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By Andrea Mitchell
JERUSALEM — President Donald Trump is again making a major Middle East policy change on Twitter — announcing that the U.S. is recognizing Israel’s sovereignty of the Golan Heights, along the contested border with Syria — a huge military and political prize for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu only three weeks before his tough re-election bid.
Trump tweeted that it is “of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!”
The president’s enthusiasm was topped by an ebullient Netanyahu, with the Israeli leader calling the White House to thank Trump while the prime minister was hosting Secretary of State Pompeo for dinner at his Jerusalem residence. Netanyahu told reporters, “President Trump has just made history. I called him. I thanked him on behalf of the people of Israel. He did it again!…The message that President Trump has given the world is that America stands by Israel.”
Netanyahu ended with a hug for Pompeo, whom the prime minister pressed this week for the policy change. Pompeo has been brushing off suggestions of any connection between U.S support for the Israeli leader’s foreign policy goals and his re-election bid, but the Golan move is expected to be wildly popular across a broad swath of Israelis — left, right and center.
The Golan Heights has been a major military concern for Israel over the last year as Syrian regime forces have retaken control of some of the territory, bringing with them Iranian-backed militants. But Trump’s unilateral decision to recognize Israel’s right to the area violates a long-standing U.N. resolution and international law, which held that sovereignty should eventually be resolved through negotiations.
In an interview on Fox Business Network with Maria Bartiromo, Trump denied that his position on the Golan Heights had anything to do with the upcoming Israeli election.
“I wouldn’t even know about that,” Trump said. “I have no idea — I hear he’s doing okay, I don’t know if he’s doing great right now, but I hear he’s doing okay. But I would imagine the other side, whoever’s against him, is also in favor of what I just did. Every president has said, ‘Do that.’ I’m the one that gets it done.”
But the advantage for Israel’s embattled prime minister, who is facing a poplar former Army chief of staff, Benny Gantz, in the April 9 election, are unmistakable.
Netanyahu was elated as he cited the White House decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing the contested city as Israel’s capital; withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal; and, now, awarding Israel sole custody — in the U.S. view — of the Golan Heights.
Earlier, Pompeo made his first visit to the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, formerly a consulate but now being expanded. He also was the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Israel’s sacred Western Wall alongside Netanyahu, placing a prayer in the cracks of the wall as is Jewish tradition. It signified further acceptance of Israel’s control of the disputed city, containing holy sites of Jewish, Christian and Muslim religions.
They even went to an underground synagogue, built under the Muslim quarter within ancient Roman tunnels.
In response to Trump’s Golan Heights decision, Palestinian official Saeb Erekat tweeted, “What shall tomorrow bring? Certain destabilization and bloodshed in our region.”
Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote that he strongly disagreed with Trump, and that the move would prevent Arab governments from making peace with Israel.
Next week, Netanyahu gets another boost from Trump, an invitation to the White House, only two weeks before the election.
Rosenstein defends Russia probe, rips Obama administration
By Adam Edelman
Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who supervised special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference and President Donald Trump, on Thursday defended his handling of the probe, trashed the media for the way it was covered and slammed the Obama administration for not revealing “the full story” about Russia’s efforts.
“Some critical decisions about that Russia investigation were made before I got there. The previous administration chose not to publicize the full story about Russian computer hackers and social media trolls, and how they relate to Russia’s broader strategy to undermine America,” Rosenstein told the Armenian Bar Association’s Public Servants Dinner in New York.
The speech marked the first time Rosenstein has spoken publicly since Attorney General William Barr, earlier this month, released a redacted copy of Mueller’s report detailing his findings. While finding no criminal conspiracy, the report showed that Trump associates met with Russians after the intelligence community said in October 2016 that Russia was interfering in the presidential election, and even after the Obama administration announced a set of post-election sanctions to punish Russia for that behavior. Mueller’s report also details 10 episodes of potential obstruction by Trump, but did not conclude whether the president committed a crime. The report “also does not exonerate him,” Mueller wrote. Barr declared, in a letter to Congress prior to the redacted report’s release, that Trump did not obstruct justice.
Rosenstein on Thursday also criticized former FBI Director James Comey for an array of decisions he’d made about the agency’s probe into Russian interference.
“The FBI disclosed classified evidence about the investigation to ranking legislators and their staffers. Someone selectively leaked details to the news media. The FBI director announced at a congressional hearing that there was a counterintelligence investigation that might result in criminal charges. Then the former FBI director alleged that the president pressured him to close the investigation, and the president denied that the conversation occurred,” Rosenstein said.
Mueller’s report lays out evidence that appears to support Comey’s version of the events leading up to his firing, which the White House initially pinned on a memo drafted by Rosenstein at Trump’s request. Rosenstein’s memo attributed the rationale for dismissing the FBI chief to Comey’s handling of the probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state.
According to Mueller’s report, however, “substantial evidence indicates that the catalyst for the president’s decision to fire Comey was Comey’s unwillingness to publicly state that the president was not personally under investigation, despite the president’s repeated requests that Comey make such an announcement.”
Later in the speech, Rosenstein took a swipe at the media for how it covered the investigation, hitting “mercenary critics” who “get paid to express passionate opinions about any topic, often with little or no information” and who “launch ad hominem attacks unrestricted by truth or morality.”
“Some of the nonsense that passes for breaking news today would not be worth the paper was printed on, if anybody bothered to print it,” he said. “It quickly fades away. The principles are what abide.”
Above all, Rosenstein defended how the investigation was handled, saying he had promised to “do it right.”
“I did pledge to do it right and take it to the appropriate conclusion. I did not promise to report all results to the public, because grand jury investigations are ex parte proceedings. It is not our job to render conclusive factual findings. We just decide whether it is appropriate to file criminal charges,” Rosenstein said.
Nigel Farage says his party will FIGHT next General Election
‘They have to get the shot’
By Dartunorro Clark
President Donald Trump on Friday urged parents to get their children vaccinated after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced this week record-high cases of measles since the disease was declared eliminated in 2000.
“They have to get the shot. The vaccinations are so important,” Trump said outside the White House on his way to Indianapolis to address the NRA. “This is really going around now, they have to get their shot.”
New cases of measles reported in New York, New Jersey and California bring the total number of infections in the U.S. to at least 695 so far in 2019 according to new numbers released by CDC.
Nearly 300 students and employees at two Los Angeles universities were under quarantine Thursday and Friday after possible exposure to measles.
Trump’s comments on Friday differed from his past remarks on vaccinations.
At a 2015 Republican presidential candidate debate hosted by CNN, Trump said that he wanted to change the vaccine schedule for children, erroneously linking autism to vaccines.
“Autism has become an epidemic…I am totally in favor of vaccines. But I want smaller doses over a longer period of time,” he said.
In a March 2014 tweet, Trump questioned why a child “gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines.”
“Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn’t feel good and changes — AUTISM. Many such cases!” he tweeted.
On Wednesday, New York City and suburban Rockland County confirmed an additional 37 measles cases, and California reported seven new cases. The second-highest number for measles cases in the U.S. was 667 in 2014, according to the CDC.
In New York City and Rockland County, there have been 590 cases since the measles outbreak began in October 2018. Los Angeles reported its first five cases on Monday.
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