RAND PAUL: Romney’s attack on Trump a ‘low blow’ that ‘will backfire’

WASHINGTON — Kentucky Senator Rand Paul on Wednesday struck back against an op-ed written by Sen.-elect Mitt Romney in which the former GOP candidate said President Trump had “not risen to the mantle” of the presidency.

“This is bad for the Republican Party and really bad for an ability to work together in the Senate to get things done, when you take the time to attack someone’s character,” Paul said, comparing Romney to other “Never Trumpers” in the GOP. “It’s virtue signaling. They say: ‘Look at how terrible the character of the president is.’ And by doing so they are building themselves up.”

“I think it’s gonna backfire on him,” Paul said during an interview Wednesday with Fox News’ Neil Cavuto. “When you attack someone’s character like that, I think that’s such a low blow and so personally directed and so malevolent … He’s now called [Trump’s] character ‘dishonest.'”

Paul said that although he too had “harsh criticisms” of Trump while debating him during the 2016 presidential primaries, he’s since tried to avoid “personal characterization assassination.”

“I have still voted against the president,” he said. “Yet I choose not to go after and try to drum up a personal attack on him, which I think is just not useful.”

Essentially referring to Romney as a warmonger, Paul said Romney is “petrified” that Trump may be successful in ending war during his term in office.

“I’m absolutely all-in with the president on this. If he can end a war, he’ll be a hero that all the Independents will look at as well as some Democrats for finally being a president who ended war.”

Despite the near constant criticisms of Trump by fellow Republicans Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee, Paul said he thinks Romney may have “misjudged” the GOP’s “thirst for blood” when calling out Trump’s personal shortcomings.

“I just don’t think it serves any usefulness for Republican senators to be out there attacking the character of the president,” Paul said. “How the president presents himself is up to him, but I don’t think it does anyone any good to be running around saying: ‘I’m holier than thou, look at me.’”

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REPORT: Trump demanding answers on Saudi writer who disappeared in Turkey

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump and members of Congress demanded answers Wednesday from Saudi Arabia about the fate of a prominent Saudi writer and government critic who disappeared a week ago after entering his country’s consulate in Istanbul.

Trump said he didn’t know what happened to Jamal Khashoggi and expressed hope that the 59-year-old writer was still alive, but senior members of Congress said they were starting to fear the worst.

Republican Sen. Bob Corker, who has reviewed intelligence reports on the disappearance as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that “the likelihood is he was killed on the day he walked into the consulate” and that “there was Saudi involvement” in whatever happened with Khashoggi, who wrote columns for The Washington Post.

“The Saudis have a lot of explaining to do because all indications are that they have been involved at minimum with his disappearance,” Corker told The Associated Press. “Everything points to them.”

Khashoggi, a wealthy former government insider who had been living in the U.S. in self-imposed exile, had gone to the consulate Oct. 2 to get paperwork he needed for his upcoming marriage while his Turkish fiancee waited outside.

Turkish authorities have said he was killed by members of an elite Saudi “assassination squad,” an allegation the Saudi government has dismissed.

The Saudi government has become a closer U.S. ally under Trump, and some lawmakers warn that relations could be jeopardized if it turns out the kingdom was involved in his disappearance.

Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that he has a call in to Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, who has appealed to the president and first lady Melania Trump for help.

Trump said he had spoken with the Saudis about what he called a “bad situation,” but he did not disclose details of his conversations.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said national security adviser John Bolton and presidential senior adviser Jared Kushner spoke on Tuesday to Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about Khashoggi. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo then had a follow-up call with the crown prince to reiterate the U.S. request for information and a thorough, transparent investigation.

While angry members of Congress likely won’t cause the administration to turn away from Crown Prince Mohammed and end decades of close security ties with Saudi Arabia, they could throw a wrench into arms sales that require their approval and demand the U.S. scale back support for the Saudi military campaign against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said if Saudi Arabia had lured a U.S. resident into a consulate and killed him, “it’s time for the United States to rethink our military, political and economic relationship with Saudi Arabia.”

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a longtime critic of the Saudi government, said he’ll try to force a vote in the Senate this week blocking U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia. He told local radio in his home state Tuesday that he wants to end the arms shipments if there’s “any indication” the Saudis are “implicated in killing this journalist that was critical of them.”

Washington Post CEO and publisher Fred Ryan said reports suggested the journalist was a victim of “state-sponsored, cold-blooded murder.” He demanded answers, saying “Silence, denials and delays are not acceptable.”

The Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, has described the allegations as “malicious leaks and grim rumors” and said the kingdom is “gravely concerned” about Khashoggi. Saudi officials maintain he left the consulate shortly after entering, though it has failed to provide evidence to back that up, such as video footage.

Trump’s comments Wednesday were the toughest yet from his administration. The reaction from European governments has also been cautious.

Analysts said there were reasons for skepticism about the Turkish account. Ties between Ankara and Riyadh are at a low point over Turkey’s support for Qatar in that country’s yearlong dispute with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations. Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim power, is also annoyed by Ankara’s rapprochement with the kingdom’s Shiite archrival, Iran.

The Trump administration, from the president on down, is heavily invested in the Saudi relationship. That’s unlikely to change, said Robin Wright, a scholar at the Wilson Center think tank and close friend of the missing writer. The administration’s Middle East agenda heavily depends on the Saudis, including efforts to counter Iranian influence in the region, fight extremism and build support for an expected plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Indication of those stakes came within four months of Trump taking office, when Saudi Arabia became his first destination on a presidential trip and he announced $110 billion in proposed arms sales.

Crown Prince Mohammed has introduced some economic and social reforms, allowing women to drive and opening movie theaters in the deeply conservative Muslim nation. The flip side, however, is that he’s also squelched dissent and imprisoned activists. He has championed the three-year military campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen that has pushed that nation toward famine and caused many civilian deaths.

Still, the Trump administration last month stood behind its support for that campaign with weapons, logistics and intelligence, certifying that the Saudis were taking adequate steps to prevent civilian deaths despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

Karen Elliott House, a veteran writer on Saudi affairs and chairwoman of the board of trustees at RAND Corp., said U.S. support for the Yemen war is likely to be the focus of congressional criticism but won’t endanger a relationship that has endured for decades, underpinned by shared strategic interests. Even under the Obama administration, which had difficult relations with Riyadh compared with Trump, there were some $65 billion in completed arms sales.

“The U.S.-Saudi relationship is certainly not about shared moral values,” House said. “It’s about shared security interests.”

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Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Susannah George, Matthew Lee and Deb Riechmann and video journalist Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.

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‘THE DEEP STATE IS REAL’: FISA memo proves collusion between media and shadow government, says Post’s Michael Goodwin

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The deep state is alive an well, says New York Post Michael Goodwin, and Friday’s release of the FISA memo (https://drive.google.com/file/d/1CXFnepvQamNJyuhSsVQazBO7p3-ZxVOL/view) proves it.

“Now that we know what the declassified House memo says about government misconduct, we also know what it means: The Washington swamp — the deep state — is bigger, more vicious and more dangerous to American liberty than even a cynic could have imagined,” Goodwin wrote in an opinion piece for Fox News (http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2018/02/05/michael-goodwin-fbi-memo-proves-deep-state-is-real-and-press-is-part-it.html). “Because of the memo and previous revelations, we know that swamp creatures are embedded in the top of the FBI and the Department of Justice. Some used their power to try to tip a presidential campaign based on their personal politics.”

They conducted a sham investigation of the Democratic candidate and misled federal judges to spy on at least one associate of her Republican challenger,” Goodwin continued. “To block exposure of their misdeeds, these officials falsely claimed that national security would be damaged. Add that despicable lie — issued in the name of the FBI itself — to their shameful records.”

However, Fox News legal analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano says the much-anticipated release of the controversial memo turned out to be much ado about nothing.

“The president has claimed total vindication. That’s the president being the president. … I understand why he says things like that, it gins up his base and it may help him politically, but legally it’s of no moment,” Napolitano said during an appearance of “America’s Newsroom” (http://insider.foxnews.com/2018/02/05/judge-napolitano-fisa-memo-mueller-probe-republicans-underdelivered-trump-not-vindicated). Still, says Napolitano, in fairness, he’s also calling for the Democrats’ version of the controversial memo to be made public.

“I want it to come out. I want to see who on [the intelligence] committee is spinning,” Napolitano said.

Despite Napolitano’s playing down of the memo’s importance, most lawmakers and legal analysts have gone on record in agreement with Goodwin.

The abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) by senior Obama administration officials is “worse than Watergate” House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said of the matter.

“The facts contained in this memo are jaw-dropping and demand full transparency. There is no higher priority than the release of this information to preserve our democracy,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), a member of the Judiciary Committee, which oversees the DOJ and the FBI, said in agreement.

“You think about, ‘is this happening in America or is this the KGB?’ That’s how alarming it is,” Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) told Fox News.

Regardless of which side you’re on, the key question in regard to FISAGate, as it’s come to be known, is what happens next?

There is a great deal of speculation that President Trump may, in response to the memo, fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversaw one of the renewals of FISA warrants on Carter Page.

However, as warned in an editorial for the National Review (http://www.nationalreview.com/article/456089/memo-released-what-should-come-next), doing so may cause a semi-collapse of his Justice Department, causing Republicans to undo the political headway they’ve have made in recent weeks.

No matter which direction the president takes, one thing is for certain. Critics on both sides of the fence will be ready and eager to pounce.

In an interview with the Washington Post (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/17/us/politics/robert-mueller-special-counsel-russia-investigation.html), former federal prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg said, “Rosenstein is in charge of the Mueller probe. He picked Mueller and has testified under oath that he won’t fire him absent clear misconduct. So if Rosenstein goes, Trump would pick a new deputy attorney general who would no doubt be much more compliant to Trump.”

But should the president choose to take that path, rest assured that Democrats will utilize the decision to call for impeachment.

“I cannot possibly imagine the president terminating Bob Mueller,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said in June. “It just cannot happen.”

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