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Trump ‘demanding’ answers from Saudis about missing writer

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Wednesday the U.S. is “demanding” answers from Saudi Arabia about the disappearance of a well-known Saudi writer and government critic Turkish authorities say was slain inside his country’s diplomatic mission in Istanbul.

Trump said he plans to invite to the White House the fiancée of Jamal Khashoggi, a writer for The Washington Post who has not been seen since he entered the Saudi consulate on Oct. 2 to get paperwork for his marriage.

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump listens to a question during an interview with Reuters in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S. August 20, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

Members of Congress have grown increasingly insistent that the administration find out what happened to Khashoggi. The Saudi government has become a closer ally under Trump and some lawmakers warn that relations could be jeopardized if it turns out the kingdom was involved in his disappearance.

Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that he has a call in to the fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, who had been waiting outside the consulate when Khashoggi went inside and has appealed to the president and first lady Melania Trump for help.

Trump said nobody knows exactly what happened and expressed hope that Khashoggi is not dead. He also said he had spoken with the Saudis about what he called a “bad situation,” but he did not disclose details of his conversations.

Saudi Arabia denies involvement in the disappearance of Khashoggi, a former insider in Saudi government circles who has been living in self-imposed exile in the U.S. for the past year after fleeing a crackdown on intellectuals and activists in the country.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said White House national security adviser John Bolton and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner spoke on Tuesday to Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about Khashoggi. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo then had a follow-up call with the crown prince to reiterate the U.S. request for information.

While angry members of Congress likely won’t cause the administration to turn away from Prince Mohammed and end decades of close security ties with Saudi Arabia, they could throw a wrench into arms sales that require their approval and demand the U.S. scale back support for the Saudi military campaign against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen.

Republican Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said “there will definitely be consequences” if it turns out the Saudis were involved in Khashoggi disappearance. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said it would be “devastating” to the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn, said if Saudi Arabia had lured a U.S. resident into a consulate and killed him, “it’s time for the United States to rethink our military, political and economic relationship with Saudi Arabia.” But he said it was unclear whether the Trump administration was willing to “go beyond words.”

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a longtime critic of the Saudi government, said he’ll try to force a vote in the Senate this week blocking U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia. He told local radio in his home state Tuesday that he wants to end the arms shipments if there’s “any indication” the Saudis are “implicated in killing this journalist that was critical of them.”

Trump’s comments Wednesday were the toughest yet from his administration on the Khashoggi case. Officials have expressed concern but refused even to entertain questions about what the consequences would be if Turkish allegations turn out to be true. Pompeo has called on the Saudi government to conduct a thorough investigation and to be transparent about its results.

The reaction from European governments has also been cautious. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told his Saudi counterpart that if media reports about Khashoggi were correct, it “would be extremely concerning and the U.K. will treat the incident very seriously,” according to the Foreign Office.

The Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, has described the allegations as “malicious leaks and grim rumors” and said the kingdom is “gravely concerned” about Khashoggi. Saudi officials maintain he left the consulate shortly after entering, although it has failed to provide evidence.

Washington Post CEO and publisher Fred Ryan said reports suggested the journalist was victim of “state-sponsored, cold-blooded murder.” He demanded answers in a statement Tuesday, saying “Silence, denials and delays are not acceptable.”

Analysts said there were reasons for skepticism about the Turkish account. Ties between Ankara and Riyadh are at a low point over Turkey’s support for Qatar in that country’s yearlong dispute with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations. Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim power, is also annoyed by Ankara’s rapprochement with the kingdom’s Shiite archrival, Iran.

Saudi authorities’ failure to provide video footage of Khashoggi’s movements at the consulate to rebut the Turkish allegations have only deepened suspicions.

The Trump administration, from the president on down, is heavily invested in the Saudi relationship. That’s unlikely to change, said Robin Wright, a scholar at the Wilson Center think tank and close friend of the missing writer. The administration’s Middle East agenda heavily depends on the Saudis, including efforts to counter Iranian influence in the region, fight extremism and build support for an expected plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Indication of those stakes came within four months of Trump taking office, when Saudi Arabia became his first destination on a presidential trip and he announced $110 billion in proposed arms sales.

Prince Mohammed has introduced some economic and social reforms, allowing women to drive and opening movie theaters in the deeply conservative Muslim nation. The flip side, however, is that he’s also squelched dissent and imprisoned activists. He has championed the three-year military campaign against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen that has pushed that nation toward famine and caused many civilian deaths.

Still, the Trump administration last month stood behind its support for that campaign with weapons, logistics and intelligence, certifying that the Saudis were taken adequate steps to prevent civilian despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

Karen Elliott House, a veteran writer on Saudi affairs and chair of the board of trustees at RAND Corp., said U.S. support for the Yemen war is likely to be the focus of congressional criticism but won’t endanger a relationship that has endured for decades, underpinned by shared strategic interests. Even under the Obama administration, which had difficult relations with Riyadh compared with Trump, there were some $65 billion in completed arms sales.

“The U.S.-Saudi relationship is certainly not about shared moral values,” House said. “It’s about shared security interests.”

___

Associated Press writers Susannah George, Matthew Lee and Deb Riechmann and video journalist Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.

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George HW Bush has died

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George Herbert Walker Bush, the linchpin of an American political dynasty whose presidency saw the end of the Cold War and the close of an era of American bipartisanship that conflict fostered, has died. He was 94.

During his single term in the White House, the Berlin Wall fell, newly democratic states sprang up across Central and Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union came to an end. And in the Middle East, the U.S. military launched its most successful offensive since World War II. For a time, Bush rode foreign policy triumphs to high popularity. But he saw his standing plunge during a 1990s recession and lost to Bill Clinton after one term.

On April 22nd President Bush was admitted to the Houston Methodist Hospital  after contracting an infection that spread to his blood. He was said to have been responding to treatments and appeared to be recovering.

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Court Orders White House to give Jim Acosta his hard pass back

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Federal judge Timothy J. Kelly sided with CNN on Friday, ordering the White House to reinstate chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta’s press pass.

The ruling was an initial victory for CNN in its lawsuit against President Trump and several top aides.

The lawsuit alleges that CNN and Acosta’s First and Fifth Amendment rights are being violated by the suspension of Acosta’s press pass.

Kelly did not rule on the underlying case on Friday. But he granted CNN’s request for a temporary restraining order.

This result means that Acosta will have his access to the White House restored for at least a short period of time. The judge said while explaining his decision that he believes that CNN and Acosta are likely to prevail in the case overall.

CNN is also asking for “permanent relief,” meaning a declaration from the judge that Trump’s revocation of Acosta’s press pass was unconstitutional. This legal conclusion could protect other reporters from retaliation by the administration.

“The revocation of Acosta’s credentials is only the beginning,” CNN’s lawsuit alleged, pointing out that Trump has threatened to strip others’ press passes too.

That is one of the reasons why most of the country’s major news organizations have backed CNN’s lawsuit, turning this into an important test of press freedom.

But the judge will rule on all of that later. Further hearings are likely to take place in the next few weeks, according to CNN’s lawyers.

(CNN)

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CNN sues President Trump for banning reporter Jim Acosta

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CNN is filing a lawsuit against President Trump and several of his aides, seeking the immediate restoration of chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta’s access to the White House.

The lawsuit is a response to the White House’s suspension of Acosta’s press pass, known as a Secret Service “hard pass,” last week. The suit alleges that Acosta and CNN’s First and Fifth Amendment rights are being violated by the ban.

The suit is being filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday morning, a CNN spokeswoman confirmed.

Both CNN and Acosta are plaintiffs in the lawsuit. There are six defendants: Trump, chief of staff John Kelly, press secretary Sarah Sanders, deputy chief of staff for communications Bill Shine, Secret Service director Joseph Clancy, and the Secret Service officer who took Acosta’s hard pass away last Wednesday. The officer is identified as John Doe in the suit, pending his identification.

The six defendants are all named because of their roles in enforcing and announcing Acosta’s suspension.

Last Wednesday, shortly after Acosta was denied entry to the White House grounds, Sanders defended the unprecedented step by claiming that he had behaved inappropriately at a presidential news conference. CNN and numerous journalism advocacy groups rejected that assertion and said his pass should be reinstated.

On Friday, CNN sent a letter to the White House formally requesting the immediate reinstatement of Acosta’s pass and warning of a possible lawsuit, the network confirmed.

In a statement on Tuesday morning, CNN said it is seeking a preliminary injunction as soon as possible so that Acosta can return to the White House right away, and a ruling from the court preventing the White House from revoking Acosta’s pass in the future.

“CNN filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration this morning in DC District Court,” the statement read. “It demands the return of the White House credentials of CNN’s Chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. The wrongful revocation of these credentials violates CNN and Acosta’s First Amendment rights of freedom of the press, and their Fifth Amendment rights to due process. We have asked this court for an immediate restraining order requiring the pass be returned to Jim, and will seek permanent relief as part of this process.”

CNN also asserted that other news organizations could have been targeted by the Trump administration this way, and could be in the future.

“While the suit is specific to CNN and Acosta, this could have happened to anyone,” the network said. “If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials.”

Acosta has continued to do part of his job, contacting sources and filing stories, but he has been unable to attend White House events or ask questions in person — a basic part of any White House correspondent’s role.

Acosta is on a previously scheduled vacation this week. He declined to comment on the lawsuit.

On CNN’s side, CNN Worldwide chief counsel David Vigilante is joined by two prominent attorneys, Ted Boutrous and Theodore Olson. Both men are partners at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

Last week, before he was retained by CNN, Boutrous tweeted that the action against Acosta “clearly violates the First Amendment.” He cited the Sherrill case.

“This sort of angry, irrational, false, arbitrary, capricious content-based discrimination regarding a White House press credential against a journalist quite clearly violates the First Amendment,” he wrote.

David McCraw, the top newsroom lawyer at The New York Times, said instances of news organizations suing a president are extremely rare.

Past examples are The New York Times v. U.S., the famous Supreme Court case involving the Pentagon Papers in 1971; and CNN’s 1981 case against the White House and the broadcast networks, when CNN sued to be included in the White House press pool.

The backdrop to this new suit, of course, is Trump’s antipathy for CNN and other news outlets. He regularly derides reporters from CNN and the network as a whole.

Abrams posited on “Reliable Sources” on Sunday that CNN might be reluctant to sue because the president already likes to portray the network as his enemy. Now there will be a legal case titled CNN Inc. versus President Trump.

But, Abrams said, “this is going to happen again,” meaning other reporters may be banned too.

“Whether it’s CNN suing or the next company suing, someone’s going to have to bring a lawsuit,” he said, “and whoever does is going to win unless there’s some sort of reason.”

(CNN)

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