Mideast messes await Rex Tillerson on visit to region

Published: Friday, February 09, 2018 @ 2:04 PM
Updated: Friday, February 09, 2018 @ 2:04 PM


            Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks during a media opportunity with Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic at the State Department in Washington, Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks during a media opportunity with Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic at the State Department in Washington, Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Middle East messes await Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as he embarks this weekend on a five-nation tour of the region.

From his first stop in Egypt to his last in Turkey, Tillerson will be confronting crises with partners and allies that threaten military success against the Islamic State group. The other stops are Kuwait, Jordan and Lebanon, where he'll face mounting unease over the Trump administration's Mideast strategy, particularly its approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iran.

U.S. officials allowed on Friday that most of Tillerson's discussions would be difficult, singling out those in NATO ally Turkey as especially prickly given Turkish military action against U.S.-backed Kurdish rebels in northern Syria and escalating anti-American rhetoric in Ankara. But the officials said diplomacy is necessary to cement anti-IS gains and restore regional stability as the administration presses other nations and private companies to help with post-war reconstruction.

Tillerson will arrive in Cairo late Sunday, days after Egyptian security forces launched major security operations against militants in the Sinai, Nile Delta and Western Desert. His meetings Monday include President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

The U.S. is offering help countering extremism. Tillerson also will raise human rights and democracy issues, according to officials, who previewed the trip on condition they not be quoted by name. The timing is sensitive: El-Sissi is seeking a second four-year term with no serious contenders in a March presidential election. The opposition is boycotting as some potential rivals have been arrested or barred from running.

He then travels to Kuwait to lead the U.S. delegation to two international gatherings: That of the 74 members in the U.S.-led anti-Islamic State coalition and a conference on Iraqi reconstruction.

Tillerson will seek to sharpen the priorities of the coalition, many of whose members are increasingly distracted by national interests in Iraq and Syria.

The U.S. officials said the aim was to keep the coalition focused on the complete defeat of IS and other groups, and then rebuilding war-devastated zones to prevent extremists from regaining territory. They said the coalition would look at containment and elimination of IS outside of Iraq and Syria by strengthening intelligence sharing, law enforcement cooperation and counterextremist messaging.

Tillerson will not be making any new U.S. assistance pledges at the Iraq Reconstruction Conference, the officials said. Instead, he'll press companies and banks to boost activities in Iraq to spur long-term development. Some 2,300 representatives from the private sector, including from more than 100 American companies, are slated to attend.

In Kuwait City, Tillerson will meet Kuwaiti officials who are attempting to mediate a resolution to disagreements between Qatar against its Arab neighbors Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In Jordan, Tillerson is doing damage control after President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and decision to withhold aid money from the U.N. agency assisting Palestinian refugees. Jordan, which has a large Palestinian population, including refugees, is among the most concerned. In Amman, Tillerson is expected to sign a multiyear, multibillion dollar U.S. aid package with Jordan to shore up the relationship.

Tillerson finishes the trip in Ankara with surely tense talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The U.S. officials said Tillerson will repeat warnings for Turkey to show restraint in military operations in Kurdish areas of Syria. He'll look to address Turkey's concerns about its borders in way to avoid killing civilians.

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Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates pleads guilty in Mueller investigation

Published: Friday, February 23, 2018 @ 2:39 PM
Updated: Friday, February 23, 2018 @ 2:53 PM

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Rick Gates, a former aide in President Donald Trump's campaign, pleaded guilty to making false statements and conspiring against the United States on Friday, making him the fifth person to enter a guilty plea in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

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Mueller investigation: Lawyer pleads guilty to lying to investigators in Russia probe

Published: Tuesday, February 20, 2018 @ 3:26 PM
Updated: Tuesday, February 20, 2018 @ 3:26 PM

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An attorney pleaded guilty Tuesday to lying to the FBI in the agency's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its possible ties to President Donald Trump's campaign.

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House Oversight Committee launches probe into Rob Porter's employment

Published: Wednesday, February 14, 2018 @ 2:40 PM

Who is Rob Porter?

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is investigating the White House’s employment of staff secretary Rob Porter in the wake of allegations that he abused his two ex-wives, committee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, said Wednesday.

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Porter submitted his resignation Feb. 2.

Gowdy told CNN that the committee launched a probe Tuesday night into Porter’s employment and when White House officials knew about the domestic violence allegations levied against him.

Porter has denied any wrongdoing.

"We are directing inquiries to people that we think have access to information we don't have. You can call it official. You can call it unofficial,” Gowdy told CNN. “I'm going to direct questions to the FBI that I expect them to answer.”

Porter resigned Feb. 2 after his ex-wives went public with allegations of domestic abuse and said they spoke with federal authorities about the claims, prompting critics to question why he had remained employed in the Trump administration. The allegations held up a background check needed to grant Porter a security clearance for work in the White House. Officials said he was working on an interim security clearance.

The process to get Porter his clearance was ongoing at the time of his resignation.

“How do you have any job if you have credible allegations of domestic abuse?” Gowdy asked on CNN. “I am biased toward the victim.”

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Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, and his second, Jennifer Willoughby, told the FBI about the alleged domestic violence in January 2017, after they were contacted while Porter was applying for his security clearance, according to The Washington Post.

White House officials defended Porter in the immediate aftermath of the allegations, and President Donald Trump has faced criticism for what critics called his lack of care for the victims and his focus on the fact that Porter has denied the claims.

“I was surprised by (the allegations), but we certainly wish him well, and it’s a tough time for him,” Trump told reporters in Washington on Friday. “He did a very good job when he was in the White House, and we hope he has a wonderful career. … It was very said when we heard about it, and certainly he’s also very sad now. He also, as you probably know, says he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that.”

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with White House Secretary Rob Porter (C) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) (R) as they return to the White House December 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)(Pool/Getty Images)

Holderness told The Daily Mail that Porter was verbally abusive throughout their relationship, which started in 2000, but that things escalated after they were wed in June 2003. She said Porter kicked her during their honeymoon and during a 2005 vacation in Italy, punched her in the face.

Willoughby, who married Porter in November 2009 and separated from him in early 2010, told The Daily Mail that Porter was verbally abusive.

Willoughby obtained a protective order against Porter in June 2010 after she said he violated their separation agreement and refused to leave her apartment, according to court records obtained by The Daily Mail. In the complaint, Willoughby said Porter punched in a glass door while she was locked inside the apartment, but left after he heard she was on the phone with police.

She told the Mail that in December 2010, he dragged her out of a shower while she was naked in order to yell at her.

The couple was divorced in 2013.

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Veteran resident dies, receives patriotic farewell from nursing home

Published: Saturday, February 10, 2018 @ 12:20 PM

File image of the American flag.
Christopher Bruno, Freeimages
File image of the American flag.(Christopher Bruno, Freeimages)

A veterans nursing home in South Carolina honored a resident who died this week with a patriotic farewell that has gone viral.

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In a Facebook post, Laura Dorn thanked the Richard M. Campbell Veterans Nursing Home in Anderson for taking such good care of her father, Doug Timmons, who had Alzheimer's disease and was a resident of the facility for the last three years. Dorn wrote that her father died early Thursday morning and the staff took the time to honor him for his service as his body was removed from the facility. In a video that Dorn posted, Timmons' body, draped with an American flag, is wheeled out as staff line up and a musical tribute plays.

In a Facebook review of the nursing home, Dorn thanked the "caring, accommodating and selfless" staff who she said treated her father like family. Dorn wrote, "They treated my Dad with dignity and respect from the first moment there until he drew his last breath, then sent him off with a hero's procession."

The video has received more than 3 million views.

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