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White House defends Trump offering his club members tours of Air Force One

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The White House is refusing to say whether Trump invited members of his private for-profit club to tour Air Force One — but it’s also defending such invitations by claiming they are common practice.

According to Buzzfeed, it appears that invitations to tour Air Force One were sent to members of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club last year. Newly-acquired documents show that tours of the plane did, in fact, take place on the date noted on the invitations.

The names of the people on the tour were redacted, and the White House has refused to confirm that they were club members.

But when the White House was first contacted about the invitations last year, a spokeswoman defended them anyway:

Without confirming or denying, Stephanie Grisham, then a spokeswoman for the White House who now works for the first lady, said in an e-mail, “It is common for friends/family of the President to receive tours of Air Force One.”

“This is something that has been done in past administrations going back years and is not out of the ordinary,” she wrote, adding that if the invitation was sent to long-time club members, “then they are also most likely longtime friends of the President.”

Grisham’s defense is absurd, since no previous president owned a private for-profit club whose members could be given perks like a private tour of Air Force One. That defense is also belied by the White House’s refusal to admit whether club members were, in fact, given tours of Air Force One.

This revelation fits with Trump’s history of using the presidency as a source of grift for his private club, a practice he has engaged in even since before assuming office.

Membership fees to the club were doubled just after the election. And after just weeks in office, Trump came under fire for using a summit with Japan’s prime minister as a “free global infomercial” for the club.

Taxpayers have also been billed for expenses at Mar-a-Lago for every trip Trump has made there. And Trump has made a regular habit of visiting his other properties while traveling, boosting their profits as well.

Trump has also used the government for the club’s benefit by exempting Florida — and Mar-a-Lago — from his offshore drilling plans, and by preserving the immigrant visas he uses to hire foreign workers at Mar-a-Lago while cracking down on others.

Mar-a-Lago members have been granted access to Trump, and been given a front-row seat to unfolding national security situations. Those members have responded by cheering wildly for the prospect of a Trump presidency “for life.”

The Trump administration’s constant grifting has long been an embarrassment — but the White House’s insistence that it’s normal is just an insult. Nothing about this is normal, nor should it ever be.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

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Israel says it has conducted ‘wide-ranging’ air strikes against Hamas

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Israeli aircraft and tanks hit targets across the Gaza Strip Friday after shots were fired at troops on the border, the army said, with Hamas reporting three members of its military wing killed.

An army statement said shots were fired at troops during renewed protests along the Gaza-Israel frontier and “in response, (Israeli) aircraft and tanks targeted military targets throughout the Gaza Strip.”

The IDF says its warplanes have carried out ‘wide-ranging’ air strikes against Hamas targets in Gaza, in response to the earlier gunfire.

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US Secretary of State Pompeo demands “full enforcement of sanctions” on North Korea

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told United Nations Security Council envoys on Friday that there needs to be “concrete actions” by North Korea before an easing of sanctions on Pyongyang can be discussed, said Dutch U.N. Ambassador Karel van Oosterom.

“The secretary made very clear we need concrete deeds, concrete actions and only then we can start the discussion,” van Oosterom told reporters after Pompeo informally briefed envoys from the 15-member council, Japan and South Korea behind closed doors at the South Korea U.N. mission.

(New York Times)

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Michael Cohen Secretly Taped Trump Discussing Payment to Playboy Model

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 President Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, secretly recorded a conversation with Mr. Trump two months before the presidential election in which they discussed payments to a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump, according to lawyers and others familiar with the recording.

The F.B.I. seized the recording this year during a raid on Mr. Cohen’s office. The Justice Department is investigating Mr. Cohen’s involvement in paying women to tamp down embarrassing news stories about Mr. Trump ahead of the 2016 election. Prosecutors want to know whether that violated federal campaign finance laws, and any conversation with Mr. Trump about those payments would be of keen interest to them.

The recording’s existence further draws Mr. Trump into questions about tactics he and his associates used to keep aspects of his personal and business life a secret. And it highlights the potential legal and political danger that Mr. Cohen represents to Mr. Trump. Once the keeper of many of Mr. Trump’s secrets, Mr. Cohen is now seen as increasingly willing to consider cooperating with prosecutors.

Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, confirmed in a telephone conversation on Friday that Mr. Trump had discussed the payments with Mr. Cohen on the tape but said the payment was ultimately never made. He said the recording was less than two minutes and demonstrated that the president had done nothing wrong.

“Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of it in advance,” Mr. Giuliani said, adding that Mr. Trump had directed Mr. Cohen that if he were to make a payment related to the woman, write a check, rather than sending cash, so it could be properly documented.

“In the big scheme of things, it’s powerful exculpatory evidence,” Mr. Giuliani.

Mr. Cohen’s lawyers discovered the recording as part of their review of the seized materials and shared it with Mr. Trump’s lawyers, according to three people briefed on the matter.

“We have nothing to say on this matter,” Mr. Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny J. Davis, said when asked about the tape.

(New York Times)

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