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

Political News 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.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 15 Oct 2019

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

Political News 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.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 15 Oct 2019

Authorities release sketch of ‘possible witness’ in case of missing 5-year-old

U.S. NEWS Authorities release sketch of 'possible witness' in case of missing 5-year-old

New Jersey State Police(NEW YORK) — Authorities released a sketch on Tuesday of a man they believe may have information on 5-year-old Dulce Maria Alavez, whose disappearance nearly a month ago from a New Jersey park has left few answers.

Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae identified the man in the sketch as a “possible witness” to Dulce’s disappearance and someone who they want to speak with, according to a press release from her office.

Webb-McRae made a point to note that she is not calling him a suspect or person of interest.

He was allegedly at the park around the time Dulce went missing. A witness recently came forward with his description and told authorities that he was seen with one or two children under the age of 5 years old. It was not immediately clear if one of the children was Dulce.

Webb-McRae did not immediately respond to ABC News for comment.

Dulce was last seen on Sept. 16 in the afternoon near City Park in Bridgeton, New Jersey.

Dulce’s mom, Noema Alavez Perez, said on the day her daughter vanished, she was in the car scratching off a lottery ticket while her daughter was playing on the swings with her 3-year-old brother, about 30 yards away.

Perez said she could see the park, but not the swings because hills were blocking them. When her son returned to the car, Dulce was nowhere to be found.

Federal, state and local officials have all been involved in the search for the little girl, but there has been no clear indication as to what happened to her.

Webb-McRae asked the man in the sketch, or anyone who recognizes him, to come forward.

He is believed to be between 30 to 35 years old and around 5-foot-7 with a slender build. He was wearing a white T-shirt, blue jeans and a white baseball-style hat at the time of Dulce’s disappearance, according to the prosecutor’s office.

Anyone with information on the man or the case is asked to contact Bridgeton Police Department at 856-451-0033 or anonymously text information to TIP411 with the word “Bridgeton.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 15 Oct 2019

16-year-old Ohio boys charged in deadly log tossing incident

U.S. NEWS 16-year-old Ohio boys charged in deadly log tossing incident

Kuzma/iStock(NEW YORK) — A pair of Ohio teenagers have been charged in a deadly log tossing incident that claimed the life of a photography teacher last month.

The 16-year-old boys were arrested and charged with reckless homicide in the death of Victoria Shafer, a 44-year-old teacher in southern Ohio who died after being hit by a falling log on Labor Day, police said over the weekend.

Shafer, a married mother of four, was on a park photo shoot with five high school seniors on Sept. 2 when the 6-foot log struck and killed her at the scene. The log weighed 74 pounds and investigators said it was nearly impossible for it to have fallen 75 feet without human interference.

“Ohio Department of Natural Resources investigators determined early on that the six foot log was pushed or thrown off the cliff,” the Hocking County Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement Friday. “Investigators spent countless hours following leads over the course of the past month, most of which were dead ends.”

Police arrested the teens last week after receiving a tip from a parent who claimed one of the suspects had confessed to her daughter. The teen allegedly sent the girl, who is a classmate, text messages stating he “did something serious at the park” with another boy, according to the statement.

Investigators followed the tip and the suspects eventually confessed to police, the statement said.

“Further investigation by ODNR and the Hocking County Sheriff’s Office led them to the two juveniles in custody, who admitted that they were involved in forcing the log over the cliff,” the statement said. “The two juveniles, both from Logan, were initially charged with Reckless Homicide, although this is subject to change as information comes in.”

The teens were being held at a juvenile detention center as of Tuesday afternoon. They made their initial appearance in court on Friday when they pleaded not guilty and requested court-appointed council.

Southern Ohio Crime Stoppers had offered up to $10,000 for information leading to an arrest. The victim’s family previously signaled that they would have sympathy for those responsible for Shafer’s death.

“They might need counseling. How horrific would that be? It could not have happened naturally. It could not have rolled off,” the victim’s husband, Fritz Schafer, told Columbus ABC affiliate WSYX-TV last month. “No storm or anything. No wind. It could have been an accident. Even so, somebody knows something.”

Cathy Muth, Victoria Schafer’s sister, made a similar appeal for information last month and vowed not to seek “vengeance.”

“We understand that maybe it was an accident. It was not a malicious act. But just knowing and being able to put that away would be helpful,” Muth told WSYX. “We are not out for vengeance. We just want to know what happened, and we want to prevent it from happening again.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 15 Oct 2019

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

Political News 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.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 15 Oct 2019

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

WORLD NEWS 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.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 15 Oct 2019

Nephew tells investigators aunt retrieved gun before being shot by cop: Warrant

U.S. NEWS Nephew tells investigators aunt retrieved gun before being shot by cop: Warrant

Tarrant County Sheriffs Office(FORT WORTH, Texas) — An 8-year-old boy who witnessed his aunt being fatally shot by a Fort Worth, Texas, police officer who fired through a window of their house told investigators she had retrieved a handgun from her purse and pointed it toward a window when she was killed, according to an arrest warrant issued for the officer.

But police officials said 28-year-old Atatiana “Tay” Jefferson, the victim of the shooting early Saturday, was within her rights to protect herself and her nephew when she heard noises in her backyard and went to the window to investigate.

The arrest warrant for now-former Fort Worth officer Aaron Dean, 34, was released on Tuesday, a day after he abruptly resigned from the police force and was charged with murder, stemming from the shooting of Jefferson. Fort Worth Police Chief Ed Kraus said Dean quit the force before he had a chance to fire him.

“I realize that no action we take can replace the loss suffered here. I’m deeply sorry for what occurred,” Kraus said during a news conference on Tuesday to announce Dean’s arrest. “Human life is a precious thing, and should not have been taken from Ms. Jefferson. This incident has eroded the trust that we have built with our community and we must now work even harder to ensure that trust is restored.”

The arrest warrant affidavit states that Dean and his partner arrived at Jefferson’s home about 2:30 a.m. on Saturday and never knocked on the door or identified themselves as police as they entered the backyard of the home and Dean opened fire almost as soon as he saw Jefferson standing at the bedroom window peering out.

After being shot, Jefferson “yelled out in pain, and fell to the ground,” according to the affidavit.

A neighbor had earlier called the police department’s non-emergency line to ask that a welfare check be conducted on Jefferson’s home because he noticed the front door was wide open, the neighbor, James Smith, told ABC affiliate station WFAA-TV in Dallas.

“I called my police department for a welfare check,” Smith told WFAA. “No domestic violence, no arguing, nothing that they should have been concerned about as far as them coming with guns drawn to my neighbor’s house.”

But on Tuesday, Chief Kraus told reporters that the officers believed they were responding to an “open structure” call, which would have required them to take more tactical precautions, including parking around the corner from the house.

“The information came from the neighbor to the call takers and then while it was relayed to the dispatch it was determined to be an open structure call,” Kraus said in response to a question from ABC News. “I can’t tell you specifically if it was the dispatcher, but that’s something we’re looking into.”

In the arrest warrant affidavit, Jefferson’s young nephew, Zion, told investigators that he and his aunt, who had a permit to carry a concealed weapon, were playing a video game in a back bedroom of their home when they heard noises outside.

“She took her handgun from her purse,” the affidavit reads. “(The nephew) said Jefferson raised her handgun, pointed toward the window, then Jefferson was shot and fell to the ground.”

Body camera footage released by the police department shows Dean approaching a rear window of the home with his gun drawn. The officer sees the woman through the window, shouts, “Put your hands up, show me your hands,” and fires one shot. Kraus confirmed that Dean never identified himself as police.

“Perceiving a threat, the officer drew his duty weapon and fired one shot striking the person inside the residence,” a statement from the police department reads.

Dean’s partner, identified in the warrant as L. Darch, told investigators she never saw Jefferson raise the gun before Dean opened fire.

“Officer Darch said that they went into the backyard and Officer Dean was standing between her and the house and she could only see Jefferson’s face through the window when Officer Dean discharged his weapon one time,” the arrest warrant affidavit reads.

Dean was arrested by a team of Fort Worth police officers on Monday evening at his lawyer’s office, Kraus said. He was booked at the Tarrant County Jail and released on $200,000 bond late Monday night.

Efforts by ABC News to reach Dean and his attorney for comment have not been successful.

The shooting immediately sparked outrage and protests from community members and Jefferson’s family.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price issued a public apology on Monday, saying, “there is nothing that could justify what happened on Saturday morning. Nothing.”

While Jefferson’s relatives expressed relief that Dean had been arrested and charged with murder, an attorney for the family said Tuesday, “That’s not enough.”

“We need more than a single arrest. We need appropriate prosecution, an effective verdict and proper sentencing,” said attorney Lee Merritt, who is representing Jefferson’s family in pending civil litigation.”

Merritt said others in the police department need to be held accountable.

“We need to go further up the stream. It’s time that we stop pulling babies out of the river and go further up the stream to see who’s putting them in there in the first place,” Merritt said referring to department policies and protocols that failed to stop Dean from using ill-advised lethal force.

Calling the circumstances a “pivotal moment for the city,” Price said she had ordered the creation of a “third-party panel of national experts to review this department’s policies and procedures.

Fort Worth City Manager David Cooke announced he will assemble an independent review board for the police department and will begin interviewing candidates for an independent police monitor.

Chief Kraus became overcome with emotion on Tuesday as he described the toll the shooting has taken on the morale of police officers.

“The officers are hurting,” said Kraus, appearing to tear up. “I’ve been out there on patrol and since this occurred … the officers they come up and hug. It’s very emotional because the officers try hard every day to try to make this city better.”

“They’re out there trying to build these relationships and I likened it to a bunch of ants building an anthill and then somebody comes along with a hose and washes it away and they just have to start from scratch,” he said.

He pleaded with citizens of Fort Worth to “please do not let the actions of one officer reflect on the other 1,700.”

“There are absolutely no excuses for the incident and the person responsible will be held accountable,” he said. “Ms. Jefferson’s family and our community will have the last word and the courts will speak on her behalf.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 15 Oct 2019

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

Political News 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.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 15 Oct 2019

Device at school believed to be IED determined to be harmless plastic bottle: Sheriff

U.S. NEWS Device at school believed to be IED determined to be harmless plastic bottle: Sheriff

vmargineanu/iStock(HELENA, Mont.) — A device found at a Montana elementary school on Tuesday that authorities initially said was an explosive actually turned out to be a plastic bottle covered in tape, police said.

“This information is good news,” Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. “It’s a blessing that it wasn’t [an explosive].”

The Tuesday-morning announcement of an improvised explosive device detonating on the playground of the Rossiter Elementary School in Helena sent FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents to the scene. Students were evacuated. No one was injured.

Dutton said Tuesday afternoon that authorities determined nothing ever exploded. The device, believed to have come from a construction site, was a plastic bottle wrapped in black tape that was full of washers, nuts and bolts, and a fluid that wasn’t flammable, the sheriff said.

A homeless man, who didn’t have malicious intent, thought he was picking up litter and placed the bottle by the school Monday night or early Tuesday, Dutton said.

The sheriff defended authorities’ actions and said they “handled it appropriately” by announcing an IED had been found Tuesday morning.

“I am glad our team here, local, state and federal, reacted in such a way,” Dutton said.

The sheriff did not elaborate on why authorities initially believed a device detonated.

The sheriff said he does not believe the homeless man will be charged.

Helena District 1 Schools and East Helena Schools were placed on lockdown earlier Tuesday as law enforcement searched the buildings. The schools were later cleared and the lockdowns were lifted.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 15 Oct 2019

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

Political News 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