Trump news: First arrests made in Ukraine scandal, as Trump offers to mediate between Turkey and the Kurds
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Two associates to Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani have been indicted on federal campaign finance violations after allegedly scheming to undermine Joe Biden’s 2020 candidacy and purchase political influence on behalf of a Ukrainian official.
The news arrives as the GOP has been conspicuous by its absence from American TV screens in recent days, with usually loyal Trump supporters on Capitol Hill making themselves scarce and declining media opportunities to defend the president, clearly unnerved by the White House’s refusal to co-operate with the House of Representatives’ inquiry into his dealings with Ukraine.
Mr Trump is meanwhile under fire for washing his hands of responsibility for the Turkish assault on Kurdish fighters in Syria, made possible by his decision to withdraw US troops from the territory earlier this week, with #TrumpGenocide and #TrumpBetrayedTheKurds trending on Twitter and protesters hanging a banner outside Trump Tower in Las Vegas denouncing the betrayal.
He is set to host a rally in Minneapolis this evening, where he has begun a feud with the Democratic mayor, Jacob Frey, over $530,000 in costs associated with the event that the mayor says remain outstanding.
It might be a pretty decent idea to try and get the Trump campaign to pay upfront — while they have raised more than $100 million for Mr Trump's re-election in 2020, they are notorious for skipping out on rally bills.
But, the president's campaign has threatened Mr Frey and his city with a lawsuit, claiming extortion.
On the silly side of news, Mr Trump's ally Lindsey Graham was reportedly duped by a couple of Russian comedians in August, who pretended to be a Turkish official. Mr Graham appeared to contradict his public comments about Kurds, at least his recent comments.
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The GOP has been conspicuous by its absence from American TV screens in recent days, with usually loyal Trump supporters on Capitol Hill making themselves scarce and declining media opportunities to defend the president, clearly unnerved by the White House’s refusal to co-operate with the House of Representatives’ inquiry into his dealings with Ukraine.
It's a well-worn strategy in the Trump White House: Senior officials conveniently manage to be elsewhere when major controversies engulf the building. The frequent absences of Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, and presidential daughter Ivanka Trump during moments of consequence have long been a running joke among their detractors. Their detours included a trip to Florida during the partial government shutdown. Plenty of others have jumped town during tense moments.
As Trump struggled with mounting Republican defections over his decision to declare a national emergency to pay for the stalled border wall back in February, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney wasn't at the Capitol cajoling his former colleagues or in the West Wing making calls. Instead, he was in Las Vegas for an annual friends and family getaway.
More recently, embattled national security adviser John Bolton scheduled a trip to Mongolia while Trump became the first sitting US president to set foot in North Korea, a gesture that didn't sit well with Bolton, who would leave the administration a few months later.
Indeed, knowing "when to be out of town" was one of the top nuggets of advice that Kevin Hassett, the president's former top economic adviser, said he'd received from a predecessor and had to offer his successor.
That includes White House spokesman Hogan Gidley, a frequent guest on Fox News shows and the gaggles with reporters that often follow on the White House driveway. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, an aggressive defender of the president, has not made an appearance on the driveway since a highly contentious 27 September gaggle in which she berated reporters and dismissed a question about whether the White House was organising an impeachment war room. "I'm the only person out here taking your questions," Conway noted then.
Appearances have come instead from lower-profile staffers, including the vice president's chief of staff, Marc Short, the acting director of Office of Management and Budget, Russell Vought, and economic adviser Larry Kudlow, who tried to stay out of the controversy. He's said repeatedly that questions about Ukraine and the president's efforts to dig up damaging information about former vice president Joe Biden are way out of his lane. Adding to the vacuum is the continued lack of White House briefings. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham has yet to hold one.
"It's surprising that they're not using the many levers on the most powerful communications platform in the world, which is the White House," said Joe Lockhart, who served as press secretary during the impeachment of Bill Clinton. He said that the White House is losing out on effective platforms to try to drive its message.
"Nobody is vouching for him or validating him and filling in the blanks," Lockhart said of Trump.
But the atmosphere surrounding the talks was soured by the US Commerce Department's decision on Monday to blacklist 28 Chinese public security bureaus, technology and surveillance firms, citing human rights violations of Muslim minority groups in China's Xinjiang province. A day later, the US State Department imposed visa restrictions on Chinese officials related to the Xinjiang issue.
If negotiations break down again, by 15 December, nearly all Chinese goods imports into the United States - more than $500bn (£400bn) - could be subject to punitive tariffs in the dispute that erupted during Trump's time in office.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in Sydney, Australia, on Thursday that the tariffs were working, forcing Beijing to pay attention to US concerns about its trade practices.
"We do not love tariffs, in fact we would prefer not to use them, but after years of discussions and no action, tariffs are finally forcing China to pay attention to our concerns," Ross said.
Although some media reports suggested both sides are considering an "interim" deal that would suspend planned further US tariffs in exchange for additional purchases of American farm products, Trump has repeatedly dismissed this idea, insisting that he wants a "big deal" with Beijing that addresses core intellectual property issues.
Speaking to reporters in Washington on Wednesday, Trump said: "If we can make a deal, we're going to make a deal, there's a really good chance.... In my opinion China wants to make a deal more than I do."
The two sides have been at loggerheads over US demands that China improve protections of American intellectual property, end cyber theft and the forced transfer of technology to Chinese firms, curb industrial subsidies and increase US companies' access to largely closed Chinese markets.
But Chinese officials, surprised and upset by the US blacklisting of Chinese companies, including video surveillance gear maker Hikvision, along with the suspension of US visas for some Chinese officials, told Reuters that Beijing had lowered expectations for significant progress from the talks.
"I've never seen China respond with concessions to someone throwing down the gauntlet in this manner," said Scott Kennedy, a China trade expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "It suggests to me that the US may have determined that progress was impossible so everyone is just going through the motions."
Other flashpoints that have cropped up in recent days include China's swift action to cut corporate ties to the National Basketball Association over a team official's tweet in support of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters.
But in a possible easing of tensions, The New York Times reported that the Trump administration will soon issue licences allowing some US companies to sell non-sensitive goods to China's top telecom equipment maker Huawei Technologies.
But a Commerce Department spokesman said the agency has been given no such direction. Huawei since May has been on the same trade blacklist affecting Hikvision because the United States says the company can spy on customers - an allegation Huawei denies.
"His vision of 'American carnage' is not a winning message," she adds.