President Donald Trump on Thursday thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for slashing the number of U.S. diplomatic staff in Russia, “because now we have a smaller payroll.”
“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll and as far as I’m concerned I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people,” Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. “There’s no real reason for them to go back.”
Putin, reacting to new sanctions imposed by the U.S. Congress, on July 30 ordered Washington to cut 755 of its 1,200 embassy and consulate staff by September. Many of those affected are likely to be local Russian staffers.
It was unclear if Trump was joking in his comments, his first substantive reaction to Putin’s move.
Nicholas Burns, formerly the State Department’s third-ranking official, called Trump’s comments “grotesque.”
“If he was joking, he should know better,” said Burns, now a professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
“If he wasn’t, it’s unprecedented. A president has never defended the expulsion of our diplomats.”
Trump’s remarks are at odds with the State Department’s reaction to Putin’s order. A State Department official on July 30 called the Russian move “a regrettable and uncalled-for act.”
Trump also said he has not given any thought to the possibility of firing special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia.
The department notified the US Congress, which has 30 days to approve the deal, of the $593 million foreign military sale on 2 August. The package includes the aircraft, weapons, training, spare parts and facilities to support the program, according to a 3 August announced by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
In January 2017, a Nigerian Air Force fighter bombed a northeast refugee camp near the border with Cameroon, which reportedly killed at least 100 civilians. The attack prompted the Obama administration to put the Super Tucano sale on hold. The Trump Administration restarted the approval process a few months later, pushing for the sale to support Nigeria’s fight against the terrorist group Boko Haram.
Super Tucano operators will be trained not only in targeting, but in human rights and the law of armed conflict, a government official tells FlightGlobal. The training is part of an effort to assuage earlier concerns over the Nigerian Air Force’s actions.
The sale marks another victory for Embraer, which is flying the A-29 in the US Air Force’s light attack OA-X experiment this week at Holloman AFB, New Mexico.
While the recent deal marks a foreign military sale for Embraer’s aircraft, the USAF has also acquired a total of 26 A-29s since 2014 to transfer to the air forces of Lebanon and Afghanistan.
This is the second FMS deal for the Super Tucano following the sale to Lebanon. Embraer is also selling the Super Tucano independently of FMS and the USAF’s Building Partnership for Capacity program.
Russian officials bragged during the 2016 presidential campaign that they could use a cultivated relationship with Michael Flynn, then one of Donald Trump’s top advisers, to influence Trump, CNN reported on Saturday.
Russian officials claimed they had cultivated a strong relationship with Flynn and thought they could use it to influence the GOP candidate and his team, according to CNN’s report, which cited unnamed current and former government officials.One unnamed former official in President Barack Obama’s administration told CNN that “the way the Russians were talking about” Flynn was a “five-alarm fire from early on.”
Another former administration official told CNN that Flynn was regarded as a “potential national security problem,” though officials noted that Russian officials may have overstated their influence over Trump’s team.Flynn’s lawyer declined to comment to CNN.
The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Trumpaskedformer FBI Director James Comey to shut down his bureau’s investigation into Flynn, a request that Comey documented in a memo.
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump told Comey, according to the report.
“He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
On Thursday, tofurthercomplicate matters, Yahoo Newsreportedthat Flynn announced ata dinner in late April — months after he left the White House — that he “just got a message from the President to stay strong.”
Trump’s lawyershave repeatedly warned himnot to contact Flynn, and have reportedlyexpressed fearsthat any contact with the former national security adviser could look like witness tampering or coordination.Trump on Thursday categoricallydeniedpressuring former FBI director James Comey to end the FBI’s investigation into Flynn.“No. No. Next question,” he told a reporter.
The White House also issued a statement Thursday pushing back on the New York Times’ report,nearly a dayafter it was published.
DENSDOME- ISIS claimed responsibility for bombings that killed 43 at two Coptic churches in Egypt on Palm Sunday — strikes against a vulnerable minority on one of the most important days on the Christian calendar.
In a statement issued on the Telegram messaging platform and circulated by several ISIS supporters, the militant group identified the suicide bombers as Egyptian nationals. Egyptian authorities have not confirmed the bombers’ nationalities.
ISIS warned of more attacks in its statement. “The Crusaders and their apostate followers must be aware that the bill between us and them is very large, and they will be paying it like a river of blood from their sons, if God is willing,” the group said in Arabic.
A three-month state of emergency will be declared following the bombing, after legal and constitutional measures have been completed, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said Sunday.
How the attacks happened
The bombings came on the Sunday before Easter, the day that marks the start for response.
The first blast ripped through a Palm Sunday service at St. George’s Church in the northern city of Tanta, killing 27 people and wounding 78 others, state TV reported. An explosive device had been planted under a seat in the main prayer hall, it said.
News footage from Tanta showed people gathering at the church, singing hymns. The video then quickly switched to bars as harrowing screams and cries echo in the background.
“Everything is destroyed inside the church,” said Peter Kamel, who saw the aftermath of the bombing. Its marble pillars were covered with blood, he said.
Kamel said that most of the injured appeared to be priests and members of the choir.
Not long afterward, at least 16 people were killed and 41 others wounded in a suicide bomb attack outside St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria, according to two state news outlets.
Police officers who had been posted outside the church stopped a man wearing an explosive belt from entering the church, the Interior Ministry said. At least two officers, a man and a woman, were killed, along with civilians and other police staff.
Egyptian blogger Maged Butter said he saw five or six ambulances and bloodstains 100 meters away from the site of the explosion, which happened near the church gate.
He said women were crying and looking for their loved ones and were yelling at police for “not protecting” them.
“Every now and then, I see a person crying — I think they are Christian — and they keep saying: ‘have you seen my family? Have you seen my family?'” Butter said.
The Egyptian President declared three days of nationwide mourning following the suicide bombings.
In response to the attack, the country will form a supreme council to counter terrorism and extremism, Sisi said on state television Sunday after an emergency meeting of the country’s National Defense Council.
“We have to pay attention because of Egypt and Egypt’s future. We know this is a big sacrifice but we are capable of facing it,” he said.
“The attack will not undermine the resolve and true will of the Egyptian people to counter the forces of evil, but will only harden their determination to move forward on their trajectory to realize security, stability and comprehensive development,” the President said in a statement.
Nile and Masriya TV, Egyptian state outlets, aired black banners in the upper left of their newscasts to signify mourning for the victims of both explosions.
‘Bodies and body parts everywhere’
Fadi Sami heard about the Tanta bombing as he sat in the Alexandria cathedral on Sunday. The head of Egypt’s Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, was leading Palm Sunday prayers.
Though no one announced the Tanta news, Sami said he could hear the sadness in the pope’s voice. He left as the pope finished the sermon. Twenty minutes later, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the gate of the church.
“I came back and the area was covered in smoke. The stores around the church were all destroyed,” he said. “There were bodies and body parts everywhere, outside and inside the gate. I saw a man put together what was left of his son in a bag.”
Alexandria sits on the Mediterranean and has a large Christian population. Downtown is usually busy but was relatively quiet on Sunday because of the holiday. “Thank God it is a Sunday, and many shops are closed,” Butter said.
A persecuted minority
Copts in Egypt have faced persecution and discrimination that has spiked since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011. Dozens have been killed in sectarian violence. In December, an attack at a Coptic church in Cairo killed 25 people.
Coptic churches and homes have been set on fire, members of the Coptic minority have been physically attacked, and their property has been looted, rights group Amnesty International reported in March.
Coptic Christians make up about 10% of Egypt’s population of 91 million. They base their theology on the teachings of the apostle Mark, who introduced Christianity to Egypt. Tanta is roughly 60 miles (96 kilometers) north of Cairo, in the Nile delta.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the attacks and offered his sympathies to the victims and to the country in a statement through a spokesman.
Guterres “wishes a quick recovery to those injured and hopes that the perpetrators of this horrific terrorist act will be swiftly identified and brought to justice,” said the spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric.
The US State Department also issued a rebuke, calling the bombings “barbaric attacks on Christian places of worship.”
“The United States will continue to support Egypt’s security and stability in its efforts to defeat terrorism,” said acting spokesperson Mark Toner.
The bombings came days after US President Donald Trump welcomed Sisi to Washington and expressed his support for Egypt. Among the topics of mutual concern were terrorism and ISIS. Trump condemned Sunday’s attacks on Twitter and said he has “great confidence Sisi will handle the situation properly.”
Sisi met Saturday with a US congressional delegation led by US Rep. Darrell Issa, the Egyptian government said. The meeting addressed Egypt’s counterterrorism efforts and a strategy to fight terror while encouraging religious tolerance and acceptance of others.
On Sunday, President Trump called Sisi from Air Force One to offer his condolences, a senior administration official told CNN.
Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Cairo this month, where he will meet with various religious leaders, including the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church. He expressed his grief after the church attack.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby called the attacks “evil” and urged people to pray for the victims. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin condemned the attacks and offered his condolences to Sisi, according to Russia’s state-run Tass.
DENSDOME– While much of the world is applauding President Donald Trump’s decision to strike a Syrian airbase in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack against civilians, right-wing populist supporters at home and abroad are criticizing the move and distancing themselves from him.
Nigel Farage, the pro-Brexit leader, aligned himself with Trump during last year’s campaign, spoke at his rallies and was among the first to meet with him after his election. On Friday morning, however, he said he was “very surprised” by the Syria action.
“I think a lot of Trump voters will be waking up this morning and scratching their heads and saying, ‘Where will it all end?'” he said. “As a firm Trump supporter, I say, yes, the pictures were horrible, but I’m surprised,” Farage continued, arguing that in a region riven by Islamic extremism, “whatever Assad’s sins, he is secular.”
Farage’s comments captured the wave of right-wing anger and frustration that followed the US strike — and they pointed up an odd reversal.
Populists who applauded Trump for his disdain for US interventions overseas and his campaign declaration that the US “cannot be the policeman of the world” were aghast by the strike. In contrast, an international community that has often held Trump at arm’s length stepped up to declare their rock-solid support for the new US president.
French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel — with whom Trump has had particularly chilly relations — said that Syrian President Bashar al “Assad is entirely responsible for the development of the situation.” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg agreed and added that any use of chemical weapons “cannot go unanswered.” The Syrian chemical attack on a rebel-held town killed more than 80 people and injured more than 500, according to a Syrian Civil Defense report on the attacks.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that his government “fully supports the United States’ limited and focused action to degrade the Assad regime’s ability to launch chemical weapons attacks against innocent civilians.” And Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his country supported the US resolve.
United Kingdom Defense Secretary Michael Fallon told the BBC that “we fully support what the Americans have done,” adding that the strike was “limited and wholly appropriate.”
This made for a stark contrast to Farage, who urged Britain not to get involved in any further strikes. “Previous interventions in the Middle East have made things worse rather than better,” Farage said.
The current leader of Farage’s Independence Party, Paul Nuttall, said the strike was “rash, trigger-happy, nonsensical and will achieve nothing. I hoped for better.”
“The whole world rightly condemns the use of chemical weapons in Syria, but the US attack on the Assad regime does nothing to lower tensions, nor will it hasten peace in that country,” Nuttall said. “Too often, rash responses to horrific situations are about the conscience of the attacker rather than a clear-headed response to an awful situation.”
Syrians react to US strike
In France, National Front leader Marine Le Pen also appeared to distance herself from Trump, saying on Twitter that she “strongly condemned” the “horrible” strike on the Syrian airbase.
“Is it too much to ask that we wait for the results of an independent international investigation before carrying out a strike like this in Syria?” she told France 2 television on Friday.
Populist leaders within the US registered their disapproval as well. “I’m deeply concerned that these strikes could lead to the United States once again being dragged back into the quagmire of long-term military engagement in the Middle East,” said Vermont’s Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders. “If the last 15 years have shown anything, it’s that such engagements are disastrous for American security, for the American economy and for the American people.”
Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, a staunch advocate for keeping the US out of foreign entanglements, called on Trump to consult on Congress. “While we all condemn the atrocities in Syria, the United States was not attacked,” Paul said. “The President needs congressional authorization for military action as required by the Constitution, and I call on him to come to Congress for a proper debate.”
Conservative foreign policy experts who often support the President’s positions also expressed dismay. John Glaser, the Cato Institute’s associate director of foreign policy studies, said that “Trump’s decision to attack the Syrian regime has no legal authority and little chance of actually mitigating the suffering of Syrians caught in the civil war.”
Glaser went on the say that “the key now is to see whether Trump will be able to resist the temptation to escalate and avoid the kind of mission creep that has sucked the United States into hopeless Middle East quagmires in the past.”
Further to the right on the political spectrum, Trump’s alt-right populist supporters in the US also condemned the missile attack. “I guess Trump wasn’t ‘Putin’s puppet’ after all, he was just another deep state/Neo-Con puppet. I’m officially OFF the Trump train,” Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson said.
“It’s been fun lads, but the fun is over,” he said in a post on Twitter. “I will be focusing my efforts on Le Pen, who tried to warn Trump against this disaster.”
Right-wing commentator Ann Coulter, who campaigned for Trump, wrote on Twitter: “Those who wanted us meddling in the Middle East voted for other candidates.”
“Trump campaigned on not getting involved in Mideast,” she wrote. “Said it always helps our enemies & creates more refugees. Then he saw a picture on TV.”
And former Brietbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, who recently resigned in disgrace over comments that appeared to defend pedophilia, wrote on Twitter, “There comes a day in every child’s life when his Daddy bitterly disappoints him.”
Donald Trump Kicks Off Sexual Assault Awareness Month By Defending Bill O’Reilly
The president said the Fox News host “shouldn’t have settled” in lawsuits accusing O’Reilly of sexual harassment.
President Donald Trump said he doesn’t think Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who has been accused of sexual harassment by several women, did anything wrong.
In an interview with The New York Times on Wednesday, Trump defended O’Reilly after the Times reported that O’Reilly or Fox News paid five women a total of about $13 million to settle claims of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior over the years.
“I think he’s a person I know well — he is a good person,” Trump said on Wednesday.
“I think he shouldn’t have settled; personally, I think he shouldn’t have settled,” Trump added. “Because you should have taken it all the way. I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”
O’Reilly has so far stayed silent on the scandal, despite losing at least 15 advertisers for “The O’Reilly Factor,” his primetime Fox News show.
Trump’s comments echo statements he made about former Fox News chief Roger Ailes in July 2016, amid another sexual harassment scandal at the network. Trump claimed Ailes’ accusers had received help from Ailes and then said “these horrible things about him.”
“It’s very sad. Because he’s a very good person. I’ve always found him to be just a very, very good person. And by the way, a very, very talented person. Look what he’s done. So I feel very badly,” Trump told NBC.
More than a dozen women have accused Trump himself of sexual assault. Trump called them liars and threatened to sue them after the 2016 presidential election ended, but so far has taken no legal action.
The Washington Post unearthed a video in October of Trump claiming he can grab women “by the pussy” because he is a celebrity. He dismissed the comment, which was made in 2005, as “locker room talk.”
Last week, Trump declared April National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.
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The Russian ambassador to the United Nations died after suffering cardiac arrest in Manhattan Monday morning, a day before his 65th birthday, sources told The Post.
Vitaly Churkin fell ill at his office at the Russian Mission to the U.N. on East 67th Street around 9:30 a.m. and was unconscious when emergency personnel arrived, sources said.
Churkin was given CPR and taken to New York Presbyterian Hospital in serious condition.
He was pronounced dead at 10:55 a.m., sources added.
Churkin had served as Russia’s permanent representative to the U.N. since 2006.
His death was announced Monday, followed by a moment of silence, at a routine meeting on General Assembly matters.
Many of Churkin’s colleagues took to social media to express their condolences.
“Shocked and saddened to learn that Ambassador Vitaly Churkin passed away. A top diplomat and a good friend,” Russian Ambassador to the UK Alexander Yakovenko tweeted.
Netherlands’ UN Ambassador Karel van Oosterom wrote: “Emotional announcement at UN of passing away this morning of PermRep Russia Churkin and moment of commemoration and condolences.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed Churkin “unexpectedly died” but provided no details as to how he died.
It called him an “outstanding” envoy.
Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a Facebook post that Churkin was “an extraordinary person. A bright man. We have lost a dear one.”
President Vladimir Putin was notified of his death, state news agency TASS reported.
“The president was grieved to learn about the death of Vitaly Churkin. The head of state highly estimated Churkin’s professionalism and diplomatic talents,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to the agency.
Churkin was currently the longest-serving member of the Security Council, the UN’s most powerful body.
“He has been such a regular presence here that I am actually quite stunned. Our thoughts go to his family, to his friends and to his government,” said Farhan Haq, a spokesman for the UN secretary-general’s office.
Churkin was a staunch supporter of Russian policy, including its bombing of Aleppo in Syria last year.
He slammed US Ambassador Samantha Power for acting like “Mother Teresa” – while noting America’s track record in the Middle East — after she lambasted Russia, Syria and Iran over the Aleppo crisis.
Power also reacted to Churkin’s sudden death.
“Devastated by passing of Russian UN Amb Vitaly Churkin.Diplomatic maestro &deeply caring man who did all he cld to bridge US-RUS differences,” she tweeted.
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who earlier this month blamed Russia for the spike in violence in eastern Ukraine and said sanctions wouldn’t be lifted until Moscow returned Crimea to Kiev, issued a statement calling Churkin “a gracious colleague.”
“We did not always see things the same way, but he unquestionably advocated his country’s positions with great skill,” she said. “We send our prayers and heartfelt condolences to lift up his family and to the Russian people.”
Churkin previously worked in the foreign ministry in Moscow.