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Protests Against US Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital Continue Friday

Protests unleashed by U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital continue in the Palestinian territories and outside U.S. missions elsewhere. Dozens have been wounded in clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian protesters in the West Bank and Gaza. Muslims in other countries took to the streets Thursday in solidarity. The violence could worsen Friday when Muslims attend weekly prayers at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.

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After Trump’s Shift on Jerusalem, What’s Next for Palestinians?

The dramatic U.S. policy shift on contested Jerusalem is seen by the Western-backed Palestinian leadership as a dangerous betrayal and game changer that is bound to propel them into a risky confrontation with the U.S. and Israel on the global stage.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas hasn’t decided yet whether to formally abandon U.S.-led negotiations with Israel, a troubled process that after two decades has failed to bring the Palestinians closer to statehood. However, those close to Abbas say a Mideast era of stop-and-go negotiations and Washington’s monopoly as mediator is now over.

Here is a look at what could come next.

Why Jerusalem matters

Trump’s recognition Wednesday of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital contradicts longstanding international assurances to the Palestinians that the fate of the holy city will be determined in negotiations. With Trump’s sharp pivot, the U.S. is seen as siding with Israel, which claims all of Jerusalem, including the Israeli-annexed eastern sector the Palestinians seek as a future capital.

The dispute over Jerusalem forms the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but transcends a mere real estate argument. The city, home to Judaism’s holiest site, is also sacred to billions of Muslims and Christians worldwide, and perceived slights to their claims have triggered major protests or violence in the past.

​Abbas’ response so far

Abbas has been trying to rally international support, reaching out to leaders from Pope Francis to the EU foreign policy chief and Arab leaders. He warned Trump in a phone call that the U.S. shift will rock the region and threaten Washington’s plans for a Mideast peace deal.

In a speech after Trump’s announcement, Abbas said the U.S. has effectively removed itself from any role as a Mideast broker, but he did not say what immediate steps, if any, the Palestinians plan to take.

Abbas is to hold internal consultations with officials from the Palestine Liberation Organization and his Fatah party, and plans to meet Thursday with his closest Arab ally, King Abdullah II of Jordan.

A moment of truth?

The crisis over Jerusalem may push Abbas, the most steadfast Palestinian champion of seeking statehood through negotiations, to a point he avoided for so long — acknowledgment that the peace process isn’t working, at least in its current format.

Critics have argued that endless negotiations mainly serve Israel by providing diplomatic cover for its expansion of settlements on war-won lands. Abbas also derived some political legitimacy from the process, positioning himself as the only leader with a shot at delivering statehood.

Trump says he remains committed to brokering a Mideast deal, despite the Jerusalem pivot. However, those close to Abbas say it’s time to look for alternatives.

Any talks with U.S. officials are now “superfluous and irrelevant,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a senior PLO official. “The peace process is finished.”

Abbas has warned in the past that a failure to achieve a so-called two-state solution could prompt Palestinians to pursue a single state for two peoples, a prospect most Israelis reject.

The Palestinian leader may be reluctant to break away from his longstanding policies or lack the political courage to do so, but not shifting course now would be worse, said analyst Bassem Zbaidi.

“It’s time for the Palestinians to say no before coming under pressure to accept” future U.S. proposals that could fall far short of their minimal demands, he said.

​Other options?

Some PLO and Fatah officials suggested shifting from cooperation with the U.S. and avoidance of conflict with Israel to a more confrontational approach.

Fatah supports halting contacts with the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, closing the PLO office in Washington and filing a complaint against the U.S. at the U.N. Security Council over plans to start a multiyear process of moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, said senior Fatah official Nasser al-Kidwa.

The Palestinians could also try to press prosecutors at the International Criminal Court to charge Israeli leaders with war crimes, including over settlement building, others said.

Abbas has refrained from such a step until now, under apparent U.S. pressure.

The International Criminal Court prosecutor is currently conducting a preliminary examination of the situation in the Palestinian territories, but this is a more open-ended review and could take years. The probe was triggered by “Palestine” becoming a member state of the court. The status change, in turn, was made possible by the 2012 U.N. General Assembly recognition of a state of Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, the lands Israel captured in 1967.

 

WATCH: In Controversial Announcement, Trump Recognizes Jerusalem as Capital of Israel

Help from Europe?

The Palestinians are increasingly looking to Europe for help, encouraged by the harsh criticism of Trump’s Jerusalem policy by European leaders.

European states in the past were relegated by Washington to the role of paymaster, sending hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to support the Palestinian self-rule government and help manage the long-running conflict.

European states often take a more critical view of Israeli policies than the U.S, especially on settlements, but have failed to challenge Washington’s monopoly as mediator.

Palestinians now hope the growing rift between European leaders and the U.S. over Jerusalem will earn them diplomatic points. An immediate goal is to persuade influential Western European countries to recognize a state of Palestine.

Risk or opportunity?

For Palestinians, Trump’s policy shift offers both risk and opportunity.

Jerusalem has repeatedly been a flashpoint for violence, and Palestinian protest marches planned later this week could lead to clashes with Israeli troops.

Such confrontations can spin out of control, as they did more than a decade ago when they escalated into an armed uprising. Abbas staunchly opposes violence as counterproductive, but he may not be able to contain widespread public anger.

Some say Trump’s policy shift may create a moment of clarity and help end years of paralysis by making it impossible to perpetuate the idea that statehood is possible under the old paradigm.

“That option is now off the table and that’s a good thing,” said Diana Buttu, a former legal adviser of the Palestinian self-rule government. “This had really held us up for so many years.”

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DACA Decision in Jeopardy as Government Shutdown Looms

An increasingly uncertain battle over funding the U.S. government until the end of the year has complicated the future of almost 800,000 undocumented young people brought to the U.S. as children. A permanent legislative fix for the DACA program will be just one of several end-of-year legislative items on the agenda as congressional Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi meet with President Trump Thursday.

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Trump’s Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital Gets Negative Reactions

U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has met with criticism in the Arab world as well as in Europe and elsewhere. In a speech Wednesday, Trump described the move as a “long overdue step” after his predecessors failed to abide by the 22-year-old U.S. pledge to Israel. But the status of Jerusalem is a contentious issue many believe should be negotiated between the Israelis and the Palestinians. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke has more.

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Trump Administration Maintains Commitment to Middle East Peace Amid Criticism of Jerusalem Decision

Under heavy criticism from Arab and majority Muslim countries for a decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the Trump administration says it is committed to the Middle East peace process. VOA diplomatic correspondent Cindy Saine looks at the broader contours of what administration officials describe as a new approach to peace and stability in the region.

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Turkish President, Jordanian King Unite Against US President Over Jerusalem Move

The news of the United States’ intention to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel dominated talks Wednesday between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and King Abdullah II of Jordan. In statements to the media at the presidential palace, both leaders voiced concern.

“If the wrong step is taken regarding Jerusalem’s status, it will be the cause of indignation in the Islamic world,” Erdogan said, adding that it will “dynamite the ground for peace, igniting new tensions and clashes.”

Abdullah, underlining Jordan’s role as guardian of Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem, said he had spoken Tuesday with U.S. President Donald Trump, and had raised his concerns. The king said the Palestinians’ cause remains the central issue in the region and the current tensions over Jerusalem reaffirmed the need for a peace settlement.

“It is imperative now to work fast to reach a final status solution and a peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis, and this must allow the Palestinians to establish their independent state side-by-side with Israel and its capital in East Jerusalem,” Abdullah said. “Ignoring the Palestinians and Christian rights in Jerusalem will only fuel further extremism.”

Abdullah backed the Turkish president’s call for an emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, OIC, in Istanbul next Wednesday. Turkey currently heads the group of 57 Muslim nations.

“I want to make the following call to the whole world from here: Any steps to change Jerusalem’s legal status should be avoided,” Erdogan said. “Such a step would only play into the hands of terrorist organizations.”

Erdogan has been speaking to Muslim leaders to lobby against any move by Washington to change Jerusalem’s status.

The Turkish president’s efforts are expected to intensify ahead of next week’s meeting of Muslim countries’ leaders in Istanbul.

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Trump’s Announcement on Jerusalem Explained

What has US President Donald Trump done with respect to Israel?

Donald Trump has decided to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the first U.S. President to do so since Israel was founded in 1948. Tel Aviv is currently home to the U.S. Embassy and many foreign embassies.

Trump plans to eventually move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, but relocation could take up to two years. U.S. law requires the president to sign a waiver every six months that leaves the embassy in Tel Aviv. This week Trump missed the latest six-month deadline, but U.S. officials say he will sign the waiver and also order the State Department to begin the relocation process.

Why has Trump recognized Jerusalem?

Trump is fulfilling a campaign promise to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. He adopted a strong pro-Israel position as a candidate that appealed to his large evangelical base and pro-Israel American Jews.

Trump’s promise was very popular with those two segments of his supporters, including casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson, who donated $25 million to a political action committee that supported Trump during his campaign.

U.S. administration officials say the recognition of Jerusalem acknowledges “the historical and current reality” of Jerusalem.

​Why is Jerusalem, long the source of intense contention, so significant? 

Israelis and Palestinians have made claims over Jerusalem, the seat of Israel’s government. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital while the Palestinians see the city’s eastern sector, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as the capital of a future Palestinian state. 

The conflict is focused on Jerusalem’s Old City, which is home to Islam’s third most holy mosque and Judaism’s holiest site and the reasons the city has been a contentious issue for Jews and Muslims throughout the world.

Although Israel controls the city, its annexation of east Jerusalem is not recognized by the global community, which wants the decades-long conflict to be settled at the negotiating table.

Jerusalem is also home to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was built where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified and buried. The Armenian and Roman Catholic denominations and the Greek Orthodox share custody of the church, where tensions frequently escalate over control of its various quarters.

What has been the reaction to Trump’s decision?

Palestinians have reacted angrily to the Trump decision, warning that it would disrupt, if not end, U.S.-sponsored negotiations aimed at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and creating a Palestinian state next to Israel.

The decision is being applauded by Israel, whose prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is one of Trump’s most fervent international supporters.

Leaders of the largest Christian denominations in Jerusalem have urged Trump to reconsider his decision. They said in a letter to Trump that his decision will result in “increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land.”

The letter was signed by all of Jerusalem’s major church leaders, including the Greek Orthodox patriarch and the Roman Catholic apostolic administrator.

​What are the potential ramifications?

Trump’s move overturns nearly seven decades of foreign policy and analysts warn it could threaten efforts to broker a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Arab leaders warn it could elicit new outbreaks of violence, prompting the White House to prepare by coordinating plans to protect Americans abroad.

Israeli security officials say they are prepared for all scenarios.

In addition to angering key allies in the in the Arab world, the move threatens to infuriate allies in the West.

Conflict in Jerusalem

The Israelis and the Palestinians maintain a discrete security relationship in the West Bank that has helped prevent an escalation in violence in recent years.

But much of the violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank has been linked to tensions in the Holy City.

Jerusalem is a largely open city, but a nearly decade-old Israeli separation barrier cuts through several Arab communities and requires tens of thousands of Palestinians to pass through crowded checkpoints to reach the city’s center.

Deadly riots broke out in Jerusalem in 1996 after Israel opened a new tunnel in the Old City. A second Palestinian eruption occurred in 2000 after then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount, which has been revered as a holy site for thousands of years by Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

The city experienced a string of Palestinian stabbings in late 2015, partially due to an increase in the number of Jewish nationalist visitors to the Temple Mount. Last summer, Jerusalem experienced weeks of unrest when Israel attempted to install security cameras next to the Al-Aqsa Mosque after a Palestinian’s fatal shooting of two Israeli police officers.

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Trump Set to Announce US Recognition of Jerusalem as Israeli Capital

President Donald Trump is planning to announce Wednesday that the United States will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. But analysts and officials say the president is not expected to set a date for moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv, a step that would most likely trigger an extreme reaction in the Arab world.

In preparation for the announcement, Trump spoke by phone Tuesday with five Middle East leaders to brief them on his decision.

A White House statement identified the five as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Jordan’s King Abdullah, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

Few details

The statement gave few details of the conversations except to say, “The leaders also discussed potential decisions regarding Jerusalem.” It added that Trump had reaffirmed his commitment to advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Bloomberg News quoted a person familiar with Trump’s decision as saying the president had decided to sign a waiver postponing the relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Under a law signed by President Bill Clinton in 1995, the embassy must be relocated to Jerusalem unless the president signs a waiver every six months stating that the matter is to be decided between the Israelis and Palestinians. Every president since Clinton has signed the waiver, including Trump, who did so when it came due in June.

Dennis Ross was U.S. point man on the Middle East peace process under three presidents and worked with Israelis and Palestinians to reach the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1995. He said Tuesday that Trump appeared to be leaving a lot of room for both Israelis and Arabs to maneuver in the new environment.

In a briefing for reporters, Ross said it’s very important for the president to allow opportunities for Palestinians and Arabs in the region to say that their position “still has to be part of the negotiation process. … That seems to me to be the key to this.”

On the eve of Trump’s expected announcement, Reuters quoted unnamed State Department officials as expressing concern about the potential for a violent backlash against Israel and also possibly against American interests in the region.

When asked whether Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was “on board” with a decision that could put U.S. citizens and troops in the Middle East at risk, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, “I think the secretary has communicated clearly, as have all the members of the inner agency who have a role in making this decision. … He has made his positions clear to the White House. I think the Department of Defense has as well. But it is ultimately the president’s decision to make. He is in charge.”

​Preparing for violence

In a security message released Tuesday, the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem, noting widespread calls for demonstrations this week, barred personal travel by American government workers and their families in Jerusalem’s Old City and West Bank, including Bethlehem and Jericho, until further notice. 

U.S. embassies worldwide also were ordered to increase security in anticipation of protests.

Jerusalem lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the international community maintains its final status must be determined in negotiations.

Nevertheless, Trump has said he is committed to a promise he made last year during the election campaign to move the U.S. Embassy out of Tel Aviv, a step favored by many American Jews and Christian evangelicals.

Jerusalem is home to the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest place in Islam. For Jews, it is the Temple Mount, the holiest site of all.

Arab and Muslim states have warned that any decision to move the U.S. Embassy could inflame tensions in the region and destroy U.S. efforts to reach an Arab-Israeli peace agreement.

No longer a credible mediator

Senior Palestinian leader Nabil Shaath said Trump would no longer be seen as a credible mediator. “The Palestinian Authority does not condone violence, but it may not be able to control the street and prevent a third Palestinian uprising,” he said, speaking in Arabic.

Gerald Feierstein, director for Gulf affairs and government relations at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said the level of anger the announcement might provoke would depend greatly on how Trump presented the issue.

“If the president just says, ‘We recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,’ without trying to define it further and without actually beginning the process of moving the embassy, then it’s a big nothingburger,” he told VOA.

Feierstein, who served as U.S. ambassador to Yemen, and later as principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs under former President Barack Obama, said if Trump went any further, it could trigger a backlash and deal a crushing blow to peace efforts.

“If what he says is perceived as, or is in fact, a recognition of all of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and he is no longer maintaining the international position that Jerusalem is to be divided and that East Jerusalem is to become the capital of the Palestinian state once there is an agreement, then that is going to have a very negative effect on the peace process,” Feierstein said.

“So the devil is in the details about how significant this is going to be,” he said.

VOA’s Cindy Saine at the State Department contributed to this report.

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Senate Confirms Nielsen to Head US Homeland Security

The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Deputy White House chief of staff Kirstjen Nielsen as President Donald Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

 

Senators approved Nielsen’s nomination, 62-37, on Tuesday. Nielsen, 45, is a former DHS official who is considered a protege of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, a former DHS secretary.

Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called Nielsen a qualified candidate with the talent and experience to succeed. As a former DHS chief of staff, Nielsen understands the department’s daily operations and is ready to lead on her first day, McConnell said.

Democrats have concerns

Democrats complained that Nielsen lacks the experience needed to run a major agency with 240,000 employees. They also cited concerns about possible White House interference in a recent DHS decision to send home thousands of Nicaraguans and Haitians long granted U.S. protection.

Homeland Security oversees the nation’s borders, cybersecurity and response to natural disasters, among other areas.

Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said Nielsen brings valuable, practical experience to DHS. He called her an expert in risk management, with a focus on cybersecurity, emergency management and critical infrastructure.

Nielsen “is ready to answer this call to duty,” Johnson said. “She has been working in and around the Department of Homeland Security since its creation.”

Questionable decisions

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said Nielsen has played a role in several questionable Trump administration decisions, including a travel ban to restrict entry from six mostly Muslim countries, termination of a program for young immigrants and what Harris called a “feeble response to Hurricanes Irma, Maria and Harvey.”

Harris also said she was troubled by Nielsen’s failure to acknowledge at her confirmation hearing how human behavior contributes to climate change.

Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice Education Fund, which promotes immigrants’ rights, said Trump has worked to punish immigrants and refugees, from his call to build a wall along the Mexican border to the partial travel ban to raids against immigrants.

‘Architect’ in Trump’s policies

As a key Kelly aide, Nielsen is “one of the architects” of Trump’s immigration policies, Sharry said. He called Nielsen “a willing accomplice, helping to shape and implement this profoundly disturbing and un-American vision of our country.”

Nielsen said at her confirmation hearing last month that climate change is a crucial issue and said the Trump administration is revising its climate models to better respond to rising sea levels.

“I can’t unequivocally state it’s caused by humans,” she said. “There are many contributions to it.”

Cybersecurity a top priority

On other topics, Nielsen said she agreed with Kelly that a U.S.-Mexico border wall is unlikely to be a physical barrier from “sea to shining sea.”

She also condemned white nationalism, rejected Islamophobia and promised to make cybersecurity a top priority.

Trump repeatedly promised during the campaign that he would build the wall and that Mexico would pay for it, but the administration is seeking billions in taxpayer dollars to finance the project.

Homeland Security has been leading the charge on implementing Trump’s aggressive immigration agenda, and Nielsen pledged to continue that work.

 

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White House Denies Reports Trump Financial Records Subpoenaed

The White House on Tuesday strongly denied that the special prosecutor looking into alleged Russian interference in last year’s election has asked a German bank for records relating to accounts held by Donald Trump and his family members.

“We’ve confirmed this with the bank and other sources” that it is not true, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters during the daily briefing. “I think this is another example of the media going too far, too fast and we don’t see it going in that direction.”

A member of the president’s legal team, Jay Sekulow, issued a statement that “no subpoena has been issued or received.”

Deutsche Bank

However, Deutsche Bank appears to be acknowledging there has been a related request, saying it “takes its legal obligations seriously and remains committed to cooperating with authorized investigations into this matter.”

The bank received a subpoena from special counsel Robert Mueller several weeks ago to provide information on certain transactions and key documents have already been handed over, according to the German financial newspaper Handelsblatt.

Similar details also were reported Tuesday by the Bloomberg and Reuters news agencies, as well as the Wall Street Journal.

According to the Financial Times newspaper Deutsche Bank has begun sending information about its dealings with Trump to U.S investigators.

A person with direct knowledge of the German bank’s actions told the newspaper this began several weeks ago.

“Deutsche could not hand over client information without a subpoena,” said a second person with direct knowledge of the subpoena, according to the newspaper. “It’s helpful to be ordered to do so.”

The subpoenas concern “people or entities affiliated with President Donald Trump, according to a person briefed on the matter,” the Wall Street Journal reported in an update to its story.

“I would think it’s something more than a fishing expedition,” says Edwin Truman, a former U.S. Treasury Department assistant secretary for international affairs.

“At a minimum, they know there’s some fish in this pond and they want to know whether they’re nice fish or bad fish,” Truman, a nonresident fellow of the Peterson Institute for International Affairs, tells VOA.

If the reports are true, “this is a significant development in that it makes clear that Mueller is now investigating President Trump’s finances, something that the president has always said would be a red line for him,” says William Pomeranz of the Wilson Center, who teaches Russian law at Georgetown University.

“The substance of any potential charges remains unclear, but Deutsche Bank already has paid significant penalties in a Russian money laundering case, and I am sure that it does not welcome further investigations into its Russia operations,” says Pomeranz, who as a lawyer advised clients on investment in Russia and anti-money laundering requirements.

Relationship with family

The bank has a longstanding relationship with the Trump family, previously loaning the Trump organization hundreds of millions of dollars for real estate ventures.

Trump had liabilities of at least $130 million to a unit of the German bank, according to a federal financial disclosure form released in June by the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.

“Special counsel Mueller’s subpoena of Deutsche Bank would be a very significant development,” says Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee. “If Russia laundered money through the Trump Organization, it would be far more compromising than any salacious video and could be used as leverage against Donald Trump and his associates and family.”

Congressional Democrats, in June, asked the bank to hand over records regarding Trump’s loans, but lawmakers say their request was rebuffed, with the financial institution citing client privacy concerns.  

 

A U.S. official with knowledge of Mueller’s probe, according to Reuters, said one reason for the subpoenas was to find out whether the bank may have sold some of Trump’s mortgage or other loans to Russian state development bank VEB or other Russian banks that now are under U.S. and European Union sanctions.

Deutsche Bank, in January, agreed to pay $630 million in fines for allegedly organizing $10 billion in sham trades that could have been used to launder money out of Russia.

Red line

Trump earlier this year, when asked if examining his and his family’s finances unrelated to the Russia probe would cross a red line, replied, “I would say yeah. I would say yes.”

 

Trump, unlike previous U.S. presidents dating back four decades, has refused to make public his U.S. tax returns that would show his year-to-year income. Trump, a billionaire, is the richest U.S. president ever, although some analysts have questioned whether Trump’s assets total $10 billion as he claims.

Before he became president last January, Trump, who still owns an array of companies, turned over the day-to-day operation of the Trump Organization to his adult sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, and a longtime executive at the firm.

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