear issue more complicated,” Cheng said. “There will be a big question mark over whether China and the U.S. will continue this cooperation.”

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Associated Press journalists Gillian Wong and Shanshan Wang in Beijing, Adam Schreck in Pyongyang, North Korea, and Kim Tong-hyung and Yong Jun Chang in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.

‘Papa! Papa!’ Audio of children stokes rage over separation

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BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) — An audio recording that appears to capture the heartbreaking voices of small Spanish-speaking children crying out for their parents at a U.S. immigration facility took center stage Monday in the growing uproar over the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents.

“Papa! Papa!” one child is heard weeping in the audio file that was first reported by the nonprofit ProPublica and later provided to The Associated Press.

Human rights attorney Jennifer Harbury said she received the tape from a whistleblower and told ProPublica it was recorded in the last week. She did not provide details about where exactly it was recorded.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said she had not heard the audio but said children taken into custody by the government are being treated humanely. She said the government has high standards for detention centers and the children are well cared for, stressing that Congress needs to plug loopholes in the law so families can stay together.

The audio surfaced as politicians and advocates flocked to the U.S.-Mexico border to visit U.S. immigration detention centers and turn up the pressure on the Trump administration.

US Customs TX 1

And the backlash over the policy widened. The Mormon church said it is “deeply troubled” by the separation of families at the border and urged national leaders to find compassionate solutions. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, reversed a decision to send a National Guard helicopter from his state to the Mexican border to assist in a deployment, citing the administration’s “cruel and inhumane” policy.

At the border, an estimated 80 people pleaded guilty Monday to immigration charges, including some who asked the judge questions such as “What’s going to happen to my daughter?” and “What will happen to my son?”

Attorneys at the hearings said the immigrants had brought two dozen boys and girls with them to the U.S., and the judge replied that he didn’t know what would happen to their children.

Several groups of lawmakers toured a nearby facility in Brownsville, Texas, that houses hundreds of immigrant children.

Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico said the location was a former hospital converted into living quarters for children, with rooms divided by age group. There was even a small room for infants, complete with two high chairs, where two baby boys wore matching rugby style shirts with orange and white stripes.

Another group of lawmakers on Sunday visited an old warehouse in McAllen, Texas, where hundreds of children are being held in cages created by metal fencing. One cage held 20 youngsters.

More than 1,100 people were inside the large, dark facility, which is divided into separate wings for unaccompanied children, adults on their own, and mothers and fathers with children.

In Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, the busiest corridor for people trying to enter the U.S., Border Patrol officials say they must crack down on migrants and separate adults from children as a deterrent to others trying to get into the U.S. illegally.

“When you exempt a group of people from the law … that creates a draw,” said Manuel Padilla, the Border Patrol’s chief agent there.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, speaking to reporters during a tour of San Diego immigration detention facilities with Rep. Juan Vargas and other House Democrats, said family separation is a “heartbreaking, barbarian issue that could be changed in a moment by the president of the United States rescinding his action.”

“It so challenges the conscience of our country that it must be changed and must be changed immediately,” she said during a news conference at a San Diego terminal that is connected to the airport in Tijuana, Mexico, by a bridge.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas announced late Monday that he was introducing emergency legislation intended to keep immigrant families together.

“All Americans are rightly horrified by the images we are seeing on the news, children in tears pulled away from their mothers and fathers,” Cruz said. “This must stop.”

President Donald Trump emphatically defended his administration’s policy Monday, again falsely blaming Democrats.

“The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility,” he declared. “Not on my watch.”

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Snow reported from Phoenix. Associated Press writers Elliot Spagat in San Diego and Steve LeBlanc in Boston contributed to this report.

South Korea says US drills suspended to aid talks with North

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea on Tuesday presented a united front with the United States on a decision to call off a major military drill, one week after President Donald Trump’s surprise announcement that he would suspend such exercises with the longtime Asian ally.

Shortly after the U.S. and South Korean militaries formally announced the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises slated for August had been called off, Seoul’s Defense Ministry said the decision was necessary to support ongoing talks both countries have with North Korea.

“South Korea and the U.S. made the decision as we believe this will contribute to maintaining such momentum,” said Choi Hyun-soo, the ministry’s spokeswoman.

The announcement was widely anticipated following Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last week. Trump said after the summit in Singapore that he would suspend the U.S. military’s “war games” with South Korea unless and until the talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program break down.

His statement appeared to catch both South Korea and the Pentagon by surprise, but they presented a united front in canceling the upcoming exercise.

Dana White, spokeswoman for the U.S. Defense Department, said planning for the summer drills had stopped, but no decisions have been made on any other military exercises with South Korea. Joint exercises with Japan and other countries in the Pacific will continue.

Choi echoed that nothing has been decided on other exercises. She was unwilling to provide a straightforward answer when asked whether there had been any discussions between the allies’ militaries on suspending the drills before Trump’s sudden announcement.

“We consider the ongoing denuclearization negotiations with North Korea as crucial, so as long as those negotiations continue, the decision by the governments of South Korea and the United States will be maintained,” she said.

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera showed understanding for the move but stressed the need for the two countries to continue their other joint drills.

He called U.S.-South Korean exercises “important pillars” for maintaining regional peace and stability. Plans for U.S.-Japan exercises are unchanged, he added.

In Beijing, a foreign ministry spokesman said the suspension of U.S.-South Korean drills was a “positive and constructive move.” During the tensions created by North Korean weapons tests in recent years, China had called for a “dual suspension” in which the North would stop its nuclear and missile tests and Washington and Seoul would halt their military exercises to lower animosity and lead to talks.

“We support this, we hope the relevant parties will move in the same direction to make greater efforts to promote the peace and denuclearization process for the peninsula,” Geng Shuang said in a regular briefing.

Last year’s Ulchi Freedom Guardian went on for 11 days in August and involved about 17,500 U.S. and 50,000 South Korean troops. Also participating were other nations that contributed forces during the 1950-53 Korean War, including Australia, Britain, Canada and Colombia.

The summertime military exercises usually coincide with a nationwide civilian defense drill in South Korea in which citizens take shelter in buildings and subway stations at the sound of air-raid sirens. Presidential spokesman Kim Eui-keum said the civilian drill could be held as planned, suspended or modified to reflect “changing circumstances.”

The other major U.S. military exercises with South Korea — Key Resolve and Foal Eagle — took place earlier this spring. They historically include live-fire drills with tanks, aircraft and warships and feature about 10,000 American and 200,000 Korean troops. The drills were delayed this year because of North Korean participation in the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February.

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Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Chris Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this story.

Blurring the border, Turkey deepens roots in northern Syria

AL-BAB, Syria (AP) — A newly paved road links the Turkish town of Cobanbey to its Syrian sister, al-Bab, across the border. In al-Bab, Turkish and Syrian flags line the streets, and signs on government buildings are in Arabic and Turkish. One of the first billboards honors Turkish soldiers killed in the battle to liberate this town from Islamic State militants.

Al-Bab, still scarred by war, is busy with construction. A large Turkish-funded hospital is nearly complete. A huge tree-encircled plot on the main highway will be the town’s first industrial zone. A census and registration of land deeds are underway.

Overseeing the beehive is a veteran Turkish provincial official, Senol Esmer, deputy governor of the Turkish city of Gaziantep, sent here to direct al-Bab’s development. His office is in the local police station which swarms with Turkish security alongside construction workers building an extension.

The main reason for Turkey’s support “is humanity,” Esmer said. “We call it ‘justice of fraternity’ because we have been living together with these people for 600 years, since Ottoman times. And after that, as neighbors,” he said, referring to Syria’s longtime place in the Ottoman Empire, which fell with World War I.

Turkey is growing long-term roots in its northern Syrian enclave, nearly two years after its troops moved in, modeling the zone on its own towns and bringing in its own administrators and military, financial and security institutions.

Turkey now holds sway over more than 4,000 square kilometers (1,500 square miles) of Syrian territory. Almost a quarter of Syria’s population is under Turkish control indirectly or directly — including 3.6 million refugees in Turkey, around 600,000 people living in the enclave, most of them displaced from elsewhere in Syria, and the 2 million people in Idlib, the last remaining rebel-held province, where Turkey has gained a major say.

The major Turkish investment has raised speculation Ankara has ambitions to revive old imperial claims to Syrian provinces.

But there are key strategic goals behind its deepening hold. Fundamentally, Turkey aims to keep out its nemesis, the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia known as the YPG.

Also, Turkey, presenting itself as the protector of the Syrian opposition, is now positioned to be the main negotiator along with Russia over shaping Syria’s future. Moscow may be open for that: It gave a green-light for Ankara’s move into Syria. Turkey hopes its weight will lure Washington away from the alliance with the Kurds to rely on it as a bulwark against Iranian influence in Syria.

The Turkish intervention is the “most important development” in the Syrian conflict since Russia threw its military might behind President Bashar Assad in 2015, said Nicholas Heras, of the Washington-based Center for New American Security.

Having troops on the ground and controlling large parts of the Syrian population “definitely means no solution is possible without Turkish cooperation,” said Heiko Wimmen, project director for Iraq, Syria and Lebanon with the International Crisis Group.

The zone is the latest phase in the evolution of Turkey’s aims in Syria’s war. At first, it joined a Western and regional alliance funding and arming rebels with the aim of ousting Assad. Then it said it needed to protect its own security, fearing the growing clout of the Kurdish militia. Ankara considers the YPG a front for its own domestic Kurdish insurgency. The United States allied with the militia to fight the Islamic State group, and it now holds nearly 25 percent of Syria, including much of the border with Turkey and Syria’s richest oil fields.

In the summer of 2016, Turkey launched its military incursion alongside allied Syrian fighters to drive out both the Islamic State group and the YPG.

It took more than three months of fighting for the Turkish-led forces to take al-Bab district, killing more than 70 Turkish soldiers. But the battle cemented the working relationship with Moscow: For the first time, the Russian air force backed Turkish forces advancing on the town. Al-Bab’s strategic location allowed Turkey earlier this year to uproot the YPG from its westernmost stronghold Afrin, thwarting a contiguous Kurdish entity along the border. That secured Turkey’s hold on northwest Syria, but also brought it close to Syrian government forces.

Now Ankara is installing a Turkish-European style government in what it calls the Euphrates Shield area.

Esmer, the Turkish official, oversaw the formation of a 21-member governing body in al-Bab, which employs nearly 150 staff, most paid by Turkey. He estimated the council will collect some $1.7 million in revenues from rents, taxes and municipal fees in 2018.

“We provide the flour, but they (Syrians) process it to make bread. With a small profit, they organize the distribution,” Esmer said. artefacts

Most Turkish spending goes to health and education. Thousands of teachers are paid by Turkey. Schools are being rehabilitated and new ones are coming up. A new $17-million hospital financed by the Turkish Health Ministry opens this month in al-Bab. A Turkish university plans a branch in the town, and others held tests here for Syrian students wanting to enroll in Turkey.

Turkey has moved its troops out of towns, positioning them mostly on nearby hills. In al-Bab, it trained some 2,000 Syrian security, including 100 women, to police checkpoints in al-Bab.

New courts are overseen by Turkish judges and prosecutors but uses former Syria government judges, following Syria’s French-inspired code. A terrorism court opened in Azaz. Al-Bab boasts a modern correction facility.

To facilitate financial transactions, Turkish post offices — which serve as banks — transfer salaries and funds to Syrian towns, in Turkish liras.

Ahmed Hussein Taher, a school principal in Jarablus, said that means the 1,300 teachers in the town get salaries far more quickly and efficiently. Taher was promoted to principal by the Turkish-backed administration, a post he said he never would have had under Assad since he wasn’t a ruling party loyalist.

“We teach Turkish language classes to first and second graders. Hopefully in the coming years we’ll offer it to all grades,” he said. “Turkish language is a must. Our Turkish brothers have given us everything and we work with them.”

In al-Bab, engineer Zakaria Haj Hassan ordered pipes from Turkey to install in a new industrial zone that he hopes will attract Syrian investors, both here and in Turkey.

Dependency on Turkey, he said, is natural and historic.

“I remember our grandparents singing: ‘from Aleppo to Antep’,” he said, using the old Ottoman name for Gaziantep. “We still have relatives in Turkey.”

As for the future, he said, “Are we going to be part of Turkey? Are we going to be a small independent statelet? We don’t know. Those who are nationalists would call it colonialism. Those who are religious would say we are all Muslims. We have no problem. In the old days, we were one nation from Istanbul to Yemen to Morocco.”

A big test for Turkey is keeping security.

Thousands of Syrian fighters worked with the Turkish military to liberate these areas. Thousands more flooded in since then as the Syrian government seized rebel-held areas elsewhere. Turkish officials estimate that now up to 60,000 Syrian gunmen operate in the Turkish zone, with nowhere else to go and no other supporter but Turkey.

Bloody clashes have frequently broken out among them, mostly triggered by lack of resources, competing leadership and disputes between locals and newly arrived fighters.

Violence paralyses towns for days.

One battle erupted in al-Bab when a gunman claimed an empty lot of land, claiming it had been IS property, and the local owner protested, prompting clashes with heavy machine guns. The newly-trained local security didn’t interfere. Days later, a gunman beat a nurse in a hospital, setting off fighting that ended when his commander offered to hand him over.

There have also been reports of radicalism among the militias, with some seeking to impose strict Islamic dress on women and others seizing and looting homes of Kurdish residents.

A senior Turkish official blamed the Syrian government, saying it seeks to “destabilize” the Turkish zone by flooding the area with the thousands of gunmen transferred from other areas.

“But we are not going to let that happen. It is part of our military planning,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations. Turkey’s objective is “to get Syria back on its feet. If there is a power vacuum and social structures are weakened, it will end up back where it was.”

The challenge is greater in neighboring Idlib, where a “witch’s brew” of more extremist organizations, including al-Qaida, are in control, said Heras. Turkey, in agreement with Russia, has set up observation posts around Idlib, protecting the area as it seeks to remodel rebels there into a more moderate force. But those posts also bring it into potential friction with Syrian troops.

Mohammed ElSheikh, 25, a humanitarian worker in al-Bab, said he expects Turkey’s control of northern Syria to last for a decade. He said Turkey is serving “the Syrian revolution” and that it and Moscow will work out a new system that keeps Syria together but doesn’t include Assad.

But ElSheikh said Turkish control can be heavy-handed as well. He said it took him months to wade through Turkish bureaucracy and security checks for approval of his organization, which supports school drop-outs.

Turks, he said, “must help Syrians, not rule them. Right now, they are ruling.”

In tit-for-tat, Trump threatens more tariffs against China

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump directed the U.S. Trade Representative to prepare new tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports on Monday as the two nations moved closer to a potential trade war.

The tariffs, which Trump wants set at a 10 percent rate, would be the latest round of punitive measures in an escalating dispute over the large trade imbalance between the two countries. Trump recently ordered tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese goods in retaliation for intellectual property theft. The tariffs were quickly matched by China on U.S. exports, a move that drew the president’s ire.

“China apparently has no intention of changing its unfair practices related to the acquisition of American intellectual property and technology,” Trump said in a statement Monday announcing the new action. “Rather than altering those practices, it is now threatening United States companies, workers, and farmers who have done nothing wrong.”

Trump added: “These tariffs will go into effect if China refuses to change its practices, and also if it insists on going forward with the new tariffs that it has recently announced.”

China’s Commerce Ministry on Tuesday criticized the latest threat of tariffs, saying it was an “act of extreme pressure and blackmail that deviates from the consensus reached by both parties after many negotiations, and is a disappointment to the international community.”

“If the U.S. becomes irrational and issues this list, China will have no choice but to adopt strong countermeasures of the same amount and quality,” the ministry statement said.

Trump said that if China responds to this fresh round of tariffs, then he will move to counter “by pursuing additional tariffs on another $200 billion of goods.”

It wasn’t immediately clear when the new tariffs could be put in place, as the trade office has yet to identify the Chinese goods to be penalized or conduct a legal review. The first round of penalties announced by both nations is set to take effect July 6.

The intellectual property sanctions were the latest in a spate of protectionist measures unveiled by Trump in recent months that included tariffs on steel and aluminum imports to the U.S. and a tough rhetoric on trade negotiations from North America to Asia.

The escalation in the dispute with China may also serve as a warning to other trading partners with whom Trump has been feuding, including Canada and the European Union.

The move quickly drew praise from former Trump senior adviser Steve Bannon, who told The Associated Press: “President Trump told China and the world tonight that America will not back down when it comes to economic aggression.”

But Wall Street has viewed the escalating trade tensions with wariness, fearful they could strangle the economic growth achieved during Trump’s watch. Gary Cohn, Trump’s former top economic adviser, said last week that a “tariff battle” could result in price inflation and consumer debt — “historic ingredients for an economic slowdown.”

Trump’s comments came hours after the top U.S. diplomat accused China of engaging in “predatory economics 101” and an “unprecedented level of larceny” of intellectual property.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the remarks at the Detroit Economic Club as global markets reacted to trade tensions between the U.S. and China.

He said China’s recent claims of “openness and globalization” are “a joke.” He added that China is a “predatory economic government” that is “long overdue in being tackled,” matters that include IP theft and Chinese steel and aluminum flooding the U.S. market.

“Everyone knows … China is the main perpetrator,” he said. “It’s an unprecedented level of larceny.”

“Just ask yourself: Would China have allowed America to do to it what China has done to America?” he said later. “This is predatory economics 101.”

Asked to comment on Pompeo’s remarks, the Chinese foreign ministry in Beijing said in a regular briefing with reporters that the U.S. had lost credibility as a free trader.

“We don’t want a trade war, but we’re not afraid of a trade war,” ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.

Pompeo raised the trade issue directly with China last week, when he met in Beijing with President Xi Jinping and others.

“I reminded him that’s not fair competition,” Pompeo said.

Trump had announced a 25 percent tariff on up to $50 billion in Chinese imports. China is retaliating by raising import duties on $34 billion worth of American goods, including soybeans, electric cars and whiskey. Trump also has slapped tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, Mexico and European allies.

Pompeo on Monday described U.S. actions as “economic diplomacy,” which, when done right, strengthens national security and international alliances, he added.

“We use American power, economic might and influence as a tool of economic policy,” he said. “We do our best to call out unfair economic behaviors as well.”

In a statement, Trump says he has an “excellent relationship” with Xi, “but the United States will no longer be taken advantage of on trade by China and other countries in the world.”

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Karoub reported from Detroit. Associated Press writers Ken Thomas in Washington and Gillian Wong and Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.

Business: Global stocks tumble after new Trump tariff threat

BEIJING (AP) — Global stock markets fell Tuesday after U.S. President Donald Trump escalated a dispute with Beijing over technology policy by threatening a tariff hike on an additional $200 billion of Chinese goods.

KEEPING SCORE: In early trading, Germany’s DAX plunged 1.8 percent to 12,606.14 and France’s CAC 40 fell 1.4 percent to 5,372.20. London’s FTSE 100 lost 0.8 percent to 7,565.81. On Monday, the DAX retreated 1.4 percent and the CAC 40 shed 0.9 percent while the FTSE 100 lost less than 0.1 percent. Wall Street looked poised for losses, with the future for the Dow Jones industrial average off 1.6 percent and that for the Standard & Poor’s 500 index off 1.3 percent.

ASIA’S DAY: The Shanghai Composite Index fell 3.8 percent to 2,907.82 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 2.8 percent to 29,468.15. Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 retreated 1.8 percent to 22,278.48 and Seoul’s Kospi gave up 1.5 percent to 2,340.11. India’s Sensex shed 0.6 percent to 35,331.28 and Sydney’s S&P-ASX 200 declined 0.6 percent to 6,102.10. Benchmarks in Taiwan, New Zealand and Southeast Asia all declined.

TRADE TENSIONS: Trump directed the U.S. Trade Representative to prepare new tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports, stepping up a dispute companies and investors worry could drag down global trade and economic growth. Trump accused Beijing of being unwilling to resolve the dispute over complaints it steals or pressures foreign companies to hand over technology. China’s Commerce Ministry criticized the White House action as blackmail and said Beijing was ready to retaliate.

ANALYST’S TAKE: “President Donald Trump’s unwillingness to back down became apparent this morning, once again sinking markets into a risk-off atmosphere,” Jingyi Pan of IG said in a report. Pan said market attention turned to China for “signs of further retaliation.”

WALL STREET: U.S. stocks finished mixed in trading that ended before Trump issued his tariff threat. Household goods companies took some of the worst losses as the S&P 500 fell for the third time in four days. The S&P 500 fell 0.2 percent, while the Dow lost 0.4 percent. The Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks rose 0.5 percent. Many investors feel smaller and more U.S.-focused companies are less vulnerable in the event of a major trade dispute.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude lost 88 cents to $64.97 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 79 cents on Monday to $65.85. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 55 cents to $74.79 per barrel in London. The contract rose $1.90 the previous session to $75.34.

CURRENCY: The dollar declined to 109.75 yen from Monday’s 110.54 yen. The euro edged down to $1.1552 from $1.1623.

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Investing.com – Here are the top five things you need to know in financial markets on Tuesday, June 19:

1. Trump Seeks Additional $200B In Tariffs Against China

U.S. President Donald Trump fired a fresh salvo in the ongoing trade spat between the U.S. and China, further raising tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

Trump said late on Monday that he had asked U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer to identify $200 billion worth of Chinese products that will be subject to additional tariffs of 10%.

The new duties will go into effect “if China refuses to change its practices, and also if it insists on going forward with the new tariffs that it has recently announced,” the president said in a statement provided by the White House.

It’s the latest development in escalating trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies. On Friday, the U.S. announced a 25% tariff on up to $50 billion of Chinese products, prompting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s administration to respond with a 25% tariff on $34 billion of U.S. goods.

2. China Vows To Retaliate

China’s Commerce Ministry vowed that it will take counter measures if the U.S. publishes an additional tariffs list.

In a statement posted on its website this morning, the ministry said China will protect its interests, taking both quantitative and qualitative measures against the move.

The fresh threats of additional tariffs violate prior negotiations and consensus reached between the two countries, the Chinese Commerce Ministry said. A trade war will hurt companies and people in both countries, it added in the Chinese statement.

China’s Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, said the country does not want a trade war, but it’s not afraid to engage in one.

The latest back-and-forth measures have sparked concerns that Washington and Beijing have entered into a full-blown trade war that could damage global growth.

3. Dow Futures Plunge More 300 Points

U.S. stock futures pointed to sharp losses at the open, as worries over a brewing trade war between the United States and China kept investors on the edge.

At 5:40AM ET, the blue-chip Dow futures were down 350 points, or around 1.4%, on track for a sixth losing session in a row.

The S&P 500 futures slumped 32 points, or 1.1%, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 futures indicated a loss of 76 points, or roughly 1%.

In earnings news, notable results expected out Tuesday include Oracle (NYSE:ORCL) and FedEx (NYSE:FDX), which are both expected to report earnings after the market close.

Elsewhere, European markets slid for a third straight session to hit their weakest level in almost two months, as automakers and miners, seen among the sectors most at risk of a trade war, led losses.

Earlier, Chinese markets led losses in Asia, with major markets in the region closing sharply lower. On the mainland, the Shanghai composite fell 3.8% to close near two-year lows, while the smaller Shenzhen composite sank 5.8%.

4. U.S. Housing Data, Fed Speakers On Tap

Market players will focus on U.S. housing sector data to gauge the strength of the world’s largest economy and how it will impact monetary policy in the months ahead.

The Commerce Department at 8:30AM ET is expected to report building permits fell 1.4% from a month earlier to 1.35 million units, while housing starts are forecast to rise 1.4% to 1.31 million units.

Among central bank speakers, St. Louis Federal Reserve Chief James Bullard is due to appear at 7:00AM ET at the 2018 ECB Forum on Central Banking in Sintra, Portugal.

The U.S. dollar index, which measures the greenback’s strength against a basket of six major currencies, was 0.5% higher at 94.90, remaining within sight of Friday’s 11-month high of 95.13.

In the bond market, the U.S. 10-year Treasury yield dipped to around 2.87%.

5. Oil Markets Stay Volatile Ahead Of OPEC Meeting

Crude oil markets remained volatile as energy investors weighed potential outcomes for a meeting of major crude producers later this week.

Oil ministers from OPEC, Russia and other major producing countries will meet in Vienna on Thursday and Friday to review their current production agreement that has held back 1.8 million bpd from the market for the past 18 months.

OPEC’s de facto leader, Saudi Arabia, and non-member Russia have proposed relaxing production cuts gradually, while OPEC members Iran, Iraq, Venezuela and Algeria have opposed such a move.

New York-traded WTI crude futures shed 85 cents, or 1.3%, to $64.84 per barrel, while Brent futures declined 40 cents, or 0.6%, $74.95 per barrel.

Meanwhile, the American Petroleum Institute is due to release its weekly report on U.S. commercial crude inventories at 4:30PM ET, amid forecasts for an oil-stock decline of 2.6 million barrels.

Family separation policy starts dividing Republicans

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The emotional policy of separating children from their parents is also starting to divide Republicans and their allies as Democrats turn up the pressure.

Former first lady Laura Bush called the policy “cruel” and “immoral” while GOP Sen. Susan Collins expressed concern about it and a former adviser to President Donald Trump said he thought the issue was going to hurt the president at some point. Religious groups, including some conservative ones, are protesting.

Mrs. Bush made some of the strongest comments yet about the policy from the Republican side of the aisle.

“I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart,” she wrote in a guest column for the Washington Post Sunday. She compared it to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, which she called “one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history.”

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said she favors tighter border security, but expressed deep concerns about the child separation policy.

“What the administration has decided to do is to separate children from their parents to try to send a message that if you cross the border with children, your children are going to be ripped away from you,” she said. “That’s traumatizing to the children who are innocent victims, and it is contrary to our values in this country.”

Former Trump adviser Anthony Scaramucci said in a weekend interview that the child separation interview could be dangerous for Trump. He said the president “should be immediately fixing this problem.”

“This is a fuse that has been lit,” he said. “The president is going to get hurt by this issue if it stays out there very, very long.”

The signs of splintering of GOP support come after longtime Trump ally, the Rev. Franklin Graham, called the policy “disgraceful.” Numerous religious groups, including some conservative ones, have pushed to stop the practice of separating immigrant children from their parents.

This pressure is coming as White House officials have tried to distance themselves from the policy. Trump blames Democrats falsely for the situation. The administration put the policy in place and could easily end it after it has led to a spike in cases of split and distraught families.

“Nobody likes” breaking up families and “seeing babies ripped from their mothers’ arms,” said presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway.

Nearly 2,000 children were separated from their families over a six-week period in April and May after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new “zero-tolerance” policy that refers all cases of illegal entry for criminal prosecution. U.S. protocol prohibits detaining children with their parents because the children are not charged with a crime and the parents are.

Trump plans to meet with House Republicans on Tuesday to discuss pending immigration legislation amid an election-season debate over one of his favorite issues. The House is expected to vote this week on a bill pushed by conservatives that may not have enough support to pass, and a compromise measure with key proposals supported by the president. The White House has said Trump would sign either of those.

Conway rejected the idea that Trump was using the kids as leverage to force Democrats to negotiate on immigration and his long-promised border wall, even after Trump tweeted Saturday: “Democrats can fix their forced family breakup at the Border by working with Republicans on new legislation, for a change!”

Asked whether the president was willing to end the policy, she said: “The president is ready to get meaningful immigration reform across the board.”

To Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the administration is “using the grief, the tears, the pain of these kids as mortar to build our wall. And it’s an effort to extort a bill to their liking in the Congress.”

Schiff said the practice was “deeply unethical” and that Republicans’ refusal to criticize Trump represented a “sad degeneration” of the GOP, which he said had become “the party of lies.”

“There are other ways to negotiate between Republicans and Democrats. Using children, young children, as political foils is abhorrent,” said Sen Jack Reed, D-R.I.

Even first lady Melania Trump, who has tended to stay out of contentious policy debates, waded into the emotional issue. Her spokeswoman says that Mrs. Trump believes “we need to be a country that follows all laws,” but also one “that governs with heart.”

“Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform,” spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said.

The House proposals face broad opposition from Democrats, and even if a bill does pass, the closely divided Senate seems unlikely to go along.

Trump’s former chief strategist said Republicans would face steep consequences for pushing the compromise bill because it provides a path to citizenship for young “Dreamer” immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. Steve Bannon argued that effort risked alienating Trump’s political base and contributing to election losses in November, when Republicans hope to preserve their congressional majorities.

Conway and Schiff appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Collins was on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Lujan and Bannon spoke on ABC’s “This Week,” and Scaramucci was on Fox 11 in Los Angeles.

Puerto Rico issues new data on Hurricane Maria deaths

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Eight days after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Efrain Perez felt a pain in his chest.

Doctors near his small town sent him to Puerto Rico’s main hospital for emergency surgery for an aortic aneurysm. But when the ambulance pulled into the parking lot in the capital, San Juan, after a more than two-hour drive, a doctor ran out to stop it.

“He said, ’Don’t bring him in here, I can’t care for him. I don’t have power. I don’t have water. I don’t have an anesthesiologist,’” Perez’s daughter, Nerybelle, recalled.

The 95-year-old Perez died as the ambulance drove him back to southwestern Puerto Rico but he is not included in the island’s official hurricane death toll of 64 people, a figure at the center of a growing legal and political fight over the response to the Category 4 storm that hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017.

Facing at least three lawsuits demanding more data on the death toll, Puerto Rico’s government released new information on Tuesday that added detail to the growing consensus that hundreds or even thousands of people died as an indirect result of the storm.

According to the new data, there were 1,427 more deaths from September to December 2017 than the average for the same time period over the previous four years. Additionally, September and October had the highest number of deaths of any months since at least 2013. But the statistics don’t indicate whether the storm and its aftermath contributed to the additional deaths.

The Puerto Rican government says it believes more than 64 people died as a result of the storm but it will not raise its official toll until George Washington University completes a study of the data being carried out on behalf of the U.S. territory.

The issue is clouded by the fact that the federal government and U.S. states and territories have no uniform definition of what constitutes a storm-related death. The National Hurricane Center counts only deaths directly caused by a storm, like a person killed by a falling tree. It does not count indirect deaths, like someone whose medical equipment fails in a blackout.

Puerto Rico began by counting mostly direct deaths, with some indirect ones. Then it stopped updating its toll entirely while it waits for the George Washington University study, due later this summer.

The death count has had political implications. Visiting Puerto Rico on Oct. 3, two weeks after the storm hit, President Donald Trump asked Gov. Ricardo Rossello what the death toll was.

“Sixteen,” Rossello answered.

“Sixteen people certified,” Trump said. “Sixteen people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud of all of your people and all of our people working together. Sixteen versus literally thousands of people. You can be very proud. Everybody watching can really be very proud of what’s taken place in Puerto Rico.”

On Monday, two Democrats introduced a bill to the Republican-controlled Congress that would establish federal procedures for counting deaths after a natural disaster, saying that will help improve the federal response and be key to allocating federal funds. The $2 million proposed project would allow the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency to hire the National Academy of Medicine to do a study on how best to assess fatalities during and after a disaster, given that the process is currently left up to U.S. states and territories.

“Nobody rebuilding his or her life after a natural disaster should suffer the negligence we’ve seen in Puerto Rico,” Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona said. “Too many Puerto Rican families are suffering additional burdens today because officials won’t acknowledge their loved ones’ deaths.

Like Perez, thousands of sick Puerto Ricans were unable to receive medical care in the months after the storm caused the worst blackout in U.S. history, which continues to this day, with 6,983 home and businesses still without power.

The data released Tuesday showed increases in several illnesses in 2017 that could have been linked to the storm: Cases of sepsis, a serious bloodstream infection usually caused by bacteria, rose from 708 in 2016 to 835 last year. Deaths from diabetes went from 3,151 to 3,250 and deaths from heart illnesses increased from 5,417 to 5,586.

The data was not broken down by month, preventing an analysis of whether the illnesses rose after Hurricane Maria.

CNN and the Puerto Rico Center for Investigative Journalism sued the Puerto Rican government after it refused to release a detailed accounting of deaths in the wake of the storm. On June 5, a judge gave the government until Tuesday to release a database listing the causes of death of all those who died from two days before the storm until today, along with all the death certificates and burial and cremation certificates for the same period.

“People still don’t have a clear picture as to how many lives were lost due to a lack of food, medicine, health services or simply because of an ineffective response to an emergency. That’s why it’s urgent to shed light on all components of government preparedness and response,” Judge Lauracelis Roques wrote in her ruling.

The government on Tuesday requested more time to release all the death certificates, saying Social Security data had to be redacted from 48,000 individual documents. The judge rejected the request and the government planned to announce its next steps later in the day.

Meanwhile, thousands of Puerto Ricans were hoping the release of the information will lead to their loved ones being included in the storm’s toll, something they say will provide a sense of closure and show the American public the true cost of the hurricane.

Until now, Perez has been “one of those who do not count,” his daughter told The Associated Press. “That’s a lie.”

Lucila Pardo, 96, spent nearly four months in a sweltering nursing home that did not have power and developed bed sores by the time she was moved in early January to another home where electricity had been restored. By then, the sores had become infected and she was taken to a hospital where she spent two weeks before dying of septicemia.

“That figure of 64 is a lack of respect for those who died from other consequences,” said Pardo’s granddaughter Analid Nazario.

“The hospital wrote a letter apologizing,” Nazario told the AP, adding that they were understaffed.

A Harvard study published last month estimates there were as many as 4,600 more deaths than usual in the three months after Maria, although some independent experts questioned the methodology and the numbers in that study. Still, previous studies have found the number of direct and indirect hurricane-related deaths is higher than the official toll, including a 2017 report that said there were nearly 500 more deaths than usual on the island in September.

Days before the government was ordered to release the new data, Puerto Rico’s Institute of Statistics sued the demographic registrar for the information. On June 1, the agency released information showing there were an additional 1,397 deaths from September to December 2017 compared with the same period the previous year.

Among those who died the first week of October was Raul Antonio Morales, a 95-year-old diabetic who didn’t have the insulin he needed because the nursing home where he lived didn’t have power or a generator, according to his granddaughter, Maytee Sanz. She said relatives tried to obtain a generator, but there was none available. A doctor at the nursing home certified that Morales died of natural causes, and he is not included in the official death toll.

“I think the government has been extremely inept and inefficient regarding the statistics,” Sanz said. “There were a lot of deaths certified as natural simply because they … were not electrocuted or did not drown, but they were a result of the hurricane. When you don’t have access to insulin or a respiratory machine, you have no way of surviving.”

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Associated Press writer Larry Fenn in New York contributed to this report.

Syria says US-led strike hits troops in east, US denies

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian state media reported Monday that an airstrike against pro-government forces in the far east of the country caused casualties, an attack that Iraqi officials said killed at least 25 Shiite paramilitaries and was just across the border from its own territory.

The Syrian state TV report blamed the attack on the U.S.-led coalition battling the Islamic State group, saying it occurred around midnight in the village of al-Hari, to the southeast of the border town of Boukamal. But a coalition spokesman denied that, saying it had not carried out any strikes in the area.

The state TV report, quoting an unnamed military official, gave no breakdown of the casualties other than saying there “were several martyrs and others were wounded.”

In Baghdad, Iraqi officials said state-sanctioned Shiite paramilitaries came under attack south of the town of Qaim, just across the border from Boukamal. They said 25 fighters were killed, three are missing and about 30 were wounded. But did not give details into how the attack was carried out, saying only that investigations were under way, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The officials said the dead were mostly members of Iraq’s Hezbollah Brigades, which have been active in Syria’s civil war fighting alongside government forces. Also killed were some members of the Sayyed al-Shuhada Battalions, they said.

U.S. military spokesman Col. Sean Ryan said the coalition was looking into the reports.

“We are aware of the strike near Boukamal, however there have been no strikes by U.S. or coalition forces in that area,” he said. “We’re looking into who that could possibly be, but it wasn’t the U.S. or the coalition.”

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said the airstrike killed 38 foreign fighters allied with the Syrian government, mostly Iraqis. Shiite militias fighting alongside government forces in Syria include large numbers of Iraqi, Lebanese and Afghan fighters.

Last week, IS launched a major offensive against Boukamal, reaching the outskirts of the town before being pushed back by government forces. The loss of the town would deal a major blow to Iran-backed forces on both sides of the border, who have established a corridor through eastern Syria to link Iran to the Mediterranean Sea.

Syrian and Iraqi forces have driven IS from virtually all the territory it once held in both countries, but the militants still control some remote areas along the border.

Syrian troops and allied militias, backed by Russian airstrikes, have been conducting operations west of the Euphrates River, while the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led militia, is operating on the eastern banks. The U.S.-led coalition has struck pro-government forces in the past when they have tried to cross the river. The overnight attacks took place on the western side.

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Abdul-Zahra reported from Baghdad.

Trump adviser Roger Stone reveals new meeting with Russian

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Special counsel Robert Mueller is examining a previously undisclosed meeting between longtime Donald Trump confidante Roger Stone and a Russian figure who allegedly tried to sell him dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The meeting between Stone and a man who identified himself as Henry Greenberg was described in a pair of letters sent Friday to the House Intelligence Committee and first reported by The Washington Post.

Stone and Michael Caputo, a Trump campaign aide who arranged the 2016 meeting, did not disclose the contact in their interviews with the committee. But they now believe the man was an FBI informant trying to set them up in a bid to undermine Trump’s campaign. Greenberg could not immediately be reached for comment, but in a text to the Post he denied he was working for the FBI when he met with Stone.

The letters obtained by The Associated Press and written by Stone and Caputo’s lawyers say that, in late May 2016, Caputo received a call from his Russian business partner introducing him to Greenberg, who claimed he had information about Clinton that he wanted to share with the campaign.

Caputo suggested Greenberg meet with Stone, who had left the campaign in 2015 but remained an informal Trump adviser.

At Caputo’s request, Stone met with Greenberg at a Florida cafe, where Greenberg asked for $2 million in exchange for the information, according to Stone’s lawyer. Stone swiftly rejected the offer, explaining that neither he nor Trump would ever pay for “political information,” his lawyer wrote.

Both men say they quickly forgot about the episode, which marks the latest in a long list of unusual contacts between Russians and Trump campaign officials as well as offers of help.

The special counsel has spent months investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether Trump campaign aides played any role in the foreign interference plot. Trump and his lawyer, meanwhile, have tried to discredit the investigation, insisting it’s unfounded and plagued by misconduct and political bias.

“WITCH HUNT!” Trump tweeted on Sunday, insisting: “There was no Russian Collusion. Oh, I see, there was no Russian Collusion, so now they look for obstruction on the no Russian Collusion. The phony Russian Collusion was a made up Hoax. Too bad they didn’t look at Crooked Hillary like this. Double Standard!”

As part of their campaign, Trump and his loyalists have tried to convince the public that the FBI violated its usual operating procedures, including installing “spies” inside Trump’s campaign, though there’s no evidence that’s the case.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a member of Trump’s legal team, on Sunday dismissed the significance of the Stone meeting.

“So, yes, sure, there was contact, as there was in that meeting. But that meeting led to nothing. This led to nothing. So, if anything, it’s proof there was no collusion,” he said in an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation,” adding that Mueller’s team “can investigate from here to, you know, to Timbuktu, and they’re not going to find a darn thing.”

Both Stone and Caputo failed to disclose the Greenberg meeting in their interviews with the House Intelligence Committee — an omission their lawyers said was accidental.

Caputo’s lawyer, Dennis Vacco, said his client had “simply forgotten about this brief encounter in 2016,” and only remembered it as he was preparing for his interview with Mueller’s team.

Caputo told the AP that Mueller’s team asked him at length about the meeting.

“They knew more than I did, which set off alarms. I thought — was this a setup?” he recalled.

Caputo said he hired investigators using money from his legal defense fund to dig into Greenberg’s background and has produced a “dossier” with the findings, which Stone endorses.

“Mr. Stone believes it is likely that Mr. Greenberg was actively working on behalf of the FBI at the time of their meeting with the intention of entrapping Mr. Stone and to infiltrate and compromise the Trump effort,” his lawyer, Grant J. Smith, wrote.

The FBI declined to comment, but has said its counterintelligence investigation didn’t begin until July 2016, two months after the meeting.

The Washington Post, citing interviews and documents, reported that Greenberg has at times used the name Henry Oknyansky, and claimed in a 2015 court filing that he had been providing information to the FBI for 17 years.

The Post notes the meeting happened around the same time that others members of the Trump campaign were being approached by people with Russian ties offering dirt on Clinton.

Several members of the campaign were also approached by another U.S. government informant in a possible bid to glean intelligence on Russian efforts to sway the race. Several news outlets including the Post, The Wall Street Journal and NBC News have identified an FBI confidential source as Cambridge University professor Stefan A. Halper.

Strong quake near Osaka, Japan, kills 3, knocks over walls

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TOKYO (AP) — Residents in western Japan were cleaning up debris Monday after a powerful earthquake hit the area around Osaka, the country’s second-largest city of commerce, killing three people and injuring hundreds while knocking over walls and setting off fires.

The magnitude 6.1 earthquake that struck the area early Monday damaged buildings and left many homes without water or gas. The quake also grounded flights in and out of Osaka, and paralyzed traffic and commuter trains most of the day.

By the evening, bullet trains and some local trains had resumed operation, with stations swollen with commuters trying to get home, many of them waiting in long lines. An exodus of commuters who chose to walk home filled sidewalks and bridges.

Some commuters took refuge at nearby shelters instead of going home. Video on Japan’s NHK public television showed dozens of men wearing ties and carrying briefcases sitting on gym mats at a junior high school gymnasium in Ibaraki city, where some families also gathered.

A 9-year-old girl was killed by a falling concrete wall at her school, and the two other fatalities were men in their 80s.

A magnitude 6.1 earthquake near the major Japanese city of Osaka has killed at least three people. Authorities say the number of people treated for injuries suffered in the strong earthquake Monday morning now exceeds 210. (June 18)

The Fire and Disaster Management Agency said 307 people were treated for injuries at hospitals. Most of the injured were in Osaka. Osaka officials did not give details, but the injuries reported in Kyoto and three other neighboring prefectures were all minor.

The quake struck shortly after 8 a.m. north of Osaka at a depth of about 13 kilometers (8 miles), the Japan Meteorological Agency said. The strongest shaking was north of Osaka, but the quake rattled large parts of western Japan, including Kyoto, the agency said.

Dozens of domestic flights in and out of Osaka were grounded, while train and subway service in the Osaka area, including bullet trains, were suspended to check for damage. Passengers exited trains on the tracks between stations.

Some subway service resumed in the afternoon, but stations remained crowded with passengers waiting for trains to restart, many of them sitting on the floor. Long lines of people waited to board bullet trains as they resumed operation.

The quake knocked over walls, broke windows and set off scattered building fires. It toppled bookcases in homes and scattered goods on shop floors. It also cracked roads and broke water pipes, leaving homes without water.

A falling concrete wall knocked down and killed the 9-year-old girl, Rina Miyake, as she walked at her elementary school in Takatsuki. NHK aired video showing the collapsed upper half of the high wall, which was painted cheerfully with trees, flowers and blue sky and surrounded the school swimming pool.

Takatsuki Mayor Takeshi Hamada apologized over her death because of the wall’s collapse. The structure was old and made of concrete blocks — a known risk in earthquakes. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga ordered the Education Ministry to conduct nationwide safety checks of concrete block structures at public schools.

More than 1,000 schools were closed in Osaka and nearby prefectures, Kyodo News reported. Wall cracks and other minor damage were found at several schools.

A man in his 80s died in the collapse of a concrete wall in Osaka city. An 85-year-old man in nearby Ibaraki died after a bookcase fell on top of him at home, according to the disaster management agency.

Many homes and buildings, including a major hospital, were temporarily without power, though electricity was restored at most places by midafternoon.

Due to damage to underground gas lines, 110,000 homes in Takatsuki and Ibaraki cities were without gas, and repairs are expected to take as long as two weeks, according to Osaka Gas Co.

More building damage was found in the afternoon as disaster and relief workers inspected and cleaned up the affected areas. Roofs and roof tiles at homes and at least one temple fell to the ground in Osaka. At a shrine in Kyoto, stone lanterns broke and collapsed to the ground.

Defense troops joined rescue and relief operations in parts of Osaka, along with special vehicles to deliver clean drinking water.

Residents cleaned up debris at home and stores throughout the day. Meteorological agency officials warned of strong aftershocks in the area, urging residents to stay away from damaged structures.

The earthquake reminded many of the magnitude 7.3 Hanshin-Kobe quake in 1995 that killed more than 6,000 people in the region. Monday’s quake also followed a series of smaller quakes near Tokyo in recent weeks. Japan’s northern prefectures are still recovering from the magnitude 9.0 quake and tsunami in 2011 that killed more than 18,000.

“It was not as bad as the Kobe quake,” said Jun Kawanami, a 30-year-old lawyer in Osaka. He said his wife ducked under a table and elevators in his office building were out of operation. “I used the stairs but I was out of breath by the time I arrived at my office on the 22nd floor,” he said.

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Hiromi Tanoue in Osaka contributed to this report.

Business: World markets lower over tariffs, German tensions

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SINGAPORE (AP) — Global stocks were mostly lower Monday on concerns over trade tensions as the U.S. and China scheduled the start of tariffs on each other’s goods, and a row over migrants in Germany brewed. Markets in China and Hong Kong were closed for a holiday.

KEEPING SCORE: European shares sank in early trading. Germany’s DAX lost 0.6 percent to 12,936.10 and France’s CAC 40 shed 0.5 percent to 5,477.31. Britain’s FTSE 100 dipped 0.1 percent to 7,626.71. Wall Street was poised to open lower. Dow futures dropped 0.5 percent to 24,995.00 and broader S&P 500 futures were down 0.4 percent at 2,773.90.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index dropped 0.8 percent to close at 22,680.33. South Korea’s Kospi lost 1.2 percent to 2,376.24. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.2 percent to 6,104.10. Southeast Asian indexes were mostly lower. Markets in China and Hong Kong were closed for the Duanwu Festival commemorating the death of Qu Yuan, an ancient Chinese poet and minister.

U.S.-CHINA TARIFFS: Tariffs mooted by the world’s two biggest economies are set to take effect from July 6, bolstering fears of a trade war. President Donald Trump has announced a 25 percent tariff on up to $50 billion of Chinese products. China is retaliating by raising import duties on $34 billion worth of American goods, including soybeans, electric cars and whiskey.

DISPUTE IN GERMANY: Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Bavarian allies are tangled in a dispute with the German leader over migration, a conflict that could escalate into a threat to her government. Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who heads the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union, wants Germany to refuse migrants who were previously registered as asylum-seekers in other European countries. Merkel opposes unilateral action, arguing that it would weaken the 28-nation European Union. A CSU leadership meeting on Monday will likely authorize Seehofer to go ahead with his plan.

THE QUOTE: “Caution appears to be the key word for Asian markets today as investors digest the potential implications of the U.S.-China tit-for-tat tariff measures,” said Selena Ling, chief economist at OCBC Bank.

ENERGY: Oil futures were mixed after reports that OPEC countries planned to increase production of oil by as much as 1.5 million barrels a day. Benchmark U.S. crude fell 32 cents to $64.74 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract lost $1.83 to settle at $65.06 per barrel on Friday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 62 cents to $74.06 in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar inched down to 110.54 yen from 110.62 in late trading Friday. The euro weakened to $1.1591 from $1.1607.

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Investing.com – Here are the top five things you need to know in financial markets on Monday, June 18:

1. U.S.-China Trade Worries Take Center Stage

Escalating trade rhetoric will keep investors on their toes after both the United States and China announced tariffs last week, raising tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

The Trump administration said on Friday it will impose a 25% tariff on a list of 818 items of Chinese goods worth around $34 billion beginning July 6. Measures affecting an additional 284 products worth $16 billion will be subject to review before taking effect.

In response, China said a 25% tariff will be implemented on U.S. goods, including soybeans, oil and electric vehicles, worth $34 billion starting July 6. Another list of U.S. imports worth $16 billion will be subject to review before being applied.

Washington and Beijing appeared increasingly headed toward open trade conflict after several rounds of negotiations failed to resolve U.S. complaints over Chinese industrial policies, lack of market access in China and a $375 billion U.S. trade deficit.

2. Dow Futures Fall More Than 100 Points

U.S. stock futures pointed to heavy losses at the open, as worries over a trade war between the United States and China kept investors on the edge.

At 5:45AM ET (1045GMT), the blue-chip Dow futures were down 145 points, or around 0.6%, on track for a fifth losing session in a row.

The S&P 500 futures and Nasdaq 100 futures also indicated similar losses at the open for their respective markets.

There are no major earnings or economic data scheduled for today.

Elsewhere, in Europe, the majority of the continent’s bourses were lower in mid-morning trade, with most sectors in the red.

Earlier, Asian markets largely closed with losses, though Chinese markets were shut for a holiday.

3. Dollar Stays Near 11-Month Peak

The dollar held near 11-month highs against a currency basket, supported by the diverging monetary policy outlook between the U.S. and Europe, although worries over a brewing trade conflict between the U.S. and China slowed its gains.

The U.S. dollar index, which measures the greenback’s strength against a basket of six major currencies, was a shade higher at 94.50, remaining within sight of Friday’s 11-month high of 95.13.

The greenback enjoyed its best weekly performance in seven weeks last week after a hawkish Federal Reserve pointed to a faster pace of monetary tightening this year while the European Central Bank gave a dovish signal.

In the bond market, the U.S. 10-year Treasury yield stood at around 2.91%.

4. OPEC Said To Discuss Smaller Output Hike Than Expected

Oil markets weighed potential outcomes for a meeting of major oil producers in Vienna later this week.

The latest headlines said that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC) along with Russia will discuss an oil output hike of 300,000 to 600,000 barrels per day (bpd), as it seeks a compromise to overcome Iranian dissent.

Last month, it was reported that the OPEC and Russia were aiming to boost output by 1 million bpd at the June meeting.

Oil prices turned higher in the wake of the above headlines. Brent crude, the global benchmark, was up 62 cents, or 0.8%, to $74.05 a barrel, after hitting a session low of $72.46, its lowest level since May 2.

Elsewhere, U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude dipped 29 cents, or 0.5%, to $64.56, bouncing back from an intraday low of $63.41, a level last seen on April 10.

5. ECB’s Central Banking Forum Kicks Off In Portugal

The fifth annual European Central Bank (ECB) “Forum on Central Banking” is scheduled to take place in Sintra, Portugal from Monday to Wednesday.

It will focus on price and wage-setting in advanced economies.

During three days of sessions and panels, approximately 150 central bank governors, academics, financial journalists and high-level financial market representatives will exchange views on current policy issues and discuss the chosen topic from a longer-term perspective.

The highlight of the summit is likely to be Wednesday’s panel discussion including ECB President Mario Draghi, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and Bank of Japan (BoJ) Governor Haruhiko Kuroda.

Looming war games suspension raises concern in Seoul

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — After being blindsided by President Donald Trump’s decision to shelve major U.S. military exercises in South Korea, Seoul appears to be going along with it.

A senior South Korean presidential official said Friday that Washington and Seoul have begun discussions on temporarily suspending the massive “Ulchi Freedom Guardian” exercises that usually take place in August and possibly other joint drills while nuclear diplomacy with North Korea continues. Seoul’s Defense Ministry said Defense Minister Song Young-moo held “deep” discussions about the drills with U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis in a telephone conversation Thursday evening.

The presidential official, who didn’t want to be named, citing office rules, said an official announcement on the drills is “coming soon, within the next few days” and it seems almost certain the exercises will be halted.

The official spoke a day after South Korean President Moon Jae-in, holding a National Security Council meeting for the first time since a North Korean long-range missile test in November, said the allies can be flexible about their military pressure on the North. But that’s only as long as North Korea, which launched a diplomatic initiative in 2018, remains sincerely engaged in negotiations on its nuclear disarmament, Moon said.

Moon’s assessment highlights the big “if.” There are lingering questions over whether North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will ever agree to fully relinquish a hard-won nuclear arsenal he may see as a stronger guarantee of his survival than whatever security assurances the United States could provide. Those doubts only increased after Tuesday’s summit between Kim and Trump in Singapore, where they issued an aspirational vow to seek the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula without describing when and how it would occur.

The joint drills and the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea have been the core of the alliance between the two countries.

Trump’s decision to suspend the exercises, coupled with the vague joint statement issued after his summit with Kim, have reinforced fears in South Korea that the North is attempting to take advantage of a U.S. president who appears to care less about the traditional alliance than his predecessors.

Such concerns are shared in Japan, the region’s other major U.S. ally. Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodra told reporters Friday that the joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea are “important pillars in maintaining regional peace and stability.”

Not everyone thinks suspending the war games is a bad idea. Some analysts say putting off the drills is a necessary trust-building step with North Korea following nearly 70 years of hostility and would allow the allies to push the process forward more easily.

But others are decidedly more critical, saying Trump wasted critical leverage against North Korea, which has yet to take material steps toward denuclearization.

“We will know whether it was a good move or not in a month or two,” said Du Hyeogn Cha, a visiting scholar at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies. “If the North responds by providing evidence of its claimed closure of a missile engine test site and also freezes and shuts down some of its nuclear facilities, then the suspension of the drills can be chalked up as a success. If the North doesn’t take quick steps toward denuclearization, then we gave up the drills for nothing.”

Kim Jae-yeop, a professor of defense strategy at South Korea’s Hannam University, said the suspension of the drills was likely the one clear move the allies had to lure North Korea into a denuclearization process.

He said it would have been a colossal mistake to pre-emptively lift the heavy economic sanctions against North Korea, and that Washington couldn’t unilaterally remove the most stringent measures anyway because they were passed by the U.N. Security Council.

Washington and Seoul tried to entice North Korea with a possible declaration to formally end the Korean War, which halted 65 years ago with an armistice, not a peace treaty, but apparently that wasn’t enough for Kim Jong Un.

“Unlike sanctions, the allies can just snap their military exercises back on if it becomes clear North Korea won’t be delivering on their end,” said Kim, the professor, who said the allies would be able to maintain operational readiness with routine and lower-level drills.

He also noted that the allies have used the war games as a bargaining chip before. To entice North Korea to sign on to a non-nuclear agreement, Seoul and Washington called off the now-defunct “Team Spirit” drills in 1992. But, annoyed with North Korea’s refusal to allow nuclear inspections, they revived the exercises the following year.

This year, the allies delayed their springtime drills for weeks to encourage North Korean participation in the Winter Olympics in South Korea.

The U.S. and South Korea hold major joint exercises every spring and summer in South Korea. The spring one — actually a pair of overlapping exercises called “Key Resolve” and “Foal Eagle” — includes live-fire drills with tanks, aircraft and warships, and usually involves about 10,000 American and 200,000 Korean troops.

The summer Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise consists mainly of computer simulations to hone joint decision making and planning. Some 17,500 American and 50,000 South Korean troops participated last year.

North Korea has always reacted to the exercises with belligerence and often its own demonstrations of military capability.

During last year’s Ulchi exercises, North Korea fired a powerful new intermediate range missile over Japan in what its state media described as a “muscle-flexing” countermeasure to the drills . North Korean leader Kim then called for more weapons launches targeting the Pacific Ocean to advance his country’s ability to contain Guam, a U.S. military hub. North Korea did not carry out a threat to lob missiles toward Guam.

During the Ulchi drills in 2016, North Korea successfully test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile, a critical military breakthrough that raised alarm in South Korea and Japan. Shortly after the drills, the North carried out its fifth nuclear test.

The suspension of the drills could allow more diplomatic space for Washington and Seoul to resolve the nuclear standoff with North Korea. But for Seoul, the way Trump announced the decision is also a cause for concern, some experts say.

In addition to not consulting with South Korea before saying the war games should be stopped, Trump called the exercises “very provocative,” contradicting countless previous declarations by Washington and Seoul over the years that the drills are routine and defensive in nature. Trump also complained that the drills “cost a fortune” and said he would eventually want to bring home all U.S. troops from South Korea.

Nam Sung-wook, a North Korea expert at Seoul’s Korea University, said Trump’s comments indicate he considers the stoppage of the drills and the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea as a goal, rather than a concession to be granted to North Korea if it takes irreversible and verifiable steps to relinquish its nuclear weapons, facilities and materials.

“What has become clear is that the security provided by the U.S.-South Korea alliance has likely reached its limit,” said Nam, a former analyst for South Korea’s spy agency. “South Korea has to start thinking about new defense strategies so that it could maintain security against North Korea on its own.”

An editorial published Friday in the conservative Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s largest newspaper, echoed Nam’s concern, saying the U.S.-South Korean alliance is being substantially undermined while the prospects for disarming the North are getting murky.

“Now everyone is concerned about the security of the North Korean regime, but who’s looking after the safety and security of South Korean people?” the newspaper said.

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Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this story.

Trump accused in lawsuit of misusing charitable foundation

NEW YORK (AP) — New York’s attorney general sued President Donald Trump and his foundation Thursday, accusing him of illegally using the charity’s money to settle disputes involving his business empire and to boost his political fortunes during his run for the White House.

The president called the case “ridiculous.”

The lawsuit against Trump and the foundation directors — his children Don Jr., Eric and Ivanka — seeks $2.8 million in restitution, additional unspecified penalties and the dissolution of the foundation, which Trump had already pledged to dismantle.

The attorney general’s office detailed what it said was a closely coordinated effort by Trump’s campaign and the foundation to burnish his political image by giving out big grants of other’s people money to veterans’ organizations during the run-up to the Iowa caucuses, the first presidential nominating contest of 2016.

“The foundation’s grants made Mr. Trump and the campaign look charitable and increased the candidate’s profile to Republican primary voters and among important constituent groups,” Democratic Attorney General Barbara Underwood’s lawsuit said.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday, New York’s Attorney General Barbara Underwood said President Donald Trump’s charitable foundation served as a personal piggy bank for his businesses, legal bills and presidential campaign. (June 14)

It accused the foundation of “improper and extensive political activity, repeated and willful self-dealing transactions, and failure to follow basic fiduciary obligations.”

Underwood referred her findings to the IRS and the Federal Election Commission for possible further action. IRS and FEC representatives declined to comment.

The Trump Foundation’s mission says its funds are to be used “exclusively for charitable, religious, scientific, literary or educational purposes,” according to the lawsuit.

In exchange for tax-exempt status, charities are required to follow rules that include a strict prohibition against involvement in political campaigns.

In tweets, Trump vowed: “I won’t settle this case!”

He said former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who started the investigation, “never had the guts to bring this ridiculous case” before resigning last month after being accused of physically abusing women he dated. Schneiderman has denied the allegations.

Trump’s foundation called the case “politics at its very worst,” noting that Schneiderman, a Democrat, was a vocal Trump opponent. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, meanwhile, called Underwood “outrageously biased.”

The 31-year-old foundation said that it has given more than $19 million to charitable causes while keeping expenses minimal, and that Trump and his companies have contributed more than $8 million.

Underwood is a career government lawyer who was appointed after Schneiderman’s resignation. She has said she doesn’t intend to run for election.

Schneiderman began investigating the charity in 2016, after The Washington Post reported that the foundation’s spending personally benefited the presidential candidate. Some of the expenditures uncovered by The Post were cited in the lawsuit.

In a handwritten note, Trump directed that $100,000 in foundation money go to settle legal claims against Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, the lawsuit said.

The foundation also paid $158,000 to resolve a lawsuit over a prize for a hole-in-one contest at Trump National Golf Club in Briarcliff Manor, New York; $10,000 to buy a 6-foot (1.8-meter) portrait of Trump at a charity auction; and $5,000 for advertisements published in the programs for charitable events. The ads promoted Trump’s hotels.

The suit also singled out a $32,000 payment that the foundation made to satisfy a Trump company pledge to contribute to a land-preservation group.

After New York’s attorney general began investigating, Trump’s business empire reimbursed the foundation for various payments and returned the painting to the foundation.

Despite the prohibition on political activity, Trump’s foundation cut a $25,000 check in 2013 to Republican Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s re-election campaign, the lawsuit notes. After a watchdog group complained to the IRS in 2016, Trump reimbursed the foundation and paid a $2,500 fine.

Then Trump’s foundation was “co-opted” by his presidential campaign, the lawsuit says.

Four days before the Iowa caucuses, Trump held a televised rally and fundraiser for veterans’ organizations. The event raised approximately $5.6 million, half of which went to the Trump Foundation; the rest was given directly by donors to veterans groups, the lawsuit says.

The foundation then gave campaign staff members control over the money raised, the attorney general charged.

“Is there any way we can make some disbursements this week while in Iowa?” then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski wrote in an email.

Lewandowski did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The foundation went on to make at least five grants of $100,000 each to Iowa groups before the caucuses, with Trump presenting giant checks at a series of campaign rallies. The checks bore Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan along with the foundation’s address.

Trump didn’t give any money personally at the time, but several months later, after media pressure, followed through on a pledge to donate $1 million.

During his campaign, Trump was highly critical of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s family charity, the Clinton Foundation, for taking donations from people who met with her while she was secretary of state.

Whatever the claims against Trump’s foundation, Iowa groups that got checks said Thursday they were grateful for the money.

Support Siouxland Soldiers used its $100,000 donation to open an emergency food pantry and provide clothing, haircuts and other services to veterans, founder Sarah Petersen said. She said she is not sure what to make of the lawsuit against Trump.

“I think people support a candidate based on lots of decisions and choices and positions on the issues,” she said. “I don’t know that giving a charity a donation would sway a lot of voters.”

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Associated Press writers Ryan J. Foley in Iowa City, Iowa; Jake Pearson in New York and Tami Abdollah and Jill Colvin in Washington contributed.

Afghan official: US drone kills Pakistan Taliban chief

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A U.S. drone strike in northeastern Kunar province killed Pakistan Taliban chief Mullah Fazlullah, the insurgent leader who ordered the assassination of Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, an Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman said Friday.

In a telephone interview, Mohammad Radmanish said Fazlullah and two other insurgents were killed early Thursday morning.

According to a statement attributed to U.S. Forces-Afghanistan spokesman Lt. Col Martin O’Donnell, the U.S. carried out a “counterterrorism strike” Thursday in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan targeting “a senior leader of a designated terrorist organization.”

The statement did not say whether the strike had killed anyone and did not identify Fazlullah as the target.

Radmanish said the attack took place in Marawara district, near the border.

Yousafzai survived the assassination attempt in 2012. Fazlullah had ordered her killing for promoting girls’ education. Yousafzai returned to her hometown earlier this year, opening a school funded by a charity she established to promote girls education globally.

She has often said that Fazlullah’s attempts to silence her backfired and instead he amplified her voice around the world.

A ruthless leader, Fazlullah ordered the bombing and beheadings of dozens of opponents when his band of insurgents controlled Pakistan’s picturesque Swat Valley from 2007 until a massive military operation routed them in 2009.

His insurgent group, the Tehrik-e-Taliban, also took responsibility for the brutal attack on an Army Public School in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar in December 2014 when more than 140 children and their teachers were slaughtered.

Survivors of the attack told of insurgents roaming through the school shooting their victims, some as young as six years old, in the head.

Fazlullah rose to prominence through radio broadcasts in Swat demanding the imposition of Islamic law, earning him the nickname “Mullah Radio.” His radio talks also aired the grievances of many in the northwest against the government, such as its slow-moving justice system. He also reached out to women, promising to address their complaints about not getting a fair share of their inheritance.

His brutality often included public beheadings, often of police officers. His exact age is not known but he was believed to be in his late 30s.

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Associated Press writerMunir Ahmed in Islamabad Pakistan also contributed to this report

FBI report: Anti-Trump texts ‘cast a cloud’ over email probe

WASHINGTON (AP) — As the FBI investigated both candidates running for president in 2016, two FBI employees exchanged thousands of personal texts and messages that included a running political commentary — including newly released messages in which one of them expressed a desire to “stop” the election of Donald Trump.

In a highly anticipated report released Thursday, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog said those messages sullied the FBI’s reputation and “cast a cloud” over its investigation into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s emails, even if they did not affect the investigation itself. The report, which faulted former FBI Director James Comey for his handling of the probe, also cited anti-Trump communications sent by three other unnamed FBI employees.

The messages between FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page — both of whom worked on special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe — have also given congressional Republicans ample fodder to criticize the Clinton investigation, which eventually cleared her, and to question the department’s ongoing probe into Russian intervention and whether President Donald Trump’s Republican campaign was involved. That investigation, now led by Mueller, is also looking into whether Trump obstructed justice.

“Peter Strzok should not have a job anywhere near our Justice Department,” said North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican who is close to Trump, after a briefing on the report. The House Judiciary Committee said Thursday they would subpoena Strzok to testify.

Strzok is a respected, veteran counterintelligence agent who helped lead the Clinton investigation. Page was less well-known and has left the agency since the text messages were revealed.

Both Strzok and Page worked on the Clinton probe. Strzok was also assigned to Mueller’s team; he was removed from the Russia probe in the summer of 2017 after the department found out about the texts. Page only briefly worked on Mueller’s team and left before the texts were discovered.

Texts between the two included their observations of the 2016 election and criticism of Trump. They used words like “idiot,” ″loathsome,” ″menace” and “disaster” to describe him. In one text four days before the election, Page told Strzok that the “American presidential election, and thus, the state of the world, actually hangs in the balance.”

Many of the texts had already been made public after the FBI sent them to Congress. But in a new, inflammatory text revealed in the report, Page wrote Strzok in August 2016: “(Trump’s) not ever going to become president, right? Right?!”

Strzok responded: “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”

The inspector general’s report said that exchange “is not only indicative of a biased state of mind but, even more seriously, implies a willingness to take official action to impact the presidential candidate’s electoral prospects. This is antithetical to the core values of the FBI and the Department of Justice.”

Still, investigators said they did not find “documentary or testimonial evidence” that the bias affected the probe. And Strzok’s lawyer, Aitan Goelman, said the report revealed no evidence that the FBI agent’s political views affected the handling of the Clinton investigation.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said that “conduct in the report” had already been referred to the department’s disciplinary arm, but he would not say which employees had been referred or for what conduct. Page no longer works for the agency.

In interviews included in the report, both Strozk and Page acknowledged that some of their texts could be read as showing their bias against Trump, both during the early stages of the collusion investigation and after Trump assumed office in January 2017.

But both insisted bias played no part in their motivations.

In addition to Strzok and Page, the report identifies another FBI attorney who had sent anti-Trump messages and had been assigned to the Clinton investigation and also the investigation into Russian interference. The report says this attorney, called “FBI Attorney 2,” was “the primary FBI attorney assigned to (the Russia) investigation beginning in early 2017″ and had also worked for Mueller. The report says the attorney left Mueller’s investigation in late February 2018, shortly after the inspector general provided Mueller with some of the instant messages they had discovered.

The report describes some of those messages, including one the day after the election in which he lamented the results and said he was “so stressed about what I could have done differently.” He also wrote to a colleague, “I just can’t imagine the systematic disassembly of the progress we made over the last 8 years.” In another message, he called then-Vice President-elect Mike Pence “stupid.”

The report also details anti-Trump instant messages between other employees assigned to the Clinton case. In one case, a male agent and a female agent who are now married exchanged messages in which the female agent called Trump’s Ohio supporters “retarded” and later messaged, “f— Trump.” On Election Day, the male agent messaged “I’m … with her,” referring to one of Clinton’s campaign slogans. The male agent was one of two agents who had interviewed Clinton for the investigation.

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Associated Press writers Chad Day, Stephen Braun and Eric Tucker contributed to this report

Tough US tariffs on China could begin as early as Friday

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has approved a plan to impose punishing tariffs on tens of billions of dollars of Chinese goods as early as Friday, a move that could put his trade policies on a collision course with his push to rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons.

Trump has long vowed to fulfill his campaign pledge to clamp down on what he considers unfair Chinese trading practices. But his calls for billions in tariffs could complicate his efforts to maintain China’s support in his negotiations with North Korea.

Trump met Thursday with several Cabinet members and trade advisers and was expected to impose tariffs on at least $35 billion to $40 billion of Chinese imports, according to an industry official and an administration official familiar with the plans. The amount of goods could reach $55 billion, said the industry official. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the matter ahead of a formal announcement.

If the president presses forward as expected, it could set the stage for a series of trade actions against China and lead to retaliation from Beijing. Trump has already slapped tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, Mexico and European allies, and his proposed tariffs against China risk starting a trade war involving the world’s two biggest economies.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Friday that China’s response would be immediate and that Beijing would “take necessary measures to defend our legitimate rights and interests.”

Geng gave no details. Beijing earlier drew up a list of $50 billion in U.S. products that would face retaliatory tariffs, including beef and soybeans, a shot at Trump’s supporters in rural America.

Trump’s decision on the Chinese tariffs comes in the aftermath of his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The president has coordinated closely with China on efforts to get Pyongyang to eliminate its nuclear arsenal. But he signaled that whatever the implications, “I have to do what I have to do” to address the trade imbalance.

Trump, in his press conference in Singapore on Tuesday, said the U.S. has a “tremendous deficit in trade with China and we have to do something about it. We can’t continue to let that happen.” The U.S. trade deficit with China was $336 billion in 2017.

Administration officials have signaled support for imposing the tariffs in a dispute over allegations that Beijing steals or pressures foreign companies to hand over technology, according to officials briefed on the plans. China has targeted $50 billion in U.S. products for potential retaliation.

Wall Street has viewed the escalating trade tensions with wariness, fearful that they could strangle the economic growth achieved during Trump’s watch and undermine the benefits of the tax cuts he signed into law last year.

“If you end up with a tariff battle, you will end up with price inflation, and you could end up with consumer debt. Those are all historic ingredients for an economic slowdown,” Gary Cohn, Trump’s former top economic adviser, said at an event sponsored by The Washington Post.

But Steve Bannon, Trump’s former White House and campaign adviser, said the crackdown on China’s trade practices was “the central part of Trump’s economic nationalist message. His fundamental commitment to the ‘deplorables’ on the campaign trail was that he was going to bring manufacturing jobs back, particularly from Asia.”

In the trade fight, Bannon said, Trump has converted three major tools that “the American elites considered off the table” — namely, the use of tariffs, the technology investigation of China and penalties on Chinese telecom giant ZTE.

“That’s what has gotten us to the situation today where the Chinese are actually at the table,” Bannon said. “It’s really not just tariffs, it’s tariffs on a scale never before considered.”

The Chinese have threatened to counterpunch if the president goes ahead with the plan. Chinese officials have said they would drop agreements reached last month to buy more U.S. soybeans, natural gas and other products.

Scott Kennedy, a specialist on the Chinese economy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the Chinese threat was real and helped along by recent strains exhibited among the U.S. and allies. “I don’t think they would cower or immediately run to the negotiating table to throw themselves at the mercy of Donald Trump,” Kennedy said. “They see the U.S. is isolated and the president as easily distracted.”

Ron Moore, who farms 1,800 acres of corn and soybeans in Roseville, Illinois, said soybean prices have already started dropping ahead of what looks like a trade war between the two economic powerhouses. “We have to plan for the worst-case scenario and hope for the best,” said Moore, who is chairman of the American Soybean Association. “If you look back at President Trump’s history, he’s been wildly successful negotiating as a businessman. But it’s different when you’re dealing with other governments.”

The U.S. and China have been holding ongoing negotiations over the trade dispute. The United States has criticized China for the aggressive tactics it uses to develop advanced technologies, including robots and electric cars, under its “Made in China 2025” program. The U.S. tariffs are designed specifically to punish China for forcing American companies to hand over technology in exchange for access to the Chinese market.

The administration is also working on proposed Chinese investment restrictions by June 30. So far, Trump has yet to signal any interest in backing away.

“I think the tariffs are coming,” said Stephen Moore, a former Trump campaign adviser and visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation. “It really does depend on whether China makes a move to ameliorate Trump’s concerns, and so far they haven’t.”

Gaza residents pray near Israel, as Muslims mark major feast

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Gaza worshippers knelt on prayer rugs spread on sandy soil, near the perimeter fence with Israel, joining hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world Friday in marking the holiday that caps the fasting month of Ramadan.

The three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday is typically a time of family visits and festive meals, with children getting new clothes, haircuts and gifts. In the Middle East, celebrations were once again marred by prolonged conflict in hot spots such as Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen.

In the Gaza Strip, some worshippers performed the traditional morning prayers of the holiday in areas several hundred meters (yards) away from the heavily guarded fence with Israel.

Friday’s prayers marked the continuation of weeks-long protests against a blockade of Gaza, imposed by Israel and Egypt after the 2007 takeover of the territory by the Islamic militant group Hamas. Since late March, more than 120 protesters have been killed and more than 3,800 wounded by Israeli army fire in the area of the fence.

Ismail Haniyeh, the top Hamas leader, joined worshippers in an area east of Gaza City. At one point, as the faithful bowed their heads on their prayer mats in unison, a young man on crutches — presumably injured in previous protests — followed the ritual while he remained standing. Some activists later approached the fence, burning tires.

Protest organizers said they planned to release large numbers of kites and balloons with incendiary materials rags throughout the day Friday, in hopes they will land in Israel. Such kites with burning rags attached have reportedly burned hundreds of acres of crops and forests in Israel.

Protest organizer Mohammed al-Tayyar, a member of a group calling itself the “burning kites unit,” said Friday larger balloons with greater potential for damage would be released after 10 days unless the blockade is lifted. Israel’s defense minister has said Israel is determined to stop such kites and balloons.

The protests have been organized by Hamas, but turnout has been driven by growing despair in Gaza about blockade-linked hardships; unemployment now approaches 50 percent and electricity is on for just a few hours every day.

Hamas has also billed the protests as the “Great March of Return,” suggesting they would somehow pave the way for a return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants — about two-thirds of Gaza’s residents — to return to ancestral homes in what is now Israel.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were expelled or fled in the Mideast war over Israel’s 1948 creation.

Haniyeh told reporters after Friday’s prayers, which were also being held outdoors in another location east of the town of Khan Younis, that protests would continue.

He said a recent U.N. General Assembly resolution blaming Israel for the Gaza violence “shows that the marches of return and breaking the siege revived the Palestinian issue and imposed the issue on the international agenda.” The resolution also said Israel had used excessive force against Palestinian protesters.

Israel says it is defending its territory and civilians living near Gaza. It has accused Hamas of trying to use the protests as cover for damaging the fence and trying to carry out cross-border attacks. Israel and Egypt argue that the blockade is needed to contain Hamas which has a history of violence and refuses to disarm.

In Jerusalem, senior Muslim cleric Muhammad Hussein told tens of thousands of worshippers that a plan for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, expected to be unveiled by the Trump administration, is unfair and “aims at the liquidation of the Palestinian cause.”

President Donald Trump has promised to negotiate the “ultimate deal” but the plan’s reported, though unconfirmed parameters have been dismissed by the Palestinians as siding with Israel.

The Palestinian issue also loomed large in Iran.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, addressing worshippers Friday, praised citizens for showing up at massive rallies last week in support of the Palestinians on Jerusalem Day. That day was initiated by Iran in 1979 to express support for the Palestinians and oppose Israel.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in an Eid al-Fitr message that he believes the “land of Palestine will be returned to owners of the land with the help if God.”

Iran and Israel are bitter foes.

In Syria, President Bashar Assad attended Eid prayers in the town of Tartous, part of an area that has remained loyal to him throughout seven years of civil war. The coastal region is home to Syria’s minority Alawite population that has been the core of Assad’s support. Assad, an Alawite, traces his family’s origins to Qardaha, a town in the mountains nearby.

Tens of thousands of men from the coastal region are believed to have been killed fighting for the president since 2011, according to Syrian monitoring groups. Assad is now in control of Syria’s largest cities and its coastal region.

In Afghanistan, President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani touted a three-day holiday cease-fire with the Taliban, calling for a longer truce and urging the Taliban to come to the negotiating table.

The Taliban agreed to the cease-fire but leader Haibaitullah Akhunzada reiterated his demand for talks with the U.S. before sitting down with the Afghan government.

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Associated Press writer Karin Laub in Jericho, West Bank and Ian Deitch in Jerusalem contributed reporting.

Business: Global stocks mostly lower as US plans tariffs on China

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Global stock markets were mostly lower on Friday as U.S. President Donald Trump’s approval of a plan to impose tough tariffs on China renewed concerns about trade friction.

KEEPING SCORE: Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 0.7 percent to 7,707, while France’s CAC 40 added 0.1 percent to 5,535. Germany’s DAX edged down 0.3 percent to 13,072. Futures augured a weak start on Wall Street. S&P futures fell 0.4 percent while Dow futures dropped 0.6 percent.

TARIFFS: Trump approved a plan to impose punishing tariffs on tens of billions of dollars of Chinese goods as early as Friday. The White House has yet to release a final list of products but a tentative version in April ran the technology gamut from TVs and telecoms equipment to medications and industrial chemicals. U.S. officials say the tariff hike targets goods that might benefit from Chinese theft of technology or pressure on foreign companies to hand it over in exchange for market access.

ANALYST’S TAKE: “Ultimately a negotiated solution is likely,” said Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy at AMP Capital. Even though China and the U.S. probably want to negotiate, “the risks are high and the tariffs could well be implemented before the issue is resolved.”

EUROPE: The ECB on Thursday said it would phase out by the end of the year its bond-buying stimulus for the 19 countries that use the euro. It had deployed the program in 2015 to save the region from the risk of falling prices and growth. It also said it plans to hold off on raising interest rates until at least the summer of 2019, which is longer than some investors expected.

ASIA’S DAY: Asian stocks finished mixed. Japan’s Nikkei 225 finished 0.5 percent higher at 22,851.75 but South Korea’s Kospi retreated 0.8 percent to 2,404.04. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index declined 0.4 percent to 30,309.49 while China’s Shanghai Composite Index fell 0.7 percent to 3,021.90. Australia’s S&P-ASX 200 jumped 1.3 percent to 6,094.00. Stocks in Taiwan were higher, while in Indonesia markets were closed for a holiday.

CURRENCIES: The dollar was flat at 110.65 yen and the euro strengthened to $1.1591 from $1.1560.

OIL: Benchmark U.S. crude lost 20 cents to $66.69 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Thursday, it rose 25 cents to settle at $66.89 per barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, fell 92 cents to $75.02 per barrel. On Thursday, it fell 80 cents to $75.94.

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Investing.com – Here are the top five things you need to know in financial markets on Friday, June 15:

1. Trade tensions in focus as Trump prepares more tariffs for China

China vowed on Friday to strike back quickly if the United States hurts its interests, hours before U.S. President Donald Trump was due to unveil revisions to a tariff list targeting $50 billion worth of Chinese goods.

Washington and Beijing appeared increasingly to be headed toward a trade war after several rounds of negotiations failed to resolve U.S. complaints over Chinese industrial policy, market access and a $375 billion trade gap.

“If the United States takes unilateral, protectionist measures, harming China’s interests, we will quickly react and take necessary steps to resolutely protect our fair, legitimate rights,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular daily news briefing.

Trump was due to give details later on Friday of a revised list of 800 product categories, down from 1,300, according to an administration official and an industry source familiar with the list.

The tariffs would raise the prospect of a global trade war as the United States’ other trading partners such as the EU and Canada have recently vowed to retaliate with countermeasures to the U.S.’s tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.

The tensions kept investors on edge, with U.S. futures pointing to a lower open. At 5:48AM ET (9:48GMT), the blue-chip Dow futures fell 132 points, or 0.52%, S&P 500 futures lost 11 points, or 0.39%, while the Nasdaq 100 futures traded down 16 points, or 0.21%.

2. Data downpour to round off the week

A regional U.S. manufacturing report, consumer sentiment and industrial production will round off this week’s release of top-tier economic data.

Michigan’s consumer expectations index, due 10:00AM ET (14:00GMT), is expected to show a preliminary reading of 89.7 for June, while consumer sentiment is forecast to show a preliminary reading of 98.5 for June, up from a reading of 98 last month.

The New York Fed’s Empire State manufacturing index at 08:30AM ET (12:30GMT) – a gauge of New York-area manufacturing – is expected to show a drop in June compared to the previous month.

Meanwhile, industrial production is forecast to have edged forward 0.2% in May in what would be its fourth consecutive month of expansion.

The reports could further strengthen the narrative of a strong U.S. economy, which Fed chairman Powell said was in “great shape” during a press conference earlier this week.

3. Euro headed for biggest weekly decline in 19 months

The euro on Friday was headed for its worst weekly loss in 19 months after a cautious European Central Bank signaled it will keep interest rates at record lows well into next year.

“The Governing Council expects the key ECB interest rates to remain at their present levels at least through the summer of 2019 and in any case for as long as necessary to ensure that the evolution of inflation remains aligned with the current expectations of a sustained adjustment path,” the ECB said in its policy decision released on Thursday.

Reiterating that point in the press conference’s question and answer period, ECB president Mario Draghi stressed the “at least through the summer of 2019” and added that “we did not discuss if and when to raise rates.”

Although the euro was recovering some lost territory against the dollar on Friday, moving back above the $1.16 handle, the single currency was on track for weekly losses of 1.4%.

4. Oil heads lower with U.S. production on tap

Oil prices headed lower on Friday as market participants awaited the weekly installment of U.S. drilling activity.

Baker Hughes’ data showed last week that U.S. drillers added one oil rig last week, bringing the total count to 862, the highest number since March 2015.

That added to concern on the supply side even as U.S. oil output jumped to a record 10.9 million bpd, according to the Energy Information Administration’s report released Wednesday.

Traders are also on edge over global supply after Saudi Arabia and Russia indicated that Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries could vote to increase oil production at its meeting next week.

OPEC and non-OPEC producers led by Russia are set to meet in Vienna on June 22 and where they will decide whether or not to increase supply by one million barrels per day to replace output faltering in Venezuela and Iran.

U.S. crude oil futures traded down 0.16% to $66.78 at 5:50AM ET (9:50GMT), while Brent oil fell 0.83% to $75.31.

5. BoJ goes against central bank trend, holds steady on lower inflation outlook

The Bank of Japan on Friday downgraded its view on inflation in a fresh blow to its long-held 2% price goal, giving the central bank barely any room to maneuver as it tries to map a path to roll back its crisis-era stimulus.

As widely expected, the BOJ maintained its ultra-loose monetary policy, keeping its short-term interest rate target at minus 0.1% and a pledge to guide 10-year government bond yields around 0%.

The move contrasts with the European Central Bank’s decision to end its asset-purchase program this year and the U.S. Federal Reserve’s steady rate increases, which signaled a break from policies deployed to battle the 2007-2009 financial crisis.

Analysis: China winner from summit but wary of closer US-N. Korea ties

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BEIJING (AP) — The outcome of the Singapore summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was good news for one absent but key player: China.

China won big at the summit after Trump made surprising pledges to suspend war games with South Korea and eventually pull U.S. troops from there. Beijing dislikes the U.S. military presence in South Korea and Japan and has urged Washington to suspend the drills that Pyongyang claims are rehearsals for invasion, in return for the North’s halting of nuclear activities.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters Wednesday that Trump’s drills suspension announcement was “another proof that China’s proposal is legitimate, is reasonable (and) it addresses the concerns of the two sides.”

China wants to see a reduction in foreign military forces in Northeast Asia and for the gap between Washington and its allies and partners to widen, said Ryan Hass, who directed China policy for the U.S. National Security Council during the former President Barack Obama administration. “Beijing is now on track to achieve these objectives at little cost.”

President Donald Trump has stunned the Korean Peninsula by announcing the stoppage of U.S.-South Korean annual war games that have long been defended as defensive and vital by the allies. (June 12)

But as soon as Kim steps off the plane China provided him for the Singapore trip, Beijing will be mindful of maintaining its influence over a Pyongyang that may feel less isolated after Trump showered Kim with praises, called him a “very talented man,” and made security concessions in return for very little.

“Any improvement I think in the bilateral relationship for the U.S. and North Korea, China could potentially see as a loss for China,” said Paul Haenle, a former China director at the White House National Security Council in the Obama and George W. Bush administrations.

Analysts say they expected that Kim would meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping fairly quickly after the summit and that Xi would remind his North Korean counterpart about China’s willingness to help the North develop its economy.

Despite recent tensions between the communist neighbors, Xi has met Kim twice since April, most recently hosting a banquet for him and strolling with the young leader along a beach and through lush gardens at a coastal Chinese city last month.

That meeting in Dalian was seen as an effort by China to ensure that Beijing’s voice was heard when Kim later met with Trump. In the on-again, off-again run-up to the summit, Trump at one point blamed Kim’s trip to China for creating an unwelcome “change in attitude” by the North Korean leader. China moved quickly to urge both sides not to cancel the meeting.

Such maneuvers highlight the delicate balance China has to strike between encouraging Pyongyang and Washington to engage on ending the North’s nuclear program and pushing Pyongyang too far into Trump’s embrace.

China would be wary if the suspension of military exercises led to some kind of larger rapprochement between the U.S. and North Korea, Haenle said. China, which fought the U.S. on behalf of the North in the 1950-53 Korean War, wants a stable, independent North Korea as a buffer with South Korea and the thousands of U.S. troops stationed there. Beijing is also hoping to convince Seoul to remove a sophisticated U.S. missile defense system that China sees as a threat to its security.

China remains North Korea’s only major ally and chief provider of energy, aid and trade that keep the country’s broken economy afloat. Ties in recent months have frayed as China supported tougher U.N. sanctions on North Korea and suspended coal and iron ore imports. Pyongyang last year seemingly sought to humiliate Beijing by timing some of its missile tests for major global summits in China.

Haenle added that Beijing is well aware that Pyongyang is probably also trying to put some distance between itself and its powerful neighbor “so that China doesn’t have that kind of influence that it does with North Korea today.”

But the North’s long dependence on and trust in China are not easily unwound, analysts noted.

“Flying to the Singapore summit by Air China shows, to some extent, North Korea’s trust in China,” said Cheng Xiaohe, an associate professor at Renmin University’s School of International Studies in Beijing, referring to the Boeing 747 that China’s flag carrier put at Kim’s disposal. That constitutes “more trust than it has in the U.S. and South Korea,” he said.

Cheng said that Pyongyang needed Chinese help if it wanted to pursue the types of market reforms introduced by former leader Deng Xiaoping that transformed China’s economy.

“If North Korea improves relations with one country while its relations with an important neighboring country become worse, it would not be in line with North Korea’s national interests,” Cheng said.

Shortly after Trump and Kim met in Singapore Tuesday, China suggested that sanctions that have exacted a toll on the impoverished North could be suspended or lifted if Pyongyang complied with U.N. resolutions. That could mean Beijing would soon help lobby for sanctions on Pyongyang to be eased.

Lu Chao, a Korea expert at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, said that though China continued to implement U.N. sanctions, he suggested some of the pressure had already been easing. “Normal economic cooperation has been resumed, such as trade cooperation in daily necessities,” Lu said.

But China is likely to take a cautious approach and not move swiftly for changes to the sanctions regime.

“Without U.S. agreement first, China won’t move to take steps on sanctions since that would harm dialogue between North Korea and the U.S.,” said Kim Dong-gil, the director of the Korean Peninsula Center at Peking University.

China would want to see North Korea commit to freezing its nuclear program before lobbying on its behalf for some relief from the sanctions, said Michael Kovrig, a Northeast Asia specialist at the International Crisis Group.

“China will look for ways that don’t violate the sanctions to then provide incentives to North Korea,” Kovrig said, citing humanitarian assistance as an example.

After summit, North Korea shows Trump in new light

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PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Koreans are getting a new look at U.S. President Donald Trump now that his summit with leader Kim Jong Un is over and it’s a far cry from the “dotard” label their government slapped on him last year.

Previously, even on a good day, the best he might get was “Trump.” No honorifics. No signs of respect. Now, he’s being called “the president of the United States of America.” Or “President Donald J. Trump.”

Even “supreme leader.”

The post-summit transformation of North Korea’s official version of Trump, who’s now being shown by the state media looking serious and almost regal, underscores the carefully choreographed reality show the government has had to perform to keep its people, taught from childhood to hate and distrust the “American imperialists,” ideologically on board with the tectonic shifts underway in their country’s relationship with Washington.

With a time lag that suggests a great deal of care and thought went into the final product, the North’s state-run television aired its first videos and photos of the summit on Thursday, two days after the event and a full day after Kim returned home to Pyongyang, the capital.

To be sure, the star of the show was Kim. Trump’s first appearance and the now famous handshake didn’t come until almost 20 minutes into the 42-minute program.

To the dramatic, almost song-like intonations of the nation’s most famous newscaster, the program depicted Kim as statesmanlike beyond his years, confident and polite, quick to smile and firmly in control. He was shown allowing the older American — Trump, in his seventies, is more than twice Kim’s age — to lean in toward him to shake hands, or give a thumbs up, then walking a few steps ahead to a working lunch.

Before showing the two signing their joint statement, the newscaster said Trump made a point of giving Kim a look at his armored Cadillac limousine, and noted that it is known to Americans as “the Beast.” She also at one point called them the “two supreme leaders” of their countries.

The image-heavy news of Kim’s trip to Singapore was presented like a chronological documentary, starting with the red-carpet send off at the Pyongyang airport on, interestingly enough, a chartered Air China flight. That was followed by video of his motorcade making its way to the St. Regis Hotel in Singapore as throngs of well-wishers waved as though awaiting a rock star, and Kim’s night tour of the city-state on the summit’s eve.

The state media’s representation of the summit and Trump is extremely important because it gives the North Korean population, which has only limited access to other news sources, an idea not just of what’s going on but also of how the government expects them to respond.

For the average North Korean, the state media’s coverage of Kim’s diplomatic blitz this year must seem nothing short of astonishing.

After sending a top-level delegation that included his own sister to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February, Kim has met twice each with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Chinese President Xi Jinping and the state media have splashed all of the meetings across its front pages and newscasts — though generally a day after the fact to allow time to make sure the ideological tone is right and the images as powerful as possible.

In the run-up to the summit, the North’s media softened its rhetoric so as not to spoil the atmosphere as Kim prepared to sit down with the leader of the country North Korea has maligned and lambasted for decades as the most evil place on Earth, other than perhaps Japan, its former colonial ruler.

It fired a few barrages against hard-line comments by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Adviser John Bolton and has stood ever critical of “capitalist values,” but has kept direct references to Trump to a minimum. Bolton, who has been a target of Pyongyang’s ire since his service in the George W. Bush administration, was introduced in the Thursday program dead-pan and shown shaking Kim’s hand.

What this all means for the future is a complicated matter.

North Korea has presented Kim’s diplomatic strategy as a logical next step following what he has said is the completion of his plan to develop a credible nuclear deterrent to what Pyongyang has long claimed is a policy of hostility and “nuclear blackmail” by Washington.

That was its message through the news on Thursday, which stressed that the talks with Trump would be focused on forging a relationship that is more in tune with what it called changing times — most likely meaning North Korea’s new status as a nuclear weapons state — and its desire for a mechanism to ensure a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula and, finally, denuclearization.

Despite the respectful tone, there remains a clear undercurrent of caution.

Kim remains the hero in the official Pyongyang narrative. Whether Trump will be his co-star, or once again the villain, is fodder for another episode.

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Talmadge is the AP’s Pyongyang bureau chief. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @EricTalmadge.

US seeks to assuage Asian allies after North Korea summit

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BEIJING (AP) — The United States and its Asian allies worked Thursday to paper over any semblance of disagreement over President Donald Trump’s concession to Kim Jong Un that the U.S. will halt military exercises with South Korea, with Trump’s top diplomat insisting the president hadn’t backed down from his firm line on North Korea’s nukes.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, meeting with top South Korean and Japanese diplomats, put a more sober spin on several moves by Trump after his summit with Kim that had fueled unease in Washington, Tokyo and Seoul. He said Trump’s curious claim that the North’s nuclear threat was over was issued with “eyes wide open,” and brushed off a North Korean state-run media report suggesting Trump would grant concessions even before the North fully rids itself of nuclear weapons.

“We’re going to get denuclearization,” Pompeo said in the South Korean capital. “Only then will there be relief from the sanctions.”

Pompeo flew from Seoul to China’s capital, Beijing, later Thursday for a meeting with President Xi Jinping, whose country is believed to wield considerable influence with North Korea as its chief ally and economic lifeline. Pompeo was also due to meet with top diplomats and hold a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says President Trump’s tweet about North Korea no longer posing a nuclear threat was made with eyes wide open. He also says North Korea will get no economic sanctions relief until it completes denuclearization. (June 14)

At a daily briefing, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang reiterated China’s support for a political settlement, while also pointing to an eventual lifting of United Nations Security Council economic sanctions.

“We believe that the sanctions themselves are not the end,” Geng said.

China has been praised by Trump for ramping up economic pressure on the North that the U.S. believes helped coax Kim to the negotiating table.

On the joint U.S.-South Korea drills that Trump — after meeting Kim — said would be terminated, Pompeo emphasized a key caveat: If the mercurial North Korean leader stops negotiating in good faith, the “war games” will be back on.

The words of reassurance from Pompeo came as diplomacy continued at an intense pace after Tuesday’s summit in Singapore, the first between a sitting American president and North Korea’s leader in six decades of hostility. In the village of Panmunjom along the North-South border, the rival Koreas on Thursday held their first high-level military talks since 2007, focused on reducing tensions across their heavily fortified border.

Yet even as U.S. and South Korean officials sought to parlay the momentum from the dramatic summit into more progress on the nuclear issue, there were persistent questions about whether Trump had given away too much in return for too little.

Trump’s announcement minutes after the summit’s conclusion that he would halt the “provocative” joint military drills were a shock to South Korea and caught much of the U.S. military off guard, too. Pyongyang has long sought an end to the exercises it considers rehearsals for an invasion, but U.S. treaty allies Japan and South Korea view them as critical elements of their own national security.

So Pompeo had some explaining to do as he traveled to Seoul to brief the allies on what transpired in Singapore.

In public, at least, South Korea’s leader cast the summit’s outcome as positive during a short meeting with Pompeo at the Blue House, South Korea’s presidential palace. President Moon Jae-in, an avowed supporter of engagement with North Korea, called it “a truly historic feat” that had “moved us from the era of hostility towards the era of dialogue, of peace and prosperity.”

Still, there were signs as Pompeo met later with the top Japanese and South Korean diplomats that concerns about the freeze had not been fully resolved. South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, speaking in Korean, told reporters afterward that the military drills issue “was not discussed in depth.”

“This is a matter that military officials from South Korea and the United States will have to discuss further and coordinate,” Kang said.

The U.S. has stationed combat troops in South Korea since the end of the Korean War and has used them in a variety of drills. The next scheduled major exercise, involving tens of thousands of troops, normally would be held in August.

The summit in Singapore did mark a reduction in tensions — a sea change from last fall, when North Korea was conducting nuclear and missile tests, and Trump and Kim were trading threats and insults that stoked fears of war.

Kim is now promising to work toward a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and state media heralded the meeting as victorious, with photos of Kim standing side-by-side with Trump on the world stage splashed across newspapers in Pyongyang. On Thursday, North Koreans finally got a glimpse of video of Trump and Kim together, as official Korean Central Television broadcast the first footage of Kim’s trip to Singapore.

Trump seemed equally ecstatic. As he landed Wednesday in Washington following the summit, he declared on Twitter that America and the world can “sleep well tonight.”

“There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea,” Trump wrote, even though North Korea has yet to give up any of its fissile material, estimated by independent experts to be enough for between about a dozen and 60 nuclear bombs.

Pompeo rejected the suggestion that Trump’s Pollyannaish assertion was premature. He said Trump was proceeding “with eyes wide open” to the prospect that diplomacy may falter, and that Trump was merely reflecting the historic nature of his confab with Kim. The Korean War ended in 1953 without a peace treaty, leaving the United States and North Koreas in a technical state of war.

With the Trump-Kim summit concluded, the baton was being passed to lower-level U.S. and North Korean officials, who Pompeo said would likely resume meeting as early as the next week to hash out details of a disarmament deal, sure to be a complex and contentious process. He said the U.S. was hopeful North Korea would take “major” disarmament steps before the end of Trump’s first term in office, which concludes in January 2021.

In the brief, four-point joint statement signed at the summit, North Korea committed “to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” — a promise it has made and reneged on several times in the past 25 years.

The statement made no mention of verification, despite Trump’s longstanding insistence on “complete, verifiable and irreversible” denuclearization. But Pompeo bristled at reporters who pressed him about that apparent omission, calling questions on the topic “insulting and ridiculous.”

The omission is irrelevant, Pompeo said, adding that he was confident the North Koreans fully understood that verification would be a necessity. He pointed out that the statement makes reference to a previous agreement that did mention verification, and argued that as a result, the Trump-Kim statement automatically “incorporates” verification without having to state it outright.

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Lederman reported from Seoul. Associated Press writers Kim Tong-hyung and Youkyung Lee in Seoul, Gillian Wong in Beijing, Matthew Pennington in Washington and Ken Moritsugu in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s summit coverage here: http://apne.ws/MPbJ5Tv

Report on FBI actions in Clinton email case set for release

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department’s internal watchdog is expected to criticize the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, stepping into a political minefield while examining how a determinedly nonpartisan law enforcement agency came to be entangled in the 2016 presidential race.

The inspector general’s report is set for release Thursday afternoon. It’s likely to be painstakingly detailed, the culmination of an 18-month review into one of the most consequential FBI investigations in recent history.

President Donald Trump will look to the inspector general report to provide a fresh line of attack against two former top FBI officials, Director James Comey and his deputy, Andrew McCabe, as he claims that a politically tainted bureau tried to undermine his campaign and, through the Russia investigation, his presidency. Trump will almost certainly use the report to validate his firing of Comey last year.

But the report could do more to back Democratic claims that the FBI contributed to Clinton’s defeat, most notably by reopening in the final days of the race its investigation into whether she mishandled classified information. That development unfolded as Trump’s own campaign — unbeknownst at the time to the American public — also came under FBI investigation for possible coordination with Russia.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz, a former federal prosecutor appointed by President Barack Obama, prepared the report. Supporters from both parties regard him as apolitical. His most significant report before this one was the 2012 study of the botched Obama-era gun operation known as Fast and Furious.

The Clinton report will examine key actions by FBI leaders. Those include Comey’s decision to publicly announce in July 2016 his recommendation against criminal charges for Clinton, and his disclosure to Congress days before the election that the investigation was being revived because of newly discovered emails.

People familiar with the report’s findings say the inspector general has reached unflattering conclusions for many FBI officials. They were not authorized to discuss the report by name ahead of its release and requested anonymity. An earlier inspector general report criticized McCabe and led to his firing on allegations that he misled internal investigators about his role in a news media disclosure. He denies those charges.

Trump, seeking to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, has eagerly awaited the report in hopes that it would skewer the judgment of Comey and make clear that his termination — central to the question of whether the president sought to obstruct justice — was justified. The White House initially pointed to Comey’s handling of the Clinton investigation as the rationale for the firing, though Trump complicated that claim days later when he said he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he dismissed him.

Though Trump has repeatedly lambasted the FBI as politically biased against him, the inspector general’s report — no matter how critical — is unlikely to endorse that conclusion, especially since some of the actions being examined broke from protocol in ways that may have harmed Clinton.

Comey’s news conference disclosing the investigation’s conclusion was unusual since charging announcements are normally made by the Justice Department, not the FBI. Cases that end without charges are rarely discussed publicly.

In this instance, Comey said that though the FBI found Clinton and her aides to be “extremely careless” in handling classified material, “no reasonable prosecutor” could have brought a case against her. At a congressional hearing last May, he said he was concerned that the Justice Department could not “credibly” announce the conclusion of its investigation, in part because the attorney general at the time, Loretta Lynch, had met aboard her plane with former President Bill Clinton.

Lynch described the meeting as a chance encounter unrelated to the case, but Clinton’s critics seized on it to question her objectivity.

Also investigated was Comey’s decision, against the recommendation of the Justice Department, to reveal to Congress that the FBI was reopening the investigation following the discovery of new emails. The FBI obtained a warrant nine days before the presidential election to review those emails, found on the laptop of former Rep. Anthony Weiner, and ultimately determined that there was nothing in them that changed its original conclusion.

Again, Clinton aides, Democrats and former Justice Department officials from both parties criticized Comey, saying he should not have publicly discussed an investigative action especially before he knew whether the emails were significant. People familiar with the report say it criticizes the FBI for not moving quickly enough to review the new emails.

Comey has said he felt compelled to alert Congress to the new emails, after having previously testified that the investigation was done.

Comey said he faced the tough choice of speaking out or concealing the information. “And I could be wrong, but we honestly made a decision between those two choices that even in hindsight — and this has been one of the world’s most painful experiences — I would make the same decision.”

During the inspector general’s probe, officials discovered anti-Trump text messages between an FBI lawyer and an agent on the Clinton case who was later assigned to Mueller’s team. That agent, Peter Strzok, was removed from the team once the texts were brought to Mueller’s attention.

The investigation also looked at whether McCabe should have recused himself from the Clinton case since his wife received campaign contributions from the political action committee of then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Clinton ally, in her failed state Senate run.

The FBI has said that McCabe received ethics approvals and did not oversee the Clinton investigation at the time of the contributions. Trump has repeatedly cited the contributions in denouncing McCabe.

PhatzNewsRoom / AP – News Videos Updates
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