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Trump begins whirlwind G20 after canceling Putin meeting

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But while Trump’s abrupt decision quashed concerns that the President would repeat his cozy performance alongside Putin during their last meeting in Helsinki, Finland, new allegations by the President’s[1] former longtime attorney Michael Cohen[2] revived questions about Trump’s financial ties to Russia as he arrived for the international summit.
Trump’s planned meetings with a half-dozen other world leaders — combined with the possibility of diplomatic snafus — offer little promise of clearing the smoke of suspicion that is once again following him abroad.
The President also refused to back away from the shadow of the Mueller investigation, beginning his day with a fresh pair of tweets[3] about the Cohen saga, saying his business dealings while a candidate were “very legal & very cool.”
Hours later, the White House press secretary Sarah Sanders issued a statement blaming the “Russian Witch Hunt Hoax” — a reference to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation — for hurting US-Russia relations.
“The Russian Witch Hunt Hoax, which is hopefully now nearing an end, is doing very well. Unfortunately, it probably does undermine our relationship with Russia,” Sanders said, even as she insisted Trump’s meeting with Putin was canceled because of Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian Navy ships and sailors earlier this week.
A Kremlin spokesman told Russian state media earlier Friday that Trump and Putin would have a “brief impromptu meeting” on the sidelines of the G20. Though the two leaders are likely to see each other and shake hands alongside other leaders at the international summit, a White House official said no meeting had been rescheduled between the two leaders.
The official said the Kremlin appeared to be “trying to save face” with the Friday morning statement.
Trump abruptly cancels planned Putin meeting

Trump arrived in Buenos Aires for the summit late Thursday night, marking the first time he has set foot in Latin America in his nearly two years in office and kicking off what promises to be a whirlwind 48-hour visit[4]. Friday will amount to the President’s busiest day of diplomacy, but his most important meeting of the summit — his dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping — doesn’t come until a day later.
Trump’s aides hoped a signing ceremony for the recently struck United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement would act as a centerpiece of the trip. At the Friday morning event, Trump hailed the revised NAFTA free trade deal, rebranded as the USMCA, as a “truly groundbreaking achievement” alongside his Canadian and Mexican counterparts.
Persistent disputes with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — including over US steel and aluminum tariffs — led to questions about who precisely from the Canadian side would be doing the signing, but Trudeau stood next to Trump and touted the deal as a success for middle class workers. Still, he pressed Trump during the event to remove steel and aluminum tariffs imposed earlier this year.
Trump has hailed the agreement as evidence of his negotiating prowess and said the pact would benefit American workers. He’s been unnerved in recent days by a shaky stock market and factory closures by General Motors, according to people familiar with the matter, and is hoping to be able to tout the new trade agreement in Argentina.

Aggressive schedule

Trade and security lead Trump's ambitious G20 agenda

Trump was darting from bilateral meetings to summit sessions and back, starting with an early morning breakfast alongside Argentine President Mauricio Macri, the summit’s host. Trump has known Macri for decades, beginning when both were real estate developers.
“I want to just say I’ve been friends with Mauricio for a long time, many years,” Trump said at the Casa Rosada, the presidential mansion. “He was a young man, a handsome man.”
Trump recollected a deal with Macri’s family to develop the West Side railroad yards — one of the “largest jobs in Manhattan,” in Trump’s telling.
“That was in my civilian days,” Trump said. “Little did you realize I would become president.”
Trump said in their meeting, he’d discuss trade and military purchases with the Argentine president.
That session will lead into the large gathering of the G20, where Trump will find himself face-to-face with the collection of global leaders he has sometimes rebuffed. It’s in these sessions that he’s most likely to run across Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who most of the world has castigated after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi[5].
Trump has taken the opposite approach, indicating he has no plans to cut ties to Saudi Arabia. And while he couldn’t fit in a formal meeting with the crown prince in Buenos Aires, he indicated before he departed the US on Thursday that he would like to speak to the young leader.
A pull-aside chat is scheduled with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose government has pushed for greater punishment of Saudi Arabia for Khashoggi’s killing, which occurred at a consulate in Istanbul. Trump is also slated to speak on the sidelines with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has acted as an avid cheerleader for Trump’s diplomatic opening with North Korea.
Less enthusiastic has been Japanese President Shinzo Abe, who’s expressed concern about easing pressure on Pyongyang without any corresponding steps from the North Korean regime. Trump will have a more formal meeting with Abe in the afternoon, where they’ll be joined by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Trump was supposed to sit later in the day with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who hosted last year’s G20 and has withstood sustained attacks by Trump over auto imports and trade. But Merkel’s government plane suffered technical problems en route, and she was forced to turn back to Cologne. She was expected to arrive late to the summit, and the meeting did not appear on Trump’s schedule for Friday.
Merkel recently announced that she will not run for another term as chancellor after acting as Europe’s de facto leader for more than a decade.
G20 members are also bracing for US intransigence as the leaders work to release a final joint communique from the assembled leaders — a Trump administration position that has hampered efforts to release communiques at past summits.
A source familiar with discussions said US national security adviser John Bolton has positioned the US’s stance on the communique’s language as a take-it-or-leave-it offer.
A White House official said the US is “committed to working toward consensus on the communique but will stand firm against language that prejudices US positions and is willing to walk away if necessary.”
The official said the US is leaving some room for compromise, but has made clear that there are certain positions regarding the communique that are non-negotiable. At least “not right now,” the official said.
Ultimately, a decision on the communique will come down to the President himself — and his willingness to compromise versus being cast as the odd man out.

Mueller cloud remains

Hanging over it all will be the questions sparked by the latest twist in special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation — just the latest instance of the Mueller investigation following Trump outside the United States.
The President’s international trips have been repeatedly marred by developments in the investigation, beginning with Mueller’s appointment as special counsel just two days before Trump left for his first international trip. The President has publicly and privately groused that he thinks the investigation has hampered his diplomatic efforts on the world stage.
Trump’s second foreign trip, in July 2017, became another key moment in the Mueller investigation as the President and his aides worked to craft a statement on behalf of his eldest son concerning the now-infamous meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower a year prior. A year later, as the President prepared to fly to Helsinki to meet with Putin, the Justice Department announced the indictment of Russian intelligence officers linked to election interference.
The Cohen plea agreement on Thursday became the latest example, and soon after the news emerged Trump moved to scrap his meeting with Putin. The White House said Trump had decided to cancel the get-together following a meeting with his top foreign policy advisers after boarding Air Force One, even though no new information had publicly emerged.
Scrapping the meeting with Putin, though, did not eliminate all of the President’s flair for make-or-break drama. He is still scheduled to join Xi, the Chinese President, for a working dinner on Saturday to hash out a possible ceasefire to the trade war that has roiled their countries and threatens to wreak havoc on the global economy if the ratcheting-up persists.
Leaving the White House on Thursday, Trump kept the global suspense going.
“I think we’re very close to doing something with China, but I don’t know that I want to do it, because what we have right now is billions and billions of dollars coming into the United States in the form of tariffs or taxes. So I really don’t know,” the President said before departing Washington. “But I will tell you that I think China wants to make a deal. I’m open to making a deal. But, frankly, I like the deal we have right now.”

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Houston Recalls Legacy of George Bush, Its Lone Star Yankee and Senior Booster

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HOUSTON — Inside the airport that bears his name, George Herbert Walker Bush looks, at a distance, as if he’s wearing a cape.

An 8-foot-tall bronze statue at the Houston airport shows Mr. Bush, who , Barbara Bush[4], who died in April at the age of 92. After Mr. Bush’s death on Friday, Houston lost its two most famous residents in the span of seven months.

“George H.W. Bush served with valor and integrity as the 41st president of the United States,” Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, said in a statement. “But to Houstonians he was one of our most esteemed and relatable neighbors. He and his wife, Barbara Bush, were our sports teams’ biggest fans, and boosters for everything Houston.”

This was the man whose most memorable quote in years had to do with men’s hosiery. In 2012, as his fondness for wearing bright eye-catching socks was going strong, he explained that he simply “likes a good sock.” At his wife’s funeral at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Mr. Bush wore a pair of socks with a colorful stack-of-books design, a tribute to Mrs. Bush’s advocacy work for family literacy.

In Houston and its surrounding suburbs, Mr. Bush had not only an airport in his name but a park, a high school and a few more life-size statues. Above Buffalo Bayou, a bronze statue of Mr. Bush looks out into the distance with his hand in his pocket, gazing at, of all things, James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state and Mr. Bush’s tennis partner at the Houston Country Club. The statues of the two close friends face each other in the downtown park, separated by about 100 yards, in Houston’s oddest and longest-running staring contest.

“All I can do now,” Mr. Bush told The New York Times in 2011 about the statue, “is hope that the pigeons will be kind and gentle.”

Charles C. Foster, a Houston immigration lawyer and a longtime friend of the Bush family, came up with the idea for the George H.W. Bush Monument, which was unveiled in 2004. Mr. Foster recalled the day he sat in Mr. Bush’s office at 10000 Memorial Drive and asked for his blessing for the project.

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Mr. Bush in 1970, when he was a congressman.CreditAssociated Press

“He looked at me and he sort of looked up at the ceiling,” Mr. Foster said. “He pointed to the ceiling and said, ‘Shouldn’t you wait until I’m up there?’ And then he said, pointing downward, ‘Or perhaps down there?’”

In 1990, Mr. Bush helped turn the eyes of the world to Houston.

As president, he brought thousands of reporters and foreign dignitaries to Houston that summer for the Economic Summit of Industrialized Nations, an annual gathering of the world’s economic powers. The summits had been held in a number of global cities — London, Tokyo, Paris, Venice — and Mr. Bush made the case that his adopted hometown belonged among such world-class company.

Houston was scrappier back then. The city was rebounding from an oil bust in the 1980s that crippled the economy, and it tried hard to present its best, and cleanest, face to the cameras and the visitors, picking up millions of pounds of trash, repaving roads and enlisting the aid of 12,000 volunteers.

“That was huge for Houston,” Mr. Foster said of the 1990 summit. “When the president had a chance, he could have picked some mountain retreat. But he picked his hometown. He was well aware of the chip on our shoulders that we didn’t feel like Houston got the recognition that it should.”

Now, with 2.3 million residents (compared with 1.6 million in 1990), Houston is the fourth-largest city in America, known as much for its diversity as its energy-capital status. George Bush High School, part of the Fort Bend school district, is 43 percent Hispanic, 38 percent black, 12 percent Asian and 4 percent white. More than 90 languages and dialects are spoken in the district.

Early Saturday morning in the upscale Tanglewood area, Houstonians paused at the gates at South Post Oak Lane and North West Oak Drive — the entrance to the gated community where Mr. Bush lived. Someone draped an American flag in the center of the gates, decorated for the holidays with Christmas wreaths.

Shirley Matthews, 66, a lifelong Houstonian who lives nearby, walked up and took a picture of the memorial for her mother. “He was just a good person,” she said. “He wasn’t perfect. But it’s family, and we love each other.”

References

  1. ^ died at his home here on Friday (www.nytimes.com)
  2. ^ Read the obituary of George H.W. Bush. (www.nytimes.com)
  3. ^ the funeral for his wife (www.nytimes.com)
  4. ^ Barbara Bush (www.nytimes.com)

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A Close Race, a Mysterious Ballot and Control of Alaska’s House at Stake

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With a crucial legislative seat in Alaska teetering toward a tie earlier this month, lawmakers in Juneau braced for the possibility of a coin toss deciding control of the state’s House of Representatives. Then a mysterious extra ballot emerged that threw the process into further disarray.

Amid several counts, the latest coming on Friday afternoon, a single ballot drew scrutiny across the state.

The state’s review board certified the race, between Kathryn Dodge, a Democrat, and Bart LeBon, a Republican, as a tie earlier this week, with exactly 2,661 votes going to each candidate. The extra ballot, for Ms. Dodge, could have settled the race for the Fairbanks-area district seat.

Later on Friday, the mystery appeared to have been solved — but the standoff over who won the election continued.

Samantha Miller, a spokeswoman for the state elections office, said that workers at Fairbanks’s No. 6 precinct told officials that a woman had come into the polling place to request a special needs ballot on behalf of her husband, who was outside in a vehicle.

The woman came back into the precinct. Her husband had made a mistake, she told the precinct worker, and needed a new ballot. She left behind the one he had already marked, thus making it a spoiled ballot.

The precinct chair told the worker who took the spoiled ballot to put it into a secrecy sleeve, “and that they would deal with it later in the day,” Ms. Miller said.

But instead, the spoiled ballot was put into a compartment with other questioned ballots.

Typically, Ms. Miller said, spoiled ballots are destroyed once they are accounted for. So, because the mystery ballot was found to be spoiled, it will not be counted, she said.

Still, that left the question of what happens if the recount that began on Friday afternoon ends in a tie — again.

Ms. Miller said that both candidates had five days to file a legal challenge to the results. And if the court decided the recount went as it should have, and the race was still a tie?

The prevailing candidate would be determined “by lot,” Ms. Miller said. “It could be a coin toss or some other way of deciding, as long as it’s random.”

It would not be the first time an Alaska race was determined by coin toss.

In 2006, State Representative Bryce Edgmon[1], a Democrat from Dillingham, beat the incumbent, Carl Moses. Mr. Moses’s name was drawn, so he got to make the call: Heads.

The state’s elections director at the time flipped an Alaska Mint medallion — the side with a walrus being heads and the side with the state seal being tails. It landed state seal side up.

Ms. Miller would not speculate about when the recount would be complete, but said both candidates were present, along with observers and officials.

Mr. LeBon did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

Sara Harriger, a spokeswoman for Ms. Dodge, said in a statement that during Friday’s recount, one additional vote was found for Ms. Dodge and a challenged ballot was allowed for her opponent, Mr. LeBon, which meant that the tally stood at 2,662 apiece. Still tied.

Ms. Dodge said in a statement that she believed every legally cast ballot should be counted. “I just want everyone watching this process to take away a sense of confidence in our democratic system and a commitment to cast their votes in future races,” she said, “and knowing that their votes will matter.”

Ms. Dodge had said earlier on Friday that legal action “unfortunately” seemed probable.

“It’s certainly not what any of us expect when we set out to campaign, to find ourselves in a squeaker of this nature,” she said. “I hope we don’t have a coin toss. I don’t know quite what to say, but it doesn’t feel like it’s an appropriate way to settle an election.”

In Alaska, the repercussions of this race will be felt into the next legislative session, though party control of the House in Juneau will be far from clear-cut.

Political coalitions in Juneau do not always come down to party-line votes like in other state houses. Even if Ms. Dodge wins the race, Democrats would still not have an outright majority, and so members of the House will still be tasked with negotiating a coalition majority.

References

  1. ^ Bryce Edgmon (akleg.gov)

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3 Killed After Pickup Truck Fleeing Border Patrol Hits Tire Spikes and Crashes

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Three people in a packed pickup truck were killed on Thursday afternoon after the driver ran over tire spikes and crashed on a Southern California highway while trying to flee Border Patrol officers, the authorities said.

The officers turned on their vehicle’s emergency lights and began chasing the pickup truck on Interstate 8, near Boulevard, Calif., at around 4:20 p.m., according to the United States Customs and Border Protection. The authorities said they believed that the pickup truck had been illegally driven over the southern border and had crashed through an “iron bar vehicle barrier.” They said they identified it by matching a piece that was missing from the truck to one agents had spotted on the ground near the border, though they did not elaborate.

The pickup truck reached speeds of over 100 miles per hour, weaving between cars and bypassing others on the side of the highway, before it drove over spikes that the Border Patrol had placed on the road, the California Highway Patrol said. About a mile later, the truck spun out of control and flipped over, ejecting the nine people who were riding in the truck’s bed, the authorities said.

A woman inside the truck, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was killed, as were two people riding in the bed, the police said. Seven people who had “multiple serious injuries” were taken to the hospital, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection said.

The driver, a United States citizen whose name was not released, was the only person wearing a seatbelt, the agency said. The California Highway Patrol took the man into custody, but it was not clear whether he had been charged. The identities of the passengers in the truck have not been released either.

“The investigation into the smuggling incident is ongoing,” the spokesman said in an email, “and the Border Patrol is fully cooperating with the CHP in their investigation of the collision.”

About an hour after the crash, the Border Patrol stopped another vehicle that officers believed had crossed over the border with the pickup truck, the agency said. The driver of that car was also arrested.

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