Trump Assails Special Counsel Mueller as Politically Biased in Russia Probe

U.S. President Donald Trump is assailing special counsel Robert Mueller, accusing him of political bias in his investigation of Trump’s 2016 election campaign links to Russia and whether the president obstructed justice in trying to thwart the probe.

“Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans?  Another Dem recently added … does anyone think this is fair?  And yet, there is NO COLLUSION!”  Trump said in one of a string of Twitter remarks over the weekend recalling his defeat of Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton and his negative view of the investigations in the year and a half since then.

Trump ignored noting that at least at one point Mueller was a registered Trump ignored noting that at least at one point Mueller was a registered Republican voter and is generally viewed in Washington as an apolitical prosecutor, whose investigation of the Trump campaign is supported by Democrats and key Republicans who voiced their support on Sunday news shows for Mueller’s handling of the probe.

The U.S. leader also attacked two former ousted FBI officials, former director James Comey, fired by Trump last May, and former deputy director Andrew McCabe, dismissed at Trump’s urging late Friday by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, 26 hours before McCabe was set to retire and collect his full pension.  Trump contended that Comey’s and McCabe’s personal written recollections of their conversations he had with them are fabricated.

Trump said he “spent very little time with Andrew McCabe, but he never took notes when he was with me.  I don’t believe he made memos except to help his own agenda, probably at a later date. Same with lying James Comey.  Can we call them Fake Memos?”  In another tweet, Trump referred to the one-time FBI chief as “Sanctimonious James Comey” and said he made McCabe “look like a choirboy.” 

Sessions dismissed McCabe after concurring with an internal Justice Department investigation that McCabe “had made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor, including under oath, on multiple occasions,” a news leak McCabe said Comey knew about while they served together at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

 

Trump tweeted about a segment he watched on his favorite morning news show, Fox and Friends, “Wow, watch Comey lie under oath” at a Senate hearing, “when asked “have you ever been an anonymous source … or known someone else to be an anonymous source …?”  He said strongly “never, no.”  He lied as shown clearly …”

Trump said, “the Fake News,” Trump’s epithet for the national news media, “is beside themselves that McCabe was caught, called out and fired … How many lies?  How many leaks?  Comey knew it all, and much more!”   

The president contended “The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime.  It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary” and the Democratic National Committee, “and improperly used” by the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court “for surveillance of my campaign.  WITCH HUNT!”  

John Dowd, Trump’s personal lawyer, praised Sessions on Saturday for firing McCabe, and then suggested that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the special counsel, “bring an end” to Mueller’s investigation.

Shortly after McCabe was fired, the president praised the decision on Twitter, calling it a “great day for Democracy.”

On Sunday, Senator Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a key Trump supporter, told CNN that Mueller “needs to be able to do his job without interference.”  Graham said that if Trump were to attempt to fire Mueller it would be “the beginning of the end of his presidency.”

Congressman Trey Gowdy, another South Carolina Republican, told Fox News, “I think the president’s lawyer does a disservice when he says that and frames the investigation that way … Russia attacked our country, let special counsel Mueller figure that out.”

Gowdy was part of the Republican majority on the House Intelligence Committee that concluded a week ago that there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, but said in the television interview, “You should want Special Counsel Mueller to take all the time and have all the independence he needs to do his job.”

Trump said, “As the House Intelligence Committee has concluded, there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump Campaign.  As many are now finding out, however, there was tremendous leaking, lying and corruption at the highest levels of the FBI, Justice & State.  Drain The Swamp.”  

McCabe, in a statement after his firing, called his ouster “retribution,” saying, “I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of [former FBI Director] James Comey.”  U.S. news accounts said he had written contemporaneous accounts of his conversations with Trump.

His firing, barely a day ahead of his 50th birthday on Sunday, could cost McCabe thousands of dollars in retirement benefits.  

Republican Senators Spar over Trump Nominees to Head State Department, CIA

Two U.S. Republican senators sparred Sunday over President Donald Trump’s nomination of Mike Pompeo, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, as his new secretary of state, and deputy CIA chief Gina Haspel to take over at the intelligence agency.

If confirmed, Haspel would be the first female director in the CIA’s 70-year history.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina predicted on CNN that both Pompeo and Haspel would be confirmed by the Senate. He dismissed one opponent of the nominations, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, as “an outlier” among Republican lawmakers.

Paul, also on CNN, argued against Pompeo, saying Pompeo supports U.S.-sanctioned regime change in some foreign countries. Rand said Haspel was linked to CIA torture of terrorism suspects at clandestine sites overseas.

Paul said he would “do whatever it takes” to derail the two nominations in the Senate, where Republicans hold a narrow 51-49 majority. Paul said that if need be, he would filibuster the nominations, in an attempt to block them from winning approval.

Graham described Haspel as “highly qualified,” while acknowledging her past support of “enhanced interrogation” techniques — including waterboarding, which simulates drowning — against terrorism suspects in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. The CIA no longer permits enhanced interrogation.

“I’m looking forward for her to acknowledge this policy is no longer allowed,” Graham said.

Paul said he does not think Pompeo, a former Kansas congressman before Trump named him CIA director, would be a “good fit” as the nation’s top diplomat to succeed Rex Tillerson, who was fired last week by Trump after a year on the job.

“I don’t think our policy ought to be for regime change,” Paul said.

As for Haspel, Paul said, “What America stands for is not torture. Torture is the hallmark of totalitarianism.”

Paul cited Haspel’s reported oversight of a CIA “black site” in Thailand and her subsequent role in an order to destroy video evidence of the interrogations.

“It’s just inconsistent with who we are as a people to have someone run our spy agency that has all this enormous power, who is intimately involved with torture, and from everything we’re reading, was supportive of the policy,” Paul said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Analysts: Iraq War Legacy Marked by Failure, Some Success

March 20 marks the 15th anniversary of U.S. President George W. Bush announcing the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, with air strikes and ground troops deployed to target long-time dictator Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi leaders. But the mission and its complicated legacy have not been without controversy. VOA’s Jill Craig has more from Washington.

AP Fact Check: Trump Wrong on Russia Collusion Question, McCabe Timeline

In a series of blistering tweets, President Donald Trump falsely asserted that the House Intelligence Committee has concluded there was no collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia.

Trump in his Saturday tweets lashed out at his perceived foes tied to the Russia investigation and exulted in the firing of FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, once a leader of the bureau’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email practices. The FBI’s decision not to pursue criminal charges against Clinton infuriated Trump at the time, and still does.

TRUMP: “As the House Intelligence Committee has concluded, there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump Campaign. As many are now finding out, however, there was tremendous leaking, lying and corruption at the highest levels of the FBI, Justice & State.” — Trump tweet.

 

THE FACTS: He’s wrong. That conclusion came from Republicans on the committee; it was not a committee finding. Democrats on the committee sharply dispute the Republican conclusions and will issue their own.

 

Whatever the findings of the committee, special counsel Robert Mueller is leading the key investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and Russian contacts with the Trump campaign. The probe has produced a number of charges and convictions, none to date alleging criminal collusion. But Mueller continues to explore whether collusion occurred and whether Trump or others may have obstructed justice. 

 

Trump did not specify what he meant in accusing the agencies of corruption. McCabe was fired in advance of an inspector general’s report that’s expected to conclude he was not forthcoming about matters related to the FBI investigation of Clinton’s emails.

TRUMP: “The Fake News is beside themselves that McCabe was caught, called out and fired. How many hundreds of thousands of dollars was given to wife’s campaign by Crooked H friend, Terry M, who was also under investigation? How many lies? How many leaks? Comey knew it all, and much more!” — Trump tweet.

 

THE FACTS: Some context is missing here. This is true: McCabe’s wife, Jill McCabe, ran as a Democrat for the Virginia state Senate in 2015, and the political action committee of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe gave her campaign $500,000 during her race. McAuliffe is a longtime associate of Hillary Clinton, branded “Crooked H” by Trump. Jill McCabe lost the race.

 

Trump’s complaint, as he spelled it out in the past, is that Clinton-linked money went to “the wife of the FBI agent who was in charge of her investigation.” But that timeline is wrong. Andrew McCabe was elevated to deputy FBI director and didn’t become involved in the Clinton email probe until after his wife’s bid for office was over. The FBI said McCabe’s promotion and supervisory position in the email investigation happened three months after the campaign.

The bureau also said in a statement at the time that McCabe sought guidance from agency ethics officers and recused himself from “all FBI investigative matters involving Virginia politics” throughout his wife’s campaign.

Lawmakers, Former Officials Weigh in on Firing of FBI’s McCabe

Lawmakers and former federal officials weighed in Saturday on the firing of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe late Friday by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who served under former President Barack Obama, tweeted “this is dangerous” when referring to McCabe’s ouster.

“Analyze McCabe firing on two levels: the substance and the timing. We don’t know enough about the substance yet. The timing appears cruel and a cave [capitulation] that compromised DOJ [Department of Justice] independence, to please an increasingly erratic President who should’ve played no role here,” Holder said on Twitter Saturday.

Former CIA Director John Brennan, who also served under Obama and has been a frequent critic of the Trump administration, aimed his Twitter remarks directly at President Donald Trump: “When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history,” he said. “America will triumph over you.”

A former FBI agent who worked closely with McCabe before his own retirement two years ago, Frank Montoya Jr., told Business Insider: “This is a political assassination on a good man and public servant. It is also a savage broadside on the institution he served.”

Montoya also questioned the timing of McCabe’s firing. 

“One does not get fired one day before one is eligible” for retirement, he said. “I’ve never heard of that happening before in 26 years of service.”

Critics applaud

Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, however, issued a statement Saturday that said McCabe’s actions had “tarnished” the FBI’s reputation.

“I applaud Attorney General Jeff Sessions for taking action and firing former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe prior to his scheduled retirement,” said Goodlatte, head of the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.

Former FBI Assistant Director Chris Swecker, who retired in 2006, said in a commentary for Fox News that McCabe’s firing “was justified because the FBI has a [sic] zero tolerance for lying under oath.”

“In fact,” he said, “there are many examples of the rank and file in the FBI losing their jobs and retirement benefits for violating these high standards.”

Lawmakers, Former Officials Weigh in on Firing of FBI’s McCabe

Lawmakers and former federal officials weighed in Saturday on the firing of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe late Friday by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who served under former President Barack Obama, tweeted “this is dangerous” when referring to McCabe’s ouster.

“Analyze McCabe firing on two levels: the substance and the timing. We don’t know enough about the substance yet. The timing appears cruel and a cave [capitulation] that compromised DOJ [Department of Justice] independence, to please an increasingly erratic President who should’ve played no role here,” Holder said on Twitter Saturday.

Former CIA Director John Brennan, who also served under Obama and has been a frequent critic of the Trump administration, aimed his Twitter remarks directly at President Donald Trump: “When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history,” he said. “America will triumph over you.”

A former FBI agent who worked closely with McCabe before his own retirement two years ago, Frank Montoya Jr., told Business Insider: “This is a political assassination on a good man and public servant. It is also a savage broadside on the institution he served.”

Montoya also questioned the timing of McCabe’s firing. 

“One does not get fired one day before one is eligible” for retirement, he said. “I’ve never heard of that happening before in 26 years of service.”

Critics applaud

Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, however, issued a statement Saturday that said McCabe’s actions had “tarnished” the FBI’s reputation.

“I applaud Attorney General Jeff Sessions for taking action and firing former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe prior to his scheduled retirement,” said Goodlatte, head of the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.

Former FBI Assistant Director Chris Swecker, who retired in 2006, said in a commentary for Fox News that McCabe’s firing “was justified because the FBI has a [sic] zero tolerance for lying under oath.”

“In fact,” he said, “there are many examples of the rank and file in the FBI losing their jobs and retirement benefits for violating these high standards.”

Analysts Predict Tougher Stance on Iran, North Korea Under Pompeo

With Rex Tillerson’s abrupt firing as U.S. secretary of state Tuesday, the focus is now on President Donald Trump’s choice to take his place, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, and what this change would mean for U.S. foreign policy.

“He had a lot of ‘face time’ with President Trump. He impressed Trump, is a loyalist. So you’ll have a loyal foreign policy out of the State Department,”  Ariel Cohen of the Atlantic Council said. “You also have somebody with an intelligence and military background.”

WATCH: Under Pompeo Analysts Expect More Reliance on US Military Strength

Congressional confirmation hearings for the secretary of state nominee will be held next month, with Pompeo possibly taking the helm of the State Department just weeks after the Trump administration agreed to enter into talks with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

Days ago, in an emotional farewell at the State Department briefing room, Tillerson cited what he views as one of the achievements of his tenure, the success of the U.S.-led maximum pressure campaign of sanctions on North Korea.

“First, working with allies, we exceeded the expectations of almost everyone with the DPRK maximum pressure campaign,” Tillerson said Tuesday, just hours after his reported firing.

Pompeo and Pyongyang

Tillerson’s designated replacement, Pompeo, has often taken a hardline approach to North Korea, emphasizing the existential threat Pyongyang’s nuclear missiles pose to cities on the U.S mainland.

“We have a threat from flash points that something could spark and have a conventional war, right, wholly apart from the issues we talk about with ICBMs and nuclear,” Pompeo told the Senate Intelligence Committee last May.

The CIA director has been loyal to the president, and after Trump’s surprise announcement last week that he is willing to meet with North Korea’s Kim, he went on several news shows to voice his support for the decision.

“President Trump isn’t doing this for theater. He’s going to solve a problem,” Pompeo told Fox News Sunday. 

“Kim Jong Un now has committed to stopping nuclear testing, stopping missile tests, allowing exercises to go forward, something that has been incredibly contentious in the past,” he said, calling Pyongyang’s commitments “real achievements.”

Hardline on Iran

The former Republican congressman has been a vocal critic of the landmark Iran nuclear deal ever since it was signed in 2015.

“The (deal) can perhaps delay Iran’s nuclear weapons program for a few years. … Conversely, it has virtually guaranteed that Iran will have the freedom to build an arsenal of nuclear weapons at the end of the commitment,” Pompeo wrote in opposition to the deal while serving as a U.S. representative.

In 2016 he tweeted, “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.” His personal Twitter account has since been deactivated.

Based on his past tough statements on North Korea, China and Iran, many analysts say Pompeo, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, will likely rely more on U.S. military strength, and be less supportive of international agreements than Tillerson.

Pompeo has made statements advocating “regime change” in Iran and North Korea.

“I think Pompeo is more of a hawk, more of a Trumpian, more of this sort of new wave of what I would call American nationalism, and we see countries becoming more nationalistic all over the world,” Atlantic Council’s Cohen said.

And some worry that Pompeo’s confirmation makes it more likely the United States will pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, and subsequently jeopardize any diplomatic efforts with Pyongyang.

“There is no way in the world that throwing out a valid agreement (the Iran nuclear deal) that is working would increase your negotiating leverage with North Korea,” said Thomas Countryman, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation. “Rather, it should cause the North Korean leader to ask himself, How can I sign any agreement with the president who’s prepared to break every previous agreement?’”

Countryman told VOA he is concerned about the shake-up at the State Department, because he believes Tillerson has good instincts on foreign policy and was a moderating influence on Trump.

Pompeo on Russian meddling

When it comes to Russia, Pompeo has gone further than Trump in calling out Moscow for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

“It’s pretty clear about what took place here about Russian involvements in efforts to hack information and to have an impact on American democracy,” Pompeo told a Senate panel at his confirmation hearing to become the CIA director in January 2017.

But he also met with the heads of Russia’s three intelligence services during their unprecedented visit to Washington earlier this year.

Pompeo has said Russian interference had no impact on the outcome of the 2016 race for the White House, which is not something U.S. intelligence agencies say they are even qualified to assess.

Trump Signs Taiwan Travel Act

U.S. President Donald Trump has signed legislation that encourages U.S. officials to travel to Taiwan to meet their counterparts and vice versa, a move that has angered China.

The president signed the Taiwan Travel Act late Friday.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry said Saturday that the self-ruled island’s government would “continue to uphold the principles of mutual trust and mutual benefit to maintain close contact and communication with the U.S.”

U.S. and Taiwan officials already travel back and forth between the two countries, but the visits are usually kept low profile to avoid offending China.

China considers Taiwan a wayward province and seeks the island’s reunification with China.

After Trump signed the legislation, the Chinese embassy said in a statement that clauses in the travel act “severely violate the one-China principle, the political foundation of the China-U.S. relationship.”

China said the Taiwan Travel Act violated U.S. commitments not to restore direct official contacts with Taiwan that were severed when Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.

Trump Signs Taiwan Travel Act

U.S. President Donald Trump has signed legislation that encourages U.S. officials to travel to Taiwan to meet their counterparts and vice versa, a move that has angered China.

The president signed the Taiwan Travel Act late Friday.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry said Saturday that the self-ruled island’s government would “continue to uphold the principles of mutual trust and mutual benefit to maintain close contact and communication with the U.S.”

U.S. and Taiwan officials already travel back and forth between the two countries, but the visits are usually kept low profile to avoid offending China.

China considers Taiwan a wayward province and seeks the island’s reunification with China.

After Trump signed the legislation, the Chinese embassy said in a statement that clauses in the travel act “severely violate the one-China principle, the political foundation of the China-U.S. relationship.”

China said the Taiwan Travel Act violated U.S. commitments not to restore direct official contacts with Taiwan that were severed when Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.

Under Pompeo Analysts Expect More Reliance on US Military Strength

Following Rex Tillerson’s abrupt firing as secretary of state Tuesday, many around the world are turning their attention to President Donald Trump’s designee to take his place: CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Whether it be Iran, North Korea or Russia, analysts say Pompeo’s views are more in sync with Trump’s than Tillerson’s were, and — like the president — Pompeo favors U.S. military strength over the “soft power” of diplomacy. VOA Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine has more.

White House Says Staffers Shouldn’t Be Concerned About Firings

No one is getting fired right now. That is what the White House is telling reporters and its own jittery staff.

Chief of Staff John Kelly gathered some personnel Friday and told them “people shouldn’t be concerned,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. “We should do exactly what we do every day, and that’s come to work and do the very best job that we can.”

Sanders took to Twitter on Thursday night to rebut breaking news stories that President Donald Trump had decided to remove national security adviser H.R. McMaster.

“I spoke directly to the president last night,” Sanders told reporters Friday. “He asked me to pass that message along to General McMaster. I know the two of them have been in meetings today. Whether or not that came up, I don’t know.”

A little while later, McMaster was seen escorting guests out of the West Wing entrance.

“Sarah set it straight yesterday. Everybody has got to leave the White House at some point,” he said.

Asked by a reporter whether he was leaving sooner rather than later, McMaster replied, “I’m doing my job.”

​Media reports on dismissal

The Washington Post and several other news organizations have reported the three-star general’s removal from the key post had already been decided by Trump, but it is not yet being announced to spare McMaster embarrassment.

There is also speculation the president will award the general a fourth star and send him back into the field to command troops, perhaps on the Korean Peninsula.

Trump has made little effort to hide his frustration with the active-duty career officer who is regarded as an iconoclastic battle veteran.

McMaster, according to White House insiders, also seems eager to leave, fed up with an unconventional administration and flummoxed by a commander-in-chief with whom he has failed to bond.

The president chastised McMaster last month after the national security adviser said Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election was “incontrovertible.”

“General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems,” Trump tweeted.

Reports of McMaster’s impending removal followed the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson this week.

‘There will always be change’

There is also intense speculation that several members of the president’s Cabinet could be short-timers, primarily because of bad publicity about costly and dubious travel, as well as questionable cosmetic but expensive office modifications.

“There will always be change,” Trump told reporters Thursday. “And I think you want to see change. I want to also see different ideas.”

If the president follows through in replacing him, McMaster will become the second national security adviser to leave the job since Trump took office. 

The first one, retired Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, was fired weeks into his tenure in 2017 after misleading White House officials about contacts with Russians.

Flynn has made a plea deal with federal prosecutors for lying about conversations with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and is bound to fully cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian government efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Mueller’s team appears to be examining a wide range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses, as well as those of his associates, and now has reportedly issued a subpoena for records from the Trump Organization. 

Some States Adopt ‘Red Flag’ Laws in Bid to Stem Gun Violence  

Last month, San Diego police knocked on Brandon Snyder’s door and took away his rifle. They did it using a new tool: an emergency protective order issued by a court, just like orders that for years have been used to prevent spousal abuse or stalking.

California is one of only two states that allow family members to seek a gun restraining order when they see warning signs that a gun owner might pose a danger to himself or others. Five other states allow only police officers to seek gun proactive orders. Nearly 20 other states are considering such measures.

In the wake of last month’s mass shooting at a Florida high school, many on both sides of the gun debate — from firearms control advocates to gun lobbyists — see so-called “red flag” laws like California’s as a politically viable solution to gun violence. And they’re pushing more states to adopt them.

Co-workers of Snyder, 31, a mechanic at a car dealership, became alarmed after he praised Las Vegas mass shooter Stephen Paddock for not “committing suicide until he’d gunned down enough people to set a modern record,” said Mara Elliott, San Diego’s top prosecutor.

That wasn’t all.

“What he told his co-workers is, if it was up to him, he’d have shot up a mosque and then shot it out with the cops,” recalled Elliott, whose office investigated the case.

Snyder, facing the prospect of dismissal, told his Ford dealership colleagues that if he was let go, he’d return with a gun. A co-worker called police.

Semiautomatic rifle surrendered

Unable to charge Snyder with a crime, prosecutors obtained an emergency firearms protective order. On February 27, he surrendered his semiautomatic rifle and “significant killing capability,” Elliott said.

“We take no chances,” she told VOA.

Snyder could not be immediately reached for comment. Tom Nicholl, the general manager of the dealership where Snyder worked, did not respond to requests for comment.

In the United States, where many citizens take their constitutional right to own firearms very seriously, removing a gun from a lawful owner is no easy task. But San Diego has done it 19 times in the past three months under California’s three-year-old law.

And Elliott said it’s working.

The law “gives people the opportunity to speak up and get a response before waiting for a crime or tragedy to happen,” the prosecutor said.

Last week, Florida passed a gun law that allows police officers, though not family members, to obtain gun restraining orders.

The state’s two senators, one a Republican and one a Democrat, recently introduced a bill in Congress that incentivizes states to adopt gun restraining order laws. The White House has spoken out for the measure.

In an about-face, the National Rifle Association (NRA), the nation’s main gun lobby, has thrown its support behind it.

“We need to stop dangerous people before they act, so Congress should provide funding for states to adopt risk protection orders,” Chris Cox, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, said in a video message last week.

Does it work?

However, hard evidence that gun restraining orders are effective remains thin. In recent years, there has been only one major study on the topic, and it focused on the law’s effectiveness in preventing suicide in Connecticut.

The 2016 study, widely cited by gun control advocates, showed that for every 10 to 20 gun restraining orders issued in the state from 1999 to 2013, a life was saved.

Though the NRA has come on board, other gun rights advocates say treatment, not gun seizure, is the answer to dealing with gun owners who show signs of trouble.

“If you really believe somebody is a danger to themselves or others, then you ought to think about involuntarily committing them to some type of mental health facility,” said John Lott, an economist and founder of the right-leaning Crime Prevention Research Center.

Others worry that gun protection order laws may infringe on free speech, due process and other constitutional rights.

“I don’t want a police officer simply judging somebody’s talk to be sufficient to seize their arms,” said Peter Langrock, a Vermont lawyer who says he’s not a supporter of the NRA.

Right balance

But supporters of gun restraining orders say the law strikes the right balance between public safety and civil liberties.

“The due process goes into balancing public safety,” said John Hemmerling, a prosecutor in the San Diego city attorney’s office.”The due process plays itself out within 21 days.”

On March 20 — 21 days after giving up his rifle — Snyder will have his day in court, where a judge will hear his side of the story and decide whether to allow Snyder to retrieve his gun or extend the restraining order for up to a year.

Researcher Lynn Davis contributed to this report.

Experts: Pennsylvania Race Shows Need for US Voting Machine Upgrades

Pennsylvania’s tight congressional special election underscores the need for states to replace aging voting machines and use paper ballots as backups to ensure the integrity of vote counts ahead of pivotal November U.S. midterm elections, election security advocates said on Wednesday.

Democrat Conor Lamb led Republican Rick Saccone by only a few hundred votes out of nearly 230,000 cast in the closely watched U.S. House of Representatives election on Tuesday in western Pennsylvania.

With many states using antiquated voting machines and with concerns about potential interference in U.S. elections by Russia or other actors, there is rising concern among experts about the need to safeguard American balloting.

“At the end of the day, the winners need be assured that they won and the losers need to know that they lost,” said former Pennsylvania election official Marian Schneider, president of Verified Voting, a group that advocates for

auditable elections.

While there have been no issues raised about the integrity of the Pennsylvania race, election security experts said the razor-thin margin highlighted the importance of protecting voting machines from tampering, failure or human error.

“Whenever you are talking about computers, there are risks” of tampering or programming error, Schneider said.

In the face of federal inaction on election security, nearly every state has taken steps since the 2016 election to purchase more secure equipment, expand the use of paper ballots, improve cyber training or seek federal assistance, according to groups that track election security.

Voting systems that do not produce a paper backup of a ballot, which election officials can use to check electronic tabulations, are more difficult to audit for signs of tampering or error, according to experts.

The four counties where voters cast ballots on Tuesday are among the 50 Pennsylvania counties, out of a total of 67, that use voting machines without an auditable paper trail, according to Verified Voting.

“With paper, you can recount or audit that paper and carefully check the performance of the voting system, ensuring that the electronic result would match what a full hand count would show,” said Joseph Lorenzo Hall, an election security expert with the Center for Democracy & Technology.

“Without a paper audit trail, any recount is just like hitting enter on the keyboard over and over again: You get the same answer and you have no clue if that answer is correct,” Hall added.

Probing by Russia

The Department of Homeland Security said last year that 21 of the 50 states had experienced initial probing of their election systems from Russian hackers and that a small number of networks were compromised, but that there remains no evidence any votes were actually altered.

U.S. intelligence agencies previously concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election through a campaign of propaganda and hacking to help Trump win. Russia has denied this.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, last month issued a directive requiring new voting machines in the state to have paper records of votes cast. Pennsylvania has not provided funding for counties to buy new equipment, making it unclear whether existing systems will be replaced before the November elections.

President Donald Trump, who in the past has raised questions about the integrity of American elections, endorsed the paper backups in elections as useful to protect against Russian meddling. Trump said at a news conference last Thursday that “it’s old-fashioned, but it’s always good to have a paper

back-up system of voting.”

But Congress, controlled by his fellow Republicans, has not provided funding to states to upgrade voting machines.

Democrats have introduced election security legislation and called for congressional hearings. Congressional Republicans have not acted on warnings from senior U.S. intelligence officials who said Russia is likely to target November’s midterm races in which Democrats are trying to seize control of the House of Representatives and Senate.

Some experts have warned that voter confidence could be undermined if states do not install newer machines that can be audited with a paper trail.

New Jersey, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina have no verifiable paper ballot backup across their states, though some are looking to purchase systems that provide such audits. Eight other states, including Pennsylvania, have some electoral districts without paper backups.

Reporting by Dustin Volz.

US Congress Weighs Next Steps in Gun Law Debate

What comes next in the U.S. Congress to address gun violence, after thousands of students walked out of their classrooms to demand action in the wake of the Florida school massacre? As VOA’s congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson reports, it appears there is still no clear path forward as lawmakers consider gun laws and how to deal with school safety.

US Congress Weighs Next Steps in Gun Law Debate

What comes next in the U.S. Congress to address gun violence, after thousands of students walked out of their classrooms to demand action in the wake of the Florida school massacre? As VOA’s congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson reports, it appears there is still no clear path forward as lawmakers consider gun laws and how to deal with school safety.

Experts: US, North Korea Heading for Collision Over Meaning of ‘Denuclearization’

A difference in how the United States and North Korea define denuclearization could potentially derail the summit scheduled for May between President Donald Trump and Kim Jon Un, according to experts.

Last week, Trump accepted North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s summit invitation, which was conveyed by South Korean envoys who had met with Kim in Pyongyang.

If the U.S. military threat to North Korea is removed and the safety of the Kim regime is guaranteed, the “North side clearly affirmed its commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” said South Korean National Security Chief Chung Eui-yong after meeting with Kim. Days later, Chung delivered Kim’s proposal to Trump.

WATCH: US Moving Forward with Proposed US- North Korea Talks

What is denuclearization

But the fate of the summit scheduled could hinge on the definition of denuclearize, which the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as “to remove nuclear arms from or prohibit the use of nuclear arms in” — in this case, North Korea.

In the past, Pyongyang has interpreted denuclearization as the removal of what it perceives as threats, including the U.S. nuclear umbrella over the Korean Peninsula, the U.S.-South Korea security alliance, and the presence of the U.S. troops in the South, according to experts, while Washington interprets denuclearization as the complete dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

“A rift in views of denuclearization could make Trump-Kim summit difficult and possibly even be canceled,” said Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

Evans Revere, a former State Department official who was involved in previous talks with North Korea, warned that Trump should not expect denuclearization to be the topic that Kim wants to discuss at the summit.

“A very complicated situation has just gotten a lot more complicated primarily because the invitation seems to have been accepted on the premise or with the assumption that the North Korean leader is interested in denuclearization, even though I see no evidence whatsoever that he’s actually interested in discussing denuclearization,” Revere said.

North Korea’s focus

North Korea will most likely attempt to shift the focus from dismantling its nuclear program to demanding the U.S. remove what North Korea perceives as threats posed against its regime as a condition for giving up its nuclear program, according to experts.

Withdrawing its military from the South, “will be unacceptable to the U.S.,” Manning said.

Ken Gause, director of the International Affairs Group at the Center for Naval Analyses, thinks divergent demands resulting from the differing views of denuclearization will prevent the U.S. from finding “a common ground to begin negotiations.”

Former State Department official Revere believes diplomatic progress will be severely impeded if Trump and Kim have different outcomes in mind.

“There is a rule in diplomacy that you never agree to a summit unless you understand the outcome that you are seeking in the summit, and your adversary also understands and agrees with the outcome that both parties are seeking. That doesn’t seem to be the case here,” Revere said.

​North Korea’s commitment

North Korea’s commitment to denuclearize is highly deceptive, according to Revere. 

“What Ambassador Chung, whom I have a lot of respect for, … heard from the North Koreans is not a commitment to denuclearization,” Revere said. “It’s a commitment to North Korea’s vision of the end of the U.S.-South Korean alliance and the end of the U.S. military presence. And that’s not an acceptable condition.”

North Korea has not made an official public pledge to give up its nuclear weapons program. The message that Pyongyang is willing to denuclearize was conveyed by the South Korean envoys who met with Kim. Without a direct statement from Kim, there is room to misinterpret North Korea’s definition of, and willingness to denuclearize, according to experts.

Manning warned that possible clashes over denuclearization at the summit could potentially lead to a diplomatic breakdown and raise the possibility of U.S. military action.

“There is a danger that if there is a Trump-Kim summit and President Trump feels played or betrayed, military action might be more likely,” Manning said.

“If diplomacy fails, the voices in the U.S. calling for military strikes will gain momentum,” Gause said. “The voices for diplomacy will be drowned out.”

Trilateral diplomacy

The trilateral diplomatic move began when South Korean envoys traveled to Pyongyang early in March at Kim’s invitation. Their trip was followed by the announcement of the inter-Korean summit to be held in April. The delegation then visited Washington to deliver Kim’s invitation for the U.S-North Korean summit that Trump agreed to have by May.

Youngnam Kim from VOA Korean Service contributed to this story.

 

Experts: US, North Korea Heading for Collision Over Meaning of ‘Denuclearization’

A difference in how the United States and North Korea define denuclearization could potentially derail the summit scheduled for May between President Donald Trump and Kim Jon Un, according to experts.

Last week, Trump accepted North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s summit invitation, which was conveyed by South Korean envoys who had met with Kim in Pyongyang.

If the U.S. military threat to North Korea is removed and the safety of the Kim regime is guaranteed, the “North side clearly affirmed its commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” said South Korean National Security Chief Chung Eui-yong after meeting with Kim. Days later, Chung delivered Kim’s proposal to Trump.

WATCH: US Moving Forward with Proposed US- North Korea Talks

What is denuclearization

But the fate of the summit scheduled could hinge on the definition of denuclearize, which the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as “to remove nuclear arms from or prohibit the use of nuclear arms in” — in this case, North Korea.

In the past, Pyongyang has interpreted denuclearization as the removal of what it perceives as threats, including the U.S. nuclear umbrella over the Korean Peninsula, the U.S.-South Korea security alliance, and the presence of the U.S. troops in the South, according to experts, while Washington interprets denuclearization as the complete dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

“A rift in views of denuclearization could make Trump-Kim summit difficult and possibly even be canceled,” said Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

Evans Revere, a former State Department official who was involved in previous talks with North Korea, warned that Trump should not expect denuclearization to be the topic that Kim wants to discuss at the summit.

“A very complicated situation has just gotten a lot more complicated primarily because the invitation seems to have been accepted on the premise or with the assumption that the North Korean leader is interested in denuclearization, even though I see no evidence whatsoever that he’s actually interested in discussing denuclearization,” Revere said.

North Korea’s focus

North Korea will most likely attempt to shift the focus from dismantling its nuclear program to demanding the U.S. remove what North Korea perceives as threats posed against its regime as a condition for giving up its nuclear program, according to experts.

Withdrawing its military from the South, “will be unacceptable to the U.S.,” Manning said.

Ken Gause, director of the International Affairs Group at the Center for Naval Analyses, thinks divergent demands resulting from the differing views of denuclearization will prevent the U.S. from finding “a common ground to begin negotiations.”

Former State Department official Revere believes diplomatic progress will be severely impeded if Trump and Kim have different outcomes in mind.

“There is a rule in diplomacy that you never agree to a summit unless you understand the outcome that you are seeking in the summit, and your adversary also understands and agrees with the outcome that both parties are seeking. That doesn’t seem to be the case here,” Revere said.

​North Korea’s commitment

North Korea’s commitment to denuclearize is highly deceptive, according to Revere. 

“What Ambassador Chung, whom I have a lot of respect for, … heard from the North Koreans is not a commitment to denuclearization,” Revere said. “It’s a commitment to North Korea’s vision of the end of the U.S.-South Korean alliance and the end of the U.S. military presence. And that’s not an acceptable condition.”

North Korea has not made an official public pledge to give up its nuclear weapons program. The message that Pyongyang is willing to denuclearize was conveyed by the South Korean envoys who met with Kim. Without a direct statement from Kim, there is room to misinterpret North Korea’s definition of, and willingness to denuclearize, according to experts.

Manning warned that possible clashes over denuclearization at the summit could potentially lead to a diplomatic breakdown and raise the possibility of U.S. military action.

“There is a danger that if there is a Trump-Kim summit and President Trump feels played or betrayed, military action might be more likely,” Manning said.

“If diplomacy fails, the voices in the U.S. calling for military strikes will gain momentum,” Gause said. “The voices for diplomacy will be drowned out.”

Trilateral diplomacy

The trilateral diplomatic move began when South Korean envoys traveled to Pyongyang early in March at Kim’s invitation. Their trip was followed by the announcement of the inter-Korean summit to be held in April. The delegation then visited Washington to deliver Kim’s invitation for the U.S-North Korean summit that Trump agreed to have by May.

Youngnam Kim from VOA Korean Service contributed to this story.

 

US Moving Forward with Proposed US- North Korea Talks

A major shakeup in U.S. President Donald Trump’s Cabinet has not derailed plans for an unprecedented meeting between the president and the leader of North Korea, according to the State Department. But foreign policy experts warn caution may be necessary. VOA’s Korean service spoke with a former CIA analyst on Korean issues about the high stakes summit. VOA’s Jesusemen Oni has more.

US Moving Forward with Proposed US- North Korea Talks

A major shakeup in U.S. President Donald Trump’s Cabinet has not derailed plans for an unprecedented meeting between the president and the leader of North Korea, according to the State Department. But foreign policy experts warn caution may be necessary. VOA’s Korean service spoke with a former CIA analyst on Korean issues about the high stakes summit. VOA’s Jesusemen Oni has more.

Barron Trump’s School Joins Others in Call for Gun Reforms

The private school that Barron Trump attends has joined other schools in calling for gun control.

 

St. Andrew’s Episcopal School and more than 100 schools in Maryland and the Washington area on Wednesday signed an open letter calling on Barron Trump’s father, Republican President Donald Trump, and Congress to support gun control measures and to reject arming teachers. The White House has proposed arming educators.

 

The schools support a “robust system of registration and background checks” with an emphasis on assault weapons. They also back stronger mental health services.

The letter was published as tens of thousands of students walked out of their classrooms Wednesday to demand action on gun violence and school safety. The walkout was triggered by the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

 

Trump Admits Making up Trade Claim in Trudeau Talk

President Donald Trump freestyled with the facts when talking trade with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The Republican described the discussion during a fundraising speech in St. Louis on Wednesday.

 

According to audio obtained by The Washington Post, Trump insisted that the United States runs a trade deficit with Canada.

 

Trump said Trudeau told him there was no trade deficit. Trump said he replied, “‘Wrong, Justin, you do.’ I didn’t even know. … I had no idea. I just said, ‘You’re wrong.'”

 

Trump claimed the figures don’t include timber and energy.

 

However, the Office of the United States Trade Representative says the United States has a trade surplus with Canada.

Trump Admits Making up Trade Claim in Trudeau Talk

President Donald Trump freestyled with the facts when talking trade with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The Republican described the discussion during a fundraising speech in St. Louis on Wednesday.

 

According to audio obtained by The Washington Post, Trump insisted that the United States runs a trade deficit with Canada.

 

Trump said Trudeau told him there was no trade deficit. Trump said he replied, “‘Wrong, Justin, you do.’ I didn’t even know. … I had no idea. I just said, ‘You’re wrong.'”

 

Trump claimed the figures don’t include timber and energy.

 

However, the Office of the United States Trade Representative says the United States has a trade surplus with Canada.

With Tillerson Out, Turkish Foreign Minister Delays US Visit

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s planned visit to Washington Monday has been postponed, his spokesman said Thursday, following the U.S. decision to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.

A planned visit Monday to Washington by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has been postponed. No reason was given but Cavusoglu had earlier described the meeting as key to resolving ongoing differences between the countries over Washington’s support of the Syrian Kurdish militia, the YPG, in its war against the Islamic State.

Ankara considers the militia terrorists linked to a Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey.

Turkey has been angered by Washington’s support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in the fight against Islamic State. Turkey sees the YPG as a terrorist group and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

There had been signs of an easing in strains between the NATO allies after a recent visit to Turkey by Tillerson, whom U.S. President Donald Trump sacked Tuesday as secretary of state.

But Turkish media has seized on a tweet purportedly made by Pompeo after a failed coup in July 2016, and before he became CIA director, which referred to Turkey as a “totalitarian Islamist dictatorship.” The tweet was later removed.

Turkey has been angered by the U.S. failure to extradite the Pennsylvania-based cleric whom Ankara blames for orchestrating that attempted putsch and by the conviction of a Turkish banker in an Iran sanctions-busting case.

With Tillerson Out, Turkish Foreign Minister Delays US Visit

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s planned visit to Washington Monday has been postponed, his spokesman said Thursday, following the U.S. decision to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.

A planned visit Monday to Washington by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has been postponed. No reason was given but Cavusoglu had earlier described the meeting as key to resolving ongoing differences between the countries over Washington’s support of the Syrian Kurdish militia, the YPG, in its war against the Islamic State.

Ankara considers the militia terrorists linked to a Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey.

Turkey has been angered by Washington’s support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in the fight against Islamic State. Turkey sees the YPG as a terrorist group and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

There had been signs of an easing in strains between the NATO allies after a recent visit to Turkey by Tillerson, whom U.S. President Donald Trump sacked Tuesday as secretary of state.

But Turkish media has seized on a tweet purportedly made by Pompeo after a failed coup in July 2016, and before he became CIA director, which referred to Turkey as a “totalitarian Islamist dictatorship.” The tweet was later removed.

Turkey has been angered by the U.S. failure to extradite the Pennsylvania-based cleric whom Ankara blames for orchestrating that attempted putsch and by the conviction of a Turkish banker in an Iran sanctions-busting case.