US President Donald Trump on Wednesday blamed the media and “illegally leaked” intelligence information for bringing down his national security adviser Michael Flynn, one day after the White House said Trump had asked Flynn to resign because he misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russia.
Flynn’s ouster has sparked a new swirl of controversy over Trump’s potential ties to Moscow.
Flynn resigned on Monday night — at the behest of Trump, the White House later said — after reports that he had discussed sanctions with Russia’s ambassador to the US before the inauguration, despite previously denying those conversations to Pence and other top officials.
However, in Trump’s first public comments on Flynn, he appeared to side with his former aide, saying it was “really a sad thing that he was treated so badly.”
Trump is said to favor US Vice Admiral Robert Harward, a former Navy SEAL, as his next national security adviser, a White House official said.
Harward met with top White House officials last week and has the backing of US Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
Questions about Russia deepened late on Tuesday when the New York Times reported that US agencies had intercepted telephone calls last year between Russian intelligence officials and members of Trump’s presidential campaign team.
Current and former US officials who spoke to the Times anonymously said they found no evidence that the Trump campaign was working with the Russians on hacking or other efforts to influence the election.
Trump criticized what he called the “criminal act” of leaking information.
Earlier Wednesday, Trump tweeted that “classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy. Very un-American!”
He ignored shouted questions about whether his advisers were in touch with Russian officials.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said he was not aware of any such contacts and panned the Times report for relying on “unnamed sources.”
Democrats called for an independent investigation into Trump’s Russia ties and urged Republicans to join them.
“This is a moment for Republicans to put country ahead of party,” US Senator Chris Murphy said. “There’s only one or two times like this in your political career where you face a moment like this where what’s good for your country may not be good for your party.”
Meanwhile, Trump’s nominee for labor secretary on Wednesday abruptly withdrew his nomination after Senate Republicans balked at supporting him, in part over taxes he belatedly paid on a former housekeeper not authorized to work in the nation.
Fast-food executive Andrew Puzder issued a short statement abandoning the effort, saying he was “honored to have been considered by President Donald Trump to lead the Department of Labor.”
Spicer declined to comment on possible replacements, but said late on Wednesday that the White House had seen the writing on the wall.
“We know how to count,” he said.
Puzder’s nomination became part of a streak of contentious confirmation battles and haphazard White House actions, including a botched rollout of Trump’s executive order on refugees and the ouster of Flynn.
US Senator Lamar Alexander, who would have chaired Puzder’s confirmation hearing yesterday, issued a terse statement saying the nominee would have made an “excellent” labor secretary, but “I respect his decision” to quit pursuing the post.
Puzder spokesman George Thompson said his boss was a victim of “an unprecedented smear campaign.”
What troubled a majority of the Republicans was Puzder’s acknowledgement that he had not paid taxes on the housekeeper until after Trump nominated him to the Cabinet post on Dec. 9 last year — five years after he had fired the worker.
Thompson said in an e-mail that Puzder informed the White House of the housekeeper matter “after the nomination.”
People interviewed during the transition period said they were not asked by Trump’s team to provide vetting information, raising questions about the level of scrutiny.
Ultimately, Republicans made it clear that Puzder did not have the votes for confirmation.
Democrats and their allies welcomed Puzder’s withdrawal, saying his corporate background and opposition to such proposals as a big hike in the minimum wage made him an unfit advocate for US workers at the top of an agency charged with enforcing protections.
Reporters Without Borders has accused the Algerian government of taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to “settle scores” with independent journalists, including those covering long-running anti-government protests. In a statement signed with Algerian non-governmental organizations, the watchdog on Thursday called for the immediate release of its correspondent, Khaled Drareni, who has been in pretrial detention since Sunday after being charged with inciting an unarmed gathering and endangering national unity. Drareni has been arrested several times for covering the “Hirak” anti-government protests held in the capital, Algiers, every Friday since February last year. Imprisoning people during a pandemic is “an act of physical endangerment,”
Vietnam has lodged an official protest with China following the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat that it said had been rammed by a Chinese maritime surveillance vessel near islands in the South China Sea. The Vietnamese fishing vessel, with eight fishermen onboard, was fishing near the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) on Thursday when it was rammed and sunk by the Chinese vessel, the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement posted on a government Web site yesterday. All of the fishermen were picked up by the Chinese vessel alive and were transferred to two other Vietnamese fishing vessels
DIVIDED YOUTH: There is a belief that overseas students see themselves as superior, which is compounded by perceptions of their extreme wealth and multiple nationalities Chinese students flying home from overseas to escape the COVID-19 pandemic face a frosty reception from sections of the public who view them as wealthy, spoiled — and potentially contaminated. The number of officially reported cases in China has dwindled dramatically over the last month, but the country is now taking drastic steps to try and stem a second wave of infections brought in from abroad. With most international flights canceled and nearly all foreigners barred from entering the country, the vast majority of returnees are Chinese nationals, including many students. The situation has exposed animosities over class and privilege in Chinese society,
An Australian graduate student arrested for spying and expelled from North Korea last year said that he was threatened with a firing-squad execution and told not even US President Donald Trump could save his “sorry arse.” Among the crimes Alek Sigley was accused of committing was posting a picture of a toy tank on Instagram, which his interrogators told him was military espionage. Sigley, 30, was studying for a master’s degree in Korean literature at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang when he went missing in June last year, sparking alarm. A fluent speaker of Korean, he had written articles for several publications