Washington, Oct 11 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump demanded answers Wednesday from Saudi Arabia about the fate of a missing Saudi writer as lawmakers pushed for sanctions and a top Republican said the man was likely killed after entering a Saudi consulate in Turkey.
Trump said he didn't know what happened to Jamal Khashoggi and expressed hope that the 59-year-old writer, who went missing a week ago, was still alive. But senior members of Congress with access to U.S. intelligence reporting feared the worst.
More than 20 Republican and Democratic senators instructed Trump to order an investigation into Khashoggi's disappearance under legislation that authorizes imposition of sanctions for perpetrators of extrajudicial killings, torture or other gross human rights violations.
While no suspects were named, and the lawmakers' letter to the president is only a preliminary step toward taking punitive action, it marked a departure from decades of close U.S.-Saudi relations that have only intensified under Trump. Riyadh has supported the administration's tough stance toward Iran, a key rival of Saudi Arabia in the volatile Middle East.
Republican Sen. Bob Corker, who as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has reviewed the U.S. intelligence into what happened to Khashoggi, said "the likelihood is he was killed on the day he walked into the consulate." He said that "there was Saudi involvement" in whatever happened with the journalist, who wrote columns for The Washington Post.
"The Saudis have a lot of explaining to do because all indications are that they have been involved at minimum with his disappearance," Corker told The Associated Press. "Everything points to them."
Khashoggi, a wealthy former government insider who had been living in the U.S. in self-imposed exile, had gone to the consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 to get paperwork he needed for his upcoming marriage while his Turkish fiancee waited outside.
Turkish authorities have said he was killed by members of an elite Saudi "assassination squad," an allegation the Saudi government has dismissed.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday evening that U.S. intelligence intercepts outlined a Saudi plan to detain Khashoggi. The Post, citing anonymous U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence, said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered an operation to lure Jamal Khashoggi from his home in Virginia to Saudi Arabia and then detain him.
Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that he has a call in to Khashoggi's fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, who has appealed to the president and first lady Melania Trump for help.
Trump said he had spoken with the Saudis about what he called a "bad situation," but he did not disclose details of his conversations. He also said the U.S. was working "very closely" with Turkey, "and I think we'll get to the bottom of it."
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said national security adviser John Bolton and presidential senior adviser Jared Kushner spoke Tuesday to Crown Prince Mohammed 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 and a thorough, transparent investigation.
While angry members of Congress likely won't cause the administration to end decades of close security ties with Saudi Arabia, the initiation on Wednesday of possible sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act indicated the depth of concern on Capitol Hill over Khashoggi's case. Lawmakers could also 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.
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."
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."
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, though it has failed to provide evidence to back that up, such as video footage.
Trump's comments Wednesday were the toughest yet from his administration. The reaction from European governments has also been cautious — in part because of uncertainty over whether strained relations between Ankara and Riyadh might have colored Turkey's reporting of events.
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.
Crown 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 Iran-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 taking adequate steps to prevent civilian deaths despite mounting evidence to the contrary.
Karen Elliott House, a veteran writer on Saudi affairs and chairwoman 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."
Panama City, Oct 11 (AP/UNB)— The most powerful hurricane on record to hit Florida's Panhandle left wide destruction and at least two people dead and wasn't nearly finished Thursday as it crossed Georgia, now as a tropical storm, toward the Carolinas, that are still reeling from epic flooding by Hurricane Florence.
A day after the supercharged storm crashed ashore amid white sand beaches, fishing towns and military bases, Michael was no longer a Category 4 monster packing 155 mph (250 kph) winds. As the tropical storm continued to weaken it was still menacing the Southeast with heavy rains, blustery winds and possible spinoff tornadoes.
Authorities said at least two people have died, a man killed by a tree falling on a Panhandle home and according to WMAZ-TV, an 11-year-old girl was also killed by a tree falling on a home in southwest Georgia. Search and rescue crews were expected to escalate efforts to reach hardest-hit areas and check for anyone trapped or injured in the storm debris.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the eye of Michael was about 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of Macon in central Georgia at 2:00 a.m. Thursday. The storm had top sustained winds of 60 mph (96 kph) and was moving to the northeast at 20 mph (32 kph).
After daylight Thursday residents of north Florida would just be beginning to take stock of the enormity of the disaster.
Damage in Panama City near where Michael came ashore Wednesday afternoon was so extensive that broken and uprooted trees and downed power lines lay nearly everywhere. Roofs were peeled away, sent airborne, and homes were split open by fallen trees. Twisted street signs lay on the ground. Palm trees whipped wildly in the winds. More than 380,000 homes and businesses were without power at the height of the storm.
Vance Beu, 29, was staying with his mother at her home, Spring Gate Apartments, a complex of single-story wood frame buildings where they piled up mattresses around themselves for protection. A pine tree punched a hole in their roof and his ears even popped when the barometric pressure went lower. The roar of the winds, he said, sounded like a jet engine.
"It was terrifying, honestly. There was a lot of noise. We thought the windows were going to break at any time," Beu said.
Sally Crown rode out Michael on the Florida Panhandle thinking at first that the worst damage was the many trees downed in her yard. But after the storm passed, she emerged to check on the cafe she manages and discovered a scene of breathtaking destruction.
"It's absolutely horrendous. Catastrophic," Crown said. "There's flooding. Boats on the highway. A house on the highway. Houses that have been there forever are just shattered."
A Panhandle man was killed by a tree that toppled on a home, Gadsden County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Anglie Hightower said. But she added emergency crews trying to reach the home were hampered by downed trees and debris blocking roadways. The debris was a problem in many coastal communities and still hundreds of thousands of people were also left without power.
Gov. Rick Scott announced afterward that thousands of law enforcement officers, utility crews and search and rescue teams would now go into recovery mode. He said "aggressive" search and rescue efforts would get underway.
"Hurricane Michael cannot break Florida," Scott vowed.
Michael sprang quickly from a weekend tropical depression, going from a Category 2 on Tuesday to a Category 4 by the time it came ashore. It forced more than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast to evacuate as it gained strength quickly while crossing the eastern Gulf of Mexico toward north Florida. It moved so fast that people didn't' have much time to prepare, and emergency authorities lamented that many ignored the warnings and seemed to think they could ride it out.
In Panama City, plywood and metal flew off the front of a Holiday Inn Express. Part of the awning fell and shattered the glass front door of the hotel, and the rest of the awning wound up on vehicles parked below it.
"Oh my God, what are we seeing?" said evacuee Rachel Franklin, her mouth hanging open.
Based on its internal barometric pressure, Michael was the third most powerful hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland, behind the unnamed Labor Day storm of 1935 and Camille in 1969. Based on wind speed, it was the fourth-strongest, behind the Labor Day storm (184 mph, or 296 kph), Camille and Andrew in 1992.
It also brought the dangers of a life-threatening storm surge.
In Mexico Beach, population 1,000, the storm shattered homes, leaving floating piles of lumber. The lead-gray water was so high that roofs were about all that could be seen of many homes.
Hours earlier, meteorologists watched satellite imagery in complete awe as the storm intensified.
"We are in new territory," National Hurricane Center Meteorologist Dennis Feltgen wrote on Facebook. "The historical record, going back to 1851, finds no Category 4 hurricane ever hitting the Florida panhandle."
The storm is likely to fire up the debate over global warming. Scientists say global warming is responsible for more intense and more frequent extreme weather, such as storms, droughts, floods and fires. But without extensive study, they cannot directly link a single weather event to the changing climate.
After Michael left the Panhandle late Wednesday, Kaylee O'Brien was crying as she sorted through the remains of the apartment she shared with three roommates at Whispering Pines apartments, where the smell of broken pine trees was thick in the air. Four pine trees had crashed through the roof of her apartment, nearly hitting two people.
Her biggest worry: finding her missing 1-year-old Siamese cat, Molly.
"We haven't seen her since the tree hit the den. She's my baby," a distraught O'Brien said, her face wet with tears.
Chicago, Oct 10 (AP/UNB) — The Trump administration on Tuesday sharply criticized a draft plan hammered out between the nation's third-largest city and the state of Illinois that envisions far-reaching reforms of Chicago's 12,000-officer force under close federal court supervision.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Department of Justice will file "a statement of interest" opposing the plan, which was drawn up after the city broke off talks with Sessions' department on reforms for the beleaguered Chicago Police Department.
"It is imperative that the city not repeat the mistakes of the past — the safety of Chicago depends on it," Sessions said in a statement he issued Tuesday.
The police reform plan, which is more than 200 pages and still subject to approval by a federal judge in Chicago, foresees far stricter rules on the use of force by officers. One provision requires officers to file paperwork each time they point their weapons, even if they don't fire.
In a joint statement later Tuesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson responded to Sessions, saying: "The Trump Administration never ceases to amaze, and this is just further proof that they are out of step with the people of Chicago and out of touch with reality."
Sessions' comments came a day after President Donald Trump singled out Chicago in a speech to officers at a convention of the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Orlando, Florida. Trump said he would direct the Justice Department to work with Chicago officials to stem violence in the city.
Sessions didn't specify parts of the plan he opposed. But he has expressed reservations before about reform plans supervised by judges, also called consent decrees, saying they can unfairly malign officers. Chicago's police union argued the consent decree will make it harder for officers to do their jobs.
Illinois Attorney Lisa Madigan — without objection from Emanuel — sued the city last year in U.S. District Court in Chicago to ensure any police reforms would be overseen by a federal judge.
That legal action killed a draft plan negotiated with Trump's administration that didn't envision a court role in reforming the department — a departure from the practice during President Barack Obama's administration of using courts to change troubled departments.
The Obama administration launched a civil rights investigation of Chicago police after a video released in 2015 showed a white Chicago police officer, Jason Van Dyke, shooting black teen Laquan McDonald 16 times as he walked away from police. Jurors convicted Van Dyke of second-degree murder last week in the 2014 shooting. The civil rights investigation led to a damning report, which in turn, put enormous pressure on Chicago to implement sweeping police reforms.
At the convention speech Monday, Trump also criticized a 3-year-old agreement between Chicago and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois to curb stop-and-frisk procedures by police. The ACLU had said police inordinately targeted blacks.
Sessions echoed that criticism in his statement Tuesday.
"Chicago's agreement with the ACLU in late 2015 dramatically undercut proactive policing in the city and kicked off perhaps the greatest surge in murder ever suffered by a major American city," Sessions said.
Chicago officials and the ACLU have said those and similar claims by Trump administration officials are exaggerated, get the data on crime in Chicago wrong and misstate the underlying causes of crime.
Washington, Oct 10 (AP/UNB) — In the latest shake-up for President Donald Trump's turbulent administration, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley abruptly announced Tuesday she is resigning at the end of the year, raising fresh questions about the Trump team and about the outspoken diplomat's own political ambitions.
The news blindsided some key U.S. allies and many congressional Republicans involved in foreign policy matters. And it came less than a month before congressional elections, thwarting White House efforts to project an image of stability, with the loss of one of the highest-profile women in the administration at a time when women's votes are being vigorously pursued.
But Haley, the former South Carolina governor, has often been an unpredictable and independent force in the Trump administration. At times she has offered strikingly different perspectives on world events from her more isolationist-minded boss.
A smiling Haley announced her decision at an Oval Office meeting alongside the president, bringing up her own political prospects even as she underscored her continued support for Trump. Without prompting from reporters, she said she had no plans to run for president "in 2020" and would campaign for Trump.
Haley, who is 46 and not personally wealthy, hinted in her resignation letter to Trump that she is headed to the private sector.
"I have given everything I've got these last eight years," she said, referring to her six years as governor as well as her time at the U.N. "And I do think it's good to rotate in other people who can put that same energy and power into it."
Trump was asked why the announcement was made now since Haley is staying until the end of the year.
Instead of answering directly, he recounted how she has had to work on tough issues, such as Iran and North Korea.
White House officials had sought to put a hold on Trump's record-setting turnover in the run-up to the Nov. 6 elections, with aides being asked months ago to step down or commit to stay through Election Day to avoid adding to a sense of turmoil.
Still, the prospect of post-midterm changes continues to hang over the West Wing, and Haley's exit was one that has been discussed, according to a senior administration official not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations.
A number of officials speculated that the timing was meant to preserve the ambassador's own political future. A post in the Trump administration has proven to be a rickety stepping-stone to either lucrative private sector work or hopes for higher office, and the risk to those ambitions might only increase after the elections if Democrats make significant gains in Congress.
Trump said Haley first discussed leaving with him six months ago. The senior official noted that their conversation coincided with the appointments of Mike Pompeo as secretary of state and John Bolton as national security adviser in an earlier upending of top foreign policy officials. Haley had expressed some frustration that her voice had been diminished as the two men became the aggressive new faces of Trump's international policy, the official said.
More recently, there was the awkward moment at the U.N., when Trump's boasting of American economic strength under his leadership brought laughter at a General Assembly session. He insisted later that the delegates were laughing with him, not at him.
The six-month timeline also coincides with a high-profile spat between Haley and the White House in April, when she drew the president's ire for previewing in a television appearance the administration's planned imposition of a new round of sanctions on Russia. When the sanctions never materialized, White House officials said the plans had changed without Haley being briefed, and economic adviser Larry Kudlow suggested she was confused.
"I don't get confused," Haley said in a sharply worded response to the West Wing.
Haley was appointed to the U.N. post in November 2016 and last month coordinated Trump's second trip to the United Nations, including his first time chairing the Security Council.
A rookie to international politics, the former South Carolina governor was an unusual pick for to be U.N. envoy. "It was a blessing to go into the U.N. every day with body armor," Haley said, saying her job was to defend America on the world stage.
At the U.N., she helped spearhead the administration's efforts to combat what it alleged to be anti-American and anti-Israel actions by the international body, including the U.S. decision to leave the Human Rights Council and to stop funding the U.N. agency for Palestinian Refugees.
Haley also secured three successively tougher Security Council sanction resolutions against North Korea — which the administration has credited with bringing Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table — and an arms embargo against South Sudan. But under Haley's tenure at the U.N., the U.S. has faced strong opposition from Russia when it comes to addressing the seven-year-old war in Syria, and frustration from European allies over reimposing nuclear sanctions against Iran.
Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One he was considering five candidates for Haley's job and that a successor would be named in two to three weeks — or maybe sooner. Among those under consideration, Trump said, is former deputy national security adviser Dina Powell. Trump told reporters that he has heard his daughter Ivanka Trump's name discussed for the post, but said if he selected her he'd be accused of nepotism.
In a tweet, the presidential senior adviser and eldest daughter praised Haley, saying Trump will "nominate a formidable replacement for Ambassador."
She added: "That replacement will not be me."
U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell's name has also been floated for the post, but Trump suggested he'd rather keep him in his current post "because he's doing such a good job."
The daughter of Indian immigrants, Haley clashed with then-candidate Trump during the 2016 campaign, denouncing "the siren call of the angriest voices" that disrespected America's immigrants. Trump tweeted that "The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley."
Haley has one child in college and another approaching college age, and she has the potential to make much more money in the business world. She reported owing between $500,000 and $1 million on financial disclosures filed as part of her nomination to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The debts included a personal mortgage of between $250,001 and $500,000, according to the report with the Office of Government Ethics.
Before she was named by Trump to her U.N. post, Haley was elected the first female governor of South Carolina. She was re-elected in 2014. As governor, she developed a national reputation as a racial conciliator who helped lead the effort to bring down the Confederate flag at the Statehouse and helped guide the state through one of its darkest moments, the massacre at a black church.
Washington, Oct 09 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump said Tuesday that U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is leaving the administration at the end of the year. Trump spoke as he and Haley met in the Oval Office, shortly after word came of her plans to resign.
He called Haley a "very special" person, adding that she told him six months ago that she might want to take some time off. Trump said that together they had "solved a lot of problems."
It's the latest shake-up in the turbulent Trump administration just weeks before the November midterm elections. Haley's resignation was a closely guarded secret. Congressional Republicans involved in foreign policy matters and some key U.S. allies did not get advance word from Haley or the White House.
No reason for the resignation was immediately provided. Haley, who is speculated to hold aspirations for higher office, said at the White House: "No I'm not running in 2020."
Haley, 46, was appointed to the U.N. post in November 2016 and last month coordinated Trump's second trip to the United Nations, including his first time chairing the Security Council.
A rookie to international politics, the former South Carolina governor was an unusual pick for to be U.N. envoy.
"It was a blessing to go into the U.N. every day with body armor," Haley said, saying her job was to defend America on the world stage.
At the U.N., Haley helped spearhead the Trump administration's efforts to combat what it alleged to be anti-American and anti-Israel actions by the international body.
Trump said he was considering many candidates for Haley's job and that a successor would be named in two to three weeks.
Last month Haley wrote an op-ed article in The Washington Post discussing her policy disagreements but also her pride in working for Trump. It came in response to an anonymous essay in The New York Times by a senior administration official that alleged there to be a secret "resistance" effort from the right in Trump's administration and that there were internal discussions of invoking the 25th amendment to remove him from office.
"I proudly serve in this administration, and I enthusiastically support most of its decisions and the direction it is taking the country," Haley wrote. "But I don't agree with the president on everything."
The daughter of Indian immigrants, Haley clashed with then-candidate Trump during the 2016 campaign, denouncing "the siren call of the angriest voices" who disrespected America's immigrants. Trump tweeted that "The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley."
"Before she was named by Trump to her U.N. post, Haley was elected the first female governor of South Carolina. She was re-elected in 2014.
As governor, she developed a national reputation as a racial conciliator who led the charge to bring down the Confederate flag at the Statehouse and guided South Carolina through one of its darkest moments, the massacre at a black church.