Trump says he might be willing to testify in impeachment inquiry

Trump says he might be willing to testify in impeachment inquiry
By Matt Spetalnick and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday indicated publicly for the first time that he might be willing to testify in the impeachment inquiry over his efforts to pressure Ukraine “even though I did nothing wrong.”

Lawmakers in the Democratic-led impeachment process in the U.S. House of Representatives have not formally called Trump as a witness in the inquiry into whether he used foreign policy to try to get Ukraine to investigate domestic political opponent Joe Biden.

During former U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, Trump said he was willing to testify but ultimately gave only written answers. House Democrats said on Monday they are investigating whether those answers are untruthful, according to CNN.

Denying any wrongdoing, the Republican president has railed on Twitter and elsewhere against the impeachment inquiry and attacked witnesses by name.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said on Sunday in a CBS interview that Trump has every opportunity to present his case, including coming before intelligence committee hearings.

“Even though I did nothing wrong, and don’t like giving credibility to this No Due Process Hoax, I like the idea & will, in order to get Congress focused again, strongly consider it!” Trump said on Twitter.

At the heart of the inquiry is a July 25 phone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open a corruption investigation into former U.S. Vice President Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, and into a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 U.S. election.

The hearings could pave the way for the House to approve articles of impeachment – formal charges – against Trump. That would lead to a trial in the Senate on whether to convict Trump and remove him from office. Republicans control the Senate and have shown little support for Trump’s removal.

House Speaker Pelosi, in her interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” said: “The president could come right before the committee and speak all the truth that he wants if he wants to take the oath of office … or he can do it in writing. He has every opportunity to present his case.”

Trump’s written answers to federal investigators in the Mueller probe were under renewed scrutiny on Monday, CNN said. The House’s general counsel told a federal court in Washington that lawmakers were examining whether the answers were untruthful, the report said.

Last week, Trump’s former deputy campaign chairman, Rick Gates, testified in the trial of Trump ally Roger Stone that Trump’s 2016 campaign was keen to keep abreast of the release of emails by WikiLeaks website potentially damaging to the Republican’s opponent, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Gates’ testimony appeared to conflict with sworn written statements that Trump gave Mueller, CNN reported.

HEARINGS THIS WEEK

The public phase of hearings shifts into higher gear this week when a parade of officials will face questioning by Democratic lawmakers seeking details that could link Trump to a pressure campaign against Ukraine.

Eight more witnesses are due to testify in the second week of the televised hearings. They include Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, whose direct interactions with Trump are likely to be a main focus in the investigation of whether the president made security aid to Ukraine contingent on it agreeing to dig up dirt on Biden, who is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to take on Trump in 2020.

Several witnesses testified last week that they were alarmed over the pressure tactics used against Ukraine, as well as the role of Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

The latest round of hearings will stretch from Tuesday to Thursday before the House Intelligence Committee. Democrats are looking into whether Trump abused his power in part by withholding $391 million in aid to Ukraine as leverage to get Kiev to investigate Biden. The money, approved by the U.S. Congress to help U.S. ally Ukraine combat Russia-backed separatists, was later provided.

At the first impeachment hearing last Wednesday, Republicans repeatedly blasted Democrats for not calling an anonymous whistleblower to testify publicly or behind-closed doors. The whistleblower account of the July 25 call led to Democrats opening the inquiry.

“There’s one witness, one witness that they won’t bring in front of us, they won’t bring in front of the American people, and that’s the guy who started it all, the whistle-blower,” Republican Jim Jordan said on Nov. 13.

Democrat Peter Welch responded at the time, “I would be glad to have the person who started it all come in and testify. President Trump is welcome to take a seat right there.”

(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick, Patricia Zengerle; additional reporting by Karen Freifeld, Susan Cornwell, Susan Heavey and Sarah N. Lynch; Writing by Matt Spetalnick and Grant McCool; Editing by Alistair Bell)

U.S. House committee to kick off public impeachment hearings next week

U.S. House committee to kick off public impeachment hearings next week
By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee will kick off a series of public hearings in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump next week, the panel’s Democratic chairman said on Wednesday.

William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent will testify on Nov. 13, while former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch will appear on Nov. 15, Representative Adam Schiff, the committee’s chairman, said in a statement.

He said more details will be released in coming days.

All three diplomats have raised alarm bells about the release of U.S. security aid to Ukraine being made contingent on Kiev publicly declaring it would carry out politically motivated investigations that Trump, a Republican, had demanded.

Televised public hearings featuring U.S. officials testifying in Congress about alleged wrongdoing by Trump could crowd out other issues like the economy and immigration as voters turn their minds to the November 2020 election.

That might damage Trump, but some of his supporters say the impeachment drive could actually boost his re-election chances by showing him at loggerheads with Washington-based political foes.

Democrats had said they had enough material to move forward with public impeachment hearings, which would be a likely prelude to articles of impeachment – formal charges – against Trump being brought to a vote in the House.

If the House votes to approve the articles of impeachment, the Republican-controlled Senate would then hold a trial on whether to remove Trump from office.

Senate Republicans have so far shown little appetite for removing the president.

(Additional reporting by Humyera Pamuk and Richard Cowan in Washington and Catarina Demony in Lisbon; Writing by Susan Heavey and Paul Simao; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Alistair Bell)

 

Exclusive: U.S.-China trade deal signing could be delayed until December: U.S. source

Exclusive: U.S.-China trade deal signing could be delayed until December: U.S. source
By David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping to sign a long-awaited interim trade deal could be delayed until December as discussions continue over terms and venue, a senior official of the Trump administration told Reuters on Wednesday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was still possible the “Phase One” agreement aimed at ending a damaging trade war would not be reached, but a deal was more likely than not.

Dozens of venues have been suggested for the meeting, which had originally been scheduled to take place on the sidelines of a now-canceled mid-November summit of Asia-Pacific leaders in Chile, the official said.

They included sites in Europe and Asia, but the former was more likely, with Sweden and Switzerland among the possibilities. Iowa, which Trump has suggested, appeared to have been ruled out, the official said.

China’s latest push for more tariff rollbacks would be discussed, but was not expected to derail progress toward an interim deal.

The official said China was believed to see a quick deal as its best chance for favorable terms, given pressure Trump is facing from a congressional impeachment inquiry as he seeks re-election in 2020.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Nine Americans killed in Mexican ambush, Trump urges joint war on drug cartels

Nine Americans killed in Mexican ambush, Trump urges joint war on drug cartels
By Lizbeth Diaz

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Gunmen killed nine women and children in the bloodiest attack on Americans in Mexico for years, prompting U.S. President Donald Trump to offer to help the neighboring country wipe out drug cartels believed to be behind the ambush.

The nine people killed in Monday’s daytime attack at the border of Chihuahua and Sonora states belonged to the Mexican-American LeBaron, Langford, Miller and Johnson families, members of breakaway Mormon communities that settled in northern Mexico’s hills and plains decades ago.

A video posted on social media showed the charred and smoking remains of a vehicle riddled with bullet holes that was apparently carrying some of the victims on a dirt road when the attack occurred.

Christina Marie Langford Johnson and her daughter Faith Marie, part of a breakaway Mormon community who were attacked in Mexico, pose in an undated photo released by a family member November 5, 2019. Courtesy of Aaron Staddon via REUTERS

“This is for the record,” says a male voice speaking English in an American accent, off camera, choking with emotion.

“Nita and four of my grandchildren are burnt and shot up,” the man says, apparently referring to Rhonita LeBaron, one of the three women who died in the attack.

Reuters could not independently verify the video.

A relative, Julian LeBaron, called the incident a massacre and said some family members were burned alive.

In a text message to Reuters he wrote that four boys, two girls and three women were killed. Several children who fled the attack were lost for hours in the countryside before being found, he said.

He said it was unclear who carried out the attack.

“We don’t know why, though they had received indirect threats. We don’t know who did it,” he told Reuters.

Five wounded children were airlifted to a hospital in Tucson, Arizona, and a boy in critical condition was transferred to a Phoenix hospital, Lafe Langford, whose aunt and cousin were killed in the attack, said by phone from Louisiana.

Mexican Security Minister Alfonso Durazo said the nine, traveling in several SUVs, could have been victims of mistaken identity, given the high number of violent confrontations among warring drug gangs in the area.

But the LeBaron extended family has often been in conflict with drug traffickers in Chihuahua and other relatives of the victims said the killers surely knew who they were targeting.

“We’ve been here for more than 50 years. There’s no one who doesn’t know them. Whoever did this was aware. That’s the most terrifying,” Alex LeBaron, a relative, said in one of the villages inhabited by the extended family.

All of the dead were U.S. citizens, he told Reuters, and most also held dual citizenship with Mexico. They were attacked while driving on backroads in a convoy of cars containing the women along with 14 children, he said. Some were headed for Tucson airport to collect relatives.

State prosecutors in Sonora, where the dead were found in three separate locations, said ambushed family members had been planning to travel to the United States via Chihuahua.

The charred bodies of a woman and four children were found in a burnt Chevrolet Tahoe near the village of San Miguelito, while the corpses of a woman and two children were recovered in a white Suburban about 18 kilometers away, the statement said.

The body of the third woman was found about 15 meters (50 feet) from a Suburban near the Sonora-Chihuahua border.

Authorities are investigating whether a man arrested in Agua Prieta, Sonora with guns and ammunition could have been involved in the killings, prosecutors added.

The victims were members of the small community of La Mora, Sonora, set up decades ago by “pioneers” who broke away from the Mormon church, Langford said.

“They were targeted and they were killed on purpose,” said Langford, who grew up in La Mora and has a homestead there.

TIME TO ‘WAGE WAR’ -TRUMP

Trump has praised Lopez Obrador for combating cartel violence but said more needed to be done.

“This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth,” Trump said in a tweet reacting to the massacre.

Later, he and Lopez Obrador spoke by phone, with the U.S. president offering help to ensure the perpetrators face justice.

Prior to the call, Lopez Obrador rejected what he called any foreign government intervention.

Mexico has used its military in a war on drug cartels since 2006. Despite the arrest or killing of leading traffickers, the campaign has not succeeded in reducing drug violence and has led to more killings as criminal groups fight among themselves.

Falko Ernst, senior analyst for the International Crisis Group in Mexico, said Trump’s tweet suggests he may be gearing up to pressure Mexico over security, especially with his campaign under way for re-election in November 2020.

“If he throws in his whole leverage, as we’ve seen with migration, then there is very little the Mexican government can do to hold its ground,” Ernst said.

Northwestern Mexico has been home to small Mormon and Mormon-linked communities of U.S. origin since the late 19th century. The early Mormon settlers in Mexico fled the threat of arrest in the United States for practicing polygamy. The practice is observed by a shrinking number of Mormons in Mexico.

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz, Daina Beth Solomon and Andrew Hay; Additional reporting by Dave Graham, David Alire Garcia, Sharay Angulo, Adriana Barrera and Eric Beech; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Howard Goller and Gerry Doyle)

North Korea criticizes ‘hostile policy’ as U.S. diplomat visits South Korea

North Korea criticizes ‘hostile policy’ as U.S. diplomat visits South Korea
SEOUL (Reuters) – A U.S. report calling North Korea a sponsor of terrorism shows a “hostile policy” that prevents progress in denuclearization talks, the isolated nation said on Tuesday, as a senior U.S. diplomat was set to arrive in the neighboring South.

North Korea accused the United States of failing to show flexibility after a breakdown last month in the first talks between their officials since President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed in June to reopen negotiations.

“The channel of dialogue between the DPRK and the U.S. is more and more narrowing due to such attitude,” North Korean state news agency KCNA said, citing a Foreign Ministry official, and using the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

It said a U.S. State Department report on terrorism “proves once again” that U.S. rejection of North Korea indicated “a hostile policy”.

The agency was referring to “Country Reports on Terrorism 2018”, issued last week, which reaffirmed North Korea’s re-designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Tuesday’s statement came ahead of a visit to Seoul by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell, who is expected to discuss the stalled talks with North Korea, as well as the South’s decision to end an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan.

“I look forward to productive meetings with your government so we can reaffirm the security alliance as the cornerstone of the peace and security here in the region,” Stilwell told reporters late on Tuesday upon arrival at Incheon airport.

U.S. officials did not describe Stilwell’s agenda in detail, but said he would discuss the strength of the U.S.-South Korea alliance and cooperation across foreign policies.

Washington has urged South Korea to rethink a decision to end an intelligence-sharing agreement scrapped in an escalating political and economic dispute with Japan.

On Tuesday, Kim In-chul, a spokesman for South Korea’s Foreign Ministry, said there was no change in its stance not to renew the intelligence-sharing pact, however.

The top U.S. negotiator in defense cost-sharing talks with South Korea, James DeHart, was also set to arrive in Seoul on Tuesday, a South Korean Foreign Ministry official said.

In April, North Korean leader Kim said the country would give Washington until the end of the year to be “more flexible” in denuclearization talks, but state media have since given only vague warnings about what will happen if the deadline expires.

The United States and North Korea could hold another round of working-level talks as soon as mid-November, South Korean lawmaker Lee Eun-jae said on Monday after a briefing by Seoul’s National Intelligence Service.

(Reporting by Joyce Lee; additional reporting by Daewoung Kim and Chaeyoun Won; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien, Clarence Fernandez and Alison Williams)

Trump’s accounting firm must hand over eight years of tax returns, court rules

Trump’s accounting firm must hand over eight years of tax returns, court rules
By Brendan Pierson

NEW YORK (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s longtime accounting firm must hand over eight years of his tax returns to New York prosecutors, a U.S. appeals court ruled Monday in the latest setback for Trump in his tenacious efforts to keep his finances secret.

The ruling by a unanimous three-judge panel of the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals backed the ability of prosecutors to enforce a subpoena for the returns against accounting firm Mazars LLP. Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for Trump, said the Republican president will appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, whose 5-4 conservative majority includes two justices appointed by Trump.

The office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, a Democrat, is seeking the returns as part of a criminal investigation into Trump and his family real estate business. The scope of that probe is not publicly known.

The 2nd Circuit did not decide whether Trump is immune from being charged with a state crime while in office, as the president has argued. However, it found that even if he is, the immunity could not stop Vance from getting the returns from a third party, or from prosecuting him once he leaves office.

It would “exact a heavy toll on our criminal justice system to prohibit a state from even investigating potential crimes committed by him for potential later prosecution,” 2nd Circuit Chief Judge Robert Katzmann wrote in the ruling.

Vance’s office has agreed not to enforce the subpoena while Trump petitions the Supreme Court. Under the agreement, Trump has 10 business days to file the petition.

Trump, who built a real estate empire with his New York-based business before becoming president, separately faces an impeachment inquiry in the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives.

BREAKING TRADITION

Trump has refused to make his tax returns public, breaking with a decades-old tradition of U.S. presidential candidates releasing their returns during campaigns and presidents disclosing them while in office. More broadly, Trump has fought efforts by Democrats in Congress and others to obtain information about his finances and a range of other matters.

In a similar dispute, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in May refused to release Trump’s tax returns to a House committee, saying the request was not based on “a legitimate legislative purpose.” The House then sued the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service in July to try to get access to the tax records. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Oct. 11 ruled in favor of the House bid to obtain Trump’s financial records from Mazars.

In August, Vance subpoenaed Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns from 2011 to 2018, and other records from Mazars USA, the president’s longtime accounting firm. Trump sued Vance’s office in Manhattan federal court to try to block the subpoena, arguing that as a sitting president, he cannot be subject to criminal investigation.

On Oct. 7, U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero threw out Trump’s lawsuit, calling his claim of immunity “repugnant to the nation’s governmental structure and constitutional values.” The ruling prompted Trump’s appeal to the 2nd Circuit.

Arguing before the appeals court on Oct. 23, a lawyer for Trump made the claim of immunity more explicit, saying state authorities would be powerless to act against the president even if he shot someone on the street unless he were removed from office first.

Katzmann wrote in Monday’s order that the extent of the president’s immunity was irrelevant to the case.

“The subpoena at issue is directed not to the President, but to his accountants; compliance does not require the President to do anything at all,” Katzmann wrote.

Katzmann was appointed to the court by former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat. The other two judges on the panel, Christopher Droney and Denny Chin, both appointed by former President Barack Obama, Trump’s predecessor and also a Democrat.

A spokesman for Vance declined to comment on the ruling.

Trump filed his own lawsuit in July seeking to block the House Ways and Means Committee from invoking a New York law that allows it to request his state tax returns. That case remains pending.

The House impeachment inquiry focuses on the president’s request in a July phone call for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate a domestic political rival, Joe Biden, the former vice president and a top contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination to face Trump.

(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Will Dunham and Chizu Nomiyama)

Trump may read summary of Ukraine call in ‘fireside chat’: interview

Trump may read summary of Ukraine call in ‘fireside chat’: interview
By Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – “READ THE TRANSCRIPT!” U.S. President Donald Trump exhorts regularly on Twitter, referring to a telephone call with Ukraine’s president that led to an impeachment inquiry. Now he is threatening to do just that – on live television.

Trump told the Washington Examiner he would not cooperate with congressional impeachment proceedings and might read out loud a transcript of a July 25 call in which Trump asks President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate a domestic political rival.

“This is over a phone call that is a good call,” Trump told the Examiner in an interview. “At some point, I’m going to sit down, perhaps as a fireside chat on live television, and I will read the transcript of the call, because people have to hear it. When you read it, it’s a straight call.”

Trump’s reference to the fireside chat recalled the informal evening radio addresses President Franklin D. Roosevelt used to reassure Americans facing hardships during the Great Depression – a far cry from a U.S. president defending himself against impeachment.

The Trump administration in September released a detailed summary of the 30-minute call – not a precise transcript – based on notes taken by aides, as Democrats in the House of Representatives began looking into Trump’s call following a whistleblower complaint.

The House, which is controlled by Democrats, approved rules on Thursday for the next, more public, stage in the inquiry into the Republican president’s attempt to have Ukraine investigate a domestic political rival.

The inquiry centers on whether Trump solicited foreign interference and aid in a U.S. election, which federal law prohibits. Democrats are also investigating whether Trump withheld $391 million in American aid to vulnerable Ukraine, who faced a military threat from Russian-backed separatists, as leverage to get Zelenskiy to announce an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. [

Biden is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the November 2020 presidential election. Hunter Biden sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. There has been no evidence of wrongdoing on their part.

Current and former Trump administration officials have testified behind closed doors that the White House went outside normal diplomatic channels to pressure Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens.

Trump has insisted he did nothing wrong. He said his administration would continue to not honor document requests and subpoenas.

He told the Examiner he would fight back with a defense of the Ukraine call and use his well-honed art of the slogan, offering T-shirts emblazoned with “Read the transcript.”

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Trump impeachment effort passes first test in split U.S. Congress

Trump impeachment effort passes first test in split U.S. Congress
By Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A deeply divided U.S. House of Representatives took a major step in the effort to impeach President Donald Trump on Thursday when lawmakers approved rules for the next stage, including public hearings, in the Democratic-led inquiry into Trump’s attempt to have Ukraine investigate a domestic political rival.

In the first formal test of support for the impeachment investigation, the Democratic-controlled House voted almost entirely along party lines – 232 to 196 – to move the probe forward in Congress.

The vote demonstrated unity among Democrats who accuse Trump of abusing his office and jeopardizing national security for personal political gain. But they did not pick up a single Republican vote.

“It’s a sad day. No one comes to Congress to impeach a president,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said before the vote.

Televised public hearings featuring U.S. officials testifying in Congress about alleged wrongdoing by Trump could crowd out other issues like the economy and immigration as voters turn their minds to the November 2020 presidential election.

That might damage Trump but some of his supporters say the impeachment drive could actually boost his re-election chances by showing him at loggerheads with Washington-based political foes.

Republicans accused Democrats of using impeachment to overturn the results of his 2016 victory.

“The Greatest Witch Hunt In American History!” Trump wrote on Twitter after the vote.

The probe focuses on a July 25 telephone call in which Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymr Zelenskiy, to investigate Trump’s Democratic political rival Joe Biden, a former U.S. vice president, and his son Hunter, who had served as a director for Ukrainian energy company Burisma.

Biden is a leading candidate in the Democratic presidential nomination race to face Trump in the November 2020 election. He and his son have denied any wrongdoing.

Trump has also denied wrongdoing. Republicans have largely stuck by him, blasting the effort as a partisan exercise that has given them little input.

REPUBLICAN PUSHBACK

“The country next year will be deciding who our president is going to be. It should not be Nancy Pelosi and a small group of people that she selects that get to determine who is going to be our president,” said Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican.

Just two Democrats – Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey – voted against the measure. Both represent districts where Trump won in the 2016 election. Other Democrats from Trump-leaning districts, such as Jared Golden of Maine, voted yes.

If the House eventually votes to impeach Trump, that would set up a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate. Trump would not be removed from office unless votes to convict him by a two-thirds margin, something that looks unlikely as congressional Republicans have been reluctant to move against the president.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler declined say when public hearings would start but they are expected to begin in the next few weeks.

The U.S. Constitution gives the House broad authority to set ground rules for an impeachment inquiry and Democrats say they are following House rules on investigations. They have promised to hold public hearings on the case against Trump.

Lawmakers leading the inquiry heard closed-door testimony from Tim Morrison, the top Russia specialist on Trump’s National Security Council. Morrison resigned from his position on Wednesday, a senior administration official said.

Members of the three committees conducting the investigation expect Morrison to fill in more of the details about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. Morrison listened in on the July 25 phone call and said the call “could have been better,” according to acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor.

Committee members have asked a far more prominent player, former national security adviser John Bolton, to appear next week. Others have testified that Bolton was alarmed by a White House effort to pressure Zelenskiy. Bolton’s lawyer has said he was not willing to testify unless a subpoena is issued.

(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Daphne Psaledakis; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Alistair Bell)

Scrambling to limit damage, Trump tells Turkey to stop its Syria invasion

By Steve Holland and Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday demanded Turkey stop its military incursion in Syria and imposed new sanctions on the NATO ally as Trump scrambled to limit the damage from his much-criticized decision to clear U.S. troops from Turkey’s path.

Vice President Mike Pence said Trump had told Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call on Monday to agree to an immediate ceasefire. He also said he would travel to the region soon to try to mediate the crisis.

Pence said Trump had been firm with Erdogan on the phone.

“The United States of America simply is not going to tolerate Turkey’s invasion in Syria any further. We are calling on Turkey to stand down, end the violence and come to the negotiating table,” Pence told reporters.

Turkey launched a cross-border operation into northern Syria on Wednesday just days after Erdogan told Trump in a phone call that he planned to move ahead with a long-planned move against America’s Kurdish allies in the region.

Trump abruptly announced a redeployment of 50 American troops from the conflict zone to get them out of harm’s way, dismissing criticism that this would leave the Kurds open to attack. This was widely seen as giving Erdogan a green light for his operation.

With lawmakers in the U.S. Congress moving to impose sanctions of their own, Trump issued an executive order authorizing sanctions against current and former officials of the Turkish government for contributing to Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria.

In a statement, Trump said he had increased tariffs on imports of Turkish steel back up to 50 percent, six months after they were reduced, and would immediately stop negotiations on what he called a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey.

“Unfortunately, Turkey does not appear to be mitigating the humanitarian effects of its invasion,” said Trump.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the United States had imposed sanctions on Turkey’s ministers of defense, interior and energy, as well as their departments.

The scenes of carnage from Turkey’s assault have exposed Trump to harsh criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike for abandoning the Kurdish allies who were instrumental in the U.S. battle against Islamic State militants in Syria.

As Congress has vowed to act if he will not, Trump said Turkey’s action is precipitating a humanitarian crisis and “setting conditions for possible war crimes” but he made clear he had no plans to reverse his decision to withdraw.

“As I have said, I am withdrawing the remaining United States service members from northeast Syria,” said Trump.

U.S. troops coming out of Syria will stay in the region to monitor ISIS and a small footprint will remain at the Tanf base in southern Syria, he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican allied with Trump, expressed his displeasure with the president’s decision in a statement.

“Abandoning this fight now and withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria would recreate the very conditions that we have worked hard to destroy and invite the resurgence of ISIS,” he said.

A statement from Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic senators Robert Menendez and Jack Reed said the only person who is able to “immediately stop this tragedy unfolding is the president himself.”

“The first step when Congress returns to session this week is for Republicans to join with us in passing a resolution making clear that both parties are demanding the president’s decision be reversed,” they said.

Trump said his executive order would enable the United States to impose sanctions on those current or former Turkish officials who may be involved in human rights abuses. He said it will authorize sanctions such as blocking of property and barring entry into the United States.

Turkey’s lira, which had weakened some 0.8% in the day, reacted minimally to Trump’s announcement. It stood at 5.9300 at 2018 GMT, from 5.9260 beforehand.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Lisa Lambert, Eric Beech, Humeyra Pamuk, Patricia Zengerle and Jan Wolfe; Editing by Sandra Maler and Sonya Hepinstall)

Americans divided: Neighbors turn enemies over Trump in swing-vote Michigan suburbs

By Tim Reid

LIVONIA, Mich. (Reuters) – At first glance, Cavell Street in Livonia, Michigan, looks tranquil enough – until the subject of the Democratic-led impeachment probe of President Donald Trump comes up.

A kind of suburban trench warfare is simmering amid the small detached houses and neatly trimmed lawns where diehard Trump lovers live next to Trump haters, and both sides are dug in.

Tensions run so high that nobody on the street displays a political yard sign, says Josh Robinson, 35, a steelworker who voted for Trump in 2016.

“I’m sick and tired of the Democrats bitching and moaning,” Robinson says, noting that the impeachment probe of Trump makes him want to fight harder for the president.

A few doors up, sitting on her front step, Kristine Flaton says she cannot stand Trump. “I wish he’d been impeached a long time ago,” said the 39-year-old, who is currently unemployed.

Michigan is a crucial presidential battleground. Trump carried the state by less than 11,000 votes in 2016, an unexpected victory, which along with wins in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, propelled his ascent to the White House.

The precinct that includes Cavell Street in the city of Livonia, a suburb northwest of Detroit, split its votes 358-358 for Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, according to the non-partisan data organization OpenElections.

Fast-forward three years, there is little sign that either side has changed its mind about Trump.

If anything, attitudes appear to have been hardened by the House of Representatives’ decision to launch a formal impeachment inquiry three weeks ago after a whistleblower complaint that Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate 2020 Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden.

In interviews with nearly 50 voters in Livonia and in two other swing suburbs in Michigan, where the vote was also evenly split between Trump and Clinton in 2016, Reuters found only one person who had flipped: Charles Pettyplace, 34, from Livonia, who voted for the Republican but now regrets it.

The impeachment investigation “just adds to the turmoil around him. It’s not what his office should be,” Pettyplace said.

Recent national polls indicate rising support in favor of the impeachment investigation, with the latest Oct. 7-8 Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll showing that 45% of Americans wanted to impeach Trump, versus 39% who opposed it.

But the clean split over the issue in the Michigan suburbs suggests another close battle in the state in the November 2020 election.

Which side is more energized and turns out in greater force next year will decide the election, said Gary Jacobson, a political science professor at the University of California San Diego who has studied the partisan divides in U.S. politics.

“This election will come down to turnout. In 2020, both parties are in a huge battle to mobilize the base and I think we’ll see the highest turnout in 100 years. The impeachment will feed into that and further that,” Jacobson said.

SPLIT AND ANGRY

About 100 miles (160 km) north of Livonia, in Saginaw Township, Michigan, two precincts were split 876-876 and 765-764 between Trump and Clinton in 2016.

Three years later, voters seemed just as split, and angry.

Trump supporter Ray Kirby, 48, a chef taking a stroll along quiet residential Ann Street, says he was shocked to receive a totally split response when he recently sent a Facebook post supportive of the president.

“I’ve never seen that before. People either love him or hate him.”

Rob Grose, the manager of Saginaw Township, says many people in his town “have agreed to stop talking politics because of their opposing views, because they get into arguments.”

Hank Choate, a district chair of Michigan’s Republican Party and a member of its issues committee, expects the impeachment issue to cause huge voter turnout on both sides.

On one level, it helps his party to turn out more Republican votes, because Trump’s supporters are so energized. Yet he also worries that the same goes for the Democrats.

But the longer the inquiry goes on, the more alienated independent voters will become, predicts Choate, 69.

Politically independent Americans are nearly evenly split over what Congress should do about Trump, even as a majority of them disapprove of the president in general, according to the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll.

But Geoff Garin, a veteran Democratic pollster, said even the voters who do not necessarily support impeachment agree that Trump is a figure of chaos. He also believes that Trump’s support among Republicans is not as intense as Democratic voters’ support appears to be for his eventual opponent.

“There are a lot of people ambivalent about impeachment but nonetheless are disapproving of his conduct, which I expect is what will really matter electorally,” Garin said.

Sipping coffee at a cafe in Saginaw Township, Carlee Giordano, 23, says she is afraid of discussing her political views in such a charged environment.

“People are either diehard blue or diehard red and it’s starting to bleed into everything else,” said Giordano, who wrote her college thesis on “Toxic Masculinity” and wants to see Trump impeached. “Your political views are becoming a personality trait.”

(Reporting by Tim Reid; Additional reporting by Chris Khan in New York; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Peter Cooney)