State Dept official details White House meeting, shuffling of Ukraine portfolio in closed-door deposition

Kiyoshi Tanno/iStock(WASHINGTON) — A senior State Department official told lawmakers Tuesday that acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney organized a White House meeting at which Energy Secretary Rick Perry, US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker were put in charge of Ukraine policy, according to a lawmaker present for the closed-door deposition.

 The move circumvented established policy-making channels in the executive branch and undermined US policy to promote the rule of law in Ukraine, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent told Congress, according to Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Virginia.

“Sondland, Volker and Rick Perry declared themselves the three people now responsible for Ukraine policy,” Connolly, D-Virginia, told reporters after attending part of the deposition for Kent, whose portfolio includes Ukraine.

“They called themselves ‘the three amigos,'” said Connolly, a member of the Oversight Committee. “Volker called them that.”

Connolly said the meeting organized by Mulvaney took place on May 23, just days after US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch — who testified before lawmakers last week — was prematurely recalled from her post.

Kent testified that there had been a “parallel process that he felt was undermining 28 years of US policy in promoting rule of law in Ukraine,” Connolly said. “And it was wrong. And he used that word: wrong.”

The House investigation centers on whether the president and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani were conducting a shadow foreign policy to get Ukraine to launch an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s business dealings in the country, as well as into the unfounded theory that Ukrainian officials interfered in the 2016 election to support Hillary Clinton.

Kent was the fourth U.S. official to comply with a request for a deposition by the three House committees that are leading an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, in another crack in the White House stonewall strategy painting the probe as illegitimate and unfair.

Kent, who testified for roughly ten hours, was subpoenaed after the State Department directed him not to appear for his scheduled deposition, according to an official working on the impeachment inquiry

Last week, the State Department likewise said Sondland and Yovanovitch should not testify. Yovanovitch, who served under Republican and Democrat administrations and was named ambassador to Bulgaria by George W. Bush, defied the department’s orders and testified for nine hours on Friday.

Sondland is now scheduled to testify on Thursday.

Two former U.S. officials have also testified. One was the former special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker. The other was Fiona Hill, Trump’s top Russia adviser on the National Security Council, who departed the administration in July, days before Trump’s controversial call with Ukraine’s new president Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

At the time of the call with Zelenskiy, the administration was withholding a formal meeting between the two presidents and nearly $400 million in security assistance, although Ukraine was not yet aware of the latter.

Like Yovanovitch, Kent is a career foreign service officer. As the Deputy Assistant Secretary, he has overseen policy and communications for U.S. missions in several eastern European countries: Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. He’s previously served as the deputy chief of mission in Kiev, Ukraine, and the senior anti-corruption coordinator for Europe — roles that have made him battle-hardened in the fights against corruption and disinformation.

 Kent was also a key witness in Trump’s firing of Yovanovitch over uncorroborated reports that she badmouthed him and shielded Biden and other Democrats from investigation in Ukraine. In emails that were turned over by the State Department inspector general to Congress, Kent is the one warning senior leadership of efforts to take down Yovanovitch by accusing her of corruption and obstruction — allegations that have been spread in conservative media.

“Based on what I heard and what I had summarized for me before I got there, he was pretty detailed in talking about some of the shady characters [Rudy] Giuliani was dependent on for misinformation, disinformation,” Connolly said.

In one email to acting Assistant Secretary for Europe Philip Reeker and State Department counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl, Kent said there is a “fake news driven smear” against Yovanovitch.

One of the chief allegations against Yovanovitch, made by Giuliani and others, is that she protected Biden and other Democrats by giving Ukraine’s prosecutor-general a list of people he could not prosecute. At the time, the State Department called the allegation an “outright fabrication” that “does not correspond to reality.”

In the emails, obtained by ABC News, Kent calls it “complete poppycock.”

Kent also noted that the names are not spelled in the standard style of an American diplomat. “This is a classic disinfo play,” he adds.

Despite the effort to debunk these allegations, Yovanovitch was recalled from her post in Kyiv in May, just months after she was told she would be asked to stay for an additional year, according to her testimony Friday.

After Kent left the Capitol, Republicans criticized Democrats’ handling of the investigation. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) said if he had subpoena power, “I would love to subpoena Joe Biden.”

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Posted On 15 Oct 2019

US demonstrates ‘show of force’ after Turkish militia gets too close to base

Christopher Drzazgows/U.S. Air Forces(WASHINGTON) — American F-15s and Apache helicopters carried out a “show of force” in Syria on Tuesday after Turkish-backed militia fighters “came very close” to a U.S. base, according to a U.S. official.

The incident underscores the complex battlefield in Syria as 1,000 American troops are withdrawing from the country in the middle of fighting between Turkish forces and Syrian Kurds.

The U.S. official said the incident occurred near Ayn Issa, a town 18 miles from the Turkish border, where U.S. troops withdrew from their positions earlier this week.

According to the official, Turkish-backed militia fighters “came very close” to a base used by U.S. and Kurdish forces, putting the U.S. forces at risk.

The Turkish-backed fighters had violated an agreement with the U.S. to not get too close to U.S. forces and threaten them, the official added.

Typically, aerial shows of force involve aircraft flying at low altitude above opposing forces to demonstrate potential strength, should it be required.

The U.S. military also formally contacted the Turkish military to protest the risk posed to the American forces by the nearby presence of Turkish-backed fighters.

The 1,000 American forces have begun to withdraw from the battlefield areas in northern Syria. Earlier on Tuesday, Russian military forces appeared in Manbij after the withdrawal of the estimated 100 American troops stationed in that town.

A second U.S. official told ABC News the withdrawal of American troops and equipment in northeast Syria could take weeks. Most troops are expected to be withdrawn via aircraft. Equipment will be shipped out via air and by land.

A third U.S. official told ABC News additional military forces will have to enter Syria in order to transport out the equipment. This includes transport vehicles and whatever forces are required for protection.

According to the official, the U.S. has made contact with the Russian military, Kurdish forces and the Turkish military to ensure they’re aware that the U.S. military troops in Syria are focused on a withdrawal.

Under the withdrawal plan authorized by President Donald Trump, a small contingent of U.S. military forces will remain at At Tanf Garrison, a military facility near the border with Jordan and Iraq.

In a statement issued on Monday, Trump said the small force would remain to deal with remaining ISIS fighters, but U.S. officials have previously acknowledged the main purpose of the force at At Tanf is to check Iranian military weapons flows and advances into Syria.

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Posted On 15 Oct 2019

Pelosi, Schiff defend impeachment probe, lack of formal floor vote

rarrarorro/iStock(WASHINGTON) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff expressed confidence in Democrats’ ongoing impeachment inquiry and efforts to obtain records and testimony from the Trump administration in court, while defending their inquiry from Republican criticism.

Pelosi defended their timeline, without providing any new updates on Tuesday, and dismissed questions about Republican calls for a formal floor vote.

“I’m not concerned about anything,” she said. Republicans “can’t defend the president so they’re going to process.”

Schiff warned the administration and witnesses to comply with Democrats’ subpoenas.

“The evidence of obstruction of Congress continues to mount,” he said. “We are nonetheless continuing to get good and important information from witnesses.”

Schiff argued that the initial investigative work needs to be done behind closed doors because there is no special/independent counsel working quietly in private to investigate ahead of any impeachment process.
 
“I’m sure the president would like nothing better than for witnesses to … know what others are saying,” he said.

Schiff said “we will get to open hearings” with new and returning witnesses, and said Republicans have been “completely represented.”

“We go until the questions are exhausted,” he said. “They get to ask whatever questions they want.”

Schiff said they will release transcripts at a later date, without divulging a timeline.

Despite speculation on Capitol Hill Tuesday that she would formally announce a floor vote on the parameters of an impeachment inquiry, Pelosi made no such announcement.

As members returned from a two-week recess, House Democratic leadership was checking in with members about a potential floor vote on impeachment, and how they would vote, according to aides.

Leadership emerged from the meeting on Tuesday evening without a decision, before gathering all House Democrats to update them on the impeachment investigation and answer questions.

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Posted On 15 Oct 2019

Former Rep. Pete Sessions subpoenaed in SDNY case of two Giuliani associates

artisteer/iStock(WASHINGTON) — Former Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, has been subpoenaed in a case related to President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and is fully cooperating with investigators, he told ABC News.

“I’m cooperating with the U.S. Attorney from the Southern District of New York and will be providing documents to their office related to this matter over the couple of weeks as requested,” Sessions said.

He added that he has not been told that he is the focus of the investigation.

“Nobody has told me I am a target of this investigation, I am fully cooperating, and providing the documents they need,” he said.

The Wall Street Journal was the first to report the subpoena.

The former Texas congressman has been embroiled in a campaign finance violation case involving two associates of Giuliani, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were charged last in connection with an alleged scheme to circumvent federal laws against foreign campaign donations.

In the indictment, prosecutors outlined an alleged scheme by the two Soviet-born businessmen, who have been reportedly helping Giuliani investigate Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden, to raise $20,000 for a “then-sitting U.S. Congressman,” who “had also been the beneficiary of approximately $3 million” from pro-Trump super PAC America First Action during the 2018 midterms. According to the indictment, Parnas allegedly met with the congressman and sought his “assistance in causing the U.S. government to remove or recall the then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine,” Marie Yovanovitch.

The indictment doesn’t name the congressman, but the description matches ABC News’ reporting that Sessions had benefited from $3 million in backing from the super PAC during the 2018 cycle, and that during the same month that Parnas raised funds for Sessions, Sessions wrote a letter calling for Yovanovitch’s immediate removal.

“These contributions were made for the purpose of gaining influence with politicians so as to advance their own personal financial interests and the political interests of Ukrainian government officials, including at least one Ukrainian government official with whom they were working,” the indictment said.

Sessions, in a statement last week, stopped short of confirming that he is “Congressman-1” in the indictment, but added that if he is indeed the congressman in question, he would not have any knowledge of the campaign finance scheme that the indictment alleges.

Sessions also defended his push against the former Ukraine ambassador saying, “his entire motivation for sending the letter was that I believe that political appointees should not be disparaging the president, especially while serving overseas.”

“I was first approached by these individuals for a meeting about the strategic need for Ukraine to become energy independent,” Sessions said. “There was no request in that meeting and I took no action. Over time, I recall that there were a couple additional meetings. Again, at no time did I take any official action after these meetings. Separately, after several congressional colleagues reported to me that the current U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine was disparaging President Trump to others as part of those official duties, I wrote a letter to the secretary of state to refer this matter directly.”

It’s unclear which members of Congress have spoken to Sessions about Yovanovitch.

Parnas and Fruman, as well as two of their associates who have also been indicted, are scheduled to appear in court for arraignment and initial conference in New York on Thursday.

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Posted On 15 Oct 2019

Local businesses work together to combat Ohio’s growing opioid crisis

Janet Weinstein/ABC News(COLUMBUS, Ohio) — Treatment facilities and employers are working to tackle the opioid epidemic in central Ohio, which has been particularly hard hit by the growing national crisis.

House of Hope in downtown Columbus has helped an increasing number of opiate addicts through recovery. Hot Chicken Takeover, a Nashville-style chicken restaurant chain headquartered in Columbus, hires recovering addicts as well as other formerly incarcerated and homeless people.

House of Hope has provided addiction recovery services to city residents for 60 years, originally treating mostly alcoholics. But as the drug crisis has slammed Central Ohio particularly hard, they have seen more recovering opiate addicts.

“We treat the disease of addiction. We don’t treat a drug,” Carolyn Ireland, House of Hope’s CEO, told ABC News. “We are here to help people get sober, you know, and live a life of sobriety.”

Twenty-four men at a time can join House of Hope’s six-month residential treatment program where they go through individual and group counseling as well as cognitive behavioral therapy. Graduates may continue to live in recovery residences after completing the program.

Kyle Harden entered House of Hope’s doors two years ago as he was battling alcohol and opiate addictions. Now he works as the organization’s outreach director.

“Two years ago I couldn’t stop using drugs and alcohol, was living in a homeless shelter. I was in and out of jail, couldn’t hold down a job. No money, no hope. No friends, family wanted nothing to do with me,” Harden said. “Now because of my time here, I work for the House of Hope.”

While Harden found employment at House of Hope, the program also helps place graduates into jobs at other local businesses, including Hot Chicken Takeover.

Hot Chicken Takeover considers itself a “second chance employer,” meaning people with employment barriers, like past drug addiction or incarceration, have a fair shot at jobs.

“A large percentage of our workforce are men and women in some state of recovery,” Joe DeLoss, the founder and co-owner of Hot Chicken Takeover, said. “There’s a sense of ownership, often an aspiration for what life could look like.”

Approximately 70% of the restaurant chain’s employees are formerly incarcerated or homeless. DeLoss said they have found second-chance applicants through a variety of local treatment centers and other community partners.

Jamila Perry began working at Hot Chicken Takeover’s North Market location last month after going through treatment for a years-long addiction to opioids. She can now provide for her children, whom she has recently reunited with, and has found a community in her coworkers.

“Our team is like family. Wherever one slacks, we pick it right back up and they don’t complain about it. I just love it here,” she said.

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Kellyanne Conway’s husband donates $5,600 to Trump GOP challenger Joe Walsh

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — George Conway, an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump and husband of presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway, has donated the maximum amount allowed to the presidential campaign of Republican challenger Joe Walsh.

Conway gave $5,600 to the former congressman’s campaign on Aug. 30, just days after he announced his candidacy, according to a new campaign finance report filed on Tuesday.

A conservative lawyer based in Washington, D.C., Conway has been one of the biggest and consistent critics of Trump within the Republican Party.

Earlier this month, Conway penned an op-ed in The Atlantic, titled “Unfit for Office,” once again calling into question Trump’s mental fitness to hold office. And just this Monday, Conway went on Twitter to call him “incompetent and ignorant” and took aim at Republicans for not mentioning Trump’s name while criticizing his policies.

Kellyanne Conway has served as one of Trump’s closest aides since his presidential campaign in 2016, and has served as the president’s counselor in the White House since his victory.

Walsh, too, has aggressively hammered the president since announcing his long-shot candidacy for the GOP nomination in August, further driving a wedge between the Republican Party and the coalitions of voters needed to secure the White House.

“The problem is an unfit president in the White House who took a divided country and is dividing that,” Walsh said recently at an unsanctioned GOP primary debate last month.

“The Republican Party brand sucks, and it sucks because of him,” he said. “Young people can’t stand the party, women can’t stand the party, black people who live in the suburbs can’t stand it.”

In the latest campaign finance disclosure, Walsh reported raising about $129,000 from his supporters between August and the end of September, compared to a massive $125 million haul the Trump campaign has brought in along with the Republican National Committee between July and September.

Despite the massive uphill climb ahead of him, Walsh remains adamant that conservatives should get behind an alternative Republican in 2020.

“I’m running because he’s unfit; somebody needs to step up and there needs to be an alternative. The country is sick of this guy’s tantrum — he’s a child,” said Walsh, who was elected to the House in the 2010 Tea Party wave, but only served one term before becoming a conservative talk radio host.

Walsh, along with the other Republican primary challengers to Trump, are contending with other forces beyond the president, mainly the Republican National Committee giving “undivided support” to the president — even passing an unprecedented loyalty pledge earlier this year before he’s the party’s official nominee.

As part of that pledge, several state parties have moved forward with forgoing their nominating contests in 2020, including South Carolina, Nevada, Kansas and Arizona. It has also led to 37 states and territories tightening the rules for choosing delegates to the Republican National Convention, an effort quietly helmed by Trump campaign officials.

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Posted On 15 Oct 2019

Prince Harry and Meghan talk baby Archie at gala for kids with serious illnesses

NataliaCatalina/iStock(LONDON) — Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, made their first joint appearance since their South Africa tour to attend the WellChild Awards, an awards ceremony for kids with serious illnesses and their caregivers.

Harry and Meghan met one-on-one with three of the night’s winners, a 16-year-old boy who cares for his younger brother, a 12-year-old girl with cerebral palsy and a 6-year-old boy diagnosed with leukemia last year.

While talking to the 12-year-old girl, Milly Sutherland, Harry bonded with her over both being redheads while Meghan shared that she had just taken the couple’s 5-month-old son Archie to his first playgroup.

“I just took Archie for his first class,” Meghan said, according to ABC News royal contributor Omid Scobie. “It was a lot of fun. He loved it.”

Harry is patron of WellChild, which describes itself as the “national UK children’s charity helping to get seriously ill children and young people out of hospital and home to their families.”

The Duke of Sussex delivered a poignant speech in which he said attending the event and meeting the families “pulls at my heart strings in a way I could have never understood until I had a child of my own.”

“Last year when my wife and I attended we knew we were expecting our first child. No one else did at the time, but we did,” Harry said. “And I remember squeezing Meghan’s hand so tight during the awards, both of us thinking what it would be like to be parents one day and, more so, what it would be like to do everything we could to protect and help our child should they be born with immediate challenges or become unwell over time.”

“And now, as parents, being here and speaking to all of you pulls at my heart strings in a way I could have never understood until I had a child of my own,” he said.

The WellChild Awards is the first time the couple has appeared together in public since the news broke last week that Harry started legal action against several British tabloids with regard to “the illegal interception of voicemail messages.”

A few days before that it was confirmed that Harry and Meghan are also taking legal action against another British tabloid, the Mail on Sunday, for what they allege was an invasion of privacy.

“There is a human cost to this relentless propaganda, specifically when it is knowingly false and malicious, and though we have continued to put on a brave face — as so many of you can relate to — I cannot begin to describe how painful it has been,” Harry said in announcing the legal action, adding later in the statement, “I have been a silent witness to [Meghan’s] private suffering for too long. To stand back and do nothing would be contrary to everything we believe in.”

The legal action against the Mail on Sunday was confirmed on Oct. 1, just as Harry and Meghan wrapped up their tour of South Africa.

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Posted On 15 Oct 2019

American pastor once detained in Turkey offers Senate prayer a year after his release

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — A year after Andrew Brunson was released from a two-year stint in a Turkish prison — he’d been accused of spying and aiding terrorists — the American pastor visited the Senate floor and shared his appreciation for being freed with some of those who helped him.

“I’m standing here today because so many of you fought for me and I’m deeply grateful. In a time of many divides, you were unified in fighting for my release,” Brunson said Tuesday — the first day the Senate is back in session after a two-week recess.

Brunson, who’s from North Carolina, was invited by Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., to give the opening prayer on Tuesday.

“Today,” Brunson said in his prayer, “I pray that you grant to the senators of the United States the spirit of wisdom, the fear of the Lord and the courage to act with counsel of the Lord in all matters, great and small.”

Brunson was a Christian evangelist in Turkey for more than 20 years before he was arrested in October 2016 and accused by the Turkish government of espionage and ties to terrorists. He, his lawyers and the U.S. denied those charges.

“He found himself in a Turkish prison … in what we would consider to be despicable circumstances in a prison cell,” Tillis said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

Tillis noted that the 62-page indictment against Brunson read like a “horrible, fictional novel.”

Brunson’s two-year imprisonment triggered a diplomatic feud between U.S. and Turkey, with the Trump administration enacting economic sanctions and tariffs on Turkey to pressure the country into releasing him.

At the time, President Donald Trump proudly boasted in a tweet, “There was NO DEAL made with Turkey for the release and return of Pastor Andrew Brunson. I don’t make deals for hostages. There was, however, great appreciation on behalf of the United States, which will lead to good, perhaps great, relations between the United States & Turkey!”

Before Trump’s remarks at the Values Voter Summit on Saturday, Brunson was invited on stage to pray over the president, alongside the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins.

The timing of Brunson’s prayer on the Senate floor comes amid renewed tension between the U.S. and Turkey over its offensive against the Kurds in Syria, and amid growing ire among Republicans and Democrats in Congress on the Trump administration’s handling of the escalating conflict.

A spokesman for Tillis denied that Brunson’s invitation had anything to do with the ongoing crisis unfolding in northern Syria, and noted Brunson was invited to lead the Senate in prayer weeks ago.

But other Republicans, especially those close to Trump, have made their disapproval of the administration’s actions regarding Syria loud and clear.

“I am gravely concerned by recent events in Syria and by our nation’s apparent response thus far,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement Monday.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham previously said Trump’s decision to pull troops was “impulsive.”

“I hope I’m making myself clear how shortsighted and irresponsible this decision is in my view,” Graham said last week. “This to me is just unnerving to its core.”

Graham appeared to back off after he met with Trump on Monday.

“The president’s team has a plan and I intend to support them as strongly as possible, and to give them reasonable time and space to achieve our mutual goals,” Graham said in statement.

On Monday, the White House announced it would enforce new economic sanctions on Turkey for invading northern Syria after the administration announced last week it would be pulling U.S. troops from the area.

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Posted On 15 Oct 2019

Pence set to head delegation to Turkey for ceasefire talks, but unclear who he’ll meet there

MicroStockHub/iStock(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. delegation President Donald Trump is sending to try to negotiate a ceasefire and settlement between Turkey and U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces will depart in the next 24 hours, a senior administration official said Tuesday.

 The trip was welcomed by the top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell, but the idea of talks has already been rejected by Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned any mediation between his government and the Syrian Kurdish forces that Turkey considers terrorists: “What kind of prime minister, what kind of head of state are those who offer to mediate between us and the terror group?” he said Sunday.

The White House delegation will include Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, and special envoy for Syria Jim Jeffrey, according to the White House, which announced Pence will meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

While McConnell did not directly call out the president during a speech on the Senate floor, he blasted Trump’s decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from northeastern Syria — a sign of the fierce blow back even within Trump’s own party that has only grown since his decision to pull back U.S. troops ahead of the Turkish operation against Kurdish forces.

“Leaving the field now would mean leaving the door wide open for a resurgence of this dangerous force [ISIS] and a new iteration of the Islamic State, creating a power vacuum begging for the meddling influence of Russia, leaving northeastern Syria wide open for Iran to extend its reach unimpeded all the way from Tehran to the doorstep of our friends in Israel, and destroying the leverage we currently have to compel Bashar al Assad to stop his slaughter of the Syrian people and negotiate an end to this terrible conflict and humanitarian catastrophe,” McConnell said.

McConnell argued the U.S. deploying troops to Syria and Afghanistan did not make America the world’s policeman, but a “prudent and responsible world power that stands up for our security and freedom of others.” But moments later and across Washington, Trump said U.S. forces were “policing” and needed to come home: “We want to bring our soldiers back home after so many years … They are policing, they are not a police force.”

Two days after a fateful phone call between Trump and Erdogan, Turkey launched an operation last Wednesday against the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, the majority-Kurdish troops that the U.S. backed, armed and fought alongside against ISIS. Before the offensive began, Trump announced he was withdrawing two attachments of U.S. troops in the area — a move critics have blasted as giving a green light to Erdogan, but which the senior administration official defended as a “tactical” decision to keep them out of the fray.

 “We have absolutely no — I want to repeat here — we have no decision at any level ever taken by the United States to provide military protection to the SDF, nor did we ever by any authoritative source — underline authoritative source — tell the SDF that we would protect them militarily. We told them many times that we would do everything in our power short of military action to try to prevail upon the Turks not to come in,” the official told reporters during a briefing.

They added, “We failed in our mission to deter Turkey from coming in,” but they rejected the categorization that the U.S. abandoned its Kurdish partner forces.

McConnell said U.S. support for local Kurdish forces and the U.S. military presence in northeastern Syria must continue, warning the Senate had a veto-proof majority earlier this year when it passed a resolution condemning Trump’s push for a total withdrawal. But Congress has little power to keep troops there when the commander-in-chief orders them out. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-N.C., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., will introduce legislation Thursday to increase sanctions on Turkey, Graham said Tuesday.

 In the days since the offensive began, the administration has implemented its own sanctions on Turkey, starting with the defense, energy and interior ministers, and the defense and energy ministries Monday. It’s a stunning move against a NATO ally that analysts warn will further unravel the U.S.-Turkish relationship.

But Turkey has remained defiant so far. Fahrettin Altun, a senior communications adviser to Erdogan, told AFP news agency Tuesday, “We will continue to combat all terrorist groups, including Daesh, whether or not the world agrees to support our efforts,” using an Arabic name for ISIS.

Turkey is still “mulling over the impact of the sanctions and other action that we communicated to them,” the official said, but the administration hopes now that they will be open to conversations to halt their operations.

McConnell urged Turkey to “listen carefully to the anger from Washington” when Pence and his delegation arrives later this week.

“Our first goal is to basically have a heart-to-heart talk with the Turks … We’re very concerned about their actions and the threat that they’ve presented to peace, security, stability and the territorial integrity of Syria,” the official said.

“We are in high gear on our diplomacy, led by the president,” the official added, noting that Trump talked to Erdogan and SDF General Mazloum yesterday “to press for a ceasefire.”

 Turkey has already said they won’t negotiate with the Syrian Kurdish forces because it considers them terrorists aligned with Kurdish separatists in Turkey.

The U.S. and Turkey also already had an agreement reached in the months since ISIS’s caliphate fell to secure that area, prevent a resurgence of ISIS and address Turkey’s security concerns. But Turkey said it didn’t work for them and tore it up, invading Kurdish-held territory instead.

When asked by ABC News what the Pence delegation can get different this time, the official said, “The president has directed us to do this… We are very aware that the Turks entered into an agreement with us and they then decided that they would pull out of that agreement, and we’re very concerned about that happening again.”

As Russian and Syrian forces of strongman Assad took control of the key city Manbij Tuesday, they were coordinating with the U.S., according to the official, using an existing deconfliction line that has helped to reduce risk between Russian and U.S. troops for years now. All U.S. forces are now out of Manbij as the “orderly, deliberate, responsible ground withdrawal” continues, the official said.

The U.S. is also concerned about the human rights violations by Turkish-sponsored opposition groups — which the U.S. holds Turkey responsible for, the official added, saying Turkey could have used its own forces instead and calling these opposition groups “thugs and bandits and pirates that should be wiped off the face of the earth.”

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Posted On 15 Oct 2019

Surprise! Jennifer Aniston joins Instagram with epic photo alongside ‘Friends’ cast

Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.(NEW YORK) — It’s the moment many fans have been waiting for: Jennifer Aniston has officially joined Instagram.

Aniston shocked the internet on Tuesday morning by posting an epic group photo along with the Friends cast on one of social media’s biggest platforms.

“And now we’re Instagram FRIENDS too. HI INSTAGRAM,” she wrote in her caption.

Since releasing her initial post, Aniston has already received over 2.3 million likes and has already gained more than 261,000 followers in a matter of hours.

In Aniston’s bio, she writes, “My friends call me Jen,” and she currently follows under 100 people that include notables such as Michelle Obama, Kate Hudson, and Adam Sandler.

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Posted On 15 Oct 2019