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Turkey’s President Erdogan Vies to Remake a Museum as a Mosque

Seraffettin was at home under coronavirus ­lockdown on May 29 when a Muslim cleric recited Quranic verses atop a carpeted dais inside Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia museum. But the imam’s reading, to mark the 567th anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of the city, lingered in the simit bread vendor’s mind weeks after he returned to the courtyard outside Turkey’s most visited attraction.

“Hagia Sophia officially belongs to Turkey,” Seraffettin said on July 7, outside the 6th-century UNESCO world heritage site where he has sold the sesame-seed dotted snack for 15 years. “But we have to understand that people come to visit it from many different countries. We have to let them see and feel their history too.” Like other vendors, he declined to give his full name so that he could speak freely.

A principal seat of power for Orthodox Christians for almost 1000 years, the Hagia Sophia, known as Ayasofya in Turkish, became a mosque in 1453 after the Ottomans breached Constantinople’s walls. Its mosaics and frescoes were painted over, and for centuries it stood as a symbol of Christian–Islamic rivalry. In 1934, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who envisioned modern Turkey as a secular nation, ordered it turned into a museum. But later in July, a court is set to rule on whether the Ataturk-­era decree can be annulled, paving the way for the Hagia Sophia to again be a mosque.

Orthodox Christians in Greece and Russia were aghast. Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew said in a statement that the building’s reconversion would upset millions of Christians worldwide and could “fracture” relations between East and West. A senior Russian Orthodox Church official, meanwhile, lamented what he described as a “return to the Middle Ages.”

On July 1, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo weighed into the debate. In a tweet, he urged Turkey to keep the Hagia Sophia a museum to show it respected pluralism. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded that such reactions were “tantamount to a direct attack on our sovereignty.”

Domestically, the status of the Hagia Sophia strikes at the heart of the battle between Turkey’s past and a future embodied by Erdogan’s brand of religious nationalism. “Istanbul is a city of mosques and the politics that surrounds them,” says Soner Cagaptay, author of Erdogan’s Empire: Turkey and the Politics of the Middle East. Ataturk making Hagia Sophia a museum underscored his commitment to secularism, he says. Now, nearly a century later, Erdogan is attempting the opposite, “flooding Turkey’s public space with his own understanding of religion.”

Turkey’s 20th-century secular rulers often limited the freedom of religious expression, for decades banning the headscarf in state institutions, among other measures. It is difficult to argue that such limitations are still an issue, says Cagaptay, but Hagia Sofia’s continued closure to prayers allows Erdogan to assert that his “conservative base is being victimized, or could be victimized should he fall from power.”

Erdogan’s grip on power looks less assured than ever. In 2019, shortly after Turkey endured its first recession in a decade, his governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost the mayorship of Istanbul, which it had held for 25 years. Prominent defections—including that of the former economy minister Ali Babacan—risk splitting his base at a time when the global pandemic is heaping fresh pressure on Turkey’s economy.

Polls suggest slightly more Turkish people support the Hagia Sophia becoming a mosque than oppose it. But a majority also think the debate is being raised now primarily to serve the government’s agenda. More than 55% of respondents to a June survey conducted by Turkey’s Metropoll said its main purpose is either to distract from discussions of Turkey’s economic crisis or to create an argument the government can use to influence early elections.

“It’s a bluff, like poker,” says Mehmet, 60, who owns a shop selling carpets and silverware near Seraffettin’s simit trolley. For now, he says, there’s no need to convert the building. “Did we fill all the other mosques in Turkey?”

There are indications the court could rule in Erdogan’s favor. In a similar case last November, a Turkish court ruled that an Ataturk-era decree making the nearby Chora church a museum was unlawful. Like Hagia Sofia, it had been converted into a mosque during the Ottoman period. Per the court’s ruling, it “cannot be used except for its essential function,” Foreign Policy reports.

Before Hagia Sophia was a mosque, however, it was a cathedral. At least one Orthodox leader believes it might be time for a new approach completely. Armenian Orthodox Patriarch Sahak Mashalian has endorsed the idea of restoring Hagia Sophia as a place of worship for both Christians and Muslims, reports Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper — an announcement that has sparked controversy among Greek and Armenian communities.

But Hagia Sophia has long attracted visitors of every faith. Last year, its immense dome, ornate minarets, and medieval frescoes drew some 3.7 million tourists, making it Turkey’s most visited monument. Yet Sami Bozbey, a trilingual tour guide worried that changing its status would elongate queue times, and might mean covering up mosaic images of the human form, which are considered idolatrous in mosques. He fears that could dissuade foreigners from visiting and hurt an industry already reeling from the pandemic. “Look around,” he says, scanning the courtyard for tourists, “everybody’s struggling.”

With reporting by Engin Bas / Istanbul

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Sources say the President was so woefully unprepared for conversations with rivals and allies that he presented a national security threat

(CNN)In hundreds of highly classified phone calls with foreign heads of state, President Donald Trump was so consistently unprepared for discussion of serious issues, so often outplayed in his conversations with powerful leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan, and so abusive to leaders of America’s principal allies, that the calls helped convince some senior US officials — including his former secretaries of state and defense, two national security advisers and his longest-serving chief of staff — that the President himself posed a danger to the national security of the United States, according to White House and intelligence officials intimately familiar with the contents of the conversations.

The calls caused former top Trump deputies — including national security advisers H.R. McMaster and John Bolton, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and White House chief of staff John Kelly, as well as intelligence officials — to conclude that the President was often “delusional,” as two sources put it, in his dealings with foreign leaders. The sources said there was little evidence that the President became more skillful or competent in his telephone conversations with most heads of state over time. Rather, he continued to believe that he could either charm, jawbone or bully almost any foreign leader into capitulating to his will, and often pursued goals more attuned to his own agenda than what many of his senior advisers considered the national interest.

These officials’ concerns about the calls, and particularly Trump’s deference to Putin, take on new resonance with reports the President may have learned in March that Russia had offered the Taliban bounties to kill US troops in Afghanistan — and yet took no action. CNN’s sources said there were calls between Putin and Trump about Trump’s desire to end the American military presence in Afghanistan but they mentioned no discussion of the supposed Taliban bounties.

By far the greatest number of Trump’s telephone discussions with an individual head of state were with Erdogan, who sometimes phoned the White House at least twice a week and was put through directly to the President on standing orders from Trump, according to the sources. Meanwhile, the President regularly bullied and demeaned the leaders of America’s principal allies, especially two women: telling Prime Minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom she was weak and lacked courage; and telling German Chancellor Angela Merkel that she was “stupid.”

Trump incessantly boasted to his fellow heads of state, including Saudi Arabia’s autocratic royal heir Mohammed bin Salman and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, about his own wealth, genius, “great” accomplishments as President, and the “idiocy” of his Oval Office predecessors, according to the sources.

In his conversations with both Putin and Erdogan, Trump took special delight in trashing former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and suggested that dealing directly with him — Trump — would be far more fruitful than during previous administrations. “They didn’t know BS,” he said of Bush and Obama — one of several derisive tropes the sources said he favored when discussing his predecessors with the Turkish and Russian leaders.

Then-national security adviser John Bolton listens to President Donald Trump during a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi in April 2019.

The full, detailed picture drawn by CNN’s sources of Trump’s phone calls with foreign leaders is consistent with the basic tenor and some substantive elements of a limited number of calls described by former national security adviser John Bolton in his book, “The Room Where It Happened.” But the calls described to CNN cover a far longer period than Bolton’s tenure, are much more comprehensive — and seemingly more damning — in their sweep.

Like Bolton, CNN’s sources said that the President seemed to continually conflate his own personal interests — especially for purposes of re-election and revenge against perceived critics and political enemies — with the national interest.

To protect the anonymity of those describing the calls for this report, CNN will not reveal their job titles nor quote them at length directly. More than a dozen officials either listened to the President’s phone calls in real time or were provided detailed summaries and rough-text recording printouts of the calls soon after their completion, CNN’s sources said. The sources were interviewed by CNN repeatedly over a four-month period extending into June.

The sources did cite some instances in which they said Trump acted responsibly and in the national interest during telephone discussions with some foreign leaders. CNN reached out to Kelly, McMaster and Tillerson for comment and received no response as of Monday afternoon. Mattis did not comment.

What we learned from John Bolton's eye-popping tale of working with Trump

The White House did not respond to a request for comment before this story published. After publication, White House deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews said, “President Trump is a world class negotiator who has consistently furthered America’s interests on the world stage. From negotiating the phase one China deal and the USMCA to NATO allies contributing more and defeating ISIS, President Trump has shown his ability to advance America’s strategic interests.”

One person familiar with almost all the conversations with the leaders of Russia, Turkey, Canada, Australia and western Europe described the calls cumulatively as ‘abominations’ so grievous to US national security interests that if members of Congress heard from witnesses to the actual conversations or read the texts and contemporaneous notes, even many senior Republican members would no longer be able to retain confidence in the President.

Attacking key ally leaders — especially women

The insidious effect of the conversations comes from Trump’s tone, his raging outbursts at allies while fawning over authoritarian strongmen, his ignorance of history and lack of preparation as much as it does from the troubling substance, according to the sources. While in office, then- Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats expressed worry to subordinates that Trump’s telephone discussions were undermining the coherent conduct of foreign relations and American objectives around the globe, one of CNN’s sources said. And in recent weeks, former chief of staff Kelly has mentioned the damaging impact of the President’s calls on US national security to several individuals in private.

Two sources compared many of the President’s conversations with foreign leaders to Trump’s recent press “briefings” on the coronavirus pandemic: free form, fact-deficient stream-of-consciousness ramblings, full of fantasy and off-the-wall pronouncements based on his intuitions, guesswork, the opinions of Fox News TV hosts and social media misinformation.

In addition to Merkel and May, the sources said, Trump regularly bullied and disparaged other leaders of the western alliance during his phone conversations — including French President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison — in the same hostile and aggressive way he discussed the coronavirus with some of America’s governors.

President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron at a meeting in London in December 2019.

Next to Erdogan, no foreign leader initiated more calls with Trump than Macron, the sources said, with the French President often trying to convince Trump to change course on environmental and security policy matters — including climate change and US withdrawal from the Iranian multilateral nuclear accord.

Macron usually got “nowhere” on substantive matters, while Trump became irritated at the French President’s stream of requests and subjected him to self-serving harangues and lectures that were described by one source as personalized verbal “whippings,” especially about France and other countries not meeting NATO spending targets, their liberal immigration policies or their trade imbalances with the US.

But his most vicious attacks, said the sources, were aimed at women heads of state. In conversations with both May and Merkel, the President demeaned and denigrated them in diatribes described as “near-sadistic” by one of the sources and confirmed by others. “Some of the things he said to Angela Merkel are just unbelievable: he called her ‘stupid,’ and accused her of being in the pocket of the Russians … He’s toughest [in the phone calls] with those he looks at as weaklings and weakest with the ones he ought to be tough with.”

The calls “are so unusual,” confirmed a German official, that special measures were taken in Berlin to ensure that their contents remained secret. The official described Trump’s behavior with Merkel in the calls as “very aggressive” and said that the circle of German officials involved in monitoring Merkel’s calls with Trump has shrunk: “It’s just a small circle of people who are involved and the reason, the main reason, is that they are indeed problematic.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Donald Trump speak during the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France, in August 2019.

Trump’s conversations with May, the UK Prime Minister from 2016 to 2019, were described as “humiliating and bullying,” with Trump attacking her as “a fool” and spineless in her approach to Brexit, NATO and immigration matters.

“He’d get agitated about something with Theresa May, then he’d get nasty with her on the phone call,” One source said. “It’s the same interaction in every setting — coronavirus or Brexit — with just no filter applied.”

Merkel remained calm and outwardly unruffled in the face of Trump’s attacks —”like water off a duck’s back,” in the words of one source — and she regularly countered his bluster with recitations of fact. The German official quoted above said that during Merkel’s visit to the White House two years ago, Trump displayed “very questionable behavior” that “was quite aggressive … [T]he Chancellor indeed stayed calm, and that’s what she does on the phone.”

Prime Minister May, in contrast, became “flustered and nervous” in her conversations with the President. “He clearly intimidated her and meant to,” said one of CNN’s sources. In response to a request for comment about Trump’s behavior in calls with May, the UK’s Downing Street referred CNN to its website. The site lists brief descriptions of the content of some calls and avoids any mention of tone or tension. The French embassy in Washington declined to comment, while the Russian and Turkish embassies did not respond to requests for comment.

Concerns over calls with Putin and Erdogan

The calls with Putin and Erdogan were particularly egregious in terms of Trump almost never being prepared substantively and thus leaving him susceptible to being taken advantage of in various ways, according to the sources — in part because those conversations (as with most heads of state), were almost certainly recorded by the security services and other agencies of their countries.

In his phone exchanges with Putin, the sources reported, the President talked mostly about himself, frequently in over-the-top, self-aggrandizing terms: touting his “unprecedented” success in building the US economy; asserting in derisive language how much smarter and “stronger” he is than “the imbeciles” and “weaklings” who came before him in the presidency (especially Obama); reveling in his experience running the Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow, and obsequiously courting Putin’s admiration and approval. Putin “just outplays” him, said a high-level administration official — comparing the Russian leader to a chess grandmaster and Trump to an occasional player of checkers. While Putin “destabilizes the West,” said this source, the President of the United States “sits there and thinks he can build himself up enough as a businessman and tough guy that Putin will respect him.” (At times, the Putin-Trump conversations sounded like “two guys in a steam bath,” a source added.)

President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a meeting in Helsinki in July 2018.

In numerous calls with Putin that were described to CNN, Trump left top national security aides and his chiefs of staff flabbergasted, less because of specific concessions he made than because of his manner — inordinately solicitous of Putin’s admiration and seemingly seeking his approval — while usually ignoring substantive policy expertise and important matters on the standing bilateral agenda, including human rights; and an arms control agreement, which never got dealt with in a way that advanced shared Russian and American goals that both Putin and Trump professed to favor, CNN’s sources said.

Throughout his presidency, Trump has touted the theme of “America First” as his north star in foreign policy, advancing the view that America’s allies and adversaries have taken economic advantage of US goodwill in trade. And that America’s closest allies need to increase their share of collective defense spending. He frequently justifies his seeming deference to Putin by arguing that Russia is a major world player and that it is in the United States’ interest to have a constructive and friendly relationship — requiring a reset with Moscow through his personal dialogue with Putin.

Putin leverages coronavirus chaos to make a direct play to Trump

In separate interviews, two high-level administration officials familiar with most of the Trump-Putin calls said the President naively elevated Russia — a second-rate totalitarian state with less than 4% of the world’s GDP — and its authoritarian leader almost to parity with the United States and its President by undermining the tougher, more realistic view of Russia expressed by the US Congress, American intelligence agencies and the long-standing post-war policy consensus of the US and its European allies. “He [Trump] gives away the advantage that was hard won in the Cold War,” said one of the officials — in part by “giving Putin and Russia a legitimacy they never had,” the official said. “He’s given Russia a lifeline — because there is no doubt that they’re a declining power … He’s playing with something he doesn’t understand and he’s giving them power that they would use [aggressively].”

Both officials cited Trump’s decision to pull US troops out of Syria — a move that benefited Turkey as well as Russia — as perhaps the most grievous example. “He gave away the store,” one of them said.

The frequency of the calls with Erdogan — in which the Turkish president continually pressed Trump for policy concessions and other favors — was especially worrisome to McMaster, Bolton and Kelly, the more so because of the ease with which Erdogan bypassed normal National Security Council protocols and procedures to reach the President, said two of the sources.

President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan take part in a White House press conference in November 2019.

Erdogan became so adept at knowing when to reach the President directly that some White House aides became convinced that Turkey’s security services in Washington were using Trump’s schedule and whereabouts to provide Erdogan with information about when the President would be available for a call.

On some occasions Erdogan reached him on the golf course and Trump would delay play while the two spoke at length.

Two sources described the President as woefully uninformed about the history of the Syrian conflict and the Middle East generally, and said he was often caught off guard, and lacked sufficient knowledge to engage on equal terms in nuanced policy discussion with Erdogan. “Erdogan took him to the cleaners,” said one of the sources.

The sources said that deleterious US policy decisions on Syria — including the President’s directive to pull US forces out of the country, which then allowed Turkey to attack Kurds who had helped the US fight ISIS and weakened NATO’s role in the conflict — were directly linked to Erdogan’s ability to get his way with Trump on the phone calls.

The US is more alone than ever, just at the moment the world needs its leadership

Trump occasionally became angry at Erdogan — sometimes because of demands that Turkey be granted preferential trade status, and because the Turkish leader would not release an imprisoned American evangelical pastor, Andrew Brunson, accused of ‘aiding terrorism’ in the 2016 coup that attempted to overthrow Erdogan. Brunson was eventually released in October 2018.

Despite the lack of advance notice for many of Erdogan’s calls, full sets of contemporaneous notes from designated notetakers at the White House exist, as well as rough voice-generated computer texts of the conversations, the sources said.

According to one high-level source, there are also existing summaries and conversation-readouts of the President’s discussions with Erdogan that might reinforce Bolton’s allegations against Trump in the so-called “Halkbank case,” involving a major Turkish bank with suspected ties to Erdogan and his family. That source said the matter was raised in more than one telephone conversation between Erdogan and Trump.

Bolton wrote in his book that in December 2018, at Erdogan’s urging, Trump offered to interfere in an investigation by then-US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman into the Turkish bank, which was accused of violating US sanctions on Iran.

“Trump then told Erdogan he would take care of things, explaining that the Southern District prosecutors were not his people, but were Obama people, a problem that would be fixed when they were replaced by his people,” Bolton wrote. Berman’s office eventually brought an indictment against the bank in October 2019 for fraud, money laundering and other offenses related to participation in a multibillion-dollar scheme to evade the US sanctions on Iran. On June 20, Trump fired Berman — whose office is also investigating Rudy Giuliani, the President’s personal lawyer — after the prosecutor refused to resign at Attorney General William Barr’s direction.

Unlike Bolton, CNN’s sources did not assert or suggest specifically that Trump’s calls with Erdogan might have been grounds for impeachment because of possible evidence of unlawful conduct by the President. Rather, they characterized Trump’s calls with heads of state in the aggregate as evidence of Trump’s general “unfitness” for the presidency on grounds of temperament and incompetence, an assertion Bolton made as well in an interview to promote his book with ABC News last week: “I don’t think he’s fit for office. I don’t think he has the competence to carry out the job,” Bolton said.

Family feedback and grievances fuel Trump’s approach

CNN spoke to sources familiar with the President’s phone calls repeatedly over a four-month period. In their interviews, the sources took great care not to disclose specific national security information and classified details — but rather described the broad contents of many of the calls, and the overall tenor and methodology of Trump’s approach to his telephone discussions with foreign leaders.

In addition to rough, voice-generated software transcription, almost all of Trump’s telephone conversations with Putin, Erdogan and leaders of the western alliance were supplemented and documented by extensive contemporaneous note-taking (and, often, summaries) prepared by Fiona Hill, deputy assistant to the President and senior NSC director for Europe and Russia until her resignation last year. Hill listened to most of the President’s calls with Putin, Erdogan and the European leaders, according to her closed-door testimony before the House Intelligence Committee last November.

Breaking down Bolton's account of a White House in turmoil

Elements of that testimony by Hill, if re-examined by Congressional investigators, might provide a detailed road-map of the President’s extensively-documented conversations, the sources said. White House and intelligence officials familiar with the voice-generated transcriptions and underlying documents agreed that their contents could be devastating to the President’s standing with members of the Congress of both parties — and the public — if revealed in great detail. (There is little doubt that Trump would invoke executive privilege to keep the conversations private. However, some former officials with detailed knowledge of many of the conversations might be willing to testify about them, sources said.)

In one of the earliest calls between Putin and Trump, the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump were in the room to listen — joining McMaster, Tillerson, Hill, and a State Department aide to Tillerson.

“The call was all over the place,” said an NSC deputy who read a detailed summary of the conversation — with Putin speaking substantively and at length, and Trump propping himself up in short autobiographical bursts of bragging, self-congratulation and flattery toward Putin. As described to CNN, Kushner and Ivanka Trump were immediately effusive in their praise of how Trump had handled the call — while Tillerson (who knew Putin well from his years in Russia as an oil executive), Hill and McMaster were skeptical.

Hill — author of a definitive biography of Putin — started to explain some of the nuances she perceived from the call, according to CNN’s sources — offering insight into Putin’s psychology, his typical “smooth-talking” and linear approach and what the Russian leader was trying to achieve in the call. Hill was cut off by Trump, and the President continued discussing the call with Jared and Ivanka, making clear he wanted to hear the congratulatory evaluation of his daughter and her husband, rather than how Hill, Tillerson or McMaster judged the conversation.

McMaster viewed that early phone call with Putin as indicative of the conduct of the whole relationship between Russia and the Trump administration, according to the sources — a conclusion subsequent national security advisers and chiefs of staff, and numerous high-ranking intelligence officials also reached: unlike in previous administrations, there were relatively few meaningful dealings between military and diplomatic professionals, even at the highest levels, because Trump — distrustful of the experts and dismissive of their attempts to brief him — conducted the relationship largely ad hoc with Putin and almost totally by himself. Ultimately, Putin and the Russians learned that “nobody has the authority to do anything” — and the Russian leader used that insight to his advantage, as one of CNN’s sources said.

The Kushners were also present for other important calls with foreign leaders and made their primacy apparent, encouraged by the President even on matters of foreign policy in which his daughter and her husband had no experience. Almost never, according to CNN’s sources, would Trump read the briefing materials prepared for him by the CIA and NSC staff in advance of his calls with heads of state.

“He won’t consult them, he won’t even get their wisdom,” said one of the sources, who cited Saudi Arabia’s bin Salman as near the top of a list of leaders whom Trump “picks up and calls without anybody being prepared,” a scenario that frequently confronted NSC and intelligence aides. The source added that the aides’ helpless reaction “would frequently be, ‘Oh my God, don’t make that phone call.'”

“Trump’s view is that he is a better judge of character than anyone else,” said one of CNN’s sources. The President consistently rejected advice from US defense, intelligence and national security principals that the Russian president be approached more firmly and with less trust. CNN’s sources pointed to the most notable public example as “emblematic”: Trump, standing next to the Russian President at their meeting in Helsinki, Finland, in June 2018, and saying he “didn’t see any reason why” Russia would have interfered in the 2016 presidential election — despite the findings of the entire US intelligence community that Moscow had. “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” Trump said.

The common, overwhelming dynamic that characterizes Trump’s conversations with both authoritarian dictators and leaders of the world’s greatest democracies is his consistent assertion of himself as the defining subject and subtext of the calls — almost never the United States and its historic place and leadership in the world, according to sources intimately familiar with the calls.

In numerous calls with the leaders of the UK, France, Germany, Australia and Canada — America’s closest allies of the past 75 years, the whole postwar era — Trump typically established a grievance almost as a default or leitmotif of the conversation, whatever the supposed agenda, according to those sources.

“Everything was always personalized, with everybody doing terrible things to rip us off — which meant ripping ‘me’ — Trump — off. He couldn’t — or wouldn’t — see or focus on the larger picture,” said one US official.

The source cited a conspicuously demonstrable instance in which Trump resisted asking Angela Merkel (at the UK’s urging) to publicly hold Russia accountable for the so-called ‘Salisbury’ radioactive poisonings of a former Russian spy and his daughter, in which Putin had denied any Russian involvement despite voluminous evidence to the contrary. “It took a lot of effort” to get Trump to bring up the subject, said one source. Instead of addressing Russia’s responsibility for the poisonings and holding it to international account, Trump made the focus of the call — in personally demeaning terms — Germany’s and Merkel’s supposedly deadbeat approach to allied burden-sharing. Eventually, said the sources, as urged by his NSC staff, Trump at last addressed the matter of the poisonings, almost grudgingly.

“With almost every problem, all it takes [in his phone calls] is someone asking him to do something as President on behalf of the United States and he doesn’t see it that way; he goes to being ripped off; he’s not interested in cooperative issues or working on them together; instead he’s deflecting things or pushing real issues off into a corner,” said a US official.

    “There was no sense of ‘Team America’ in the conversations,” or of the United States as an historic force with certain democratic principles and leadership of the free world, said the official. “The opposite. It was like the United States had disappeared. It was always ‘Just me’.”

    UPDATE: This story has been updated with comment from the White House.

    CNN’s Nicole Gaouette contributed to this report.

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    Polish president, liberal rival face tight run-off

    Warsaw (AFP) – Polish President Andrzej Duda is set for a tight run-off against Warsaw’s liberal mayor next month after Sunday’s inconclusive first-round vote, leaving the fate of the populist right-wing government in the balance.

    Duda, who is backed by the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party, is expected to come out on top in the first-round vote with 41.8 percent, according to an exit poll by Ipsos.

    Rafal Trzaskowski, who has promised to heal rifts with the European Union, is set to come second with 30.4 percent, but could receive endorsements from other opposition candidates ahead of the July 12 second round of voting.

    “I will be the candidate of change!” Trzaskowski said at an election night party in a redeveloped former power station in Warsaw.

    Trzaskowski, who is also 48 and is from the Civic Platform (PO) party, appealed to voters “who want an open Poland, not a Poland always looking for enemies”.

    The election was scheduled to be held in May but had to be postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

    Voters came out in large numbers despite contagion fears, waiting in socially distanced queues outside polling stations and casting ballots in their masks and visors.

    Turnout was high compared to previous votes at 62.9 percent, the exit poll said.

    – ‘A decisive time’ –

    Duda is seen as a key ally by Donald Trump and received the US president’s blessing when he visited the White House earlier this week, the first foreign leader to do so since the pandemic began.

    But he has raised hackles in Brussels by endorsing a controversial reform of the judiciary that critics say is eroding democracy — three decades on from the end of communist rule in Poland.

    Experts were divided on who could win the election next month.

    Kazimierz Kik, professor of political science at the Jan Kochanowski University in Kielce in south central Poland, said he believed Duda had “greater potential” than Trzaskowski to mobilise voters who stayed at home on Sunday.

    But Stanislaw Mocek, head of the Collegium Civitas University in Warsaw, said Trzaskowski had a “good chance” of winning in the second round.

    Mocek also warned of the risk of a “brutal campaign” if Duda attempts to appeal to far-right voters, whose candidate is also expected to have scored well in Sunday’s vote.

    “This is a decisive time. A lot will really depend on this decision,” anti-communist icon Lech Walesa said as he cast his vote in the northern port of Gdansk wearing a transparent plastic visor over his face.

    Walesa, who was elected Poland’s first democratic president in 1990, has been a trenchant critic of the current government.

    – ‘For democracy’ –

    The campaign was dominated by concerns over an erosion of democratic rights and bread and butter economic issues. Poland faces its first recession since the end of communism because of the pandemic fallout.

    “I voted for Trzaskowski of course! Why? For democracy, the judiciary and respect for minorities,” said Joanna Ugniewska, 66, after casting her ballot at a polling station in a school in Warsaw city centre.

    But in Tarnow in southern Poland, a PiS stronghold, Andrzej Guzik said he would be voting for Duda because of his consistent leadership.

    “Personally I only see Duda as president,” said Guzik, 52, an employee at the PGNIG state gas company.

    Poland’s government has implemented popular social welfare payments in recent years, which Trzaskowski has promised to retain if he wins.

    – ‘LGBT ideology’ –

    Victory for Duda would cement the party’s hold on power — at least until the next scheduled parliamentary elections in 2023.

    But defeat could see its influence unravel and trigger early elections.

    During the campaign, Duda stoked controversy by echoing PiS attacks on gay rights and Western values.

    He likened “LGBT ideology” to a new form of communism.

    Trzaskowski, however, supports gay rights and says he is open to the idea of same-sex civil partnerships.

    Campaigning with the slogan “Enough is Enough”, Trzaskowski has promised a different Poland.

    But critics say his party is weak and ineffectual and that his record as mayor is mixed.

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    President Trump’s numbers slide in Wisconsin

    ABC News Political Director Rick Klein says President Trump is in a perilous position in Wisconsin in his bid for a second term.

    President Trump’s numbers slide in Wisconsin

    ABC News Political Director Rick Klein says President Trump is in a perilous position in Wisconsin in his bid for a second term.


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    ADRIENNE: THE RACE FOR PRESIDENT HEATS UP. I’M ADRIENNE PEDERSE TODAY, ON “UPFRONT.” JOE BIDEN OPENS UP A LEAD IN BATTLEGROUND WISCONSIN. ABC’S RICK KLEIN ON WHETHER THE STATE IS SLIPPING AWAY FROM PRESIDENT TRUM THEN, RAGE IN THE STREETS. DEMONSTRATORS INFLICT A NEW ROUND OF DAMAGE IN MADISON, AS BUSINESSES PICK UP AFTER THE LAST ROUND OF RIOTING. [SMASH] >> THE GLASS IS OUT. THE GLASS IS OUT. ADRIENNE: OUR OWN MATT SMITH REPORTS FROM ICONIC STATE STREET. >> THERE’S A LOT OF UNEASE. THERE’S A LOT OF UNKNOWNS. ADRIENNE: I’LL ASK MADISON COMMUNITY LEADER MICHAEL JOHNSON HOW THE CITY FINDS PEACE AND MOVES FORWARD. >> TAKING ON THE ISSUES IMPORTANT TO WISCONSIN. THIS IS “UPFRONT,” WITH YOUR HOST, ADRIENNE PEDERSEN. ADRIENNE: THANKS FOR JOINING US. WE BEGIN TODAY WITH A BIG WEEK IN PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS. BOTH PRESIDENT TRUMP AND VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE VISITED WISCONSIN LAST WEEK. OUR STATE, OF COURSE, PUT THEM OVER THE TOP IN 2016, BUT NEW POLLING TELLS US WHY BOTH ARE VISITING NOW. THE LATEST MARQUETTE LAW SCHOOL POLL HAS FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN WITH AN EIGHT POINT LEAD. THAT’S A FIVE POINT SWING TO BIDEN FROM THE SPRING MARQUETTE POLLS. “THE NEW YORK TIMES” UPSHOT POLL GIVES BIDEN AN EVEN BIGGER LEAD HERE AT 11 POINTS. [APPLAUSE] PRES. TRUMP: I HAVE AN APTITUDE FOR MANUFACTURING, AND I SAID IT HAS TO COME BACK, AND IT WILL COME BACK. WE WERE DOING GREAT AND WE WILL DO BETTER. WE WILL HAVE A BETTER YEAR NEXT YEAR THAN ANY IN OUR HISTORY. ADRIENNE: THE PRESIDENT VISITED MARINETTE ON THURSDAY. AT MARINETTE MARINE, HE TALKED UP HIS RECORD ON THE ECONOMY AND HIGHLIGHED THE COMPANY’S CONTRACT TO BUILD THE NAVY’S NEW SHIP. IN GREEN BAY, THE PRESIDENT TAPED A FOX NEWS TOWN HALL WITH SEAN HANNITY, IN WHICH HE ACKNOWLEDGED HE MIGHT LOSE TO BIDEN. PRES. TRUMP: THE MAN CAN’T SPEAK , AND HE’S GOING TO BE YOUR PRESIDENT. SOME PEOPLE LOVE — DON’T LOVE ME MAY BE, AND ALL I’M DOING IS DOING MY JOB. ADRIENNE: WE’RE TALKING NOW WITH ABC POLITICAL DIRECTOR RICK KLEIN WHO IS JOINING US FROM WASHINGTON. WE ALWAYS APPRECIATE YOUR EXPERTISE ON THIS. HOW WORRIED SHOULD THE PRESIDENT THE ABOUT THESE NEW POLL NUMBERS IN WISCONSIN? RICK: THEY ALL POINT IN THE SAME DIRECTION, WISCONSIN AND A RANGE OF OTHER BATTLEGROUND STATES, A PRESIDENTIAL HAS DONE SIGNIFICANT DAMAGE TO HIMSELF B COVID-19, THE ECONOMIC COLLAPSE WE’VE SEEN. IT DOESN’T MEAN HE CAN’T MAKE UP THE GROUND OR JOE BIDEN HAS HIM ON HIS MORALS, BUT IT DOESN’T TIP SIGNIFICANTLY TO JOE BIDEN. ADRIENNE: DOES THE PRESIDENT HAVE A ROAD TO ELECTION WITHOUT WISCONSIN? RICK: IT WOULD BE HARD IF YOU ARE PRESIDENT TRUMP. BECAUSE OF DEMOGRAPHIC SIMILARITIES, IT SEEMS UNLIKELY. HE COULD WIN MICHIGAN, PENNSYLVANIA, BUT THEN HE WOULD HAVE TO HOLD ONTO THE OTHER BATTLEGROUND STATES, INCLUDING FLORIDA, NORTH CAROLINA, GEORGIA, TEXAS, ARIZONA. THERE ARE SO MANY PLACES IN THE MAP. WISCONSIN HAS SYMBOLIC AND SUBSTANCE VALUE TO HIS ELECTION. WE WOULDN’T BE TALKING ABOUT PRESIDENT TRUMP IF IT WASN’T PARTICULARLY FOR WISCONSIN. A CIRCUMSTANCE WHERE HE IS NOT ABLE TO HOLD ONTO WISCONSIN BUT SOMEHOW WINS THE PRESIDENCY DOES NOT SEEM RIGHT. ADRIENNE: I WANT TO TALK ABOUT ELECTORAL MATH. IN WISCONSIN, WE TALK OURSELVES UP AND SAY WE ARE A CRUCIAL STATE WHEN IT COMES TO WINNING THE WHITE HOUSE. DO YOU HAVE — YOU HAVE A BROADER VIEW. I WANT TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK IN TERMS OF, IS WISCONSIN THAT IMPORTANT TO WIN THE WHITE HOUSE? ARE WE STILL A MAKE OR BREAK STATE? RICK: IF THE DEMOCRAT CANDIDATE DOES NOT WIN WISCONSIN, THERE IS NO WIN THE PRESIDENCY IN TODAY’S MODE ERA. THAT IS WHY YOU SEE IN THE BIDEN CAMPAIGN PRIORITIZING WISCONSIN THE WAY IT HAS AREA IT IS A CRITICAL STAGE. ADRIENNE: WE HAD THE PRESIDENT AND VICE PRESIDENT HERE IN THE SAME WEEK, OBVIOUSLY A STRATEGY. RICK: THIS IS ALSO A WEEK WHERE WE HAVE SEEN THE PRESIDENT RESUME CAMPAIGNING. DOING MORE IN PERSON VISITS. HE IS TRYING TO GET OUT MORE AND IT IS STARTING WITH WISCONSIN. THEY ARE LOOKING TO HAVE FULL PEOPLE ON REPUBLICAN TICKET. IT IS UNUSUAL TO 4.5 MONTHS OUT. THE DEMOCRATS WILL HANDLE IT DIFFERENTLY. THEY ARE DOWNSCALING PLANS FOR THE CONVENTION. SO FAR, JOE BIDEN, THE ONLY STATE HE HAS BEEN TO OTHER THAN DELAWARE IS PENNSYLVANIA, WHICH IS RIGHT NEXT DOOR. HE WILL HAVE TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO DO VISITS THAT ARE NOT VIRTUAL ONES. ADRIENNE: I’VE HEARD BOTH SIDES WHEN IT COMES TO JOE BIDEN. SOME SAY IT IS GOOD HE IS NOT OUT THERE IS MUCH BECAUSE IT SHOWS HE TAKES CORONAVIRUS SERIOUSLY. SOME PEOPLE SAYING THIS IS HURTING HIM BECAUSE HE IS NOT OUT THERE AS MUCH. WHAT DO YOU THINK? RICK IF THE PACKERS ARE UP 20 POINTS AND YOU QUESTION THE DECISION MADE BY THE DEFENSE, YOU POINT TO THE SCOREBOARD. RIGHT NOW, HE’S NOT UP 20 POINTS BUT UP DOUBLE DIGITS IN A BUNCH OF BATTLEGROUND STATES AND UP NATIONALLY THE WAY HE IS, THAT IS A POWERFUL ARGUMENT FOR DOING WHAT THEY ARE DOING. THE ARGUMENT OF THE BIDEN CAMPAIGN THESE LAST FEW MONTHS IS THAT THIS WILL BE A REFERENDUM OF DONALD TRUMP AREA LET’S SEE HOW HE PERFORMS. THEY THINK HE IS NOT PERFORMING WELL. HE WILL TAKE THE HITS ABOUT BEING STUCK IN HIS BASEMENT IF THAT MEANS MEANING YOU WILL RISE IN THE POLLS. THEY WILL RECOGNIZE HE WILL HAVE TO GET OUT THERE, EXPOSED HIMSELF TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE MORE, BUT AT LEAST FOR THIS PHASE OF THE CAMPAIGN, IT LOOKS LIKE IT IS WORKING. ADRIENNE: AN ANALOGY WITH THE PACKERS, WE CAN APPRECIATE THAT THANK YOU. RICK: THANK YOU. ADRIENNE: DR. JILL BIDEN HELD A VIRTUAL EVENT FOR WISCONSIN ON FRIDAY. SHE JOINED DEMOCRATIC U.S. SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS, A POSSIBLE RUNNING MATE FOR HER HUSBAND, TO PROMOTE THE SIGNATURE LAW OF THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION, THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT. >> WITH MILLIONS OF AMERICANS COUNTING ON THE ACA TO STAY COVERED DURING A PANDEMIC, WE HAVE TO KEEP PROTECTING AND BUILDING ON IT. THAT IS JOE’S PLAN. ADRIENNE: THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION HAS ASKED THE U.S. SUPREME COURT TO OVERTURN THE ACA, EVEN AS COVID-19 CASES RISE AND MORE PEOPLE HAVE SIGNED UP FOR HEALTH INSURANCE THROUGH THE ACA. COMING UP, A NEW ROUND OF VIOLENCE IN MADISON STEMMI FROM THE MOVEMENT FOR RACIAL JUSTICE. AN ATTACK ON STATE SENATOR, DAMAGE AT THE CAPITOL, AND BUSINESSES THAT MAY NOT COME BACK AFTER EARLIER RIOTING. >> IF YOU WANT TO OWN A BUSINESS, YOU HAVE TO PROTECT IT. IT WAS A DREAM. IF I COULDN’T PROTECT IT MYSELF, NO ONE WAS GOING TO PROTECT IT FROM ME. ADRIENNE: WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO DEFUSE THE SITUATION, NEXT ON “UPFRO

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    President Trump’s numbers slide in Wisconsin

    ABC News Political Director Rick Klein says President Trump is in a perilous position in Wisconsin in his bid for a second term.

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    Malawi's president

    Malawi’s new president calls for unity after disputed vote re-run

    By Jack McBRAMS (AFP)  
     
    7 hours ago in World

    Malawi’s newly elected President Lazarus Chakwera vowed Sunday to maintain unity in the southern African country after quashing the incumbent’s bid for a second term in the re-run of a hotly contested election.

    It was a dramatic twist of fortune for outgoing president Peter Mutharika, whose victory in a May 2019 ballot was overturned by the Constitutional Court over fraud allegations.

    Chakwera, a former evangelist preacher, was declared the winner of the election replay with almost 59 percent of the vote, according to results announced late Saturday.

    Malawi is only the second sub-Saharan African country to have presidential poll results overturned in court, after Kenya in 2017.

    It is also the first time in the region that a vote re-run has led to the defeat of an incumbent leader.

    The election was hailed by leaders across the continent as a peaceful transition of power.

    “It is an honour forged in the furnace of your desire and your demand for change,” Chakwera said after taking his oath of office.

    Addressing thousands of supporters in Lilongwe’s Freedom Square, the 65-year-old vowed to restore “faith in the possibility of having a government that serves” and “fights for you”.

    He appealed to those who did not vote for him, saying: “Malawi is home to you too… so long as I am its president, you too will prosper.”

    – ‘Impossible feat’ –

    Chakwera leads Malawi’s oldest party, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), which previously ruled from 1964 to 1994 under Hastings Banda’s one-party rule.

    Some 6.8 million Malawians returned to the polls on Tuesday after the country’s top court found the first election had been marred by “grave” and “widespread irregularities” — including the use of correction fluid to tamper with result sheets.

    Chakwera was pronounced the winner with 2.6 million votes against 1.75 million for Mutharika. Turnout was just under 65 percent.

    In power since 2014, Mutharika won 38 percent of the discredited vote last year, ahead of Chakwera’s 35 percent.

    “Today is unbelievable because this feat seemed impossible just a month ago,” said Christina Nkosi, a supporter of the opposition United Transformation Movement whose leader Saulos Chilima was sworn in as vice president.

    “We have waited too long for this dawn,” echoed 70-year-old Mary Kaponda, a retired nurse sporting MCP garb.

    IT expert Daud Suleman, a key witness in the election court case, told AFP: “We have made history and demonstrated how much we can achieve as a people.

    “Now the challenge will be to challenge this energy into moving the country forward.”

    Around half of landlocked Malawi’s 18 million people live below the poverty line. Many rely on subsistence farming.

    The country is also grappling with a coronavirus outbreak that has infected over 1,000 people and killed at least 13 — although numbers are widely thought to be underestimated due to lack of testing.

    – All complaints ‘resolved’ –

    Mutharika, 79, has not yet commented on his defeat.

    On Saturday, he had argued the re-run was flawed — citing violence and intimidation against monitors allegedly “beaten, hacked and abducted”, and describing the vote as the “worst in Malawi’s history”.

    The Malawi Electoral Commission dismissed the accusations and said all complaints had been “resolved”.

    But Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party has reiterated calls for the commission to annul the results of the second vote and declare a third poll, something political analysts doubt will happen.

    Mutharika supporter Tay Grin was accepting of the outcome.

    “Our political choices might be different but we remain united knowing that friendship means much more.”

    – ‘Very clear’ lesson –

    Several African leaders and politicians congratulated Chakwera.

    “The mandate our Malawi brothers and sisters have given you… is a confirmation of their desire for progressive leadership,” Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta said.

    Kenya’s former prime minister Raila Odinga — who lost to the incumbent in the 2017 re-run — commended Mutharika for facilitating a “peaceful and orderly transfer of power”.

    “The election was followed keenly beyond Malawi and is a symbol of hope for those who support democracy in Africa and around the world,” he tweeted.

    South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, also African Union chairman, “congratulated the people of Malawi for conducting peaceful elections which have served to deepen democracy,” according to a presidency statement.

    Tanzania’s opposition Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT Wazalendo) said Malawi had given a “very clear” lesson ahead of the east African country’s own elections in October.

    “Authoritarian and repressive governments can be beaten when the opposition unites,” its leader Zitto Kabwe said.

    “President-elect Chakwera’s election victory is an important moment for democracy in the African continent.”

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    president Trump

    President Trump Won’t Follow New Jersey Quarantine Mandate During Upcoming Trip, White House Says

    NEW JERSEY (CBS/CNN) — Hours after Gov. Phil Murphy joined New York and Connecticut in issuing a travel advisory to combat the spread of coronavirus, the White House says President Donald Trump will not abide by the advisory this weekend. The advisory requires people arriving from states with high coronavirus rates to quarantine for 14 days.

    Trump recently traveled to Arizona, one of the states designated by New Jersey as a hotspot requiring quarantine. Trump will visit his Bedminster golf club this weekend.

    “The President of the United States is not a civilian. Anyone who is in close proximity to him, including staff, guests, and press are tested for COVID-19 and confirmed to be negative,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement.

    New Jersey, New York And Connecticut To Require Visitors From States With High COVID-19 Infection Rates To Quarantine For 14 Days

    The governors of New Jersey, Connecticut and New York announced Wednesday that they would require people who’d been to those states to quarantine for 14 days or face fines.

    Deere, however, said the White House followed mitigation plans to prevent contagion during the visit to Arizona on Tuesday and that “anyone traveling in support of the President this weekend will be closely monitored for symptoms and tested for COVID and therefore pose little to no risk to the local populations.”

    In response, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy told CNN’s Erin Burnett on “OutFront” Wednesday evening that “there is a carve out for essential workers, and I think by any definition the President of the United States is an essential worker.”

    “I think the bigger point here is we want folks to really be responsible in terms of thinking about not just themselves, but their family and their communities,” the Democratic governor continued. “And we’ve beaten this virus down to a pulp in New Jersey with an enormous loss of life. We’ve been through hell, and we don’t want to go through hell again. And that’s the spirit that underpins what we’re asking folks to do.”

    Murphy, along with Democratic Govs. Andrew Cuomo of New York and Ned Lamont of Connecticut, said earlier Wednesday the travel advisory applies to anyone coming from a state with a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents over a 7-day rolling average or a state with a 10% or higher positivity rate over a 7-day rolling average.

    “We have to make sure the virus doesn’t come in on a plane,” Cuomo said. “We worked very hard to get the viral transmission rate down, and we don’t want to see it go up.”

    As of Wednesday, the advisory applies to Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Texas.

    The interstate travel restrictions are just another consequence of the federal government’s inability to create a robust national public health infrastructure. The lack of nationwide rules and effective supply chains has largely left each state on its own and had the effect of pitting them against each other.

    (©Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2020 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company contributed to this report.)

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    president Trump

    President Trump Ain’t Just Dog Whistling Dixie

    More than a century ago, the American poet James Russell Lowell asked, “And what is so rare as a day in June?” How about a week in June like the one we just had, filled, as they used to say on an old TV show, “with the events that alter and illuminate our times?”

    Last week began with two Supreme Court decisions that annoyed the hell out of the White House—supporting civil rights for LGBTQ Americans and protecting young immigrant Dreamers—and ended with Saturday night’s Trump Takedown in Tulsa fiasco, an imploding campaign rally which, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested, might just as easily have been staged as a Zoom meeting.

    “[Trump] only wants to bring out the worst in people because he is the worst of people: bigoted, corrupt, desperate for attention, fearful of losing, angry at the majority of voters who have passed him by.”

    In between came the media-wide leaking of John Bolton’s memoir, The Room Where It Happened, with its detailed accounts of Trump trying to use American foreign policy to win re-election and a plethora of other horrors,  including his alleged endorsement of Chinese concentration camps, his “obstruction of justice as a way of life,” complete incompetence and his near-total ignorance of history and the current world situation.

    Bolton, the generally repellent hardline hawk, has been rightly criticized for staying silent on all of this until he had a chance to make some big money from it. On Saturday, a federal judge ruled against a Justice Department attempt to block publication but left the door open for possible civil and criminal prosecution that could force the forfeiture of profits.  Yet none of this should distract from the seeming veracity of virtually everything Bolton reports.

    Meanwhile, on Friday night, Attorney General Barr announced the resignation of Geoffrey Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York. Berman said he had not resigned and the next day, Barr said Donald Trump had fired Berman, although Trump, not untypically, said it was news to him.

    Why does Barr want Berman’s head? It’s simple and not surprising, given what we know about him and his boss, former federal prosecutor Paul Rosenzweig writes. The attorney general may plan to “dismiss or short-circuit all of the pending cases in Manhattan that implicate Trump or his associates.

    We know those are many. We know that Trump’s various organizations, including his inauguration committee, are under investigation. We know that Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani is under investigation. We know that Trump’s bank, Deutsche Bank, is under investigation.

    … The attorney general’s apparent goal is to turn the Department of Justice into an arm of the president’s personal interests. He seems to have no regard for the department’s independence, and is doing long-term damage to the fabric of American justice.

    Barr’s autocratic behavior is being further corroborated by two Justice Department officials testifying to Congress that he improperly interfered in the legal case against Trump henchman Roger Stone for political reasons and ordered ten harassing reviews of mergers among marijuana companies because he “did not like the nature of their underlying business.”

    Don’t forget for a moment that all of this is taking place against the backdrop of the ongoing sagas of COVD-19—and Donald Trump’s endless efforts to pretend it no longer exists as thousands continue to die—plus the disease-crippled economy and ongoing nationwide protests against racism and police brutality.

    Our Chaos President has gotten much more than he bargained for. Yet amidst all this turmoil and disarray, this remains unwavering: Trump’s absolute inability to generate an original thought, or to accept the advice of anyone who has a grasp of reality.

    Look at his June 18 interview with The Wall Street Journal’s Michael C. Bender. When you read a reporter’s account of such Trump encounters, a journalist like Bender pulls from the morass the most newsworthy bits and presents them in a way that creates an approximation of sense.  For my sins, I read the entire transcript and it’s much more depressing—discursive and dissembling and scary. Here he is on his now infamous photo op at St. John’s Church in Lafayette Square:

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    I’m the only man that can walk three blocks—in danger—can walk three blocks, hold up a Bible in front of a church that protesters just burned the hell out of and get bad publicity. I’m the only person that’s capable of doing that. Think of what I did. I made a speech which people thought was a good speech. I then walked across the street. Not across the street, I walked a long distance away. It’s like a three-block walk.

    And there is danger, because of buildings. I’m not saying there is danger with the protesters, because the Secret Service had that in very good shape. We had no problem. But this danger from above right? I walked three blocks, go to a church that had just suffered a major fire that was built at the same time as the White House. So very important. John Adams was the first parishioner. Was he the fifth or sixth? Whatever. You’ll figure it out.

    Wow. True, there are few among us who could have precise transcripts of everything we say seem 100% lucid and straightforward. But Trump rambles, returning over the course of 27 pages to the same subjects again and again: China and tariffs, China and COVID, how great he made the economy only to see it succumb to the virus, testing as overrated, the inefficacy of masks, the “slippery” ramp at West Point, the perfidy of John Bolton, protesters and the media.

    Asked four times by Binder about his plans for a second term, Trump deflects each time. He has no solutions, no innovative answers to our multiple crises. Instead, he falls back on the same handful of tropes—in Trump World, “trope” translates as “bullshit”—that he thinks guided him to victory and that have made him the greatest president who ever existed in the whole wide universe. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, he believes, even though he is our very own broken toy-in-chief, and stomps on everything that’s decent, respectable—and intact.

    This is, by the way, the interview in which Trump declared, “I made Juneteenth very famous. It’s actually an important event, it’s an important time. But nobody had heard of it. Very few people had heard of it.”

    Many of these points were reiterated by the president almost word for word at that disastrous rally in Tulsa, a speech with so many dog whistles it’s a wonder that pet shelters in the entire state of Oklahoma didn’t empty out as orphan canines scrambled to find the source of that unmodulated screech.

    Pitching to the unreconstructed sons and daughters of the Confederacy, and every other reactionary in the country, he declared, “The unhinged left-wing mob is trying to vandalize our history, desecrate our monuments, our beautiful monuments. Tear down our statues and punish, cancel and persecute anyone who does not conform to their demands for absolute and total control…

    “You want to save that beautiful heritage of ours, we have a great heritage. We’re a great country. You are so lucky I’m president, that’s all I can tell you.”

    He joked about “kung flu,” attacked Joe Biden and several Democratic women of color in the House, including Muslim-American Ilhan Omar—“this hate filled America-bashing socialist, front and center in deciding the fate of your family and deciding the fate of your country.”

    Your country. Not hers, got it? The president is an insult comic and a really mean one at that. But in the end, that’s all he is.

    He only wants to bring out the worst in people because he is the worst of people: bigoted, corrupt, desperate for attention, fearful of losing, angry at the majority of voters who have passed him by as they increasingly seem ready to deliver a proper comeuppance in November.

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    president Technology Trump

    President Trump reportedly will sign executive order temporarily suspending work visas for H-1B holders

    President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily halting work visas like the H-1B visa program for highly-skilled workers, cutting off a critical source of foreign labor for tech companies already complaining about tech talent shortages.

    Visa-holders already in the U.S. and those applicants who have already received a visa are exempt from the ban. The restrictions are intended to last until the end of the year, which would disrupt the government’s typical process of awarding new visas at the beginning of the national fiscal calendar in October.

    Officials from the Trump administration told the Wall Street Journal that the move is intended to protect American jobs, but executives in the technology industry have long warned that visa restrictions would hurt the nation’s ability to compete in industries that have both strategic and financial significance as engines of economic growth.

    Tech officials have even cited immigration curbs as a factor that would force companies to relocate more of their operations overseas in an effort to hire and retain top technology talent.

    “The technology industry is working overtime to keep Americans connected during a global pandemic by providing food delivery services, telehealth care, collaborative business solutions, and ways for families and friends to stay connected,” said Linda Moore, the president and chief executive of the tech industry’s lobbying group, TechNet, in a statement. “Looking forward, technology will continue to be crucial to the rebuilding of our economy. Today’s executive order only hinders the ability of businesses to make decisions on how best to deploy their existing workforce and hire new employees. This will slow innovation and undermine the work the technology industry is doing to help our country recover from unprecedented events.”

    According to news reports, officials expect these new restrictions to last until the end of the year, and expand the immigration bans that the President put in place in April that blocked family members of U.S. citizens from immigrating and slashed the number of visas available to high-skilled  workers looking to immigrate to the US.

    Estimates provided to the Wall Street Journal indicate that roughly 525,000 people will be unable to enter the country as a result of the expanded travel restrictions including 170,000 green card holders barred from entering the U.S. since April. The Trump administration official quoted by the Journal called the initiative an “America-first recovery” that would potentially open up 500,000 jobs for out-of-work Americans.

    Technology executives are already voicing their displeasure with the reported ban. “Banning all H1B [sic] visas means CEOs like me have to open offices and hire more people in countries like Canada that allow immigration. This visa ban is morally wrong and economically stupid,” wrote Anshu Sharma, the chief executive officer of the technology startup Skyflow.

    Banning all H1B visas means CEOs like me have to open offices and hire more people in countries like Canada that allow immigration.

    This visa ban is morally wrong, and economically stupid. What happened to being “for legal immigration”? https://t.co/R9O9Q1Ts0j

    — H1B immigrant Anshu Sharma 🌶 (@anshublog) June 22, 2020

    Investors are also up-in-arms about the decision’s impact on America’s ability to compete.

    “Whether his administration realizes it or not, they creating a significant handicap for US innovation. Our most innovative and impactful portfolio companies and many of their employees started as H-1b holders,” wrote Stonly Baptiste, the co-founder of technology investment fund, Urban.us. “We literally couldn’t have built our portfolio in an environment without H-1B. And we’re not even an immigrant focused fund.”

    Also on the chopping block are H-2B visas, which are used to let short-term seasonal workers in landscaping and non-farm jobs into the country, J-1 jobs for short-term workers like camp counselors and au pairs and L-1 visas for corporate company transfers.

    “By limiting the talent pool for American companies, the US government is hindering our ability to build strong, defensible organizations,” wrote Andy Coravos, the chief executive officer of the healthcare-focused startup Elektra Labs, in a direct message. “The Trump Administration’s Executive Order to suspend foreign work visas is not only based in fear, but also perpetuates fear within our community, and is not in our society’s best interest.”

    Healthcare workers, coronavirus researchers, food supply workers in food packaging are all exempt from the visa suspensions.

    Technology executives aren’t the only ones coming out against the tighter immigration rules. A group of nine Republican senators including South Carolina’s powerful senior senator, Lindsey Graham, and Texas Senator John Cornyn, issued a joint letter on May 27, which pleaded with the President to reconsider the rumored immigration restrictions.

    “Guest workers are needed to boost American business, not take American jobs,” they wrote.

    Update June 22: Linked to the published Executive Order.

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    Business Pence president

    Vice President Pence congratulates history-making NASA astronauts in call to space station

    Honored to speak with American Astronauts, @AstroBehnken, @Astro_Doug, and @Astro_SEAL today, with @SecondLady! America is leading in space once again and our Nation is grateful for the work they’re doing 250 miles above Earth at the @Space_Station! pic.twitter.com/DKbJ7ECQlnJune 17, 2020

    A few weeks after watching NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley depart Earth in historic fashion, Vice President Mike Pence checked in to see how the spaceflyers are adjusting to life in orbit.

    Pence and his wife, Karen, were present at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the May 30 launch of SpaceX’s Demo-2 test flight, which sent Behnken and Hurley toward the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a Crew Dragon capsule. (President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, made the trip to KSC for the occasion as well.)

    Demo-2 is the first-ever crewed mission for Elon Musk’s space company, and its liftoff atop a Falcon 9 rocket was the first orbital human spaceflight to depart from American soil since NASA grounded its space shuttle fleet in July 2011.

    Related: Amazing photos of SpaceX’s 1st astronaut launch for NASA

    Behnken and Hurley arrived at the ISS on May 31, joining fellow NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy — the commander of the orbiting lab’s current Expedition 63 mission — and Russian cosmonauts Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner. On Wednesday (June 17), Mike and Karen Pence held a video call with the three NASA spaceflyers, thanking them for their work and congratulating the Demo-2 crewmembers on their epic achievement.

    “To Chris Cassidy, thank you for your great service and leadership,” Vice President Pence said during the call, according to a transcript provided by his office. (The call was not broadcast on NASA TV.)

    “And let me also specifically extend, to Bob and Doug, congratulations on making history as the first astronauts to launch on a commercially built and operated spacecraft and the first to launch on an American rocket, from American soil, in nearly 10 years,” Pence added. “It’s great to see you all. And congratulations on a successful mission.”

    “Thank you, Mr. Vice President,” Hurley responded. “It’s a huge honor for Bob and I to have been just a small part of the Commercial Crew Program launch of Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon to the International Space Station, going on three weeks ago. An incredible ride. An incredible rendezvous. And just glad to be up here now with Chris, getting the daily work done here on space station.”

    In photos: SpaceX’s historic Demo-2 test flight with astronauts

    Cassidy, Behnken and Hurley all flew on space shuttle missions, and Pence asked the Demo-2 duo how a Falcon 9-Crew Dragon ride compares to one aboard the iconic NASA space plane.

    “Well, sir, it was noticeably different,” Hurley said. “The first thing that struck me was how you felt everything within the rocket quite a bit more than you did when you were in shuttle. The solid rocket boosters on shuttle made it very noisy, and it was a very rough ride for the first 2 1/2 minutes that we were under that — their power.”

    The Falcon 9 burned more smoothly, he added, so the Demo-2 ride to space wasn’t nearly as rough. 

    “But you could just feel the air noise and the vibration so much clearer as we were ascending into orbit,” Hurley said. “Also, the second stage was a quite a bit rougher ride than both of us expected. Not as rough as the space shuttle under the solid rocket boosters, but a pretty rough ride, relatively speaking. But it got us right where we needed to be. It got us right into the proper orbit.”

    Behnken said the biggest difference will probably come on the return home. The space shuttle orbiters glided down for runway landings, but Crew Dragon splashes down in the ocean, like NASA’s old Apollo capsules did.

    “The space shuttle was a pretty gentle ride back to our home planet, back to Kennedy Space Center. It was a smooth ride,” Behnken said. “We’re expecting a little bit different experience with the parachutes and with the splashdown in the ocean.

    Related: Tour SpaceX’s Crew Dragon with NASA’s Demo-2 astronauts (video) 

    Karen Pence bent the astronauts’ ears as well. She congratulated Behnken and Hurley for the Demo-2 success so far and for likely setting a sequins-in-space record with the mission’s zero-g indicator, a plush dinosaur named Tremor chosen for the job by the two astronauts’ sons. The Second Lady also asked the Demo-2 crewmates what advice they’d give to young people who are interested in growing up to be astronauts, engineers or space scientists.

    “Well, I think part of it has to be passion,” Behnken said. “You know, you’re never going to do great work if you’re not passionate about it. So, I think that’s what drives us to an extent, too. We’re very passionate about engineering, science and math, space. We were passionate about flying vehicles. We were passionate about testing vehicles and [that] kind of led us down this path. It certainly doesn’t have to be this exact path. But if you have the passion, I just believe that, as a young child, if you believe strongly in something, you’ll excel at it if you’re passionate.”

    Cassidy, Ivanishin and Vagner are scheduled to return to Earth in October, aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft that carried them up to orbit. Behnken and Hurley will come home sooner than that, though how much sooner is unclear at the moment. NASA officials have not yet announced an end date for the Demo-2 mission, which will last a maximum of four months from launch to splashdown. 

    If all continues to go well with Demo-2, SpaceX will be clear to start flying NASA astronauts on operational missions to and from the ISS using Crew Dragon and the Falcon 9. The company holds a contract to complete at least six such flights, the first of which could launch as early as Aug. 30.

    Vice President Pence is deeply involved in the U.S. space program. He chairs the policy-steering National Space Council (NSC), which President Donald Trump reinstated in 2017. The NSC had last been active in the early 1990s, during the presidency of George H.W. Bush.

    Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook

    Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

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    everyone's president

    Everyone’s Out to Get the President*, Apparently

    In case you missed it, the Wall Street Journal bagged an exclusive with El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago, and it was one of those interviews after which you pray to the god of journalism that your tape recorder didn’t run out of power without your having noticed it. (I hear.) Simply put, the president*’s filbert has gone supremely milky.

    For example, Juneteenth was just lying there at the bottom of a closet in the residence before he picked it up and presented it to the nation.

    I did something good: I made Juneteenth very famous. It’s actually an important event, an important time. But nobody had ever heard of it.

    Also, he is an extremely put-upon person. First, China releases the pandemic just to get back at him for his tariffs, and now people in this country are wearing masks just to embarrass him.

    “They’re saying, man, we’re in a mess. The United States is killing us. Don’t forget, my economy during the last year and a half was blowing them away. And the reason is the tariffs…”

    [The president] allowed for the possibility that some Americans wore facial coverings not as a preventative measure but as a way to signal disapproval of him.

    So, what comes after this guy? Well, there’s Senator Tom Cotton, the bobble-throated slapdick from Arkansas, who went on Fox’s Three Dolts On A Divan Wednesday morning and described the bloody brawl with some summer hire at Twitter from which Cotton barely escaped alive.

    Yeah, Brian, that’s exactly right. I can reveal now for the first time what happened a couple weeks ago. You know, I came on this program … and we talked about the rioting and the looting and the need, if necessary, to use military to back up our police if they were outnumbered by these rioters and looters and anarchists. Apparently, that didn’t sit well with the Twitter Thought Police.

    Gimme that hammer. I have another nail to drive into my palm.

    One of their low-level employees in Washington, DC, contacted my office out of the blue and said, “You have to delete these tweets in 30 minutes or we’re gonna permanently lock your account.” We asked for a explanation of why this was. It was not really forthcoming. They cited a policy that didn’t apply to my situation. We sent them back some clear evidence of my meaning on Twitter, and they said, “We’re gonna consider this.” We waited them out. We called their bluff for 30 minutes. They didn’t lock my account, and within two hours they finally got back to us and said, “OK, you can keep your post up.”

    “Sing, O muse, of the rage of Achilles, son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans…”

    Yeesh.

    Respond to this post on the Esquire Politics Facebook page here.

    Charles P Pierce is the author of four books, most recently Idiot America, and has been a working journalist since 1976.

    This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io

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