Trump Administration finally gets clearance to block most citizens of eight countries from entering US
Developments on Day 319:
Implementation of Ban While Legal Challenges Continue
The Supreme Court allows the third version of the Trump Administration’s ban on entry into the US by citizens of eight countries — almost all of them mainly-Muslim — to go into effect while legal challenges against it continue.
The court, in a 7-2 decision, urged appeals courts to move swiftly. Meanwhile, most citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad and North Korea will be barred, along with some groups of people from Venezuela.
There are some exemptions: Iranian students can come on exchanges, though they will be subject to enhanced screening. Somalis will no longer be allowed to emigrate to the US, but may visit with extra screening.
The Supreme Court’s ruling effectively overturned a June compromise, when the judges said travelers with connections to the US — defined as close relatives — could continue to travel despite restrictions in an earlier version of the ban.
In October, federal judges in Maryland and Hawaii blocked major parts of the latest ban while the legal challenges proceeded. Arguments in appeals are scheduled for this week.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the order on Monday “a substantial victory for the safety and security of the American people”. White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said, “We are not surprised by today’s Supreme Court decision,” asserting that it is “lawful and essential to protecting our homeland”.
The American Civil Liberties Union, representing those challenging the ban, said it would continue to pursue court action.
“President Trump’s anti-Muslim prejudice is no secret — he has repeatedly confirmed it, including just last week on Twitter,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “It’s unfortunate that the full ban can move forward for now, but this order does not address the merits of our claims.”
Trump’s initial “Muslim Ban”, issued in an executive order on January 27, barred entry to citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Admission of refugees was suspended for 120 days, and of Syrian refugees indefinitely.
The ban was ruled unconstitutional by a series of courts, leading the Administration to issue a new version in March. That version was also blocked, with judges citing religious discrimination and denial of due process and not accepting the White House’s assertion of “national security” grounds.
White House Lawyer: Trump Cannot Be Guilty of Obstruction of Justice
White House lawyer John Dowd — who may or may not have written Donald Trump’s Saturday tweet that may have admitted obstruction of justice — has said a President cannot be found guilty of the offense.
Trump tweeted that he knew then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn lied to the FBI about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak before Flynn’s dismissal on February 14 — and just before Trump asked FBI Director James Comey to halt any investigation, according to Comey.
A “senior Administration official” later said that Dowd had drafted the potentially-incriminating message. However, analysts noted that the language used was not that typical of a lawyer and that there had not been any other indication of a Trump tweet written by others — raising the possibility that Dowd was setting himself up as a sacrifice to protect the President.
Dowd insisted on Monday that the “President cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution’s Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case”.
Lawyer Alan Dershowitz, a regular talking head for Trump on conservative TV outlets, introduced the line this summer. It has been flatly rejected by legal scholars.
Ty Cobb, a White House lawyer overseeing the handling of the Russia investigation, said that the Dershowitz-Dowd theory was is not Trump’s official legal strategy: “It’s interesting as a technical legal issue, but the president’s lawyers intend to present a fact-based defense, not a mere legal defense. That should resolve things, but we all shall see.”
Asked whether Trump agrees that a president cannot obstruct justice, Cobb replied, “I never talk about what the president’s beliefs are or discuss communications between the President and his lawyers.”
Mueller Subpoenas Trump’s Deutsche Bank Records
Trump lawyer insists that no subpoena issued by Special Counsel
Developments on Day 320 of the Trump Administration:
Could Deustche Bank Show Financial Link Between Trump and Russians?
Pursuing the Trump-Russia investigation, Special Counsel Robert Mueller (pictured) has subpoenaed Deutsche Bank for data on accounts held by Donald Trump and his family, according to “a person close to the matter”.
Germany’s largest bank received the subpoena several weeks ago. The source said key documents had since been handed over.
Deutsche Bank has lent the Trump Organization hundreds of millions of dollars for real estate ventures. It was one of the few major lenders that would give large amounts of credit to Trump in the past decade, because of the businessman’s six bankruptcies in his hotel and casino businesses during the 1990s.
A “US official with knowledge of Mueller’s probe” said one reason for the subpoenas was to find out if Deutsche Bank sold some of Trump’s mortgage or other loans to Russian state development bank VEB or other Russian banks that are now under US and European Union sanctions.
If Russian banks do hold the loans, they could constitute leverage by the Kremlin and other Russian actors over Trump, both as a candidate and as President.
A second US official said, “One obvious question is why Trump and those around him expressed interest in improving relations with Russia as a top foreign policy priority, and whether or not any personal considerations played any part in that.”
Trump had liabilities of at least $130 million to Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas, a unit of the German bank, according to a federal financial disclosure form released in June.
The debts include a loan of more than $50 million for the Old Post Office, a historic property turned into a Trump hotel in downtown Washington; mortgages worth more than $55 million on a golf course in Florida; and more than $25 million on a Trump hotel and condominium in Chicago.
All of the loans were taken out in 2012 and will mature in 2023 and 2024.
Trump Declines Comment
Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow denied a subpoena had been issued:
We have confirmed that the news reports that the Special Counsel had subpoenaed financial records relating to the president are false. No subpoena has been issued or received. We have confirmed this with the bank and other sources.
Trump would not answer shouted questions from reporters about whether Mueller had crossed a line with the subpoena, as he appeared with senators at the White House on Tuesday.
In a July 9 interview, Trump warned that Mueller should not investigate his finances or those of his family.
A spokesperson for the Russian bank VEB said it had not received a subpoena. Deutsche Bank declined to comment.
Kremlin-Linked Lawyer: Trump Jr. Asked About Clinton Foundation in June 2016 Meeting
In an initial meeting with three Kremlin-linked envoys in June 2016, Donald Trump Jr. asked whether they had evidence of illegal donations to the Clinton Foundation, according to one of the Russian participants.
Lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya told the Senate Judiciary Committee, in answers to written questions, that she did not have any such evidence. She asserted that Trump appeared to misunderstand the nature of the meeting after his e-mails with the broker of the meeting, music promoter Rob Goldstone, promising incriminating information on Clinton.
Veselnitskaya, who has close links to Russia’s Prosecutor General, said that once it became apparent that she did not have meaningful information about Clinton, Trump seemed to lose interest and the meeting petered out.
Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign manager Paul Manafort were also at the meeting.
Veselnitskaya insisted in her statement that she did not work for the Russian government and was not carrying any messages from Kremlin officials. She said her motive was to get the Trump team to examine the Magnitsky Act, sanctions imposed by Congress in 2012 over Russia’s human rights abuses.
The lawyer claimed that there was no discussion of Russia’s hacking or leaking of e-mails, social media campaigns, or any other aspect of Moscow’s interference in the US election.
Trump-Kushner Plan to Recognize Jerusalem as Israeli Capital
Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner plan to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, moving the US Embassy.
The decision, to be announced today, pushes aside 70 years of US foreign policy by effectively recognizing all of Jerusalem — established as an “international” city since the formation of Israel and partition with the rest of Palestine in 1948 — as Israeli territory.
Trump’s decision has been driven by a campaign promise to evangelicals and pro-Israeli American Jews to move the embassy. It has been buttressed by Kushner’s lead on US diplomacy in the region, including talks with Israel and Saudi Arabia, which has overridden Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and State Department staff.
On Tuesday, Trump set out the policy change in calls with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority President; and Arab leaders who warned him that it would disrupt the Israel-Palestine peace process and could fuel violence across the region.
Late Tuesday, Palestinian national and Islamic groups issued a joint statement calling for three days of “popular anger” from Wednesday throughout Palestine and outside US embassies and consulates around the world.
The US consulate in Jerusalem barred employees and family members from going to the Old City or the West Bank, and the State Department urged embassies around the world to tighten their security.
“Senior Administration officials” said that the declared move of the US Embassy is largely symbolic at this time, as it will take years to find and develop a site in Jerusalem for the complex.
Report: Trump Administration Considering “Private Spy Network” to Circumvent US Intelligence
The Trump Administration is considering a plan for a global, private spy network to circumvent official US intelligence agencies, “according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials and others familiar with the proposals”.
The plan has been developed by Erik Prince — the founder of the Blackwater security firm, brother of Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy Vos, and a Trump back-channel for discussion with foreign entities — with assistance from Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal.
The sources said the proposal has been pitched to the White House as a means of countering “deep state” enemies in the intelligence community seeking to undermine the Trump Presidency. They also include spies with no official cover in several countries considered “denied areas” for US intelligence personnel, such as North Korea and Iran.
“[CIA Director Mike] Pompeo can’t trust the CIA bureaucracy, so we need to create this thing that reports just directly to him,” said “a former senior US intelligence official with first-hand knowledge of the proposals”:
It is a direct-action arm, totally off the books. The whole point is this is supposed to report to the President and Pompeo directly.
Some individuals involved with the proposals secretly met with major Trump donors asking them to help finance operations before any official contracts were signed, sources said.
Michael Anton, an official with the National Security Council, said, “I can find no evidence that this ever came to the attention of anyone at the NSC or [White House] at all. The White House does not and would not support such a proposal.”
But a “current US intelligence official” countered this, saying the proposals were first pitched at the White House before being delivered to the CIA. According to “two former senior intelligence officials”, Pompeo has embraced the plan and lobbied the White House to approve the contract.
Asked for comment, a CIA spokesperson said, “You have been provided wildly inaccurate information by people peddling an agenda.”