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Trump imposes sanctions on Turkey, says prepared to 'swiftly destroy' its economy

WASHINGTON, Oct 15: Protesting Turkey's military offensive in northeast Syria, US President Donald Trump has announced sanctions against Turkish officials, raising of steel tariffs and ending negotiations on a USD 100 billion trade deal.

Trump has signed an executive order that empowers his administration to slap sanctions on Turkey.

The treasury department has already placed Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu and Energy Minister Fatih Donmez on its sanctions list, while Trump in a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi of the US House of Representatives has declared the Turkey issue a national emergency.

On Wednesday, Ankara launched a cross-border assault on Kurdish fighters after the US decided to withdraw troops from Syria, a move criticised by the Republicans, with some terming it a "betrayal" of the Kurds.

"This (executive) order will enable the US to impose powerful additional sanctions on those who may be involved in serious human rights abuses, obstructing a ceasefire, preventing displaced persons from returning home, forcibly repatriating refugees or threatening the peace, security or stability in Syria," Trump said in a statement.

Turkey's military offensive is endangering civilians and threatening peace, security and stability in the region, he said, adding that he has been perfectly clear with his Turkish counterpart that his action is precipitating a humanitarian crisis and setting conditions for possible war crimes.

"I'm fully prepared to swiftly destroy Turkey's economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path," the president said.

The order gives the state and treasury departments authority to consider and impose sanctions on individuals, entities or associates of the Turkish government involved in actions that endanger civilians or lead to the further deterioration of peace, security and stability in northeast Syria.

The order will authorise a broad range of measures, including financial sanctions, the blocking of property, and barring entry into the US, he said, adding that the US will immediately stop negotiations with Turkey on a USD 100 billion trade deal.

Steel tariffs will be increased back up to 50 per cent, the level prior to the reduction in May, Trump said.

He asserted that his administration will aggressively use economic sanctions to target those who enable, facilitate, and finance heinous acts in Syria.

In addition to the sanctions on the three Turkish ministers, the treasury said people who engage in certain transactions with the persons designated today may themselves be exposed to designation.

Furthermore, any foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates any significant financial transactions for or on behalf of the persons designated today could be subject to US correspondent or payable through account sanctions, it said.

The treasury department said as a result of today's action, all property and interests in property of these persons, and of any other persons blocked by operation of law, that are in the US, in the possession or control of US persons must be blocked and reported to the treasury.

"Turkey must ensure the safety of civilians, including religious and ethnic minorities, and is now, or may be in the future, responsible for the ongoing detention of ISIS terrorists in the region. "Unfortunately, Turkey does not appear to be mitigating the humanitarian effects of its invasion," he said.

In the letter Pelosi, Trump said he has taken these steps because of recent actions by the Turkish government of undermining the campaign to defeat the ISIS and endangering civilians.

It further threatens to undermine the peace, security and stability in the region, thereby constituting an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the US, he said.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, "The US is holding the Turkish government accountable for escalating violence by Turkish forces, endangering innocent civilians, and destabilizing the region."

"We are prepared to impose additional sanctions on Government of Turkey officials and entities, as necessary,” the treasury said.

In a statement Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned if Turkey's operation continues, it will exacerbate a growing and daunting humanitarian crisis, with potentially disastrous consequences.

"As the president has made clear, Turkey's actions in northeast Syria severely undermine the D-ISIS (Defeat ISIS) campaign, endanger civilians, and threaten the security of the entire region,” he said.

On pulling back of US troops, Trump said a small contingent will remain at the Tanf Garrison in southern Syria to disrupt remnants of the ISIS.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump had promised to bring back US troops from Syria and Afghanistan.

US forces have defeated the ISIS physical caliphate, the troops are coming out will now redeploy and remain in the region to monitor the situation and prevent a repeat of 2014, when the neglected threat of ISIS raged across Syria and Iraq, he said.

The troop withdrawal came after the White House said it would step aside to allow for a Turkish operation President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned could come at any moment.

"The US and our partners have liberated 100 percent of ISIS's ruthless territorial caliphate. Turkey must not put these gains in jeopardy," Trump said.

The Kurdish administration in northern Syria has announced a deal with Damascus on troop deployment near the border to fend of the Turks.

Turkish invasion of north Syria undermined ‘Defeat ISIS’ mission: Pentagon

WASHINGTON, Oct 15: The “unilateral invasion” of northern Syria has resulted in widespread casualties and destruction, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Monday.

This has also undermined the successful multinational “Defeat ISIS” mission in Syria, he said.

Esper will be visiting NATO next week in Brussels and he plans to press members of the alliance to take collective and individual diplomatic and economic measures in response to Turkish actions.

“Despite the opposition and repeated warnings from the US and the international community, Turkish President (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan ordered a unilateral invasion of northern Syria that has resulted in widespread casualties, refugees, destruction, insecurity, and a growing threat to US military forces,” he said.

Turkey launched a cross-border assault on Kurdish fighters on Wednesday after the US decided to withdraw troops from Syria, a move criticised by the Republicans, with some terming it a “betrayal” of the Kurds.

“This unacceptable incursion has also undermined the successful multinational ‘Defeat ISIS’ mission in Syria, and resulted in the release of many dangerous ISIS detainees,” Esper said in a statement late Monday afternoon.

Due to Turkey’s irresponsible actions, the risk to US forces in northeast Syria has reached an unacceptable level, he said. “We are also at risk of being engulfed in a broader conflict. Therefore, at the President’s (Donald Trump) direction, the Department of Defense is executing a deliberate withdrawal of US military personnel from northeast Syria,” the defense secretary said.

Turkey’s unilateral action was “unnecessary and impulsive”. President Erdogan bears full responsibility for its consequences, to include a potential ISIS resurgence, possible war crimes, and a growing humanitarian crisis, he said. The bilateral relationship between the US and Turkey has also been damaged, Esper said. In a joint statement, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Foreign Relation Committee Ranking Member Bob Menendez, and Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Jack Reed accused Trump of “reckless decision-making” in Syria and Turkey. They said this has endangered American national security and the security of its allies around the world.

“To be clear, President Trump’s withdrawal of US forces is contributing to the chaos and havoc Turkey is causing in northeastern Syria,” the statement said. The Kurdish partners are already paying the ultimate cost of this betrayal and tens of thousands of civilians have already been displaced, the Democratic senators rued.

Completely withdrawing US from northern Syria, at this moment, with no strategy in place, is “ceding our interests to Putin, Erdogan, Assad, Iran and to others who are already gleefully filling the security vacuum”, according to the statement.

Trump should use this moment to step up, do the right thing, and correct course, the senators demanded. “He can listen to his national security and military advisors, and to the chorus of bipartisan voices in Congress and across the world who made it clear that this was a grave mistake worth reversing,” they said in the statement. Leaders are not those who are always right, but those who are willing to learn from their mistakes, they said.

US tells Pakistan to prosecute arrested LeT operatives

WASHINGTON, Oct 13: The United States has urged Pakistan, which has a long history of catching and releasing terrorists operating from its soil, to successfully prosecute top Lashkar-e-Toiba operatives it arrested recently, ahead of a crucial meeting of a global watchdog on terror financing next week.

“The victims of LeT’s vicious attacks deserve to see these individuals prosecuted now, along with LeT leader Hafiz Saeed,” Alice Wells, head of the US state department’s South and Central Asian bureau, wrote on Twitter on Sunday, welcoming the arrests and reminding Pakistan of its obligation to end its catch-and-release approach to dealing with terrorists.

Invoking Prime Minister Imran Khan’s own statements in this regard, Wells added, “Pakistan for its own future must prevent militant groups from operating on its soil.”

The Khan government announced the arrest of four top operatives of the LeT in the past week, calling them close aides of the outfit’s founder Saeed. They were identified as Zafar Iqbal, Yahya Aziz, Muhammad Ashraf and Abdul Salam. Saeed has been in custody since July.

These new arrests and other long-overdue counter-terrorism measures by Pakistan are understood to be linked to the upcoming meeting — from October 13 to 18 — of the Financial Action Task Force in Paris. It will decide, among other things, whether or not Pakistan has done enough to escape being moved from the “grey list” to the “black list” of egregious offenders.

Pakistan has a history of catching terrorists to deflect global attention when things get too hot and quietly release them later. Saeed, the LeT founder and mastermind of the Mumbai attacks of 2008, has been caught at least eight times since 2001 and released every time. He has moved around freely and had even tried to mainstream himself with a political party, which was denied permission to contest elections.

Saeed was arrested for the ninth time in July, a month after the FATF found Pakistan vastly short of targets set by the watchdog in 2018 to dismantle the financial structure that aided terrorist financing and money-laundering.

US diplomat Wells’s appeal for the prosecution of the arrested LeT operatives and Saeed, who carries a US reward of $10 million for his arrest, is only the latest in a series of US calls marked occasionally by frustration and irritation. After he was released from custody in 2017, the White House had angrily warned of “repercussions” if he wasn’t arrested immediately.

He wasn’t and the Trump administration suspended all security related aid to Pakistan after a few months, following a tweet from the president decrying “lies and deceit” by Pakistan.

There has been a softening of the rhetoric from the US towards Pakistan in recent months in view of Islamabad’s help in bringing the Taliban, another designated terrorist group it controls, to the negotiating table for peace in Afghanistan. And Prime Minister Khan was given a White House meeting with Trump as a part of that effort.

Pakistan must end support to terrorist groups: US senator

WASHINGTON, Oct 11: Pakistan must end support to the Taliban and other terrorist groups, a top American senator said a day after meeting Pakistani leadership in Islamabad. US senator Maggie Hassan also called for finding ways to de-escalation of tension between India and Pakistan.

US Senators Hassan and Chris Van Hollen met Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa and officials from the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

“It was particularly helpful to discuss with key Pakistani leaders what more can be done to pre-empt terrorist attacks and prevent the spread of terrorist ideology,” she said.

“It was important for us to communicate directly to Pakistan’s senior leadership that they must end support to the Taliban and other terrorist groups. In addition, amid escalating tensions in Kashmir, it’s critical that we find ways to help de-escalate the situation on both sides,” Hassan added.

A top Pentagon official has recently said the US and other countries fear that Pakistan-based militant groups could carry out terror strikes in India following the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status if Islamabad doesn’t “keep a lid” on their activities.

Indian officials have repeatedly raised concerns that Pakistan was mobilising terror groups along the Line of Control (LoC) following the Centre’s decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.

The Centre abrogated Article 370 on August 5 divesting Jammu and Kashmir of its special status and bifurcating it into two Union Territories - Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

The two senators also travelled to Afghanistan and met presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah as well as several Afghan women officials who had represented the strife-torn country in talks with the Taliban.

“Pakistan has an important role to play in stabilising Afghanistan, engaging in robust counterterrorism efforts and strengthening the global economy,” said Senator Maggie Hassan

“Keeping Americans safe is my top priority. Stability as well as ongoing counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan are critical to those efforts,” said Hassan.

“We heard directly from US and Afghan officials about the threat posed to both of our countries from IS’s growing regional affiliate,” she added after concluding her trip to Pakistan and landing in India for meetings with the Indian leadership.

In India, Hassan will meet key political and business leaders and US embassy officials to discuss the situation in Kashmir, the US-India relationship and international trade.

White House rules out cooperation in Donald Trump impeachment probe

WASHINGTON, Oct 8: A defiant White House declared war Tuesday against the impeachment investigation of Donald Trump, blasting the process as partisan, illegitimate and unconstitutional and saying neither the president nor his administration will cooperate.

In a fiery letter, the White House threw down the gauntlet to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the chairmen of three congressional panels leading the inquiry, challenging them to proceed with their effort to oust Trump despite zero future cooperation.

“Put simply, you seek to overturn the results of the 2016 election and deprive the American people of the president they have freely chosen,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote in an eight-page letter.

“Your inquiry lacks any legitimate constitutional foundation, any pretense of fairness, or even the most elementary due process protections,” he said of the probe, which is weighing whether Trump abused his office by seeking a corruption probe in Ukraine of his rival Joe Biden.

“President Trump cannot permit his administration to participate in this partisan inquiry under these circumstances.”

The White House’s open defiance set Washington on a path toward a constitutional crisis and into unknown territory, with the potential for a court showdown just as the nation gears up for the 2020 election.

Its chief objection was the fact the House of Representatives had not held a formal vote to launch the inquiry.

Democrats say it is not needed because the impeachment process is in its earliest stages, equivalent to gathering evidence for an indictment.

Only afterward would the Democrats call a vote. If a majority of House members back impeachment, the matter shifts to a trial in the Senate, currently controlled by Republicans.

The letter capped a day of explosive developments that included Trump barring a key witness, Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, from speaking to Congress -- calling it a “totally compromised kangaroo court.”

In response, Democrats slapped Sondland with a subpoena that “compels” him to appear on October 16.

Pelosi formally launched the impeachment inquiry last month after revelations Trump pressured Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky in a controversial July 25 phone call.

The top Democrat in Congress told reporters preventing Sondland from testifying shows that “the president is obstructing Congress from getting the facts that we need.”

Biden, the former vice president who is seeking the 2020 Democratic nomination, joined the chorus of condemnation, tweeting that Trump “must stop stonewalling Congress.”

Sondland, a major donor to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, was one of a handful of US diplomats on a text message chain between July and September that go to the heart of the investigation.

The messages involving Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani show them coordinating to pressure Kiev into investigating Biden, as the country sought US military aid and access.

House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff said investigators have learned that Sondland has text messages or emails on a personal device that are “deeply relevant” to the probe, but that State is withholding them.

“The failure to produce this witness, the failure to produce these documents” was “additional strong evidence of obstruction of the constitutional functions of Congress,” Schiff told reporters.

Lawmakers have an opportunity on Friday to hear from another key witness in the Ukraine scandal: former US ambassador to Kiev Marie Yovanovitch, who is scheduled to appear before the House Intelligence Committee.

US media has reported that Trump removed her from her post because she opposed his efforts to get Ukraine to investigate Biden.

It was unclear whether Trump will block Yovanovitch’s testimony.

Following the White House’s letter, members of the Trump administration will not be authorized to testify in Congress and will ignore subpoenas, a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters.

He insisted that the White House was “definitely avoiding saying there’s no way we’d ever cooperate,” but he declined to discuss “hypothetical situations” in which a change might come.

Republicans were largely silent following the White House’s explosive gambit, but Democrats were quick to portray a reckless president defying lawmakers.

“The President’s letter shows he believes he’s above the law,” 2020 White House hopeful Beto O’Rourke tweeted. “It’s on Congress to prove him wrong.”

US Senator who heads India caucus calls for removing curbs on Kashmir

WASHINGTON, Oct 8: US Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat who co-chairs the Senate India Caucus, on Tuesday joined a growing group of lawmakers, some of whom are strong supporters of ties with India, who have expressed concern over continuing restrictions in Kashmir and called for their withdrawal.

“While I understand India has legitimate security concerns, I am disturbed by its restrictions on communications and movement within Jammu and Kashmir,” Warner wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. “I hope India will live up to its democratic principles by allowing freedom of press, information, and political participation.”

Warner’s remarks are important as he is the co-chair of the Senate India caucus and a staunch supporter of close US-India ties, who has moved many critical legislations promoting relations and petitioned the administration for crucial relief and help when needed.

The Senator from Virginia joins Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris — all three are candidates for the Democratic nomination for president — and many members of the House of Representatives to criticize restrictions imposed in Kashmir after the change in its constitutional status on August 5, as has the Trump administration.

This growing disquiet should worry New Delhi as it considers the US Congress as the only American institution to stand with India going back decades. And specially so in view of a congressional hearing coming up later in the month on Kashmir and other issues from the region.

Warren voiced her concerns past Sunday. “The US-India partnership has always been rooted in our shared democratic values,” she wrote on Twitter on Saturday. “I’m concerned about recent events in Kashmir, including a continued communications blackout and other restrictions. The rights of the people of Kashmir must be respected.”

Warren is a leading candidate for the party’s nomination, having surged in polls in recent weeks to overtake Senator Bernie Sanders. She is now a close second to former Vice-President Joe Biden, trailing the frontrunner 24% to 26.2% in the RealClearPolitics aggregate of polls.

Elizabeth Warren is third US president candidate to raise concern over Kashmir

WASHINGTON, Oct 5: In a sign of growing disquiet in US congress over the situation in Kashmir, Senator and leading Democratic candidate for the presidential nomination Elizabeth Warren on Saturday expressed concerns over the continuing restrictions there, joining fellow senators and rivals Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris and other lawmakers.

The Trump administration, which was a major concern for New Delhi after the president offered to mediate the Kashmir dispute between India and Kashmir and repeated it despite a clear and unequivocal rejection, has since reverted to the default US position of letting India and Pakistan resolve it bilaterally.

But, notably, it has also continued to raise concerns about the restrictions in Kashmir and has sought “rapid action” towards normalization although as it has maintained, siding with New Delhi, the abrogation of Article 370 and the change in the constitutional status of Kashmir is an internal matter for India.

“The US-India partnership has always been rooted in our shared democratic values,” Senator Warren wrote on Twitter Saturday. “I’m concerned about recent events in Kashmir, including a continued communications blackout and other restrictions. The rights of the people of Kashmir must be respected.”

Warren is a leading candidate for the party’s nomination, having surged in polls in recent weeks to overtake Senator Bernie Sanders. She is now a close second to Former Vice-President Joe Biden, trailing the frontrunner 24% to 26.2% in the RealClearPolitics aggregate of polls.

Warren’s tweet on Kashmir also came close on the heels of a Democratic senator, Chris Van Hollen, telling the Washington Post in New Delhi Friday that he had been denied permission by to visit Kashmir. “If the Indian government has nothing to hide, they should not worry about people visiting Kashmir and witnessing the situation with their own eyes,” he had said. He was among the few lawmakers External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had met during his recent visit to Washington DC.

Senator Sanders was the first of the Democratic candidates to raise the Kashmir issue, telling an annual convention of North American muslims in September, “India’s action is unacceptable” and “the communications blockade must be lifted immediately”. He had gone on to ask the Trump administration to “speak out boldly” and backed “a UN-backed peaceful resolution that respects the will of the Kashmiri people”.

Senator Harris, who is of Indian descent from her mother’s side, had raised similar concerns days later saying, “We have to remind the Kashmiris that they are not alone in the world. We are keeping a track on the situation. There is a need to intervene if the situation demands.”

Pramila Jayapal, another Indian-American lawmaker, joined 13 of her colleagues in the House of Representatives to write a joint letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the day of his address to the UNGA last month asking for the lifting of the restrictions calling India “an important US partner”.

New Delhi has been dismissive of concerns raised by the lawmakers, arguing US lawmakers say a lot of things because “because people go to individual members of Congress . (and) what they say is not necessarily a function of their knowledge on that particular subject”.

But New Delhi remains watchful. And is keeping an eye on a congressional hearing called by a subcommittee of the House foreign affairs committee on October 22, by Brad Sherman, a Democratic lawmaker who also heads the House India caucus, to discuss Kashmir and other issues of regional interest. Alice Wells, the dead of the state department’s south and central Asia bureau is scheduled to testify in what is expected to be a contentious hearing.

US Senate panel asks India to end 'humanitarian crisis' in Kashmir

WASHINGTON, Oct 4: In what could become the first step towards legislative action by American lawmakers against India on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations has added an appeal to end what it calls a “humanitarian crisis” in Kashmir in its report ahead of the annual Foreign Appropriations Act for 2020.

The amendment was proposed by Senator Chris Van Hollen, who visited Delhi this week as a part of a congressional delegation that discussed the Kashmir situation as well as India-U.S. bilateral relations, trade ties and defence purchases with key officials.

According to the report, which was submitted to the Senate by Lindsey Graham, senior Senator and key Republican leader known for his close ties to President Donald Trump, the committee on Appropriations “notes with concern the current humanitarian crisis in Kashmir and calls on the Government of India to: fully restore telecommunications and Internet services; lift its lockdown and curfew; and release individuals detained pursuant to the Government's revocation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution.”

What makes the report as well as the tough language on Kashmir more startling is that the document was submitted on September 26, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi was still in the US, and came just a few days after his joint address at the ‘Howdy, Modi!’ event in Houston with Trump, as well as their bilateral meeting in New York.

“This amendment, which was accepted unanimously by the bipartisan committee, is a strong expression of concern by the Senate about the situation in Kashmir and sends the signal that we are closely monitoring the human rights situation there, and would like to see the Government of India take those concerns seriously,” said Van Hollen, adding that he had “hoped to share his concerns privately” with Prime Minister Modi, but had not been able to meet him.

Van Hollen had met with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar in Washington last week and Senator Bob Menendez, also a part of the delegation, met with Commerce and Industries Minister Piyush Goyal this week in Delhi. Both Senators have made public statements in the last two months on the Kashmir situation.

While it is unclear whether their concerns over Kashmir elicited any responses from the government, it is learnt that Senator Van Hollen was rebuffed when requested permission to visit Srinagar in an effort to assess the situation on the ground.

When asked, MEA officials said the Ministry of Home Affairs handled such requests. No diplomat or foreign journalist has yet been given clearance to visit Kashmir since the government’s decision on Article 370 on August 5.

U.S. Senator Bob Casey said India’s changes to the status of Jammu and Kashmir were a “drastic shift” from decades of precedent and policy.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum’s India Economic Summit in Delhi on Friday, Mr. Jaishankar said many key decision-makers in the US had been “misinformed by their media” and that he had spent considerable efforts in the past few weeks to clear misconceptions on the government’s decision to drop the “temporary” Article 370.

Democrats Have Enough Votes For Impeachment, But We Will Win: Trump

WASHINGTON, Oct 4: President Donald Trump conceded Friday that Democrats had enough votes to impeach him, but he suggested that Speaker Nancy Pelosi hold a House vote to formally begin an inquiry to force a Senate trial on whether to remove him from office.

"They've taken away our rights," Trump told reporters Friday, as he capped a tumultuous week when new revelations about his administration's dealings with Ukraine emerged each day. "They're all in line. Because even though many of them don't want to vote, they have no choice. They have to follow their leadership. And then we'll get it to the Senate, and we're going to win."

But even as Trump boasted of a "very unified" Republican Party that would protect him from conviction, some Republicans publicly broke ranks with him Friday. At least two GOP senators and one former administration official expressed uneasiness with Trump's efforts to encourage foreign governments to investigate former vice president and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Separately, intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson met with lawmakers Friday to discuss a whistleblower complaint alleging abuse of power by Trump. Atkinson, a Trump appointee, previously said that the whistleblower "appeared credible" and that the complaint represented an "urgent concern" worthy of Congress' immediate attention.

Democratic presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg rushed to release their third-quarter fundraising totals early Tuesday morning, boasting hauls that are likely to be among the largest in the crowded field. Colette Luke has more.

And documents reviewed by The Washington Post showed that Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, defended Biden in a statement to Congress that directly undercut Trump's claims of corruption by the former vice president.

"I know him as a man of integrity and dedication to our country," Volker said in his testimony Thursday.

Trump's concession that he would probably be impeached by the House was the latest development in what has become an ad hoc response strategy largely shaped by the president's impulses. Since Democrats announced their inquiry last week, Trump has shown flashes of anger, frustration, aggression, defiance and even indifference.

On Friday, Trump continued to take a combative stance and cast himself as a victim of overzealous Democrats. "We've been treated very unfairly, very different from anybody else," he said.

Trump said he would spell out his complaints in a letter to Pelosi, D-Calif., whom Republicans have increasingly accused of short-circuiting the formal impeachment process by not holding a vote on the House floor to launch an inquiry.

The process-based argument has become a central part of the GOP response to the impeachment debate, with few Republicans publicly defending Trump's behavior or his assertion that he has the "absolute right" to ask foreign governments to investigate his political opponents.

Meanwhile, House Democrats have ramped up their inquiry, interviewing key Trump administration officials and issuing subpoenas as part of their probe of the president's dealings with the Ukrainian government. On Friday, three House committees subpoenaed the White House for documents and wrote a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, demanding that he turn over documents related to his talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The letter called for Pence to deliver documents by Oct. 15 to explain what role he had in the White House's effort to pressure Zelensky to open investigations of Trump's political opponents. Pence met with Zelensky last month in Poland as the White House was withholding nearly $400 million in aid approved for Ukraine.

Pence's office dismissed the request as unserious.

"The Office of the Vice President received the letter after it was released to the media and it has been forwarded to Counsel's Office for a response," Katie Waldman, spokeswoman for the vice president's office, said in a statement. "Given the scope, it does not appear to be a serious request but just another attempt by the Do Nothing Democrats to call attention to their partisan impeachment."

Democrats are investigating whether Trump or others in his administration linked the release of the aid to the president's request that Ukraine investigate Biden and his son Hunter.

During a July phone call with Zelensky, Trump pushed for Ukrainian prosecutors to work with Attorney General William Barr and Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani on an investigation of alleged corruption by the Bidens.

Hunter Biden served for nearly five years on the board of Burisma, Ukraine's largest private gas company, whose owner came under scrutiny by Ukrainian prosecutors for possible abuse of power and unlawful enrichment. Hunter Biden was not accused of any wrongdoing in the investigation. As vice president, Joe Biden pressured Ukraine to fire its top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who Biden and other Western officials said was not sufficiently pursuing corruption cases. At the time, the investigation into Burisma was dormant, according to former Ukrainian and U.S. officials.

Republicans have struggled to find a consistent defense of Trump in the wake of the whistleblower's report, which was published last week. The anonymous whistleblower claimed that Trump pushed for the Ukrainian government to investigate his political rival, allegations that have been confirmed as the congressional probe has uncovered text messages, internal documents and sworn testimony from the Trump administration.

New Trump rule for family-based immigration could hit thousands of Indians

WASHINGTON, Oct 4: Thousands of Indians hoping to immigrate to the United States stand in danger of being denied visas starting November if they were unable to prove they have health insurance or can cover their medical expenses, according to a new rule announced Friday to prevent immigrants from becoming a burden.

The new rule applies to immigrant visa applicants abroad, mostly those, analysts said, being sponsored by immediate relatives, and not those already present in the US such as H-1B visa holders whose Green Card applications were being sponsored by their American employers.

Doug Rand, an Obama White House immigration official, said some 23,000 Indians are likely to be impacted by the rule (not necessarily denied, but affected). There are an estimated 35,000 family-sponsored immigrants from India every year. Nearly a third of them are already in the US when they apply for their Green Card; and the rest come from India.

The order goes into effect November 3.

“Immigrants who enter this country should not further saddle our health care system, and subsequently American taxpayers, with higher costs,” President Donald Trump said in on order issued Friday, using the same presidential authority under which he had earlier banned Muslims from certain countries as well as the asylum ban.

The White House said in an accompanying fact-sheet that the president’s order was intended to “ensure we protect the availability of healthcare benefits for American citizens”. Immigrants, it added, are three time more likely to lack health insurance than citizens and uncompensated healthcare cots have been in excess of $35 billion in each of the past 10 years.

“Large numbers of non-citizens have taken advantage of our country’s generous public health programs,” the White House said.

Immigrant visa applicants will have to provide proof they will be covered by health insurance within 30 days of entering the United States or have the ability to pay for medical costs. And they will be required to furnish the proof before their visas were processed, not after or at the time of entry.

An immigrants visa is different from temporary travel/tour or work visas, and they are issued to foreign citizens sponsored by US citizens or lawful permanent residents (Green Card holders), immediate relatives, or prospective US employers, and have an approved petition before applying.

While US President Donald Trump has cracked down on undocumented immigrants — with border arrests and his controversial wall — be has also sought to tighten the rules for legal immigration, making asylum more difficult, for instance and denying poorer immigrants.

In August, the administration announced a rule to deny Green Cards to those who could become a “public charge”, needing state assistance for food, housing and health. Slated to go into effect in November, this rule would apply also to this already present in the US, who could have already used state assistance repeatedly.

Critics have said the “public charge” rule make it difficult for anyone but rich, white immigrants from becoming citizens. The administration has pushed back saying it ensures immigrants are able to support themselves, and denied it discriminates against poor immigrants, or those from less developed regions of the world.

 

 

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