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Published: Thursday, March 08, 2018 @ 5:30 PM
Updated: Thursday, March 08, 2018 @ 5:29 PM
WASHINGTON — The Latest on the United States, North Korea and South Korea (all times local):
Former NBA star Dennis Rodman, who has traveled several times to North Korea and is one of the few Americans to have met its leader, is praising President Donald Trump for planning a summit with Kim Jong Un.
Rodman tells The Associated Press he looks forward to returning to the pariah nation for "basketball diplomacy" in the coming months.
He says: "Well done, President Trump. You're on the way to a historical meeting no U.S. president has ever done."
Rodman adds, "Please send my regards to Marshal Kim Jong Un and his family."
Rodman was speaking by phone soon after the planned summit was announced in Washington — a major surprise after a year of rising tensions over North Korea's nuclear weapons.
Rodman met Kim in 2013 and 2014.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman says North Korea's desire to talk with President Donald Trump shows that sanctions are "starting to work."
Republican Rep. Ed Royce of California says the administration can "pursue more diplomacy, as we keep applying pressure."
The committee was not briefed ahead of the announcement.
Some members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are skeptical.
Republican Cory Gardner of Colorado says the "price of admission" for Trump and Kim Jong Un meeting must be "complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula."
Democrat Ed Markey of Massachusetts says Trump should treat it "as the beginning of a long diplomatic process" — avoiding "unscripted" remarks that could derail it.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has spoken with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe about President Donald Trump's decision to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein says Tillerson spoke to both Abe and Trump about the decision before it was announced publicly at the White House.
Tillerson is in Ethiopia, where the surprise announcement came in the middle of the night. Only hours before, Tillerson had said the U.S. was a "long ways from negotiations" with the North and the State Department said the U.S. was not going to schedule talks "at this point."
But Goldstein says Tillerson is "a very careful speaker. He knew exactly what he was saying today."
Goldstein says the meeting "shows that the maximum pressure campaign is working."
President Donald Trump says "Great progress" is being made, but sanctions on North Korea will remain in place as he prepares for what would be the first-ever meeting between the two countries' leaders.
Trump is on Twitter after South Koreans broke the news that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wanted to meet with him. Trump says Kim "talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze."
He also says North Korea has agreed to stop testing missiles. The messages were conveyed by a South Korean delegation that visited the White House Thursday.
Trump adds, "Meeting being planned!"
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (shin-zoh AH'-bay) says he plans to visit the U.S. to hold talks with President Donald Trump in April.
He told reporters in Tokyo on Friday morning that he had spoken with Trump on the phone, and they had agreed to continue putting maximum pressure on North Korea until it takes concrete steps toward giving up its nuclear weapons program.
Abe says there is no change in that position.
His remarks came after Trump agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un by May to negotiate an end to its nuclear weapons program.
The White House says President Donald Trump's meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will be held "at a place and time to be determined."
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders released a statement after a South Korean official broke the stunning news. Sanders says Trump "will accept the invitation to meet with" Kim.
She also says Trump "greatly appreciates the nice words of the South Korean delegation" and President Moon Jae-in
She adds that the U.S. looks "forward to the denuclearization of North Korea," but says all sanctions will remain in place in the meantime.
President Donald Trump's hastily reached decision to accept Kim Jong Un's invitation for a meeting sent White House staff scrambling to prepare a public announcement.
Trump appeared in the White House briefing room shortly after 5 p.m. to tease the news, saying the South Korean government would make a "statement" two hours later.
Trump had wanted the statement to come from the White House press room, but aides moved it outside the West Wing, enabling a foreign official to break the historic news.
White House aides say they were unable to immediately provide additional information because they were not involved in the decision, which was entirely Trump's.
The South Korean national security adviser made the roughly 2-minute announcement after nightfall near the entrance to the West Wing.
South Korea's national security director says President Donald Trump has decided he will meet with North Korea's Kim Jong Un "by May."
Chung Eui-yong spoke outside the White House after a day of briefings with senior U.S. officials, including Trump, on the recent inter-Korea talks. Chung says Trump said "he would meet Kim Jong Un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization" of the Korean peninsula.
Chung says Kim told the South Koreans he is "committed to denuclearization" and pledged that "North Korea will refrain from any further nuclear or missile tests."
The meeting would be the first of its kind between a leader of North Korea and a sitting president of the United States. The two countries have been in a formal state of war since the Korean War in the 1950s.
President Donald Trump says an upcoming announcement about North Korea is "almost beyond" talks between Washington and Pyongyang.
Trump announced earlier that South Korea will be making a "major statement" about North Korea at 7 p.m. Eastern time Thursday.
An ABC News producer tweets that ABC reporter Jon Karl asked Trump privately if the statement will be about talks between the U.S. and North Korea. Trump responded: "It's almost beyond that. Hopefully, you will give me credit."
Trump teased the announcement in the White House press briefing room. It comes after hours of consultations at the White House between U.S. and South Korean officials over recent inter-Korean talks.
Presidential spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders says South Korea's national security adviser will be briefing reporters at the White House Thursday evening.
A South Korean delegation has spent hours briefing U.S. officials on the outcome of their recent pathfinding meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
President Donald Trump made a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room to announce that South Korea would be making a "major statement" about North Korea at 7 p.m. Eastern time.
North Korea has invited the U.S. to reopen direct talks, saying it would suspend its nuclear tests during such talks.
Trump hasn't said whether he'd agree to those conditions, but has credited himself for the recent flurry of action.
President Donald Trump says South Korea will be making a "major statement" about North Korea at 7 p.m. Eastern time Thursday.
Trump teased the announcement in his first visit to the White House press briefing room. It comes after hours of consultations at the White House between U.S. and South Korean officials over recent inter-Korean talks.
That dialogue in North Korea concluded with an invitation to the U.S. to reopen direct talks with Pyongyang, saying it would suspend its nuclear tests during such talks. Trump has expressed openness to the invitation, saying, "We'll see."
South Korean officials were briefing the White House Thursday on the outcome of their pathfinding meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Seoul has already publicized that North Korea offered talks with the United States on denuclearization and normalizing ties, a potential diplomatic opening after a year of escalating tensions over the North's nuclear and missile tests. The rival Koreas also agreed to hold a leadership summit in late April.
Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 1:15 PM
— The top lawyer representing President Donald Trump in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election resigned Thursday, according to multiple reports.
Attorney John Dowd’s resignation came days after he called for an end to Mueller’s investigation, claiming it was “manufactured” by former FBI Director James Comey and based on an infamous -- and mostly unverified -- dossier that was funded in part by the Democratic National Committee and Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
“I love the president and wish him well,” Dowd wrote Thursday in an email to The Washington Post.
The newspaper reported that Dowd’s departure was “a largely mutual decision” based on Trump’s recent belief that Dowd couldn’t handle Mueller’s investigation and the attorney’s frustration with the president’s recent additions to his legal team. Trump attorney Jay Sekulow earlier this week brought one of his friends, veteran Washington attorney Joseph diGenova, onto the team, according to The New York Times.
It was not immediately clear who would take over as lead of the president’s legal team.
“John Dowd is a friend and has been a valuable member of our legal team,” Sekulow said Thursday in a statement to the Times. “We will continue our ongoing representation of the president and our cooperation with the office of special counsel.”
CNN reported that Dowd’s exit could hint that Trump’s legal team plans to become more aggressive in defending the president.
Dowd, who took over Trump’s legal team last summer, has advised the president to cooperate in Mueller’s investigation and refrain from publicly attacking the special counsel, the Times reported. Still, Trump has targeted Mueller for criticism in recent days, repeating his claims that the probe is little more than a politically motivated “witch hunt.”
The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime. It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC, and improperly used in FISA COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 18, 2018
Last month, Mueller indicted 13 Russian individuals and three organizations on charges of interfering in the election. Three of Trump's associates -- former national security adviser Michael Flynn, deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates and campaign aide George Papadopoulos -- have pleaded guilty to lying to investigators and agreed to cooperate. Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, has pleaded not guilty to a variety of money laundering and other criminal charges.
Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 9:16 AM
Continuing his campaign vow to get tough on countries which don’t play fair on trade, President Donald Trump on Thursday recommended slapping nearly $50 billion in new tariffs on products from China, as he accused the Chinese of stealing American technology.
“This has been long in the making,” the President told reporters at the White House, as he said his pledge to do something about unfair trade practices was just getting started.
“It’s probably one of the reasons I was elected, maybe one of the main reasons,” Mr. Trump said, as he has steadfastly resisted the calls of Republicans in Congress to stay away from tariffs on imported goods, which critics say are nothing more than a tax on American consumers.
“We’re doing things for this country which should have been done for many, many years,” the President added.
Trump Administration officials will now go over proposals for tariffs on all sorts of goods imported from China, much different than the targeted tariff plan that Mr. Trump approved earlier this month on imported steel and aluminum.
“It’s out of control,” the President said of the trade imbalance between the U.S. and China.
At the same event, Vice President Mike Pence said today’s move against China again signaled that the “era of economic surrender” is over when it comes to the United States.
“The United States of America is taking targeted and focused action to protect not only American jobs, but American technology,” Pence added.
The reaction in Congress was much more muted than a move to impose new tariffs on imported steel and aluminum coming into the country, when a number of Republicans denounced the idea of tariffs, arguing it could spark a trade war.
As the President’s decision was announced, Wall Street markets went down, with investors worried by a possible trade fight with the Chinese.
Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 11:03 AM
— The FBI investigated U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions for possible perjury last year amid allegations that he misled lawmakers about his contacts with Russians ahead of the 2016 presidential election, according to multiple reports.
The investigation into Sessions started before the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is tasked with probing Russian efforts to meddle in the election and possible ties to President Donald Trump and his campaign officials, Sessions’s lawyer, Chuck Cooper, told The New York Times. The investigation into Sessions has since been closed, Cooper said.
“The special counsel’s office has informed me that after interviewing the attorney general and conducting additional investigation, the attorney general is not under investigation for false statements or perjury in his confirmation hearing testimony and related written submissions to Congress,” Cooper told the Times in a statement.
Sessions told lawmakers during his January 2017 confirmation hearing that he had no communications with Russians during Trump’s campaign for the White House, but he faced criticism after it was reported by The Washington Post that Sessions met twice with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Sessions claimed he didn’t remember meeting with Kislyak, according to Bloomberg News. He emphasized in a statement released after the Post’s report that he “never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign.”
Unidentified sources told multiple media outlets, including the Times, Bloomberg and ABC News, that Sessions was unaware of the investigation when he announced the decision Friday to fire FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
McCabe authorized and oversaw the federal criminal investigation into Sessions, according to ABC News. The news network was the first to report Wednesday on the investigation.
The FBI frequently launches perjury investigations based on congressional referrals, according to the Times, though it’s rare for such investigations to lead to charges.
Published: Thursday, March 22, 2018 @ 12:00 AM
Ending weeks of negotiations between Congress and the White House, GOP leaders on Wednesday night released a $1.3 trillion funding plan for the federal government, an agreement that will result in over $100 billion in new spending in 2018, causing heartburn – and opposition – among more conservative Republicans in the House.
Almost six months behind schedule on their budget work, lawmakers produced a mammoth bill, which weighs in at 2,232 pages, the product of extended talks that almost went awry at the last minute.
The bill was highlighted by the inclusion of a number of non-spending provisions, like two measurse championed in the aftermath of the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, which would get more information into the background check system for gun buyers, and to help schools better recognize possible problems with violence.
Each party had a laundry list of items that they trumpeted in a flurry of news releases sent to reporters – for Republicans, that often included more money for the Pentagon, while Democrats focused on more money for domestic programs.
In all, almost 4,000 pages of bill text and supporting materials were released to lawmakers – almost impossible for anyone to read before the votes, which are expected on Thursday.
But we did some speed reading – and here is some of what we found:
1. The Omnibus features more spending from budget deal. Following through on a bipartisan budget agreement from earlier this year, this funding measure adds more money to the Pentagon – raising the overall military budget to $700 billion this year, and $716 billion in 2019. This year’s hike was $61 billion: “This is the biggest year-to-year increase in defense funding in 15 years,” GOP leaders said in their argument to Republican lawmakers. More money is also added for domestic programs, but that did not match the defense increase, but it was still one reason why Democrats signed on to the agreement. The total for discretionary funding is $1.3 trillion, more than any single year of the Obama Administration.
2. More conservative Republicans not pleased. Even before the details were out on the Omnibus, it wasn’t hard to tell what members of the House Freedom Caucus were going to do on this bill – vote against it – even with the big increase in defense funding. “That is not in anyway close to what the election was about, close to what we campaigned on,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). “We all campaigned on changing the status quo,” said Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH). “I think all of us agree we’re spending too much,” he added. But that was a minority view within the party, as GOP leaders focused more on the big increase in military funding.
3. President Trump backs it with some reservations. After evidently wavering on the details during the day on Wednesday, the President took to Twitter a few hours later to trumpet some of the details in the agreement, and to knock Democrats for what’s not in the Omnibus – as there is no agreement dealing with younger illegal immigrant children, known as the “Dreamers.” “Democrats refused to take care of DACA,” the President said. “Would have been so easy, but they just didn’t care.”
4. Trump could have had much more for border wall. While the President professed himself satisfied with $1.6 billion in money for border security, Democrats reminded him that they had offered $25 billion for the wall, in exchange for provisions allowing the “Dreamers” to stay in the U.S., and for many to get on a 12-year pathway to citizenship. But for a variety of reasons, the President did not want to accept that kind of an agreement with Congress, as both parties blamed the other for the lack of a deal. As for that $1.6 billion, the bill limits where it can be used:
5. NASA sees a budget boost. With the spending spigot open in this bill, there are very few mentions of cuts in the documents handed out by Republicans, as agencies like NASA instead saw their budgets boosted. NASA – which has drawn strong words of praise from President Trump since he took office – saw its budget go above $20 billion for the first time ever, jumping just over $1 billion. That will be good news to lawmakers in Florida – and many other states – which have a piece of NASA’s research and operations.
6. Omnibus includes funds for a new Hurricane Hunter plane. After a round of devastating hurricane strikes in 2017, this spending plan will direct $121 million to buy a “suitable replacement” for a Gulfstream IV Hurricane Hunter plane, which will insure that enough planes are ready for a busy storm season. For example, in late September and early October of 2017, one of those planes had three separate mechanical problems – but when it was grounded, there was no backup plane. That’s long been a concern for Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), and he noted the provision last night after the bill was released.
7. A big change for the Internal Revenue Service. After years of seeing budget reductions, the IRS was a budget winner in this Omnibus spending agreement, as the agency’s
budget will go up almost $200 million to $11.43 billion. There will be $320 million specifically dedicated to implementation
of the new tax cut law, which was approved late in 2017, in order to change all the forms, schedules, and internal systems
to reflect those changes in tax year 2018. $350 million will be directed to improve IRS customer service, which has been suffering
more and more telephone delays in recent years. It was a bit of a switch for the GOP to be bragging about how much money they
were spending at the IRS, instead of vowing to find new ways to cut the budget at the tax agency.
8. Trump wanted to end transportation grants. Congress tripled them. One piece of President Trump’s budget plan for 2019, was a proposal to eliminate “TIGER” grants for infrastructure. But instead of getting rid of that $500 million program, Congress increased it by $1 billion, tripling the size of those popular transportation grants. Mr. Trump’s first budget also tried to get rid of the TIGER program, but when you look at the budget, you realize quickly that grant programs are popular in both parties, because they funnel money to the folks back home.
9. The ban on funding for a group that no longer exists. Once again, this year’s funding bills from Congress include a provision to make sure no federal dollars go to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform, known as ACORN – even though ACORN has disbanded – that happened eight years ago, in 2010. But Republicans have wanted to make sure that any group which looks anything like ACORN, or might turn out to be a progressive grass roots group which acts like ACORN, doesn’t get any federal funding in the future.
10. Death payment for a late lawmaker. Earlier this week came the sad news that Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) had died, after the 88 year old veteran lawmaker had fallen at her home. When members die while in office, it is customary for the Congress to approve a full year’s salary for that member’s spouse or estate. It’s officially known on a budget line as “Payment to Widows and Heirs of Deceased Members of Congress.” Looking through the fine print – it’s actually characterized as “mandatory” spending – and not discretionary.
The House will vote first on the plan – most likely on Thursday. The Senate is expected to follow suit soon after.
Lawmakers are then expected to leave town for a two week Easter break.