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Westlake Legal Group > News Corporation (Page 467)

White House Aide’s Words On Ukraine Upend Impeachment Strategy, Rattle Allies

Westlake Legal Group 5daa00e1210000c11534a664 White House Aide’s Words On Ukraine Upend Impeachment Strategy, Rattle Allies

WASHINGTON, Oct 18 (Reuters) – A top White House aide’s suggestion that President Donald Trump sought a political favor from Ukraine in exchange for military aid has upended the administration’s impeachment strategy and left his Republican allies flummoxed and frustrated.

White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told reporters on Thursday that Trump’s decision to withhold $391 million in aid to Ukraine was linked to his desire for an investigation by Kiev into a debunked theory that a Democratic National Committee (DNC) computer server was held in Ukraine.

After weeks in which the president argued that he had done nothing wrong, Mulvaney’s comments, which he later sought to walk back, seemed to undermine the core arguments that Trump and his advisers have made against the effort to oust him from office.

“Unless your ultimate goal is to get to the impeachment vote sooner rather than later, I don’t see how that helps,” said one former administration official with ties to the White House.

“I don’t think it’s damning in and of itself, but it’s another piece of the puzzle that the Democrats are building and another incident that they can point to of using American foreign policy for private political gain,” he said.

One of Trump’s fellow Republicans, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, was quoted in media reports as saying: “You don’t hold up foreign aid that we had previously appropriated for a political initiative. Period.”

Democrats in the House of Representatives are holding hearings to investigate whether Trump improperly pressured Ukraine to investigate a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son Hunter, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. The House could vote on impeachment later this year, which would trigger a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate where a conviction and ouster seem unlikely.

The confirmation of a quid pro quo, or favor for a favor, would bolster Democrats’ arguments that Trump misused his office.

In a written statement, Mulvaney later accused the media of misconstruing his comments. But his remarks at the White House, made while the president was traveling in Texas, tied action on the DNC server to the decision about the aid.

“Did he also mention to me … the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely. No question about that. But that’s it. And that’s why we held up the money,” Mulvaney told reporters in the White House briefing room after saying Trump had also been concerned that European nations were not providing lethal aide to Ukraine.

Later in the day, in an effort at damage control, Mulvaney said the withholding of aid was related strictly to Trump’s concerns about corruption and the fact that other nations were not providing financial support to the country.

“Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election. The president never told me to withhold any money until the Ukrainians did anything related to the server,” he said in the written statement released by the White House.

White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham praised Mulvaney’s performance in an interview on Fox News on Friday, saying “he did a great job.”

Mulvaney also faces a Friday deadline, along with outgoing U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, to turn over documents for the congressional impeachment probe.

The White House previously said it would not cooperate with the inquiry, and it was not immediately clear what next steps House Democrats would take to enforce their subpoena.

‘RESORTING TO THE TRUTH’

Democrats have zeroed in on Trump’s July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which he asked for “a favor” to look into the server as well as the California-based cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, which was hired by the DNC in 2016 to investigate hacking of Democratic emails that it later determined was done by Russia.

The DNC server issue is a discredited claim that Ukraine and not Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election and that a Democratic Party computer server was being held somewhere in Ukraine.

“It looks like the White House is so desperate they are finally resorting to the truth. The problem is the truth is an admission of the crime,” Democratic Representative Peter Welch said about Mulvaney’s initial comments.

“The fact that he said that openly is either a brazen admission or they just don’t know the law,” said Democratic Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi.

Republicans, for their part, expressed concern about the White House’s strategy of getting its messaging across.

“Whether or not there’s any wrongdoing is one thing, but … the lack of a coordinated messaging effort has made it much more complicated,” said another former administration official, who noted that Mulvaney was unlikely to have conducted the briefing without Trump’s blessing.

The president said he had confidence in his acting chief of staff.

Mulvaney said in the same briefing that the White House had not set up a “war room” to address the impeachment inquiry because Trump had done nothing wrong.

“Just because you’ve done nothing wrong does not mean you do not need a dedicated committed group of support staff dedicated to making sure that the American people understand that this is a witch hunt and why,” said one Republican with ties to Trump.

“The president cannot do everything by himself. He needs … a dedicated team to help him through this.” (Reporting by Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell and Susan Heavey; Editing by Peter Cooney and Howard Goller)

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Johnson & Johnson Recalls Asbestos-Tainted Baby Powder

Westlake Legal Group merlin_148254753_920dc85e-393b-480e-8f1d-4ce778d1fde8-facebookJumbo Johnson & Johnson Recalls Asbestos-Tainted Baby Powder Shopping and Retail Recalls and Bans of Products Johnson&Johnson Food and Drug Administration Asbestos

Johnson & Johnson is recalling a shipment of baby powder after the Food and Drug Administration discovered evidence of asbestos in one of the bottles, the company said on Friday, a move that undercuts its defense in a growing number of claims that its talc-based products were contaminated with the potent carcinogen.

The regulator found trace levels of chrysotile asbestos in samples taken from a bottle of baby powder purchased from an online retailer, Johnson & Johnson said. The company has, for years, denied that the carcinogen is, or ever was, present in its talc-based products.

This is the first time Johnson & Johnson has ever pulled baby powder from the market over asbestos concerns, a spokesman for the company said, and comes as Johnson & Johnson is battling thousands of lawsuits brought by people who say that baby powder and other talc-based products caused them to develop cancer. Some have mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that is considered the signature disease of asbestos exposure, while others have ovarian cancer, which has also been linked to asbestos.

The recall will undermine defense claims against those suits, and could lead to the company having to pay more or to settle cases, said Erik Gordon, a University of Michigan business professor who studies corporate governance. Shares of the company fell 5 percent in early afternoon trading on Friday.

But in announcing the recall, the company also repeated part of its long-running defense against cancer claims, saying that “thousands of tests over the past 40 years repeatedly confirm that our consumer talc products do not contain asbestos.” The company said it was recalling the shipment out of an “abundance of caution.”

Though Johnson & Johnson said it has started “a rigorous, thorough investigation into the matter” it also appeared to question the testing process, saying in a statement that it is working with the F.D.A. to “determine the integrity of the tested sample and the validity of the test results.”

The recalled baby powder was produced and shipped last year. The recalled lot, #22318RB, involves 33,000 bottles sold by a retailer, which sold products online but may have shipped powder to stores, the spokesman, Ernie Knewitz, said. The F.D.A. has not responded to questions about the identity of the retailer.

A New York Times investigation last year found that Johnson & Johnson executives were aware for decades of the risks of asbestos contamination in talc but did not warn consumers. Internal memos and reports made public during litigation against the company document executives’ concerns about potential contamination that date back 50 years.

Earlier this year, Johnson & Johnson disclosed that it is being investigated by the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission over concerns about possible asbestos contamination of its talc-based products.

The company is now entangled in litigation on multiple fronts. On Thursday, it agreed to pay $117 million to settle claims that it deceptively marketed transvaginal pelvic mesh implants. Earlier this month, a jury in Philadelphia ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $8 billion to a Maryland man who accused the company of downplaying the risks associated with the anti-psychotic drug Risperdal. The company has also agreed to settle claims involving its role in the nationwide opioid crisis.

Lee Hambright, an analyst with Bernstein, wrote in a note to clients last week that Johnson & Johnson could face $5 billion in legal liability over the talc litigation. Of the 15,500 talc lawsuits the company has disclosed, Mr. Hambright estimated that 1,000 involved mesothelioma cases.

[Read our investigation into claims about asbestos in baby powder.]

Talc is a natural mineral that is mined from underground deposits, but asbestos can form under the same geological conditions that form talc, and geologists say veins of asbestos can intermingle with talc in underground mines.

Johnson & Johnson officials emphasized that the level of asbestos detected was very low, the amount being “two ten-thousands of a percent” of the sample. U.S. health agencies, however, say there is no known safe level of exposure when it comes to asbestos.

While health risks increase with heavier and longer exposure times to asbestos, the overall evidence suggests no level of asbestos exposure is safe, and disease has been found in people with only brief exposures, according to the National Cancer Institute.

[Thousands of people who trusted Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder for decades are suing the company after developing cancer. “The Weekly,” our new TV show, investigates their allegations.]

This is a developing story that will be updated.

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Boeing Pilot Complained of ‘Egregious’ Issue With 737 Max in 2016

A Boeing pilot working on the 737 Max said in messages from 2016 that a new automated system was making the plane difficult to control in flight simulators, more than two years before it was grounded following two deadly crashes.

The pilot, Mark Forkner, complained that the system, known as MCAS, was causing him trouble. “It’s running rampant in the sim,” he said in a message to a colleague, referring to the simulator.

“Granted, I suck at flying, but even this was egregious,” he went on to say, according to a transcript of the exchange reviewed by The New York Times.

The 737 Max was grounded earlier this year after crashing twice in five months, killing 346 people. In both cases, MCAS malfunctioned based on erroneous data, sending the planes into unrecoverable nose dives.

Mr. Forkner, the chief technical pilot for the plane, went on to say that he had lied to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Westlake Legal Group merlin_152397885_5588305c-8e58-47f0-9b4a-3ac83d14e790-articleLarge Boeing Pilot Complained of ‘Egregious’ Issue With 737 Max in 2016 Boeing Company Boeing 737 Max Groundings and Safety Concerns (2019) Airlines and Airplanes

Boeing 737 Max: The Latest on the Fallout After 2 Deadly Crashes

Boeing remains under intense scrutiny nearly one year after the first Max jet was involved in a fatal accident.

“I basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly),” Mr. Forkner says in the messages.

Mr. Forkner did not respond to a request for comment, and a lawyer for Mr. Forkner did not immediately comment.

Reuters was first to report the news.

The messages are from November 2016. Eight months earlier, Mr. Forkner had asked the F.A.A. if it would be O.K. to remove mention of MCAS from the pilot’s manual. The F.A.A., which at the time believed the system would only activate in rare cases and wasn’t particularly dangerous, approved Mr. Forkner’s request.

Boeing provided the transcript to lawmakers in Capitol Hill over the past day, in advance of hearings this month at which Boeing chief executive Dennis A. Muilenburg will testify about the crashes for the first time. Boeing had provided the transcript to the Department of Justice, which is conducting a criminal investigation, earlier this year, according to two people familiar with the communications who spoke on condition of anonymity because the exchange was not yet public.

The F.A.A. administrator, Stephen Dickson, sent Mr. Muilenburg a letter Friday morning demanding that the company account for why it did not provide the messages to the agency earlier.

“I expect your explanation immediately regarding the content of this document and Boeing’s delay in disclosing the document to its safety regulator,” Mr. Dickson wrote.

Boeing did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Trump calls NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch to congratulate them on first all-female spacewalk

CLOSEWestlake Legal Group icon_close Trump calls NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch to congratulate them on first all-female spacewalk

NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir made history months after the first all-female spacewalk was supposed to take place with Anne McClain. USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – “You’re right now on television all over the world so don’t get nervous,” President Donald Trump told two female NASA astronauts for conducting the first-ever all-female spacewalk Friday in a mission to replace a failed power control unit. 

Christina Koch and Jessica Meir stepped outside the International Space Station just before 8 a.m. EST Friday and planned to spend more than five hours replacing the regulator, which controls how much energy flows from the station’s massive solar panels to battery units. 

The president called the two women, who were still outside the station completing the replacement, from the White House Roosevelt Room on Friday. 

“Station, this is President Donald Trump. Do you hear me?” he said. After a brief pause, the women responded. “That’s great, I was starting to get worried about you,” he said, seated between Vice President Mike Pence and his daughter, Ivanka Trump. 

Trump repeatedly called the women “brave.” 

The two astronauts, who are both part of the 2013 NASA class, appeared to correct Trump after he suggested it was the first time a female astronaut had gone on a spacewalk.

First all-female spacewalk: 2 female astronauts are making history. How to watch NASA’s first all-female spacewalk

“This is the first time for a woman outside of the space station,” Trump said. “They’re conducting the first ever female spacewalk to replace an exterior part of the space station.”

Russian astronaut Svetlana Savitskaya was the first woman to walk in space in 1984.

“We don’t want to take too much credit because there have been many other female spacewalkers before us. This is just the first time there have been two women outside at the same time,” one of the women told the president. 

The call was the first time since 1969 that a U.S. president has spoken to astronauts while they were outside the station, according to the White House. 

President Richard Nixon called Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, who were on the moon, in what some referred to at the time as the longest-distance telephone call ever placed.

“What you do is incredible,” Trump said.”You’re very brave people. I don’t think I want to do it.” 

Meir said she and Koch had been training for about six years and the landmark mission was her first spacewalk. She said the pair have been in space for about three weeks. 

“For us it’s just coming out here and doing our job today, and we were the crew that was tasked with this assignment,” Meir said.

“At the same time we recognize that it is a historic achievement and we do of course want to give credit for all of those that came before us. There have been a long line of female scientists, explorers, engineers and astronauts. And we have followed in their footsteps to get us where we are today.” 

The units have previously been replaced using a robotic arm, but the newly failed unit is too far for it to reach.

Contributing: Adrianna Rodriguez

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Reports: MRI confirms dislocated kneecap for Chiefs QB, reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes

CLOSEWestlake Legal Group icon_close Reports: MRI confirms dislocated kneecap for Chiefs QB, reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes

SportsPulse: Lorenzo’s Locks are back on track after a winning week. Week 7 offers up juicy matchups and we are here to help you make money off of them. USA TODAY

The Kansas City Chiefs and quarterback Patrick Mahomes can breathe a sigh of relief — sort of. 

Mahomes nearly had to be carted off during Thursday night’s game against the Denver Broncos with a right knee injury. He suffered a kneecap dislocation, an MRI confirmed Friday, according to multiple reports

The timetable for Mahomes’ return, per the reports, indicated he should miss only a few weeks and that surgery may not be necessary. However, additional medical opinions are being sought, the NFL Network said. The expectation is that he will return at some point this season. ESPN reported that the team received “best-case scenario” results. 

On a fourth and 1 deep in Broncos territory, Mahomes injured his knee following a quarterback sneak in the second quarter of the Chiefs’ eventual 30-6 victory. He waved away the cart that arrived to carry him off the field and instead walked to the locker room with the help of trainers.

An ankle injury has hobbled Mahomes since Week 1 at Jacksonville.

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Some Fighting Continues In Northern Syria Despite Turkish ‘Pause’

Westlake Legal Group ap_19291367421469-9550e5261f0da699dd56e783a528e038c7423383-s1100-c15 Some Fighting Continues In Northern Syria Despite Turkish 'Pause'

Fighting continued early Friday in a northeast Syrian border town at the center of the fight between Turkey and Kurdish forces, despite a U.S.-brokered cease-fire that went into effect overnight. Emrah Gurel/AP hide caption

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Emrah Gurel/AP

Westlake Legal Group  Some Fighting Continues In Northern Syria Despite Turkish 'Pause'

Fighting continued early Friday in a northeast Syrian border town at the center of the fight between Turkey and Kurdish forces, despite a U.S.-brokered cease-fire that went into effect overnight.

Emrah Gurel/AP

Updated at 4:32 p.m. ET

A U.S.-brokered deal with Turkey to pause its campaign against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria appears to be largely holding on its first day, though there have been reports of continue Turkish shelling in a key border town, Ras al-Ayn.

“The city is still being bombed despite an agreement made yesterday,” Sozda Rakko from the Kurdish Red Crescent tells NPR’s Jane Arraf. She says a hospital was bombed and there were clashes near the hospital. “A team of doctors go to the city this morning to get civilians out of the city, of course, but the Turkish army don’t let them,” she said.

Some 200 vehicles carrying medical materials are waiting to enter the town, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

A spokesperson for Turkish-backed forces described the fighting around the hospital as “minor clashes,” NPR’s Daniel Estrin reported. Kino Gabriel, a spokesperson for the Kurdish-led forces, said in a statement that 13 of their fighters and five civilians were killed in Turkish attacks since the deal was announced.

“We reiterate that we will not refrain from using our right to legitimate self defense in case of any attack by Turkish-backed militias,” Gabriel said.

President Trump said he spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Friday, who told him “there was minor sniper and mortar fire that was quickly eliminated.”

The deal was reached Thursday after more than five hours of negotiation between Erdogan and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. It allows 120 hours for Kurdish YPG fighters to withdraw from the “safe zone” along Turkey’s border with Syria, without explicitly stating the size of the zone. After that safe zone is cleared, the agreement says Turkey’s military operation will be completely halted.

The YPG fighters have been crucial allies of the U.S. for years in the fight against ISIS. Turkey considers them terrorists linked to organizations inside Turkey that carry out attacks against the Turkish government.

On Friday, Erdogan stressed that Turkey is prepared to continue to fight.

“If the United States is able to keep the promises it gave us by Tuesday night, at the end of the 120-hour period, the issue of a safe zone will have been resolved,” the Turkish president said, according to The Associated Press. “But if this promise is not kept, without exception, the minute the 120 hours end, our Operation Peace Spring will resume from where it left off in an even more determined way.”

The U.S. has promised not to impose new sanctions on Turkey and to lift other sanctions imposed recently once the Turkish military operation is completely halted.

It’s not clear whether the Kurdish forces are actually withdrawing from the border. Kurdish military leader Mazlum Kobani said Thursday that the forces would comply with the cease-fire.

Jack Keane, a retired four-star general and informal adviser to Trump, has also been in communication with Kobani. “He does agree to move his YPG forces from the two contested towns some 30 miles to the south,” Keane tells NPR. “He does not agree — and he’s adamant — that he has no intention to move all of the Syrian Kurds away from the border.”

Keane adds: “That would be hundreds of thousands of people and that would be an incredible humanitarian operation.” He says that Kobani has requested U.S. air cover for his forces as they move south. “He wants to make certain that the roads he’s using to move south are not going to be interrupted and put his convoys at risk.”

But the U.S. does not appear to have a significant role on the ground. U.S. forces had been in the process of withdrawing from northern Syria when the deal was announced. U.S. forces even bombed their main military base there to destroy any remaining ammunition. In a statement Friday, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said that “no U.S. ground forces will participate in the enforcement of this safe zone,” but will “remain in communication” with Turkey and Kurdish forces.

The U.S. pullout raises concerns about whether this will provide room for ISIS to regain a foothold in the area. Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley held closed-door meetings on Capitol Hill on Friday. A U.S. official told NPR’s Tom Bowman that they said they are still formulating a plan to keep the pressure on ISIS, because U.S. ground forces are leaving.

“Actually the deal gives Turkey everything it wants,” Estrin reported. The Turkish government wants to clear the area of Kurdish fighters and resettle up to 2 million Syrian refugees there.

The deal itself is drawing criticism from major international players such as European Council President Donald Tusk. As the AP reported, he described it as “not a cease-fire, it is a demand for the capitulation of the Kurds.”

The Turkish offensive began after President Trump suddenly announced the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the area last week, following a call with Erdogan. The shift in policy drew swift criticism from U.S. lawmakers in both parties.

“It was unconventional what I did,” Trump said at a rally on Thursday. “I said, they’re going to have to fight a little while. … Like two kids in a lot, you’ve got to let them fight and then you pull them apart.”

Brett McGurk, Trump’s former envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIS, called that “an obscene and ignorant statement.”

“The reality is that we are now leaving Syria in the most shambolic way imaginable,” he said in an interview with NPR. He said that by leaving Syria, the U.S. has forfeited much of its ability to influence the situation on the ground.

“I think the Americans, at this point, are a sideshow,” McGurk said. “And I think anyone who thinks that we can meaningfully control or influence this situation is mistaken. We might be able to buy some pauses here and there, but this will now be worked out by other powers as we evacuate the country.”

Since the offensive started, the U.N. says more than 170,000 people have been displaced. And a large number are streaming over Syria’s border with Iraq — Arraf says that in the last week, more than 2,000 have crossed the border fleeing the fighting.

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Trump legal team threatens CNN with lawsuit over ‘unfair, unfounded, unethical and unlawful’ coverage

Westlake Legal Group 694940094001_6094930972001_6094932411001-vs Trump legal team threatens CNN with lawsuit over ‘unfair, unfounded, unethical and unlawful’ coverage fox-news/media fox news fnc/media fnc Brian Flood bf4dabee-62be-5c58-85af-3b9710f048ac article

President Trump’s litigation counsel sent a letter to CNN on Wednesday threatening legal action over the network’s ‘unfair, unfounded, unethical and unlawful” coverage.

“Never in the history of this country has a President been the subject of such a sustained barrage of unfair, unfounded, unethical and unlawful attacks by so-called ‘mainstream’ news, as the current situation,” a letter sent by attorney Charles J. Harder and addressed to CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker and CNN general counsel David Viglante said.

PROJECT VERITAS’ ALLEGED CNN WHISTLEBLOWER CLAIMS NETWORK IS ‘PUMPING OUT PROPAGANDA’

The letter, obtained by Fox News on Friday, asks CNN to contact Harder “to discuss an appropriate resolution of this matter,” which would include “a substantial payment of damages” and other “appropriate measures that are necessary to fully address the magnitude of the situation.”

A CNN spokesperson told Fox News the letter was “nothing more than a desperate PR stunt and doesn’t merit a response.”

Harder said that CNN has violated the Lanham Act, which governs trademarks, by billing itself as “journalists,” “truth seekers” and “united by a mission to inform, engage and empower the world” while unfairly covering the president. The letter also claims that CNN has violated the Society for Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics by failing to cover the president in an honest and accurate manner.

TRUMP SAYS AMERICA WOULD BE BETTER OFF WITHOUT ‘CNNs OF THE WORLD’ AFTER FIERY NEWS CONFERENCE

The letter points to a recent batch of secretly recorded video published by Project Veritas, which claim to feature low-level CNN staffers dishing on liberal bias at the network and Zucker ordering producers to ditch an “important story” for negative coverage of Trump.

The newly released footage, which has not been independently confirmed by Fox News, features now-former CNN employee Cary Poarch secretly filming staffers and recording the network’s morning editorial meeting. Earlier this week Trump hinted at possible legal action against CNN on Twitter as a result of the footage.

CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP

“Your own employees appear to state that CNN is focused on trying to ‘take down President Trump,’ driven by a “personal vendetta” that Mr. Zucker purportedly has against him, rather than reporting the news in an objective manner,” Harder wrote. “In the Footage, your employees appear to state that CNN attempts to make its reporting appear neutral and unbiased, when in fact its reporting is far from neutral and highly biased against the President.”

Trump’s legal team then listed a series of comments that CNN employees made on the secretly recorded tapes that Harder calls “the tip of the iceberg of the evidence” proving the network isn’t fair to Trump.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Westlake Legal Group 694940094001_6094930972001_6094932411001-vs Trump legal team threatens CNN with lawsuit over ‘unfair, unfounded, unethical and unlawful’ coverage fox-news/media fox news fnc/media fnc Brian Flood bf4dabee-62be-5c58-85af-3b9710f048ac article   Westlake Legal Group 694940094001_6094930972001_6094932411001-vs Trump legal team threatens CNN with lawsuit over ‘unfair, unfounded, unethical and unlawful’ coverage fox-news/media fox news fnc/media fnc Brian Flood bf4dabee-62be-5c58-85af-3b9710f048ac article

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Pause In Turkey’s Syria Incursion Largely Holding On First Day

Westlake Legal Group ap_19291367421469-9550e5261f0da699dd56e783a528e038c7423383-s1100-c15 Pause In Turkey's Syria Incursion Largely Holding On First Day

Fighting continued early Friday in a northeast Syrian border town at the center of the fight between Turkey and Kurdish forces, despite a U.S.-brokered cease-fire that went into effect overnight. Emrah Gurel/AP hide caption

toggle caption

Emrah Gurel/AP

Westlake Legal Group  Pause In Turkey's Syria Incursion Largely Holding On First Day

Fighting continued early Friday in a northeast Syrian border town at the center of the fight between Turkey and Kurdish forces, despite a U.S.-brokered cease-fire that went into effect overnight.

Emrah Gurel/AP

A U.S.-brokered deal with Turkey to pause its campaign against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria appears to be largely holding on its first day, despite scattered reports of continued fighting.

An official from the Kurdish Red Crescent told NPR’s Daniel Estrin that there have been Turkish airstrikes on Friday, mostly centered around one border town, Ras al-Ayn. “There are some clashes we’re hearing about near a hospital where there are still some patients being treated,” Estrin says. A spokesperson for Turkish-backed forces described them as “minor clashes.”

President Trump said he spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Friday, who told him “there was minor sniper and mortar fire that was quickly eliminated.”

The deal was reached Thursday after more than five hours of negotiation between Erdogan and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. It allows 120 hours for Kurdish YPG fighters to withdraw from the “safe zone” along Turkey’s border with Syria, without explicitly stating the size of the zone. After that safe zone is cleared, the agreement says Turkey’s military operation will be completely halted.

The YPG fighters have been crucial allies of the U.S. for years in the fight against ISIS. Turkey considers them terrorists linked to organizations inside Turkey that carry out attacks against the Turkish government.

On Friday, Erdogan stressed that Turkey is prepared to continue to fight.

“If the United States is able to keep the promises it gave us by Tuesday night, at the end of the 120-hour period, the issue of a safe zone will have been resolved,” the Turkish president said, according to The Associated Press. “But if this promise is not kept, without exception, the minute the 120 hours end, our Operation Peace Spring will resume from where it left off in an even more determined way.”

The U.S. has promised not to impose new sanctions on Turkey and to lift other sanctions imposed recently once the Turkish military operation is completely halted.

But the U.S. does not appear to have a significant role on the ground. U.S. forces had been in the process of withdrawing from northern Syria when the deal was announced. U.S. forces even bombed their main military base there to destroy any remaining ammunition. In a statement Friday, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said that “no U.S. ground forces will participate in the enforcement of this safe zone,” but will “remain in communication” with Turkey and Kurdish forces.

It’s also not clear whether the Kurdish forces are actually withdrawing from the border. Kurdish military leader Mazlum Kobani said Thursday that the forces would comply with the cease-fire, though he did not state whether they planned to move.

“Actually the deal gives Turkey everything it wants,” Estrin reported. The Turkish government wants to clear the area of Kurdish fighters and resettle up to 2 million Syrian refugees there.

The deal itself is drawing criticism from major international players such as European Council President Donald Tusk. As the AP reported, he described it as “not a cease-fire, it is a demand for the capitulation of the Kurds.”

The Turkish offensive began after President Trump suddenly announced the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the area last week, following a call with Erdogan. The shift in policy drew swift criticism from U.S. lawmakers in both parties.

“It was unconventional what I did,” Trump said at a rally on Thursday. “I said, they’re going to have to fight a little while. … Like two kids in a lot, you’ve got to let them fight and then you pull them apart.”

Brett McGurk, Trump’s former envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIS, called that “an obscene and ignorant statement.”

“The reality is that we are now leaving Syria in the most shambolic way imaginable,” he said in an interview with NPR. He said that by leaving Syria, the U.S. has forfeited much of its ability to influence the situation on the ground.

“I think the Americans, at this point, are a sideshow,” McGurk said. “And I think anyone who thinks that we can meaningfully control or influence this situation is mistaken. We might be able to buy some pauses here and there, but this will now be worked out by other powers as we evacuate the country.”

Since the offensive started, the U.N. says more than 170,000 people have been displaced. Hundreds of them are streaming over Syria’s border with Iraq, looking for refuge.

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Kurds Reported to Be Pulling Out of Syria ‘Safe Zone’ as Fighting Eases

ISTANBUL — Kurdish forces began pulling out of a 20-mile buffer zone in northern Syria as fighting eased on Friday, Turkish and American officials said, signaling that a cease-fire announced a day before by Vice President Mike Pence between Turkish and Kurdish forces was going into force.

Early Friday, the Kurdish leadership in northern Syria accused the Turkish military and its proxies of violating the terms of the truce, but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey denied that any fighting was continuing.

Mr. Erdogan said his military commander had reported everything was going as planned. The onus, he added, remained with the United States to ensure the Kurdish militias withdrew within the agreed five-day period.

“If the United States can keep its promise, in 120 hours the issue of the safe zone will be resolved,” he told Western reporters at a news briefing in Istanbul. “If not the operation will continue where we left off.”

Gunfire and artillery could be heard in the Syrian border town of Ras al-Ain, the scene of the heaviest fighting for the last few days, by journalists just across the border in Turkey Friday morning and afternoon. But the town stood silent by Friday evening.

Mr. Erdogan hailed the withdrawal as a victory over a “terrorist organization,” and said that Turkey would establish 12 observation points in 20-mile deep buffer zone along a 400 kilometer stretch of the border east of the Euphrates River.

American troops would remain in southeastern Syria and would maintain control of the airspace of the entire northeastern zone, said Ibrahim Kalin, national security adviser to Mr. Erdogan.

Mr. Trump posted on Twitter Friday evening that Mr. Erdogan had told him in a phone call that “there was minor sniper and mortar fire that was quickly eliminated.”

“He very much wants the cease-fire, or pause, to work. Likewise, the Kurds want it,’’ Mr. Trump wrote. “Too bad there wasn’t this thinking years ago.”

“There is good will on both sides & a really good chance for success. The U.S. has secured the Oil, & the ISIS Fighters are double secured by Kurds & Turkey.”

He added, “I have just been notified that some European Nations are now willing, for the first time, to take the ISIS Fighters that came from their nations. This is good news, but should have been done after WE captured them. Anyway, big progress being made!!!!”

Responding to the claims that Turkey had violated the truce, Mr. Erdogan told a reporter after leaving Friday prayers at a mosque in Istanbul: “I do not know where you get your information from. Conflict is out of the question.”

In a speech later on Friday, Mr. Erdogan said Turkish forces had stopped fighting and would begin again only if Kurdish troops had not retreated by Tuesday night from Kurdish-run areas in northern Syria that have been occupied by Turkish forces in the past week.

Military positions in northern Syria as of Oct. 18

Turkish Army and Syrian opposition Syrian Army deployed Closing U.S. military bases and outposts Russian bases

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Fighting continues between

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Turkish proxies

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KURDISH

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KURDISH

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Westlake Legal Group map-detailed-600 Kurds Reported to Be Pulling Out of Syria ‘Safe Zone’ as Fighting Eases United States Defense and Military Forces Turkey Trump, Donald J Syria Ras al-Ain (Syria) Pence, Mike Kurds Defense and Military Forces

Fighting continues between

Turkish-backed militias

and Kurdish-led forces.

Turkish proxies

are in the western

countryside.

Turkish army AND

syrian opposition

Ras al-Ain

Russian troops are

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KURDISH

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Turkish army AND

syrian opposition

Turkey’s

proposed

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Other

opposition

KURDISH

Control

Deir al-Zour

Government

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Mediterranean

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Westlake Legal Group map-detailed-335 Kurds Reported to Be Pulling Out of Syria ‘Safe Zone’ as Fighting Eases United States Defense and Military Forces Turkey Trump, Donald J Syria Ras al-Ain (Syria) Pence, Mike Kurds Defense and Military Forces

Fighting continues between

Turkish-backed militias

and Kurdish-led forces.

Turkish army AND

syrian opposition

Ras al-Ain

KURDISH

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proposed

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Sources: Control areas as of Oct. 16 via Conflict Monitor by IHS Markit; Military positions for Russia are from the Institute for the Study of War. | By Allison McCann, Sarah Almukhtar, Anjali Singhvi and Jin Wu

On Thursday, Mr. Trump described the deal during a speech in Dallas as “an incredible outcome,” and wrote on Twitter that it was “great for everyone!”

But the lapse in the cease-fire represents a further failure for Mr. Trump, who had pressed Mr. Erdogan not to invade Syria in the first place, in a private letter sent to the Turkish president on the day the invasion began.

“Don’t be a tough guy,” Mr. Trump wrote, in a letter characterized by informal language rarely seen in diplomatic communications.

Mr. Erdogan responded publicly to the letter for the first time on Friday, saying that his country “cannot forget” the harshly worded letter since it was “not in harmony with political and diplomatic niceties.”

“We do not consider it as a current issue and a priority,” Mr. Erdogan added, however. “We also want it to be known that, when the time comes, the necessary response will be taken.’’

Responding to the delayed cease-fire, a White House spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, told Fox News that such conflicts “take time” to wind down and that the agreement remained a success.

Gunfire continued to be heard in Ras al-Ain midafternoon by members of a civilian convoy attempting to reach the city, according to Robin Fleming, an American researcher traveling with the convoy.

Watching the town from a nearby hilltop shortly before 1 p.m., Ms. Fleming said she could see smoke rising from the town and hear gunshots, but no artillery.

The convoy ultimately turned back before reaching the town because of fears of attack by Turkish-led Arab militias.

Turkish-led forces also prevented a convoy of international aid workers from gaining access to Ras al-Ain to treat people wounded in the fighting, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an independent war monitor based in Britain.

Ras al-Ain has been the site of the fiercest clashes since Turkish troops invaded Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria early last week.

On Friday, Kurdish health officials said they were investigating whether six civilians in the town had been hit by chemical weapons during Turkish airstrikes. Photographs shared by the Kurdish Red Crescent, a medical charity working in the area, showed at least two children with burns on their faces.

Mr. Erdogan denied the claim and said the Turkish Army had no chemical weapons in its inventory. He accused the Kurdish militia, the Y.P.G., of sowing disinformation also about civilian casualties and accusation of war crimes committed by Turkish-backed Syrian forces.

But Amnesty International, a global rights watchdog, accused the Turkish military and Arab militias fighting under its command of carrying out “serious violations and war crimes, including summary killings and unlawful attacks that have killed and injured civilians.”

In a statement, Amnesty’s secretary general, Kumi Naidoo, added: “Turkish military forces and their allies have displayed an utterly callous disregard for civilian lives, launching unlawful deadly attacks in residential areas that have killed and injured civilians.”

At least 218 civilians in northern Syria have died since the invasion began, according to the Kurdish authorities. A further 20 have been killed in Turkey by Kurdish mortar attacks, Mr. Erdogan said.

Turkey wants to force out the Syrian Kurdish militia that has used the chaos of the conflict to establish an autonomous region across roughly a quarter of Syrian territory. The militia is an offshoot of a guerrilla group that has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey. The Turks view the group as a terrorist organization.

Since 2014, the group had operated under the protection of the United States military, which partnered with the Kurdish fighters to help sweep the Islamic State from the region and, in the process, allowed the Kurdish militia to control most of the land lining the Turkish-Syrian border.

But after Mr. Trump abruptly ordered the withdrawal of United States troops from the border this month, ending their protection of the Kurdish fighters, Turkish forces invaded with the aim of establishing a Turkish-friendly zone, roughly 20 miles deep, along the border.

By Friday, the Turkish troops had captured around 850 square miles of Syrian territory, Mr. Erdogan said in his speech.

The deal announced on Thursday by Mr. Pence and Mr. Pompeo effectively gave American assent to Turkish territorial ambitions in part of the area, handing Turkey a huge diplomatic victory and completing the sudden reversal of a central plank of American policy in the Middle East.

It was sealed without the involvement of the Syrian or Russian governments, to whom the Kurdish authorities turned for protection after the American evacuation and the onslaught of Turkish-led forces.

On Friday, Mr. Erdogan said he would discuss the future of the rest of northeastern Syria with Vladimir V. Putin of Russia at a meeting in Sochi on Tuesday.

“Our aim is to reach a reconciliation with Russia about those matters that are reasonable and acceptable to everyone,” Mr. Erdogan said.

Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon and Lara Jakes from Jerusalem.

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In ‘Cave-In,’ Trump Cease-Fire Cements Turkey’s Gains in Syria

WASHINGTON — The cease-fire agreement reached with Turkey by Vice President Mike Pence amounts to a near-total victory for Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who gains territory, pays little in penalties and appears to have outmaneuvered President Trump.

The best that can be said for the agreement is that it may stop the killing in the Kurdish enclave in northern Syria. But the cost for Kurds, longtime American allies in the fight against the Islamic State, is severe: Even Pentagon officials were mystified about where tens of thousands of displaced Kurds would go, as they moved south from the Turkey-Syria border as required by the deal — if they agree to go at all.

And the cost to American influence, while hard to quantify, could be frightfully high.

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Since Turkish forces attacked Kurdish-controlled territory in northeast Syria, almost two thousand refugees have fled the country. We spoke with some of them in Bardarash refugee camp, across the border in Iraq.CreditCreditYousur Al-Hlou/The New York Times

In the 11 days between Mr. Trump’s fateful phone call with Mr. Erdogan and the trip to Ankara by Mr. Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday, the United States has ceded ground in Syria — including American bases — to the Russian-backed Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad. And it has shaken the faith of American allies that, in a time of stress, Washington will have their back.

“This just looks like a complete cave-in by the United States to everything the Turks demanded,” said Eric S. Edelman, a former ambassador to Turkey and a senior Defense Department official in the George W. Bush administration. “I don’t see what the Turks gave up.”

In fact, if the sanctions imposed against Turkey by the Trump administration are lifted, as Mr. Pence said they now would be, the Turkish leader would pay a far lower price than Russia did for its annexation of Crimea in 2014. The sanctions imposed on Moscow then are still in place.

But there are other winners in addition to Mr. Erdogan, who has routed the Kurdish groups he views as terrorists who were living in an American protectorate.

Chief among them is President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who gains vast influence in a strategic corner of the Middle East where, until 2015, he had almost none. Now, he is a player, and already is filling the territorial and political vacuum that Mr. Trump left after he agreed to get out of the way of the Turkish invasion of Syria, which a small contingent of American Special Operations forces were there to prevent by their very presence.

Iran was also a winner. It has long used Syria as a route to send missiles to Hezbollah and flex its muscles across the region. That, in many ways, is the most perplexing part of the president’s decision to withdraw, because it runs so counter to his “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran’s clerical leaders and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

And Mr. Assad, who was barely clinging to power after the Arab Spring in 2011, and whose military facilities Mr. Trump bombed in the opening months of his presidency in 2017, has a new lease on life. The Americans are gone from the one corner of his country they once occupied.

Mr. Trump has a different view — no surprise, given the bipartisan critique of his failure to stop Mr. Erdogan during their phone conversation, or threaten sanctions before the invasion, rather than after the facts had changed on the ground.

“I’m happy to report tremendous success with respect to Turkey,” Mr. Trump told reporters after his vice president and secretary of state announced the deal. “This is an amazing outcome. This is an outcome, regardless of how the press would like to damp it down, this was something they were trying to get for 10 years.”

Mr. Trump’s joy may reflect a very different worldview than that of his military, his diplomats or the Republican leaders who say he has damaged America’s reputation and influence. While his party, and Democrats, accused him of betraying allies and aiding Russia, Mr. Trump insisted he was simply making good on a campaign promise to bring troops home from “endless wars.”

On Wednesday, as Mr. Pence and Mr. Pompeo were flying to Ankara, Speaker Nancy Pelosi was challenging the president on whether there was any strategic logic to his withdrawal from Syria — especially if it resulted in freeing detained ISIS fighters who might now attack in the region or on the United States.

On Thursday, recounting her heated discussion with the president at the White House the previous day, she said she asked him how his strategy fit with his announcement last Friday that nearly 3,000 more troops were being deployed to Saudi Arabia. The president responded that the Saudis were paying the cost of that deployment — suggesting that Mr. Trump was happy to commit troops to the highest bidder among American allies, rather than make an independent judgment about their strategic importance.

Republicans also challenged the agreement reached in Ankara.

“The announcement today is being portrayed as a victory. It is far from a victory,” Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, said on the Senate floor Thursday. “Given the initial details of the cease-fire agreement, the administration must also explain what America’s future role will be in the region, what happens now to the Kurds and why Turkey will face no apparent consequences.”

And Mr. Romney noted, “The cease-fire does not change the fact that America has abandoned an ally.”

At the Pentagon on Thursday afternoon, senior officials scrambled to understand how they were supposed to carry out the agreement Mr. Pence and Mr. Erdogan had negotiated.

Several civilian and military officials complained that the broadly worded deal left large policy and logistical gaps to fill, with many questions about how to carry out commitments by the two sides that appeared to contradict the fast-moving situation on the ground.

With the withdrawal of about 1,000 Americans already underway, the officials asked, how would those departing forces conduct counterterrorism operations with the Turkish military, as Mr. Pence insisted they would? Would the Syrian Kurds fully comply with a pullback agreement they had little say in drafting, and in which they were the clear losers?

Their questions did not stop there. How large and how deep is the buffer area inside Syria that was supposed to give Turkey a safe zone between its border and the Kurdish fighters? The original safe zone that the United States and Turkey envisioned was 75 miles long and roughly 20 miles deep. But it was upended by Mr. Trump’s acquiescence to the invasion, and now Turkish forces have pushed beyond that.

And what about Mr. Assad’s forces and their Russian allies — to whom the abandoned Syrian Kurds reached out to after the American abandoned them?

It also remains unknown whether Turkey will be required to withdraw all or some of its forces sent across a sovereign border into Syria. (One official said a reason Turkey agreed to the deal on Thursday is because the Kurds have put up more resistance, and Turkish forces could not advance south any farther as a result.)

Several Pentagon and State Department officials and military officers who have worked on Syria policy or deployed to the country’s northwest expressed shock, outrage and disbelief at the administration’s second major capitulation to Mr. Erdogan in less than two weeks.

These officials said Mr. Erdogan was the big winner, and appeared to have gotten everything he wanted.

Military officials said they were stunned that the agreement essentially allowed Turkey to annex a portion of Syria, displace tens of thousands of Kurdish residents and wipe away years of counterterrorism gains against the Islamic State.

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