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US Lawmakers Push Back on Trump Talk of Helping China’s ZTE

U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday rejected any plan by President Donald Trump to ease restrictions on China’s ZTE Corp, calling the telecommunications firm a security threat and vowing not to abandon legislation clamping down on the company.

Trump on Monday had defended his decision to revisit penalties on ZTE for flouting U.S. sanctions on trade with Iran, in part by saying it was reflective of the larger trade deal the United States is negotiating with China.

“I hope the administration does not move forward on this supposed deal I keep reading about,” Republican Senator Marco Rubio said. Bilateral talks between the world’s two biggest economies resume in Washington this week.

The Wall Street Journal has reported Beijing would back away from threats to slap tariffs on U.S. farm goods in exchange for easing the ban on selling components to ZTE.

“They are basically conducting an all-out assault to steal what we’ve already developed and use it as the baseline for their development so they can supplant us as the leader in the most important technologies of the 21st century,” Rubio said at a Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Asia policy.

Trump had taken to Twitter on Sunday with a pledge to help the company, which has suspended its main operations, because the penalties had cost too many jobs in China. It was a departure for a president who often touts “America First” policies.

The Commerce Department in April found ZTE had violated a 2017 settlement created after the company violated sanctions on Iran and North Korea, and banned U.S. companies from providing exports to ZTE for seven years.

U.S. companies are estimated to provide 25 percent to 30 percent of components used in ZTE’s equipment, which includes smartphones and gear to build telecommunications networks.

Cybersnooping?

The suggestion outraged members of Congress who have been pressing for more restrictions on ZTE. Some U.S. lawmakers have alleged equipment made by ZTE and other Chinese companies could pose a cyber security threat.

​”Who makes unilateral concessions on the eve of talks after you’ve spent all this time trying to say, correctly in my view, that the Chinese have ripped off our technology?” Senator Ron Wyden, the senior Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees trade policy, told Reuters.

Wyden, who is also on the Intelligence Committee, was one of 32 Senate Democrats who signed a letter on Tuesday accusing Trump of putting China’s interests ahead of U.S. jobs and national security.

The company has denied wrongdoing.

Republican Representative Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said at a Bloomberg event on Tuesday he did not expect lawmakers would seek to remove a ban on ZTE technology from a must-pass annual defense policy bill making its way through Congress.

“I confess I don’t fully understand the administration’s take on this at this point,” Thornberry said. “It is not a question to me of economics, it is a question of security.”

Another Republican, Senator John Kennedy, defended Trump, saying the president’s approach is part of a larger set of negotiations with China.

“He didn’t get up one day and go, ‘I think I’ll change my mind on ZTE.’ I think it’s part of a larger issue, and part of a larger set of negotiations,” Kennedy told reporters.

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US Judge Refuses to Dismiss ex-Trump Aide Manafort’s Criminal Case

A federal judge refused on Tuesday to dismiss criminal charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller against President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, after Manafort claimed that Mueller had exceeded his prosecutorial powers.

In a sharp rebuke of those claims, Judge Amy Berman Jackson, of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, ruled that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had followed all the Justice Department’s rules when he hired Mueller and Mueller’s case against Manafort is not overly broad or improper.

Rosenstein “expressly approved the Special Counsel’s investigation of the facts alleged in the indictment, so there has been no violation of the regulations, and the Special Counsel did not act without authority,” she wrote.

In response to the ruling, Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni said: “Paul Manafort maintains his innocence and looks forward to prevailing in this matter.” A spokesman for the Special Counsel declined to comment.

Manafort, who performed lobbying work for a pro-Russian former Ukrainian president before serving as Trump’s campaign chairman in 2016, is facing two indictments brought by Mueller in federal courts in Washington and Alexandria, Virginia.

The charges against him in the Washington case include conspiring to launder money, conspiring to defraud the United States and failing to register as a foreign agent. In Virginia, he faces charges that include bank fraud and filing false tax returns.

He has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges, none of which are directly related to work he performed for Trump’s campaign.

In both criminal cases, Manafort has asked the courts to dismiss the charges on the grounds that Rosenstein’s May 17 appointment order hiring Mueller runs afoul of Justice Department rules on special counsels.

He has also argued that Mueller’s case against him has nothing to do with Russian interference in 2016 election, and that the probe by the FBI into his Ukraine dealings predates the Russia probe.

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US Judge Refuses to Dismiss ex-Trump Aide Manafort’s Criminal Case

A federal judge refused on Tuesday to dismiss criminal charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller against President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, after Manafort claimed that Mueller had exceeded his prosecutorial powers.

In a sharp rebuke of those claims, Judge Amy Berman Jackson, of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, ruled that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had followed all the Justice Department’s rules when he hired Mueller and Mueller’s case against Manafort is not overly broad or improper.

Rosenstein “expressly approved the Special Counsel’s investigation of the facts alleged in the indictment, so there has been no violation of the regulations, and the Special Counsel did not act without authority,” she wrote.

In response to the ruling, Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni said: “Paul Manafort maintains his innocence and looks forward to prevailing in this matter.” A spokesman for the Special Counsel declined to comment.

Manafort, who performed lobbying work for a pro-Russian former Ukrainian president before serving as Trump’s campaign chairman in 2016, is facing two indictments brought by Mueller in federal courts in Washington and Alexandria, Virginia.

The charges against him in the Washington case include conspiring to launder money, conspiring to defraud the United States and failing to register as a foreign agent. In Virginia, he faces charges that include bank fraud and filing false tax returns.

He has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges, none of which are directly related to work he performed for Trump’s campaign.

In both criminal cases, Manafort has asked the courts to dismiss the charges on the grounds that Rosenstein’s May 17 appointment order hiring Mueller runs afoul of Justice Department rules on special counsels.

He has also argued that Mueller’s case against him has nothing to do with Russian interference in 2016 election, and that the probe by the FBI into his Ukraine dealings predates the Russia probe.

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Democrats Seek to Counter Trump’s 2020 Message

Grappling with the realities of President Donald Trump’s reign, Democrats are trying to offer a counterweight to the president’s message — without making it all about Trump.

An annual conference organized by a prominent Democratic think tank included an early glimpse Tuesday at some of the Democrats plotting a challenge to Trump in 2020. But it also laid bare some of the challenges Democrats face in opposing a president whose presence has been all-consuming and in developing an alternative agenda to reach voters who turned to Trump in 2016.

“What they want to hear about is the economy and their plans for it. They don’t want to hear about Donald Trump every single minute,” Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, said at the Center for American Progress’ Ideas Conference. “We resist, but we also insist on a better way forward.”

The lineup at the daylong conference featured appearances by several potential 2020 candidates, including Klobuchar and Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Also speaking: former Housing Secretary Julian Castro and current New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats have pointed to growing activism since Trump’s election, from the women’s march after his inauguration to a student movement in support of gun control measures following the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida. And they have captured special election victories in Alabama, electing Democratic Senator Doug Jones, and in western Pennsylvania, helping Democrat Conor Lamb overcome millions in Republican expenditures in a GOP-leaning district.

Democrats are hoping for a “blue wave” in the midterms to recapture one or both chambers in Congress, which they have said would serve as a precursor to ousting Trump from office.

Grass roots ‘stood up’

“The reason why we don’t have Trumpcare today,” said New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, referring to the president’s failed attempt to overhaul the Affordable Care Act, “is because the grass roots stood up, stood tall and said, ‘No.’ ”

But the party is still dealing with tensions on how far it should move to embrace more liberal policies on the economy and health care in response to Trump.

Sanders, who battled Hillary Clinton for the party’s nomination in 2016, rattled off a litany of liberal causes, including the need for a single-payer health care system, a $15-an-hour minimum wage, reproductive rights and universal child care. But he pointed to the role of the “oligarchy in this country” as the nation’s most central challenge, a movement he said was leading to “a government of the few, by the few, and for the few.”

“It is so important that we set big goals and we not be afraid of that,” said de Blasio, who announced plans for the New York Police Department to “overhaul and reform” policies related to marijuana enforcement in the next month.

Castro, HUD secretary under President Barack Obama and a former San Antonio mayor, said the party needed a “new blueprint” that would make universal prekindergarten a reality, provide free college for at least the first two years and protect hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation.

Trump’s distilled message

One of the critiques of Clinton’s 2016 Democratic presidential campaign was that it failed to present a coherent argument on what the party would stand for under her watch. Trump, meanwhile, successfully distilled his message into his slogan, “Make America Great Again,” and narrowly defeated Clinton in Midwestern states like Michigan and Wisconsin that had been safe Democratic territory.

Senator Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, noted that Trump claimed victory in Ohio, a perennial presidential battleground, by nearly 9 percentage points in 2016, saying the president won in “communities he had no business winning.”

“I think workers in my state are looking for somebody in elected office to talk about the dignity of work, to talk about whose side are you on, to talk about why work matters,” Brown said. “I don’t hear that enough from elected officials.”

Neera Tanden, the center’s president and a longtime Clinton adviser, said that while Trump represents “an unprecedented threat to our values and our norms,” Democrats cannot simply resist the president and his policies but instead need to provide an alternative to his agenda.

The event was attended by a number of financial donors, political strategists and activists who are beginning to assess what is expected to be a massive field in 2020, spurred in part by Trump’s sluggish public approval ratings.

Robert Wolf, a major Democratic donor who attended the conference, said the party was “starting to build a narrative of things we stand for,” as opposed to simply opposing Trump at every turn.

“We have to make sure we’re the party of ‘for things,’ ” Wolf said.

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Democrats Seek to Counter Trump’s 2020 Message

Grappling with the realities of President Donald Trump’s reign, Democrats are trying to offer a counterweight to the president’s message — without making it all about Trump.

An annual conference organized by a prominent Democratic think tank included an early glimpse Tuesday at some of the Democrats plotting a challenge to Trump in 2020. But it also laid bare some of the challenges Democrats face in opposing a president whose presence has been all-consuming and in developing an alternative agenda to reach voters who turned to Trump in 2016.

“What they want to hear about is the economy and their plans for it. They don’t want to hear about Donald Trump every single minute,” Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, said at the Center for American Progress’ Ideas Conference. “We resist, but we also insist on a better way forward.”

The lineup at the daylong conference featured appearances by several potential 2020 candidates, including Klobuchar and Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Also speaking: former Housing Secretary Julian Castro and current New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats have pointed to growing activism since Trump’s election, from the women’s march after his inauguration to a student movement in support of gun control measures following the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida. And they have captured special election victories in Alabama, electing Democratic Senator Doug Jones, and in western Pennsylvania, helping Democrat Conor Lamb overcome millions in Republican expenditures in a GOP-leaning district.

Democrats are hoping for a “blue wave” in the midterms to recapture one or both chambers in Congress, which they have said would serve as a precursor to ousting Trump from office.

Grass roots ‘stood up’

“The reason why we don’t have Trumpcare today,” said New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, referring to the president’s failed attempt to overhaul the Affordable Care Act, “is because the grass roots stood up, stood tall and said, ‘No.’ ”

But the party is still dealing with tensions on how far it should move to embrace more liberal policies on the economy and health care in response to Trump.

Sanders, who battled Hillary Clinton for the party’s nomination in 2016, rattled off a litany of liberal causes, including the need for a single-payer health care system, a $15-an-hour minimum wage, reproductive rights and universal child care. But he pointed to the role of the “oligarchy in this country” as the nation’s most central challenge, a movement he said was leading to “a government of the few, by the few, and for the few.”

“It is so important that we set big goals and we not be afraid of that,” said de Blasio, who announced plans for the New York Police Department to “overhaul and reform” policies related to marijuana enforcement in the next month.

Castro, HUD secretary under President Barack Obama and a former San Antonio mayor, said the party needed a “new blueprint” that would make universal prekindergarten a reality, provide free college for at least the first two years and protect hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation.

Trump’s distilled message

One of the critiques of Clinton’s 2016 Democratic presidential campaign was that it failed to present a coherent argument on what the party would stand for under her watch. Trump, meanwhile, successfully distilled his message into his slogan, “Make America Great Again,” and narrowly defeated Clinton in Midwestern states like Michigan and Wisconsin that had been safe Democratic territory.

Senator Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, noted that Trump claimed victory in Ohio, a perennial presidential battleground, by nearly 9 percentage points in 2016, saying the president won in “communities he had no business winning.”

“I think workers in my state are looking for somebody in elected office to talk about the dignity of work, to talk about whose side are you on, to talk about why work matters,” Brown said. “I don’t hear that enough from elected officials.”

Neera Tanden, the center’s president and a longtime Clinton adviser, said that while Trump represents “an unprecedented threat to our values and our norms,” Democrats cannot simply resist the president and his policies but instead need to provide an alternative to his agenda.

The event was attended by a number of financial donors, political strategists and activists who are beginning to assess what is expected to be a massive field in 2020, spurred in part by Trump’s sluggish public approval ratings.

Robert Wolf, a major Democratic donor who attended the conference, said the party was “starting to build a narrative of things we stand for,” as opposed to simply opposing Trump at every turn.

“We have to make sure we’re the party of ‘for things,’ ” Wolf said.

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Watchdog: US EPA Chief Pruitt Asked for 24/7 Security From Day 1

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt requested and received around-the-clock security from his first day in office in 2017, the agency’s watchdog on Monday told a lawmaker questioning Pruitt’s expensive security detail.

Prior EPA administrators have not had blanket protection.

Pruitt, under pressure from Congress for his high travel and security spending in his position at America’s top environmental regulator, has said his 24-hour security was installed due to unusual threats against him.

In a May 14 letter, EPA Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins Jr. said the decision was made by the agency’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, Forensics and Training after being informed that Pruitt had requested that such protection begin once he was confirmed as administrator.

The inspector general’s office “played no role in this decision,” Elkins added.

The letter was addressed to Democratic Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, who had asked the office how and why Pruitt was getting 24-hour protection.

“EPA’s Protective Service Detail handles security decisions and this particular decision was made before Administrator Pruitt arrived at EPA,” agency spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in an email.

During hearings last month, Pruitt, who was confirmed Feb. 17, 2017, justified his security spending by citing threats he had received since taking office.

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Watchdog: US EPA Chief Pruitt Asked for 24/7 Security From Day 1

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt requested and received around-the-clock security from his first day in office in 2017, the agency’s watchdog on Monday told a lawmaker questioning Pruitt’s expensive security detail.

Prior EPA administrators have not had blanket protection.

Pruitt, under pressure from Congress for his high travel and security spending in his position at America’s top environmental regulator, has said his 24-hour security was installed due to unusual threats against him.

In a May 14 letter, EPA Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins Jr. said the decision was made by the agency’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, Forensics and Training after being informed that Pruitt had requested that such protection begin once he was confirmed as administrator.

The inspector general’s office “played no role in this decision,” Elkins added.

The letter was addressed to Democratic Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, who had asked the office how and why Pruitt was getting 24-hour protection.

“EPA’s Protective Service Detail handles security decisions and this particular decision was made before Administrator Pruitt arrived at EPA,” agency spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in an email.

During hearings last month, Pruitt, who was confirmed Feb. 17, 2017, justified his security spending by citing threats he had received since taking office.

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Former Nevada Senator Harry Reid Undergoes Surgery for Cancer

Former Senator Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, was recovering after undergoing surgery Monday at Johns Hopkins Cancer Center in Baltimore to remove a cancerous tumor from his pancreas.

Reid, 78, will undergo chemotherapy, according to a statement released Monday by his family.

“His doctors caught the problem early during a routine screening and his surgeons are confident that the surgery was a success and that the prognosis for his recovery is good,” the statement said.

The former Senate Democratic leader declined to seek re-election in 2016 after more than three decades in Congress. A 2015 accident left him blind in one eye.

A former boxer who grew up poor in the small town of Searchlight, Nevada, Reid rose to one of the most powerful positions in American politics as Nevada’s longest-serving senator.

He helped propel the passage of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law and blocked the development of a nuclear waste dump in Nevada. He was also a champion of his home state’s gaming and tourism industry and built up a well-organized Democratic machine in Nevada.

Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, who was recruited by Reid to replace him, wished him a speedy recovery.

“Senator Reid is no stranger to a fight. He beat his opponents in the boxing ring, took on the mob in Nevada, and moved bills in the Senate that no one believed could be done. He’ll beat cancer too,” she said in a statement.

His former congressional rival, John Boehner, tweeted prayers for Reid, writing: “You’re a fighter, Harry. You can whip this.”

Reid and Boehner are working on creating a public policy think tank at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, focusing on policy issues that affect the tourism, hospitality and gambling industries.

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Former Nevada Senator Harry Reid Undergoes Surgery for Cancer

Former Senator Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, was recovering after undergoing surgery Monday at Johns Hopkins Cancer Center in Baltimore to remove a cancerous tumor from his pancreas.

Reid, 78, will undergo chemotherapy, according to a statement released Monday by his family.

“His doctors caught the problem early during a routine screening and his surgeons are confident that the surgery was a success and that the prognosis for his recovery is good,” the statement said.

The former Senate Democratic leader declined to seek re-election in 2016 after more than three decades in Congress. A 2015 accident left him blind in one eye.

A former boxer who grew up poor in the small town of Searchlight, Nevada, Reid rose to one of the most powerful positions in American politics as Nevada’s longest-serving senator.

He helped propel the passage of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law and blocked the development of a nuclear waste dump in Nevada. He was also a champion of his home state’s gaming and tourism industry and built up a well-organized Democratic machine in Nevada.

Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, who was recruited by Reid to replace him, wished him a speedy recovery.

“Senator Reid is no stranger to a fight. He beat his opponents in the boxing ring, took on the mob in Nevada, and moved bills in the Senate that no one believed could be done. He’ll beat cancer too,” she said in a statement.

His former congressional rival, John Boehner, tweeted prayers for Reid, writing: “You’re a fighter, Harry. You can whip this.”

Reid and Boehner are working on creating a public policy think tank at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, focusing on policy issues that affect the tourism, hospitality and gambling industries.

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US Embassy’s Move in Israel Draws Criticism from Around the World

Many of the United States’ allies, along with its foes, expressed criticism of the U.S. decision to open its embassy in Jerusalem Monday, saying it would increase tensions in the Middle East.

 

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May said, “We disagree with the U.S. decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem and recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital” before a final peace agreement is reached in the Middle East.

French President Emmanuel Macron condemned Monday’s violence in Gaza, where Israeli soldiers killed more than 50 Palestinian civilians in clashes at the border. Macron said he had “warned repeatedly of the repercussions” of U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

 

In a statement, Macron’s office said he talked with Jordan’s King Abdullah and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday and is planning to talk with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday.

 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov repeated Moscow’s objection to the U.S. move. “We firmly believe that it is inappropriate to unilaterally revise the decisions of the international community in this way,” he said.

 

Many Arab leaders also condemned the move, with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri calling it “provocative,” and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif describing it as “a day of great shame.”

Saudi Arabia condemned the Israeli gunfire against Palestinians in Gaza but did not mention the opening of the U.S. Embassy.

 

“Saudi Arabia strongly condemns the Israeli occupation forces’ gunfire against unarmed Palestinian civilians, which has left dozens of dead and wounded,” a Saudi foreign ministry spokesperson said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said during a visit to London that the embassy move was “very, very unfortunate” and said it disqualified the United States from being a mediator in the Middle East peace process.

 

Turkey’s government said was recalling its ambassador to the United States “for consultations” over the U.S. Embassy move. It also recalled its ambassador to Israel following what it called a “massacre” of Palestinians on the Gaza border.

Turkey also has called for an emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the world’s largest body of Muslim-majority nations. Erdogan wants the meeting to be held Friday. In response to the thousands of people who took to the streets of Istanbul Monday, Erdogan promised to hold a pro-Palestinian rally on Friday after the OIC meeting. 

 

Kuwait also condemned the violence in Gaza and requested an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council for Tuesday.

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