Trump pushes military response as U.S. girds for more protests

By Nathan Layne and Brendan O’Brien

NEW YORK/MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Tuesday said U.S. troops should take to the streets of New York City to quell unrest, as authorities across the country prepared for another night of protests over the death of an unarmed black man in police custody.

Dozens of cities are under curfews. The head of the U.S. National Guard said on Tuesday that 18,000 Guard members were assisting local law enforcement in 29 states.

Lawmakers and law enforcement officials seemed taken aback by the extent of mayhem overnight in some major U.S. cities where police were shot at and pelted with rocks and projectiles as they faced hostile crowds.

Demonstrators smashed windows and looted stores in New York, including luxury retailers on Fifth Avenue, and set fire to a Los Angeles strip mall. Four officers were shot in St. Louis and one in Las Vegas who was critically wounded, authorities said.

Trump has threatened to use the military to battle violence that has erupted nightly, often after a day of peaceful protests. He has derided local authorities, including state governors, for their response to the disturbances.

“NYC, CALL UP THE NATIONAL GUARD. The lowlifes and losers are ripping you apart. Act fast!” Trump tweeted on Tuesday. He deploying thousands of armed soldiers and law enforcement in the U.S. capital and vowed to do the same wherever authorities fail to regain control.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo voiced outrage at the chaos in America’s largest city, saying its mayor and police force “did not do their job last night.” He said he believed Mayor Bill de Blasio underestimated the scope of the problem.

The governor said he had offered the state’s mayors support from state police or 13,000 National Guard who are on standby and said that with a 38,000-strong police force, New York City should be able to address its unrest on its own.

He added that Trump sought to blur the line between protesters representing a cross-section of Americans with a legitimate cause and looters. Authorities blame the looting and vandalism on a relatively small number of people protesting against police brutality.

De Blasio poured cold water on the idea of deploying the National Guard in his city.

Demonstrators have taken to the streets over the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American who died after a white policeman pinned his neck under a knee for nearly nine minutes in Minneapolis on May 25.

Derek Chauvin, the 44-year-old Minneapolis police officer who planted his knee on Floyd’s neck, has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Three other officers involved have not been charged.

MARTIN LUTHER KING REMEMBERED

Floyd’s death has reignited the explosive issue of police brutality against African Americans and led to a painful reexamination of race relations five months before a divided America votes in a presidential election.

Some of those who have gathered at the site of Floyd’s killing have invoked the non-violent message of the late U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., assassinated in 1968, as the only way forward.

“He would be truly appalled by the violence because he gave his life for this stuff,” said Al Clark, 62, a black man who drove to the Minneapolis memorial with one of King’s speeches blaring from his truck.

“But I can understand the frustration and anger.”

In Atlanta, six officers will face charges for an incident in which two college students were removed from their car and tased, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard told a briefing. Two of the six officers were terminated on Sunday.

A police officer in Sarasota, Florida, was placed on leave on Tuesday after video surfaced showing the officer kneeling on a man’s back and neck during an arrest in May.

Officers were injured in clashes elsewhere, including one who was in critical condition after being hit by a car in the Bronx, police said.

The protests have escalated racial tensions in a country hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with African Americans making up a disproportionately high number of cases and being hard hit by job losses from lockdowns to stop the spread of the virus.

Critics accuse Trump, who is seeking re-election in a Nov. 3 election, of further stoking conflict and racial tension rather than seeking to bring the country together and address the underlying issues.

“President Trump is right to be focused on law and order. He wasn’t hired to be the consoler-in-chief,” said Jason Miller, who advised the Republican Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden pledged in a speech on Tuesday to try to heal the racial divide in America and blasted Trump’s response to the protests.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg, Lisa Lambert, Maria Caspani, Peter Szekely, Zachary Fagenson, Brendan O’Brien, Nathan Layne, Susan Heavey and Brad Brooks; Writing by Paul Simao; Editing by Howard Goller)

Explainer: Can Trump send the U.S. military to quell violence at protests?

By Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday suggested he would use federal troops to end unrest that has erupted following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed in police custody last week.

“If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them,” Trump said during brief remarks at the White House.

The demonstrations have been largely peaceful, but police in some cities have used force against journalists and protesters, and protesters have clashed with police. Many U.S. cities have set curfews.

To deploy the armed forces, Trump would need to formally invoke a group of statutes known as the Insurrection Act.

WHAT IS THE INSURRECTION ACT?

Under the U.S. Constitution, governors generally have the authority to maintain order within state borders. This principle is reflected in a law called the Posse Comitatus Act, which generally prohibits the federal military from participating in domestic law enforcement.

The Insurrection Act, which dates to the early 1800s, is an as exception to principles later codified in the Posse Comitatus Act.

The Insurrection Act permits the president to send in U.S. forces to suppress a domestic insurrection that has hindered the normal enforcement of U.S. law.

CAN TRUMP SEND IN TROOPS WITHOUT A GOVERNOR’S APPROVAL?

Yes. The law lays out a scenario in which the president is required to have approval from a state’s governor or legislature, and also instances where such approval is not necessary, said Robert Chesney, a professor of national security law at the University of Texas.

Historically, in instances where the Insurrection Act was invoked, presidents and governors have usually agreed on the need for troops, said Thaddeus Hoffmeister, a law professor at the University of Dayton.

In 2005, former President George W. Bush decided not to invoke the Insurrection Act to send active-duty troops to Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in part because the state’s then-governor opposed the move.

HAS IT BEEN INVOKED BEFORE?

Yes. The Insurrection Act has been invoked on dozens of occasions through U.S. history. Since the civil rights movement of the 1960s, however, its use has become “exceedingly rare,” according to a report by the Congressional Research Service.

The Insurrection Act was last used in 1992, when the acquittal of four Los Angeles police officers in the beating of black motorist Rodney King led to deadly riots.

CAN A COURT STRIKE DOWN TRUMP’S APPLICATION OF THE LAW?

Hoffmeister said he did not think invoking the Insurrection Act was warranted because governors can handle the current unrest through their criminal justice systems.

“The Insurrection Act should only be used in dire situations and I don’t think the circumstances right now call for it,” Hoffmeister said.

But Chesney said a successful legal challenge to Trump’s use of the law was “very unlikely.” Courts have historically been very reluctant to second-guess a president’s military declarations, he said.

“The law, for all practical purposes, leaves this to the president with very little judicial review with any teeth,” Chesney said. “That may be a terrible state of affairs, but that’s what it is.”

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Edited by Noeleen Walder, Gerry Doyle and Steve Orlofsky)

Kremlin says Putin ‘supports dialogue’ after Trump’s proposed G7 invite

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Monday it needed more details before responding to U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposal to invite Russia to attend a Group of Seven nations summit, but that President Vladimir Putin supported dialogue on the issue.

Trump said on Saturday he would postpone a G7 summit he had hoped to hold next month until September or later and expand the list of invitees to include Australia, Russia, South Korea and India.

“President Putin is a supporter of dialogue in all directions, but in this case, in order to respond to such initiatives, we need to receive more information, which we unfortunately do not have,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

“We don’t know the details of this proposal yet, we don’t know if it is official,” he said, adding that Moscow needed to know what might be on the agenda of the proposed meeting and its format, before responding.

Russia was expelled from what was then the G8 in 2014 when Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, was U.S. president, after Moscow annexed the Crimea region from Ukraine. Russia still holds the territory, and various G7 governments have rebuffed previous calls from Trump to readmit Moscow.

Peskov said other formats such as the G20 gave Russia a platform to discuss international issues with other countries.

“There are very comfortable and effective mechanisms for all participants for international dialogue, such as the G20, which allows the world’s leading economies to discuss the most pressing problems,” he said.

Some Russian analysts believe Moscow should regard Trump’s potential invitation with skepticism.

“Trump’s intention to invite Putin as a guest of the #G7 makes no sense for Russia. All blame, no gain is what it’ll get. This chapter should remain closed,” Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center and a former colonel in the Russian army, wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

(Reporting by Alexander Marrow, Maxim Rodionov and Andrey Kuzmin; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

North Korea accuses U.S. of hurting its image with cyber threat warning

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea accused the United States of smear tactics on Friday after Washington renewed accusations last month that Pyongyang was responsible for malicious cyber attacks.

It was the latest in a series of exchanges underscoring the friction between the two countries after denuclearization talks launched by U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stalled late last year.

“We want to make it clear that our country has nothing to do with the so-called ‘cyber threat’ that the U.S. is talking about,” North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in the statement.

It said Washington was trying to use the allegations as leverage, along with the issues of nuclear missiles and human rights as well as accusations of terrorism funding and money laundering. The aim was to “smear our country’s image and create a way to shake us up”, it said.

The U.S. State Department, Treasury, and Department of Homeland Security Issues, along with the FBI, issued a new warning last month about the threat of North Korean hackers, calling particular attention to financial services.

North Korea is alleged to be behind an ambitious, years-long campaign of digital theft, including siphoning cash from ATMs, stealing from major banks, extorting computer users worldwide, and hijacking digital currency exchanges.

Since 2006, the country has been subject to U.N. sanctions that have been strengthened by the Security Council over the years in a bid to cut off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

This week, the U.S. Justice Department accused the country’s state-owned bank of evading U.S. sanctions laws and said it had charged 28 North Korean and five Chinese citizens in its latest crackdown on alleged sanctions violations.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Kudlow says Trump administration looking at ‘back to work bonus’

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Tuesday that President Donald Trump’s administration is looking carefully at a potential “back to work bonus” to encourage Americans who had been laid off as the coronavirus pandemic spread to return to work.

Kudlow, speaking on Fox News Channel, also said he does not think Congress will approve another $600 per week in extra jobless benefits to laid-off workers in a future coronavirus relief legislation.

(Reporting by Tim Ahmann, Lisa Lambert and Daphne Psaledakis)

Trump warns governors: let places of worship open this weekend

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday urged state governors to allow the reopening this weekend in the United States of places of worship which have been closed due to the coronavirus, warning that he will override governors who do not do so.

At a short appearance in the White House briefing room, Trump said he was declaring that places of worship – churches, synagogues and mosques – are providing essential services and thus should be opened as soon as possible.

Places of worship have been closed along as part of stay-at-home orders most states have tried to control the spread of the coronavirus. With the infection rate declining in many areas, there is pressure to begin reopening.

Trump issued a warning to governors who refuse his appeal but did not say under what authority he would act to force the reopening of religious facilities.

“If they don’t do it I will override the governors. In America we need more prayer, not less,” he said.

(Reporting Jeff Mason and Steve Holland, Editing by Franklin Paul and David Gregorio)

‘There is a real risk’ of new outbreak if U.S. states reopen too soon: Fauci

By Makini Brice and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Leading U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci on Tuesday warned Congress that a premature lifting of lockdowns could lead to additional outbreaks of the deadly coronavirus, which has killed 80,000 Americans and brought the economy to its knees.

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a U.S. Senate panel that states should follow health experts’ recommendations to wait for signs including a declining number of new infections before reopening.

President Donald Trump has been encouraging states to end a weeks-long shuttering of major components of their economies. But senators heard a sobering assessment from Fauci, when asked by Democrats about a premature opening of the economy.

“There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control and, in fact paradoxically, will set you back, not only leading to some suffering and death that could be avoided but could even set you back on the road to try to get economic recovery,” Fauci said.

The COVID-19 respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus has infected more than 1.3 million Americans and killed more than 80,600.

Fauci, a member of Trump’s coronavirus task force, told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that the nation’s efforts to battle the deadly virus and the COVID-19 disease it triggers should be “focused on the proven public health practices of containment and mitigation.”

Fauci, 79, testified remotely in a room lined with books as he self-quarantines after he may have come into contact with either of two members of the White House staff who were diagnosed with COVID-19. He noted that he may go to the White House if needed.

“All roads back to work and back to school run through testing and that what our country has done so far on testing is impressive, but not nearly enough,” Lamar Alexander, the Republican chairman of the Senate committee, said in an opening statement to Tuesday’s hearing.

Alexander is also self-quarantining in his home state of Tennessee for 14 days after a member of his staff tested positive. Alexander chaired the hearing virtually.

Democrats on the health committee largely concentrated on the risks of opening the U.S. economy too soon, while Republicans downplayed that notion, saying a prolonged shutdown could have serious negative impacts on people’s health and the health of the economy.

Trump, who previously made the strength of the economy central to his pitch for his November re-election, has encouraged states to reopen businesses that had been deemed non-essential amid the pandemic.

His administration has largely left it to states to decide whether and how to reopen. State governors are taking varying approaches, with a growing number relaxing tough restrictions enacted to slow the outbreak, even as opinion polls show most Americans are concerned about reopening too soon.

Senator Patty Murray, the senior committee Democrat, criticizing aspects of the administration’s response to the pandemic, said Americans “need leadership, they need a plan, they need honesty and they need it now, before we reopen.”

Others testifying on Tuesday included U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn. Each testified remotely.

Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat, told reporters that a Democratic bill to provide significant new federal aid in response to the coronavirus pandemic could be unveiled later on Tuesday, with a possible House of Representatives votes on it on Friday.

(GRAPHIC: Tracking the novel coronavirus in the U.S. – https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS-USA/0100B5K8423/index.html)

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, Makini Brice, Doina Chiacu and Tim Ahmann; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)

U.S. moves to drop case against Trump ex-adviser Flynn

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday abruptly asked a judge to drop criminal charges against Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn following mounting pressure from the Republican president and his political allies on the right.

The move drew furious criticism from congressional Democrats and others who accused the department and Attorney General William Barr of politicizing the U.S. criminal justice system by bending to Trump’s wishes and improperly protecting his friends and associates in criminal cases.

Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general who served as an adviser to Trump during the 2016 campaign, had been seeking to withdraw his 2017 guilty plea in which he admitted to lying to the FBI about his interactions with Russia’s U.S. ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the weeks before Trump took office.

The Justice Department filed a motion to dismiss the charges with U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, who has presided over the case and has a reputation for fierce independence. Judges generally grant such motions, but Sullivan could demand answers from the department about its reversal or even deny the motion and sentence Flynn, a less likely scenario.

Sullivan at a 2018 hearing expressed “disgust” and “disdain” toward Flynn’s criminal offense, saying: “Arguably, you sold your country out.”

Trump, who had publicly attacked the case against Flynn and has frequently castigated the FBI, said he was “very happy” for his former aide, adding: “Yes, he was a great warrior, and he still is a great warrior. Now in my book he’s an even greater warrior.” Trump said in March he was considering a full pardon and accused the FBI and Justice Department of having “destroyed” Flynn’s life and that of his family.

Flynn was one of several former Trump aides charged under former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that detailed Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election to boost Trump’s candidacy and contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia. Trump’s longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone and his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort both were convicted and sentenced to multi-year prison terms.

The Justice Department said in its filing it was no longer persuaded that the FBI’s Jan. 24, 2017 Flynn interview that underpinned the charges was conducted with a “legitimate investigative basis” and did not think his statements were “material even if untrue.”

“A crime has not been established here. They did not have the basis for a counterintelligence investigation against Flynn at that stage,” Barr said in a CBS interview. Asked about the fact that Flynn lied to investigators, Barr said: “Well, people sometimes plead to things that turn out not to be crimes.”

In a filing, Flynn’s lawyers agreed with the department’s motion to dismiss the charges.

It marked the latest instance of the department under Barr, a Trump political loyalist, changing course under public pressure from the president to go light on one of his allies. In February, Barr and other senior department officials abandoned a tough sentencing recommendation by their own career prosecutors in Stone’s case after Trump publicly lashed out at the prosecution team. The prosecutors quit the case in protest.

Shortly before the Flynn motion was filed on Thursday, career prosecutor Brandon Van Grack withdrew from the case and other related legal matters. He remains a Justice Department employee, a department spokeswoman said.

‘WITHOUT PRECEDENT’

Trump critics have accused him of becoming emboldened after his February acquittal in his Senate impeachment trial and interfering in cases involving people close to him.

“Flynn PLEADED GUILTY to lying to investigators. The evidence against him is overwhelming,” Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, wrote on Twitter. “The decision to overrule the special counsel is without precedent and warrants an immediate explanation.”

“We have to be deeply skeptical that this is anything other than a further capturing of our criminal justice system for the benefit of the president,” added Noah Bookbinder, a former prosecutor who now heads the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics advocacy group.

Seth Waxman, another former prosecutor now in private practice, added, “To have the case dismissed like this raises a lot of uncertainty for the institution of the Department of Justice.”

Barr was appointed by Trump long after Flynn was charged. Barr three months ago named Jeffrey Jensen, a U.S. attorney in Missouri, to review the case. Jensen said he “concluded the proper and just course was to dismiss the case.”

Trump fired Flynn after only 24 days on the job when it emerged that Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence and the FBI about his Kislyak dealings.

According to the indictment, Flynn in December 2016 – after Trump won the election but before he took office – discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with Kislyak and asked him to help delay a U.N. vote seen as damaging to Israel, a move contrary to then-President Barack Obama’s policies.

Flynn was supposed to cooperate with prosecutors under his plea deal. But he switched lawyers and said prosecutors had tricked him into lying about his Kislyak conversations.

Pressure from Trump allies to drop the charges intensified last week after partially redacted documents turned over to Flynn’s defense showed more about the FBI’s thinking before interviewing Flynn.

An unidentified FBI agent wrote: “What is our goal? Truth/admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?”

Flynn’s allies have argued those documents show the FBI was out to get him.

“The government has concluded that the interview of Mr. Flynn was untethered to, and unjustified by, the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Mr. Flynn – a no longer justifiably predicated investigation,” the Justice Department wrote in Thursday’s filing.

Prosecutors asked the judge in January to sentence Flynn to up to six months in prison, saying he “has not learned his lesson” and acts like “the law does not apply” to him.

His sentencing has been deferred several times.

Flynn previously headed the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency but he was forced out in 2014 in part due to his management style and opinions on how to combat Islamist militancy. He joined Trump’s 2016 campaign and at the Republican National Convention led chants of “Lock her up,” referring to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Jan Wolfe, Richard Cowan, and Alistair Bell; Editing by Scott Malone, Will Dunham and Peter Cooney)

Trump says coronavirus task force to work ‘indefinitely,’ shift focus

By Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday his White House coronavirus task force would remain in place but with a focus on medical treatments and easing restrictions on businesses and social life and perhaps with different advisers.

On Tuesday, Trump had said he planned to wind down the task force and replace it with “something in a different form” as the country shifts into a new phase focusing on the aftermath of the outbreak. He also acknowledged then that “some people” might be hit hard by a resurgence of the virus.

“Will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open, and we have to get it open soon,” Trump told reporters on Tuesday as he toured a face-mask factory in Arizona, where he defied infection-control guidelines by not wearing a mask himself.

In a series of tweets on Wednesday, Trump said that because of its success, “the Task Force will continue on indefinitely with its focus on SAFETY & OPENING UP OUR COUNTRY AGAIN. We may add or subtract people to it, as appropriate. The Task Force will also be very focused on Vaccines & Therapeutics.”

The task force to date has included medical professionals focused on battling the pandemic, some of whom have at times offered guidance at odds with Trump’s.

Trump told reporters on Tuesday: “We’re now looking at a little bit of a different form, and that form is safety and opening. And we’ll – we’ll have a different group probably set up for that.”

Trump praised the task force, headed by Vice President Mike Pence, for having brought together resources including a supply of ventilators. Pence was scheduled to lead the group’s meeting at 4 p.m. ET (2000 GMT) at the White House.

(Reporting and writing by Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Howard Goller)

Trump says U.S. will report virus origins, gives no timeline

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump urged China on Tuesday to be transparent with what it knows about the origin of the coronavirus that emerged from Wuhan, China, and has wreaked havoc on the world.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday there was “a significant amount of evidence” that the new coronavirus emerged from a Chinese laboratory, but did not dispute U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that it was not man-made.

The Chinese state-backed Wuhan Institute of Virology has dismissed the allegations, and other U.S. officials have downplayed their likelihood. Most experts believe the virus originated in a market selling wildlife in Wuhan and jumped from animals to people.

Trump, speaking to reporters outside the White House before leaving on a trip to Arizona, said the United States would release its report detailing the origins of the novel coronavirus over time but gave no other details or timeline.

“We will be reporting very definitively over a period of time,” the Republican president said.

Trump, who initially praised China over its response to the outbreak but has since blamed Beijing harshly over the virus, also said that he has not spoken to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“We want them to be transparent. We want to find out what happened so it never happens again,” he said.

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Tim Ahmann; writing by Susan Heavey, Editing by Franklin Paul and Jonathan Oatis)