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By Ken Dilanian

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration announced new sanctions on Iran’s metals sectors Wednesday, the latest step in a push to squeeze Tehran that has heightened tensions in the Middle East.

Trump’s executive order, which imposed sanctions on the steel, aluminum and copper industries, came hours after Iran announced it was withdrawing from parts of an Obama-era nuclear agreement. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from that deal a year ago but Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China remain.

“It remains the policy of the United States to deny Iran all paths to both a nuclear weapon and intercontinental ballistic missiles, and to counter the totality of Iran’s malign influence in the Middle East,” Trump said in the order released Wednesday.

He added that revenue from the metals industries “may be used to provide funding and support for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorist groups and networks, campaigns of regional aggression, and military expansion.”

In addition to pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Trump has added sanctions on Iran and designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a “foreign terrorist organization.”

It’s part of a strategy the administration describes as “maximum pressure.”

The announcement comes after National Security Adviser John Bolton disclosed Sunday that a U.S. carrier strike group and a bomber task force would be sent to the Middle East ahead of schedule. Officials have cited intelligence suggesting an increased risk of attacks against U.S. interests by Iran or its proxies.

Congressional Democrats briefed on the intelligence have not disputed it, but have criticized a Trump strategy they say risks war with Iran while providing no benefit to U.S. national security.

“Iran’s malign activities in Yemen, Syria, and elsewhere in the region, and the Iranian regime’s hateful rhetoric against our ally, Israel, are dangerous,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement Wednesday before the sanctions announcement. “At the same time, recent statements and actions taken by the Administration have heightened my concern of a cycle of escalation with Iran — one that could put us on the path to a war that would be destabilizing, costly, and contrary to our national interest.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that any U.S. military action against Iran must have the assent of Congress.

“There is no appetite in our country for war,” she said.



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Politics

John Bercow makes prime ministers’ lives ‘hell’ by breaking precedent, claims Cameron

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DAVID CAMERON has revealed that Commons Speaker John Bercow used to make his “life hell” and was often left baffled by his actions as he made unprecedented decisions to side against the Government.

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Barr praised 2017 book that claims colleges unfairly went after male students accused of sexual assault

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WASHINGTON — Before being nominated by President Donald Trump to be attorney general, William Barr strongly endorsed a 2017 book accusing colleges and universities of unfairly punishing male students accused of rape.

Barr’s praise for “Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America’s Universities” by K.C. Johnson and Stuart Taylor, is posted on the book’s Amazon.com page. But during his confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January, Barr was not questioned about the blurb, which suggested men are often railroaded by a politically correct campus “mob.”

In the blurb, Barr praises the book for examining multiple cases where, as he described, “Male students are sacrificed to the mob, with academic leaders happily serving as the hangmen.”

Barr’s professed skepticism about some campus sexual assault claims surfaced after Trump’s call this week for the Justice Department to “rescue” Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, after The New York Times published an excerpt of a new book detailing asexual assault allegation against Kavanaugh while a student at Yale that he had previously denied. The book also includes information about a new allegation.

Several Democratic presidential hopefuls have called for further investigation or for the impeachment of Kavanaugh in light of the allegations.

Barr’s endorsement of the book includes a broadside on the Obama administration’s approach to the issue of campus sexual assault.

During Obama’s presidency, colleges and universities were directed to aggressively pursue sexual misconduct allegations under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans sex discrimination in education. In 2017, the Trump administration ordered those Obama-era protections to be reversed.

“President Obama’s Education Department — promulgating regulations beyond its statutory authority, invoking erroneous data, and fanning the false narrative of a ‘rape culture’ on college campuses — has created a regime of kangaroo justice,” Barr wrote in the blurb.

Kerri Kupec, a spokeswoman for Barr at the Justice Department, declined comment.

The book by Johnson and Taylor — and Barr’s endorsement of it — were part of the administrative record Education Secretary Betsy DeVos relied on to make her decision to roll back the Obama-era rules, according to records ordered released by a judge in response to a lawsuit challenging the rollback. DeVos, not Barr, has led the Trump administration’s effort to change campus sexual assault policy.

Taylor told NBC News that now that Barr is attorney general, “I am hopeful he will help move policy in the direction Betsy DeVos is trying to do,” while acknowledging that many of DeVos’s proposals could easily be undone by a future administration.

The changes include requiring schools to disclose the identity of accusers to alleged assailants and allowing the accused to question alleged victims during campus investigations.

In light of Trump’s recent tweet about the Justice Department and Kavanaugh, it’s unclear Barr has the power to do anything to “rescue” Kavanaugh or any male student accused of sexual misconduct. Most sexual offenses are prosecuted locally, not by the Justice Department, which handles sex trafficking and child exploitation cases.

In an interview, Taylor said Barr had agreed to write a blurb for his book at a time when neither expected Barr would serve in the Justice Department again. Barr was attorney general under President George H.W. Bush from 1991 to 1993.

Barr’s blurb has also raised concerns among some Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who said it should have been raised during his confirmation hearings last January. A spokesman for Judiciary Democrats said they had not been aware of the blurb at the time.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the committee, is among those who say they would have wanted to question Barr about the statement.

Due process is always important, Blumenthal told NBC News, but Barr’s comments are “way over the top.”

Emily Martin, vice president for education and workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center, said Barr’s comments are “incredibly disturbing” coming from someone who is now the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.

His statement “really discounts the experiences of survivors and the challenges they face,” Martin said.

She went on to raise concerns that Barr’s comments would mean his Justice Department would “leave schools less safe, especially for women and girls.”

Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, also members of the committee, agreed that Barr should have been pressed on the matter during his confirmation.

“This statement seems very out of step with the improvements that have been made in recent decades” around how victims of rape are “taken seriously,” said Whitehouse.

Trump and a number of administration officials have come under scrutiny for expressing skepticism about whether females alleging sexual assault should be believed.

In July 2017, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Education Candace Jackson told The New York Times that 90 percent of accusations fall into the category of “we were both drunk, we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation.” She later apologized for the comments.

Earlier, DeVos delivered a policy address in which she said “if everything is harassment, then nothing is.”

At least 17 women have accused Trump of inappropriate behavior, including allegations of sexual harassment or assault. Trump has strongly denied the accusations multiple times.

Taylor, the book’s author, said he doesn’t believe Barr’s endorsement of his book has any bearing on how he would pursue prosecution of sex crimes as attorney general.

Taylor said that he and his co-author are “strong critics” of Trump, adding, “I’m quite willing to believe a lot of the accusations against him are true.”

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Trump names Robert O’Brien as new national security adviser

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday named Robert O’Brien, a State Department official who has specialized in hostage issues, as his new national security adviser.

“I have worked long & hard with Robert,” Trump tweeted. “He will do a great job!”

O’Brien will replace John Bolton, whom Trump fired last week after a string of disagreements.

O’Brien had been on Trump’s list of finalists, and the president had praised him as recently as Tuesday as “fantastic.”

Trump, speaking to reporters in California with O’Brien at his side later Wednesday, said his administration has “had a tremendous track record with respect to hostages.”

O’Brien, for his part, said “it’s a privilege to serve with the president.”

O’Brien was integrally involved in the release of rapper ASAP Rocky by Swedish authorities last month. The rapper had been detained and charged with assault in connection with a June 30 scuffle between his entourage and a 19-year-old man in Stockholm.

Trump had emerged as a vocal supporter of the rapper in the criminal case.

O’Brien had been present in court in Sweden when the rapper’s trial began and had written to Swedish prosecutors urging them to release him.

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As a State Department envoy for hostage affairs, O’Brien led American diplomatic efforts on overseas hostage matters, working closely both with families of American hostages and senior government officials, according to his State Department biography.

Previously, O’Brien was the co-chairman of the State Department’s Public-Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan, for both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations. He was nominated in 2005 by Bush and confirmed by Senate to serve as a U.S. representative to the United Nations General Assembly.

The position of national security adviser does not require Senate confirmation.

O’Brien replaces Bolton — who had been one of the most hawkish voices in Trump’s inner circle on a number of issues, including Taliban negotiations and China trade talks — and will be Trump’s fourth national security adviser. His first, Michael Flynn, was in court for a status hearing last week before his sentencing for lying to U.S. officials. Flynn’s successor, Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, said he was retiring after repeated disagreements with Trump.

Bolton, known as a fierce infighter, had few loyal allies internally. He had clashed with many senior members of the administration at times, including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Trump’s announcement comes as his administration deals with a number of international hot spots, including North Korea, Iran, Venezuela and Afghanistan.

The tweet also came just moments after the president vowed to “substantially increase” sanctions on Iran as tensions in the Middle East rise after an attack on a Saudi oil field, and with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo headed to Saudi Arabia to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to discuss the recent attack.

American officials believe the attack originated from Iranian territory and the president tweeted over the weekend that the U.S. was “locked and loaded” in preparation for some sort of retaliatory action.



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