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Washington Diary: Royal Turf War between Donald Trump and President Barack Obama

"Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!" wrote Trump. "As to the UN, things will be different after Jan. 20th"

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Donald Trump and Barack Obama at White House. VOA
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Washington, December 31, 2016: One country, one flag and one President. Then there is the President-elect. One thinks “Yes, we (still) can.” The other can’t wait to undo it before his date with destiny — January 20.

Twenty days before Donald Trump gets the keys of the White House, sparks are flying in a right royal turf war between him and its first black tenant, Barack Obama.

Call it a desire to save his legacy or pique over the stunning defeat of his chosen successor, Hillary Clinton, Obama is trying to erect “roadblocks”, as the mogul sees them, on issues ranging from environment to ties with Israel and Russia.

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To “punish” Russia in what American spooks branded operation “Grizzly Steppe” to help Trump in the presidential poll, Obama expelled 35 Russian “spies” and closed two Russian recreation compounds.

For their “malicious cyber activity,” and phishing expeditions, Russians allegedly used several outlandish secret code names like “Seadaddy,” “Hammertoss,” “Energetic Bear,” “Fancy Bear and “Carberp.”

Ever sceptical of the spooks’ finding that the Russians had hacked into Democratic Party and the rival Clinton campaign chief’s emails, Trump was not impressed. The country needs to “move on to bigger and better things,” he responded with atypical restraint.

“Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people,” Trump agreed to meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week “to be updated about the facts of this situation.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin too did not take the bait. Declining “to create problems for American diplomats” in a deft political move, he instead invited children of US diplomats to celebrate the New Year and Russian Orthodox Christmas at the Kremlin.

Breaking rank with his own Republican Party leaders, Trump, who wants to mend fences with Moscow called Putin “very smart!” for his “great move on delay” in responding to the ‘lame duck’ Obama administration’s provocation.

Earlier, as the US abstained on a UN resolution condemning Israel for Jewish settlements in the West Bank, a livid Trump tweeted: “We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect.”

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“Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!” wrote Trump. “As to the UN, things will be different after Jan. 20th.”

“Doing my best to disregard the many inflammatory President O statements and roadblocks. Thought it was going to be a smooth transition – NOT!” Trump complained in another tweet.

But what really got the mogul’s goat was Obama’s claim that he would have defeated Trump if he was allowed to run for a third term.

“President Obama said that he thinks he would have won against me. He should say that but I say NO WAY!” Trump responded though Obama’s criticism appeared directed more at Clinton.

“Hillary Clinton performed wonderfully,” but sure of victory, she “played it safe,” and missed opportunities to present a narrative that would have appealed to voters, Obama suggested.

But loathe to give up a good fight, Trump doubled down saying, “Obama campaigned hard (and personally) in the very important swing states, and lost. The voters wanted to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!””The world was gloomy before I won – there was no hope. Now the market is up nearly 10 percent and Christmas spending is over a trillion dollars!” he tweeted.

Taking yet another jab at Obama, the mogul thanked himself as “the US Consumer Confidence Index surged. to its HIGHEST LEVEL IN MORE THAN 15 YEARS! Thanks Donald!”

Obama may or may not have won in a presidential contest against Trump, but he bested the billionaire 22 percent to 15 percent in a Gallup poll to retain his title as America’s most admired man for the ninth year.

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And Hillary Clinton might have lost the race for the White House, but for the 15th year in a row, she was America’s most admired woman – a title she has won a record 21 times.

Another AP-Times Square Alliance poll found that Democrats were more likely to say 2016 was worse for them with a Miami University professor using just three words to explain why: “Trump, Trump, Trump.”

But having won the poll that mattered, Trump did not fire a tweet to contest either poll or call them rigged as winners and losers of 2016 mulled what it could be and what 2017 would be. (IANS)

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions Steps Down As Asked By Donald Trump

It remains to be seen whether Trump will tap Whitaker for the job permanently and send his name to the Senate for confirmation.

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U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions attends a news conference on the arrest of a suspect in the sending of at least a dozen parcel bombs to Democratic politicians and high-profile critics of President Trump. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump forced his controversial Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign Wednesday, setting up a possible showdown with newly energized congressional Democrats over the investigation of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election.

Sessions, in a resignation letter to Trump, wrote that he was stepping down at “your request,” accepting a fait accompli he’d long sought to avert despite Trump’s repeated public humiliations of the attorney general over his recusal from oversight of the Russia probe.

The forced departure of Sessions, a former Republican senator and early supporter of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, capped a turbulent tenure that hit a rough patch in early 2017 when he stepped aside from the Russia investigation shortly after taking office.

Trump blamed Sessions’ recusal for the speedy appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and, over the course of the attorney general’s 20-month tenure, repeatedly castigated Sessions for failing to rein in what he called a “witch hunt” being led by Mueller and “17 Angry Democrats.”

While undertaking a wholesale repeal of Obama-era policies and implementing Trump’s tough-on-crime and immigration agenda, Sessions was increasingly shunned by the president, to the point that Trump told an interviewer earlier this year, “I don’t have an attorney general.”

In a pair of tweets Wednesday afternoon announcing Sessions’ resignation, Trump thanked the attorney general for his service and said Matt Whitaker, Sessions’ chief of staff and a former U.S. attorney under former President George W. Bush, would take over as acting attorney general. A permanent replacement would be announced later, Trump said.

Though long expected, Sessions’ departure fueled Democratic fears that Trump may be maneuvering to assert control over the Mueller investigation through a trusted appointee or possibly shut down it all together.

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U.S. President Donald Trump acknowledges supporters as he arrives for a campaign rally at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Indiana. VOA

Congressional probe urged

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House oversight committee and a frequent Trump critic, urged Congress to investigate “the real reason” for the attorney general’s “termination.”

At a testy White House news conference earlier Wednesday, Trump said he could end the Mueller investigation “right now,” but “I stay away from it … I let it just go on.”

Other Democratic congressional leaders, including House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Senate Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Mark Warner issued nearly identical tweets urging Whitaker to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, citing his vocal criticism of the probe.

 

“Given his previous comments advocating defunding and imposing limitations on the Mueller investigation, Mr. Whitaker should recuse himself from its oversight for the duration of his time as acting attorney general,” Schumer tweeted.

 

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Then-Iowa Republican senatorial candidate and former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker is pictured before a televised debate in Johnston, Iowa. VOA

 

Whitaker served as U.S. attorney for the southern district of Iowa from 2004 to 2009. According to his LinkedIn profile, he headed Foundations for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT), a self-described ethics watchdog, until September 2017, shortly before joining the Justice Department.

In an opinion piece for CNN.com in July 2017, two months after Mueller’s appointment, Whitaker wrote that he agreed with Trump that investigating the president’s finances fell outside Mueller’s mandate, and he urged Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to limit the special counsel’s authority.

‘In charge of all matters’

Asked whether Whitaker would take control of the Russia probe, Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said, “The acting attorney general is in charge of all matters under the purview of the Department of Justice.”

Flores did not directly answer questions about whether Whitaker had consulted or planned to consult Justice Department ethics experts on whether he should recuse himself from the Russia probe.

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Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., departs Capitol Hill, Oct. 6, 2018, in Washington. VOA

“We’re following regular order here,” she wrote via email.

John Malcolm, a former federal prosecutor now with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group, said he saw no reason for Whitaker to step aside.

“He is the acting attorney general. He has no reason to recuse himself,” Malcolm told VOA.

Malcolm said Sessions did “a solid job of implementing the president’s law enforcement priorities,” and he praised the attorney general for “protecting the integrity of the department and trying to keep it above politics.”

It remains to be seen whether Trump will tap Whitaker for the job permanently and send his name to the Senate for confirmation.

Also Read: U.S. Midterm Elections See Muslim American Women Making History

Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and close Trump ally, tweeted that he looked “forward to working with President Trump to find a confirmable, worthy successor. (VOA)