REPORT: Federal judge calls Florida ‘laughing-stock of the world’ in response to vote controversy

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A federal judge slammed Florida on Thursday for repeatedly failing to anticipate election problems, and said the state law on recounts appears to violate the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that decided the presidency in 2000.

“We have been the laughing-stock of the world, election after election, and we chose not to fix this,” U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said in court.

Walker vented his anger at state lawmakers but also Palm Beach County officials, saying they should have made sure they had enough equipment in place to handle this kind of a recount. Walker also said he’s not happy about the idea of extending recount deadlines without limit.

The overarching problem was created by the Florida Legislature, which Walker said passed a recount law that appears to run afoul of the 2000 Bush v. Gore decision, by locking in procedures that don’t allow for potential problems.

A total of six election-related lawsuits are pending in Tallahassee. Earlier Thursday, Walker ordered that voters be given until 5 p.m. Saturday to show a valid identification and fix their ballots if they haven’t been counted due to mismatched signatures.

Despite an ongoing recount in Florida for the extremely tight Senate race between Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Bill Nelson, Scott appeared at a photo opp Wednesday on Capitol Hill for newly-elected Republican Senators. (Nov. 14)

Florida’s 67 counties have faced a 3 p.m. Thursday deadline to finish recounts that could determine the next senator and governor in one of America’s top political battlegrounds. Republicans said they would immediately appeal.

State officials testified that nearly 4,000 mailed-in ballots were set aside because local officials decided the signature on the envelope didn’t match the signature on file. If these voters can prove their identity, their votes will now be counted and included in final official returns due from each county by noon Sunday.

Meanwhile, the ongoing recount threatens to stretch into the weekend. The election supervisor in Palm Beach County, a Democratic stronghold, warned they may not meet Thursday’s initial deadline. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Democrats want that looming deadline set aside, and other lawsuits could lead to more delays.

More than a week after Election Day, an immediate resolution seems remote.

Once the machine recount is complete, state law requires a hand review of races with margins of less than 0.25 percentage points. This almost certainly means another recount in the Senate race, with unofficial results showing Republican Gov. Rick Scott ahead of Nelson by 0.14 percentage points.

Also, the election won’t be certified until Tuesday, even though the machine recount may essentially bring a conclusion to the governor’s race, where Republican Ron DeSantis leads Democrat Andrew Gillum by 0.41 percentage points in unofficial results.

Nelson, a three-time incumbent, has defended his legal strategy that resulted in Walker’s ruling, saying in a statement Wednesday that “it remains the most important goal of my campaign to make sure that every lawful vote be counted correctly in this Senate race, and that Floridians’ right to participate in this process is protected.”

Republicans, however, say in their own lawsuits and motions that Democrats are trying to change the rules after the voting didn’t go their way.

“We will continue to fight to defend Florida law and uphold the will of the voters,” said Chris Hartline, a spokesman for Scott.

Nelson and Democrats had wanted Walker to order the counting of all mail-in ballots rejected for a mismatched signature, arguing that local election officials aren’t handwriting experts.

Walker said he could not go along with that suggestion.

“Let this court be clear: It is not ordering county canvassing boards to count every mismatched vote, sight unseen,” Walker wrote in his 34-page ruling. “Rather, the county supervisors of elections are directed to allow those voters who should have had an opportunity to cure their ballots in the first place to cure their vote-by-mail and provisional ballots now, before the second official results are fully counted. This should give sufficient time, within the state’s and counties current administrative constraints, for Florida’s voters to ensure their votes will be counted.”

Lauren Schenone, a spokeswoman for Scott, called Walker’s ruling “baseless” and said they were “confident” it would be overturned by the Atlanta-based appellate court.

The developments are fueling frustrations among Democrats and Republicans alike. Democrats want state officials to do whatever it takes to make sure every eligible vote is counted. Republicans, including President Donald Trump, have argued without evidence that voter fraud threatens to steal races from the GOP.

Just when state officials will get recount results from all counties remains unclear. Tallying machines overheated earlier this week in Palm Beach County. That caused mismatched results with the recount of 174,000 early voting ballots, forcing staffers to go back and redo their work.

The county’s Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher said the machines underwent maintenance right before the election, but “I don’t think they were designed to work 24/7.”

—–

Associated Press writers Gary Fineout and Brendan Farrington contributed to the contents of this report.

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TRUMP’S FURY: President rages over Mueller probe ‘disgrace’

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday lashed out against investigators probing alleged collusion between members of his campaign staff and Russian agents, claiming special counsel Robert Mueller and members of his investigative team have gone “totally nuts” and are a “disgrace.”

“The inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess. They have found no collusion and have gone absolutely nuts,” Trump tweeted Thursday morning. “They are screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with the answers they want.”

“They are a disgrace to our Nation and don’t care how many lives the ruin,” he continued in a follow-up tweet. “These are Angry People, including the highly conflicted Bob Mueller, who worked for Obama for 8 years. They won’t even look at all of the bad acts and crimes on the other side. A TOTAL WITCH HUNT LIKE NO OTHER IN AMERICAN HISTORY!”

The president’s outrage stems from claims from the left that Trump plotted to have Mueller fired or his investigation otherwise shut down before he could seal the deal on an indictment against Trump and members of his inner circle.

Mueller, a former director of the FBI, had been charged with investigating whether or not Trump and members of his campaign staff received help from Russian agents to defeat his 2016 election opponent Hillary Clinton.

The president has staunchly denied these allegations.

Democrats, who are set to regain control of the House as a result of their 2018 midterm win, say they will use House investigative committees to further probes into the president’s alleged ties to Russia.

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AND SO IT BEGINS: Dems launch plans to impeach Kavanaugh, Trump in wake of midterm House win

WASHINGTON– Democratic leaders on Wednesday revealed plans to “investigate and impeach” Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the grounds of perjury and to “impeach President Donald Trump on allegations of treasonous and collusion with Russia”.

According to a report published by The Federalist, the revelations came from Judiciary Committee ranking member Rep. Jerrold Nadler, (D)-N.Y. through a series of post-election telephone calls on Wednesday.

“We’ve got to figure out what we’re doing,” said Nadler. “There’s a real indication that Kavanaugh committed perjury.”

Nadler claimed The Atlantic published an article about the allegations of a third woman who had accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct. Then he claimed that when Kavanaugh was “asked at a committee hearing under oath when he first heard of the subject, he said, ‘When I’d heard of the Atlantic article.’ But there is an email chain apparently dating from well before that from him about ‘How can we deal with this?’” Nadler said.

“The worst-case scenario — or best case depending on your point of view,” Nadler continued, “you prove he committed perjury about a terrible subject and the Judicial Conference recommends you impeach him. So the president appoints someone just as bad.”

Nadler then turned his fury toward the president, alleging that Trump conspired with Russia to steal the 2016 presidential election.

Vowing to hold the president “accountable”, Nadler said he and his fellow Democrats would be going “all-in,” and that their plans may vary “depending on what [special counsel Robert] Mueller finds.”

Democrats won the seats needed to take the House on Tuesday after capturing districts where President Trump is unpopular.

During the two year course of Trump’s presidential administration, there have been numerous calls by Democrats to launch impeachment proceedings against the president on grounds of treason.

To date, those calls have gone unheeded.

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HE’S OUT! Trump forces out AG Jeff Sessions in fallout over midterms

WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General Jeff Sessions was pushed out Wednesday as the country’s chief law enforcement officer after enduring more than a year of blistering and personal attacks from President Donald Trump over his recusal from the Russia investigation.

Sessions told the president in a one-page letter that he was submitting his resignation “at your request.”

Trump announced in a tweet that he was naming Sessions’ chief of staff Matthew Whitaker, a former United States attorney from Iowa, as acting attorney general. Whitaker has criticized special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential coordination between the president’s Republican campaign and Russia.

The resignation was the culmination of a toxic relationship that frayed just weeks into the attorney general’s tumultuous tenure, when he stepped aside from the Mueller investigation.

Trump blamed the decision for opening the door to the appointment of Mueller, who took over the Russia investigation and began examining whether Trump’s hectoring of Sessions was part of a broader effort to obstruct justice and stymie the probe.

Asked whether Whitaker would assume control over Mueller’s investigation, Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Flores said Whitaker would be “in charge of all matters under the purview of the Department of Justice.” The Justice Department did not announce a departure for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller more than a year and a half ago and has closely overseen his work since then.

Whitaker once opined about a situation in which Trump could fire Sessions and then appoint an acting attorney general who could stifle the funding of Mueller’s probe.

“So I could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced with a recess appointment and that attorney general doesn’t fire Bob Mueller, but he just reduces his budget to so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt,” Whitaker said during an interview with CNN in July 2017.

Asked if that would be to dwindle the special counsel’s resources, Whitaker responded, “Right.”

In an op-ed for CNN, Whitaker wrote: “Mueller has come up to a red line in the Russia 2016 election-meddling investigation that he is dangerously close to crossing.”

The relentless attacks on Sessions came even though the Alabama Republican was the first U.S. senator to endorse Trump and despite the fact that his crime-fighting agenda and priorities — particularly his hawkish immigration enforcement policies — largely mirrored the president’s.

But the relationship was irreparably damaged in March 2017 when Sessions, acknowledging previously undisclosed meetings with the Russian ambassador and citing his work as a campaign aide, recused himself from the Russia investigation.

The decision infuriated Trump, who repeatedly lamented that he would have never selected Sessions if he had known the attorney general would recuse. The recusal left the investigation in the hands of Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller as special counsel two months later after Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey.

The rift lingered for the duration of Sessions’ tenure, and the attorney general, despite praising the president’s agenda and hewing to his priorities, never managed to return to Trump’s good graces.

The deteriorating relationship became a soap opera stalemate for the administration. Trump belittled Sessions but, perhaps following the advice of aides, held off on firing him. The attorney general, for his part, proved determined to remain in the position until dismissed. A logjam broke when Republican senators who had publicly backed Sessions began signaling a willingness to consider a new attorney general.

In attacks delivered on Twitter, in person and in interviews, Trump called Sessions weak and beleaguered, complained that he wasn’t more aggressively pursuing allegations of corruption against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and called it “disgraceful” that Sessions wasn’t more serious in scrutinizing the origins of the Russia investigation for possible law enforcement bias — even though the attorney general did ask the Justice Department’s inspector general to look into those claims.

The broadsides escalated in recent months, with Trump telling a television interviewer that Sessions “had never had control” of the Justice Department and snidely accusing him on Twitter of not protecting Republican interests by allowing two GOP congressmen to be indicted before the election.

Sessions endured most of the name-calling in silence, though he did issue two public statements defending the department, including one in which he said he would serve “with integrity and honor” for as long as he was in the job.

The recusal from the Russia investigation allowed him to pursue the conservative issues he had long championed as a senator, often in isolation among fellow Republicans.

He found satisfaction in being able to reverse Obama-era policies that he and other conservatives say flouted the will of Congress, including by encouraging prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges they could and by promoting more aggressive enforcement of federal marijuana law. He also announced media leak crackdowns, tougher policies against opioids and his Justice Department defended a since-abandoned administration policy that resulted in parents being separated from their children at the border.

His agenda unsettled liberals who said that Sessions’ focus on tough prosecutions marked a return to failed drug war tactics that unduly hurt minorities and the poor, and that his rollbacks of protections for gay and transgender people amount to discrimination.

Some Democrats also considered Sessions too eager to do Trump’s bidding and overly receptive to his grievances.

Sessions, for instance, directed senior prosecutors to examine potential corruption in a uranium field transaction that some Republicans have said may have implicated Clinton in wrongdoing and benefited donors of the Clinton Foundation. He also fired one of the president’s primary antagonists, former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, just before he was to have retired — a move Trump hailed as a “great day for democracy.”

Despite it all, Sessions never found himself back in favor with the president.

Their relationship wasn’t always fractured. Sessions was a close campaign aide, attending national security meetings and introducing him at rallies in a red “Make America Great Again” hat.

But the problems started after he told senators during his confirmation hearing that he had never met with Russians during the campaign. The Justice Department, responding to a Washington Post report, soon acknowledged that Sessions had actually had two encounters during the campaign with the then-Russian ambassador. He recused himself the next day, saying it would be inappropriate to oversee an investigation into a campaign he was part of.

The announcement set off a frenzy inside the White House, with Trump directing his White House counsel to call Sessions beforehand and urge him not to step aside. Sessions rejected the entreaty. Mueller’s team, which has interviewed Sessions, has been investigating the president’s attacks on him and his demands to have a loyalist in charge of the Russia investigation.

Sessions had been protected for much of his tenure by the support of Senate Republicans, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, who had said he would not schedule a confirmation hearing for another attorney general if Trump fired him.

But that support began to fade, with Grassley suggesting over the summer that he might have time for a hearing after all.

And Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, another Judiciary Committee member who once said there’d be “holy hell to pay” if Trump fired Sessions, called the relationship “dysfunctional” and said he thought the president had the right after the midterm to select a new attorney general.

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‘YOU’RE OFFENSIVE!’ Trump blasts media; Defends anti-migrant ad

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday defended an ad that warned America against the dangers of the incoming migrant invasion and urged voters to vote red in Tuesday’s midterm elections.

“I don’t know about it. I mean you’re telling me something I don’t know about,” Trump said when asked about the ad’s being pulled by NBC and Fox in response to the controversy surrounding it. “We have a lot of ads. And they certainly are effective, based on the numbers that we’re seeing.”

“A lot of things are offensive,” the president added when another reporter pressed him for further comment. “Your questions are offensive a lot of times so, you know.”

The ad, which was paid for by the Trump campaign, tied the migrant caravan heading towards the southern border from South America with Luis Bracamontes, a man convicted of killing two U.S. police officers. In it, Trump accuses Democrats of attempting to flood America with criminals like Bracamontes through methods like the caravan.

In addition to Fox and NBC’s rebuke, CNN declined to air the ad declaring it’s content “racist”.

Republicans and the president have made the topics of immigration reform and securing the nation’s border key issues of the 2018 midterms.

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TRUMP EFFECT: With him or against him, POTUS looms large over Election Day

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Michael Gregoire marched along a downtown sidewalk in the tense days before the midterm elections, waving a hand-painted sign at passing traffic: “DEFEAT REPUBLICANS 2018.”

“The survival of the country is going to depend on this election,” he said as another man stopped for a moment to argue. The strangers faced each other from opposite edges of the great American divide, Democrat versus Republican, both convinced the election is among the most consequential in their lifetimes and that they must save the nation from the other side.

“I’m voting for Donald Trump,” Stuart Kanter said. “He’s not on the ticket. But, in a way, actually he is.”

President Donald Trump looms large over Tuesday’s election, which is expected to draw historic numbers to the polls and will determine which party controls Congress. For Gregoire and Kanter — and for voters across the country — the election represents something far greater than whatever Senate and House races appear on their ballots. It is a competition for the soul of America — a referendum on Trump and the venomous political culture that many blame for gridlock in Congress and a recent spate of hate crimes and politically motivated attacks.

Less than two weeks ago in this city, a white man gunned down two African-American shoppers at a grocery store in what police described as a racially motivated attack. Days later, an avid Trump supporter was arrested for mailing pipe bombs to prominent critics of the president, all of whom Trump routinely derides as “evil” and “un-American.” The next day, another gunman opened fire in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, massacring 11 worshippers and telling police “all these Jews need to die.”

Don Albrecht, a 75-year-old accountant and Republican who voted for Trump in 2016, lives blocks away from the Louisville grocery store where two people died. He’d pulled into the parking lot minutes after the gunfire erupted, saw the police cars and shaken employees, and felt like the country’s poisonous political climate had landed in his backyard. He wishes he could take back his vote for Trump.

“He has diarrhea of the mouth and diarrhea of the brain. He’s just so irresponsible,” said Albrecht, who worries Trump’s embrace of the far-right is remaking his party. “I don’t think the American public is going to put up with it. I think there’s going to be a big backlash against Republicans because of this divisiveness.”

He’s undecided going into Election Day. He can’t remember ever voting for a Democrat but said he might this time in protest.

Other Trump voters remain staunchly behind him, and plan to choose Republican candidates to help him make good on his pledges, including vows to implement more hardline immigration policies. “I want to see the wall go up,” said Joe Spirko, 57, as he peddled Trump flags outside of one of the president’s rallies in Florida last week. “Since Trump come along, I feel a lot better.”

Trump has stepped up his rhetoric on immigration ahead of the elections, focusing on a caravan of Central American migrants heading toward the United States. Trump and his backers have called it “an invasion” — though the group of a few thousand people, including mothers and children, remains hundreds of miles away — and suggested without proof that there are criminals and terrorists in the crowd of those fleeing violence and poverty. In a White House speech, the president said he would sign an order preventing border-crossers from claiming asylum, a legally questionable proposition, and said he’d told military troops he’s mobilizing to the border to respond to thrown rocks like they were “rifles.”

Julie Hoeppner, a 67-year-old psychologist in Indiana, voted early for Republican candidates, also citing illegal immigration as a primary concern.

A friend recently sent Hoeppner a photo of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island with a note that said: “For our ancestors, this is their caravan.” Hoeppner didn’t respond but thought to herself that her ancestors arrived legally. “Which is a big difference,” she said. “They didn’t come trying to storm the border.”

Pedro Panelo, the 21-year-old president of the College Republicans at Wheaton College in Illinois, is frustrated immigration became a last-minute political football, because the issue is more complex than what either Democrats or Republicans make it out to be. Panelo, the son of a Mexican immigrant, said migrants shouldn’t be demonized, but he stopped short of criticizing the president, and plans to vote for Republican candidates who could help push Trump’s agenda.

“When it comes to his actions, I’m not a huge fan of his tweets,” Panelo said. “But what I say is look what he’s done for the country and not always what he’s said on Twitter.”

He said he’s felt an extraordinary level of enthusiasm for this election among his fellow students. Young people, who historically sit out of midterm elections, and women are both expected to be pivotal forces Tuesday. In Georgia, Democratic campaign volunteer Adrienne White said she struggled to recruit volunteers ahead of the 2016 presidential election but that it’s been easy this year, especially among women.

In Pittsburgh, where residents just finished burying those gunned down at the Tree of Life synagogue, some voters saw their Election Day decisions as a way to send a message that the country is headed down a dark and dangerous path.

“This is probably the most important election in the past 100 years. This will turn the tables,” said Barbara Villa, 71, who with her husband planted a crop of “Vote Blue” signs outside their home.

Rose Cathleen Bagin, 77, lives in the same neighborhood as the synagogue. She lashed a sign to her front porch reading “VOTE FOR GUN CONTROL,” and she is stunned every time she sees the crowd at Trump rallies on television cheering for his divisive language.

“I can’t stand the terrible things he says and the terrible things he’s doing,” said Bagin, who plans to vote Democratic Tuesday. “I’m terrified. We’re going to a place I just don’t understand.”

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Associated Press contributors Allen G. Breed, Adam Geller, Claire Galofaro, Martha Irvine and Sharon Cohen contributed to the contents of this report.

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GIVE IT UP, DEMS: Trump declares the ‘blue wave’ dead

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday claimed early victory for Republicans in next week’s midterm election by declaring the Democrats self-proclaimed “blue wave” essentially dead.

“I think the blue wave is dead, frankly,” Trump told Christian Broadcast Network’s David Brody and Jenna Browder during an interview recorded onboard Air Force One. “And I think we’re doing very well. It looks like we’re going to win the Senate which is very important.”

Trump, who said early voting results show Republicans doing “very well in the House,” also took the opportunity to slam Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi who claimed earlier this week that she’s “confident” that Democrats will win in next weeks election.

“She’s been losing for a long time, so you know, she would like to win,” Trump said. “She’s been saying she’s going to win for a long time. She hasn’t been doing too well. We’ll see what happens. I think we’re going to do very well.”

During the interview, the president also responded to critics who’ve accused him of “riling up his base” through anti-immigration rhetoric so close to the mid-term elections. Republicans are needed now more than ever, he argued, if his administration hopes to pass his tough immigration policies through congressional party lines.

“Well, if I am, I’ve been doing it for a long time because I’ve been on this issue for a long time, ever since you’ve known me and now we have a chance to do something about it,” he told CBN. “The problem is we have no Democrat votes. We need Democrat votes in order to pass bills. You know, because we have a very little, tiny majority.”

While many national polls show Democrats picking up steam in the House race, Republicans appear primed to retain control over the Senate and possibly even expand their majority.

President Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence have announced a series of upcoming rallies scheduled between now and next Tuesday in the hopes of driving Republicans out to vote.

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BATTLE FOR THE MIDTERMS: School vouchers prove key issue in Tennessee governor’s race

NASHVILLE — Republican Bill Lee and Democrat Karl Dean have squared off on a number of issues, but the battle over whether Tennessee will become the latest state to implement school vouchers has taken center stage.

If implemented, the controversial proposal that would rely on publicly funded scholarships would give Tennessee parents the option of sending their children to private schools.

The proposal has failed to gain widespread support in the Tennessee General Assembly despite having received the support of Gov. Bill Haslam. Lee, a successful Tennessee businessman, supports the option, while Dean, a former mayor Nashville, opposes it.

“What I believe is that every single kid in Tennessee ought to have access to quality education,” Lee said on Wednesday, adding that implementing the school voucher program would be a win-win for both students and the state.

“The vast majority of our kids are going to be educated in our public school system,” he said. “We can’t do anything to reduce the quality.”

However, in a statement released on Tuesday, Dean said Tuesday that vouchers would take away needed funding from public schools and “put it in the hands of a private system with no guarantee of quality.”

“You will start to see private systems set up to take advantage of the vouchers, taking students directly from public schools, and that would be the end of public education as we know it,” he said.

“Tennesseans deserve a governor who is going to not only protect funding for public education but increase the investment by making it the state’s #1 priority.”

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‘THEY DON’T WANT ME TO WIN’: Trump accuses China of ‘attempting to interfere’ with 2018 US election

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — President Donald Trump on Wednesday accused China of attempting to interfere in the upcoming United States congressional elections, claiming the Chinese are motivated by opposition to his tough trade policy.

The Chinese said it wasn’t so.

Trump, speaking in front of world leaders while chairing the United Nations Security Council for the first time, made his accusation amid the ongoing special counsel investigation into Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election to help him and concerns that the November elections could also be vulnerable.

“Regrettably, we found that China has been attempting to interfere in our upcoming 2018 election,” Trump said “They do not want me or us to win because I am the first president ever to challenge China on trade.”

Asked later what evidence he had, he replied, “Plenty of evidence,” but he didn’t provide any.

H alleged again, “They would like to see me not win because this is the first time ever that they’ve been confronted on trade. And we are winning and we’re winning big. And they can’t get involved with our elections.”

A Chinese delegate shrugged when he heard Trump’s statement via translation in the General Assembly. China later denied Trump’s accusation.

“We do not and will not interfere in any countries’ domestic affairs,” said Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the United Nations. “We refuse to accept any unwarranted accusations against China, and we call on other countries to also observe the purposes of the U.N. charter and not interfere in other countries’ internal affairs.”

U.S. officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Trump’s remark.

There is extensive evidence linking Russia to attempts to penetrate U.S. elections systems and to influence U.S. voters. But with the elections less than two months away, U.S. intelligence and election-protection officials have not cited any specific, credible Chinese efforts.

Officials say China’s cyber-espionage operations targeting U.S. defense and commerce have been formidable, however. And Trump’s claim comes amid an escalation of tensions between Washington and Beijing, spurred by their growing trade dispute.

Each imposed tariff increases on the other’s goods Monday, and Beijing accused the Trump administration of bullying. A Chinese official said China cannot hold talks on ending the trade dispute while the U.S. “holds a knife” to Beijing’s neck by imposing tariff hikes.

U.S. intelligence officials have said they are not now seeing the intensity of Russian intervention registered in 2016 and are also concerned about activity by China, Iran and North Korea. Trump’s statement caught lawmakers and some national security officials off guard as Beijing has not been singled out as the most worrisome foe.

Thomas Rid, a Johns Hopkins cybersecurity expert, said, “I am not aware of any evidence of Chinese interference in the midterm elections.” He said, “Chinese influence operations tend to be more subtle, less public, and business-related.”

China has been accused of interfering in an election before, although not in the United States. Cybersecurity firm Fire Eye released a report in July describing “active compromises of multiple Cambodia entities related to the country’s electoral system” including the National Election Commission, before the country’s July 29 general elections.

The hackers’ methods matched a Chinese-linked hacking group tied to multiple cyber operations that have breached U.S. defense contractors, universities and engineering and maritime technology development firms.

Trump also used his moment chairing the Security Council meeting about nuclear proliferation to issue a strong warning to nuclear-aspirant Iran, which he deemed the “world’s leading sponsor of terror” fueling “conflict around the region and far beyond.”

The president has withdrawn the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, accusing the country of destabilizing actions throughout the region and support for terrorist groups like Hezbollah. Tough sanctions are due to kick in against Tehran in November, and Trump warned that there would be “severe consequences” for any nation that defied them.

Despite his tough talk, Trump said he could envision relations with Iran moving along a similar “trajectory” as ones with North Korea. A year ago at the U.N., Trump belittled its leader Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man” and threatened to annihilate the country, but on Wednesday he touted the “the wonderful relationship” with Kim and teased that details of a second summit between the two men could be released soon.

He also condemned violence in the ongoing bloody civil war in Syria, saying that the “butchery is enabled by Russia and Iran.”

Trump also waded into thorny Middle East politics, endorsing the two-state solution to bring an end the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. A day after being greeted with laughter by world leaders still uncertain how to manage his “America First” ideology, Trump explicitly backed Israel, noted the moving of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and suggested that he saw progress on the horizon for Middle East peace.

“I like two-state solution,” Trump said in his most clear endorsement of the plan as he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “That’s what I think works best.”

Trump indicated that moving the embassy was “a big chip” the U.S. delivered to the Israelis.

“I took probably the biggest chip off the table. And so obviously they have to start, you know, we have to make a fair deal. We have to do something. Deals have to be good for both parties.”

“Now that will also mean that Israel will have to do something that is good for the other side.”

The two-state “solution” is mostly aspirational. Ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinians over the division of territory, borders and governance has spawned violence going back years and long stymied Mideast peace efforts.

Moving the embassy from Tel Aviv triggered considerable protest from the Palestinians and expressions of condemnation from many American allies who worried about further violence that could destabilize the fragile region. Trump said that his administration’s peace plan, in part helmed by his son-in-law senior adviser Jared Kushner, would be released in the coming months.


Zeke Miller and Jonathan Lemire of the Associated Press contributed to the contents of this report.

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REPORT: FBI, DOJ obstructing Trump probe in hope of Democratic takeover

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Washington Free Beacon) — The chair of the House Intelligence Committee accused the FBI and Department of Justice of stonewalling a sprawling investigation into claims the Trump campaign colluded with Russia with the hope of running out the clock until the November elections, when they anticipate Democrats will regain control of the House and dissolve an ongoing probe that has uncovered evidence U.S. officials sought to cripple Trump’s campaign.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.), in a wide-ranging audio interview with his House colleague Rep. Sean Duffy (R., Wis.), accused top officials at the FBI and DOJ of “putting all their chips on the Republicans losing the House” so that their Democratic allies can “shut down” the longstanding Intelligence Committee probe, which has unearthed information disputing claims of collusion in recent months.

Rep. Duffy interviewed Rep. Nunes for an upcoming episode of Duffy’s podcast, “Plaidcast.”

Nunes also lashed out at the U.S. media, accusing “90 percent” of reporters covering the Russia probe of being “essentially an arm of the Democratic party,” according to an advance copy of the interview shared with the Washington Free Beacon.

Nunes has been running the Intelligence Committee’s investigation into claims the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to cement the 2016 election. The committee has unearthed a body of evidence indicating senior officials at the FBI and DOJ worked to take down Trump on behalf of Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton.

“One-hundred percent, they [the FBI and DOJ] are putting all their chips on the Republicans losing the House and all these investigations will shut down,” Nunes told Duffy.

Nunes went on to blast the media for its lack of coverage about Republican findings indicating that senior U.S. officials loyal to the Democratic Party actively worked to open intelligence investigations into the Trump campaign based on a faulty and salacious anti-Trump dossier.

“The media has been horrible on this whole situation,” Nunes said.” What we’ve seen since the election of President Trump has been what’s been going on for a long time, but now you see what I call the 90-10 split.”

“You have 90 percent of the media who are essentially an arm of the Democratic Party,” he said. “Then you’ve got five percent of the media that I believe, for lack of a better term, are right or center right. They don’t necessarily follow the establishment of the Republican National Committee or something like that, but they definitely are conservative.”

“Then you only have five percent of the journalists that are out there that I would say are legitimate,” Nunes said. “That’s a problem in this country when you don’t have a free and fair media.”

The Intelligence Committee’s investigation has dragged on for months with little support from Democrats, who continue to push claims of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

“The DOJ and FBI have actively obstructed a congressional investigation,” Nunes said, explaining that top officials continue to withhold documents that could disclose that both bodies intentionally worked to undermine the Trump campaign by opening secret investigations alleging Russia collusion.

“This is really serious stuff,” Nunes said, criticizing the FBI and DOJ for going to secret U.S. courts with evidence collected in the anti-Trump dossier, originally compiled by Fusion GPS. “They opened up a counter intelligence investigation into the Trump campaign.”

Disclosure: The Washington Free Beacon was once a client of Fusion GPS. That relationship ended in January 2017. For more information, see here.

Nunes called the investigation into the Trump campaign unprecedented and an abuse of the American intelligence and security networks.

“After seven or eight months of stonewalling, we realized they [the FBI and DOB] had no intelligence in the opening of that investigation,” Nunes told Duffy.

In a different media environment, these revelations would have been front-page news, but have largely been ignored by the U.S. media, which Nunes views as working to oppose Trump at all costs.

“If the shoe was on the other foot, and this is what’s so bad and so corrupt about the media, and why I’m so worried about the future of our country, because without a free and fair and open media we have a major problem in this country,” Nunes said. “The media is what we count on to bring the transparency to government. There’s no possible way that if George W. Bush had done this to [former President Brack] Obama this town would have been on fire.”

“They would have had the FBI and DOJ surrounded by rioting in the street, everyone would have been fired, there would have been people put in jail, and what’s happening now is, you essentially have obstruction by the Department of Justice and the FBI colluding with the Democrats to ensure that these investigations do not properly take place,” he said.

Adam Kredo of The Washington Free Beacon contributed to this report.

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