Trump says US to issue Khashoggi report early next week

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) – U.S. President Donald Trump said Saturday the U.S. will issue a "very full report" on the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi early next week.

The report, which Trump said will be released either on Monday or Tuesday, is slated to assess what "we think the overall impact was and who caused it, and who did it."

Trump earlier spoke with CIA Director Gina Haspel, who briefed him on the agency's findings in the case. Trumps said the CIA has not "assessed anything yet. It’s too early,” after the Washington Post first reported on Friday the CIA determined with high confidence Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman ordered Khashoggi's killing.

The State Department also denied reports the administration has made a final conclusion, calling them "inaccurate."

"There remain numerous unanswered questions with respect to the murder of Mr. Khashoggi," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. "The State Department will continue to seek all relevant facts. In the meantime, we will continue to consult Congress, and work with other nations to hold accountable those involved in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi."

Khashoggi was killed shortly after he entered the Saudi consulate general in Istanbul Oct. 2.

Saudi Arabia had offered shifting explanations for Khashoggi's disappearance before suggesting he was killed during a botched rendition operation by rogue agents.

His body has yet to be returned to his family, which has been seeking its return, amid reports that it was chemically dissolved.

The U.S. earlier this week sanctioned 17 people tied to Khashoggi's murder, including the Saudi Consul General in Istanbul Mohammad al-Otaibi. But bin Salman, the de facto Saudi leader, was not among the designated individuals amid widespread speculation the hit could not have been carried out without his consent.

Nauert alluded to the U.S. action as well as previously announced visa penalties on the Saudi suspects, saying Washington has already "taken decisive measures against the individuals responsible."

"We will continue to explore additional measures to hold those accountable who planned, led and were connected to the murder. And, we will do that while maintaining the important strategic relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia," she said.

Earlier Saturday, Senator Bob Corker who chairs the pivotal Foreign Relations Committee cast doubt that anyone besides bin Salman could have been responsible for ordering Khashoggi's muder.

"Everything points to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, MbS, ordering @washingtonpost journalist Jamal #Khashoggi's killing. The Trump administration should make a credible determination of responsibility before MbS executes the men who apparently carried out his orders," he said on Twitter, alluding to Riyadh's announcement that it would seek the death penalty for five of the 11 suspects charged with Khashoggi's murder.

Advertisements

Iraq, Iran seek to boost trade ties despite sanctions

By Ibrahim Salih and Ali Mohamed

BAGHDAD (AA) – Iraq and Iran are seeking to bolster the volume of their trade exchange, Iraqi President Barham Salih said Saturday.

“We have close relations with Iran and we are keen on developing them,” Salih told a press conference following his talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the capital Tehran.

“It’s time to establish a regional system that serves peoples of the region,” he said.

“We want Iraq to be an area for conciliation between the region’s countries, not an area for conflict,” he said, in reference to the current tension between the U.S. and Iran.

Salih’s visit to Iran is the first by the Iraqi president since he assumed office last month.

Rouhani, for his part, said his talks with the Iraqi leader tackled energy cooperation between the two countries.

“We also discussed the extension of a rail line between the Iranian city of Shalamjah and Basra in southern Iraq,” he said.

“We seek to increase the volume of the trade exchange with Iraq to $20 billion annually,” Rouhani said.

The remarks by the Iraqi and Iranian leaders come against recent sanctions imposed by the U.S. against Iran.

The U.S. has issued Iraq a 45-day waiver from U.S. sanctions on Iran for natural gas and electricity imports, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad announced last week.

Iraq, which is struggling with electricity outages and insufficient power generation, is reliant on its neighbor for natural gas imports for its power stations.

The second wave of renewed U.S. sanctions on OPEC's third largest exporter officially started Nov. 5, targeting Iran's energy, shipbuilding, shipping and financial sectors.

The Donald Trump administration also granted China, Greece, India, Turkey, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan a 180-day waiver for Iranian oil imports.

Ex-member of FETO-linked foundation brought to Turkey

By Izzet Taskiran

ISTANBUL (AA) – A former executive of Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO)-linked foundation in the U.S. has been brought to Turkey on Friday, according to security sources.

Mehmet Salih Gozegir was deported from the U.S. on Thursday after he was found guilty of sexual abuse of children, said a security source, who asked not to be named due to restrictions on speaking to the media.

Gozegir arrived at Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul from Houston under security escort, the source said, adding he was later referred to police headquarters in the city.

He was one of the board members of the Raindrop Foundation — one of the umbrella organizations of FETO in the U.S. — in 2014. He was detained following a police raid in 2015.

Gozegir, who was in the U.S. for his medical education, was released on $50,000 bail pending trial.

He was expelled from board membership in the foundation and his deportation was decided in June 2018.

The Raindrop Foundation has been operating as the umbrella institution uniting many schools and foundations belonging to FETO.

FETO and its U.S.-based leader Fetullah Gulen orchestrated the defeated coup on July 15, 2016, which left 251 people martyred and nearly 2,200 injured.

Ankara also accuses FETO of being behind a long-running campaign to overthrow the state through the infiltration of Turkish institutions, particularly the military, police, and judiciary.

US judge orders White House to return Acosta pass

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) – A federal judge in Washington ordered the Donald Trump administration on Friday to immediately return the White House credential for CNN's Jim Acosta.

"I want to thank all of my colleagues in the press who supported us this week," Acosta said outside of the federal court house shortly after U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Kelly issued his decision. "Let’s get back to work."

The decision is not the final word in CNN's lawsuit over the matter. The network had requested Acosta's "hard pass," which grants journalist's White House access, be returned while the legal action goes forward, to which Kelly, an appointee of U.S. President Donald Trump, agreed Friday by issuing a temporary restraining order.

CNN is suing on the basis that Acosta's constitutional rights were allegedly violated by the White House when it suspended indefinitely his credential. At issue in CNN's suit are the First and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantee a free press and due process respectively.

The Trump administration has argued it has "broad discretion" in granting White House access to journalists covering the president as it sought to justify the removal of Acosta's credential following a heated exchange with Trump.

Journalists threw their support behind Acosta with nearly a dozen news outlets including CNN's chief television rival, Fox News, saying they would be filing a court brief in support of the suit.

"We are gratified with this result and we look forward to a full resolution in the coming days. Our sincere thanks to all who have supported not just CNN, but a free, strong and independent American press," CNN said in a joint statement with Acosta.

CNN has been a frequent target of Trump's furor against media outlets, which he calls "fake news" and "the enemy of the people."

Bahrain to purchase military helicopters from US firm

By Mohamed al-Rayes

MANAMA (AA) – Bahrain has signed an agreement with a U.S. manufacturing firm for the purchase of 12 military-grade helicopters for a total of $912 million, the Bahrain News Agency (BNA) reported late Thursday.

The deal with Texas-based Bell Helicopter calls for a first batch of AH-1Z Viper helicopters to be delivered to Bahrain by the end of 2022.

“The AH-1Z boasts modern and sophisticated combat capabilities,” BNA quoted Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa, commander of Bahrain’s Royal Guard Special Force, as saying.

“Bahrain will become the second country in the world to use the aircraft after the U.S.,” he added.

Al Khalifa went on to note that the deal also includes training and logistical services.

Bahrain is currently suffering from a financial crisis for which it is receiving support from fellow Arab Gulf states Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.

US judge delays decision in CNN press access lawsuit

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) – A federal judge on Thursday delayed an initial ruling in a case brought by CNN against the Trump administration over the White House's suspension of a CNN reporter's credentials.

After hearing roughly two hours of arguments on Wednesday, Judge Timothy J. Kelly said he would issue his decision at 3 p.m. local time (2000GMT) on Thursday, but delayed the announcement until Friday morning at 10 a.m. (1500GMT).

CNN is seeking to have the judge force the administration to immediately return Jim Acosta's hard pass.

The White House claimed in court documents filed Wednesday it has "broad discretion" in granting White House access to journalists covering the president as it sought to justify the removal of Acosta's credential.

The White House initially sought to justify its action by saying the reporter placed "his hands on" an intern who was trying to take his microphone from him during a heated exchange with U.S. President Donald Trump last week. Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders later released what appears to be a doctored video to substantiate the claim.

She walked the assertion back in her response to CNN's suit that was filed Tuesday, saying Acosta "inappropriately refused to yield to other reporters" during the press conference.

Nearly a dozen news outlets have lined up behind CNN, issuing court briefs in support of the lawsuit, including chief rival Fox News.

"It is imperative that independent journalists have access to the President and his activities, and that journalists are not barred for arbitrary reasons. Our news organizations support the fundamental constitutional right to question this President, or any President," they wrote in a joint statement.

Price tag for US 'war on terror' pegged at $5.9T

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) – The U.S. will have spent nearly $6 trillion on various wars and military operations aimed at winning the war on international terrorist groups by October 2019, according to a study released Wednesday.

The $5.9 trillion assessment by Brown University's Watson Institute includes costs expected to be accumulated through the fiscal year that runs through September 2019, as well as past expenditures. It includes not just spending from the Defense Department, but all of government resulting as a consequence of the wars.

That includes related spending by the State Department and Department of Homeland Security, veterans care spending and interest paid on war debts.

As a result, the figure is significantly higher than the Pentagon's $1.5 trillion estimate.

"If the US continues on its current path, war spending will continue to grow," the report states, noting that even if the wars the U.S. embarked on following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks are ended by 2023 the U.S. would be on track to spend an additional $808 billion.

"Moreover, the costs of war will likely be greater than this because, unless the US immediately ends its deployments, the number of veterans associated with the post-9/11 wars will also grow," it adds.

After Washington embarked on its military campaign against al-Qaeda, the group responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and the Taliban which offered it safe harbor, the U.S. invaded Iraq, and went on a global campaign of less expansive military efforts aimed at eliminating terrorist groups and their leaders.

That has included a robust targeted killings program, expanded special operations and a global intelligence collection program.

Spending in Afghanistan and Iraq has amounted to nearly $1.8 billion alone, despite a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq that was completed in 2011.

But Washington re-entered the fray in Iraq and later Syria, deploying troops in support of partnered forces in the fight against Daesh, which overran large portions of the countries before being rolled back through an expansive American-led air campaign and train and advise mission for local forces.

Watson's study of the costs associated with the wars comes as a separate congressionally-mandated report warns the U.S. military "might struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia."

Authored by the National Defense Strategy Commission, a bipartisan group of former security and military experts, the assessment warned Washington is not addressing the threats posed by Moscow and Beijing quickly enough.

"DOD and the White House have not yet articulated clear operational concepts for achieving U.S. security objectives in the face of ongoing competition and potential military confrontation with China and Russia," the report said, referring to the Department of Defense.

The commission called for a 3-5 percent increase in Defense spending above inflation in order to address the threats.

"Failing that, it may be necessary to alter the expectations of U.S. defense strategy and our global strategic objectives," it said.

White House says it has 'broad discretion' amid CNN row

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) – The Trump administration said it has "broad discretion" in granting White House access to journalists covering the president ahead of a court hearing expected Wednesday afternoon.

The claim, made in a court filing on behalf of U.S. President Donald Trump, Chief of Staff John Kelly, one of his deputies, and spokeswoman Sarah Sanders, comes as the administration prepares to defend its decision to revoke CNN reporter Jim Acosta's hard pass following an intense exchange during a press briefing.

"That discretionary decision was lawful," the administration claims in court documents. "The President and White House possess the same broad discretion to regulate access to the White House for journalists (and other members of the public) that they possess to select which journalists receive interviews, or which journalists they acknowledge at press conferences."

CNN is seeking a temporary restraining order to restore Acosta's credential.

The White House initially sought to justify its action by saying Acosta placed "his hands on" an intern who was trying to take his microphone from him during last week's heated exchange with Trump. Sanders, the White House spokeswoman, then released what appears to be a doctored video to substantiate the claim.

She walked the assertion back in her response to CNN's suit that was filed Tuesday, saying Acosta "inappropriately refused to yield to other reporters" during last week's press conference.

"The White House cannot run an orderly and fair press conference when a reporter acts this way, which is neither appropriate nor professional," she said without repeating earlier allegations of inappropriate contact.

Journalists have largely lined up behind Acosta citing freedom of speech concerns.

Fox News, CNN's rival and Trump's preferred cable news network, said Wednesday it is filing an amicus, or friend of the court, brief in support of CNN's legal action.

"Secret Service passes for working White House journalists should never be weaponized," Fox News President Jay Wallace said in a statement. "While we don't condone the growing antagonistic tone by both the president and the press at media avails, we do support a free press, access and open exchanges for the American people."

At least 10 other media outlets, including The Associated Press, Bloomberg, First Look Media, Gannett, NBC News, the New York Times, POLITICO, EW Scripps, USA Today Network, and the Washington Post – said they too would be filing amicus briefs in support of CNN.

"It is imperative that independent journalists have access to the President and his activities, and that journalists are not barred for arbitrary reasons. Our news organizations support the fundamental constitutional right to question this President, or any President," they wrote in a joint statement.

US hate crimes up 17 percent in 2017

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) – Hate crimes across the U.S. rose by nearly a fifth in 2017, according to data released by the FBI Tuesday.

The 17 percent surge is the largest since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks when Muslims, Arabs and those perceived to be Muslim were targeted. The latest figures are also the third consecutive annual increase in bias incidents.

More than half of the 7,175 hate crimes reported to the FBI by law enforcement agencies nationwide for the 2017 calendar year involved acts against individuals such as assault or intimidation, while 3,000 were attacks against property including vandalism, or robbery. In some instances there was overlap in the two categories.

Nearly two-thirds — 59.6 percent — of the victims in 2017 were targeted based on their race, ethnicity or ancestry. Roughly 20 percent of victims were targeted because of their religion while about 15 percent were victimized based on their sexual-orientation.

Anti-black bias motivated roughly half of all race-based hate crimes, followed by 17 percent of incidents that were motivated by anti-white bias and 11 percent that were motivated by anti-Latino bias.

In all, last year saw a 58.1 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents and an 18.6 increase in Islamophobic attacks.

"This report is a call to action—and we will heed that call," Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said in response to the report. "The Department of Justice’s top priority is to reduce violent crime in America, and hate crimes are violent crimes. They are also despicable violations of our core values as Americans."

Participating in the FBI's data collection program is not compulsory for law enforcement agencies, and the figures should be treated as nationwide minimums as some department choose not to report their bias incidents to the bureau. The FBI does not estimate data for jurisdictions that do not report their data.

But just shy of 1,000 more agencies reported to the bureau for 2017 data than did for the previous year.

Trump continues offensive against France's Macron

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) – U.S. President Donald Trump went on a prolific Twitter tear against his French counterpart Tuesday, slamming Emmanuel Macron for what he called low approval ratings and high unemployment.

"The problem is that Emmanuel suffers from a very low Approval Rating in France, 26%, and an unemployment rate of almost 10%," Trump said. "He was just trying to get onto another subject. By the way, there is no country more Nationalist than France, very proud people-and rightfully so!"

"MAKE FRANCE GREAT AGAIN!" Trump added, mirroring his campaign slogan.

Trump was referring to a speech Macron delivered over the weekend on the centenary of World War I in which the French president derided the perils of nationalism in a veiled critique of Trump's America First doctrine.

During his address, Macron slammed countries who put "our interests first,” and warned "our demons are resurfacing” on the Great War's anniversary.

Prior to the solemn commemoration, Macron urged the creation of a European military, telling French radio: “We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America.”

He was alluding to Trump's decision to withdraw from a 1987 nuclear missile treaty with Russia that was largely designed to stave off the prospects of nuclear war in Europe.

Trump took exception last week to the idea that France needs protection from the U.S., calling it "very insulting," and he continued to fume against the call Tuesday on Twitter.

"Emmanuel Macron suggests building its own army to protect Europe against the U.S., China and Russia. But it was Germany in World Wars One & Two – How did that work out for France?" he said. "They were starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along. Pay for NATO or not!"