In Brief

Donald Trump sued by two states over business links

Attorney generals of Maryland and DC accuse US President of 'unprecedented constitutional violations'

GCHQ denies wiretapping Donald Trump

17 March

GCHQ has dismissed as "nonsense" claims it wiretapped US President Donald Trump during last year's presidential election.

Officials took the "unusual" step of commenting "directly on a report about its intelligence work" after White House press secretary Sean Spicer repeated allegations made on Fox News that Barack Obama had used the service to spy on Trump, the BBC reports.

The intelligence service said: "Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct 'wiretapping' against the then president-elect are nonsense.

"They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored."

Napolitano had told Fox News that Obama had circumvented US surveillance laws by turning to GCHQ, saying: "He didn't use the NSA, he didn't use the CIA, he didn't use the FBI and he didn't use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ."

Spicer quoted Napolitano's claims at a press conference yesterday, when he told journalists the President "stands by" his accusation.

However, both Republicans and Democrats on the US Senate intelligence committee say there are "no indications" to support the claim that Trump Tower was under surveillance in the run-up to last year's elections.

In a joint statement, committee chairman Richard Burr and vice chairman Mark Warner said: "Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after election day 2016." 

"Their counterparts on the House intelligence committee, the Republican Devin Nunes and the Democrat Adam Schiff, both of California, announced the same conclusion on Wednesday," The Guardian reports.

Trump's travel ban blocked again

16 March

A federal judge in Hawaii has issued a temporary restraining order on Donald Trump's "watered down" travel ban, hours before it was due to go into effect.

Judge Derrick Watson said that a "reasonable, objective observer" would view the executive order as "issued with a purpose to disfavour a particular religion, in spite of its stated, religiously neutral purpose".

His ruling "makes specific reference to Donald Trump's own comments, and their role in undermining the justice department claim that the travel ban is not a Muslim ban", The Guardian says.

Trump expressed fury at the court's ruling, calling it "an unprecedented judicial overreach" while speaking at a rally in Nashville and saying he believed his administration should "go back to the first [executive order] and go all the way" to the Supreme Court.

He added: "This ruling makes us look weak, which we no longer are, by the way."

Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA, praised the court's decision.

"This decision against the ban tells us what we already know," she said. "This is anti-Muslim bigotry falsely packaged as security. Hatred won't make us safe. The ban must be repealed now."

However, Watson's order is "not a final ruling on the constitutionality of Trump's ban" and the administration has "expressed confidence that courts will ultimately affirm Trump's power to issue the restrictions", the New York Times says.

Rulings on similar lawsuits in Washington state and Maryland are expected in the next few days.

White House furious after Trump's tax return is leaked

15 March

Donald Trump's financial affairs are back in the spotlight after part of his 2005 tax return was revealed live on air by US TV presenter Rachel Maddow.

It offers a "rare snapshot" of the US President's personal finances, which he has steadfastly refused to disclose to the public, the Washington Post says.

However, according to some critics, the revelation may have been overhyped.

According to the two pages leaked, Trump paid $38m in taxes on more than $150m in income in 2005. However, 82 per cent of that was paid under a tax rule he now wants to scrap. 

Maddow, who works for US network MSNBC, said she received the documents from Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist David Cay Johnston, after they "turned up in his mailbox", unsolicited.

Johnston also suggested Trump might have leaked the documents himself, saying: "Donald has a long history of leaking material about himself when he thinks it is in his interests."

"The taxes themselves say 'client copy' on them, so whoever sent them to Johnston had access to Trump’s personal files, rather than those belonging to his accountant or the Internal Revenue Service," The Guardian says

CNN reports that Maddow ended up "disappointing many in the political-media establishment with a report that was widely characterised as overhyped" and the underwhelming material "undermined legitimate inquiry into Trump's tax returns".

The White House issued a statement that falsely claimed the publication of the tax return was illegal, saying: "You know you are desperate for ratings when you are willing to violate the law to push a story about two pages of tax returns from over a decade ago."

Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr, took to Twitter to mockingly thank Maddow for showing his father to be "successful".

Trump has consistently refused to release his tax returns, both during and after the presidential campaign, breaking with years of tradition of both presidents and candidates fully disclosing their financial holdings.

Trump vs. Merkel: What to expect

14 March

Angela Merkel and Donald Trump's first official meeting on Friday will be closely scrutinised for any clues as to what a US-Germany relationship will look like in the post-Obama era.

It's the first time the US President and German Chancellor will meet in person – but far from the first time they have clashed. 

What do they think of each other?

While the two have never come face-to-face, "the number and ferocity of Donald Trump's unprovoked verbal attacks during the presidential campaign against Chancellor Merkel were truly unprecedented," says Deutsche Welle.

These include calling her open door policy during the refugee crisis "insane" and accusing her of "ruining Germany", although he has since described her as a "great world leader" who made a "tragic mistake".

Merkel's public take on her new US counterpart has been more measured, but no less pointed.

After his inauguration, the Chancellor offered Trump Germany's co-operation on the basis of their shared commitment to law and human dignity – a message "perceived as lecturing him on Western values," says Deutsche Welle.

It's in stark contrast to Merkel's relationship with former US president Barack Obama, which "has been described as a 'rollercoaster romance'", says the BBC.

In 2011, Obama called Merkel "a good friend and one of my closest global partners". The notoriously reserved Chancellor appeared to share the warmth, even going so far as to describe Obama as "fun" to work with.

Where are they likely to clash?

The Daily Telegraph has outlined the key battleground areas where Merkel and Trump could find themselves at odds.

Of these, economic issues will be high on the agenda, particularly the $65bn (£53m) US trade deficit with Germany.

Trump's trade adviser, Peter Navarro, told Reuters that he was expecting "very direct talks" about ways to reframe the US-Germany trading relationship and reduce the deficit.

Huge tariff hikes on imported cars, one of the measures proposed by Trump to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US, will also be a thorny issue.

Germany is the largest car manufacturer in Europe and German firms have invested heavily in car plants in Mexico for export to the US.

The pair are also likely to discuss Nato, Russian aggression in Ukraine, North Korea and the fight against Islamic State.

Will Friday be a fraught meeting?

While hopes of an Obama-esque friendship between Merkel and Trump might be over-optimistic, both leaders appear to be aware of the importance of putting personal grievances aside in order to work together.

Merkel has said she will adopt the mantra that "one-on-one conversations are always much better than talking about each other" as the "slogan for her visit", NBC reports.

In contrast to his turbulent phone calls with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and French President Francois Hollande, a phone call between Trump and Merkel in January was described as "cordial".

Tentative as they may be, these early signs of cooperation are promising shoots of what could grow to become a productive, if not warm, relationship between the two major powers.

White House tones down Donald Trump's wiretapping claims

14 March

White House press secretary Sean Spicer has backed away from Donald Trump's unsubstantiated claims that Trump Tower was "wiretapped" by former president Barack Obama during last year's election campaign.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Spicer said that the use of quotation marks around the words "wire tapping" meant Trump was not talking about actual wiretapping.

"The President used the word wiretaps in quotes to mean, broadly, surveillance and other activities," he said.

However, says CNN, "wiretapping is a narrowly defined surveillance activity that involves tapping into 'a telephone or telegram wire in order to get information'".

Yesterday's announcement leads to an "unavoidable conclusion", says the Washington Post - "Spicer knows that no evidence of actual wiretapping is coming, so his best shot to vindicate Trump is to claim that 'wire tapping' could mean something else."

On Sunday, when asked whether Trump Tower had been bugged, senior Trump aide Kellyanne Conway suggested there were many ways to conduct surveillance, including through phones, TVs and "microwaves that turn into cameras".

John McCain calls for evidence of Trump's wiretapping claims

13 March 

Republican Senator John McCain has called on Donald Trump to provide evidence backing up his claim that former president Barack Obama was involved in wiretapping his phones.

"I think the president has one of two choices: either retract or to provide the information that the American people deserve because if his predecessor violated the law, President Obama violated the law, we have got a serious issue here to say the least," he told CNN.

McCain added: "I have no reason to believe that the charge is true, but I also believe that the President of the United States could clear this up in a minute".

Trump made the claims in a series of tweets at the beginning of the month, writing: "Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!"

In another, he wrote: "How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!"

The Guardian reports that McCain's demand came after the House intelligence committee asked the President for evidence that phones at Trump Tower were tapped during the campaign.

Committee chairman Devin Nunes and ranking Democrat Adam Schiff have reportedly called on the administration to provide evidence of the wiretapping by next Monday.

"Obama's director of national intelligence, James Clapper, has said that nothing matching Trump's claims had taken place, but that has not quelled speculation that Trump's communications were monitored by the Obama administration," Fortune says.

The best anti-Trump zingers at the Oscars

27 February

The 89th Academy Awards was a night of cheek-kissing, backslapping and dramatic mix-ups, but also an evening with a strong political edge. A series of critical remarks, both veiled and direct, were aimed at Donald Trump, although the President claimed he didn't watch the event.

Trump was the first person "thanked" on stage at the Oscars ceremony in an ironic opening address by the show's host Jimmy Kimmel.

The presenter joked that he wanted to thank Trump for making the Academy look good. "I mean, remember last year," said Kimmel, "when it seemed like the Oscars were racist?"

Kimmel was referring the 2016 Oscars controversy dubbed #OscarsSoWhite, when the Academy was criticised for failing to nominate any minority actors. This year, with a more diverse field of nominees, and the Trump government embroiled in controversy over its Mexican wall and "travel ban", the film industry seemed pleased to be able to claim the moral high ground.

Kimmel appeared to relish making a series of digs at Trump and the state of the nation, announcing that the awards show was broadcasting to "more than 225 countries that now hate us".

He also mimicked Trump by calling Meryl Streep "overrated", and predicted the winners would "give a speech that the President of the United States will tweet about in all caps during his 5am bowel movement tomorrow".

Kimmel was not alone in his criticism of the President and his policies.

Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal spoke out against Trump's planned border wall and in support of migrant workers. While presenting the award for Best Animated Feature, he told the audience that many actors are migrant workers.

"We travel all over the world, we construct stories, we build life but cannot be divided," Bernal said. "As a Mexican, as a migrant worker, as a human being, I'm against any form of wall that separates us."

In another anti-Trump inspired moment, director Asghar Farhadi, whose film The Salesman won Best Foreign Language Film, did not attend the ceremony but sent Iranian-born US astronaut and engineer Anousheh Ansari to accept the award on his behalf.

Ansari read a speech from Farhadi saying: "I'm sorry I'm not with you tonight. My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the US."

Other digs took a more subtle approach. When Zootopia won Best Animated Film, director Rich Moore remarked: "We are so grateful to audiences all over the world who embraced this film with this story of tolerance being more powerful than fear of the other."

Anticipating the anti-Trump tone of the awards, angry supporters of the President had called for a boycott of the event. A Facebook post from the Arizona women's group Tempe Republican Women dubbed Hollywood liberals "arrogant, pompous, pampered soulless individuals" and urged viewers to switch the show off.

Meanwhile, Trump's media spokesman, Sean Spicer, claimed he would not be watching the awards ceremony because he would be busy hosting the Governors' Ball that evening.

Donald Trump seeks to explain reference to non-existent Swedish attack

20 February

Donald Trump has said his reference to a non-existent Swedish terror attack during a rally on Saturday stemmed from a report he saw on Fox News.

As he listed a series of European countries that have been targeted by terrorists, the US President suggested that Sweden had been attacked on Friday night.

"You look at what's happening in Germany. You look at what's happening last night in Sweden. Sweden! Who would believe this? Sweden," he said.

"Social media users ridiculed the American leader," says the BBC, "joking about imaginary situations involving Swedish institutions like the pop group Abba and furniture store Ikea."

Former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt questioned Trump's state of mind. 

Yesterday, Trump explained that his comments were based on a segment aired by Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson, who interviewed controversial documentary maker Ami Horowitz, "who has tried to tie Sweden's taking in of asylum seekers to increased violent crimes in the country", CNN says. 

However, Swedish officials say statistics do not justify such sweeping assertions, and that Swedish sexual assault figures are high relative to other countries "because more victims come forward, not because there is more violence", reports the New York Times.

It is the latest in a series of gaffes from the White House over terrorist attacks. White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway recently referred to the non-existent "Bowling Green Massacre", and Trump press secretary Sean Spicer previously described a terrorist attack taking place in Atlanta, before clarifying that he meant to say Orlando.

Trump appointee fired

Meanwhile, a senior US official has been fired after he criticised the Trump administration's policies at a private event in Washington.

Craig Deare, who had been picked to head the National Security Council's Western Hemisphere division, was escorted out of the Executive Office Building on Friday.

Politico says Deare had "harshly criticised the President and his chief strategist Steve Bannon and railed against the dysfunction paralysing the Trump White House".

Donald Trump bashes media in 'freak show' press conference

17 February

US President Donald Trump has launched an "extraordinary" attack on his critics in what is being described as a "freak show" of a press conference.

In an impromptu press call, ostensibly to introduce labour secretary nominee Alex Acosta, Trump descended into a 75-minute performance of verbal fervour in which he challenged claims that his new administration was in chaos.

Saying his administration "is running like a finely-tuned machine", the US President blamed any governmental foibles on the "inherited mess" from his predecessor Barack Obama. He also claimed his administration had achieved more in the first month than any government in US history.

He also dismissed claims of his relationship with Russia as "fake news" and lambasted the media.

According to the New Yorker, Trump has "escaped the bounds of reality that restrict most mortals".

Describing his tone as "thinly suppressed fury", the magazine says the conference only proved the Republican's "manifest unsuitability for the job he now holds". It also argues he has "achieved virtually nothing, except scaring the bejesus out of the world" when compared to Obama's first few weeks in the White House.

CNN describes the conference as "an amazing moment in American political history". It was "vintage Trump" and the "plainspoken, unvarnished manner" in which the world was reminded of "what helped Trump win the presidency against all odds", it says.

Trump's ad-hoc speech only served to portray an "apparent deep frustration not just with the media coverage of his White House and a desire to talk directly to the American people, but also possibly dismay with aides charged with defending him".

Richard Wolffe at The Guardian says the "freak show of a press conference" would be "funny - if it weren't so scary".

The "anti-press conference" made it "painfully clear that we have all made a terrible mistake", he continues, but the "circus plays well in Trump Country", where the "rust belt surely loves this kind of braggadocious presidency combined with constant media bashing".

Donald Trump knew about Flynn investigation 'weeks ago'

15 February

President Donald Trump was aware more than two weeks ago of suspicions that his national security adviser had lied to Vice-President Mike Pence about discussing sanctions with a Russian envoy, it has been reported.

Trump officially asked for Mike Flynn's resignation on Monday, after it emerged the retired lieutenant general "misled" Pence about a series of phone calls he had with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak before January's inauguration ceremony, CNN reports.

In their conversations, the two men apparently discussed the new sanctions levied against Russia by outgoing president Barack Obama in response to evidence that the Kremlin had actively interfered in the US election.

The calls were "interpreted by some senior US officials as an inappropriate and potentially illegal signal to the Kremlin that it could expect a reprieve", says the Washington Post.

The paper adds that officials have so far uncovered no evidence that Flynn made any concrete assurances.

Department of Justice officials reportedly notified the President about their concerns on 26 January, although Pence did not learn of the apparent deception until 9 February, less than a week ago.

Last month, the Vice-President defended Flynn in a TV interview, telling CBS he had Flynn's assurances that he had not discussed sanctions or other US measures against Russia with Kislyak.

A day after Flynn stepped down, his departure is still mired in unanswered questions. He is now being grilled by FBI investigators over the extent of his ties to Russian intelligence, according to two law enforcement sources speaking to CBS.

The Flynn story is unravelling in tandem with fresh accusations, published in today's New York Times, that the Trump administration has been compromised by Moscow.

NYT says it has spoken to four US intelligence officials who say there is phone evidence that Trump campaign aides were in contact with Kremlin operatives for a year in the run-up to the presidential election, although the substance of their discussions has not yet been revealed.

Why Donald Trump's national security adviser Mike Flynn had to resign

14 February

Donald Trump's administration was dealt a serious blow last night when national security adviser Mike Flynn resigned after being accused of lying about his contact with Russia.

"Mr Flynn is alleged to have discussed US sanctions with the Russian ambassador before Mr Trump took office," the BBC reports. He subsequently told Mike Pence, now US Vice President, that sanctions had not been mentioned during the phone call and Pence had denied the allegation on Flynn's behalf.

Flynn said: "I inadvertently briefed the vice president elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador."

The US Justice Department, through acting attorney general Sally Yates, "warned the Trump administration last month that Flynn misled administration officials regarding his communications with the Russian ambassador", CNN reports.

Yates, who was fired by Trump last month after refusing to enforce the travel ban, also reportedly expressed concern that the retired US Army lieutenant general was "potentially vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians".

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, and CIA director John Brennan "shared Yates's concerns", says the Washington Post, and "thought that Pence had a right to know that he had been misled".

Flynn's discussions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak concerning US-Russian relations were "unambiguous and highly inappropriate" and may have "violated a law against private citizens' engaging in diplomacy", the New York Times reports.

Adam Schiff, a Democratic member of the House permanent select committee on intelligence, said Flynn's departure after less than a month on the job "was all but ordained the day he misled the country about his secret talks".

While Flynn has been "cut loose", says the BBC's Anthony Zurcher, the crisis may not be over for the Trump administration. "Congressional Democrats - and perhaps some Republicans - will want to find out who was informed about Mr Flynn's contradictory stories and why nothing was done earlier."

Trump's claims that press don't cover terrorist attacks branded 'truly stunning'

7 February

Donald Trump has accused the media of intentionally under-reporting terrorist attacks around the world, including the Paris and Nice atrocities.

"You've seen what happened in Paris and Nice. All over Europe, it's happening. It's gotten to a point where it's not even being reported," he said during a visit to the US Central Command in Florida yesterday.

"And in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn't want to report it. They have their reasons and you understand that."

While the US President offered no evidence for his claims, the White House later released a list of 78 attacks from September 2014 to December 2016 that it said had received little news attention.

The list included massacres in which dozens of people died, such as those in Nice, Paris, Orlando and Brussels, plus smaller attacks in which nobody was killed and at least one murder that police had said was not related to terrorism.

The Washington Post called it a "truly stunning claim" that "immediately harked back to comments from senior adviser Kellyanne Conway" in her defence of Trump's travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries.

Conway told MSNBC that two radicalised Iraqis had arrived in the US after masterminding the "Bowling Green massacre", claiming that "most people don't know that because it didn't get covered".

While two men were arrested in Bowling Green, Kentucky, in 2011, they never committed an attack in the US. Conway later apologised for her "honest mistakes" – although this was the third time she had described it as such.

But the Washington Post said Trump's comment "goes far further than Conway's" as he suggests the media is actively suppressing news of terrorist attacks to fulfil a political agenda.

"Trump didn't quite say that the media was siding with the terrorists, just that the media would happily ignore terrorism if it made Trump look bad," it said.

His comments were branded "staggering" and "baseless" by The Atlantic, which argued that the media actually "love reporting on terrorism stories, following the old news adage that 'if it bleeds, it leads'".


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