Congress Reaches Deal on Russia Sanctions, Creating Tough Choice for Trump – New York Times

WASHINGTON — Congressional leaders have reached an agreement on sweeping sanctions legislation to punish Russia for its election meddling and aggression toward its neighbors, they said Saturday, defying the White House’s argument that President Trump needs flexibility to adjust the sanctions to fit his diplomatic initiatives with Moscow.

The new legislation sharply limits the president’s ability to suspend or terminate the sanctions — a remarkable handcuffing by a Republican-led Congress six months into Mr. Trump’s tenure. It is also the latest Russia-tinged turn for a presidency consumed by investigations into the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russian officials last year.

Mr. Trump could soon face a decision: veto the bill — a move that would fuel accusations that he is doing the bidding of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia — or sign legislation imposing sanctions his administration abhors.

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“A nearly united Congress is poised to send President Putin a clear message on behalf of the American people and our allies, and we need President Trump to help us deliver that message,” said Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The White House has not publicly spoken about the compromise legislation. But two senior administration officials said they could not imagine Mr. Trump vetoing the legislation in the current political atmosphere, even if he regards it as interfering with his executive authority to conduct foreign policy. But as ever, Mr. Trump retains the capacity to surprise, and this would be his first decision about whether to veto a significant bill.

Congress has complicated his choice because the legislation also encompasses new sanctions against Iran and North Korea, two countries the administration has been eager to punish for its activities.

A sanctions package had stalled in the Republican-led House for weeks after winning near-unanimous support in the Senate last month. Democrats accused Republicans of delaying quick action on the bill at the behest of the Trump administration, which had asked for more flexibility in its relationship with Russia and took up the cause of energy companies, defense contractors and other financial players who suggested that certain provisions could harm American businesses.

The House version of the bill includes a small number of changes, technical and substantive, from the Senate legislation, including some made in response to concerns raised by oil and gas companies.

But for the most part, the Republican leadership appears to have rejected most of the White House’s objections. The bill aims to punish Russia not only for interference in the election but also for its annexation of Crimea, continuing military activity in eastern Ukraine and human rights abuses. Proponents of the measure seek to impose sanctions on people involved in human rights abuses, suppliers of weapons to the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria and those undermining cybersecurity, among others.

Paired with the sanctions against Iran and North Korea, the House version of the bill was set for a vote on Tuesday, according to the office of Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and the chamber’s majority leader.

For months, lawmakers have agreed on the need to punish Russia, separating the issue from others, such as immigration and health care, that have been subject to partisan wheel-spinning. The unity has placed Republicans in the unusual position of undercutting their own president on a particularly sensitive subject.

Yet politically, the collaboration delivers benefits to members of both parties. Democrats have sought to make Russia pay for its interference in the 2016 election, which many of them believe contributed to Mr. Trump’s triumph over Hillary Clinton. And Republicans, who have long placed an aggressive stance toward Russia at the center of their foreign policy, can quiet critics who have suggested they are shielding the president from scrutiny by failing to embrace the sanctions.

There are still hurdles to clear. Neither Speaker Paul D. Ryan nor Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, immediately issued statements on Saturday to give the agreements their blessing.

Mr. Cardin said that though he would have preferred full adoption of the Senate version, “I welcome the House bill, which was the product of intense negotiations.”

He said the legislation would “express solidarity with our closest allies in countering Russian aggression and holding the Kremlin accountable for their destabilizing activities.”

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, said he expected this “strong” bill to reach the president’s desk promptly “on a broad bipartisan basis.”

In the House, Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the minority whip, praised the agreement’s stipulation that “the majority and minority are able to exercise our oversight role over the administration’s implementation of sanctions.”

But Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, struck a notably different tone. In a statement, she said she was “concerned by changes insisted upon by Republicans” that would empower Republican leadership only to “originate actions in the House to prevent the Trump administration from rolling back sanctions.”

She also registered concerns about adding sanctions against North Korea to the package, questioning whether it would prompt delays in the Senate. Mr. Schumer and Mr. Cardin expressed no such concerns.

The delays in the House became a source of deep frustration among some Russia hawks, including Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, before he left Washington for medical treatment for a brain tumor.

“Pass it, for Christ’s sake,” he said to his House colleagues, as the measure languished last week over technical concerns raised mostly by Republicans.

As House Republican leaders like Mr. Ryan chafed at the suggestion that they were doing the White House’s bidding by not taking up the measure immediately, the administration sought to pressure members by insisting that the legislation would unduly hamstring the president.

Officials argued that Mr. Trump would be sharply constrained — deprived of the power to ease or lift the sanctions as he saw fit. The White House pushed to remove language giving Congress the ability to block such actions.

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Minneapolis police chief forced out after officer’s fatal shooting of Australian woman – Washington Post

Australia native Justine Damond, 40, who was set to marry her fiance in August, was fatally shot by a police officer on Saturday, July 15. Few details have been revealed about the incident. Here’s what we know. (Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

Minneapolis chief of police Janeé Harteau resigned Friday, forced out by the city’s mayor nearly a week after a police officer fatally shot an Australian woman in a case that has drawn international scrutiny and criticism.

Mayor Betsy Hodges said in a statement that, “I’ve lost confidence in the Chief’s ability to lead us further.”

“For us to continue to transform policing — and community trust in policing — we need new leadership at MPD.”

My statement on @MinneapolisPD Chief Janeé Harteau: pic.twitter.com/osH07kXc4i

— Betsy Hodges (@MayorHodges) July 21, 2017

In a statement tweeted by the Minneapolis police department, Harteau said that “I have decided to step aside to let a fresh set of leadership eyes see what more can be done for the MPD to be the best it can be.”

Resignation Statement from @ChiefHarteaupic.twitter.com/R2OTIutzgu

— Minneapolis Police (@MinneapolisPD) July 21, 2017

[Sessions discussed Trump campaign-related matters with Russian ambassador, U.S. intelligence intercepts show]

Justine Damond’s death has largely been cloaked in mystery since the 40-year-old was fatally shot, with officials only gradually releasing some details. According to police records and Damond’s relatives, she had called 911 just before 11:30 p.m. Saturday to report what she thought was a possible rape occurring near her home.

Transcripts of Damond’s 911 calls, made public Wednesday, show that she called twice, first summoning officers to her home and then, several minutes later, making sure they had the address right because she could still hear the woman’s screams.

When two officers arrived, investigators said, they were driving near her home with their squad car lights off when a loud noise startled Officer Matthew Harrity, who was driving. Harrity, who spoke to investigators on Tuesday, said that immediately after the noise, Damond approached his open window and Officer Mohamed Noor, sitting in the passenger seat, fired one shot at her through the window.

An incident report released Wednesday showed that at 11:41 p.m., the officers reported a shooting incident and began performing CPR. Damond was pronounced dead 10 minutes later, according to the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office, killed by a gunshot wound to her abdomen. Her death was ruled a homicide.

[In revised filing, Kushner reveals dozens of previously undisclosed assets]

Adding to the uncertainty about what happened, investigators say, Noor has declined to be interviewed by investigators. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), the state agency investigating the shooting, said agents cannot compel an officer to speak to them, and that Officer Noor’s attorney has not provided an update on when or if he would speak with investigators.

In a statement Friday, the BCA said they have identified a witness who saw the officers provided medical assistance to Damond.

Thomas C. Plunkett, the attorney, has not responded to multiple requests for comment about the BCA’s statement or whether the officer will ever consent to an interview.

In a blog post Thursday, Hodges said that based on information that investigators have released publicly, “the fatal shooting of Justine Damond should not have happened.”

She has been sharply critical of the fact that even though every patrol officer in Minneapolis wears a body camera, neither officer present when Damond was fatally shot late Saturday activated theirs, preventing authorities from having potentially key footage of what happened.

At a news conference Thursday, Harteau said that “Justine didn’t have to die.”

“I believe the actions in question go against who we are as a department, how we train and the expectations we have for our officers.”

Harteau is at least the fourth chief of a major police departmentforced out in recent years amid controversy over a deadly police shooting or a fatal encounter with officers.

Damond was the 541st person shot and killed by police in 2017, according to a Washington Post database of deadly encounters with law enforcement officers in the U.S.

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Inside the 24 hours that broke Sean Spicer – Politico

Sean Spicer came to the White House on Thursday completely unaware President Donald Trump was planning to meet with Anthony Scaramucci, a longtime Wall Street friend, and offer him the job of communications director. Other top aides including Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon also had no clue.

But in Trump’s White House, where rumors of staff shake-ups loom for months, it all happened quickly. By Friday morning, above the strenuous objections of senior aides, Trump had a new communications director. And Spicer had made a spontaneous decision to resign, offended by the whole turn of events. He had been blindsided before by Trump but took particular umbrage at this one.

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The wham-bam events of the last 24 hours were exceptional even by Trump’s standards: the dismissal of his top lawyer and the lawyer’s spokesman, West Wing blow-ups between the president and his top aides, a press secretary fending off rumors about his possible demise without knowing the entire truth, all while new reports landed about Trump going on the attack against the special counsel investigating his White House.

What struck one adviser who speaks to Trump frequently is that the president seemed calm — like he had a plan in mind all along — but just hadn’t shared it with many others.

“In the president’s business, you don’t have the luxury of time,” said Vincent Pitta, a longtime Trump friend from New York. “And marketing and communications has always been very important to him.”

The outgoing press secretary — who became a national celebrity for his contentious press briefings, inspiring Melissa McCarthy’s Saturday Night Live impressions of a moving podium — had tried to lower his profile, wary he was getting too close to the sun. Random passersby would honk and scream at him outside his house in Virginia while he talked on the phone.

“Just look at his great television ratings,” Trump wrote in a statement, praising him upon his departure, even though Spicer had not delivered an on-camera briefing since June 20.

Bannon had a very “aggressive” confrontation with Trump after he found out about Scaramucci’s appointment that was viewed by some others in the West Wing as remarkable, people with direct knowledge of the encounter said. Another person familiar with the encounter said Bannon’s behavior was “embarrassing.”

“There were a lot of people in the White House that didn’t want this,” one senior White House official said. “It happened because the family wanted it and because Trump wanted it.”

Spicer agonized Thursday night and thought Scaramucci might still be kept out. Putting Scaramucci over Spicer would diminish his standing in the West Wing and prove another humiliation.

He went into the White House Friday morning, saying he needed to see the president — who was also talking to Scaramucci. Spicer was weighing his options and wanted to see what job Scaramucci would get before deciding whether to resign. After Scaramucci’s position of communications director was announced in a larger senior staff meeting, Spicer returned to the Oval Office separately, told the president he disagreed with the pick and quickly resigned, people briefed on the encounter said.

Trump was taken aback and told Spicer to stay on board. Scaramucci and Spicer could work together, Trump said. “It would all work out, we’ll all be on the same team,” said a person told of Trump’s comments. But Scaramucci was going to be in charge and report directly to the president.

Spicer saw it as a personal affront to work for Scaramucci and told the president that it couldn’t work. Spicer expected to evolve into more of a full-time communications director role — because he was essentially no longer the public-facing press secretary, having turned over the podium.

Spicer returned angry to the press office, but put on a happy face for a brief resignation meeting, convened by Priebus. He even gave Scaramucci a half-hug.

Spicer had suffered other indignities: Being left out of a papal visit, being criticized by his boss for being played by a woman on TV and for his suits, and being mocked for huddling with his team near some bushes as reporters demanded answers about FBI Director James Comey’s firing. But even some of Spicer’s sharpest critics said he would land on his feet because he had good instincts as a strategist and was well connected in Washington, after having served years as a top official at the Republican National Committee.

Aides sympathetic to Spicer said he had an impossible job. It was difficult to respond to Trump’s misstatements without contradicting him. No communications plan could stay on track because of his Twitter finger. And the warring factions of the White House made it impossible to ever know exactly what was going on.