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US Special Counsel Questions Trump’s Former Chief of Staff

A lawyer representing former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said a team of US government investigators interviewed Priebus on Friday as part of an ongoing probe on whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia

during last year’s US presidential election.   

“He was happy to answer all of their questions,” said Priebus’ lawyer, William Burck.

Priebus was head of the Republican National Committee during Trump’s presidential campaign and served as the president’s chief of staff when Trump took office, before he resigned in July.

Special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of investigators are also looking into some of the actions the US President has taken since assuming office in January, including the firing of FBI Director James Comey.  Among other things, Mueller’s

team is trying to see whether the president might have obstructed justice earlier this year by persuading Comey to drop an investigation on then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.  

Flynn resigned in February following reports he had met with the Russian ambassador .  

Investigators expect to speak to a number of current and former officials in the coming weeks.  

President Trump has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

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Transcript of Trump Speech on Iran Nuclear Deal

THE WHITE HOUSE

 

Office of the Press Secretary


For Immediate Release                            October 13, 2017

 

 

REMARKS BY PRESIDENT TRUMP

ON IRAN STRATEGY

 

Diplomatic Reception Room

 

 

 

12:53 P.M. EDT

 

 

     THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  My fellow Americans:  As President of the United States, my highest obligation is to ensure the safety and security of the American people.  

 

History has shown that the longer we ignore a threat, the more dangerous that threat becomes.  For this reason, upon taking office, I’ve ordered a complete strategic review of our policy toward the rogue regime in Iran.  That review is now complete.

 

Today, I am announcing our strategy, along with several major steps we are taking to confront the Iranian regime’s hostile actions and to ensure that Iran never, and I mean never, acquires a nuclear weapon.  

 

Our policy is based on a clear-eyed assessment of the Iranian dictatorship, its sponsorship of terrorism, and its continuing aggression in the Middle East and all around the world.

 

Iran is under the control of a fanatical regime that seized power in 1979 and forced a proud people to submit to its extremist rule.  This radical regime has raided the wealth of one of the world’s oldest and most vibrant nations, and spread death, destruction, and chaos all around the globe.

 

Beginning in 1979, agents of the Iranian regime illegally seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held more than 60 Americans hostage during the 444 days of the crisis.  The Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah twice bombed our embassy in Lebanon — once in 1983 and again in 1984.  Another Iranian-supported bombing killed 241 Americans — service members they were, in their barracks in Beirut in 1983.

 

In 1996, the regime directed another bombing of American military housing in Saudi Arabia, murdering 19 Americans in cold blood.

 

Iranian proxies provided training to operatives who were later involved in al Qaeda’s bombing of the American embassies in Kenya, Tanzania, and two years later, killing 224 people, and wounding more than 4,000 others.

 

The regime harbored high-level terrorists in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, including Osama bin Laden’s son.  In Iraq and Afghanistan, groups supported by Iran have killed hundreds of American military personnel.

 

The Iranian dictatorship’s aggression continues to this day.  The regime remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provides assistance to al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist networks.  It develops, deploys, and proliferates missiles that threaten American troops and our allies.  It harasses American ships and threatens freedom of navigation in the Arabian Gulf and in the Red Sea.  It imprisons Americans on false charges.  And it launches cyberattacks against our critical infrastructure, financial system, and military.

 

The United States is far from the only target of the Iranian dictatorship’s long campaign of bloodshed.  The regime violently suppresses its own citizens; it shot unarmed student protestors in the street during the Green Revolution.  

 

This regime has fueled sectarian violence in Iraq, and vicious civil wars in Yemen and Syria.  In Syria, the Iranian regime has supported the atrocities of Bashar al-Assad’s regime and condoned Assad’s use of chemical weapons against helpless civilians, including many, many children.

 

Given the regime’s murderous past and present, we should not take lightly its sinister vision for the future.  The regime’s two favorite chants are “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.”

 

Realizing the gravity of the situation, the United States and the United Nations Security Council sought, over many years, to stop Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons with a wide array of strong economic sanctions.

 

But the previous administration lifted these sanctions, just before what would have been the total collapse of the Iranian regime, through the deeply controversial 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.  This deal is known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

 

As I have said many times, the Iran Deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.  The same mindset that produced this deal is responsible for years of terrible trade deals that have sacrificed so many millions of jobs in our country to the benefit of other countries.  We need negotiators who will much more strongly represent America’s interest.

 

The nuclear deal threw Iran’s dictatorship a political and economic lifeline, providing urgently needed relief from the intense domestic pressure the sanctions had created.  It also gave the regime an immediate financial boost and over $100 billion dollars its government could use to fund terrorism.

 

The regime also received a massive cash settlement of $1.7 billion from the United States, a large portion of which was physically loaded onto an airplane and flown into Iran.  Just imagine the sight of those huge piles of money being hauled off by the Iranians waiting at the airport for the cash.  I wonder where all that money went.

 

Worst of all, the deal allows Iran to continue developing certain elements of its nuclear program.  And importantly, in just a few years, as key restrictions disappear, Iran can sprint towards a rapid nuclear weapons breakout.  In other words, we got weak inspections in exchange for no more than a purely short-term and temporary delay in Iran’s path to nuclear weapons.

 

What is the purpose of a deal that, at best, only delays Iran’s nuclear capability for a short period of time?  This, as President of the United States, is unacceptable.  In other countries, they think in terms of 100-year intervals, not just a few years at a time.  

 

The saddest part of the deal for the United States is that all of the money was paid up front, which is unheard of, rather than at the end of the deal when they have shown they’ve played by the rules.  But what’s done is done, and that’s why we are where we are.  

 

The Iranian regime has committed multiple violations of the agreement.  For example, on two separate occasions, they have exceeded the limit of 130 metric tons of heavy water.  Until recently, the Iranian regime has also failed to meet our expectations in its operation of advanced centrifuges.   

 

The Iranian regime has also intimidated international inspectors into not using the full inspection authorities that the agreement calls for.  

 

Iranian officials and military leaders have repeatedly claimed they will not allow inspectors onto military sites, even though the international community suspects some of those sites were part of Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program.

 

There are also many people who believe that Iran is dealing with North Korea.  I am going to instruct our intelligence agencies to do a thorough analysis and report back their findings beyond what they have already reviewed.

 

By its own terms, the Iran Deal was supposed to contribute to “regional and international peace and security.”  And yet, while the United States adheres to our commitment under the deal, the Iranian regime continues to fuel conflict, terror, and turmoil throughout the Middle East and beyond.  Importantly, Iran is not living up to the spirit of the deal.

 

So today, in recognition of the increasing menace posed by Iran, and after extensive consultations with our allies, I am announcing a new strategy to address the full range of Iran’s destructive actions.

 

First, we will work with our allies to counter the regime’s destabilizing activity and support for terrorist proxies in the region.

 

Second, we will place additional sanctions on the regime to block their financing of terror.

 

Third, we will address the regime’s proliferation of missiles and weapons that threaten its neighbors, global trade, and freedom of navigation.

 

And finally, we will deny the regime all paths to a nuclear weapon.

 

Today, I am also announcing several major steps my administration is taking in pursuit of this strategy.  

 

The execution of our strategy begins with the long-overdue step of imposing tough sanctions on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.  The Revolutionary Guard is the Iranian Supreme Leader’s corrupt personal terror force and militia.  It has hijacked large portions of Iran’s economy and seized massive religious endowments to fund war and terror abroad.  This includes arming the Syrian dictator, supplying proxies and partners with missiles and weapons to attack civilians in the region, and even plotting to bomb a popular restaurant right here in Washington, D.C.

 

I am authorizing the Treasury Department to further sanction the entire Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for its support for terrorism and to apply sanctions to its officials, agents, and affiliates.  I urge our allies to join us in taking strong actions to curb Iran’s continued dangerous and destabilizing behavior, including thorough sanctions outside the Iran Deal that target the regime’s ballistic missile program, in support for terrorism, and all of its destructive activities, of which there are many.  

 

Finally, on the grave matter of Iran’s nuclear program: Since the signing of the nuclear agreement, the regime’s dangerous aggression has only escalated.  At the same time, it has received massive sanctions relief while continuing to develop its missiles program.  Iran has also entered into lucrative business contracts with other parties to the agreement.

 

When the agreement was finalized in 2015, Congress passed the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act to ensure that Congress’s voice would be heard on the deal.  Among other conditions, this law requires the President, or his designee, to certify that the suspension of sanctions under the deal is “appropriate and proportionate” to measure — and other measures taken by Iran to terminate its illicit nuclear program.  Based on the factual record I have put forward, I am announcing today that we cannot and will not make this certification.

 

We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror, and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout.

 

That is why I am directing my administration to work closely with Congress and our allies to address the deal’s many serious flaws so that the Iranian regime can never threaten the world with nuclear weapons.  These include the deal’s sunset clauses that, in just a few years, will eliminate key restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program.

 

The flaws in the deal also include insufficient enforcement and near total silence on Iran’s missile programs.  Congress has already begun the work to address these problems.  Key House and Senate leaders are drafting legislation that would amend the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act to strengthen enforcement, prevent Iran from developing an inter- — this is so totally important — an intercontinental ballistic missile, and make all restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activity permanent under U.S. law.  So important.  I support these initiatives.  

 

However, in the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated.  It is under continuous review, and our participation can be cancelled by me, as President, at any time.

 

As we have seen in North Korea, the longer we ignore a threat, the worse that threat becomes.  It is why we are determined that the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism will never obtain nuclear weapons.

 

In this effort, we stand in total solidarity with the Iranian regime’s longest-suffering victims: its own people.  The citizens of Iran have paid a heavy price for the violence and extremism of their leaders.  The Iranian people long to — and they just are longing, to reclaim their country’s proud history, its culture, its civilization, its cooperation with its neighbors.

 

We hope that these new measures directed at the Iranian dictatorship will compel the government to reevaluate its pursuit of terror at the expense of its people.

 

We hope that our actions today will help bring about a future of peace, stability, and prosperity in the Middle East –- a future where sovereign nations respect each other and their own citizens.

 

We pray for a future where young children — American and Iranian, Muslim, Christian, and Jewish — can grow up in a world free from violence, hatred, and terror.

 

And, until that blessed day comes, we will do what we must to keep America safe.

 

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.  Thank you.

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A Day After Criticism, Trump Offers Support to Puerto Rico

President Donald Trump is assuring residents of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico that he “will always be with them.”

His tweet Friday morning comes a day after he lashed out at the island, insisting that the federal government can’t keep sending help “forever.” He’d also suggested the U.S. territory is to blame for its financial struggles.

 

He took a softer tone on Friday, saying that “the wonderful people of Puerto Rico” have an “unmatched spirit.” He tweeted, “I will always be with them!”

 

But he also said again that residents “know how bad things were before” the hurricanes.

 

Much of the island remains without power weeks after the storm.

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Global Economy: Growth Gathering Momentum, but Where’s the Inflation?

The euro zone economy may be building up an impressive head of steam that shows no signs of cooling, but what policymakers at the European Central Bank really want – higher inflation – is still largely absent.

Industrial output in the bloc rose faster than anyone polled by Reuters expected in August, according to data on Thursday which followed a slew of forecast-beating releases and after the International Monetary Fund upgraded its outlook for global growth.

“Although the industrial sector only accounts for a quarter of GDP it has been the euro zone’s most cyclical sector historically, and so is an important indicator of the economy’s wider health,” said Christian Jaccarini at CEBR.

“With the economy gathering momentum, the European Central Bank should feel confident about starting to taper its asset purchase program at the beginning of next year.”

The economy is performing stronger than at any time since the global financial crisis so speculation the ECB will soon begin scaling back its massive stimulus program has been rife.

Policymakers at the Bank will announce on Oct. 26 a six-month extension to its asset purchase program but will cut how much it buys each month to 40 billion euros from January, a September Reuters poll predicted.  

Five people with direct knowledge of discussions told Reuters the ECB is homing in on extending its stimulus for nine months at the next meeting while scaling it back.

Yet the ECB’s key focus is inflation and numbers due on Tuesday will probably confirm prices only rose 1.5 percent in September on a year ago, still a lot weaker than the just below 2 percent rate-setters would like.

According to Reuters polls taken throughout 2017, which have been correct about how low it would remain this year, inflation won’t hit that ECB target for years.

“There is likely to be only a limited pick-up in inflationary pressures, meaning that interest rate hikes can be kept on hold until 2019 – later than markets seem to expect,” economists at Capital Economics wrote.

British dilemma

Across the Atlantic, U.S. Federal Reserve policymakers have already begun tightening but had a prolonged debate about the prospects of a pickup in inflation and slowing the path of future interest rate rises if it did not, according to minutes of the central bank’s last policy meeting.

“Many participants expressed concern that the low inflation readings this year might reflect… the influence of developments that could prove more persistent, and it was noted that some patience in removing policy accommodation while assessing trends in inflation was warranted,” the Fed said in the minutes.

Britain, however, has the opposite problem.

Since the vote in June 2016 to leave the European Union, the pound has lost around 13 percent of its value against the dollar, driving up the costs of imports and caused inflation to run well above the 2 percent the Bank of England would like it at.

In the referendum’s aftermath the Bank cut 25 basis points from borrowing costs, taking them to a record low 0.25 percent, hoping to stave off a predicted economic meltdown after the leave vote.

That meltdown never happened and Britain’s economy was one of the best performers last year although growth has since slowed sharply.

Still, at its November meeting the BoE will raise interest rates for the first time in a decade, according to economists in a recent Reuters poll taken after a barrage of hawkish rhetoric from BoE policymakers. However, most of them also said raising rates now would be a policy mistake.  

“On the strength of the MPC’s rhetoric and current market expectations, we continue to look for a November hike. But this assumes no significant downside surprises in the inflation and wage data next week,” said Allan Monks at JPMorgan.

“If the MPC is minded to back out of tightening in November – in response to the data or the Brexit process – we would expect at least some hint of this in any commentary between now and the next meeting on Nov. 2.”

Britain’s economy shows little sign of breaking out of its lethargy and it is “extraordinary” the BoE is considering raising interest rates, the British Chambers of Commerce said on Friday.

“We’d caution against an earlier than required tightening in monetary policy, which could hit both business and consumer confidence and weaken overall UK growth,” said Suren Thiru, BCC head of economics.

Divorce talks have this week ended in deadlock over a British refusal to clarify how much it will pay on leaving, EU negotiator Michel Barnier said on Thursday.

But EU leaders could hand beleaguered British Prime Minister Theresa May an olive branch in Brexit negotiations next week by launching their own internal preparations for a transition to a new relationship with Britain, giving her some hope.

 

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Trump Weathering Turbulent Times at Home and Abroad

President Donald Trump, who is no stranger to political chaos, found himself in turbulent times this week.

Trump faces critical foreign policy challenges on Iran and North Korea and he remains frustrated with the prospect of a stalled domestic agenda at home. Adding to the turbulence in recent days was the president’s Twitter feud with Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee and a resurgence of Trump’s long-running spat with the mainstream news media.

On Thursday, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly made a rare appearance before reporters at the daily White House briefing to knock down reports that he is frustrated in his job.

“I don’t think I’m being fired today, and I’m not so frustrated in this job that I’m thinking of leaving,” Kelly said.

As for Trump, even as he highlighted tax reform at a rally in Pennsylvania Wednesday, he complained again that he has gotten little credit for his achievements so far.

“The confidence in our country is back like it hasn’t been in many, many years,” Trump said to cheers at the event in Middletown, Pennsylvania.

He seemed a bit wistful at one point about his life before politics: “I had a very good life. But you know what? I am having a better life now and I’m helping a lot of people.”

Feuds and spats

But the president has been irritated this week over criticism from Senator Corker, warning that Trump’s temperament and rhetoric could risk “World War III.”

He also lashed out at the media in the Oval Office over reports from NBC News that he wanted to expand the U.S. nuclear arsenal by a factor of ten, something both he and his defense secretary denied.

“And it is frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write, and people should look into it,” he said.

Trump’s rally in Pennsylvania was an attempt to refocus attention on tax reform. He is eager for a legislative victory he can point to in advance of next year’s congressional midterm elections.

But Republican divisions over the issue and the opposition of Democrats pose a threat to the tax plan being enacted.

“They say it is tax cuts for the middle class. It’s not. It is aimed at the rich,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said.

Success on tax reform is also important to Republicans, especially those running for re-election next year.

“The best way for us to help people and advance our principles is that we stay unified and advance this agenda that we are working on like tax reform,” House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters at the Capitol.

Watch: President Trump Facing Turbulent Times at Home and Abroad

Looking to the base

Amid what some see as chaos on many fronts, Trump continues to turn to his political base for solace and support.

“I think he still gets the populist moments,” Republican strategist John Feehery said. “He still gets the fact that Washington is extraordinarily unpopular. He understands that the media is extraordinarily unpopular with the Republican voters.”

But Feehery added that the president’s habit of picking fights with both opponents and allies continues to provide major distractions from getting his agenda passed in Congress.

“His biggest problem right now is that the national media does not like him. The Republican Party, by and large, the establishment, does not like him,” he said. “Democrats obviously hate him, and so it has been very difficult for him to gain any traction, and there is also the problem of his own volatile nature.”

Despite the recent turmoil, Trump is counting on his core supporters to stick with him and he made that clear to the crowd in Pennsylvania this week. “You finally have a government that is going to defend you and stand up for you and your country,” he told the crowd.

Mixed polls

Analysts say for the most part Trump’s base is hanging with him.

“With 38 percent of the electorate, 80-plus percent of the Republican Party strongly behind him, it is unlikely that we are going to see a lot of Republicans break from him and really challenge him in meaningful ways,” George Washington University political scientist Matthew Dallek said.

But all that focus on shoring up the president’s base does come with a political cost, Gallup pollster Frank Newport said.

“For him to get a higher approval rating, he has got to somehow move those Democrats and some independents, where he is getting about a 30 percent approval now, and that is very hard,” Newport said.

In the latest Quinnipiac University poll, Republicans approved of the president’s job performance by a margin of 81 to 12 percent.

His overall approval rating was at 38 percent, up slightly from last month. That is about even with the job approval average of several polls calculated daily by Real Clear Politics, which has Trump at 38.8 percent approval, 55.4 disapproval.

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China’s Imports From North Korea Fall Nearly 38 Percent in September

China’s imports from North Korea fell 37.9 percent in September from a year earlier, marking the seventh consecutive month of decline, the customs office said Friday.

China-U.S. ties have been strained by President Donald Trump’s criticism of China’s trade practices and by demands that Beijing do more to pressure North Korea over Pyongyan’s nuclear and missile programmes.

China’s exports to North Korea in September dropped 6.7 percent from a year ago, a spokesman for the General Administration of Customs told a briefing, adding no seafood imports from North Korea were recorded last month.

China’s imports from North Korea fell 16.7 percent on-year to $1.48 billion in Jannuary-September, while exports to North Korea rose 20.9 percent to $2.55 billion in the same period.

That created a trade surplus with North Korea at $1.07 billion in the first nine months of this year.

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California Wildfires Threaten Wine Country’s Lifeblood: Tourism

The wildfires burning through Northern California are sending visitors packing, threatening the $2 billion-plus spent annually by tourists on wine tours, fine food, limousine rides and much more, business leaders said.

At the Inn on First bed and breakfast in the famous wine town of Napa, co-owner Jamie Cherry was encouraging callers to postpone rather than cancel visits, as wildfires burned largely unchecked across the region.

“People are canceling as far as November already,” Cherry said. “It’s going to be devastating in terms of financial loss for everybody.”

The fast-moving fires have killed at least 26 people and left hundreds missing in an area less than an hour’s drive from San Francisco.

With hundreds of wineries, expensive restaurants and bucolic rolling scenery, the wine country of Sonoma and Napa counties is a major draw for visitors. Limousines and buses clog parking lots at weekends as visitors sip Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignons in towns known for their mix of rural and cosmopolitan vibes.

Now, with at least 13 burned wineries, shuttered tasting rooms and thick smoke in the air from nearly two dozen fires that have charred more than 190,000 acres across the state, it is unclear how quickly the region can lure back tourists.

‘We’d go back’

Napa Valley welcomed 3.5 million visitors last year, with overnight guests spending on average $402 per day, according to Visit Napa Valley, the region’s tourism marketing group.

“There is a good amount of infrastructure that has burned down, homes have burned down, wineries have burned. There are restaurants that are not going to open quickly,” said Clay Gregory of Visit Napa Valley.

On Thursday, tasting rooms remained closed and the famous Napa Valley Wine Train, which ferries tourists through the vineyards, said it planned to reopen Sunday.

Dozens of limousines and tour buses, their polish dulled by a film of ash, sat in a parking lot and warehouse on the outskirts of Napa. The company’s owner, Michael Graham, said the business had just hit peak demand of 100 reservations a day, but since the fires that had slumped to two.

Graham remains hopeful, however, citing tourism’s quick recovery after the 6.0 earthquake that hit Napa in 2014: “People were out wine-tasting the same day.”

Graham said the region was still largely intact, with vast swathes of countryside untouched by fire.

“It’s just smoky. As soon as they get this contained it will be back to business as usual,” he said.

Others agreed the effect of the fires on tourism would be short-lived.

Roseanne Rosen has fond memories of the trip with her husband to wine country that she just finished ahead of the fires. The couple from Kansas City has been coming for the last decade and has no plans to abandon that tradition.

“It’s one of our favorite destinations and I don’t see that changing,” Rosen said by telephone. “Once people are open and ready for business, we’d go back in an instant.”

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