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US, South Korea Presidents to Discuss Threat to Scrap Trump-Kim Summit

Amid increasing skepticism of the chances for success for a summit between the leaders of the United States and North Korea and doubts the meeting will take place as planned, President Donald Trump on Tuesday is to meet South Korea’s leader at the White House.

Moon Jae-in, during Tuesday’s scheduled two hours of talks, is to try to reassure Trump that next month’s encounter with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un can lead to a historic breakthrough. 

“I suspect President Trump has some tough questions for President Moon that he’d prefer to ask privately, given the lack of clarity on what the North Koreans will agree to — and the latest chess move by the North Koreans to threaten to cancel the June 12 summit,” said Jean Lee, the Korea Center program director at the Wilson Center. 

Trump, according to officials in the U.S. and abroad, has been questioning his aides and foreign leaders about whether he should proceed with going to Singapore to meet Kim.

Some officials in Washington, speaking on condition of not being named, also blame South Korean officials for initially overselling to Trump the willingness of the North Korean leader to denuclearize. 

It is a view shared by some outsiders, as well. 

“Moon likely exaggerated this to tie Trump to a diplomatic track to prevent him from backsliding into last year’s war threats, which scared the daylights out of South Koreans,” said Robert Kelly, a political science professor at Pusan National University.

Lee, a former Pyongyang bureau chief for the Associated Press, sees Moon as desiring to “jump in again to play the role of mediator, and to show that Seoul and Washington are in close coordination at the highest level, at least outwardly. But it will be a difficult conversation, I suspect.”

Eager for U.S. involvement

In the view of some analysts, such as Institute for Corean-American Studies Fellow Tara O, Moon appears anxious to persuade Trump to go ahead with the Kim summit and to get the U.S. president to grant sanctions relief so planned joint South-North projects would be able to proceed. 

As a result of last month’s Panmunjom meeting between Moon and Kim, the two Koreas “provided a deadline for the signing of the peace treaty by this year, so Moon would also discuss that with Trump,” O, the author of a book “The Collapse of North Korea:  Challenges, Planning, and Geopolitics of Unification,” tells VOA.  

In her view, however, some in Washington may take a dim view of that, seeing the requests as premature “rewards for North Korea, which has not done anything to reduce the threat on the Korean Peninsula.”

O, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel who served on the Korean peninsula, contends “the North Koreans have skillfully played the situation by manufacturing an awkward moment between Moon and Trump just before their May 22 meeting. It’s all part of the classic North Korean strategy of divide and conquer.”

Another key geopolitical player is China, whom Trump recently surmised influenced the statements coming out of Pyongyang casting doubt on the Singapore summit.

The president, on Twitter on Monday morning, called on China to keep its border tight with North Korea amid sanctions until he is able to reach an agreement with Kim.

The North Koreans have threatened to pull out of the talks with Trump, blaming what they term are demands by the United States for “unilateral nuclear abandonment.” 

Since that threat, Trump and others in the White House have denied they are demanding a so-called “Libya model” for disarmament, while still insisting North Korea must give up its nuclear weapons for which it would be richly rewarded.

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DOJ to Investigate Trump Claim of FBI Campaign Spy

The Justice Department will expand its investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to include President Donald Trump’s claims that the FBI planted an informant to spy on his campaign, the White House said Monday.

The announcement came after Trump’s demand for a probe and his meeting Monday with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray.

The White House also said the Justice Department will work with congressional leaders to review “highly classified” documents related to Trump’s claim that someone spied on his campaign.

“If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action,” Rosenstein said before Monday’s meeting with Trump.

Trump has alleged the FBI, under former President Barack Obama, planted a spy in his campaign “for political purposes,” calling it the “all-time biggest political scandal.”

The informant’s actual role was to talk with two Trump campaign advisers suspected of having contacts with Russia. There is no evidence the FBI acted illegally.

Several news agencies have identified the informant as Stefan Halper, a 73-year-old American-born professor at Britain’s University of Cambridge, who had worked decades ago in three other Republican administrations.

Ned Price, who served on Obama’s National Security Council, told VOA that Trump’s charge of spying on his campaign is dangerous to American democracy.

Price said the president is “officially knocking down the firewall between policy and law enforcement — an indispensable element of the rule of law. And he’s doing so for his own personal ends.”

Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Alene tweeted that “Trump is a subject of the investigation he will apparently succeed in obtaining evidence in and that no subject is entitled to during a criminal investigation. This is unprecedented.”

Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in interfering in the 2016 campaign and whether Trump himself obstructed justice by firing former FBI Director James Comey, who had been investigating the charges.

Trump has denied those charges. In a tweet Sunday, he contended investigators have “found no Collussion [sic] with Russia, No Obstruction, but they aren’t looking at the corruption” in the campaign of his Democratic challenger two years ago, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“Things are really getting ridiculous,” Trump said in another Twitter remark, asking at what point the investigation will end, calling it a “soon to be $20,000,000 Witch Hunt,” although the cost appears to be much less. 

Mueller has already indicted numerous Russian individuals and entities for interference in the U.S. election, along with guilty pleas from three Trump campaign associates who are cooperating with prosecutors in the investigation.

Trump has expressed fears the Mueller probe could last long enough to hurt Republicans in the November congressional elections.

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DOJ to Investigate Trump Claim of FBI Campaign Spy

The Justice Department will expand its investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to include President Donald Trump’s claims that the FBI planted an informant to spy on his campaign, the White House said Monday.

The announcement came after Trump’s demand for a probe and his meeting Monday with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray.

The White House also said the Justice Department will work with congressional leaders to review “highly classified” documents related to Trump’s claim that someone spied on his campaign.

“If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action,” Rosenstein said before Monday’s meeting with Trump.

Trump has alleged the FBI, under former President Barack Obama, planted a spy in his campaign “for political purposes,” calling it the “all-time biggest political scandal.”

The informant’s actual role was to talk with two Trump campaign advisers suspected of having contacts with Russia. There is no evidence the FBI acted illegally.

Several news agencies have identified the informant as Stefan Halper, a 73-year-old American-born professor at Britain’s University of Cambridge, who had worked decades ago in three other Republican administrations.

Ned Price, who served on Obama’s National Security Council, told VOA that Trump’s charge of spying on his campaign is dangerous to American democracy.

Price said the president is “officially knocking down the firewall between policy and law enforcement — an indispensable element of the rule of law. And he’s doing so for his own personal ends.”

Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Alene tweeted that “Trump is a subject of the investigation he will apparently succeed in obtaining evidence in and that no subject is entitled to during a criminal investigation. This is unprecedented.”

Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in interfering in the 2016 campaign and whether Trump himself obstructed justice by firing former FBI Director James Comey, who had been investigating the charges.

Trump has denied those charges. In a tweet Sunday, he contended investigators have “found no Collussion [sic] with Russia, No Obstruction, but they aren’t looking at the corruption” in the campaign of his Democratic challenger two years ago, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“Things are really getting ridiculous,” Trump said in another Twitter remark, asking at what point the investigation will end, calling it a “soon to be $20,000,000 Witch Hunt,” although the cost appears to be much less. 

Mueller has already indicted numerous Russian individuals and entities for interference in the U.S. election, along with guilty pleas from three Trump campaign associates who are cooperating with prosecutors in the investigation.

Trump has expressed fears the Mueller probe could last long enough to hurt Republicans in the November congressional elections.

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16-Year-Olds in Washington, DC, Fight for the Right to Vote

The voting age in the United States is 18. But teenagers in Washington, D.C. want local authorities to lower it to 16. More than half of the city council members have already agreed to support a bill that, if approved, would make Washington the first U.S. city to allow 16-year-olds to vote in both local and federal elections. Anna Rice narrates Lesya Bakalets’ report.

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16-Year-Olds in Washington, DC, Fight for the Right to Vote

The voting age in the United States is 18. But teenagers in Washington, D.C. want local authorities to lower it to 16. More than half of the city council members have already agreed to support a bill that, if approved, would make Washington the first U.S. city to allow 16-year-olds to vote in both local and federal elections. Anna Rice narrates Lesya Bakalets’ report.

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Trump Says He’ll Order DOJ Probe of Alleged Campaign Surveillance

President Donald Trump says he will order an investigation Monday into claims an FBI informant infiltrated his 2016 election campaign – setting up a potential showdown with the Justice Department.

“I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes – and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!,” Trump tweeted Sunday.

Later Sunday, the Justice Department announced it has asked the inspector general to expand its current review of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance ACT (FISA) “application process to include determining whether there was any impropriety or political motivation in how the FBI conducted its counterintelligence investigation of persons suspected of involvement with the Russian agents who interfered in the 2016 presidential election,” department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement.

“If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a statement.

Within minutes of the president’s tweets, former members of the Obama administration and others reacted with alarm. They believe the Trump threat is potentially the most serious intervention into the U.S. judicial system since the president fired FBI Director James Comey while he was investigating Trump’s campaign.

Trump on Saturday complained that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department infiltrated his campaign by using an informant who made contact with three campaign associates before passing on information to the FBI.

Several news agencies have identified the informant as Stefan Halper, a 73-year-old American-born professor at Britain’s University of Cambridge who had worked in three other Republican administrations.

‘Crossing a massive red line’

Ned Price, who served on the National Security Council under President Barack Obama tells VOA that Trump’s charge is dangerous to American democracy. Price says the president is “officially knocking down the firewall between policy and law enforcement – an indispensable element of the rule of law. And he’s doing so for his own personal ends.”

Former NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor tweeted, “This is crossing a massive red line. Trump is forcing DOJ to conduct a politicized investigation – something he himself conceded he shouldn’t do.”  

It is not clear whether Trump will ask for a general investigation or specifically call on the Justice Department to make public certain materials about the FBI’s counterintelligence process or the identity of sources.

There is “no doubt” Trump has the authority to make the demand, said Benjamin Wittes, a Brookings Institution senior fellow who specializes in U.S. national security law.  

Wittes also predicts Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, and FBI Director Christopher Wray will not comply with Trump’s order.

“This is a nakedly corrupt attempt on the part of the President to derail an investigation of himself at the expense of a human source to whose protection the FBI and DOJ are committed,” tweeted Wittes.

‘Getting ridiculous’

Trump further complained Sunday about the yearlong investigation into whether his 2016 campaign colluded with Russia and if he obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probe.

“Things are really getting ridiculous,” Trump complained in one the Twitter remarks, asking at what point the investigation will end, calling it a “soon to be $20,000,000 Witch Hunt.”

He contended investigators have “found no Collussion (sic) with Russia, No Obstruction, but they aren’t looking at the corruption” in the campaign of his Democratic challenger two years ago, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Trump said the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller “has given up on Russia and is looking at the rest of the world” and its connections to the Trump campaign.

Trump said Mueller, “should easily be able” to extend the inquiries into the congressional elections in November where he and his team “can put some hurt on the Republican Party.”

He added, “Republicans and real Americans should start getting tough on this Scam.”

One of Trump’s attorneys, Rudy Giuliani, told several news organizations Sunday that Mueller told him the probe will end by September 1.

He echoed Trump’s concerns that an extended investigation could hurt Republicans in the November congressional elections.

There has been no comment from Mueller’s office.

Giuliani also said the two sides were still negotiating whether Trump will be interviewed as part of the investigation.

Mueller has already indicted numerous Russian individuals and entities for interference in the U.S. election through the creation of fake news stories commenting on contentious American issues. He has also secured guilty pleas from three Trump campaign associates who are cooperating with prosecutors in the investigation.

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Wild Animals in the Halls of the US Capitol

Wild animal sounds were heard recently in the halls of the U.S. Capitol. But these were not the calls of escaped animals. They were the sounds of endangered animals serving as the animal world’s ambassadors to commemorate “Endangered Species Day.” Their presence in the Capitol was intended to encourage legislators to support efforts to protect endangered and rare animals. But as Veronica Balderas Iglesias reports, conservation and animal welfare appears to be a touchy subject on Capitol Hill.

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For GOP, Immigration a Fraught Issue as Midterms Approach

The chaos among House Republicans this past week on immigration shows how problematic and risky the issue can be for a party that needs unity heading into the elections in November that will decide control of Congress.

GOP leaders thought they had found a way by Friday morning to make the party’s warring conservative and moderate wings happy on an issue that has bedeviled them for years.

Conservatives would get a vote by late June on an immigration bill that parrots many of President Donald Trump’s hard-right immigration views, including reductions in legal immigration and opening the door to his proposed wall with Mexico. Centrists would have a chance to craft a more moderate alternative with the White House and Democrats and get a vote on that, too.

​Farm bill hostage

But it all blew up as conservatives decided they didn’t like that offer and rebelled. By lunchtime Friday, many were among the 30 Republicans who joined Democrats and scuttled a sweeping farm and food bill, a humiliating setback for the House’s GOP leaders, particularly for lame-duck Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

The conservatives essentially took the agriculture bill hostage.

They said they were unwilling to let the farm measure pass unless they first got assurances that when the House addresses immigration in coming weeks, leaders would not help an overly permissive version pass.

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., a leader of the moderates, said his group would try to write a bill that would let young “Dreamer” immigrants in the U.S. illegally stay permanently — a position anathema to conservatives — and toughen border security.

A moderate immigration package “disavows what the last election was about and what the majority of the American people want, and the people in this body know it,” said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa. He’s a member of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, many of whose members opposed the farm bill.

“It’s all about timing unfortunately and leverage, and the farm bill was just a casualty, unfortunately,” Perry said.

Denham and his allies were also unwilling to back down. He told reporters that the conservatives “broke that agreement,” and his group would pursue bipartisan legislation.

“I’m disappointed in some colleagues who asked for a concession, got the concession and then took down a bill anyway,” Denham said in a slap at the Freedom Caucus. Denham said the concession was a promised vote on the conservative immigration bill by June, though conservatives said they never agreed to that.

Such internal bickering is the opposite of what the GOP needs as the party struggles to fend off Democratic efforts to capture House control in November. Democrats need to gain 23 seats to win a majority, and a spate of Democratic special election victories and polling data suggests they have a solid chance of achieving that.

Republican leaders and strategists think their winning formula is to focus on an economy that has been gaining strength and tax cuts the GOP says is putting more money in people’s wallets.

Immigration is a distraction from that message — and worse.

On one side are conservatives from Republican strongholds, where many voters consider helping immigrants stay in the U.S. to be amnesty. On the other are GOP moderates, often representing districts with many constituents who are Hispanic, moderate suburbanites or are tied to the agriculture industry, which relies heavily on migrant workers.

20 Republicans

A look at the 20 Republicans who have signed a petition by GOP moderates aimed at forcing House votes on four immigration bills is instructive.

Of the 20, nine are from districts whose Hispanic populations exceed 18 percent, the proportion of the entire U.S. that is Hispanic. Denham’s Central California district is 40 percent Hispanic, while five others’ constituencies are at least two-thirds Hispanic.

In addition, 11 of the 20 represent districts that Democrat Hillary Clinton carried over Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

The petition drive, led by Denham and GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo, whose South Florida district is 70 percent Hispanic, is opposed by party leaders because the winning bill probably would be a compromise backed by all Democrats and a few dozen Republicans. That would enrage conservatives, perhaps prompting a rebellion that could cost House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., his goal of succeeding Ryan as speaker.

Long odds to become law

All that trouble would be for legislation that still faces long odds of becoming law.

Even if a formula is discovered that could pass the House, it could run aground in the Senate, where four immigration bills died in February and Democrats can use the filibuster to scuttle any bill they dislike. Those defeats led Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to say he wouldn’t revisit immigration unless a bill arose that could actually pass this chamber.

Trump’s willingness to sign immigration legislation also remains in question after a year that has seen his stance on the issue veer unpredictably.

Audience members hold signs reading “DISAGREE” as U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., speaks during a town hall meeting, March 18, 2017, in Red Lion, Pa. Perry’s event turned contentious in his conservative south-central Pennsylvania district over questions about his support for President Donald Trump’s budget proposal and immigration plans and for undoing former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.

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Trump Jr., Gulf Princes’ Emissary Met in 2016

Donald Trump Jr., the U.S. president’s eldest son, met in August 2016 with an envoy representing the crown princes of United Arab Emirates and Saudi

Arabia. The meeting, first reported by The New York Times on Saturday and confirmed by an attorney representing Trump Jr., was a chance for the envoy to offer help to the Trump presidential campaign, according to the Times.

The newspaper said the meeting, held Aug. 3, was arranged by Erik Prince, the founder and former head of private military contractor Blackwater, who attended the meeting. Joel Zamel, a co-founder of an Israeli consulting firm, was also in attendance.

Alan Futerfas, Trump Jr.’s attorney, said Saturday that nothing came of the meeting.

“Prior to the 2016 election, Donald Trump Jr. recalls a meeting with Erik Prince, George Nader and another individual who may be Joel Zamel,” Futerfas said in an emailed statement.

“They pitched Mr. Trump Jr. on a social media platform or marketing strategy. He was not interested and that was the end of it.”

A company connected to Zamel also worked on a proposal for a “covert multimillion-dollar online manipulation campaign” to help Trump, utilizing thousands of fake social media accounts, the Times report said.

The envoy, Lebanese-American businessman George Nader, told Trump Jr. that the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and the UAE were eager to help his father win the 2016 presidential election, the paper said.

Since 1974, the United States has barred foreign nationals from giving money to political campaigns, and it later barred them from donating to political parties. The campaign financing laws also prohibit foreign nationals from coordinating with a campaign and from buying ads that explicitly call for the election or defeat of a candidate.

The Saudi and UAE embassies in Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Mueller team met Zamel

The Wall Street Journal last month reported that investigators working for U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller had met with Zamel, and that Mueller’s team was looking into his firm’s work and his relationship with Nader.

Mueller is investigating whether Russia meddled in the presidential election and whether Moscow colluded with the Trump campaign, as well as whether Trump committed obstruction of justice by trying to thwart the U.S. Department of Justice probe.

Trump has denied any collusion with Russia and has called the Mueller investigation a “witch hunt.”

The Times report said the meetings were an indication that other countries besides Russia might have offered help to Trump’s presidential campaign. Mueller’s investigators have questioned witnesses in Washington, New York, Atlanta, Tel Aviv and elsewhere regarding possible foreign help to the campaign, the report said.

Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller’s team, declined to comment on the report.

Zamel’s attorney, Marc Mukasey, said in a statement to Reuters that his client “offered nothing to the Trump campaign, received nothing from the Trump campaign, delivered nothing to the Trump campaign and was not solicited by, or asked to do anything for, the Trump campaign.”

“Media reports about Mr. Zamel’s engaging in ‘social media manipulation’ are uninformed,” Mukasey added. “Mr. Zamel’s companies harvest publicly available information for lawful use.” 

Kathryn Ruemmler, Nader’s lawyer, told the paper that her client “has fully cooperated with the U.S. special counsel’s investigation and will continue to do so.”

Erik Prince, who is the brother of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, could not be immediately reached for comment.

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