Chris Wallace: Trump to blame for Mueller probe

Fox News host Chris Wallace said on Friday that President TrumpDonald John TrumpProsecutor: 20 guns found in home of man who threatened Boston Globe Trump officials identify 497 migrant children still in custody Trump says he knew Ocasio-Cortez would win MORE has only himself to blame for special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s investigation into Russian election interference and any possible ties between his presidential campaign and Moscow.

“The only person the president can blame for that is himself,” Wallace said on “Fox News Friday” amid the president’s ongoing attacks against Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump again threatens to ‘get involved’ in the Justice Department Hillicon Valley: Trump raises antitrust concerns for tech giants | Google faces new scrutiny from GOP | Twitter updates rules for political ads | Snapchat apologizes after map calls NYC ‘Jewtropolis’ Nixon White House counsel John Dean to testify at Kavanaugh hearing MORE for his recusal from the probe last year.

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Wallace pointed out that Sessions’s recusal did not immediately lead to Mueller’s Russia probe, saying that the investigation was the result of Trump firing FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyBrzezinski: Trump attacking NBC News boss Andy Lack with ‘stupid rumors’ about possible firing Trump lashes out at CNN, NBC in sustained media attacks Trump makes wise move to find fresh new White House counsel MORE.

“You know, things have changed, and obviously the decision in the spring of 2017 to recuse himself and everything that has flowed from that has made a big difference,” Wallace said. 

“Remember, the recusal of Sessions did not lead to the special counsel. It was the firing of Comey, of James Comey, the FBI director that led to the appointment of the special counsel,” he pointed out.

Sessions, the former Alabama senator who served as a top Trump campaign adviser, recused himself from the Russia investigation in March 2017 after it was revealed he failed to disclose a conversation he had with the Russian ambassador during the 2016 race.

Since then, multiple outlets have reported the president has privately pressured Sessions, whom he has frequently railed against in interviews, to reverse his decision to recuse himself. 

Those comments, in addition to his recent sting of tweets attacking Sessions, are reportedly under investigation as Mueller looks into whether Trump has obstructed justice.

Earlier this week, reports emerged alleging that the president was floating the possibility of firing Sessions to White House aides.

Trump later told Bloomberg in an interview published on Thursday that he will keep Sessions in his position until at least the upcoming midterm elections.

http://thehill.com

Racist robocalls hit Florida with black minstrel-style voice mocking Gillum

Voter in Florida on Friday were reportedly exposed to racist robocalls mocking Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Andrew Gillum in a black minstrel-style voice. 

The calls were apparently issued by a neo-Nazi group based in Idaho known as Road to Power, which also reportedly paid to send white nationalist robocalls in Iowa regarding Mollie Tibbetts, a college student who was allegedly murdered by an undocumented immigrant.

The Florida robocall reportedly featured a minstrel-style voice mocking Gillum with jungle noises that played in the background, The Tallahassee Democrat first reported.

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Gillum’s opponent in the governor’s race, Rep. Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisPost-primary Dem poll shows Gillum leading DeSantis in Florida Daily Caller reporter: Cannot defend DeSantis ‘monkey’ comment in ‘any way’ The Hill’s 12:30 Report — Trump steps up attack on CNN MORE (R), on Wednesday prompted fierce backlash after he warned Florida voters not to “monkey this up” by voting for Gillum. 

“Let’s build off the success we’ve had on Gov. [Rick] Scott. The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases bankrupting the state. That is not going to work,” DeSantis said in an interview with Fox News.

DeSantis’s campaign quickly pushed back on critics, saying it was “absurd” to claim that the Florida Republican was doing anything other than criticizing Gillum’s agenda.

The DeSantis campaign also denounced the racist robocalls mocking his opponent in a statement obtained by Politico on Friday.

“This is absolutely appalling and disgusting — and hopefully whoever is behind this has to answer for this despicable action,” spokesman Stephen Lawson said in the statement. “Our campaign has and will continue to focus solely on the issues that Floridians care about and uniting our state as we continue to build on our success.” 

Geoff Burgan, a spokesman for Gillum’s campaign, also issued a statement to the publication condemning the robocalls. 

“This is reprehensible — and could only have come from someone with intentions to fuel hatred and seek publicity. Please don’t give it undeserved attention,” Burgan said.

http://thehill.com

Trump and Arizona governor spoke following McCain’s death

Donald Trump

President Donald Trump’s phone call with Ducey came as the Arizona governor weighs whom to appoint to the seat following the death of the late Arizona Sen. John McCain, who passed away last week. | Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Donald Trump and Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey spoke by phone this week — a conversation where the subject of the state’s vacant Senate seat arose, according to four people familiar with the discussion.

The discussion came as Ducey weighs whom to appoint to the seat following the death of the late Arizona Sen. John McCain, who passed away last week.

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One person familiar with the details of the call described it as wide-ranging, and said it included discussion of the proposed border wall, health care and the Senate vacancy. Trump, this person said, congratulated Ducey on his Tuesday primary victory.

The two also discussed McCain’s funeral arrangements.

Ducey, who faces a serious reelection challenge, has remained tight-lipped about whom he will select to the fill vacancy.

The White House decline to comment.

“We have stated repeatedly that we would not discuss an appointment to the seat vacated by Sen. McCain’s passing until his life is honored and he is laid to rest. That continues to be the case and we will have nothing further to add,” said Ducey spokesman Daniel Ruiz.

http://www.politico.com

U.S. ends funding of UN agency for Palestinian refugees

Mahmoud Abbas.

Majdi Mohammed/AP Photo

The United States is ending its decades of funding for the U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees, the State Department announced Friday, a week after slashing bilateral U.S. aid for projects in the West Bank and Gaza.

The U.S. supplies nearly 30 percent of the total budget of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, and had been demanding reforms in the way it is run. The department said in a written statement that the United States “will no longer commit further funding to this irredeemably flawed operation.” The decision cuts nearly $300 million of planned support.

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It comes as President Donald Trump and his Middle East pointmen, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, prepare for the rollout of a much-vaunted but as yet unclear peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians, and it could intensify Palestinian suspicions that Washington is using the humanitarian funding as leverage.

The Palestinian leadership has been openly hostile to any proposal from the administration, citing what it says is a pro-Israel bias, notably after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December and moved the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv in May. The Palestinian Authority broke off contact with the U.S. after the Jerusalem announcement.

In 2016, the U.S. donated $355 million to the UNRWA, which provides health care, education and social services to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, and it was set to make a similar contribution this year. In January the Trump administration released $60 million in funds but withheld a further $65 million it had been due to provide. The remaining amount — around $290 million — had yet to be allocated.

“When we made a U.S. contribution of $60 million in January, we made it clear that the United States was no longer willing to shoulder the very disproportionate share of the burden of UNRWA’s costs that we had assumed for many years,” the statement said. “Several countries, including Jordan, Egypt, Sweden, Qatar, and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) have shown leadership in addressing this problem, but the overall international response has not been sufficient.”

The statement criticized the “fundamental business model and fiscal practices” of UNRWA, and what the department characterized as the “endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries.”

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes during the war that led to Israel’s establishment in 1948. Today, there are an estimated 5 million refugees and their descendants, mostly scattered across the region — a figure that has become a point of contention. Palestinian leaders assert the right of those refugees to return to land now under Israeli control.

Last Friday, the State Department announced the U.S. was cutting more than $200 million in bilateral aid to the Palestinians, following a review of the funding for projects in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesman called that U.S. decision an attempt to force the Palestinians to abandon their claim to Jerusalem.

Speaking before the announcement on UNRWA, its representative in Washington, Elizabeth Campbell, said the withdrawal of U.S. funding would leave the agency facing a financial crisis, but noted that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and others have provided more than $200 million in new funding to help cover its budget this year.

In recent days, senior Trump administration officials publicly expressed dissatisfaction with UNRWA but stopped short of saying the U.S. would defund the agency.

On Tuesday, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, complained that “Palestinians continue to bash America” although it’s the main donor for UNRWA. Speaking at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, Haley also said, “we have to look at right of return” of those classified as Palestinian refugees. She called on Middle East nations to increase aid.

There is deepening international concern over deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the West Bank and Gaza.

The State Department statement said the U.S. will intensify dialogue with the United Nations, host governments and international stakeholders about new models and new approaches to help Palestinians, especially schoolchildren, which may include direct bilateral assistance from the U.S. and others.

http://www.politico.com

Trump notifies Congress of trade deal with Mexico

President TrumpDonald John TrumpProsecutor: 20 guns found in home of man who threatened Boston Globe Trump officials identify 497 migrant children still in custody Trump says he knew Ocasio-Cortez would win MORE notified Congress on Friday of his plans to sign a trade agreement with Mexico to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), setting off a 90-day clock for the nations to sign the deal. 

The United States is also hoping to include Canada in the agreement even though they failed to meet Friday’s deadline imposed by Trump after long discussions this week to reach a deal.

U.S. and Canadian negotiators will resume trade talks on Wednesday with the hopes of wrapping up a deal before the clock runs out.

Without Canada in the agreement Congress won’t approve an updated 24-year-old NAFTA deal. 

Congress won’t have a chance to consider the deal until at least next year. 

U.S. Trade Representative Robert LighthizerRobert (Bob) Emmet LighthizerMcConnell urges GOP senators to call Trump about tariffs Companies brace for trade war MORE said the “talks were constructive, and we made progress.”

“Our officials are continuing to work toward agreement,” Lighthizer said.

Getting a deal done within three months would give outgoing Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto a chance to sign the agreement before leaving office at the end of November.

Congressional lawmakers and U.S. and Canadian business groups are arguing that it is imperative to have all three nations in the deal because of the complex trading system NAFTA set up nearly 25 years ago. 

The president announced a two-way deal with Mexico on Monday and at the time put into doubt whether Canada may be able to join the agreement. 

“We will see whether or not we decide to put up Canada or just do a separate deal with Canada, if they want to make the deal,” Trump said.

Earlier on Friday, the Toronto Star released off-the-record comments President Trump made about Canada on Thursday during an Oval Office interview with Bloomberg.

Trump said he would not give Canada any concessions in the talks and that a possible deal on trade with Canada would be “totally on our terms.”

Despite the rough start to the morning’s discussions, Canadian officials said they were making progress but there was disagreement on dairy and investor-state dispute rules.

http://thehill.com