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By Ben Kamisar
WASHINGTON — Maine independent Sen. Angus King, cautioned Democrats in Congress Sunday that there’s not enough public evidence at this point to impeach President Donald Trump without the issue devolving into partisan warfare.
“I don’t think that there’s evidence yet available to the public where there would be more or less a consensus that this is an appropriate path,” King said in an appearance on “Meet the Press.”
“My concern is that if impeachment is moved forward on the evidence that we have now, at least a third of the country would think it was just political revenge and a coup against the president,” said the senator, who caucuses with Democrats. “That wouldn’t serve us well at all. The best way to solve a problem like this, to me, is elections.”
King added that, as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he’s privy to additional information about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that’s not available to the public. And he said that Congress needs to be careful that it doesn’t set a strictly partisan standard on an issue as important as impeachment.
“I’m a conservative when it comes to impeachment. I think it’s a last resort and only when the evidence is clear of a really substantial legal violation,” he said.
“We may get there, but we are not there now.”
King’s comments come after a rough week for Trump, particularly as it relates to Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between the president’s campaign and Russia during the 2016 election.
Last week, federal prosecutors accused Trump of directing his former lawyer, Michael Cohen to commit campaign finance felonies regarding hush-money payments to two adult film entertainers who claim they had affairs with Trump years ago.
Cohen also admitted that he lied to Congress about his discussions with Trump and his family members about a plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
In a possible preview of GOP opposition to any impeachment effort, Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul argued that the special counsel’s investigation has been overly broad to begin with.
He said that prosecutors have “over-criminalized” possible campaign finance violations related to Cohen’s hush-money payments.
Paul argued that Mueller’s agreements with Cohen and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn could be proof of “prosecutorial abuse” that has pressured Trump allies into finding something to provide to the special counsel in exchange for a lighter sentence.
And he downplayed the idea that Trump seeking to build a Trump Tower in Russia while running for president was a problem.
“If you were asking and saying ‘I will give you something in exchange for letting us build a hotel, that would be wrong. But i haven’t heard any evidence of that,” the Kentucky senator said.
“Just trying to build a hotel somewhere, I can’t imagine how that would be criminal or why you’d lie about it.”
Russia plans to deliver S-400 missiles to Turkey within weeks
MOSCOW — Russia said on Tuesday it plans to deliver its S-400 missile defense systems to Turkey in July, setting the clock ticking on a U.S. threat to hit Ankara with sanctions if it goes ahead with a deal that has strained ties between the NATO allies.
Turkey and the United States have sparred publicly for months over Ankara’s order for the S-400s, which are not compatible with the transatlantic alliance’s systems.
Washington has threatened to remove Turkey from its F-35 fighter jet program unless it drops the deal, and has set its own deadline of July 31. If Ankara accepts delivery of the S-400s, that would trigger U.S. sanctions that could prolong Turkey’s economic recession and prompt a re-evaluation of its 67-year membership of NATO.
Turkey said that a U.S. House of Representatives’ resolution on Monday condemning the S-400 purchase and urging sanctions was unacceptably threatening.
Later on Tuesday in Moscow, Kremlin aide Yury Ushakov told reporters: “The agreements reached between Russia and Turkey are being fulfilled on time in the given context. There are no bilateral problems.”
Asked if the surface-to-air missiles will be delivered in July, he said: “Yes, that’s what we plan somehow.”
The comments came days after the head of Russian state conglomerate Rostec, Sergei Chemezov, said Moscow would start delivering the S-400s to Turkey in two months. Turkish officials have said the delivery could take place as soon as June.
The U.S. resolution, introduced in May and entitled “Expressing concern for the United States-Turkey alliance,” was agreed in the House on Monday.
It urges Turkey to cancel the S-400 purchase and calls for sanctions if Ankara accepts their delivery. That, the resolution said, would undermine the U.S.-led transatlantic defense alliance.
In response, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that its foreign policy and judicial system were being maligned by “unfair” and “unfounded” allegations in the resolution.
“It is unacceptable to take decisions which do not serve to increase mutual trust, to continue to keep the language of threats and sanctions on the agenda and to set various artificial deadlines,” it added in a statement.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government faces a balancing act in its ties with the West and Russia, with which it has close energy ties and is also cooperating in neighboring Syria.
The United States is also pressuring Turkey and other nations to isolate Iran, including blocking oil exports.
U.S. officials said on Monday the training of Turkish pilots on F-35 fighter jets had come to a faster-than-expected halt at an air base in Arizona, as Ankara’s involvement was wound down over the S-400 controversy.
The United States says Turkey’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 air defenses poses a threat to Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 stealth fighters, which Turkey also plans to buy.
“We rarely see it in foreign affairs, but this is a black and white issue. There is no middle ground. Either Mr. Erdogan cancels the Russian deal, or he doesn’t,” Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said on the House floor on Monday.
“There is no future for Turkey having both Russian weapons and American F-35s. There’s no third option,” he said.
Turkey appeared set to move ahead with the S-400 purchase despite the U.S. warnings. Erdogan said last week it was “out of the question” for Turkey to back away from its deal with Moscow.
Reps of 22 foreign governments have spent money at Trump properties
WASHINGTON — Representatives of at least 22 foreign governments appear to have spent money at Trump Organization properties, an NBC News review has found, hinting at a significant foreign cash flow to the American president that critics say violates the U.S. Constitution.
The extent and amount of foreign spending at Trump’s hotels, golf clubs and restaurants is not known, because the Trump Organization is a private company and declines to disclose that information. Trump promised to donate any profits from foreign governments, and the Trump Organization has sent $343,000 to the U.S. Treasury for 2017 and 2018. The company did not release underlying numbers to support that figure.
Amid two lawsuits accusing Trump of accepting illegal foreign payments, NBC News sought to compile the most comprehensive possible list of foreign spending at Trump properties based on information in the public record. In June 2018, a report by the watchdog group Public Citizen came up with 10 foreign governments that had spent money at Trump venues. More information has since become public.
A spokeswoman for the Trump Organization did not respond to a request for comment by NBC News.
Donald Trump is the first president in modern history to retain ownership of a business empire while in office. He says the company is being run by his sons, but he continues to derive income from the various businesses, including his hotel in Washington, his federal financial disclosure forms show. But Trump has refused to release his tax returns, which would present a fuller picture of his business dealings.
Some experts have long argued that foreign payments to Trump’s companies are illegal under the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits a president from accepting gifts or “emoluments” from foreign states lest they influence policy. Two lawsuits — one by the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia, the other by Democratic members of Congress — allege that Trump is violating the Emoluments Clause. Trump argues that the ban on emoluments doesn’t cover regular business payments.
The clause has not previously been the subject of lawsuits, so there are no judicial rulings interpreting what the founders meant when the Constitution was written and ratified more than 230 years ago.
In the Federalist Papers No. 73, published in 1788, one of the Constitution’s authors, Alexander Hamilton, wrote that the emoluments ban would insure that foreign governments “can neither weaken (the president’s) fortitude by operating on his necessities, nor corrupt his integrity by appealing to his avarice.”
Trump-owned properties — including his D.C. hotel and his Mar-a-Lago golf club — have been the frequent recipients of foreign money.
According to news accounts and other public records:
- At least nine foreign governments were involved in hosting events at a Trump property: Afghanistan, Cyprus, Ireland, Japan, Philippines, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Turkey
- At least nine foreign governments rented or purchased property in buildings or communities owned by Trump businesses: Kuwait, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, China, Malaysia, Slovakia, Thailand, India and the European Union.
- Representatives of at least five foreign governments — Georgia, Nigeria, Malaysia, Romania and Saudi Arabia — have stayed at a Trump property.
- Foreign governments have improved infrastructure in a way that benefited Trump properties in Indonesia and Panama.
- At least eight foreign governments or their representatives attended parties or gatherings at Trump properties: Brazil, Dominica, Georgia, Nigeria, Russia, Turkey, Malaysia and Qatar
An event at the Trump International Hotel in Washington last May exemplifies the risk of a conflict of interest, or the risk of an appearance of such a conflict.
A delegation from the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus hosted a “Justice for Cyprus” conference at the hotel. The group opposes Turkish influence in a breakaway region of Cyprus once occupied by the Turkish military.
The purpose of the gathering, as first reported by journalist Zach Everson, was described in a report in the Cyprus News Agency, which gets funding from the government. The group was examining “ways of exerting influence on US President Donald Trump with a view to avert the Islamization of the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus,” the report said.
In February, the investigative reporting site ProPublica observed that Nigerian presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar and his entourage were staying at the Trump Hotel in Washington, despite Abubakar reportedly having been barred from the U.S. for his alleged involvement in corruption while he was Nigeria’s vice president.
And last week, The Washington Post reported that a wealthy Iraqi sheikh who was trying to influence the Trump administration spent 26 nights in a suite at the hotel at an estimated cost of tens of thousands of dollars.
In a court ruling last year denying Trump’s motion to dismiss an emoluments lawsuit, a federal judge in Washington, Peter Messitte, raised the seminal question: When “a President maintains a premier hotel property that generates millions of dollars a year in profits, how likely is it that he will not be swayed, whether consciously or subconsciously, in any and all of his dealings with foreign or domestic governments that might choose to spend large sums of money at that hotel property?”
Trump has appealed the ruling, arguing he should be immune from such claims. A panel of appeals court judges heard arguments in March.
As Biden and Trump battle in the trenches, Buttigieg attacks from higher ground
WASHINGTON — As President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden prepared for the equivalent of high-profile trench warfare on the political battlefield of Iowa on Tuesday, a third 2020 candidate found the high-ground vantage point he needed to strike both of them at the same time.
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who hopes to defeat Biden and almost two dozen other Democrats for his party’s nomination and then oust Trump from the Oval Office, delivered a wide-ranging foreign policy and national security speech with a simple point: the United States would be hopelessly stuck in the past with either the president or the former vice president at the helm.
He didn’t have to name his targets, neither of whom served in the military, to hit them.
“Faced with this moment of great challenge and possibility, it’s not enough just to say we won’t conduct foreign policy by tweet,” Buttigieg said at Indiana University in Bloomington. “Nor would it be honest to promise that we can restore an old order that cannot, in any case, meet the realities of a new moment. Democrats can no more turn the clock back to the 1990s than Republicans can return us to the 1950s.”
Biden, who began his service on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1975, was the top Democrat on the panel for the latter part of the 1990s, later serving as its chairman.
What it amounted to Tuesday was a little bit more of a triptych than the split-screen imagery hoped for by Biden and Trump, another data point in a trend of Democratic candidates starting to paint the two front-runners in the similar — fading — hues of yesterday’s news.
Trump and Biden, who spent parts of the day exchanging insults, are treating each other as the main combatants in the fight for the presidency.
Trump has no real competition for re-nomination, and Biden, despite a couple of missteps and slippage in recent polls, remains the leader of the pack for the Democratic nod. He has steadfastly avoided criticizing his Democratic rivals, preferring to run a campaign focused on the idea that Trump is the only obstacle in his path to the presidency.
Early excerpts of remarks Biden planned to deliver Tuesday night in Davenport, Iowa, were a full-on assault on Trump’s presidency, his character and his competence.
“America’s farmers have been crushed by his tariff war with China,” Biden was expected to say. “No one knows that better than Iowa. He thinks he’s being tough. Well, it’s easy to be tough when someone else is feeling the pain. … How many sleepless nights do you think Trump has had over what he’s doing to America’s farmers?”
In addition to trade, Biden planned to go after Trump on climate change, income inequality, his response to the fatal clash between white nationalists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, and policy at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“This isn’t who we are,” Biden will say, according to the excerpts released by his campaign. “We hold these truths self-evident — that all men — and all women — are created equal. It’s the American creed. But Trump sneers at it. He thinks it makes us weak. He has no idea it’s what makes us strong.”
Before departing for Iowa, Trump called Biden a “loser” and said he didn’t think much of the former vice president’s brainpower, verve or chances of winning the Democratic nomination.
“I’d rather run against, I think, Biden than anybody,” Trump said. “I think he is the weakest mentally. I like running against people that are weak mentally. I think Joe is the weakest up here. The other ones have much more energy.”
He also said of Biden that “it looks like his friends from the left are going to overtake him pretty soon.”
With many Democratic voters viewing Biden as their best shot to tackle Trump, fellow Democrats have been somewhat reluctant to risk a backlash by taking shots at the former vice president. Despite a contentious 2008 Democratic primary leading to a party victory in that year’s general election, the experience of losing in 2016 after a rough primary fight has made many Democratic voters wary of negativity in their own ranks.
But in recent days, after a long honeymoon period for Biden in which his poll numbers soared following his April launch, his Democratic rivals are starting to become more comfortable making the case that his brand of politics — more centrist and less disruptive than much of the field — isn’t the right solution for the party or the country.
Enter Buttigieg on Tuesday.
His critique of modern foreign policy included a call to repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force in Afghanistan that underpins the continued U.S. presence in that country and was used by President Barack Obama’s administration — the one in which Biden served as vice president — as well as a vow to pull funding from Israel if it expands into Palestinian areas.
“If Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu makes good on his promise to annex West Bank settlements, he should know that a President Buttigieg would take steps to ensure that American taxpayers won’t help foot the bill,” he said.
Trump has applauded Israeli settlements and recognized Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights region, while Biden, who much earlier in his career reportedly talked about cutting U.S. aid to Israel over expansion, did not repeat that threat when he condemned Israel’s announcement of new settlements while he was visiting the country in Obama’s first term.
Buttigieg is hardly alone in wanting to repeal the 2001 AUMF and replace it with something much more limited. All of the senators seeking the Democratic nomination voted in 2017 against killing an amendment by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., that would have repealed both that authorization and the one that covered the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and given lawmakers six months to draft a replacement.
But as often happens in the midst of a presidential campaign, the calendar, the moment in time and a candidate’s message conspired to create an opportunity.
In this case, it was the mayor of a small Midwestern town taking advantage of a slugfest between two titans with top-level foreign policy experience to try to make his vision for national security seem bigger — “to master change rather than be made small and fearful by it.”
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