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Trump in Florida for ‘homecoming’ rally amid mounting impeachment push


Following a string of impeachment inquiry hearings last week, President Donald Trump is back on the campaign trail Tuesday night with a rally in Florida for the first time since announcing he’d changed his residency from New York to the Sunshine State.

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And while the campaign is positioning Tuesday’s event as a “homecoming” for the new Floridan, impeachment continued to be on the president’s mind, even spilling into Tuesday’s annual Thanksgiving turkey pardoning at the White House, with Trump taking a pointed jab at Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Trump joked that this year’s turkeys were “specially raised to remain calm under any conditions, which will be very important because they’ve already received subpoenas to appear in Adam Schiff’s basement on Thursday.”

Next week, the House Judiciary Committee will hold its first impeachment hearing, following two weeks of high-profile impeachment inquiry hearings by the House Intelligence Committee.

Rallying in Florida Tuesday night, Trump returns to the comfort of his often raucous and loyal supporters.

Before the president took the stage on Tuesday night, his reelection team has been on the ground in Florida working to lock up the state that was crucial to Trump’s win in 2016.

“Florida was key in 2016 and will be again in 2020,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh told ABC News ahead of the Florida rally. “President Trump is going to win Florida again and not even the Democrats doubt that.”

And the campaign’s already invested big in the Sunshine State with a string of events ahead of the rally including a voter registration get together in Tavares, Florida, along with a “Latinos for Trump” event in Miami with campaign advisers Mercedes Schlapp and John Pence.

Tuesday night’s campaign event in Sunrise, Florida will mark the president’s first rally in the state since officially kicking off his campaign back in July in Orlando.

ABC News’ Jordyn Phelps contributed to this report.





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Trump pokes fun at impeachment inquiry in annual turkey pardoning


After wishing Butter “a lot of luck,” he completed the pardon and sent both birds off to “Gobblers Rest,” an agricultural facility at Virginia Tech University. There, he predicted they “will be cared for and enjoy a terrific life,” though it’s highly unlikely either bird will live to see another Thanksgiving thanks to the breeding practices of turkey farmers.

The annual tradition began after Abraham Lincoln granted a one-time, unofficial pardon because his son had grown fond of a bird delivered to the White House. The lighthearted poultry rite continued throughout various administrations until George H.W. Bush made the turkey pardon official when he took office in 1989.

Trump has kept up the tradition, granting an official pardon last year to Peas and Carrots and the year before sparing Drumstick and Wishbone.

Trump’s pair of pardons come amid speculation about whether he will grant clemency to his longtime associate, Roger Stone, who was found guilty earlier this month on all charges for thwarting a House investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference.

Trump also stepped into controversy by granting full pardons last Friday to a pair of Army officers convicted of or charged with war crimes, while also promoting Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who was tried and acquitted for similar violations of the laws of armed conflict. Internal tension about the move set off a series of events resulting Defense Secretary Mark Esper forcing out Navy Secretary Richard Spencer.



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Defense Secretary Says Trump Ordered Him To Let Eddie Gallagher Retire As Navy SEAL : NPR


U.S. Secretary for Defense Mark Esper, pictured in October, told reporters at the Pentagon on Monday that President Trump ordered him to ensure Eddie Gallagher retained his Trident pin.

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U.S. Secretary for Defense Mark Esper, pictured in October, told reporters at the Pentagon on Monday that President Trump ordered him to ensure Eddie Gallagher retained his Trident pin.

Virginia Mayo/AP

President Trump has repeatedly intervened on behalf of the Navy SEAL recently convicted of misconduct. And Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Trump did it again over the weekend, directly ordering him to allow Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher to retire as a SEAL.

“I spoke with the President on Sunday. He gave me the order that Eddie Gallagher will retain his Trident pin,” Esper told reporters Monday at the Pentagon, referring to the insignia designating Gallagher as a member of the elite commando force.

The order from the commander in chief effectively put an end to proceedings by a Trident Review Board called by the commander of Navy Special Warfare, Rear Adm. Collin Green. The panel was charged with deciding whether Gallagher and three of his supervising officers were fit for duty. In Gallagher’s case, the board was set to convene next week.

On Monday, Esper also reiterated his reasons for asking Navy Secretary Richard Spencer to tender his resignation on Sunday. He accused Spencer of circumventing the appropriate channels, including Esper himself, to engage in direct negotiations with the White House to allow Gallagher to remain a SEAL. Meanwhile, Spencer was saying publicly that the Trident Review Board process should be allowed to play out.

“This proposal was completely contrary to what we agreed to, and contrary to Secretary Spencer’s public position,” Esper said, adding that he was “completely caught off-guard by this information, and realized that it had undermined everything we had been discussing with the president.”

Esper tried to undo the perception that Spencer’s dismissal was tied to the specifics of Gallagher’s case, saying instead that it was over the chain of command.

The standoff between the commander in chief and the Navy’s top brass began even before Gallagher’s court-martial trial over the summer. Gallagher, who served multiple tours in Iraq, was accused of a slew of crimes, including the murder of a wounded Islamic State prisoner. In the end, he was acquitted of all but one charge, posing with a dead detainee. Part of his sentence included a demotion to a lower rank of petty officer first class.

Trump subsequently overturned that decision, commanding the Navy to promote Gallagher back to chief petty officer.

Rear Adm. Green’s decision to initiate a review of Gallagher’s fitness as a SEAL was seen as a rebuke of the president’s order.

In his resignation letter, Spencer suggested that his dismissal was indeed connected to Gallagher’s review rather than any communication back-channels.

“Unfortunately it has become apparent that in this respect, I no longer share the same understanding with the Commander in Chief who appointed me, in regards to the key principle of good order and discipline,” Spencer wrote. “I cannot in good conscience obey an order that I believe violates the sacred oath I took in the presence of my family, my flag and my faith to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

On Sunday, Trump also linked Spencer’s ouster to Gallagher. “I was not pleased with the way that Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s trial was handled by the Navy. He was treated very badly but, despite this, was completely exonerated on all major charges. I then restored Eddie’s rank,” the president tweeted.

Then he introduced another reason for pushing Spencer out: “Large cost overruns from past administration’s…..contracting procedures were not addressed to my satisfaction.”

The president added that he would nominate Kenneth Braithwaite as the next Navy secretary. “A man of great achievement and success, I know Ken will do an outstanding job!” Trump said.

Gallagher’s attorney, Timothy Parlatore, told the Navy Times that neither he nor his client foresaw such fallout. “With this personnel change, this institution will improve and no one will go through the ordeal Eddie went through. At the end of the day, the most important duty any of us have is protecting America,” Parlatore said.

“This case is completely bananas,” he added.

Gallagher said he is “overjoyed” that the president stepped in on his behalf once again. In an interview on Fox & Friends that aired Sunday morning, Gallagher name-checked Green and Spencer.

“This is all about ego and retaliation. This has nothing to do with good order and discipline. They could have taken my Trident at any time they wanted. Now they’re trying to take it after the president restored my rank,” Gallagher said.

It is unclear where the events of the last few days leave the Trident Review Board proceedings for Gallagher’s three supervising officers: Lt. Jacob Portier, Lt. Cmdr. Robert Breisch and Lt. Thomas MacNeil.





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Trump national security adviser won’t say if president will sign Hong Kong bill


“If it weren’t for me, Hong Kong would have been obliterated in 14 minutes,” Trump told the hosts of “Fox & Friends.”

And he said he had warned Chinese leader Xi Jinping not to crack down on the protesters, which Beijing describes as rioters and criminals. “He’s got a million soldiers standing outside of Hong Kong that aren’t going in,” Trump said, “only because I asked him, ‘Please don’t do that. You’ll be making a big mistake. It’s going to have a tremendous negative impact on the trade deal.’”

But the president pointedly declined to say whether he’d veto the Hong Kong legislation, which passed the House this week with just one ‘no’ vote. Among other measures, it authorizes sanctions against Chinese officials.

“We have to stand with Hong Kong, but I’m also standing with President Xi,” Trump said. “He’s a friend of mine. He’s an incredible guy,” the president continued. “But I’d like to see them work it out, OK? We have to see and work it out. But I stand with Hong Kong. I stand with freedom. I stand with all of the things that we want to do, but we also are in the process of making the largest trade deal in history. And if we could do that, that would be great.”

Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien indicated on Saturday that even he didn’t know which way the president was leaning, though he acknowledged the bill passed with “a pretty significant majority.”

“So I don’t have any information on the signing,” he said, noting that he had been traveling.

“What’s happening in Hong Kong is terrible, and our hearts go out to the people of Hong Kong,” O’Brien said, and that the U.S. was “monitoring the situation closely.”

“At the same time, we have a broad range of issues to deal with the Chinese on,” he added. But he said the U.S. expected the Chinese government to live up to the commitment it made to “one country, two systems” at the time of the handover from British rule.

O’Brien’s comments were made in a news conference with reporters at the Halifax International Security Forum, a gathering of diplomats and military officials from leading democracies.

In a public session afterwards, O’Brien said, “The president may very well sign the bill… but that bill is going to become law, looking at the numbers. … I’d be very surprised if that bill does not become law soon.“

The theme of this year’s forum is the rise of China, and panelists have repeatedly highlighted the growing threat the Beijing government poses to the freedom and security of democracies around the world.

O’Brien’s remarks came hours after Cindy McCain presented an award in the name of her late husband, Sen. John McCain, to “the Hong Kong people.”

In an impassioned speech accepting the prize, Hong Kong lawmaker Emily Lau said she hoped the president would sign the Hong Kong bill and called on attendees to “do your best to ensure that there will be no rivers of blood in Hong Kong.”

Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute in London, warned that a presidential veto of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act “would send a very clear signal to China that at the end of the day he will turn in favor of China, so China can do whatever it wants in Hong Kong.”

Beijing, meanwhile, warned Washington against passing the bill into law. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a statement: “We urge the U.S. to grasp the situation, stop its wrongdoing before it’s too late, and immediately take measures to prevent this act from becoming law.”

Lau and Figo Chan, a 23-year-old social democrat who coordinated the participation of 50 political parties and activists groups in the current protest movement, told POLITICO they also called for targeted sanctions against Chinese officials over their efforts to weaken checks and balances in Hong Kong and their sometimes violent response to protests.

“I support legislation to punish officials who violate human rights by banning them and freezing their assets,” Lau said, but she acknowledged that Hong Kong may become a pawn in Trump’s trade war with China.

“We are sort of caught right in the middle. We know he changes his mind every day. We were not born yesterday. There are certain things we cannot influence,” Lau said.

While defiant, both Lau and Chan are pessimistic that the democracy movement can succeed in the absence of a more coordinated Western strategy against China’s attempts to roll back democratic checks and balances in the territory.

“We don’t trust China,” Chan said. He expects a wave of “massive imprisonment, arrest and prosecution.”

Hong Kong holds council elections on Sunday, which some have characterized as a referendum on the democracy protests. But Lau warned the international community to keep Sunday’s vote in perspective.

“These councils have no power. You know, they are advisory bodies” only, she said.

Lau — a legislator for 25 years and former Hong Kong Democratic Party chair — says the new generation of protestors still have a lot to prove: “They can’t just suddenly say, oh, I protest three weeks, I’m going to stand for election. If people still vote for them, good luck. But I want people to really do the work and then stand.”

Asked what the U.S. was prepared to do if China launched a bloody crackdown in Hong Kong as it did in Tiananmen in 1989, O’Brien declined to specify on the grounds that it was a “hypothetical question.”

“I’m hoping that doesn’t happen. We’ve already seen too much violence in Hong Kong,” he said. “I hope the violence doesn’t continue, and we hope that we don’t have a Tiananmen Square situation in Hong Kong. That would be a terrible thing.”

“The United States will do its part,” he said.

But citing how some other Western countries seem more interested in dealing with Beijing than in standing up to Chinese leaders, he the real question is, “What is the world prepared to do about China if there’s that sort of crackdown?”

Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones, a former Conservative minister and chair of Britain’s Joint Intelligence Committee, told the Halifax forum that there are doubts “there would be any price to pay” if the Chinese military rolled into Hong Kong to quell the protests.

“We’re basically more interested in the trade,” Neville-Jones concluded.



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Trump recasts way U.S. deals with the world. And this is a big deal.


LONDON — It is not normal for the United States to have two diplomatic channels for dealing with a foreign ally at war, as the U.S. apparently did with Ukraine under President Donald Trump, as the acting ambassador to Ukraine, Bill Taylor, told the House impeachment inquiry this month.

The first was the official one run by Taylor, aimed at supporting Ukraine in its war with Russian-backed separatists. The other was “irregular, informal” and unaccountable to Congress, with the goal of getting Ukraine’s new leader to do President Donald Trump “a favor” by investigating a political rival, as described by a number of witnesses — most explosively by the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, on Wednesday.

What is also not normal is the United States’ current standing in the world and the way other countries have engaged with it since Trump took office, but particularly since the revelations about his actions toward Ukraine prompted the impeachment inquiry against him.

Diplomatic and foreign policy experts tell NBC News that the president’s habit of deviating — sometimes wildly — from long-held alliances and diplomatic norms have substantially altered America’s relations with allies around the world, and made trusting U.S. intentions and policy positions increasingly difficult.

“The U.S. traditionally has been the country that has most carefully parsed its sentences and words, and with any statement and policy it ran things through an inner-agency process where everyone is involved — what you see is what you get,” says Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who was president of Estonia from 2006 to 2016 and was foreign minister before that.

“Other countries may waffle and say ‘that’s not the case’ or ‘we didn’t mean that’ but with the States, anything from the president was always so nailed down,” Ilves said.

That’s why when something like Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy comes up, “everyone is bewildered.”

Ilves, in a phone interview from Stanford University, where he is a visiting fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation, said that international actors responsible for statecraft are now wary of what the U.S. might do while Trump is in the White House.

“Most of my colleagues and people in the same position today are bewildered and trying to do their best to avoid landmines,” Ilves said. “There is an overarching and abiding concern about what will happen to the various treaty obligations that the U.S. has.”

Trump has pulled the U.S. out of several key international agreements, including the Iran nuclear deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and the Paris climate accords. Trump has reportedly discussed leaving NATO with senior aides and has criticized its members for not matching U.S. spending on defense — although in public he has committed to staying in the alliance.

Nevertheless, Trump’s less-than-fulsome support for NATO left Pentagon officials scrambling to reassure allies that the U.S. would meet its obligations.

“Of course renouncing treaties is more complex than simply not fulfilling a verbal promise. But I think heads of statement and governments generally are anxious and nervous,” Ilves said.

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Ilves dealt with the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations and describes the phone calls and meetings with each president as meticulously planned.

He said that, with previous administrations, anything the president said was policy, whereas now many are left wondering what is approved and what isn’t.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy listens during a bilateral meeting with President Donald Trump in New York City on Sept. 25.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Perhaps even more damaging in the eyes of other nations was the Trump administration’s decision to publish a transcript, albeit partial, of the Zelenskiy call, which marks a watershed moment in how other countries engage with the White House, experts said.

“What it probably does is make people a bit more cautious about what they say in those meetings and calls,” said Reza Afshar, a former senior British diplomat and now policy director at Independent Diplomat, an advisory group based in New York.

“I’m sure European states will be thinking about how they record information and are making sure they are above any impropriety,” he said. “I would imagine some states are thinking about just how they go about those discussions and making sure they are covered legally.”

Trump’s unconventional ways are seen as a strength by supporters and a detriment by critics. But in the realm of foreign affairs, where even the slightest change in language and tone can have wide-ranging effects, this unpredictability can cause problems.

“You can’t rely on what was said a couple of weeks earlier,” said Afshar, who was previously in charge of Syria policy at the U.K. Foreign Office. “In terms of the autonomous administration in northeast Syria, they were given assurances just a few weeks ago that border security would be handled by the Americans and it allowed them to pull out their own heavy weapons and personnel.”

As part of the deal agreed in August, the Syrian Democratic Forces withdrew from the Syria-Turkey border area and dismantled defenses while U.S.-Turkish forces patrolled the region. But this policy was left in tatters on Oct. 7, when Trump announced that U.S. forces would withdraw from the region, two days before Turkey’s invasion began.

“So you’re left with that assurance, and weeks later suddenly it’s meaningless,“ Afshar said.

Any suggestion of wrongdoing by the Trump administration in the Ukraine affair, however strongly denied, could also have ramifications for how other states interact with the U.S., its allies and rivals, he added.

The shift doesn’tchange what Russia and China do, they do these things anyway, but it gives the impression that what they are doing is the norm and gives them encouragement,” Afshar said.

In several ways, it was unfortunate that Ukraine became embroiled in an international scandal with the U.S.

“They didn’t only have a strong bilateral relationship, Ukraine viewed the United States as Not Russia,” said Jennifer Cassidy of Oxford University, a former diplomat with the Irish government, European Union and the United Nations

“If you look at it from a Ukrainian point of view, when they looked at the transcripts and what was said, it turned the U.S. from a model of good governance and truth into what they are trying to get away from, the sort of corruption they are battling.”

Cassidy teaches her politics students at Oxford about what she calls the “shadow of the past” — the idea that whenever two states interact they should always do so on the assumption that they will have to do business together again, so you should always keep relations positive and ongoing.

Rarely do states deviate from this way of working — but the current U.S. administration is not known for doing things by the book.

“This is historically how diplomats and heads of state have always negotiated — they would never cut off all diplomatic ties, or that would happen very rarely,” Cassidy said.

“What we’ve seen from the Trump administration is that it’s just a short-term gain. There is no regard for how this is going to impact America’s reputation, its credibility and its trust on the international stage.”

The most important effect of this short-termism, Cassidy argues, is how the U.S.’s traditional foes might react in the future.

The Iran nuclear deal that Trump abandoned was a complex multilateral treaty signed not just by Iran and the U.S. but Russia, China, Germany, France and the United Kingdom, which have spent the last few months attempting in vain to resurrect some form of the agreement on their own.

“Whether you agree with Iran or not, you can still see the logic of the view that they now hold the card of credibility. Why would they ever come back to the negotiating table with a country that’s wasted their time?” Cassidy said.

“Countries hostile to America hold the cards to not negotiate with America. This lack of long-term strategy, especially if it’s for eight years, is going to be severely damaging to the U.S.’s reputation.”



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Trump travels to Delaware base to honor two U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan


DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump traveled to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Thursday to receive the remains of two American soldiers killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan this week.

Trump, who met with families of the soldiers, was accompanied at the base by first lady Melania Trump, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley and national security adviser Robert O’Brien.

The president and the other officials looked on as six military personnel in army fatigues, white gloves and black berets lifted the flag-draped transfer cases onto a van.

The Pentagon on Thursday identified the two soldiers as Chief Warrant Officer David Knadle of Tarrant, Texas, and Chief Warrant Officer Kirk Fuchigami Jr. of Keaau, Hawaii.

The U.S. military said the cause of the Wednesday crash in Logar province south of the capital, Kabul, was under investigation but preliminary reports did not indicate it was caused by enemy fire. The Afghan Taliban claimed responsibility for downing the helicopter.

The crash came after the Taliban swapped two Western hostages for three of its commanders held by the Afghan government, raising hopes of a thaw in relations between the militant group and coalition forces.

In September, Trump canceled peace talks with Taliban leaders aimed at ending their 18-year war after the group claimed responsibility for an attack in Kabul that killed an American soldier and 11 other people.

Slideshow (6 Images)

The surprise move left in doubt the future of a draft accord that offered a drawdown of thousands of U.S. troops in exchange for guarantees Afghanistan would not be used as a base for militant attacks on the United States and its allies.

Actor Jon Voight, a Trump supporter who received a National Medal of the Arts from the president at the White House earlier on Thursday, accompanied Trump on the visit to the Dover base and called the experience “very powerful.”

“Who can speak for these families and what they’re going through?” he told reporters after the transfer. “So respectful and so dignified. It must be some comfort that their children were cherished by their country.”

Reporting by Alexandra Alper; Editing by Peter Cooney, Robert Birsel

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



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Trump traveling to Delaware to honor Americans killed in Afghanistan


This marks at least the third trip Trump has made the trip to the Delaware Air Force base to witness what is called a dignified transfer, which honors American military members who die while serving their country.

In February 2017, Trump traveled to Dover after Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens was killed during a U.S. raid in Yemen. In January, he visited when the remains of four Americans killed by a suicide bomber in Syria were returned to the U.S.

Last month, Trump vividly described the anguish families feel when he has visited with them at Dover as he defended his decision to move troops in northern Syria, paving the way for a Turkish invasion.

Trump said that he has been surprised at how well the families appear to be dealing with the death of their loved one.

“I see people that were smiling, saying, ‘Oh, Mr. President, thank you for being here,’” he said.

But it’s short-lived. He said the families break down when the cargo plane arrives and the transfer case, covered with an American flag, is carried out with military personnel on each side.

“I’ve seen people that I thought were really incredible the way they were, I didn’t even understand how they could take it so well, scream like I’ve never seen anything before,” Trump said. “Sometimes, they’ll run to the coffin. They’ll break through military barriers, they’ll run to the coffin and jump on the coffin.”

“Crying mothers and wives, crying desperately,” Trump said. “And this is on these endless wars that just never stopped and there’s a time and there’s a place, but it’s time to stop.”

Knadle and Fuchigami had been assigned to 1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.

At least 19 Americans have been killed in combat in Afghanistan this year. In total, more than 2,400 Americans have died since the U.S. first arrived in Afghanistan in October 2001.



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