WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has called the news media “the enemy” and routinely labeled reporting he dislikes “fake news.” On Monday, the White House broke another precedent in limiting the press’s ability to ask questions about the president’s decisions.
On a day filled with news, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told reporters traveling with the president aboard Air Force One that he would not take any questions on the record.
While returning from Utah, where Trump announced a rollback of protections for national monuments in the state, Gidley read reporters a brief series of statements on a few news items of the day — including Trump’s endorsement of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore and a Supreme Court decision to allow his travel ban to be enforced for now.
Then he announced that he would be declining to answer any questions on the record.
Reporters traveling with the president declined his offer to entertain off-the-record questions.
The refusal to take questions on the record broke with longtime custom on such trips, when informal press “gaggles” take the place of more formal, televised White House briefings.
Why was the White House refusing on-the-record questions? Gidley said he would not answer that question on the record.
—Tribune Washington Bureau
Rep. Rohrabacher to testify before Intelligence Committee about Assange meeting
WASHINGTON — Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., will testify before the House Select Intelligence Committee this month about a meeting with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange where the two discussed who stole emails from the Democratic National Committee ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
WikiLeaks published the emails before voters elected a new president in November of that year. U.S. intelligence officials have said Russia was involved in the theft of Democratic Party emails and tried to influence the election to benefit then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Rohrabacher said in an August statement after he met with Assange in London that the WikiLeaks founder “emphatically stated that the Russians were not involved.” Rohrabacher said they discussed a potential presidential pardon in exchange for information about who stole the emails, but has said since that White House chief of staff John Kelly is keeping him from talking about it with Trump.
Rohrabacher’s interest in improving relations with Russia has been long known in Congress, and his name has come up repeatedly on the fringes of the investigations into election meddling.
Along with the FBI’s investigation, four House and Senate committees are examining Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election, and what the Trump campaign knew about it. The Senate Intelligence Committee is also considering having Rohrabacher testify about the meeting.
Rohrabacher’s spokesman said the House committee has not set a date for him to testify.
—Tribune Washington Bureau
French president warns Trump over possible move of embassy in Israel
WASHINGTON — French President Emmanuel Macron told President Donald Trump that he’s concerned about the possibility that the U.S. might unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, ahead of a decision expected this week.
In a phone call on Monday, Macron “reaffirmed that the status of Jerusalem must be resolved through peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians,” France’s embassy to the U.S. said in a statement.
The message from France was only the latest expression of concern ahead of a deadline for Trump to either announce the U.S. Embassy will move to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv or delay a decision for another six months, as required by a 1995 law. Every U.S. president since Bill Clinton has waived that requirement. On Sunday, White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster told “Fox News Sunday” he didn’t know whether Trump would move the embassy.
The White House’s own four-sentence readout of Trump’s call with Macron said only that the two men “discussed the path to peace in the Middle East,” among other issues.
A White House spokesman, Hogan Gidley, told reporters aboard Air Force One that there would be no announcement on the embassy or on Jerusalem on Monday. Trump will announce his decision “in the coming days,” he said.
The president “has been clear on this issue from the get-go that it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when,” he said.
Previous U.S. presidents, including Clinton and George W. Bush, pledged to move the Israel embassy in their campaigns, only to abandon the promise in the face of political reality. Middle East experts have warned that moving the embassy to a city considered sacred to followers of three major religions would make it harder for Israelis and Palestinians to reach a final peace agreement.
Regardless of any decision on the embassy, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party called for demonstrations on Wednesday all over the West Bank and the Arab world if Trump recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, according to a statement from Fatah.
On a practical level, the U.S. has no property in Jerusalem big enough to house the work of its embassy in Tel Aviv. Building one would likely take years. It would also likely antagonize key U.S. allies in the region, including Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
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