Daily Archives: Sep 4, 2018

BOSTON  — Nike’s latest advertisement featuring Colin Kaepernick has sparked a lot of debate and controversy around the sports world and the country at large. And while seemingly everybody has an opinion one way or another, the quarterback of the Patriots is apparently backing the message behind Kaepernick.

An active Instagram user, Brady double-tapped the screen when he saw the account for GQ Magazine share the Nike ad, which features Kaepernick’s face and includes the words, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

The 41-year-old Brady almost always avoids commenting publicly on controversial matters, though he has expressed support for Kaepernick over the past couple of years.

In an interview with CBS last September, Brady praised Kaepernick’s quarterbacking ability and said, “he’s certainly qualified and I hope he gets a shot.”

In November on WEEI, Brady said Kaepernick “was a damn good quarterback. He’s played at a high level and brought his teams to Super Bowls.”

The new Kaepernick ad, which hit the internet on Sunday, resulted in instant reaction, both in support and protest of the statement. Brady’s unlikely to comment further on his social media activity, but considering that he knows how closely all of his social media activity is monitored and covered, the “like” on Instagram serves a firm statement on Brady’s behalf.

 

John Dowd was convinced that President Trump would commit perjury if he talked to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. So, on Jan. 27, the president’s then-personal attorney staged a practice session to try to make his point.

In the White House residence, Dowd peppered Trump with questions about the Russia investigation, provoking stumbles, contradictions and lies until the president eventually lost his cool.

“This thing’s a goddamn hoax,” Trump erupted at the start of a 30-minute rant that finished with him saying, “I don’t really want to testify.”

The dramatic and previously untold scene is recounted in “Fear,” a forthcoming book by Bob Woodward that paints a harrowing portrait of the Trump presidency, based on in-depth interviews with administration officials and other principals.

Woodward writes that his book is drawn from hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand participants and witnesses that were conducted on “deep background,” meaning the information could be used but he would not reveal who provided it. His account is also drawn from meeting notes, personal diaries and government documents.

Woodward depicts Trump’s anger and paranoia about the Russia inquiry as unrelenting, at times paralyzing the West Wing for entire days. Learning of the appointment of Mueller in May 2017, Trump groused, “Everybody’s trying to get me”— part of a venting period that shellshocked aides compared to Richard Nixon’s final days as president.

The 448-page book was obtained by The Washington Post. Woodward, an associate editor at The Post, sought an interview with Trump through several intermediaries to no avail. The president called Woodward in early August, after the manuscript had been completed, to say he wanted to participate. The president complained that it would be a “bad book,” according to an audio recording of the conversation. Woodward replied that his work would be “tough,” but factual and based on his reporting.

The book’s title derives from a remark that then-candidate Trump made in an interview with Woodward and Post political reporter Robert Costa in 2016. Trump said, “Real power is, I don’t even want to use the word, ‘Fear.’”

A central theme of the book is the stealthy machinations used by those in Trump’s inner sanctum to try to control his impulses and prevent disasters, both for the president personally and for the nation he was elected to lead.

Woodward describes “an administrative coup d’etat” and a “nervous breakdown” of the executive branch, with senior aides conspiring to pluck official papers from the president’s desk so he couldn’t see or sign them.

Again and again, Woodward recounts at length how Trump’s national security team was shaken by his lack of curiosity and knowledge about world affairs and his contempt for the mainstream perspectives of military and intelligence leaders.

At a National Security Council meeting on Jan. 19, Trump disregarded the significance of the massive U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula, including a special intelligence operation that allows the United States to detect a North Korean missile launch in seven seconds vs. 15 minutes from Alaska, according to Woodward. Trump questioned why the government was spending resources in the region at all.

“We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told him.

After Trump left the meeting, Woodward recounts, “Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — ‘a fifth- or sixth-grader.’ ”

In Woodward’s telling, many top advisers were repeatedly unnerved by Trump’s actions and expressed dim views of him. “Secretaries of defense don’t always get to choose the president they work for,” Mattis told friends at one point, prompting laughter as he explained Trump’s tendency to go off on tangents about subjects such as immigration and the news media.

Inside the White House, Woodward portrays an unsteady executive detached from the conventions of governing and prone to snapping at high-ranking staff members, whom he unsettled and belittled on a daily basis.

White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly frequently lost his temper and told colleagues that he thought the president was “unhinged,” Woodward writes. In one small group meeting, Kelly said of Trump: “He’s an idiot. It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in Crazytown. I don’t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had.”

Reince Priebus, Kelly’s predecessor, fretted that he could do little to constrain Trump from sparking chaos. Woodward writes that Priebus dubbed the presidential bedroom, where Trump obsessively watched cable news and tweeted, “the devil’s workshop,” and said early mornings and Sunday evenings, when the president often set off tweetstorms, were “the witching hour.”

Trump apparently had little regard for Priebus. He once instructed then-staff secretary Rob Porter to ignore Priebus, even though Porter reported to the chief of staff, saying that Priebus was “‘like a little rat. He just scurries around.’”

Few in Trump’s orbit were protected from the president’s insults. He often mocked former national security adviser H.R. McMaster behind his back, puffing up his chest and exaggerating his breathing as he impersonated the retired Army general, and once said McMaster dresses in cheap suits, “like a beer salesman.”

Trump told Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a wealthy investor eight years his senior: “I don’t trust you. I don’t want you doing any more negotiations. … You’re past your prime.”

A near-constant subject of withering presidential attacks was Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump told Porter that Sessions was a “traitor” for recusing himself from overseeing the Russia investigation, Woodward writes. Mocking Sessions’s accent, Trump added, “This guy is mentally retarded. He’s this dumb Southerner. … He couldn’t even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama.”

At a dinner with Mattis and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, among others, Trump lashed out at a vocal critic, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). He falsely suggested that the former Navy pilot had been a coward for taking early release from a prisoner-of-war camp in Vietnam because of his father’s military rank and leaving others behind.

Mattis swiftly corrected his boss: “No, Mr. President, I think you’ve got it reversed.” The defense secretary explained that McCain, who died Aug. 25, had in fact turned down early release and was brutally tortured during his five years at the Hanoi Hilton.

“Oh, okay,” Trump replied, according to Woodward’s account.

With Trump’s rage and defiance impossible to contain, Cabinet members and other senior officials learned to act discreetly. Woodward describes an alliance among Trump’s traditionalists — including Mattis and Gary Cohn, the president’s former top economic adviser — to stymie what they considered dangerous acts.

“It felt like we were walking along the edge of the cliff perpetually,” Porter is quoted as saying. “Other times, we would fall over the edge, and an action would be taken.”

After Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical attack on civilians in April 2017, Trump called Mattis and said he wanted to assassinate the dictator. “Let’s fucking kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the fucking lot of them,” Trump said, according to Woodward.

Mattis told the president that he would get right on it. But after hanging up the phone, he told a senior aide: “We’re not going to do any of that. We’re going to be much more measured.” The national security team developed options for the more conventional airstrike that Trump ultimately ordered.

Cohn, a Wall Street veteran, tried to tamp down Trump’s strident nationalism regarding trade. According to Woodward, Cohn “stole a letter off Trump’s desk” that the president was intending to sign to formally withdraw the United States from a trade agreement with South Korea. Cohn later told an associate that he removed the letter to protect national security and that Trump did not notice that it was missing.

Cohn made a similar play to prevent Trump from pulling the United States out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, something the president has long threatened to do. In spring 2017, Trump was eager to withdraw from NAFTA and told Porter: “Why aren’t we getting this done? Do your job. It’s tap, tap, tap. You’re just tapping me along. I want to do this.”

Under orders from the president, Porter drafted a notification letter withdrawing from NAFTA. But he and other advisers worried that it could trigger an economic and foreign relations crisis. So Porter consulted Cohn, who told him, according to Woodward: “I can stop this. I’ll just take the paper off his desk.”

Despite repeated threats by Trump, the United States has remained in both pacts. The administration continues to negotiate new terms with South Korea as well as with its NAFTA partners, Canada and Mexico.

Cohn came to regard the president as “a professional liar” and threatened to resign in August 2017 over Trump’s handling of a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. Cohn, who is Jewish, was especially shaken when one of his daughters found a swastika on her college dorm room.

Trump was sharply criticized for initially saying that “both sides” were to blame. At the urging of advisers, he then condemned white supremacists and neo-Nazis, but almost immediately told aides, “That was the biggest fucking mistake I’ve made” and the “worst speech I’ve ever given,” according to Woodward’s account.

When Cohn met with Trump to deliver his resignation letter after Charlottesville, the president told him, “This is treason,” and persuaded his economic adviser to stay on. Kelly then confided to Cohn that he shared Cohn’s horror at Trump’s handling of the tragedy — and shared Cohn’s fury with Trump.

“I would have taken that resignation letter and shoved it up his ass six different times,” Kelly told Cohn, according to Woodward. Kelly himself has threatened to quit several times, but has not done so.

Woodward illustrates how the dread in Trump’s orbit became all-encompassing over the course of Trump’s first year in office, leaving some staff members and Cabinet members confounded by the president’s lack of understanding about how government functions and his inability and unwillingness to learn.

At one point, Porter, who departed in February amid domestic abuse allegations, is quoted as saying, “This was no longer a presidency. This is no longer a White House. This is a man being who he is.”

Such moments of panic are a routine feature, but not the thrust of Woodward’s book, which mostly focuses on substantive decisions and internal disagreements, including tensions with North Korea as well as the future of U.S. policy in Afghanistan.

Woodward recounts repeated episodes of anxiety inside the government over Trump’s handling of the North Korean nuclear threat. One month into his presidency, Trump asked Dunford for a plan for a preemptive military strike on North Korea, which rattled the combat veteran.

In the fall of 2017, as Trump intensified a war of words with Kim Jong Un, nicknaming North Korea’s dictator “Little Rocket Man” in a speech at the United Nations, aides worried the president might be provoking Kim. But, Woodward writes, Trump told Porter that he saw the situation as a contest of wills: “This is all about leader versus leader. Man versus man. Me versus Kim.”

The book also details Trump’s impatience with the war in Afghanistan, which had become America’s longest conflict. At a July 2017 National Security Council meeting, Trump dressed down his generals and other advisers for 25 minutes, complaining that the United States was losing, according to Woodward.

“The soldiers on the ground could run things much better than you,” Trump told them. “They could do a much better job. I don’t know what the hell we’re doing.” He went on to ask, “How many more deaths? How many more lost limbs? How much longer are we going to be there?”

The president’s family members, while sometimes touted as his key advisers by other Trump chroniclers, are minor players in Woodward’s account, popping up occasionally in the West Wing and vexing adversaries.

Woodward recounts an expletive-laden altercation between Ivanka Trump, the president’s eldest daughter and senior adviser, and Stephen K. Bannon, the former chief White House strategist.

“You’re a goddamn staffer!” Bannon screamed at her, telling her that she had to work through Priebus like other aides. “You walk around this place and act like you’re in charge, and you’re not. You’re on staff!”

Ivanka Trump, who had special access to the president and worked around Priebus, replied: “I’m not a staffer! I’ll never be a staffer. I’m the first daughter.”

Such tensions boiled among many of Trump’s core advisers. Priebus is quoted as describing Trump officials not as rivals but as “natural predators.”

“When you put a snake and a rat and a falcon and a rabbit and a shark and a seal in a zoo without walls, things start getting nasty and bloody,” Priebus says.

Hovering over the White House was Mueller’s inquiry, which deeply embarrassed the president. Woodward describes Trump calling his Egyptian counterpart to secure the release of an imprisoned charity worker and President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi saying: “Donald, I’m worried about this investigation. Are you going to be around?”

Trump relayed the conversation to Dowd and said it was “like a kick in the nuts,” according to Woodward.

The book vividly recounts the ongoing debate between Trump and his lawyers about whether the president would sit for an interview with Mueller. On March 5, Dowd and Trump attorney Jay Sekulow met in Mueller’s office with the special counsel and his deputy, James Quarles, where Dowd and Sekulow reenacted Trump’s January practice session.

Dowd then explained to Mueller and Quarles why he was trying to keep the president from testifying: “I’m not going to sit there and let him look like an idiot. And you publish that transcript, because everything leaks in Washington, and the guys overseas are going to say, ‘I told you he was an idiot. I told you he was a goddamn dumbbell. What are we dealing with this idiot for?’ ”

“John, I understand,” Mueller replied, according to Woodward.

Later that month, Dowd told Trump: “Don’t testify. It’s either that or an orange jumpsuit.”

But Trump, concerned about the optics of a president refusing to testify and convinced that he could handle Mueller’s questions, had by then decided otherwise.

“I’ll be a real good witness,” Trump told Dowd, according to Woodward.

“You are not a good witness,” Dowd replied. “Mr. President, I’m afraid I just can’t help you.”

The next morning, Dowd resigned.

A Venezuelan soldier speaks with a man as motorists queue outside a gas station of the Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA in San Antonio, Venezuela September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

UREÑA, Venezuela (Reuters) – Frustrated Venezuelan drivers faced lengthy lines for gasoline in border states on Tuesday as the government struggled to roll out a new payment system that President Nicolas Maduro says will reduce smuggling of heavily-subsidized fuel.

Maduro says the payment system will pave the way for charging international prices for fuel – a massive increase given that gas is now almost free – as his government seeks to shore up state coffers amid a hyperinflationary economic meltdown.

Any increase would mark the first time in 20 years that the OPEC member has significantly raised domestic fuel prices, which have been a sensitive issue ever since deadly riots broke out in 1989 in response to austerity measures that included higher gasoline prices.

The pilot program that began on Tuesday in eight states was supposed to provide service stations with wireless devices that use a state-backed identification document called the Fatherland Card to carry out fuel transactions.

“I see a lot of disorganization because they haven’t started making this work yet,” said Jose Coronel, 26, a civil servant, as he waited in line at a gas station in the border town of Ureña. “I can see that it’s difficult to control smuggling.”

At gas stations along the border with neighboring Colombia, the new machines were either not installed or not functioning properly, according to drivers filling up their tanks and two gas station attendants in two different states.

The new payment system will provide a subsidy to motorists with a Fatherland Card, directly reimbursing them for gasoline purchases, once the domestic fuel price hikes take effect. Maduro says that will help soften the impact of a steep price increase.

Drivers on the border started lining up as early as Monday afternoon on concerns that the price hikes would be immediate or that stations would run out of fuel.

The Information Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Experts estimate Venezuela – where shortages of food and medicine have fueled hunger, disease and a mass exodus of citizens – loses at least $5 billion per year as a result of not selling gasoline at international prices.

Maduro on Monday said gasoline would rise to international price levels by October, without offering details.

The use of the Fatherland Card has drawn intense criticism from government critics, who say it is a mechanism to gather information about citizens that the ruling Socialist Party can use against adversaries by withholding basic services from them.

The government offers some benefits including subsidized food, access to scarce medicine and cash bonuses to holders of the card. Maduro says it will help combat an “economic war” led by opposition politicians with the help of Washington.

Fuel prices have stayed relatively steady for years even though inflation is projected by the IMF to reach 1,000,000 percent.

Unay Bayona, 24, an independent merchant, said he doubted prices would ever rise enough to match those in Colombia, and that residents would continue to view contraband as an option.

“Smuggling is going to continue because there is no other way to make a living,” Bayona said, at the entrance to a service station in Ureña.

Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Tom Brown

    Fred Guttenberg (L), the father of Jamie Guttenberg, a victim of the February 14, 2018 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, reaches out to try to shake hands with U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh during his U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Senate confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court pick, descended into chaos on Tuesday, as Democrats protested about Republicans blocking access to documents concerning the nominee’s White House work more than a decade ago.

    With Democratic senators repeatedly interrupting the Judiciary Committee’s Republican chairman Chuck Grassley at the outset of the hearing and dozens of shouting protesters removed one by one by security personnel, the session quickly became a ruckus.

    “This is the first confirmation for a Supreme Court justice I’ve seen, basically, according to mob rule,” Republican Senator John Cornyn said, a characterization Democrats rejected.

    “What we’ve heard is the noise of democracy,” Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said.

    News photographers clicked pictures of a smiling Kavanaugh – the conservative federal appeals court judge picked by Trump for a lifetime job on the top U.S. judicial body – as he entered the hearing room with family members. But moments after Grassley opened the session, Democrats decried the withholding of the documents and asked to have the proceedings adjourned.

    Protesters, mostly women, took turns yelling as senators spoke, shouting, “This is a travesty of justice,” “Our democracy is broken” and “Vote no on Kavanaugh.” Demonstrators voiced concern about what they saw as the threat posed by Kavanaugh to abortion rights, healthcare access and gun control.

    “We cannot possibly move forward. We have not had an opportunity to have a meaningful hearing,” Democratic Senator Kamala Harris said. Democratic Senator Cory Booker appealed to Grassley’s “sense of decency and integrity” and said the withholding of the documents by Republicans and the White House left lawmakers unable to properly vet Kavanaugh.

    Grassley called the Democrats’ request to halt the hearing “out of order” and accused them of obstruction. Republicans hold a slim Senate majority and can confirm Kavanaugh if they stay united. There were no signs of Republican defections.

    If confirmed, Kavanaugh is expected to move the court – which already had a conservative majority – further to the right. Senate Democratic leaders have vowed a fierce fight to try to block his confirmation. Democrats signaled they would press Kavanaugh on abortion, gun rights and presidential power when they get to question him on Wednesday in a hearing due to run through Friday.

    Republican Orrin Hatch accused Democratic senators of political opportunism, noting, “We have folks who want to run for president,” though he did not mention any by name. There has been speculation Booker and Harris might consider 2020 presidential runs.

    Hatch grew visibly irritated as protesters interrupted him.

    “I think we ought to have this loudmouth removed,” Hatch said.

    Trump nominated Kavanaugh, 53, to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced his retirement on June 27.

    Democrats have demanded in vain to see documents relating Kavanaugh’s time as staff secretary to Republican former President George W. Bush from 2003 to 2006. That job involved managing paper flow from advisers to Bush. Republicans also have released some, but not all, documents concerning Kavanaugh’s two prior years as a lawyer in Bush’s White House Counsel’s Office.

    Republicans have said Democrats have more than enough documents to assess Kavanaugh’s record, including his 12 years of judicial opinions as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

    STARING STRAIGHT AHEAD

    Kavanaugh sat, fingers intertwined, quietly staring ahead at the committee members as protesters in the audience screamed while being dragged out of the room. He occasionally jotted notes on paper.

    “A good judge must be an umpire – a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy,” Kavanaugh said in written remarks released in advance of the hearing. “I don’t decide cases based on personal or policy preferences.”

    As the hearing paused for a lunch break, Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter who was killed in the Parkland, Florida high school mass shooting in February, tried to talk to Kavanaugh but the nominee turned away. Video of the encounter was shared widely on social media.

    There is a long history of heated fights over U.S. Supreme Court nominations, with anger in both parties. But the Democratic frustrations that boiled over on Tuesday had been simmering for more than two years.

    Democrats have accused Senate Republican leaders of stealing a Supreme Court seat by refusing to consider Democratic former President Barack Obama’s nominee to the high court Merrick Garland in 2016, allowing Trump to fill a Supreme Court vacancy instead.

    Republicans also last year reduced the margin for advancing Supreme Court nominations from 60 votes in the 100-seat Senate to a simple majority in order to force through the confirmation of Trump’s first high court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

    Grassley sought to turn the attention to Kavanaugh’s qualifications, calling him “one of the most qualified nominees – if not the most qualified nominee – I have seen.”

    The Senate is likely to vote on confirmation by the end of September. The court begins its next term in October.

    The hearing gave Democrats a platform to make their case against Kavanaugh ahead of November’s congressional elections in which they are seeking to seize control of Congress from Republicans.

    Liberals are concerned Kavanaugh could provide a decisive fifth vote on the nine-justice court to overturn or weaken the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion nationwide.

    Kavanaugh is likely to be questioned about his views on investigating sitting presidents and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible collusion between Moscow and Trump’s campaign.

    “I find it difficult to imagine that your views on this subject escaped the attention of President Trump, who seems increasingly fixated on his own ballooning legal jeopardy,” Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy said.

    Republican Senator Jeff Flake, a frequent Trump critic, said he shared Democratic concerns about how Kavanaugh sees the U.S. government’s separation of powers and the rule of law.

    Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Andrew Chung, Amanda Becker, Lisa Lambert; Editing by Will Dunham

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