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Police investigating the kidnapping of six fishermen allegedly by Venezuelans

Police investigating the kidnapping of six fishermen allegedly by Venezuelans

by staff writer

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Jan 30, CMC – The Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) Wednesday confirmed that it is investigating the kidnapping of six fishermen allegedly by Venezuelan nationals but said it would not comment on whether or not a US$200,000 ransom had been demanded.

Police Commissioner, Gary Griffith, speaking on a radio programme here, said that the situation has been complicated by the fact that the Trinidad and Tobago nationals are believed to be held in the South American country.

“We at the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service are doing all that is required. It is a very difficult situation. Initially reports are that they (those kidnapped) were actually outside of our waters when it is they were actually held by these individuals.

“It does not take away the fact that these are citizens of Trinidad and Tobago and there is a concern. It puts us in a  very difficult position to do much more than we are doing because of the situation where they are not in Trinidad and Tobago waters., Griffith said, adding “I am not saying our hands are tied, there’s a lot that we are doing from our end.

“Hopefully there will be something positive by the end of this,” he added.

Media reports here said that the kidnappers have given the relatives until Friday to pay the ransom or face the prospect of the hands of those detained being chopped off.

A photograph of the six men, identified as Jude Jaikaran,16; brothers Jason, 38, and Jerry O’Brian, 36; Ricky Rambharose, 35; Brandon Arjoon, 29; and Linton Manohar, 36, has been circulating on social media showing them sitting on the floor while being surrounded by men pointing machine-guns at them. The photo was sent to relatives on Monday.

In an audio clip that is also being circulated on social media, the families are warned that the kidnappers intend to make good on their demands.

Griffith was asked to confirm whether a ransom had been demanded.

I am sorry but I will not be able to make any revelations pertaining to this while the investigations are still ongoing,” he told radio listeners.

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President Trump signs measure to reopen the government

President Trump signs measure to reopen the government

The longest ever shutdown of the U.S. government is over.

President Trump tonight signed the continuing resolution that provides funding until Feb. 15. 

The bill was signed in private tonight, without reporters present.20 hr 13 min ago

Where the shutdown stands now

Both the Senate and the House approved a measure to temporarily reopen the federal government. The plan — which President Trump announced earlier today — will fund the government through Feb. 15.

What happens now: The measure is heading to Trump’s desk for his signature. Once it is signed, it will put an end to the longest government shutdown in US history.

You can follow the latest on the government shutdown here.21 hr 15 min ago

Trump insists “this was in no way a concession”

From CNN’s Liz Stark

President Trump tonight is trying to push back on the way today’s agreement to reopen the government is being portrayed.

He tweeted moments ago:I wish people would read or listen to my words on the Border Wall. This was in no way a concession. It was taking care of millions of people who were getting badly hurt by the Shutdown with the understanding that in 21 days, if no deal is done, it’s off to the races!”

House votes to reopen the government

From CNN’s Phil Mattingly

Win McNamee/Getty Images

The House of Representatives just passed a continuing resolution to fund the government until Feb. 15.

The measure was passed by the Senate earlier today. Now, it heads to President Trump’s desk for his signature.23 hr 33 min ago

This is the role Nancy Pelosi played in reopening the government

From CNN’s Liz Landers 

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Over the past few days, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been in “constant contact” with Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer as he had discussions with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell on a path forward, according to a senior Democratic aide. The two regularly consulted as those discussions proceeded.

Throughout this shutdown, Pelosi made clear that the first step would be to reopen government and only then conduct negotiation. This aide says it was “a position the President finally embraced today.”

This aide pointed to the 11 votes to reopen government since the Democrats took control on Jan. 3 as a key part of the strategy by Pelosi. To do so many appropriations votes — starting with the individual Senate Republican bills — ultimately led to “unsustainable pressure on Senate Republicans.”5:25 p.m. ET, January 25, 2019

McConnell told Trump he didn’t know if GOP could keep holding the line

From CNN’s Manu Raju

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke with President Trump twice on Thursday — and Trump made the decision late Thursday that he wanted the shutdown to end, per a person familiar with their conversations

The first call came after a contentious Senate GOP lunch where Republican senators vented frustration at Vice President Mike Pence about the lack of strategy to get out of the shutdown. McConnell told Trump that it was unclear how much longer he could get GOP senators to hold the line — especially if there were another round of votes to end the shutdown.

A few hours later, Trump called McConnell back with a new perspective: Trump made clear he wanted the shutdown to end, which led to the deal that was approved by Congress Friday.

What’s unclear, according to the source, is what exactly got Trump to change his mind in the intervening hours between their two phone calls.

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Washington Post

Zero $$ for the wall – Inside Trump’s shutdown turnaround

President Trump departs the Rose Garden of the White House after announcing the end of the government shutdown on Friday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

By Philip Rucker , Josh Dawsey and Seung Min Kim

January 25. 2019

His poll numbers were plummeting. His FBI director was decrying the dysfunction. The nation’s air travel was in chaos. Federal workers were lining up at food banks. Economic growth was at risk of flatlining, and even some Republican senators were in open revolt.

So on Friday, the 35th day of a government shutdown that he said he was proud to instigate, President Trump finally folded. After vowing for weeks that he would keep the government closed unless he secured billions in funding for his promised border wall, Trump agreed to reopen it.

He got $0 instead.

Trump’s capitulation to Democrats marked a humiliating low point in a polarizing presidency and sparked an immediate backlash among some conservative allies, who cast him as a wimp.

Elected as a self-proclaimed master dealmaker and business wizard who would bend Washington to his will and stand firm on his campaign promises — chief among them the wall — Trump risks being exposed as ineffective. ‘We have reached a deal’: Trump says shutdown will end

President Trump on Jan. 25 announced that a deal had been reached to reopen the government, ending the longest partial government shutdown in history. (Reuters)

“He was the prisoner of his own impulse and it turned into a catastrophe for him,” said David Axelrod, who was a White House adviser to President Barack Obama. “The House of Representatives has power and authority — and now a speaker who knows how to use it — so that has to become part of his calculation or he’ll get embarrassed again.”

Trump’s quest for at least some portion of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border is not over, however. Friday’s agreement only temporarily reopens the government, providing a three-week ­period for Congress to negotiate a longer-term spending agreement. The president said he would continue advocating for his signature campaign promise and threatened to again shut down the government or declare a national emergency to use his unilateral powers to build the wall if Congress does not appropriate funding for it by Feb. 15.

“Let me be very clear: We really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier,” Trump said Friday. He also tweeted in the evening that his decision “was in no way a concession.”

But when Trump stood alone in a bitter-cold White House Rose Garden on Friday afternoon to announce that the government was reopening with no money for the wall, he punctuated five weeks of miscalculation and mismanagement by him and his administration.

This account of Trump’s stymied pursuit of border wall funding is based on interviews with more than a dozen senior administration officials, Trump confidants and others briefed on internal discussions, many of whom requested anonymity to speak candidly.

For weeks, Trump has sought an exit ramp from the shutdown that would still secure wall funding, and for weeks his advisers failed to identify a viable one.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) address the media at the Capitol on Friday. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

Trump repeatedly predicted to advisers that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would cave and surmised that she had a problem with the more liberal members of her caucus. But she held firm, and her members stayed united.

“Why are they always so loyal?” Trump asked in one staff meeting, complaining that Democrats so often stick together while Republicans sometimes break apart, according to attendees.

As for their negotiations, Trump and Pelosi had not spoken since their Jan. 9session in which the president stormed out of the White House Situation Room. In a meeting with some columnists on Friday, Pelosi was asked why she thought Trump had not created a more potent nickname for her than “Nancy.” She replied, according to a senior Democratic aide, “Some people think that’s because he understands the power of the speaker.” House Speaker Pelosi signs bill to temporarily end shutdown

The House joined the Senate in passing legislation to end the partial government shutdown by temporarily funding federal agencies on Jan. 25. (Reuters)

Trump and his advisers misunderstood the will of Democrats to oppose wall funding. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, emerged as the most powerful White House adviser during the shutdown and told colleagues that Trump’s plan for $5.7 billion in wall funding would get Democratic votes in the Senate on Thursday, astonishing Capitol Hill leaders and other White House aides.

Kushner, who Trump jokingly says is to the “left,” pitched a broader immigration deal and had faith that he could negotiate a grand bargain in the coming weeks, according to people familiar with his discussions. He pitched a big deal to Latino groups this week and also with members of the Koch network, the people said.

Trump, who fretted about the shutdown’s impact on the economy and his personal popularity, cast about for blame and pointed fingers at his staff — including Kushner — for failing to resolve the impasse, according to aides.

At a meeting Wednesday with conservative groups, the president accused former House speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) of having “screwed him” by not securing border wall money when Republicans had the majority, according to one attendee, Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. He said Ryan should have gotten him money before he left but he had no juice and had “gone fishing,” according to two attendees.

Ryan had warned the president against a shutdown and told him it would be politically disastrous, according to a person familiar with their conversations.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and other Cabinet members listen as President Trump announces the end of the government shutdown. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

All the while, Trump vowed he would never capitulate to Democrats. At the Wednesday meeting, “he said there would be no caving,” Krikorian said. “Everybody who spoke up applauded him for not caving, but warned him that any further movement toward the Democrats’ direction would be a problem.”

White House aides had been monitoring Transportation Security Administration data on airport security delays and staffing levels several times a day. Officials said Thursday that the situation was worsening and would probably force the end of the shutdown.

But events at the Capitol on Thursday are largely what triggered Trump to conclude that he had run out of time and that he had to reopen the government, his aides said.

Trump lost control of his party as fissures emerged among exasperated Republican senators. Six of them voted Thursday for a Democratic spending bill, and others privately voiced frustration with Vice President Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) during a closed-door, contentious luncheon.

“Everyone who saw the floor action realized we were basically at the same place where we began and we needed a different solution,” a White House official said of Thursday’s votes.

McConnell called Trump on Thursday to say that the shutdown could not hold because some of his members were in revolt. The president did not commit to ending it in that call, but he phoned McConnell back that evening to say he had concluded the shutdown had to end, according to a person with knowledge of the conversations.

Under attack from some Republican colleagues, McConnell told senators on Friday that Trump had come up with the idea for a three-week deal — and that the president would be announcing it.

When Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) visited the White House on Thursday, he said Trump was in a “pragmatic” mood, mentioning the failed Senate votes and saying he wanted to make a deal.

Pence and Kushner presented the president with several options that would reopen the government, according to a White House official. They included using his executive authority to declare a national emergency and redirect other public funds for the wall, an option Trump said Friday he was holding in reserve. Trump also briefly considered a commission that would study a wall, according to a senior administration official.

On Thursday night, the president grew annoyed at Mick Mulvaney when the acting White House chief of staff talked with him about policy prescriptions for the next three weeks and what an eventual deal might look like, according to one person familiar with the conversation.

Administration officials began immediately on this next phase; Mulvaney and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen met privately with a handful of Republican senators at Camp David on Friday evening to start discussing what a border security agreement might look like, according to multiple people familiar with the gathering.

On Thursday night, the president grew annoyed at Mick Mulvaney when the acting White House chief of staff talked with him about policy prescriptions for the next three weeks, according to one person familiar with the conversation. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Ultimately, aides said, Trump was willing to table debate over wall funding because he is convinced he can win support from some Democratic lawmakers over the next three weeks.

Friday’s agreement allows for a conference committee made up of rank-and-file members from each party to negotiate border security funding, which White House aides said they believe will enable more flexibility than existed during Trump’s stalemate with Pelosi.

A senior White House official said the administration’s negotiating team has received “dozens of signals from Democrats that they are willing to give the president wall money,” but declined to name any such lawmakers.

The administration may have been referring to a letter written by freshman Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) and signed by more than 30 House Democrats, which merely called for a vote on Trump’s border security proposal once the government reopens.

But “that vote would obviously fail in the House,” one senior Democratic aide pointed out. “This is just pathetic spin.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said, “The poll numbers tell a very stark story, but it’s only part of the more enduring longer-term effect on the president’s credibility. He essentially held America hostage for a vanity project and a campaign applause line that the American people saw clearly was never worth shutting down the government to achieve.”

Trump’s approval ratings have fallen in most public polls, including a Washington Post-ABC News survey released Friday that found 37 percent approve of his presidency and 58 percent disapprove.

Trump risks further angering independent voters who do not agree with the prolonged shutdown and conservatives who disapprove of him caving after 35 days with no win.

[‘Trump caves’ or ‘Genius’: Right wing splits after Trump ends shutdown with no wall funding]

Conservative commentator Ann Coulter, whose criticism of Trump in mid-December helped inspire the president to shut the government in protest over wall funding, registered her disapproval of his Friday decision.

“Good news for George Herbert Walker Bush: As of today, he is no longer the biggest wimp ever to serve as President of the United States,” Coulter tweeted.

For months, Republican senators had been trying to warn Trump against a shutdown. Last June, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), the chamber’s point person on Homeland Security funding, met privately with Trump not only to tout their bipartisan border security spending package but also to nudge him away from a confrontation over the wall.

“I just said, ‘Shutdowns are miserable,’ ” Capito said Friday, recounting that Oval Office conversation. “The last one was miserable. And this one was double miserable, and so, you know, maybe you have to live through it to really get the sense of it.”

King faulted the conservative Freedom Caucus, led by Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), both Trump confidants, for steering the president in the wrong direction.

“I hope he ignores them for the next three weeks,” King said. “It’s the charge of the light brigade. It’s the valley of death.”

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PM Browne presents budget, warns tax dodgers, while Oppostion leader calls it a falure

PM Browne presents budget, warns tax dodgers, while Oppostion leader calls it a falure

by staff writer

ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Jan 18, CMC – Prime Minister Gaston Browne has presented an EC$1.2 billion (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents) budget to Parliament outlining new taxes and warning tax dodgers that his administration that it would not be business as  usual.

Browne told legislators that recurrent expenditure is estimated at just over one billion dollars, comprising EC$914.9 million in recurrent spending and capital spending of EC$130 million, while recurrent revenue has been pegged at $966.2 million including EC$34 million in grants.

Prime Minister Gaston Browne delivering budget

“Additionally, total principal payments amount to EC$360.1 million. This, along with the EC$78.8 million overall deficit and the EC$10 million allocated to reduce arrears to local contractors and suppliers, bring the financing requirement for 2019 to EC$448.9 million.”

Browne said that in order to satisfy this requirement, his administration will raise EC$274.8 million from securities issued on the Regional Government Securities Market, and access loans and advances of EC$174.1 million”.

Browne, who is also Finance Minister, said that a tax would be introduced to fund the University of the West Indies campus at Five Islands.

“One of the options is a 10 per cent tax on net profits of telecommunication companies, financial institutions and insurance companies and the country’s sole petrol distribution company, West Indies Oil Company Limited”.

He said based on analysis of the data “this tax should yield in the region of EC$15 million annually and it will be implemented with effect from this fiscal year for a period of 24 months in the first instance”.

Browne said if the tax measure is to be continued “we will,” adding “the reality is the university must be funded and it will be funded”.

In his address, Browne also indicated that the taxes on sugary beverages would be implemented this year given the fact that too many people were being affected by non-communicable diseases (NCD).

“Our government will be introducing a tax on sugar sweetened beverages and we are doing to so to protect the health of the people of this country,” he said, telling legislators that detractors would regard the measure ‘as a revenue raining initiative, when indeed what we are seeking to do here is to reduce the demand to protect our people.

“We cannot build an economic powerhouse with unhealthy people,” he said.

Browne said last year, tax waivers amounted to an estimated EC$330 million; a significant proportion of which was granted to existing and profitable businesses.

He said this EC$330 million mainly represents waivers of customs duties, ABST, Revenue Recovery Charge, Corporation Tax, Unincorporated Business Tax, and Stamp Duties.

“To secure fiscal balance and stability going forward, these levels of concessions cannot continue.

Taxes incurred must be paid and collected so that government can continue to provide the services and benefits everyone expects.

“Reducing total tax exemptions and strengthening tax administration will be the cornerstone of the Government’s fiscal strategy into the medium term.  With the revocation of the corporate income tax waivers, a new corporate income tax credit regime will be introduced.

“If our country is to become an economic powerhouse, capable of sustainable, inclusive growth and creating opportunities for its citizens and residents to generate wealth, it needs to build fiscal resilience.  “

Prime Minister Browne also warned tax dodgers that his administration would be moving to acquire all funds owed to the state despite the island’s constant economic growth over the past four years.

“Improving revenues to meet our development objectives requires effort by everyone. So, everyone, individuals and companies, must pay our education levy, social security, medical benefits, import duties, RRC, ABST, and corporate income taxes,” he said, warning that any person or company, “who reneges on these payments, evades paying them, or uses corrupt means to deprive the Treasury of revenue, is hurting every other person and company in our nation.

“They should be warned now that our government will not allow this behaviour to continue; it is not fair; it is not just; and it is not acceptable. Our government, as the wardens of the interests of all the people, will clamp down on the excesses of the few,” Prime Minister Browne said.

He said that his administration would implement the “Prime Minister’s Entrepreneurial Development Programme (EDP)” announced last year, which will seek to provide access to funds and training for any citizen who presents a viable business plan.

“In the first quarter of this year, the EDP will be launched with an initial EC$10 million provided by the government. The ultimate aim is a revolving fund endowed with EC$24 million to provide low-interest loans for working capital, machinery, and equipment, leasehold improvements, among other things.” Prime Minister Browne said Global Ports is committed to providing $13.5 million to fund entrepreneurship in the tourism sector as part of their involvement in the country’s economic activity.

“The EDP will be complemented by the Eastern Caribbean Partial Credit Guarantee Corporation, which will also work with banks and other financial institutions to increase the flow of credit to micro, small and medium-sized businesses in the ECCU member territories.”

Browne told legislators that in 2018, Antigua and Barbuda’s economy was the fastest growing in the entire Caribbean Community (CARICOM) region, recording growth of 5.3 per cent.

“In the period, 2014 to 2018, the average growth of our nation’s economy was a remarkable 4.5 per cent annually. This country was recovered from the disaster of five previous years of decline, retrogression, and regression and placed on a firm, solid and steady climb to progress,” Browne said.

“Economic growth brings many benefits, but its seeds must be planted, and its trees nurtured to produce the beneficial fruits a nation needs. This task requires special management and financial acumen. And these are among the key competencies that our government has employed to the benefit of our people.”

In his address on Thursday, Browne praised several countries and institutions, which he said had invested in the country’s development through technical assistance, grants and loans.

“I take this opportunity to thank all who have made contributions of whatever size. Every cent counts. And we are very grateful. Mr. Speaker, it would be wrong of me not to make special mention of three countries that have particularly contributed to our nation’s well-being – namely the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the Republic of Cuba and the People’s Republic of China.”

He said that Venezuela had written off 50 per cent the debt owed to PDVSA for fuel imported under the Petro Caribe Initiative, amounting to EC$250 million.

“That is a significant gift to our people, Mr. Speaker, and one that we should acknowledge with great and resounding appreciation. The people of Antigua and Barbuda will remember the assistance of Venezuela and its people well into the future,” he said.

Browne said that Antigua and Barbuda will continue to urge a resolution of the internal differences in Venezuela, and pledge support for whatever his government might be able to do, to set the South American firmly on its feet, in service to all its people.

Browne also praised Cuba for its contribution noting that despite the continued imposition of the inhumane embargo by the United States, continue to provide educational, medical and technical assistance to countless countries in the region and around the globe.

“Antigua and Barbuda has benefitted tremendously from the generosity of the Republic of Cuba. Hundreds of our people have received professional qualifications, free of charge, from the Republic of Cuba and are making meaningful contributions to our state. We thank the Republic of Cuba for their continued generosity in the field of healthcare, medicine, infrastructural development and education.”

He also took time to thank China, telling legislators that last year “no other country or institution has contributed more to our development pursuits than the People’s Republic of China.

“China has committed over EC$400 million in grants and concessional loans to fund the development of the St. John’s Port, the Knuckle Block Project, the proposed housing development, two polyclinics, and non-lethal military equipment and supplies. They have also provided technical assistance in many areas, including healthcare, education and agriculture.

“The relationship between the People’s Republic of China and Antigua and Barbuda, demonstrates that, in international relations, countries are well-served by mutual respect and cooperation,” Prime Minister Brown said.

Debate on the budget begins on January 28.

Opposition Leader blasts 2019 budget

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader, Jamale Pringle, having absented himself for the presentation, described as “disappointing” the EC$1.2 billion (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents) budget presented to Parliament by Prime Minister Gaston Browne.

The debate on the fiscal package is due to begin on January 28, but Pringle, the lone successful candidate of the main opposition United progressive Party (UPP) in the last general elections, said that the budget failed to address any plans for socio-economic growth for the future.

Jamale Pringle (File Photo)

Speaking on Observer radio, Pringle said that the budget is nothing more than a repetition of the promises made in previous fiscal packages.

“Within 2019 we still hearing a budget what we heard in 2014 as in basically the same way in which the government proposed in 2014 to raise revenue for the country via the certain projects which we have seen still in a standstill mode.

“Those are the same projects they are looking to move this economy forward in 2019,” he told radio listeners.

Pringle said had he stayed home on Thursday when the budget was being presented by Prime Minister Browne, I would have just informed people to “just read the 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018” packages.

He said the government had prior to the last general election in March last year, had sought to fool the population by starting some projects, including one in his constituency.

“All they did was to build a few buildings just before the election in terms of offices and nothing further has started…so I think it is a method of fooling the people,” he added.

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Commentary: Exit Brexit … stage right?

By Anthony L Hall

January 18, 2019

Anthony Hall

I am on record dismissing Brexit as just a sham sold by shysters, full of lies and presumptions signifying no deal.

I refer you to such commentaries as “EU: Britain Trying to Have Cake and Eat It Too,” January 29, 2013, “Brexit: Forget Leaving, Britain a Greater EU Contagion If It Remains,” June 22, 2016, and “On Brexit Plan, EU to UK, No Way! September 24, 2018.

More to the point, I warned that Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to execute Brexit was a non-starter — not only in the EU but even in the UK. Here is the foreshadowing I offered in “Brexit: Having Cake and Eating It Too,” July 24, 2018.

Her [Chequers] White Paper is just a formal version of the idea May floated earlier this year for a ‘managed divergence’ from EU rules. But it should have been instructive that, according to the March 8 edition of The Economist, the EU dismissed it back then as cherry-picking that would undermine the single market.

To be fair, though, in proposing her managed divergence, May was just doing what her predecessors did. …

I’ve been decrying Britain’s ill-fated efforts to negotiate one-foot-in/one-foot-out deals with the EU for years. Therefore, I see no point in delving too deep into Brexit’s murky waters here.

It should suffice to know that at least half of the Britons who voted for Brexit can’t even name the EU’s four ‘indivisible’ freedoms, namely the free movement of goods, capital, services, and people. This, despite the fact that Britain’s attempt to divvy up these freedoms (e.g., by cherry picking to allow goods but restrict people) has been the most animating feature of the Brexit debate.

More to the point, this prevailing ignorance is why so many Britons, across the political spectrum, have been calling for a second referendum (a.k.a. a mulligan) before any UK-EU divorce settlement is executed. …

Britain is fated to end up an island unto itself Cake and marooned in the global sea by the foolish, ignorant pride Brexit reflects. Even worse, as Obama famously warned (and Trump hinted), it will find itself at the back of the line of weak and relatively poor countries trying to strike trade deals with the world’s biggest trading blocs, including the American-led NAFTA, the Chinese-led ACFTA, and yes, ironically enough, the German-led EU.

Given that, this came as no surprise yesterday:

Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal has been rejected by 230 votes — the largest defeat for a sitting government in history.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has now tabled a vote of no confidence in the government, which could trigger a general election.

(BBC, January 15, 2019)

May is now a dead PM walking. The only question is whether a vote to end Brexit (viz. another referendum) passes before a vote to end her career (viz. another leadership challenge or general election).

Mind you, the only honorable thing to do after such a humiliating defeat is to resign. No doubt every previous prime minister would have done just that. Exhibit A is David Cameron, her predecessor who resigned after triggering this Brexit mess with his ill-fated referendum in June 2016.

Therefore, it speaks volumes about how far Brexit-crazed Britain has lost its way that resigning seems to have not even occurred to May. Remarkably, even the members of her own Conservative party — who voted for her historic humiliation — seem perfectly happy to sit and watch her wither away … stage right.

  • Anthony L. Hall is a Bahamian who descends from the Turks and Caicos Islands. He is an international lawyer and political consultant – headquartered in Washington DC – who also publishes a current events weblog, The iPINIONS Journal, at http://ipjn.com

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Related commentaries:
EU to UK: no way

* This commentary was originally published at The iPINIONS Journal on Tuesday, January 15

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Chief Justice could rule by month end regarding challenges to the validity of motion of no confidence

Chief Justice could rule by month end regarding challenges to the validity of motion of no confidence

by staff writer

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Jan 15, CMC – Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire Tuesday said she intends to give a ruling by the end of this month regarding the three matters challenging the validity of last month’s motion of no confidence that led to the downfall of the David Granger coalition government.

She told lawyers representing the various parties during the case management hearing that they should submit their legal arguments within the specific deadlines

Lawyers awaiting start of case management hearing

“A decision will be ready before the end of this month ” she said, noting also that she is unlikely to grant a conservatory order for the President and Cabinet to remain in office due to the time frames.

“We are going to push ahead” and decide on those “matters as urgently as possible” because “the nation is awaiting the outcome of these matters,” she added.

On December 21st last year, then government backbencher, Charrandass Persaud, voted in support of a motion filed by Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo that gave the main opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) the 33 votes needed to ensure the success of the motion in the 65-member National Assembly.

As a result, the PPP is calling for fresh regional and presidential elections by March this year, while the government has gone to court challenging the validity of the vote.

On Tuesday, the Chief Justice heard the case management for the cases “Compton Reid vs The Attorney General, Persaud and The Speaker of the National Assembly; Christopher Ram vs The Attorney General and Speaker of the National Assembly and the Attorney General vs The Speaker of the National Assembly and the Opposition Leader.

She has given the lawyers in all three matters to file their pleadings and make their submissions by January 18 while rebuttals have been listed to take place by January 21.

Oral arguments have been set for January 24 in all of the matters. However, the attorney representing Ram will make his oral submissions on January 23.

Attorney General, Basil William’s was granted permission to make submissions in two of the three cases that Article 70 of the Guyana Constitution provides for the government to run its full five year term in office.

During the hearing,  a senior official of the coalition A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) government,  Joseph Harmon was given the green light to join the Compton Reid matter. He is being represented by Attorney Roysdale Forde.

Williams told reporters that although the timelines that have been set out are “tight”, he intends to proceed with his submissions and arguments. He said the government maintains its position that the motion was not passed by a majority in the 65 member Parliament.

But attorney Anil Nandlall, who is the lead attorney for Jagdeo, said he is also ready to proceed.

He said the government has it wrong and the motion was carried by a majority of 33 votes and will make that point during his oral submissions.

CMC/gt/ir/2019

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CARICOM Secretary General says youth crime and violence demands a regional solution

CARICOM Secretary General says youth crime and violence demands a regional solution


by staff writer

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Jan 15, CMC – A two-day conference aimed at examining and redefining violence prevention solutions as it relates to youth violence and prevention in the Caribbean began here on Tuesday with the Secretary General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Irwin LaRocque, saying it is a regional problem that demands a regional solution.

LaRocque told the conference that has brought together leaders from youth movements, governments, civil society, development organizations and academia that crime and security is an issue that is having an impact on all the 15-members of the regional integration grouping.

CARICOM Secretary General, Irwin LaRocque

“It is a regional problem that demands a regional solution.  It not only requires the full co-operation of all our countries but also all the stakeholders within the member states.  The multi-state, multi-sectoral response to this challenge is vital for us to succeed in defeating it,” LaRocque told the opening ceremony.

He said a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 2012 Caribbean Human Development Report on Citizen Security, noted that crime and violence impose high social, economic and cultural costs.

Crime and violence are development issues and the report recommended that a model of security for the region should be based on a human development approach with citizen security being paramount, he added.

The two day conference, which is being hosted by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat, UNICEF, the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat, the St. Lucia-based Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States Commission, and the Caribbean Learning for Youth Networking and Change Sessions (LYNCS) Network., is intended to design transformational youth-centered action to combat crime and violence and address constraints that youth activists face in improving safety outcomes in their communities.

LaRocque told the conference that the youths are the demographic that is most affected by crime and violence and that some of the main findings of recent studies are that the majority of victims, as well as perpetrators of crimes recorded by the police, are young males 18 to 35 years old.

He quoted the UNDP report as indicating that the Caribbean has some of the highest figures of youth convicted of crime with at least 80 per cent of prosecuted crimes being committed by young people between the ages 19 to 29 years old.

“There are a number of socio-economic determinants of crime, not least of which is the high youth unemployment rate in the region of 25 per cent in 2017. That is three times the adult average and highest among young women ages 18 to 30 at 33 per cent,” he said, adding that to combat this scourge, Caribbean leaders approved the CARICOM Crime and Security Strategy in 2013, which incorporates the CARICOM Social Development and Crime Prevention Action Plan.

LaRocque said that the plan hinges on a multi-pronged approach, including crime prevention, justice reform, prison and corrections reform, capacity development within law enforcement and border security, and intelligence-led law enforcement.

He said that within the realm of crime prevention, it has been recognised that there is a need to work closely with communities, to address citizens’ perception of, and support for, the security and law enforcement sector.

This involves the development of close collaboration between and among ministries responsible for national security and their counterparts in related sector.

LaRocque said that the Crime Prevention Action Plan and the CARICOM Youth Development Action Plan (CYDAP) are two of the main policy frameworks which guide the design and implementation of policy and programmes in member states to address crime and violence from a prevention perspective and through addressing the underlying social factors.

He said they also seek to create an enabling environment for adolescent and youth well-being, empowerment and participation in national and regional development.

But LaRocque told the delegates that notwithstanding the value of the projects and programmes that are put in place to deal with crime and violence in the region, he is of the firm view, “the core of this battle must be fought in the home.

“Families have a vital role to play in turning the tide of this struggle.  The universal values of love, hard work, honesty, character building, belief in self and self-respect are key weapons.

“The first intervention must be in the home.  It is there that our youths are first socialised. It is there that we must tackle the concept of toxic masculinity which comes out of a false notion of what it takes to be a man,” he said, adding ‘we must demonstrate that gangs, crime and violence are not the answer to a path of success and self-actualization”.

He said conferences such as this one provide an opportunity for young people to be fully involved in providing solutions to problems that affect them.

“The engagement of youth at all levels of the decision-making process is critical for the successful outcome of all these interventions.  It is not only your future that is at stake but your present circumstances.  You must be equal partners in this struggle as your theme, “Youth as Partners and Innovators” suggests,” he added.

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May survives vote, but Britain remains in Brexit deadlock

https://youtu.be/Wx49EPIerTs

Prime minister invites party leaders to discuss alternative deal but sticks to red line

Heather StewartJessica Elgot and Peter Walker

 Theresa May survives no-confidence motion by 19 votes – video

Theresa May has survived as prime minister after weathering a dramatic no-confidence vote in her government, but was left scrambling to strike a Brexit compromise that could secure the backing of parliament.

In a statement in Downing Street on Wednesday night, the prime minister exhorted politicians from all parties to “put aside self-interest”, and promised to consult with MPs with “the widest possible range of views” in the coming days.

She had earlier announced that she would invite Jeremy Corbyn and other party leaders for immediate talks on how to secure a Brexit deal, although Labour later said Corbyn would decline the invitation unless no-deal was taken off the table.

A day after overwhelmingly rejecting her Brexit deal, rebel Conservatives and Democratic Unionist party (DUP) MPs swung behind the prime minister to defeat Labour’s motion of no confidence by 325 votes to 306 – a majority of 19.

The prime minister immediately extended her invitation to opposition leaders, having pointedly declined to do so earlier in the day.

“I would like to ask the leaders of the parliamentary parties to meet with me individually, and I would like to start those meetings tonight,” she said. Corbyn responded by urging May to rule out no-deal.

In her late-night statement, the prime minister said: “I am disappointed that the leader of the Labour party has not so far chosen to take part – but our door remains open … It will not be an easy task, but MPs know they have a duty to act in the national interest, reach a consensus and get this done.”

The Scottish National party’s leader in Westminster, Ian Blackford, met May on Wednesday night, and the Liberal Democrat leader, Vince Cable, also accepted her invitation.

Blackford later wrote to May, urging her to make a “gesture of faith” to show that she was serious. He said that the SNP would take part in cross-party talks if she was able to confirm “that the extension of article 50, a ruling out of a no-deal Brexit and the option of a second EU referendum would form the basis of those discussions”.

With just five days to go before May must make a statement to parliament setting out her Brexit plan B, Downing Street continued to indicate that she was not ready to budge on her red lines, including membership of a customs union.Advertisement

Conservative politicians are deeply divided about how May should adapt her deal to win over hostile MPs.

The South Cambridgeshire Tory MP, Heidi Allen, said: “I thought she was incredibly brave [after the Brexit defeat] and it felt like she got that we need to change. But today it was: ‘I’ll talk to people, but my red lines are still there.’ And that’s not going to work at all.

“Maybe the prime minister needs a little bit longer but she has got to reflect: stop pandering to the hard right of my party and start talking to those of us who have been working across parties for months. We’re a functioning, collaborative body already. She just needs to tap into us.”

Some cabinet ministers clearly indicated the need for flexibility, with the justice secretary, David Gauke, warning that the government should not allow itself to be “boxed in”, and Amber Rudd suggesting a customs union could not be ruled out.

Labour has not ruled out tabling further no confidence votes in the days ahead, in the hope of peeling off exasperated Tory rebels and triggering a general election. But on Wednesday night other opposition parties sent a letter to Corbyn, which said they expected him to honour his promise to back a public vote if Labour failed to get an election.

A Lib Dem source suggested they may not back future no confidence votes if they felt it was a way to evade the issue. “We will support any real opportunity to take down the Tories with relish. We will not be party to Corbyn using spurious means to avoid Labour policy, by pursuing unwinnable no confidence votes,” the source said.

The DUP was quick to stress that without their 10 MPs, the government would have lost the confidence vote, and called on May to focus on tackling their concerns with the Irish backstop.

“Lessons will need to be learned from the vote in parliament. The issue of the backstop needs to be dealt with and we will continue to work to that end,” said Nigel Dodds, the DUP leader at Westminster.

May’s spokesman said a no-deal Brexit could not be ruled out. However, the Daily Telegraph claimed to have got hold of a recording of Philip Hammond speaking to business leaders on Tuesday night in which the chancellor said the threat of a no-deal could be taken “off the table” within days.

May’s spokesman suggested a customs union was not up for discussion: “We want to be able to do our own trade deals, and that is incompatible with either the or a customs union.”

After meeting party leaders, May is expected to extend the invitation to opposition backbenchers over the coming days, as well Tory Eurosceptics.

“We want to find a way forward and we are approaching this in a constructive spirit,” May’s spokesman said. “We’ve set out the principles but clearly there is an overriding aim – to leave the European Union with a good deal – and we are open-minded.”

Civil servants and political staff are likely to attend the meetings, and ministers can direct civil servants to draw up more concrete plans where necessary, but the talks will not have the same formal status as coalition negotiations.

Wednesday’s vote followed an ill-tempered debate in which Corbyn accused May of presiding over a “zombie government”.

“It is clear that this government are not capable of winning support for their core plan on the most vital issue facing this country. The prime minister has lost control and the government have lost the ability to govern.”

Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, wound up the debate for his party by saying May would for ever be known as “the nothing-has-changed prime minister”.

“No one doubts her determination, which is generally of an admirable quality, but, misapplied, it can be toxic,” he said. “And the cruellest truth of all is that she doesn’t possess the necessary political skills, empathy, ability, and most crucially, the policy, to lead this country any longer.”

The environment secretary, Michael Gove, responded with a robust speech widely regarded at Westminster as a leadership pitch, praising May’s “inspirational leadership” and attacking Corbyn on issues from antisemitism to foreign policy.

“If he cannot protect the proud traditions of the Labour party, how can he possibly protect his country?” he asked.

One former Labour MP, John Woodcock, who resigned from the party after being investigated over sexual harassment claims, abstained from the vote, saying Corbyn was “unfit to lead the country”.

Had the motion passed, MPs would have had 14 days for an alternative government to emerge that could command a majority in the Commons, or a general election would have been triggered.

Corbyn is now likely to come under pressure from party activists to move towards supporting a second referendum. A group of more than 70 Labour MPs announced on Wednesday morning that they were backing the call for a “people’s vote”.

Labour’s formal position, adopted at its conference in Liverpool last year, commits the party to press for a general election. Failing that, all options are on the table, including that of campaigning for a second referendum.

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Theresa May loses vote

Theresa May suffers historic defeat as Tories turn against her

The moment Theresa May loses crucial Brexit deal vote – video

The Guardian
Theresa May has lost the vote on her crucial Brexit deal by 432 votes to 202 in what is the heaviest defeat of any British prime minister in the democratic era.  As a result Jeremy Corbyn has tabled a vote of no confidence, which will be debated in the House on Wednesday

Theresa May has pledged to face down a vote of no confidence in her government, after her Brexit deal was shot down by MPs in the heaviest parliamentary defeat of the democratic era.

On a day of extraordinary drama at Westminster, the House of Commons delivered a devastating verdict on the prime minister’s deal, voting against it by 432 to 202.

The scale of defeat, by a majority of 230, was greater than any seen in the past century, and saw ardent Brexiters such as Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson walked through a packed division lobby cheek-by-jowl with passionate remainers.

As noisy protesters from both sides of the Brexit divide massed outside in Parliament Square, the prime minister immediately rose to accept the verdict of MPs – and say she would welcome a vote of no confidence in the government.

“The house has spoken and the government will listen,” she said. “It is clear that the house does not support this deal, but tonight’s vote tells us nothing about what it does support.”Advertisement

In a raucous Commons, the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, confirmed he had tabled a formal motion of confidence in the government, backed by other opposition leaders, which MPs will vote on on Wednesday.

Corbyn told MPs: “This is a catastrophic defeat. The house has delivered its verdict on her deal. Delay and denial has reached the end of the line.”

The Brexit-backing European Research Group (ERG) and the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) later announced that they would support the prime minister, making it unlikely Labour can succeed in triggering a general election.

May said that if she survived the vote on Wednesday, she would hold meetings with senior parliamentarians from all parties to “identify what would be required to secure the backing of the house”.

The prime minister’s spokesman later said May would be contacting Conservative and DUP MPs among others , but declined to say whether or not she would meet with Corbyn or SNP leader Ian Blackford.

He cited the example of May’s meetings with Labour MPs such as Caroline Flint and Gareth Snell about an amendment on workers’ rights, although both of those MPs eventually voted against the government. “We will approach it in a constructive spirit,” the spokesman said.

May has no plans to head to Brussels immediately, No 10 said, implying that the prime minister first needed to test what would be acceptable to MPs.

 Parliament Square cheers as Theresa May suffers Brexit deal defeat – video

Downing Street said May would approach the talks wanting to find a solution to deliver a Brexit deal that would honour the result of the referendum – suggesting that she would not countenance talks with those pushing for a second referendum, or even a full customs union, which Labour has backed.

She will then make a statement on Monday, setting out how she intends to proceed. MPs will get the chance to amend the statement, and are likely to take the opportunity to try to demonstrate support for their own favoured alternatives – including a Norway-style soft Brexit, and a second referendum.

Several cabinet ministers, including Amber Rudd, Philip Hammond and Greg Clark, had pressed the prime minister at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting to pursue a cross-party solution if her deal was defeated. But Brexit-backing ministers, including Andrea Leadsom and Penny Mordaunt, urged her instead to seek revisions to the Irish backstop – and failing that, to pursue a so-called “managed no deal”.

The former foreign secretary Boris Johnson said the crushing defeat gave the prime minister a “massive mandate” to return to Brussels and seek a better deal.

“We should not only be keeping the good bits of the deal, getting rid of the backstop, but we should also be actively preparing for no-deal with ever more enthusiasm,” he said.

On Tuesday night Johnson was joined by other prominent Brexiter MPs including John Redwood and Bill Cash at a champagne celebration party at Rees-Mogg’s house.

Boris Johnson leaving Jacob Rees-Mogg’s party on Tuesday night
 Boris Johnson leaving Jacob Rees-Mogg’s party on Tuesday night. Photograph: Sean Smith for the Guardian

Hammond moved quickly after the vote to quell business anger over the failure of May to get her deal ratified. The chancellor expressed his “disappointment” at the result in a conference call at 9pm with main business groups, including the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce, as well as dozens of chief executives.

One source on the call said it was constructive and that Hammond’s tone was “realistic” about the damage prolonged uncertainty around Brexit was inflicting on the economy. However, Hammond was hammered by business leaders over parliament’s refusal to take a no-deal off the table. “This was the single biggest question he was asked,” said the source.

May said any plan that emerges from the talks would have to be “negotiable” with the EU27. She earlier rejected an amendment from Tory backbencher Edward Leigh calling for the Irish backstop to be temporary, saying it was not compatible with the UK’s legal obligations.

In Brussels, Donald Tusk, the European council president, appeared to back a second referendum soon after the crushing result for the prime minister was announced, and urged the prime minister to offer a way forward.

The prime minister was expected to return to Brussels within days to consult with Tusk and the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker. Officials said the EU was now in listening mode.

In a statement, Juncker urged the British government to “clarify its intentions as soon as possible”, and warned that “time is almost up”.

“I take note with regret the outcome of the vote in the House of Commonsthis evening”, he said. “On the EU side, the process of ratification of the withdrawal agreement continues”.

In a defence of Brussels’ role in the negotiations, Juncker said that the EU and the bloc’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, had shown “creativity and flexibility throughout” and “demonstrated goodwill again by offering additional clarifications and reassurances” in recent days.

He said: “The risk of a disorderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom has increased with this evening’s vote. While we do not want this to happen, the European commission will continue its contingency work to help ensure the EU is fully prepared.”Advertisement

In Westminster earlier, knowing that she faced a heavy defeat, May made a heartfelt plea to MPs to support her, calling it “the most significant vote that any of us will ever be part of in our political careers”.

“Together we can show the people we serve that their voices have been heard, that their trust was not misplaced,” she said.

Earlier in the day, as one Conservative backbencher after another stood up to attack her painstakingly negotiated withdrawal agreement in the House of Commons, it became clear that few had changed their mind.

May herself embarked on a last-ditch charm offensive on Tuesday, holding meetings with MPs including the ERG’s Steve Baker, who said the pair had held a “constructive and substantial conversation about the future”.

Speaking just before the vote Corbyn saidMay had “treated Brexit as a matter for the Conservative party, rather than the good of the whole country”.

He called the government’s efforts to steer Brexit through parliament “one of the most chaotic and extraordinary parliamentary processes” he had experienced in 35 years as an MP. The attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, warned his colleagues that if they did not accept the prime minister’s deal, they risked condemning Britain to the chaos of a no-deal Brexit.

“It would be the height of irresponsibility for any legislator to contemplate with equanimity such a situation,” he said.

Corbyn will come under intense pressure to throw his weight behind a second Brexit referendum if May wins on Wednesday; but his spokesman said Labour did not rule out tabling another no-confidence motion at a later stage.

Labour MPs were joined by 118 Conservative rebels in voting down the prime minister’s deal, including erstwhile loyalists such as the chair of the backbench 1922 committee, Graham Brady. That was one more than the number who backed a no-confidence vote in May’s leadership of the Conservatives last month. Under party rules, the prime minister’s victory in that vote means she cannot be challenged for party leadership again within the next 12 months.

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Putin and Trump meet as if for the first time mmm

Trump has concealed details of his face-to-face encounters with Putin from senior officials in administration

President Trump greets Russian President Vladimir Putin before a meeting in Helsinki. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

By Greg Miller

January 12 at 6:15 PM

The Trump administration “has imposed significant new sanctions in response to Russian malign activities,” said the spokesman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity and noted that Tillerson in 2017 “gave a fulsome readout of the meeting immediately afterward to other U.S. officials in a private setting, as well as a readout to the press.”

Trump allies said the president thinks the presence of subordinates impairs his ability to establish a rapport with Putin, and that his desire for secrecy may also be driven by embarrassing leaks that occurred early in his presidency. Trump, Putin address Russian interference in U.S. elections

Both President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke about Russian interference in U.S. elections at a news conference on July 16 in Helsinki. (The Washington Post)

The meeting in Hamburg happened several months after The Washington Post and other news organizations revealed details about what Trump had told senior Russian officials during a meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office. Trump disclosed classified information about a terror plot, called former FBI director James B. Comey a “nut job,” and said that firing Comey had removed “great pressure” on his relationship with Russia.

The White House launched internal leak hunts after that and other episodes, and sharply curtailed the distribution within the National Security Council of memos on the president’s interactions with foreign leaders.

“Over time it got harder and harder, I think, because of a sense from Trump himself that the leaks of the call transcripts were harmful to him,” said a former administration official.

Senior Democratic lawmakers describe the cloak of secrecy surrounding Trump’s meetings with Putin as unprecedented and disturbing.

Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in an interview that his panel will form an investigative subcommittee whose targets will include seeking State Department records of Trump’s encounters with Putin, including a closed-door meeting with the Russian leader in Helsinki last summer.

“It’s been several months since Helsinki and we still don’t know what went on in that meeting,” Engel said. “It’s appalling. It just makes you want to scratch your head.”

The concerns have been compounded by actions and positions Trump has taken as president that are seen as favorable to the Kremlin. He has dismissed Russia’s election interference as a “hoax,” suggested that Russia was entitled to annex Crimea, repeatedly attacked NATO allies, resisted efforts to impose sanctions on Moscow, and begun to pull U.S. forces out of Syria — a move that critics see as effectively ceding ground to Russia.

At the same time, Trump’s decision to fire Comey and other attempts to contain the ongoing Russia investigation led the bureau in May 2017 to launch a counterintelligence investigation into whether he was seeking to help Russia and if so, why, a step first reported by the New York Times.

It is not clear whether Trump has taken notes from interpreters on other occasions, but several officials said they were never able to get a reliable readout of the president’s two-hour meeting in Helsinki. Unlike in Hamburg, Trump allowed no Cabinet officials or any aides to be in the room for that conversation.

Trump also had other private conversations with Putin at meetings of global leaders outside the presence of aides. He spoke at length with Putin at a banquet at the same 2017 global conference in Hamburg, where only Putin’s interpreter was present. Trump also had a brief conversation with Putin at a Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires last month.

Trump generally has allowed aides to listen to his phone conversations with Putin, although Russia has often been first to disclose those calls when they occur and release statements characterizing them in broad terms favorable to the Kremlin.

In an email, Tillerson said that he “was present for the entirety of the two presidents’ official bilateral meeting in Hamburg,” but declined to discuss the meeting and did not respond to questions about whether Trump had instructed the interpreter to remain silent or had taken the interpreter’s notes.

In a news conference afterward, Tillerson said that the Trump-Putin meeting lasted more than two hours, covered the war in Syria and other subjects, and that Trump had “pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement” in election interference. “President Putin denied such involvement, as I think he has in the past,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson refused to say during the news conference whether Trump had rejected Putin’s claim or indicated that he believed the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia had interfered.

Tillerson’s account is at odds with the only detail that other administration officials were able to get from the interpreter, officials said. Though the interpreter refused to discuss the meeting, officials said, he conceded that Putin had denied any Russian involvement in the U.S. election and that Trump responded by saying, “I believe you.”

Senior Trump administration officials said that White House officials including then-National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster were never able to obtain a comprehensive account of the meeting, even from Tillerson.

“We were frustrated because we didn’t get a readout,” a former senior administration official said. “The State Department and [National Security Council] were never comfortable” with Trump’s interactions with Putin, the official said. “God only knows what they were going to talk about or agree to.”

Because of the absence of any reliable record of Trump’s conversations with Putin, officials at times have had to rely on reports by U.S. intelligence agencies tracking the reaction in the Kremlin.

Previous presidents and senior advisers have often studied such reports to assess whether they had accomplished their objectives in meetings as well as to gain insights for future conversations.

U.S. intelligence agencies have been reluctant to call attention to such reports during Trump’s presidency because they have at times included comments by foreign officials disparaging the president or his advisers, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner, a former senior administration official said.

“There was more of a reticence in the intelligence community going after those kinds of communications and reporting them,” said a former administration official who worked in the White House. “The feedback tended not to be positive.”

The interpreter at Hamburg revealed the restrictions that Trump had imposed when he was approached by administration officials at the hotel where the U.S. delegation was staying, officials said.

Among the officials who asked for details from the meeting were Fiona Hill, the senior Russia adviser at the NSC, and John Heffern, who was then serving at State as the acting assistant secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs.

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment from the interpreter. Heffern, who retired from State in 2017, declined to comment.

Through a spokesman, Hill declined a request for an interview.

There are conflicting accounts of the purpose of the conversation with the interpreter, with some officials saying that Hill was among those briefed by Tillerson and that she was merely seeking more nuanced information from the interpreter.

Others said the aim was to get a more meaningful readout than the scant information furnished by Tillerson. “I recall Fiona reporting that to me,” one former official said. A second former official present in Hamburg said that Tillerson “didn’t offer a briefing or call the ambassador or anybody together. He didn’t brief senior staff,” although he “gave a readout to the press.”

A similar issue arose in Helsinki, the setting for the first formal U.S.-Russia summit since Trump became president. Hill, national security adviser John Bolton and other U.S. officials took part in a preliminary meeting that included Trump, Putin and other senior Russian officials.

But Trump and Putin then met for two hours in private, accompanied only by their interpreters. Trump’s interpreter, Marina Gross, could be seen emerging from the meeting with pages of notes.

Alarmed by the secrecy of Trump’s meeting with Putin, several lawmakers subsequently sought to compel Gross to testify before Congress about what she witnessed. Others argued that forcing her to do so would violate the impartial role that interpreters play in diplomacy. Gross was not forced to testify. She was identified when members of Congress sought to speak with her. The interpreter in Hamburg has not been identified.

During a joint news conference with Putin afterward, Trump acknowledged discussing Syria policy and other subjects but also lashed out at the media and federal investigators, and seemed to reject the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies by saying that he was persuaded by Putin’s “powerful” denial of election interference.

Previous presidents have required senior aides to attend meetings with adversaries including the Russian president largely to ensure that there are not misunderstandings and that others in the administration are able to follow up on any agreements or plans. Detailed notes that Talbot took of Clinton’s meetings with Yeltsin are among hundreds of documents declassified and released last year.

By Greg Miller January 13

President Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials, current and former U.S. officials said.

Trump did so after a meeting with Putin in 2017 in Hamburg that was also attended by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. U.S. officials learned of Trump’s actions when a White House adviser and a senior State Department official sought information from the interpreter beyond a readout shared by Tillerson.

The constraints that Trump imposed are part of a broader pattern by the president of shielding his communications with Putin from public scrutiny and preventing even high-ranking officials in his own administration from fully knowing what he has told one of the United States’ main adversaries.

As a result, U.S. officials said there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years. Such a gap would be unusual in any presidency, let alone one that Russia sought to install through what U.S. intelligence agencies have described as an unprecedented campaign of election interference.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is thought to be in the final stages of an investigation that has focused largely on whether Trump or his associates conspired with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign. The new details about Trump’s continued secrecy underscore the extent to which little is known about his communications with Putin since becoming president.

After this story was published online, Trump said in an interview late Saturday with Fox News host Jeanine Pirro that he did not take particular steps to conceal his private meetings with Putin and attacked The Washington Post and its owner Jeffrey P. Bezos. Trump and Putin had undisclosed meeting at G-20

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 7 had an undisclosed meeting that followed a first conversation during the G-20 summit in Hamburg. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

He said he talked with Putin about Israel, among other subjects. “Anyone could have listened to that meeting. That meeting is open for grabs,” he said, without offering specifics.

When Pirro asked if he is or has ever been working for Russia, Trump responded, “I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked.”

[A beefed-up White House legal team prepares for battle with special counsel]

Former U.S. officials said that Trump’s behavior is at odds with the known practices of previous presidents, who have relied on senior aides to witness meetings and take comprehensive notes then shared with other officials and departments.

Trump’s secrecy surrounding Putin “is not only unusual by historical standards, it is outrageous,” said Strobe Talbott, a former deputy secretary of state now at the Brookings Institution, who participated in more than a dozen meetings between President Bill Clinton and then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s. “It handicaps the U.S. government — the experts and advisers and Cabinet officers who are there to serve [the president] — and it certainly gives Putin much more scope to manipulate Trump.”

President Trump greets Russian President Vladimir Putin before a meeting in Helsinki. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

A White House spokesman disputed that characterization and said that the Trump administration has sought to “improve the relationship with Russia” after the Obama administration “pursued a flawed ‘reset’ policy that sought engagement for the sake of engagement.”

The Trump administration “has imposed significant new sanctions in response to Russian malign activities,” said the spokesman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity and noted that Tillerson in 2017 “gave a fulsome readout of the meeting immediately afterward to other U.S. officials in a private setting, as well as a readout to the press.”

Trump allies said the president thinks the presence of subordinates impairs his ability to establish a rapport with Putin and that his desire for secrecy may also be driven by embarrassing leaks that occurred early in his presidency.

The meeting in Hamburg happened several months after The Washington Post and other news organizations revealed details about what Trump had told senior Russian officials during a meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office. Trump disclosed classified information about a terrorism plot, called former FBI director James B. Comey a “nut job” and said that firing Comey had removed “great pressure” on his relationship with Russia.

The White House launched internal leak hunts after that and other episodes and sharply curtailed the distribution within the National Security Council of memos on the president’s interactions with foreign leaders.

“Over time it got harder and harder, I think, because of a sense from Trump himself that the leaks of the call transcripts were harmful to him,” said a former administration official.

Senior Democratic lawmakers describe the cloak of secrecy surrounding Trump’s meetings with Putin as unprecedented and disturbing.

Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in an interview that his panel will form an investigative subcommittee whose targets will include seeking State Department records of Trump’s encounters with Putin, including a closed-door meeting with the Russian leader in Helsinki last summer.

“It’s been several months since Helsinki and we still don’t know what went on in that meeting,” Engel said. “It’s appalling. It just makes you want to scratch your head.”

The concerns have been compounded by actions and positions Trump has taken as president that are seen as favorable to the Kremlin. He has dismissed Russia’s election interference as a “hoax,” suggested that Russia was entitled to annex Crimea, repeatedly attacked NATO allies, resisted efforts to impose sanctions on Moscow, and begun to pull U.S. forces out of Syria — a move that critics see as effectively ceding ground to Russia.

At the same time, Trump’s decision to fire Comey and other attempts to contain the ongoing Russia investigation led the bureau in May 2017 to launch a counterintelligence investigation into whether he was seeking to help Russia and if so, why, a step first reported by the New York Times.

It is not clear whether Trump has taken notes from interpreters on other occasions, but several officials said they were never able to get a reliable readout of the president’s two-hour meeting in Helsinki. Unlike in Hamburg, Trump allowed no Cabinet officials or any aides to be in the room for that conversation.

Trump also had other private conversations with Putin at meetings of global leaders outside the presence of aides. He spoke at length with Putin at a banquet at the same 2017 global conference in Hamburg, where only Putin’s interpreter was present. Trump also had a brief conversation with ­Putin at a Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires last month.

Trump generally has allowed aides to listen to his phone conversations with Putin, although Russia has often been first to disclose those calls when they occur and release statements characterizing them in broad terms favorable to the Kremlin.

In an email, Tillerson said that he “was present for the entirety of the two presidents’ official bilateral meeting in Hamburg,” but he declined to discuss the meeting and did not respond to questions about whether Trump had instructed the interpreter to remain silent or had taken the interpreter’s notes.

In a news conference afterward, Tillerson said that the Trump-Putin meeting lasted more than two hours, covered the war in Syria and other subjects, and that Trump had “pressed President ­Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement” in election interference. “President Putin denied such involvement, as I think he has in the past,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson refused to say during the news conference whether Trump had rejected Putin’s claim or indicated that he believed the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia had interfered.

Tillerson’s account is at odds with the only detail that other administration officials were able to get from the interpreter, officials said. Though the interpreter refused to discuss the meeting, officials said, he conceded that Putin had denied any Russian involvement in the U.S. election and that Trump responded by saying, “I believe you.”

A White House spokesperson, responding to this detail from the Hamburg meeting, said: “The President has affirmed that he supports the conclusions in the 2017 Intel Community Assessment, and the President also issued a new executive order in September 2018 to ensure a whole of government effort to address any foreign attempts to interfere in US elections.”

Senior Trump administration officials said that White House officials including then-National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster were never able to obtain a comprehensive account of the meeting, even from Tillerson.

“We were frustrated because we didn’t get a readout,” a former senior administration official said. “The State Department and [National Security Council] were never comfortable” with Trump’s interactions with Putin, the official said. “God only knows what they were going to talk about or agree to.”

Because of the absence of any reliable record of Trump’s conversations with Putin, officials at times have had to rely on reports by U.S. intelligence agencies tracking the reaction in the Kremlin.

Previous presidents and senior advisers have often studied such reports to assess whether they had accomplished their objectives in meetings as well as to gain insights for future conversations.

U.S. intelligence agencies have been reluctant to call attention to such reports during Trump’s presidency because they have at times included comments by foreign officials disparaging the president or his advisers, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner, a former senior administration official said.

“There was more of a reticence in the intelligence community going after those kinds of communications and reporting them,” said a former administration official who worked in the White House. “The feedback tended not to be positive.”

The interpreter at Hamburg revealed the restrictions that Trump had imposed when he was approached by administration officials at the hotel where the U.S. delegation was staying, officials said.

Among the officials who asked for details from the meeting were Fiona Hill, the senior Russia adviser at the NSC, and John Heffern, who was then serving at State as the acting assistant secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs.

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment from the interpreter. Heffern, who retired from State in 2017, declined to comment.

Through a spokesman, Hill declined a request for an interview.

There are conflicting accounts of the purpose of the conversation with the interpreter, with some officials saying that Hill was among those briefed by Tillerson and that she was merely seeking more nuanced information from the interpreter.

Others said the aim was to get a more meaningful readout than the scant information furnished by Tillerson. “I recall Fiona reporting that to me,” one former official said. A second former official present in Hamburg said that Tillerson “didn’t offer a briefing or call the ambassador or anybody together. He didn’t brief senior staff,” although he “gave a readout to the press.”

A similar issue arose in Helsinki, the setting for the first formal U.S.-Russia summit since Trump became president. Hill, national security adviser John Bolton and other U.S. officials took part in a preliminary meeting that included Trump, Putin and other senior Russian officials.

But Trump and Putin then met for two hours in private, accompanied only by their interpreters. Trump’s interpreter, Marina Gross, could be seen emerging from the meeting with pages of notes.

Alarmed by the secrecy of Trump’s meeting with Putin, several lawmakers subsequently sought to compel Gross to testify before Congress about what she witnessed. Others argued that forcing her to do so would violate the impartial role that interpreters play in diplomacy. Gross was not forced to testify. She was identified when members of Congress sought to speak with her. The interpreter in Hamburg has not been identified.

During a joint news conference with Putin afterward, Trump acknowledged discussing Syria policy and other subjects but also lashed out at the media and federal investigators, and he seemed to reject the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies by saying that he was persuaded by Putin’s “powerful” denial of election interference.

Previous presidents have required senior aides to attend meetings with adversaries including the Russian president largely to ensure that there are not misunderstandings and that others in the administration are able to follow up on any agreements or plans. Detailed notes that Talbot took of Clinton’s meetings with Yeltsin are among hundreds of documents declassified and released last year.

John Hudson, Josh Dawsey and Julie Tate contributed to this report.

John Hudson, Josh Dawsey and Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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