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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Documents detail Flynn payments from Russian interests

Documents detail Flynn payments from Russian interests
 

AP Photo
FILE - In this Feb. 10, 2017 file photo, then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn sits in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Documents released in a congressional inquiry show Flynn was paid more than $33,750 by RT, Russia’s government-run television system, for appearing at a Moscow event in December 2015. Flynn had retired months earlier as head of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency.


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Documenting more than $67,000 in fees and expenses paid before the presidential election to former national security adviser Michael Flynn by Russian companies, a Democratic congressman Thursday asked the Trump administration to provide a comprehensive record of Flynn's contacts with foreign governments and interests.

Flynn accepted $33,750 from Russia's government-run television system for appearing at a Moscow event in December 2015 - a few months before Flynn began formally advising President Donald Trump's campaign - and thousands more in expenses covered by the network and in speech fees from other Russian firms, according to the newly released documents.

Flynn's financial relationship with the RT network may violate a constitutional provision against gifts from foreign governments, said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., who released documents obtained during the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform's inquiry into Flynn's activities before Trump appointed him to become national security adviser.

In addition to the record of Flynn's foreign contacts, Cummings, the senior Democrat on the committee, also asked the Defense Department to compel Flynn to pay the money he received to the U.S. government.

"I am writing to request information about whether Gen. Flynn fully disclosed- as part of the security clearance and vetting process for his return to government- his communications with Russian agents, Turkish agents and other foreign agents, as well as his payments from foreign sources," Cummings wrote. Last week, Flynn registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent whose lobbying work may have benefited the Turkish government. The lobbying occurred before Election Day from August to November, during the period when Flynn was Trump's campaign adviser.

Trump fired Flynn as national security adviser last month, saying the former U.S. Army lieutenant general misled Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials about his conversations with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. Flynn's ties to Russia have been scrutinized by the FBI and are part of House and Senate committee investigations into contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russians.

The newly-released files show that RT - designated by the U.S. intelligence community as a propaganda arm for Russia's government - also paid for luxury hotel stays and other expenses incurred by Flynn and his adult son, Michael Flynn Jr., during the Moscow trip.

Flynn, who was fired in August 2014 as chief of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, sat next to Russian President Vladimir Putin during the climax of the televised RT gala.

Cummings said Flynn's acceptance of payments from RT violated the emoluments provision of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits retired military officers from accepting gifts from foreign powers. RT identifies itself as an independent news network, but a report by U.S. intelligence agencies made public in January said RT has long been considered by the U.S. government a Russian propaganda arm.

In letters sent to Trump, Defense Secretary James Mattis and FBI Director James Comey, Cummings said Flynn "violated the Constitution by accepting tens of thousands of dollars from an agent of a global adversary that attacked our democracy." Cummings was referring to the intelligence agencies' conclusion that Russia instigated cyber-hacking of Democratic party officials and organizations in the months before the presidential election.

The Defense Department has said retired military officers are covered by the emoluments clause because they could be recalled to military service. The department has also noted that the prohibition on accepting foreign gifts includes commercial groups controlled by foreign governments or others "considered instruments of the foreign government."

A Flynn spokesman said Flynn informed the DIA before he went to Moscow and after his return. Price Floyd, a spokesman for Flynn, said that "as many former government officials and general officers have done, Gen. Flynn signed with a speakers' bureau and these are examples of that work."

DIA spokesman Jim Kudla said Thursday that Flynn did report to the agency in advance that he was traveling to Moscow "in accordance with standard security clearance procedures."

Separately, the Army is looking into the matter of Flynn's reporting and compensation, but has found no 
answers yet, according to spokesman Col. Pat Seiber.

Emails indicate Flynn initially asked for a higher fee than the $45,000 paid to his speakers' group, Leading Authorities Inc., but was asked to reduce his price. Flynn's take from RT was ultimately $33,750 after Leading Authorities received its commission.

"If Gen. Flynn is coming, we would like him to be front and central at the Moscow conference," an RT official told Flynn's representatives in a November 2015 email. During his Moscow stay, Flynn was interviewed by an RT personality on national security affairs before attending the lavish RT gala with Putin.

In an addition to the RT payments, Flynn was also paid $11,250 for two speeches in Washington - one in August for Volga-Dnepr Airlines, a Russian charter cargo airline, and a second, in September, for Kaspersky Government Security Solutions Inc., a U.S. subsidiary of Kaspersky Lab, a Russian-based cybersecurity firm.

Flynn and his son also received an unspecified amount in expenses paid by RT for business-class flights to and from Moscow and for their three-day stay at the Hotel Metropol. RT representatives said the stay offered tours of the Kremlin, RT headquarters, the Bolshoi Theater and art museums. Another attendee who took part in some of the tours told The Associated Press they did not see Flynn at those events.

Cummings said he has given the Trump administration, the FBI and the Defense Department until April 7 to produce documents related to Flynn's contacts with foreign nationals and any documentation of funds he received from foreign sources.

Cummings also asked for documents about Flynn's security clearance over the past 10 years. They include how Flynn answered questions about his contact with foreign nationals, his work for foreign governments and businesses, and any international real estate holdings.

The release of the documents comes one week after Flynn and his firm, Flynn Intel Group, registered with the Justice Department as foreign agents whose lobbying work may have benefited the government of Turkey.

The registration involved $530,000 worth of lobbying that Flynn's firm performed for a company owned by a Turkish businessman. In that filing, Flynn acknowledged the lobbying on behalf of the company, Inovo BV, "could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey."

The AP reported last week that while Flynn was under consideration for the top national security post, his attorneys informed the presidential transition team that it was likely he would have to register as a foreign agent. After Flynn was appointed, his attorneys then notified the White House counsel's office that a filing was imminent.

The White House initially said it had no recollection of the second discussion but later acknowledged such a contact had occurred.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Trump's allies melting away on wiretapping claims

Trump's allies melting away on wiretapping claims

AP Photo
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., right, accompanied by the committee's ranking member, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., talks to reporters, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March, 15, 2017, about their investigation of Russian influence on the American presidential election. Both lawmakers said they have no evidence to back up President Trump's claim that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Plaza during the 2016 campaign.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Donald Trump's explosive allegation that Barack Obama wiretapped his New York skyscraper during the presidential campaign has left him increasingly isolated, with allies on Capitol Hill and within his own administration offering no evidence to back him up.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he had not given Trump any reason to believe he was wiretapped by President Obama. Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House intelligence committee, said he had seen no information to support the claim and then went further. He suggested the U.S. president's assertion, made in a series of March 4 tweets, should not be taken at face value.

"Are you going to take the tweets literally?" Nunes said. "If so, clearly the president was wrong."

But Trump, in an interview Wednesday with Fox News, predicted there would be "some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks."

Trump's allegations have put him in a potentially perilous position as congressional investigations into Russia's involvement in the 2016 election - and possible Russian contacts with Trump associates - ramp up. The FBI is also investigating.

If no evidence of wiretapping at Trump Tower emerges, his credibility would be newly damaged. If there is proof that the Obama administration approved monitoring of Trump or his associates, that would suggest the government had reason to be suspicious of their contacts with Russia and a judge had approved the surveillance.

The president, who appears to have made his allegation in a burst of anger, has asked lawmakers to investigate the claim. Lawmakers have since turned the question back toward the administration, asking the Justice Department to provide evidence of wiretapping activity.

The Justice Department missed a Monday deadline for providing the information to the House and was given a one-week extension.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who heads the Judiciary Committee's crime and terrorism subcommittee, said the FBI will provide a classified briefing on the matter "at some time in the future." Graham has previously said he would use subpoena power to get information from the FBI about whether a warrant was issued allowing the Obama administration to tap Trump's phones during the campaign.

Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone told The Associated Press Wednesday that he believes his own online exchanges with a Russian-linked hacker were obtained through a special warrant that allows the government to collect the communications of people suspected of being agents of a foreign nation. Stone communicated through Twitter direct messages with Guccifer 2.0, a hacker who has claimed responsibility for breaching the Democratic National Committee.

Stone said he was unaware at the time that U.S. officials believed the hacker had ties to Russia. He said he is willing to testify before any congressional committee that holds its hearings "in public and not behind closed doors."

The House intelligence committee will begin holding public hearings on Monday. Nunes said FBI Director James Comey and Adm. Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, will testify.

Ahead of the hearing, the committee sent a letter to the FBI, CIA and the National Security Agency requesting details by Friday about Americans who surfaced in intelligence collections last year.

Identities of Americans who show up in U.S. surveillance against foreign targets are generally concealed, but can be unmasked by intelligence agencies in certain circumstances. Those include situations when the communications contain information that a crime has or is about to be committed, when the Americans' identity is necessary to understand the importance of the foreign intelligence collected or when the communication provides information that an American may be an agent of a foreign power.

Asked whether Trump's communications may have been swept up in surveillance, Nunes said it was "very possible."

Sessions, a staunch supporter of Trump during the campaign, recused himself earlier this month from the Russia investigations after it was revealed that he did not disclose his own contacts with Russia's ambassador to the United States. Asked Wednesday if he had ever briefed Trump on the investigation or given the president any reason to believe he had been wiretapped by the Obama administration, Sessions said, "The answer is no."

Trump has said little about his allegations against Obama, largely leaving it to White House aides to explain his inflammatory statements.

The White House appeared to be backing away from Trump's claims on Monday, with spokesman Sean Spicer saying the president was referring to general surveillance that may have been approved by the Obama administration. On Tuesday, Spicer said the president was "extremely confident" the Justice Department would provide evidence vindicating him.

Graham and Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley have both said they will hold up hearings for Rod 

Rosenstein, Trump's nominee to serve as deputy attorney general, unless they get more information from the FBI. Given Sessions' recusal, Rosenstein would take over responsibility for any probes touching the Trump campaign and Russia's election meddling if he's confirmed.

"It's just too bad that we have to go to this length," Grassley said.

Russian agents, hackers charged in massive Yahoo breach

Russian agents, hackers charged in massive Yahoo breach

AP Photo
Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary McCord, center, accompanied by U.S. Attorney for the Northern District Brian Stretch, left, and FBI Executive Director Paul Abbate, speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, Wednesday, March 15, 2017. The Justice Department announced charges against four defendants, including two officers of Russian security services, for a mega data breach at Yahoo.
  
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Two Russian intelligence agents and a pair of hired hackers have been charged in a devastating criminal breach at Yahoo that affected at least a half billion user accounts, the Justice Department said Wednesday in bringing the first case of its kind against current Russian government officials.

In a scheme that prosecutors say blended intelligence gathering with old-fashioned financial greed, the four men targeted the email accounts of Russian and U.S. government officials, Russian journalists and employees of financial services and other private businesses, U.S. officials said.

Using in some cases a technique known as "spear-phishing" to dupe Yahoo users into thinking they were receiving legitimate emails, the hackers broke into at least 500 million accounts in search of personal information and financial data such as gift card and credit card numbers, prosecutors said.

"We will not allow individuals, groups, nation states or a combination of them to compromise the privacy of our citizens, the economic interests of our companies or the security of our country," said Acting Assistant 
 Attorney General Mary McCord, the head of the Justice Department's national security division.

One of the defendants, a Canadian and Kazakh national named Karim Baratov, has been taken into custody in Canada. Another, Alexsey Belan, is on the list of the FBI's most wanted cyber criminals and has been indicted multiple times in the U.S. It's not clear whether he or the other two defendants, Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin, will ever step foot in an American courtroom since there's no extradition treaty with Russia.

"I hope they will respect our criminal justice system," McCord said.

The indictment identifies Dokuchaev and Sushchin as officers of the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB. Belan and Baratov were paid hackers who were directed by the FSB to break into the accounts, prosecutors said.

Yahoo didn't disclose the breach until last September when it began notifying hundreds of millions of users that their email addresses, birth dates, answers to security questions and other personal information may have been stolen. Three months later, Yahoo revealed it had uncovered a separate hack in 2013 affecting about 1 billion accounts, including some that were also hit in 2014.

U.S. officials said it was especially galling that the scheme involved officers from a Russian counterespionage service that theoretically should be working collaboratively with its FBI counterparts.

"Rather than do that type of work, they actually turned against that type of work," McCord said.

Paul Abbate, an FBI executive assistant director, said the bureau had had only "limited cooperation with that element of the Russian government in the past," noting that prior U.S. demands to turn over Belan had been ignored.

Though the Justice Department has previously charged Russian hackers with cybercrime - as well as hackers sponsored by the Chinese and Iranian governments - this is the first criminal case to implicate the Russian government so directly in cybercrime and to name as defendants sitting members of the FSB for hacking charges.

The announcement comes as federal authorities investigate Russian interference through hacking in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. One of the defendants, Belan, was among the Russians sanctioned last year following those campaign hacking efforts, though U.S. officials said the investigations were separate.

The indictment, which includes charges of economic espionage, trade secret theft and unauthorized access to protected computers, arise from a compromise of Yahoo user accounts that began at least as early as 2014.

The Justice Department's assertion that the FSB was directing the hacking likely provides significant political and legal cover for Yahoo, which saw its multibillion-dollar deal with Verizon teeter after it was forced to warn consumers that their private information might have been exposed.

Companies are far more likely to be blamed for security incompetence, with all the attending legal and PR exposure, when their networks are compromised by thieves or wayward teenagers than when they become the targets of sophisticated espionage carried out by foreign governments.

In a statement, Chris Madsen, Yahoo's assistant general counsel and head of global security, thanked law enforcement agencies for their work.

"We're committed to keeping our users and our platforms secure and will continue to engage with law enforcement to combat cybercrime," he said.

Rich Mogull, CEO of the security firm Securosis, said the indictment "shows the ties between the Russian security service and basically the criminal underground," something that had been "discussed in security circles for years."

Cyber criminals gave Russian officials access to specific accounts they were targeting, and in return, Russian officials helped the criminals to evade authorities and let them keep the type of information that hackers that hack for money tend to exploit such as email addresses and logins and credit card information.

Mogull said he was surprised the Justice Department was able to name specific individuals and issue the indictment.

"We've come to expect that you don't really figure out who performs these attacks," he said. The fact that the indictment ties together the FSB and criminals is a new development, he said. "It will be very interesting to see what comes up in court, and how they tie those two together."


Friday, March 3, 2017

Man charged with threatening Jewish centers to frame his ex


 Man charged with threatening Jewish centers to frame his ex
 

AP Photo
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, center, member of Congress's bipartisan task force combating anti-Semitism, speaks with a reporter after holding a press conference to address bomb treats against Jewish organizations and vandalism at Jewish cemeteries, Friday March 3, 2017, at the Park East Synagogue in New York.

 
NEW YORK (AP) -- A former journalist fired for fabricating details in stories made at least eight of the scores of threats against Jewish institutions nationwide, including a bomb threat to the Anti-Defamation League, as part of a bizarre campaign to harass and frame his ex-girlfriend, federal officials said Friday.

Juan Thompson was arrested in St. Louis and appeared there in federal court Friday on a cyberstalking charge. He politely answered questions and told the judge he had enough money to hire a lawyer.

A crowd of supporters who attended said Thompson had no criminal record. His lawyer didn't comment.
Federal officials have been investigating 122 bomb threats called in to Jewish organizations in three dozen states since Jan. 9 and a rash of vandalism at Jewish cemeteries.

Thompson started making threats Jan. 28, a criminal complaint said, with an email to the Jewish History Museum in New York written from an account that made it appear as if it were being sent by an ex-girlfriend.

"Juan Thompson put 2 bombs in the History Museum set to go off Sunday," it said.

He followed that up with similar messages to a Jewish school in Farmington Hills, Michigan, and to a school and community center in Manhattan, authorities said.

In another round of emails and phone calls, he gave the woman's name, rather than his own, the court complaint said. The Council on American-Islamic Relations received an anonymous email saying the woman put a bomb in a Dallas Jewish center.

Thompson, who's black, then took to Twitter: "Know any good lawyers?" he wrote. "Need to stop this nasty/racist #whitegirl I dated who sent a bomb threat in my name." He later tweeted to the Secret Service: 

"I'm been (sic) tormented by an anti-Semite. She sent an antijewish bomb threat in my name. Help."

But police say it was a hoax created to make the woman look guilty. Thompson also made threats in which he identified the woman as the culprit, authorities said. It's unclear why Jewish organizations were targeted.

Republican President Donald Trump suggested in a meeting Tuesday with state attorneys general the threats against Jewish community centers may have been designed to make "others look bad," according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. Trump also has condemned violence against Jewish organizations.

Thompson was fired from the online publication The Intercept last year after being accused of fabricating several quotes and creating fake email accounts to impersonate people, including the Intercept's editor-in-chief. One of the stories involved Dylann Roof, the white shooter of black worshippers at a Charleston, South Carolina, church.

Thompson had written that a cousin named Scott Roof claimed the gunman was angry that a love interest chose a black man over him. A review showed there was no cousin by that name. The story was retracted.

The Intercept wrote Friday it was "horrified" to learn of Thompson's arrest.

Thompson had been accused of bizarre behavior before.

Doyle Murphy, a reporter at the Riverfront Times, an alternative weekly in St. Louis, said he was subjected to social media harassment after writing about Thompson's troubled past in the fallout from his firing at The Intercept.

Murphy said Thompson set up anonymous accounts on Twitter and other social media posing as a woman who claimed she had been sexually assaulted by Murphy. Murphy said he contacted Twitter but every time one fake account was taken down a new one popped up. He said he contacted police but there was little they could do.

"It was a nightmare, and there's not a whole lot I could do about it," Murphy said.

The Federal Communications Commission said Friday it will grant an emergency waiver allowing Jewish community centers and their phone carriers to track the numbers of callers who make threats, even if the callers try to block the numbers. It said Democratic U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer had requested such a waiver earlier in the week.

According to the criminal complaint, Thompson and the ex-girlfriend, a social worker, broke up last summer. The following day, her boss received an email purporting to be from a national news organization saying she'd been pulled over for drunken driving.

The harassment got worse, authorities said. She received an anonymous email with nude photos of herself and a threat to release them. Her company, a nonprofit that works to end homelessness, got faxes saying she was anti-Semitic. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children got a note saying she watched child porn.

Thompson's IP address was used for the emails, but he told police his computer had been hacked, the complaint said.

The ADL said Thompson had been on its radar since he fabricated the story about Roof. According to ADL research, Thompson also claimed he wanted to dismantle the system of "racial supremacy and greedy capitalism that is stacked against us." He said he was going to run for mayor of St. Louis to "fight back against Trumpian fascism and socio-economic terrorism."

FBI Director James Comey met with Jewish community leaders Friday to discuss the recent threats, the agency said.

University City, Missouri, police Lt. Fredrick Lemons told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that detectives will question Thompson about the 154 headstones toppled last month at a Jewish cemetery there.

Monday, February 27, 2017

AP Exclusive: Ex-congregants reveal years of ungodly abuse

AP Exclusive: Ex-congregants reveal years of ungodly abuse

AP Photo
In this 2012 photo provided by a former member of the church, Word of Faith Fellowship leader Jane Whaley, center, holds a baby, accompanied by her husband, Sam, center right, and others during a ceremony in the church's compound in Spindale, N.C. From all over the world, they flocked to this tiny town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, lured by promises of inner peace and eternal life. What many found instead: years of terror _ waged in the name of the Lord.
  
SPINDALE, N.C. (AP) -- From all over the world, they flocked to this tiny town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, lured by promises of inner peace and eternal life. What many found instead: years of terror - waged in the name of the Lord.

Congregants of the Word of Faith Fellowship were regularly punched, smacked, choked, slammed to the floor or thrown through walls in a violent form of deliverance meant to "purify" sinners by beating out devils, 43 former members told The Associated Press in separate, exclusive interviews.
Victims of the violence included pre-teens and toddlers - even crying babies, who were vigorously shaken, screamed at and sometimes smacked to banish demons.

"I saw so many people beaten over the years. Little kids punched in the face, called Satanists," said Katherine Fetachu, 27, who spent nearly 17 years in the church.

Word of Faith also subjected members to a practice called "blasting" - an ear-piercing verbal onslaught often conducted in hours-long sessions meant to cast out devils.

As part of its investigation, the AP reviewed hundreds of pages of law enforcement, court and child welfare documents, along with hours of conversations with Jane Whaley, the evangelical church's controlling leader, secretly recorded by followers.

The AP also spent more than a year tracking down dozens of former disciples who scattered after leaving the church.

Those interviewed - most of them raised in the church - say Word of Faith leaders waged a decades-long cover-up to thwart investigations by law enforcement and social services officials, including strong-arming young victims and their parents to lie.

They said members were forbidden to seek outside medical attention for their injuries, which included cuts, sprains and cracked ribs.

Several former followers said some congregants were sexually abused, including minors.
The former members said they were speaking out now due to guilt for not doing more to stop the abuse and because they fear for the safety of the children still in the church, believed to number about 100.

In the past, Whaley has strongly denied that she or other church leaders have ever abused Word of Faith members and contended that any discipline would be protected by the First Amendment's freedom of religion tenets.

She and church attorney Josh Farmer turned down repeated AP requests for interviews to discuss the fresh allegations from the dozens of former congregants. But hours after the AP's stories were released, the church posted a statement on its website calling the allegations false and contending they were made by "certain former members" out to target the church.

"We do not condone or allow abuse - in any form - at our church. Period," the statement said.
The ex-members said the violence was ever-present: Minors were taken from their parents and placed in ministers' homes, where they were beaten and blasted and sometimes completely cut off from their families for up to a decade.

For several years, males perceived as the worst sinners were kept in a four-room former storage facility in the compound called the Lower Building. They were cut off from their families for up to a year, never knew when they would be released, and endured especially violent, prolonged beatings and blastings, according to more than a dozen of those interviewed.

Teachers in the church's K-12 school encouraged students to beat their classmates for daydreaming, smiling and other behavior that leaders said proved they were possessed by devils, the former followers said.

"It wasn't enough to yell and scream at the devils. You literally had to beat the devils out of people," said Rick Cooper, 61, a U.S. Navy veteran who spent more than 20 years as a congregant and raised nine children in the church.

Word of Faith Fellowship has been scrutinized on numerous occasions by law enforcement, social services agencies and the news media since the early 1990s- all without significant impact, mostly because followers refused to cooperate.

Some former members offered a more doctrinal explanation for their decades of silence: Frequent warnings by Whaley that God would strike them dead if they betrayed her or her church.

Word of Faith Fellowship was founded in 1979 by Whaley, a petite former math teacher, and her husband, Sam, a former used car salesman.

They are listed as co-pastors but all of those interviewed said it is Jane Whaley - a fiery, 77-year-old Christian Charismatic preacher - who maintains dictatorial control of the flock and also administers some of the beatings herself.

She has scores of strict rules to control congregants' lives, including whether they can marry or have children. At the top of the list: No one can complain about her or question her authority. Failure to comply often triggers a humiliating rebuke from the pulpit or, worse, physical punishment, according to most of those interviewed.

Under Jane Whaley's leadership, Word of Faith grew from a handful of followers to a 750-member sect, concentrated in a 35-acre complex protected by tight security and a thick line of trees.

The group also has nearly 2,000 members in churches in Brazil and Ghana, and affiliations in other countries.
Those attending the church's twice-a-year international Bible seminars were encouraged to move to Spindale, a community of 4,300 midway between Charlotte and Asheville. It wasn't until they sold their homes and settled in North Carolina that the church's "dark side" gradually emerged, former members said.

By then - isolated from their families and friends, and believing Whaley was a prophet - they were afraid to leave or speak out, they said.

Given what they characterize as Whaley's record for retribution against those she sees as traitors, the former members said they hope there is strength and protection in speaking out in numbers.

"For most of my life, I lived in fear. I'm not scared anymore," said John Cooper, one of Rick Cooper's sons.
Still, many former church members say the memories - and the nightmares - never seem to fade, and they live in fear for their family members still inside.

Danielle Cordes, now 22, said she has deep psychological scars from spending more than three-quarters of her life in Whaley's world.

Three years ago, the last time she tried to visit her parents' house, her father slammed the door in her face without saying a word. To this day, whenever she calls, family members hang up.

"I need my family and they're gone," she said.

Said Rick Cooper: "You're cut off from everyone in the world. The church - and Jane - is the only thing you know. You believe she's a prophet - she has a pipeline to God. So you stand by while she rips your family apart. I'm not sure how you ever get over that."

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Trump travel ban faces biggest legal test yet

Trump travel ban faces biggest legal test yet

AP Photo
Baraah Alawdi, originally from Yemen, poses for photos next to an unidentified artist's mannequin placed outside of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017. President Donald Trump's travel ban faced its biggest legal test yet Tuesday as a panel of federal judges prepared to hear arguments from the administration and its opponents about two fundamentally divergent views of the executive branch and the court system.
 
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- President Donald Trump's travel ban faced its biggest legal test yet Tuesday as a panel of federal judges prepared to hear arguments from the administration and its opponents about two fundamentally divergent views of the executive branch and the court system.

The government will ask a federal appeals court to restore Trump's executive order, contending that the president alone has the power to decide who can enter or stay in the United States. But several states have challenged the ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations and insisted that it is unconstitutional.

Tuesday's hearing was to unfold before a randomly selected panel of judges from the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It was unlikely the court would issue a ruling Tuesday, with a decision expected later this week, court spokesman David Madden said.

Whatever the court eventually decides, either side could ask the Supreme Court to intervene.

U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle, who on Friday temporarily blocked Trump's order, has said a judge's job is to ensure that an action taken by the government "comports with our country's laws."

Trump said Tuesday that he can't believe his administration has to fight in the courts to uphold his refugee and immigration ban, a policy he says will protect the country.

"And a lot of people agree with us, believe me," Trump said at a roundtable discussion with members of the National Sheriff's Association. "If those people ever protested, you'd see a real protest. But they want to see our borders secure and our country secure."

The same day, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told lawmakers that the order likely should have been delayed at least long enough to brief Congress about it.

The Justice Department filed a new defense of the ban Monday. Lawyers said it was a "lawful exercise" of the president's authority to protect national security and said Robart's order should be overruled.

The filing with the appeals court was the latest salvo in a high-stakes legal fight surrounding Trump's order, which temporarily suspends the country's refugee program and immigration from seven countries with terrorism concerns.

Washington state, Minnesota and other states say the appellate court should allow a temporary restraining order blocking the travel ban to stand as their lawsuit moves through the legal system.

The panel hearing the arguments includes two Democrat-appointed judges and one Republican appointee.

The appeals court over the weekend refused to immediately reinstate the ban, and lawyers for Washington 
and Minnesota argued anew on Monday that any resumption would "unleash chaos again," separating families and stranding university students.

The Justice Department responded that the president has clear authority to "suspend the entry of any class of aliens" to the U.S. in the name of national security. It said the travel ban was intended "to permit an orderly review and revision of screening procedures to ensure that adequate standards are in place to protect against terrorist attacks."

The challengers of the ban were asking "courts to take the extraordinary step of second-guessing a formal national security judgment made by the president himself," the Justice Department wrote.

It's possible that the panel could make a ruling on a technical point, rather than the larger merits of the case. Under 9th Circuit case law, temporary restraining orders cannot be appealed, a point noted by the states.

An analysis on that point would include examining whether the lower court's order is properly classified as a temporary restraining order rather than as another type of order, a preliminary injunction, noted Arthur Hellman, a federal courts scholar at University of Pittsburgh Law School.

If the case does end up before the Supreme Court, it could prove difficult to find the necessary five votes to undo a lower court order. The Supreme Court has been at less than full strength since Justice Antonin Scalia's death a year ago. The last immigration case that reached the justices ended in a 4-4 tie.

How and when a case might get to the Supreme Court is unclear. The travel ban itself is to expire in 90 days, meaning it could run its course before a higher court takes up the issue. Or the administration could change it in any number of ways that would keep the issue alive.

After Robart's ruling, the State Department quickly said people from the seven countries - Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen - with valid visas could travel to the U.S.

A graduate student who had traveled to Libya with her 1-year-old son to visit her sick mother and attend her father's funeral was back in Fort Collins, Colorado, on Monday after having been stopped in Jordan on her return trip. She was welcomed with flowers and balloons by her husband and other children.

Syrian immigrant Mathyo Asali said he thought his life was "ruined" when he landed at Philadelphia International Airport on Jan. 28 only to be denied entry to the United States. Asali, who returned to Damascus, said he figured he'd be inducted into the Syrian military. He was back on U.S. soil Monday.

"It's really nice to know that there's a lot of people supporting us," Asali told Gov. Tom Wolf, who greeted the family at a relative's house in Allentown.

States challenging the ban have been joined by technology companies, who have said it makes it more difficult to recruit employees. National security officials under President Barack Obama have also come out against it.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Appeals court weighs Trump ban as travelers arrive to tears

Appeals court weighs Trump ban as travelers arrive to tears

AP Photo
Nazanin Zinouri, 29, is greeted at the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport in Greer, S.C., with kisses from her dog Dexter and well-wishers holding signs reading "Welcome Home" on Monday, Feb. 6, 2017. Zinouri, an Iranian engineer and Clemson University graduate, had been unable to return to the United States because of the executive order President Donald Trump signed that limited travel to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The fierce battle over President Donald Trump's travel and refugee ban edged up the judicial escalator Monday, headed for a possible final face-off at the Supreme Court. Travelers, temporarily unbound, tearfully reunited with loved ones at U.S. airports.

The Justice Department filed a new defense of Trump's ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations as a federal appeals court weighs whether to restore the administration's executive order. The lawyers said the travel ban was a "lawful exercise" of the president's authority to protect national security and said a judge's order that put the policy on hold should be overruled.

The filing with the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was the latest salvo in a high-stakes legal fight surrounding Trump's order, which was halted Friday by a federal judge in Washington state.

The judges are to hear arguments Tuesday.

The appeals court earlier refused to immediately reinstate the ban, and lawyers for Washington and Minnesota - two states challenging it - argued anew on Monday that any resumption would "unleash chaos again," separating families and stranding university students.

The Justice Department responded that the president has clear authority to "suspend the entry of any class of aliens" to the U.S. in the name of national security. It said the travel ban, which temporarily suspends the country's refugee program and immigration from seven countries with terrorism concerns, was intended "to permit an orderly review and revision of screening procedures to ensure that adequate standards are in place to protect against terrorist attacks."

The challengers of the ban, the Justice Department wrote, were asking "courts to take the extraordinary step of second-guessing a formal national security judgment made by the president himself pursuant to broad grants of statutory authority."

Whatever the appeals court decides, either side could ask the Supreme Court to intervene.

It could prove difficult, though, to find the necessary five votes at the high court to undo a lower court order; the Supreme Court has been at less than full strength since Justice Antonin Scalia's death a year ago. The last immigration case that reached the justices ended in a 4-4 tie.

The president's executive order has faced legal uncertainty ever since Friday's ruling by U.S. District Judge James Robart, which challenged both Trump's authority and his ability to fulfill a campaign promise.

The State Department quickly said people from the seven countries - Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen - could travel to the U.S. if they had valid visas. The Homeland Security Department said it was no longer directing airlines to prevent affected visa holders from boarding U.S.-bound planes.

On Monday in Colorado, a graduate student who had traveled to Libya with her 1-year-old son to visit her sick mother and attend her father's funeral was back in Fort Collins after having been stopped in Jordan on her return trip. She was welcomed with flowers and balloons by her husband and other children.

Two Yemeni brothers whose family has sued over the travel ban, and who'd been turned away in the chaotic opening days of the order, arrived at Dulles International Airport in Virginia, where they were greeted by their father.

"America is for everybody," Aqel Aziz said after greeting his sons.

Syrian immigrant Mathyo Asali said he thought his life was "ruined" when he landed at Philadelphia International Airport on Jan. 28 only to be denied entry to the United States. Asali, who returned to Damascus, said he figured he'd be inducted into the Syrian military. He was back on U.S. soil Monday.

"It's really nice to know that there's a lot of people supporting us," Asali told Gov. Tom Wolf, who greeted the family at a relative's house in Allentown.

The legal fight involves two divergent views of the role of the executive branch and the court system.

The government has asserted that the president alone has the power to decide who can enter or stay in the United States, while Robart has said a judge's job is to ensure that an action taken by the government "comports with our country's laws."

His Friday ruling triggered a Twitter rant by Trump, who dismissed Robart as a "so-called judge." On Sunday, Trump tweeted, "Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!"

States challenging the ban have been joined by technology companies, who have said it makes it more difficult to recruit employees. National security officials under President Barack Obama have also come out against it. A declaration filed by John Kerry and Madeleine Albright, former secretaries of state, and others said the ban would disrupt lives and cripple U.S. counterterrorism partnerships without making the nation safer.

"It will aid ISIL's propaganda effort and serve its recruitment message by feeding into the narrative that the United States is at war with Islam," they wrote.

How and when a case might get to the Supreme Court is unclear. The travel ban itself is to expire in 90 days, meaning it could run its course before a higher court takes up the issue. Or the administration could change it in any number of ways that would keep the issue alive.

The bench also could be full, with a new ninth justice on board, by the time the court is ready to hear arguments. If Judge Neil Gorsuch is confirmed this spring as Senate Republicans hope, chances of a tie vote would disappear.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Longtime US residents, aspiring citizens caught up in ban

Longtime US residents, aspiring citizens caught up in ban

AP Photo
CORRECTS SPELLING TO ABDOLLAH INSTEAD OF ABDULLAH - Abdollah Mostafavi, center, arriving from Tehran, Iran, is met by his family including son-in-law Nasser Sorkhavi, left, daughter Mozhgan Mostafavi, second from right, and grandson Kourosh Sorkhavi at San Francisco International Airport Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017, in San Francisco. Mostafavi was held at the airport for some time as a result of President Donald Trump's executive order barring citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S.
 







LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A woman traveling to Indiana to care for her cancer-stricken mother, a family physician who has lived in the U.S. for two decades, and a Minneapolis woman about to become a U.S. citizen were among those caught in the net cast by President Donald Trump when he banned travelers from entering the country from Muslim-majority nations.
Here are their stories:
---
Sahar Algonaimi, a 58-year-old Syrian woman coming to the U.S. to care for her cancer-stricken mother was put on a plane Saturday and sent back to Saudi Arabia hours after arriving at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.

When her 76-year-old mother became ill, Algonaimi's sister, Nour Ulayyet, asked her to come to their home in Valparaiso, Indiana, to help take care of her. Their mother underwent a mastectomy Friday.
Algonaimi had visited just last year and still had a U.S. visa good until June 2018.

After texting to say her plane had touched down, she never arrived at the gate. A man identifying himself as an immigration officer eventually called Ulayyet to say her sister was being put aboard a flight back to Saudi Arabia, where she teaches school.

"I asked if I could speak to a supervisor," Ulayyet said. "He was very nice, very sympathetic, but he said, 'Literally for me to help I'm going to be breaking the law and I'm not going to break the law.'"

Before Algonaimi left officials had her sign paperwork that she told her sister she didn't understand. It canceled her visa.

"I really can't put it in words how much sadness I feel and the sense of injustice we feel," Ulayyet said Sunday as she choked up.
---
Dr. Sarwa Aldoori, a family physician from Bakersfield, California, was returning home Saturday from an eight-day religious pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia when she was startled to be pulled aside from the rest of her group.

"Everything was OK until I got to the customs checking point and my colleagues and friends went through and the guy looked at my passport and eyed me and he said step aside," Aldoori said Sunday, her voice shaking as she tearfully described the ordeal.

She was released and reunited with her husband after nine hours.

Aldoori, a legal permanent resident of the U.S., said she made a similar pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia last year - "a very special visit in the life of every Muslim" - without incident.

As she cried and asked to know why she couldn't leave the airport this time, the doctor, who has lived in the United States since 1996, said an officer finally told her, "It's because you were born in Iraq."

"I looked at him and I said, 'You know, I am 62 years old. What did I do wrong?' He didn't say anything, he just looked at the floor and said have a seat."

Although angry and shaken, she said she still plans to become a U.S. citizen someday.

"I'm not going to let something like that stop me," she said defiantly. "We used to have decent people in government and now we don't."
---

Fateme Farmad was returning from Iran to her Minneapolis home with her 11-month-old son when she was detained and questioned for more than 12 hours at Los Angeles International Airport.

Farmad and her family had traveled to Iran last month to visit relatives. Her husband, Masoud Samet, returned to the U.S. for work on Jan. 6 while she and other family members stayed for a wedding.
When the group returned Saturday, her brother, a U.S. citizen, was immediately allowed back in. She, her son and her mother were detained.

"They are OK, but they are very tired and the situation was unexpected and very horrible," said her husband.
Attorneys who filed legal action demanding Farmad's release accused officials at the airport of attempting to coerce her into signing papers relinquishing her permanent resident status.

Farmad, who has lived in the United States for five years, is scheduled to take her oath of citizenship on Feb. 13.
---
Nazanin Zinouri had only been in Iran a couple of days for a family visit when she began to hear rumors that citizens of Muslim-majority nations would be banned from returning to the United States.

The U.S. resident of nearly seven years tried to return home immediately but flights were delayed in Tehran by heavy snow. She'd only gotten as far as Dubai when the ban went into effect and authorities refused to let her board a plane to the United States.

She said by phone Sunday she's been spending her time following the news and worrying about her rescue dog, Dexter, her home, her car and her job. She works for a technology firm in South Carolina.

"What's going to happen to my dog? My dog is sick. Is anyone going to adopt him?" she asked. "Am I going to lose my job forever?"

Zinouri, 29, has a master's degree from Northern Illinois University and a Ph.D. from Clemson University.
She had gone to Iran to see her mother, brother and sister.
---
Abdollah Mostafavi was traveling to San Francisco for hip replacement surgery when the 80-year-old green-card holder was suddenly stopped at San Francisco International Airport.

Mostafavi, who has relatives in Canada and the U.S., splits his time between those countries and his native Iran.

When he was finally released after six hours Saturday his 8-year-old grandson ran to hug him as his 46-year-old daughter fought back tears.

"I'm worried sick," his daughter, Mozhgan Mostafavi, had told the AP as she waited at the airport for him. "I don't know any Iranians who have been in a terrorist attack. It's so dehumanizing. It's so insulting. I grew up during the Revolution in Iran and I feel that same suffocation. It's hard to breathe."

She said Sunday her father told her he'd been held for hours in a room with about 15 other Iranians.
"He said it seemed they had the order to detain them but had no idea what to do next," she said.
---
An Iraqi immigrant couple who arrived in Maine with two daughters just days before citizens of Muslim-majority nations were banned from entering the country are awaiting word on the fate of their oldest daughter, who didn't get out in time.

Labed Alalhanfy, his wife, Soso, and their 13- and 19-year-old daughters arrived in the United States from Baghdad on Tuesday.

Their 20-year-old daughter, Bananh, a student at the American University in Iraq, had planned to join them shortly.

"She is now very anxious and scared," said Alalhanfy.

He described his family as secular Muslims, which puts his daughter at some risk of remaining in Iraq without her family.

"The neighbors will start to notice. People will start questioning, especially because she is female. It is a critical situation," Alalhanfy said Saturday in an interview with the Portland Press Herald (http://bit.ly/2k5RGhO).

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Trump proposes big export tax, triggering fight with Mexico

Trump proposes big export tax, triggering fight with Mexico

AP Photo
President Donald Trump walks on the tarmac as he waves to the crowd upon his arrival at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017. Trump was returning from Philadelphia after speaking at the House and Senate GOP lawmakers at their annual policy retreat.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Donald Trump's determination to wall off America's border with Mexico triggered a diplomatic clash and fresh fight over trade Thursday as the White House proposed a 20 percent tax on imports from the key U.S. ally and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto abruptly scrapped next week's trip to Washington.

The swift fallout signaled a remarkable souring of relations between Washington and one of its most important international partners just days into the new administration. The U.S. and Mexico conduct some $1.6 billion a day in cross-border trade, and cooperate on everything from migration to anti-drug enforcement to major environmental issues.

At the heart of the dispute is Trump's insistence that Mexico will pay for construction of the massive wall he has promised along the southern U.S. border. Trump on Wednesday formally ordered construction of the wall.

The plan was a centerpiece of Trump's election campaign, though he never specified how Mexico would fund the project or how he would compel payments if Pena Nieto's government refused.

The two leaders had been scheduled to discuss the matter at the White House next week. But Pena Nieto took to Twitter Thursday to say he had informed the White House he would not be coming.

In a speech in Philadelphia later Thursday, Trump cast the cancellation as a mutual decision. He said that "unless Mexico is going to treat the United States fairly, with respect, such a meeting would be fruitless, and I want to go a different route. We have no choice."

On the flight back to Washington, Trump's spokesman told reporters the president was considering the 20 percent import tax to foot the bill, the most specific proposal Trump has ever floated for how to cover a project estimated to cost between $12 billion and $15 billion.

"By doing that, we can do $10 billion a year and easily pay for the wall just through that mechanism alone," Spicer said. "This is something that we've been in close contact with both houses in moving forward and creating a plan."

Spicer said Trump was looking at taxing imports on all countries the U.S. has trade deficits with, but he added, "Right now we are focused on Mexico."

But the announcement sparked immediate confusion across Washington, and the White House tried to backtrack. During a hastily arranged briefing in the West Wing, chief of staff Reince Priebus said a 20 percent import tax was one idea in "a buffet of options" to pay for the border wall.

A 20 percent tariff would represent a huge tax increase on imports to the U.S., raising the likelihood of costs being passed on to consumers. Half of all non-agricultural goods enter the U.S. duty free, according to the office of the U.S. Trade Representative. The other half face import tariffs averaging 2 percent.

Mexico is one of America's biggest trade partners, and the U.S. is the No. 1 buyer from that country, accounting for about 80 percent of Mexican exports. A complete rupture in ties could be damaging to the U.S. economy and disastrous for Mexico's. And major harm to Mexico's economy would surely spur more people to risk deportation, jail or even death to somehow cross the border to the U.S. - undercutting Trump's major goal of stopping illegal immigration.

To some congressional Republicans, Spicer's comments appeared to be a welcome embrace of border adjustment tax, a core element of House Speaker Paul Ryan's tax reform proposal. As part of that proposal, a 20 percent corporate tax rate would apply to goods and services consumed in the U.S. but not applied to exports from America.

Earlier this month, Trump called that concept confusing. And during the White House's clean-up efforts Thursday, Spicer wouldn't say whether Trump agreed with the border adjustment tax being considered by the House GOP.

The new president has previously raised the prospect of slapping tariffs on imports, but had not suggested it as a way to pay for the border wall.

There's also disagreement within his new administration over the effectiveness of tariffs in general. Wilbur Ross, Trump's nominee for commerce secretary, dismissed tariffs for trade negotiations during his confirmation hearing, saying the 1930 Tariff Act "didn't work very well then and it very likely wouldn't work now."

Pena Nieto has faced intense pressure at home over his response to Trump's aggressive stance toward his country. Until this week, Mexico had tried its traditional approach of quiet, cautious diplomacy combined with back-room discussions, sending Cabinet officials for talks with the Trump administration.

But that changed when Trump decided to announce his border wall on Wednesday - the same day that two senior Mexican Cabinet ministers arrived in Washington for preliminary talks ahead of what was to be a presidential tete-a-tete. Many Mexicans were affronted by the timing, and Pena Nieto faced a firestorm of criticism at home.

The diplomatic row recalls the rocky days of U.S.-Mexico relations in the 1980s, prior to the North American Free Trade Agreement, a pact that Trump has vigorously criticized.

"There is a change in the understanding that had been in operation over the last 22 years, when Mexico was considered a strategic ally," said Isidro Morales, a political scientist at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education. "Trump has unilaterally broken with this way of doing things."

Friday, January 20, 2017

Trump takes charge, assertive but untested 45th US president

Trump takes charge, assertive but untested 45th US president

AP Photo
President Donald Trump smiles with his son Barron as they view the 58th Presidential Inauguration parade for President Donald Trump in Washington. Friday, Jan. 20, 2017
   
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Pledging emphatically to empower America's "forgotten men and women," Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States Friday, taking command of a riven nation facing an unpredictable era under his assertive but untested leadership.

Under cloudy, threatening skies at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol, Trump painted a bleak picture of the America he now leads, declaring as he had throughout the election campaign that it is beset by crime, poverty and a lack of bold action. The billionaire businessman and reality television star - the first president to have never held political office or high military rank - promised to stir a "new national pride" and protect America from the "ravages" of countries he says have stolen U.S. jobs.

"This American carnage stops right here," Trump declared. In a warning to the world, he said, "From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it's going to be America first."

The crowd that spread out before him on the National Mall was notably smaller than at past inaugurals, reflecting both the divisiveness of last year's campaign and the unpopularity of the incoming president compared to modern predecessors.

Demonstrations unfolded at various security checkpoints near the Capitol as police helped ticket-holders get through. After the swearing-in, more protesters registered their rage in the streets of Washington. Police in riot gear deployed pepper spray after protesters smashed the windows of downtown businesses, denouncing capitalism and the new president.

Police reported more than 200 arrests by evening and said six officers had been hurt. At least one vehicle was set afire.

Short and pointed, Trump's 16-minute address in the heart of Washington was a blistering rebuke of many who listened from privileged seats only feet away. Surrounded by men and women who have long filled the government's corridors of power, the new president said that for too long, "a small group in our nation's 
capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost."

His predecessor, President Barack Obama, sat stoically as Trump pledged to push the country in a dramatically different direction.

Trump's victory gives Republicans control of both the White House and Congress - and all but ensures conservatives can quickly pick up a seat on the closely divided Supreme Court. Despite entering a time of Republican dominance, Trump made little mention of the party's bedrock principles: small government, social conservationism and robust American leadership around the world.

He left no doubt he considers himself the product of a movement - not a party.

Trump declared his moment a fulfillment of his campaign pledge to take a sledgehammer to Washington's traditional ways, and he spoke directly to the alienated and disaffected.

"What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people," he said. "To all Americans in every city near and far, small and large from mountain to mountain, from ocean to ocean, hear these words: You will never be ignored again."

But the speech offered scant outreach to the millions who did not line up behind his candidacy.

Trump's call for restrictive immigration measures, religious screening of immigrants and his caustic campaign rhetoric about women and minorities angered millions. He did not directly address that opposition, instead offering a call to "speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity."

While Trump did not detail policy proposals Friday, he did set a high bar for his presidency. The speech was full of the onetime showman's lofty promises to bring back jobs, "completely" eradicate Islamic terrorism, and build new roads, bridges and airports.

Despite Trump's ominous portrait of America, he is taking the helm of a growing economy. Jobs have increased for a record 75 straight months, and the unemployment rate was 4.7 percent in December, close to a 9-year low.

Yet Trump's victory underscored that for many Americans, the recovery from the Great Recession has come slowly or not at all. His campaign tapped into seething anger in working class communities, particularly in the Midwest, that have watched factories shuttered and the certainty of a middle class life wiped away.

Trump's journey to the inauguration was as unlikely as any in recent U.S. history. He defied his party's establishment and befuddled the news media. He used social media to dominate the national conversation and challenge conventions about political discourse. After years of Democratic control of the White House and deadlock in Washington, his was a blast of fresh air for millions.

At 70, Trump is the oldest person to be sworn in as president, marking a generational step backward after two terms for Obama, one of the youngest presidents to serve as commander in chief.

The 44th president, who will continue to live in Washington, left the city after the swearing-in ceremony for a family vacation in California. At a farewell celebration with staff members at Joint Base Andrews, he thanked them for having "proved the power of hope."

While Trump bucked convention as a candidate, he embraced the pomp and pageantry of the inaugural celebrations. He was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts, reciting the 35-word oath with his hand placed upon two Bibles, one used by his family and another during President Abraham Lincoln's inauguration. 

During an afternoon parade, he stepped outside the armored presidential limousine with Mrs. Trump and his 10-year-old son, Barron, to walk two brief stretches of Pennsylvania Avenue.

In a show of solidarity, all of the living American presidents attended the inaugural, except for 92-year-old George H.W. Bush, who was hospitalized this week with pneumonia. His wife, Barbara, was also in the hospital after falling ill.

But more than 60 House Democrats refused to attend Trump's swearing-in ceremony in the shadow of the Capitol dome. One Democrat who did sit among the dignitaries was Hillary Clinton, Trump's vanquished campaign rival who was widely expected by both parties to be the one taking the oath of office.

At a post-ceremony luncheon at the Capitol, Trump declared it was an honor to have her attend, and the Republicans and Democrats present rose and applauded.

While most of Trump's first substantive acts as president will wait until Monday, he signed a series of papers formally launching his administration, including official nominations for his Cabinet. Sitting in an ornate room steps from the Senate floor, the president who had just disparaged the Washington establishment joked with lawmakers, including House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, and handed out presidential pens.

As evening fell, the Senate approved retired Gen. James Mattis to be Trump's secretary of defense and John Kelly, another retired general, to oversee the Homeland Security Department.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

The presidency is about to change _ as Trump remains Trump

The presidency is about to change _ as Trump remains Trump

AP Photo
FILE - In this Nov. 9, 2016, file photo, President-elect Donald Trump smiles as he arrives to speak at an election night rally, Wednesday in New York. Donald Trump enters the White House on Jan. 20 just as he entered the race for president: defiant, unfiltered, unbound by tradition and utterly confident in his chosen course. In the 10 weeks since his surprise election as the nation’s 45th president, Trump has violated decades of established diplomatic protocol, sent shockwaves through business boardrooms, tested long-standing ethics rules and continued his combative style of replying to any slight with a personal attack _ on Twitter and in person.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Donald Trump enters the White House on Friday just as he entered the race for president: defiant, unfiltered, unbound by tradition and utterly confident in his chosen course.

In the 10 weeks since his surprise election as the nation's 45th president, Trump has violated decades of established diplomatic protocol, sent shockwaves through business boardrooms, tested long-standing ethics rules and continued his combative style of replying to any slight with a personal attack - on Twitter and in person.

Past presidents have described walking into the Oval Office for the first time as a humbling experience, one that in an instant makes clear the weight of their new role as caretaker of American democracy. Trump spent much of his transition making clear he sees things differently: Rather than change for the office, he argues, the office will change for him.

"They say it's not presidential to call up these massive leaders of business," Trump told a crowd in Indianapolis in December. That was after he negotiated a deal with an air conditioning company to keep jobs in the state, a move many economists derided as unworkable national economic policy.

"I think it's very presidential," he declared. "And if it's not presidential, that's OK. That's OK. Because I actually like doing it."

Even before he takes the oath of office, Trump has changed the very nature of presidency, breaking conventions and upending expectations for the leader of the free world.

Advisers who've spoken with Trump say the billionaire real estate mogul and reality TV star is aware of the historic nature of his new job. He's told friends that he's drawn to the ambition of Ronald Reagan, a Republican, and John F. Kennedy, a Democrat. He's thinking of spending his first night in the White House sleeping in the Lincoln Bedroom, according to some who dined with him recently in Florida.

But Trump also views himself as a kind of "sui generis" president, beholden to no one for his success and modeling himself after no leader who's come before. Trump has said he's read no biographies of former presidents. When asked to name his personal heroes in a recent interview, he mentioned his father before replying that he didn't "like the concept of heroes."

"I don't think Trump has a great sense of the history of the White House. When you don't know your history, it's hard to fully respect the traditions," said historian Douglas Brinkley, who recently dined with Trump and other guests at his South Florida club. "This is not somebody who brags about how many history biographies he's read."

"He's somebody who brags about it as this is a big event and he's the maestro," he said.

That's a shift that thrills his supporters, who elected Trump to shake up what they see as an unresponsive and corrupt federal government in the "swamp" of Washington.

"I don't want him to change" said Iowa state Sen. Brad Zaun, one of Trump's earliest backers. "One of the reasons that I supported him is that he told it the way it was. He didn't beat around the bush. He didn't do the standard political talking points."

Trump won election with that approach, but he's yet to win over the country. His Electoral College victory was tempered by a loss in the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million ballots. The protests planned for the day after his inauguration threaten to draw more people to the National Mall than his official events.

Polls over the past week show that Trump is poised to enter the White House as the least popular president in four decades. Democrats remain staunchly opposed to him, independents have not rallied behind him and even Republicans are less enthusiastic than might be expected, according to the surveys.

In his typical reaction to poll results he doesn't like, Trump dismissed them as "rigged" in a Tuesday tweet.
It's exactly that kind of tweet that worries governing experts, lawmakers and other critics, who argue that traditional practices of the presidency protect the health of the American democracy.

"With notable exceptions, we've had a political culture in which presidents largely respect a series of unwritten rules that help democracy and the rule of law flourish," said Brendan Nyhan, a professor of government at Dartmouth College. "What's striking about Trump is he flouts norms that have previously been respected by both parties on a daily basis. He calls things into question that have never been questioned before."

Since winning the election, Trump has attacked Hollywood celebrities, civil rights icons and political rivals alike. He's moved markets by going after some companies, while praising others.

He's questioned the legitimacy of American institutions - appearing to trust the word of Russian President Vladimir Putin over the intelligence agencies he'll soon oversee, engaging in personal fights with journalists as he assails the free press and questioning the results of the election, even though it put him in office.
And he's lambasted the leaders of longstanding allied nations as he questions the post-World War II international order that won the Cold War and maintained peace in Europe for generations.

For Trump supporters, that no-holds-barred style is the very reason he won their votes. But for others in the country, it's a type of leadership they've seen before and fear will spread.

They point to Maine, where a Trump-like governor has roiled the state's government with offensive statements, a combative style and little respect for the Legislature, as a warning of what the nation might expect during a Trump administration.

Gov. Paul LePage's confrontational brand of politics has made it harder to pass legislation, build political coalitions or even conduct the basic workings of state government, say legislators and political consultants in the traditionally centrist state. He's created rifts with would-be Republican allies, demonized the media and tightly controlled basic information. At times, he's banned the heads of state agencies from appearing before legislative committees, making state budgeting and oversight difficult.

"What I'm concerned about nationally is what we've seen up here - that the checks and balances we take for granted disappear," said Lance Dutson, a Republican political strategist who worked to get LePage elected before later speaking out against him. "There are things that are happening up here that I really thought just couldn't happen."

There are signs that Trump's actions are already changing the traditions of government in Washington, freeing lawmakers and other officials from long-respected practices of federal politics.

More than 50 House Democrats plan to boycott Trump's inauguration ceremony, an unprecedented break with the bipartisan tradition of celebrating the peaceful transfer of power. While many Democrats were furious with the outcome of the 2000 election in which Republican George W. Bush defeated Al Gore after recounts and a Supreme Court ruling, they generally attended Bush's inauguration ceremony.

"I will not celebrate a man who preaches a politics of division and hate," tweeted Keith Ellison, a Minnesota congressman who's bidding to head the Democratic National Committee.

Those who know Trump say the billionaire mogul delights in confounding establishment expectations, even as he craves approval from powerbrokers in New York and Washington.

"He was born with a chip on his shoulder, and he is very much the guy from Queens who looked across at Manhattan and envied but also to some degree hated the elites who occupied Manhattan," said Michael D'Antonio, author of "Never Enough," a Trump biography. "The way that he wants to disrupt institutions reflects this idea that the institutions haven't embraced him."

That's a style that may work better for a CEO of a family corporation - who has little oversight from corporate boards or shareholders - than a president constrained by a system of checks and balances. Former Cabinet officials say the layers of government bureaucracy, myriad regulations and intricacies of Congress will challenge Trump's style.

"A president doesn't have sweeping, universal authority. It is a very different operation than being a CEO who can fire people and hire people at will," said Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat and former health and human services secretary. "He's never been part of any organization with a framework where institutional rules are in place."

President Barack Obama, who's offered Trump advice both publicly and privately, said he's urged the president-elect to hold onto some of the traditions of the office.

"The one thing I've said to him directly, and I would advise my Republican friends in Congress and supporters around the country, is just make sure that as we go forward certain norms, certain institutional traditions don't get eroded, because there's a reason they're in place," said Obama, in a recent interview with CBS' "60 Minutes."

But Trump's supporters say it's the institutions and Washington - and not the next president - that must change.

"Trump believes that he has a better understanding of how things work in the modern world than all of these so-called critics," said Newt Gingrich, a Trump adviser and former Republican House speaker, who has spoken with the president-elect about his presidency. "That's who he is.

"The rest of us are going to have to learn how to think through that."


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