Tillerson makes unannounced side trip to Afghanistan

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson makes a statement at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

The State Department says Rex Tillerson visited Kabul for talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. | Cliff Owen/AP Photo

KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has made an unannounced trip to Afghanistan.

The State Department says Tillerson visited Kabul for talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and other senior officials to outline for them the Trump administration’s new South Asia policy. He also underscored the ongoing U.S. commitment to stabilizing the war-ravaged country.

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Cloaked in secrecy and under heavy security, Tillerson slipped out of the Qatari capital of Doha in the pre-dawn hours and flew into Kabul on Monday on the third leg of a trip that started in Saudi Arabia.

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Obama’s army enlists in redistricting fight

Barack Obama is pictured. | AP Photo

Then-President Barack Obama speaks during a Organizing for Action event, on Nov. 9, 2015. | Evan Vucci/AP Photo

Organizing for Action, the progressive group born out of Barack Obama’s old campaign apparatus, is joining the redistricting effort that Obama has made a central cause of his post-presidency.

On Monday, OFA will officially launch a partnership with the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, chaired by former Attorney General Eric Holder.

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OFA officially runs independently from Obama, but for this announcement, the former president is making it himself.

“OFA volunteers and supporters will provide the grassroots organizing capacity and mobilization that we’ll need to win state-level elections and move other initiatives forward ahead of the 2021 redistricting process, making sure that states are in the best position possible to draw fair maps,” Obama writes in an email set to go out to the OFA’s list that he’ll call “Our Next Fight.”

The conversations have been underway for several months, but the announcement comes as Obama is slated to appear at an OFA event in Chicago on Nov. 8, the anniversary of last year’s election, that will bring him together for a conversation with organizers and big donors for the group.

The NDRC has spent the past year fundraising and putting the pieces together in preparation for what it’s hoping will be a very active presence in the courts and on the campaign trail in 2018 and beyond —with some action in Virginia and New Jersey races this year — with the goal of changing the redistricting process to reverse the existing Republican tilt of maps in many states.

The results could significantly reshape the makeup of the House, as well as state legislatures.

“There is no better infrastructure out there to build in order to unleash the power of the people onto redistricting,” said NDRC executive director Kelly Ward, calling this “an awesome, seamless partnership.”

“It’s the support of President Obama’s network and the shared values that come with that that make it so seamless,” Ward said. “We are all in this together still.”

Obama and Holder have both campaigned in New Jersey and Virginia, and the NDRC put $500,000 into the Virginia governor’s race last month.

OFA, meanwhile, will start holding house parties, community meetings and conference calls geared to helping their organizers understand and internalize what gerrymandering is, and what the processes are for changing district maps in each state.

Katie Hogan, the executive director of OFA, said that some of their organizers had already started talking about redistricting and collecting ballot initiative signatures on their own.

“It’s really familiar work to us and not at all deviating to what we’ve done for years,” Hogan said.

Though OFA was very active in helping mobilize turnouts to town halls and other events as part of the resistance to Obamacare repeal efforts, this brings the group closer to direct political campaigns than it’s been since reconstituting after the 2012 election. As a 501c4, the group has the ability to get involved in politics if it choose too.

“We don’t have every single part of this mapped out,” Hogan said. “We do know that we are the best suited to play that public education role right now, and we’ll see where that takes us.”

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Trump disputes widow’s assertion that he couldn’t remember slain soldier’s name

Donald Trump is pictured here. | Getty Images

“I had a very respectful conversation with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, and spoke his name from beginning, without hesitation!” President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter. | Mandel Ngan/Getty Images

President Donald Trump on Monday denied that he had trouble recalling the name of Army Sgt. La David Johnson during a phone call with the slain soldier’s widow, disputing her assertion that he had struggled to remember the sergeant’s name during a condolence conversation.

“I had a very respectful conversation with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, and spoke his name from beginning, without hesitation!” Trump wrote on Twitter Monday morning.

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An hour earlier, Myeshia Johnson, the widow of La David Johnson, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that her conversation with the president last week had left her “very, very upset and hurt” and that he had “made me cry even worse.” Most offensive, the widow said, was that Trump seemed to have a hard time producing La David Johnson’s name.

“He couldn’t remember my husband’s name. The only way he remembered my husband’s name because he told me he had my husband report in front of him and that’s when he actually said ‘La David.’ I heard him stumbling on trying to remember my husband name,” she said. “And that’s what hurt me the most because if my husband is out here fighting for our country and he risks his life for our country, why can’t you remember his name? And that’s what made me upset and cry even more because my husband was an awesome soldier.”

The first accounts of the president’s conversation with the widow came from Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), who was in the car with Myeshia Johnson when she took the call from Trump on speakerphone. The White House spent much of last week disputing Wilson’s version of events, with the president writing on Twitter that the Florida lawmaker had “totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof).”

Myeshia Johnson’s recounting of her call with the president matched closely with that of Wilson, and the widow told ABC that “whatever Ms. Wilson said was not fabricated. What she said was 100 percent correct.”

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Trump: ‘No leadership in NFL’

Donald Trump is pictured here. | Getty Images

“Two dozen NFL players continue to kneel during the National Anthem showing total disrespect to our Flag & Country,” the president tweets. | Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images

President Donald Trump continued his criticism of the NFL on Monday morning, saying there is “no leadership” in the league as some players continue to take a knee during the national anthem.

“Two dozen NFL players continue to kneel during the National Anthem showing total disrespect to our Flag & Country. No leadership in NFL!” Trump tweeted.

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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has said that players “should” stand for the anthem. However, last week, after a meeting with team owners in New York City, he said that players would not be penalized for kneeling during the anthem.

Some players have chosen to take a knee during the national anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutality.

Trump voiced his disagreement after last week’s decision tweeting, “The NFL has decided that it will not force players to stand for the playing of our National Anthem. Total disrespect for our great country!”

Goodell said that players “are not doing this in any way to be disrespectful to the flag, but they also understand how it’s being interpreted.”

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Widow of slain solider gives blistering account of Trump’s call: ‘It made me cry even worse’

Myeshia Johnson is pictured here. | Getty Images

Myeshia Johnson kisses the casket of her husband U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson during his burial service on October 21 in Hollywood, Florida.

Myeshia Johnson, the widow of a soldier killed earlier this month in Niger, said Monday that a condolence call from President Donald Trump “made me cry even worse,” telling ABC News that Rep. Frederica Wilson’s account of the conversation, not the White House’s, is accurate.

“The president said that he knew what he signed up for but it hurts anyways and I was — it made me cry because I was very angry at the tone of his voice and how he said it. He couldn’t remember my husband’s name. The only way he remembered my husband’s name was because he told me he had my husband’s report in front of him a²nd that’s when he actually said ‘La David,’” Johnson told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “I heard him stumbling on trying to remember my husband’s name and that’s what hurt me the most because if my husband is out here fighting for our country and he risks his life for our country, why can’t you remember his name? And that’s what made me upset and cry even more because my husband was an awesome soldier.”

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The phone call between Johnson and the president became a point of contention last week when Wilson (D-Fla.), who was traveling with the widow when she took Trump’s call on speakerphone, told reporters that the president had struggled to remember Army Sgt. La David Johnson’s name and said the slain soldier knew what he signed up for when he enlisted.

As the week wore on, the White House lashed out at Wilson, accusing the hat-wearing congresswoman of being “all hat, no cattle” and suggesting that she had sought to politicize the soldier’s death. Trump himself, in a post to Twitter, wrote that Wilson had “totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!”

Despite the White House’s insistence that Wilson had mischaracterized and fabricated the tenor of Trump’s call, Myeshia Johnson’s account of the conversation aligned with that of the lawmaker.

“Whatever Ms. Wilson said was not fabricated. What she said was 100 percent correct,” she said, explaining that six people, including Wilson, had heard the call as the family made its way to meet the slain soldier’s remains at Dover Air Force Base. “The phone was on speakerphone. Why would we fabricate something like that?”

The widow said she was left “very, very upset and hurt, very” by the president’s call.

She also said that many of her questions surrounding her husband’s death have not yet been answered by the military and that she has not been allowed to view her husband’s body. She said she has not been told how he was killed or why it took two days from the time La David Johnson’s unit was attacked for the military to recover his body.

“Why couldn’t I see my husband? Every time I asked to see my husband they wouldn’t let me,” she said. “I need to see him so I will know that that is my husband. I don’t know nothing. They won’t show me a finger, a hand. I know my husband’s body from head to toe and they won’t let me see anything. I don’t know what’s in that box. It could be empty for all I know but I need — I need to see my husband.”

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