Tag Archives: The White House

Donald Trump: I’ll send troops to Mexico to stop ‘bad hombres’

President Trump in a phone call with his Mexican counterpart threatened to send U.S. troops to stop “bad hombres down there” unless that country’s military does more to control them, and scrapped with Australia’s prime minister in another call.

“You have a bunch of bad hombres down there,” Trump told Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, according to the excerpt given to The Associated Press.

“You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”

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Suspect charged in Quebec mosque attack

A French Canadian known for far-right views has been charged with six counts of murder over the shooting rampage at a Quebec mosque. Suspect Alexandre Bissonnette, who was also charged with five counts of attempted murder, made a brief court appearance and did not enter a plea.

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Barack Obama might head back to Columbia University after his term—possibly as a professor

With a little more than a year left in office, Barack Obama may be closing in on his post-presidency plans. An announcement yesterday (Aug. 31) by Columbia University president Lee C. Bollinger sent rumors about those plans flying.

With previous rumors already suggesting that Obama was considering a move to New York City to teach at Columbia Law School, Bollinger said he’s looking forward to welcoming Obama back to campus in 2017.

According to the university newspaper, the Columbia Spectator,Bollinger did not say anything specific other than to suggest that the president (and perhaps the first lady) would have some sort of official presence at Columbia in the 2017 academic year.

The university promptly responded to the rumors, saying that Bollinger had not made a big reveal. His comments, it said, reflected no further developments concerning Obama’s plans, but rather “reiterated the May 12 statement by the Barack Obama Foundation that it ‘intends to maintain a presence at Columbia University for the purpose of exploring and developing opportunities for a long term association.’”

Obama was previously a law professor at the University of Chicago. He received his undergraduate degree from Columbia.

The White House also responded to the rumors, saying no decision had been made about Obama’s role at the university after he leaves office.

Google’s 230 visits to White House

Google employees have visited the White House about 230 times during the Obama administration, which amounts to roughly once a week, according to a Wall Street Journal investigation that examines the company’s close relationship with the U.S. executive branch.

The story (subscription required) detailed a number of specific visits, including one by co-founder Larry Page to meet with Federal Trade Commission officials about an antitrust probe that was later dropped.

The Journal also got a copy of about half of that probe (every other page) and posted it online. The FTC has declined to release the full report.

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt was also a frequent visitor, including “on Nov. 6, 2012, the night of Mr. Obama’s re-election, (when he) was personally overseeing a voter-turnout software system for Mr. Obama,” the paper reported.

Cuba deal comes from 18 months of secret diplomacy

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U.S. President Barack Obama announces a shift in policy toward Cuba while delivering an address to the nation from the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, December 17, 2014

WASHINGTON/MIAMI — The December breakthrough that upended a half-century of U.S.-Cuba enmity has been portrayed as the fruit of 18 months of secret diplomacy.

But Reuters interviews with more than a dozen people with direct knowledge of the process reveal a longer, painstakingly cautious quest by U.S. President Barack Obama and veteran Cuba specialists to forge the historic rapprochement.

As now-overt U.S.-Cuban negotiations continue this month, Reuters also has uncovered new details of how talks began and how they stalled in late 2013 during secret sessions in Canada. Senior administration officials and others also revealed how both countries sidelined their foreign policy bureaucracies and how Obama sought the Vatican’s blessing to pacify opponents.

Obama’s opening to Havana could help restore Washington’s influence in Latin America and give him a much-needed foreign policy success.

But the stop-and-start way the outreach unfolded, with deep mistrust on both sides, illustrates the obstacles Washington and Havana face to achieving a lasting detente.

Obama was not the first Democratic president to reach out to Cuba, but his attempt took advantage of – and carefully judged – a generational shift among Cuban-Americans that greatly reduced the political risks.

In a May 2008 speech to the conservative Cuban-American National Foundation in Miami, Obama set out a new policy allowing greater travel and remittances to Cuba for Cuban-Americans, though he added he would keep the embargo in place as leverage.

“Obama understood that the policy changes he was proposing in 2008 were popular in the Cuban-American community so he was not taking a real electoral risk,” said Dan Restrepo, then Obama’s top Latin America adviser.

Six months later, Obama was validated by an unexpectedly high 35 percent of the Cuban-American vote, and in 2012 he won 48 percent – a record for a Democrat.

With his final election over, Obama instructed aides in December 2012 to make Cuba a priority and “see how far we could push the envelope,” recalled Ben Rhodes, a Deputy National Security Advisor who has played a central role in shaping Cuba policy.

Helping pave the way was an early 2013 visit to Miami by Obama’s top Latin American adviser Ricardo Zuniga. As a young specialist at the State Department he had contributed to a 2001 National Intelligence Estimate that, according to another former senior official who worked on it, marked the first such internal assessment that the economic embargo of Cuba had failed.

He met a representative of the anti-Castro Cuban American National Foundation, and young Cuban-Americans who, according to one person present, helped confirm the waning influence of older Cuban exiles who have traditionally supported the half-century-old embargo.

But the White House wasn’t certain. “I don’t think we ever reached a point where we thought we wouldn’t have to worry about the reaction in Miami,” a senior U.S. official said.

The White House quietly proposed back-channel talks to the Cubans in April 2013, after getting notice that Havana would be receptive, senior U.S. officials said.

Obama at first froze out the State Department in part due to concern that “vested interests” there were bent on perpetuating a confrontational approach, said a former senior U.S. official. Secretary of State John Kerry was informed of the talks only after it appeared they might be fruitful, officials said.

Cuban President Raul Castro operated secretly too. Josefina Vidal, head of U.S. affairs at Cuba’s foreign ministry, was cut out, two Americans close to the process said. Vidal could not be reached for comment.

The meetings began in June 2013 with familiar Cuban harangues about the embargo and other perceived wrongs. Rhodes used his relative youth to volley back.

“Part of the point was ‘Look I wasn’t even born when this policy was put in place … We want to hear and talk about the future’,” said Rhodes, 37.

“THE CUBANS WERE DUG IN”

Obama’s people-to-people Cuba strategy was complicated by one person in particular: Alan Phillip Gross.

The U.S. government had sent Gross, a USAID contractor, on risky missions to deliver communications equipment to Cuba’s Jewish community. His December 2009 arrest put Obama’s planned “new beginning” with Cuba on hold.

The secret talks were almost derailed by Havana’s steadfast demand that Obama swap the “Cuban Three,” a cell of Cuban spies convicted in Miami but considered heroes in Havana, for Gross.

Obama refused a straight trade because Washington denied Gross was a spy and the covert diplomacy stalled as 2013 ended.

Even as Obama and Castro shook hands at the Johannesburg memorial service for South African leader Nelson Mandela, the situation behind the scenes did not look very hopeful.

“The Cubans were dug in … And we did kind of get stuck on this,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes and Zuniga spent more than 70 hours negotiating with the Cubans, mostly at Canadian government facilities in Ottawa.

By late spring 2014, Gross’ friends and family grew alarmed over his physical and psychological state. The White House and the Cubans knew that if he died in prison, repairing relations would be left to another generation.

With Gross’ mother, Evelyn, dying of lung cancer, the U.S. government and his legal team launched an effort to convince the Cubans to grant him a furlough to see her.

That bid failed, despite an offer by Gross’s lawyer Scott Gilbert to sit in his jail cell as collateral.

But a turning point had occurred at a January 2014 meeting in Toronto. The Americans proposed – to the Cubans’ surprise – throwing Rolando Sarraff, a spy for Washington imprisoned in Cuba since 1995, into the deal, U.S. participants said.

The White House could claim it was a true “spy swap,” giving it political cover. But it took 11 more months to seal the deal.

Castro did not immediately agree to give up Sarraff, a cryptographer who Washington says helped it disrupt Cuban spy rings in the United States.

And Obama, stung by the outcry over his May 2014 exchange of five Taliban detainees for U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, was wary of another trade perceived as lopsided, according to people close to the situation.

He weighed other options, including having the Cubans plead guilty to the charges against them and be sentenced to time served, according to the people.

Gilbert worked with the Obama administration, but urged it to move faster. From his vantage point, the turning point came in April 2014, when it became clear key Obama officials would support a full commutation of the Cuban prisoners’ sentences.

“TEARS IN OUR EYES”

The last puzzle piece slid into place at a Feb. 2014 White House meeting with lawmakers including Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy and Sen. Dick Durbin.

Obama hammered home his opposition to a straight Gross-Cuban Three trade, two people present said. Durbin, in an interview, said he “raised the possibility of using the Vatican and the Pope as intermediaries.”

Pope Francis would bring the Catholic Church’s moral influence and his status as the first pontiff from Latin America. It was also protection against harsh critics such as Cuban-American Sen. Robert Menendez.

Leahy persuaded two Catholic cardinals to ask Francis to raise Cuba and the prisoners when he met Obama in March. The Pope did so, then wrote personal letters to Obama and Castro.

“What could be better than the president being be able to tell Menendez or anybody else, ‘Hey, The Pope asked me?’” a congressional aide said.

The deal was finalized in late October in Rome, where the U.S. and Cuban teams met separately with Vatican officials, then all three teams together.

Rhodes and Zuniga met the Cubans again in December to nail down logistics for the Dec. 17 announcements of prisoner releases, easing of U.S. sanctions, normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations and Cuba’s freeing of 53 political prisoners.

Gilbert was aboard the plane to Cuba that would bring Gross home. Landing at a military airfield, Gilbert met Cuban officials who had been in charge of Gross for five years. “Many of us from both countries had tears in our eyes,” Gilbert said.

Castro and Obama, whose Cuba policy still faces vocal opposition from anti-Castro lawmakers, will come face to face at next month’s Western Hemisphere summit in Panama. Aides have dared to imagine that Obama could be the first U.S. president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928.

“We’re in new territory here,” Rhodes said.

(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Anna Yukhananov, Lesley Wroughton and Mark Hosenball in Washington, and Dan Trotta in Havana. Editing by Jason Szep and Stuart Grudgings)

President Obama Rejected From Multiple Exclusive New York Golf Clubs

Obama Golfs

President Barack Obama was reportedly unable to get onto a golf course when he was in New York for Labor Day weekend after he was rejected by several exclusive clubs.

According to WNBC, Obama was denied tee times at multiple courses including Trump National Golf Club, the Winged Foot, and Willow Ridge. Obama was in the New York area for fundraisers on Friday, Aug. 29.

The next day, he attended the wedding of his chef, Sam Kass, and MSNBC host Alex Wagner. WNBC reported Obama hoped to spend Saturday morning on the links and had his staff gave the clubs “just a day or two notice” to see if they would accommodate him.

The White House announced on Thursday before the weekend that the president would change his schedule and return to Washington after the fundraisers on Aug. 29.

He then flew back and forth to the wedding on the following day and did not spend Saturday morning in the New York area.

WNBC said “club managers apparently did not want to inconvenience their high-powered and high-paying members over Labor Day weekend by shutting down their courses to accommodate the president.”

The White House and the three clubs named in WNBC’s report did not comment on the alleged golf course snub to the news network.

Reality television personality and businessman Donald Trump, an outspoken critic of Obama, heads the Trump Organization, which owns Trump National.

Business Insider reached out to Trump’s office to see if the president would be welcome at the club in the future. We did not receive a response.

Angela Merkel indignant at claims US recruited German as double agent

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, chats with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during the signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China Monday, July 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool)

Angela Merkel reacted angrily on Monday to reports that the US had recruited a German as a double agent , with her justice minister threatening to launch criminal proceedings over the allegations.

The German chancellor expressed her indignation as she stood next to to China’s premier in Beijing, highlighting how the two countries’ relationship has been strengthened by their shared outrage at US espionage activities.

“If the allegations are true it would be a clear contradiction as to what I consider to be trusting co-operation between agencies and partners,” the German chancellor said during a news conference with Li Keqiang.

Heiko Maas, the German justice minister, issued a strongly worded statement, saying: “The Americans have to observe the law just like everyone else. This case must now be cleared up quickly and comprehensively with all legal means.”

Mr Maas said that the US could only restore “the trust that has been lost” by co-operating with Germany’s inquiries into the spy affair. “The intelligence agencies have to observe the rules. If they don’t, they must face criminal proceedings.”

German authorities last week arrested a 31-year-old man employed in the Germany’s foreign intelligence service who later admitted to working for the US. Berlin’s relationship with Washington was already under strain from revelations last year by Edward Snowden, the former US intelligence contractor, that the National Security Administration had bugged Ms Merkel’s phone. Berlin has already launched a criminal investigation into the incident.

The White House declined to confirm on Monday whether the individual arrested on spying charges had been working for the US.

Asked to respond to Mr Merkel’s comments that if the reports about the US connection were true, it would represent a breach of “trust”, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said “that’s obviously a big “if.”’

“We highly value the close working relationship we have with the Germans on a wide range of issues, but particularly on security and intelligence matters,” he said. “It’s built on a lot of shared trust. It’s built on friendship, and it’s built on shared values.”

Analysts played down the likelihood of German authorities mounting an effective prosecution against US intelligence agencies.

Constanze Stelzenmüller, senior transatlantic fellow with the German Marshall Fund, a think-tank, said the justice minister’s statement was a “completely impractical suggestion” but an indication of Berlin’s strong feelings.

Ms Stelzenmüller described the affair as “amateurish”, a reference to a German media report that the suspected double agent had made contact with US intelligence in the simplest fashion imaginable – by emailing the Berlin embassy.

“This is a low-grade clerk who was a walk-in,” she said. “Because it’s all so amateurish, the excitement that it generates shows how raw everybody’s feeling. The underlying issues, particularly of institutional trust, remain unresolved.”

At a press briefing on Monday, Christiane Wirtz, a spokeswoman for Ms Merkel, said that talks between the US and Europe to create a transatlantic trade pact “were not in question or in doubt”.

But the espionage scandals may make it harder to persuade an already sceptical public of the benefits of transatlantic co-operation, particularly over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

The trade talks have become a focus of popular anti-American sentiment, with opponents rallying around the emblem of the Chlorhühnchen , the chlorine-washed chicken they fear will be imported from the US.

Carsten Nickel, a Berlin-based analyst with the consultancy Teneo, said: “It’s going to be much tougher to sell [the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership] to the public. It wasn’t popular in the first place. It’s more complicated to make concessions and work towards consensus.”

The Chinese government has sought to take full advantage ofthe transatlantic tensions, giving German companies a range of prizes during the chancellor’s three-day visit to the world’s second-largest economy. Germany is China’s biggest trading partner in Europe.

On Monday, the Chinese government granted German investors an Rmb80bn ($13bn) investment quota in the country’s stock markets. Volkswagen , the top-selling automaker in the world’s largest car market, said it would invest €2bn in two new plants in the eastern cities of Tianjin and Qingdao, and Lufthansa signed a code-share agreement with Air China .

“The message from China is we are happy to engage with you guys but not the US,” said one European businessman.

Ms Merkel’s visit is the second of three major Sino-German summits this year. President Xi Jinping of China visited Berlin in March, while Mr Li will travel to Germany later this year.

Last month Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador to London, spoke bluntly of how far Germany had risen in Beijing’s estimation relative to its European peers. 

“Before I came here, we used to say when we talked about Europe: ‘Britain, France and Germany’,” Mr Liu told reporters ahead of Mr Li’s visit to the UK. “People now start talking about ‘ Germany, France and Britain ‘.”
Mr Li also used Ms Merkel’s visit to snub Tokyo on the anniversary of Japan’s invasion of China in 1937. In his joint appearance with Ms Merkel, the premier said: “We must always remember history to correctly face up to the past.” Chinese officials routinely contrast German contrition for its Nazi past with what it sees as Japan’s failings to confront its own wartime atrocities, a theme also emphasised by Mr Xi on his European tour earlier this year.

“We don’t have any historical grudges with Germany,” said Gu Junli, a German expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “They have dealt really well with issues related to the second world war.”

However, Beijing and Berlin do not see eye-to-eye on all fronts. Beijing has done nothing to discourage Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support of separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Ms Merkel made clear that she opposed industrial spying wherever it originated when asked about Chinese cyber-espionage against German businesses.

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