01 Aug

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

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Trump reportedly dictated statement on Air Force One on return from G20

Revelations draw president closer into tangled web over June 2016 meeting

Donald Trump

In the release, the Russia meeting at Trump Tower was framed as a discussion principally about the adoption of Russian children Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Donald Trump personally dictated the press statement issued in the name of his eldest son Donald Jr that misleadingly downplayed the significance of a 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer, a new report alleged on Monday night.

According to the Washington Post, Trump personally intervened to prevent senior White House advisers from issuing a full and truthful account of the meeting on 9 June 2016 in which Donald Trump Jr, the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and then presidential campaign manager Paul Manafort came face-to-face with four Russians. One of the Russian visitors was the well-connected lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.

The report, based on multiple though largely anonymous sources that included the president’s own advisers, has the potential to cause political, and even legal, trouble for the White House because it draws Trump himself much closer into

Shunning the guidance of lawyers and overturning the view apparently reached by Kushner and his team of advisers that a full and frank accounting should be made, Trump reportedly dictated a statement on board Air Force One as he was flying back to Washington from the G20 summit in Germany. As would soon become apparent, it gave a very partial and distorted account of events.



Donald Trump Jr has admitted meeting a Russian lawyer he was told could help to damage Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. The president’s son says that he could have handled the situation better but he had not told his father about the meeting because ‘it was a nothing’. Now reports suggest the president dictated his son’s initial statement about the meeting

In the release the 2016 meeting was presented, in Trump’s own words, as “a short introductory meeting” dominated by discussion of the adoption of Russian children that was “not a campaign issue at the time”.

That statement was presented to the New York Times on 8 July, and duly included in the newspaper’s first account of the meeting. But within 24 hours, highly damaging revelations had emerged that made clear the meeting had been much more charged than that.

On 9 July, the Times revealed that Trump Jr had been lured into talking to Veselnitskaya by the promise of negative intelligence on his father’s presidential rival, Hillary Clinton, and two days after that the email chain was published that showed the younger Trump reveling in the idea of receiving dirt on the Democratic presidential candidate, uttering the gleeful phrase: “I love it”.

The Trump Tower meeting has proved to be one of the most toxic pieces of information to emerge so far in the billowing investigation into possible ties between Trump associates and Russia in the Kremlin’s efforts to skew the presidential outcome in favor of the Republican nominee. The special counsel leading the investigation, Robert Mueller, is understood to be looking closely at the event and has reportedly asked the White House to preserve all documents relating to it.

Until now, the president managed to keep some distance from the 9 June encounter, with his lawyers claiming that he knew nothing about it. But the new report that Trump personally oversaw the issuing of a misleading account of the proceedings raises questions about the president’s role in what could be conceived as a cover-up.

It comes as Mueller has already expanded his inquiry to include the issue of whether Trump was engaging in a possible obstruction of justice when he fired James Comey, having tried and failed to persuade the then director of the FBI to back off investigating former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russian officials.

A lawyer for the president issued the Washington Post with a curt statement: “Apart from being of no consequence, the characterizations are misinformed, inaccurate, and not pertinent,” Jay Sekulow said.

The new details of the president’s role in what turned out to be a major communications fiasco come on the day that his current communications chief, Anthony Scaramucci, was dismissed from the White House after barely 11 days. The blunt removal was made on the first day of the new White House chief of staff, John Kelly, who has vowed to introduce the kind of discipline that the West Wing has been sorely lacking.

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Five of eight groups operating migrant rescue ships refuse to agree to new measures, citing concerns over operational effectiveness and neutrality

MSF ship Vos Prudence

Medecins Sans Frontieres, which operates the rescue ship Vos Prudence, pictured, was one of the five charities that rejected the new guidance. Photograph: Carlo Hermann/AFP/Getty Images

Five aid groups that operate migrant rescue ships in the Mediterranean have refused to sign up to the Italian government’s code of conduct, the Interior Ministry said, but three others backed the new rules.

Charity boats have become increasingly important in rescue operations, picking up more than a third of all migrants brought ashore so far this year against less than one percent in 2014, according to the Italian coastguard.

Italy, fearing that the groups were facilitating people smuggling from North Africa and encouraging migrants to make the perilous passage to Europe, proposed a code containing around a dozen points for the charities. Those who refused to sign the document had put themselves “outside the organised system of sea rescues, with all the concrete consequences that can have”, the ministry said.

Italy had previously threatened to shut its ports to NGOs that did not sign up, but an source within the Interior Ministry said that in reality those groups would face more checks from Italian authorities.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which has taken part in many of the rescues of the 95,000 migrants brought to Italy this year, attended a meeting at the Interior Ministry but refused to sign the code. MSF objected most strongly to a requirement that aid boats must take migrants to a safe port themselves, rather than transferring people to other vessels, which allows smaller boats to stay in the area for further rescues.

“Our vessels are often overwhelmed by the high number of [migrant] boats … and life and death at sea is a question of minutes,” MSF Italy’s director, Gabriele Eminente, wrote in a letter to the interior minister, Marco Minniti. “The code of conduct puts at risk this fragile equation of collaboration between different boats,” he continued, adding that MSF still wanted to work with the ministry to improve sea rescues.

But Save the Children backed the measures, saying it already complied with most of the rules and would monitor constantly to be sure that applying them did not obstruct their work. “We would not have signed if even one single point would have compromised our effectiveness. This is not the case – not one single point of the code will hinder our activities,” said Valerio Neri, director of Save the Children Italy, after the meeting.

The Malta-based Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) and Spanish group Proactiva Open Arms agreed to the conditions, but Germany’s Sea-Watch, Sea-Eye and Jugend Rettet, and France’s SOS Mediterranée abstained. MSF, SOS Mediterranée and Jugend Rettet also called for clarification of the rules and took issue with a clause in the code that would oblige groups to allow police officers on board.

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Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma, who were under house arrest, had urged Venezuelans to protest over recent poll

Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma

Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma were both already under house arrest. Photograph: Leopoldo Lopez/AFP/Getty Images

Venezuela opposition leaders Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma have been taken from their homes, where they were under house arrest, family members of the two have tweeted.

López’s wife and Ledezma’s daughter said they would hold President Nicolás Maduro responsible for the fate of the two men.

Both leaders in recent days have called on Venezuelans to join protests against Maduro over the creation of an all-powerful legislative body called the constituent assembly, which was elected on Sunday.

The vote for the assembly was boycotted by the opposition and has been criticised around the world as an assault on democratic freedoms.

“12:27 in the morning: the moment when the dictatorship kidnaps Leopoldo at my house,” López’s wife, Lilian Tintori, wrote on Twitter.

She included a video of what appears to be López being led into a vehicle emblazoned with the word Sebin, Venezuela’s intelligence agency. Vanessa Ledezma posted a similar video of Ledezma.

The information ministry did not respond to an email seeking comment.

López was granted house arrest in July following three years in prison for his role in anti-government street protests in 2014. His release was considered a breakthrough in the country’s political standoff.



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