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Let others play with 'sand' in Syria, says Trump

President Donald Trump at the White House on

President Donald Trump at the White House on Wednesday. Credit: EPA-EFE / Shutterstock / Michael Reynolds

Trump brag: 'Strategically brilliant'

Donald Trump is going through motions of seeking an end to the bloodbath in northern Syria. He's dispatching Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Turkey to seek cease-fire negotiations. But many of his comments Wednesday sounded as if they'd been inspired by Melania Trump's "I really don’t care, do u?" jacket.

He disparaged the Kurds who took countless bullets for the U.S. fight against ISIS. “They’re no angels," Trump said. 

He professed disinterest in what will be left behind after the departure of American forces he pulled out to clear the way for the Turkish invasion. “Syria may have some help with Russia, and that’s fine,” Trump said. “It’s a lot of sand. They’ve got a lot of sand over there, so there’s a lot of sand that they can play with.”

He amplified a talking point of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, saying that Kurdish separatist rebels from inside Turkey, the PKK, are “more of a terrorist threat than ISIS.” That's starkly at odds with U.S. intelligence and defense assessments and that of experts on the region that identify ISIS as the direct threat to U.S. security.

Trump said the fight in Syria "has nothing to do with us.” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, pirouetting back to blistering criticism of Trump after praising his first stab at sanctions, said such comments "completely undercut Vice President Pence and Sec. Pompeo's ability to end the conflict." But Trump insisted his decision was “strategically brilliant.” 

The House voted 354-60 for a nonbinding resolution opposing Trump's withdrawal of support to the Syrian Kurds. Every Democrat present voted yes, as did two-thirds of the Republicans, including all of Long Island's House members. 

Trump met at the White House with congressional leaders about Syria, with his anger at the impeachment inquiry possibly bleeding into it. Trump went off on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, calling her a "third-rate politician" and claiming "I hate ISIS more than you do.” Pelosi walked out of what Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called a "nasty diatribe." Pelosi told reporters that Trump was having a "meltdown" and was "shaken up" by the lopsided House vote against him on Syria. For more, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

'Don't be a fool!'

In an apparent attempt to show he isn't rolling over for Turkey, the White House let out to Fox Business Network a letter Trump wrote Erdogan last Wednesday as the invasion was imminent. The language of diplomacy is absent beyond the "Dear Mr. President" salutation, but Trump's authentic personal touch virtually leaps off the page.

"Let's work out a good deal! You don't want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don't want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy — and I will," Trump wrote. Later on: "History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way. It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don't happen. Don't be a tough guy. Don't be a fool!" It concluded: "I will call you later."

Erdogan ridiculed Trump Tuesday, complaining that he can't figure out what the U.S. president wants from one day to the next, according to a report from Turkey. “We can no longer follow Trump’s tweets. We cannot track them. There is a stark change in his stance compared to last night," Erdogan said.

Graham whacker

Graham has been a Trump golfing buddy and carried water for the president fighting Democrats pushing the Russia and Ukraine investigations, explaining to those who remembered him as the late John McCain's sidekick that it's how he tries "to be relevant." He denounced Trump's withdrawal from Syria at first but sidled back to the president to praise a promise of a "crippling sanctions" as "a game changer — in all the wrong ways — for Turkey."

Trump's comments Wednesday were too much for him to swallow. "I firmly believe that if President Trump continues to make such statements this will be a disaster worse than President Obama’s decision to leave Iraq," he said.

Trump swatted back: “Lindsey Graham would like to stay in the Middle East for the next thousand years with thousands of soldiers fighting other people's wars. I want to get out of the Middle East." (Except for Saudi Arabia, where he's sending thousands more U.S. troops and which pays well for them.) Trump said Graham "should focus on Judiciary" — the Senate committee he chairs — and investigate Trump's enemies like former FBI Director James Comey.

Graham fired back: “I will not be quiet, I will do everything I can to help the president get to a good spot, but if we do not leave some residual forces behind to partner with the Kurds, ISIS will come back.” He called the Syria pullout "the biggest mistake of his presidency."

Rep. Elijah Cummings (1951-2019)

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Maryland) died early Thursday at Johns Hopkins Hospital due to complications from long-standing health challenges, his congressional office said. He was 68.

Most recently he was a high-profile figure in the presidential impeachment inquiry and before that, became a regular target of Trump Twitter abuse, including the president's racially-charged claim that Cummings' district was “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” and “the worst run and most dangerous [district] anywhere in the United States”.

Rudy the security risk?

A months-old investigation by Manhattan federal prosecutors into Rudy Giuliani isn't just looking into his Ukraine business dealings and whether Trump's personal lawyer violated lobbying laws — there's a counterintelligence component, too, CNN reported.

That aspect of the probe hinges in part on whether a foreign influence operation was trying to take advantage of Giuliani's business ties in Ukraine and with wealthy foreigners to make inroads with the White House, CNN said, citing one person briefed about it.

Separately, The Washington Post reports Giuliani pressed Trump hard in 2017 to agree to Erdogan's demand to extradite a Turkish cleric living in exile in the United States. The Turkish leader accused Fethullah Gulen of plotting a coup. Senior administration officials were so concerned that Giuliani might have been paid to push Turkey’s interests that at one point they confronted him and asked him not to bring up Turkish issues to Trump. Giuliani called the story "bull."

Trump on Wednesday defended Giuliani. "Rudy was seeking out corruption. And I think there's nothing wrong seeking out corruption," he said. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, while otherwise denouncing the Democrats' impeachment inquiry, said of Giuliani: “I think there would be other people I’d have represent myself.”

Impeachment clock ticktock

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expecting the Democratic-led House to vote to impeach Trump as early as Thanksgiving and laid out plans he hopes will wind up a Senate trial by Christmas.

He told GOP senators they should expect a trial to be held six days a week, starting in early afternoon each day, with Sundays off. He warned senators who try to chat during the proceedings that they will be kicked off the floor.

"Senators will not be allowed to speak, which will be good therapy for a number of them," said McConnell in a news conference after the meeting. "We intend to do our constitutional responsibility."

House impeachment investigators heard Wednesday from Michael McKinley, a former top adviser to Pompeo who abruptly resigned last week. He complained Pompeo was silent when McKinley called on him to support Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine whose ouster was instigated by Giuliani and Trump.

He objected to "the utilization of our ambassadors overseas to advance domestic political objectives" and "was disturbed by the implication that foreign governments were being approached to procure negative information on political opponents."

Trump stunt upsets grieving parents

Trump tried out an idea that seemed borrowed from cheesy daytime TV shows to comfort the parents of a British teenager run over and killed in August by an American diplomat's wife who was driving on the wrong side of the road and struck his motorcycle.

The driver, Anne Sacoolas, left the U.K. last month under diplomatic immunity protections. The parents, Charlotte Charles and Tim Dunn, backed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, want her to return to face justice for Harry Dunn's death. 

National security adviser Robert O’Brien invited the parents to meet with Trump in the Oval Office on Tuesday night. Trump then shocked them with news that Sacoolas was waiting in the next room. Trump envisioned a “hug-and-makeup moment,” a source told The Washington Post. Several photographers were standing by to capture it, a family spokesman said.

The parents were having none of it. "To be thrown into a room together with no prior warning, that’s not good for her mental health, and it’s certainly not good for ours," said Charles, the mother.

Trump lamented Wednesday: "They weren’t ready for it."

What else is happening:

  • He was once a favorite among "my generals," but accounts from the meeting with congressional leaders said Trump trashed former Defense Secretary James Mattis as "the world's most overrated general." Trump went on: “You know why? He wasn’t tough enough. I captured ISIS. Mattis said it would take two years. I captured them in one month.”
  • Bernie Sanders is getting the endorsement of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib — three-fourths of "The Squad," the progressive Democratic freshman House women who were targeted in Trump insults to "go back" where they came from, reports Newsday's Emily Ngo. Still on the sidelines: Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who is from Elizabeth Warren's home state of Massachusetts.
  • Joe Biden ranked fifth among the Democratic 2020 candidates in cash on hand at the end of the last quarter, with under $9 million. Sanders led with $33.7 million, followed by Warren, $25.7 million; Pete Buttigieg, $23.4 million; and Kamala Harris, $10.5 million.
  • Tuesday's debate on CNN averaged 8.34 million TV viewers, the smallest audience of the four Democratic debates so far, according to The Hollywood Reporter
  • Former Rep. Mark Sanford drew a crowd of one in Philadelphia as he launched his campaign to challenge Trump for the Republican 2020 nomination.
  • At noon Thursday, Trump will conclude his 1,000th full day as president. He was inaugurated at noon on Jan. 20, 2017.

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