Kelly to Bannon: You're fired

Reporting by John Roberts

In the early days of the administration Steve Bannon appeared untouchable--the campaign chairman turned top strategist who shared a virtual mind-meld with the president on populist ideology.

But today, the release from the White House:

“White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day. We are grateful for his service and wish him the best.”

The writing had been on the wall for weeks. President Trump is said to have grown frustrated at the reputation Bannon developed as the real power in the White House. A figure portrayed on late-night as a grim reaper/Darth Vader character who pulled the president’s strings.

But while President Trump had growing reservations about Bannon, it was the new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly who sealed the deal.

An administration source tells FOX News discussions about Bannon leaving have been in the works for almost since Kelly came on board.

At the presidents now infamous Trump Tower press conference on Tuesday, Bannon appeared to be on thin ice, with President Trump replying “we’ll see” when asked whether Bannon would remain in his position.

The next day, he gave a stunning interview to the left-wing American Prospect magazine in which he attacked his colleagues and contradicted the president’s North Korea policy. An administration official told FOX News the interview “didn’t help” Bannon’s case.

Bannon’s departure drew the expected reaction from the left. The environmental group Sierra Club wrote:

Good riddance to Steve Bannon, as his disgraceful brand of hate and vitriol deserves no place in the White House.”

Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin of New York on the other hand lauded Bannon’s expertise and smarts, saying “He’s someone that brought a lot of talent and wisdom. He understands world history like few others do in this country. So, he brought a lot of skills.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi welcomed Bannon’s departure using an opportunity to bash the president in a statement: “Personnel changes are worthless as long as President Trump continues to advance policies that disgrace our cherished American values.”

Controversy over the contraceptive mandate

Reporting by Garrett Tenney

More than three months after signing an executive order on religious freedom, the Trump administration is poised to roll-back one of the Affordable Care Act’s most controversial policies—the so-called contraception mandate.

Federal health officials are expected to issue new rules overturning the Obama-era requirement that forced most employers to provide birth control coverage to their workers, with no out-of-pocket costs.

According to a draft of the new regulation, not only will religiously affiliated hospitals, schools, and businesses be allowed to opt-out of providing contraception, but any employer with religious or moral objections will now be eligible for an exemption.

Evangelical Christians have been fighting that mandate in court for the last six years, arguing that providing some forms of contraception, such as the morning-after pill, was a violation of their religious beliefs, equating the drugs to a form of abortion.

“This is an issue of respecting religious freedom,” said Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. “This is the ability for people to enter into the marketplace, enter into public policy, enter into education or wherever they go and do so guided by their faith, not having to check faith at the door, not having to hide it.”

White the new regulation is still being finalized, several pro-choice groups are already preparing to challenge it in court.

“We’re all readying ourselves for a big fight on this,” said Kaylie Hanson-Long of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “This is something that we won’t back down from. It’s basic and lifesaving health care and we should do everything we can to make it more affordable and accessible for women.”

The Trump administration has labeled this regulation as an interim final rule, meaning it will take effect without any public comment, as soon as the final version is published. For now, the White House isn’t saying when that will be.

The Charlottesville effect

After deadly riots in Charlottesville, Lexington, KY Mayor Jim Gray tweeted about his plans to remove these two Confederate statues from downtown.

The mayor tells Fox News he defends the timing of this tweet which launched Lexington into the center of the controversial issue and grabbed the attention of white supremacy groups.

For two years Lexington city officials have discussed plans to remove the statues of John Breckenridge and General John Hunt Morgan from the old county courthouse, once home to one of the largest slave auction sites in the south.

At a meeting Tuesday, council members voted unanimously to move ahead with plans to relocate the statues.

Nearly all of the Lexington residents who spoke agree with the decision, but others worry extremist groups, like the Socialist Workers of America Party which organized in Charlottesville, are taking advantage of the statue discussion in Lexington.

In a radio interview, Kentucky Republican Governor Matt Bevin says racism is “disgusting” and “heartbreaking” but he disagrees with the mayor’s call to remove the statues, calling it“sanitation of history.”

Lexington’s chief of police says the department is partnering with federal agents like the FBI to ensure law enforcements greets any violent protestors.

In a statement today, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell said bigotry and hate of white supremacy groups is not welcome in Kentucky or America.

Leaders respond to President Trump's presser on Charlottesville

Reporting by Kevin Corke

After a wave of CEO’s resigned from his advisory councils following his response to the deadly rally in Charlottesville, President Trump reacted by abruptly dissolving the groups on Twitter.

“Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!”

A change in tone from yesterday when he tweeted that CEO’s dropping out were “grandstanders” and he had plenty of replacements.

Members had begun to distance themselves from the Trump White House because of his contention that “both sides” at the rally were to blame for the violence that ended with one woman being killed.

“You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent,” the president said. “Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now.”

Drawing parallel between the groups at the rally unleashed a torrent of political criticism across the aisle from former presidents and governors, to sitting U.S. senators in condemnation and pushing the president to take a tougher stance.

The president’s suggestion that the “alt-left” protestors were part of the problem in Charlottesville drew praise from former Klansman David Duke, who tweeted: “Thank you President Trump for your honesty and courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa.”

It’s the latest challenge for White House Chief of Staff John Kelly who stared at the floor as his boss launched into his stream of consciousness Tuesday—a stark contrast to his comments just the day before.

In a two pronged approach to manage the fallout, the White House today named longtime aide Hope Hicks interim communications director filling –for now—the post vacated by Anthony Scaramucci.

Fox News also obtained White House talking points about the president’s response to the rally which encouraged surrogates to say:

“The President was entirely correct. Both sides of the violence in Charlottesville acted inappropriately, and bear some responsibility. The President condemned—with no ambiguity—the hate groups fueled by bigotry and racism over the weekend, and did so by name yesterday, but for the media that will never be enough.”

Acknowledging that a similar rally is planned for Lexington, KY, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement today “there are no good neo-Nazis, and those who espouse their views are not supporters of American ideals and freedoms.”

A subtle shot across the bow perhaps at a president who has gone to great lengths to criticize him.

North Korea weapons capability

The already advanced timeline to address North Korea’s weapons capability is now even shorter.

North Korea is achieving weapons technology faster than previous estimates as the US intensifies its international campaign to counter Kim Jong-un’s regime.

According to an assessment of the Defense Intelligence Agency, North Korea now has a nuclear warhead small enough to fit in a missile.

The news prompted President Trump, speaking at an event on opioid addiction, to mirror recent North Korean rhetoric.

“He has been very threatening beyond a normal state, and as I said they will be met with the fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in Asia, already pressing allies and adversaries to enforce sanctions against North Korea, isolate it and constrict its resources.

Analysts claim North Korea’s recent missile launches show it’s missiles can reach the Unilted States. The regime would still need to successfully mount a nuclear warhead to an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) and demonstrate it could hit a target.

The United Nations Security Council has approved stricter sanctions against North Korea. China joined more than a dozen nations in unanimously voting for the additional measures.

“I think China feels this,” said Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. “I mean when I talk to the Chinese ambassador, when the missile test took off, they felt it in China. It was so close to their border and the ground shook.”

China has failed to fully enforce previous sanctions. It accounts for 90% of Norkt Korea’s trade, thoug the administration sees China slowly shifting to address its aggression while the U.S. argues North Korea’s behavior is also a threat to China’s economic plans and prosperity.

In response to the latest round of U.N. Security Council Sanctions, North Korea says of the U.S. and its allies that they are “packs of wolves coming in attack to strangle a nation and that physical action will be taken mercilessly with the mobilization of all its national strength.”

US spy satellites detect North Korea moving anti-ship cruise missiles to patrol boat

Reporting by Lucas Tomlinson

Despite Secretary of State Tillerson's insistence that North Korea halt its missile tests, days ago, US spy agencies detected the rogue communist regime loading two anti-ship cruise missiles on a patrol boat on the country’s east coast. It's the first time these missiles have been deployed on this platform since 2014, US officials tell Fox News.

It also points to more evidence that North Korea isn't listening to the diplomatic threats from the West.

“The best signal that North Korea could give us that they're prepared to talk would be to stop these missile launches,” said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Manila Monday.

North Korea loaded two Stormpetrel anti-ship cruise missiles on a Wonsan guided-missile patrol boat at Toejo Dong on North Korea’s east coast. It was the first time these anti-ship cruise missiles have been loaded on this type of platform since 2014, US officials with knowledge of the latest intelligence in the region tell Fox News.

“North Korea is not showing any evidence it plans to halt its missile tests,” said one official who requested animosity to discuss sensitive information.  “It's a trend that does not bode well for hopes of de-escalating tensions on the [Korean] peninsula.” 

The latest moves by Pyongyang point to a likely missile test in the days ahead or it could be a defense measure should the U.S. Navy dispatch more warships to the Korean peninsula, officials said.   

President Trump voiced his displeasure about the coverage of the unanimous UN Security Council vote over the weekend to sanction Pyongyang. 

Donald J. Trump‏Verified account @realDonaldTrump  

The Fake News Media will not talk about the importance of the United Nations Security Council's 15-0 vote in favor of sanctions on N. Korea!

With all eyes on North Korea, China quietly tests missiles over weekend, US officials tell Fox

By Lucas Tomlinson

As the world reacted to North Korea’s record-setting long-range missile test Friday, one day later and hundreds of miles away, China quietly performed a dramatic series of missile tests of its own, designed U.S. officials say, to send a message to the United States and the world.

On Saturday, U.S. spy agencies detected the Chinese military launching a series of 20 missiles at mock up targets designed to look like American THAAD missile batteries and advanced US Air Force F-22 stealth fighter jets.

China has long protested the deployment of U.S. THAAD anti-ballistic missiles to South Korea, and doubled down on its condemnation after the government in Seoul said they want four more American launchers over the weekend following North Korea’s second KN-20 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch.

Officials believe the Chinese military tested intermediate, medium and cruise missiles and were also meant to coincide with China’s Army Day celebrations on August 1st, when China staged a massive military parade involving 12,000 troops in the desert along with dozens of tanks, jets and missiles.  Chinese state media said it was the first time China ever celebrated Army Day with a parade, attended by China’s President Xi Jinping and Beijing’s military chief.

China currently has as many destroyers, crusiers and submarines as the U.S. Navy.  Beijing recently put a new type of destroyer in the water which analysts say rivals advanced American Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.

Days before the China missile tests Saturday, U.S. military satellites also detected a failed attempt of China’s anti-ballistic missile system—Beijing’s version of the US THAAD system

At the State Department Tuesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters the United States and China are at a “pivot point” in history.

Tillerson acknowledged differences between super powers over North Korea and Beijing’s continued island construction of military bases in the South China Sea.

“We will deal with those differences in a way that does not lead to open conflict,” Tillerson vowed.

China's U.N. envoy said this week said it’s up to the United States and North Korea, not Beijing, to reduce tensions and work toward resuming talks to end Pyongyang's nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile programs.

Tillerson said yesterday “at some point” he would be open for talks with North Korea.

One day after North Korea’s record-setting intercontinental ballistic missile launch, President Trump tweeted that he was “very disappointed” in China for doing “nothing” to stop North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs.

FOX News Exclusive: Security risks identified in Defense Department program

Reporting by James Rosen

Since 2009, the Defense Department has enrolled more than 10,000 foreign-born individuals into the U.S. Armed Forces under a program called “Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest,” or MAVNI.

In exchange for service, the foreigners, selected for language and other needed skills, can receive an expedited path to U.S. citizenship.

Among the program’s success stories is the Army’s soldier of the year in 2012, Sgt. Saral Shrestha of Nepal.

But lawmakers on three committees tell FOX news MAVNI has “big problems,” and that its ranks have been, quote, “compromised” due to inadequate vetting, and that some MAVNI enrollees are now unaccounted for.

“The lack of discipline in implementation of this program has created problems elsewhere,” said Republican Congressman Steve Russell of Oklahoma, a retired Army officer who first sounded the alarm a month ago.

FOX News has confirmed exclusively that the Pentagon Inspector General has investigated the program and issued a report—its contents still classified—evaluating the services’ compliance with security reviews for, and monitoring of, MAVNI enrollees.

“The Department of Defense is conducting a review of the MAVNI pilot program due to potential security risks associated with the program,” a spokesman told FOX.

But the Pentagon cited “pending litigation” for saying nothing more.

A lawsuit was filed in February against Defense Secretary James Mattis, in which seven MAVNI enrollees, all naturalized U.S. citizens, alleged their careers were “crippled” after DOD began restricting access to security clearances issued under MAVNI last fall.

One lawmaker told FOX News that a backlog of cases led to applicants being enrolled in the armed forces before full clearance checks had been completed. Another problem was the use of MAVNI to hire workers, like cooks, drivers and mechanics, who did not possess the specialized skills MAVNI was created to exploit. 

Russia retaliates

Reporting by Amy Kellogg

Russia is retaliating and as a result hundreds of American diplomats will have to pack their bags and leave the country by September first.

Staff at the US Embassy and consulates will now be capped at 455 people, the same number Russia has in the United States, and the Serebryanni Bor compound where Americans working in Russia would vacation will be off limits as of next week. Storage facilities used by the American Embassy in Moscow will also be closed in a matter of days.

The US Ambassador has expressed “strong disappointment and protest.”

The moves from Moscow signal payback for the new sanctions passed by Congress this week. Russian President Vladimir Putin said enough is enough.

“It is impossible to endlessly endure boorish behavior toward our country.”

A key aspect of the new legislation is congressional control. It removes the president’s authority to remove any sanctions without the blessing of Congress.

In addition, the bill puts new restrictions on a wide range of entities from weapons suppliers to corrupt individuals and it punishes Russia for meddling in the 2016 presidential campaigns.

The sanctions bill had overwhelming bipartisan support.

“It sends a message to him and the rest of the world,” said Senator Chuck Schumer. Any further attempts to degrade our democracy will meet further sanctions and action. We will not stand by idly as this is done. There is no process that is more sacred.”

President Obama seized two Russian diplomatic properties in the US last December and expelled 35 diplomats. President Putin did not respond at the time. Analysts say the Kremlin was banking on better relations with incoming President Trump and didn’t want to rock the boat.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did speak with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov who said the Russian movers were not an eye for an eye but a forced step. That said, Lavrov claims Russia is still ready to normalize relations.

American allies join adversaries in criticizing U.S. sanctions bills

Reporting by Rich Edson

American allies are joining U.S. adversaries in criticizing sanctions bills the House and Senate have passed targeting Iran, North Korea and Russia.

The sanctions towards Russia target its oil and gas sector. European companies conduct business with Russian firms and these sanctions could expose them to penalties. The European Union is considering retaliating against the U.S.

Statement from the French Foreign Ministry:

“…the extraterritorial scope of this text appears to be unlawful under international law.”

The German government demands the U.S. coordinate with its European allies with German Foreign Office Spokesman Martin Schaeffer saying, “The United States does not have the right to sit in judgement on European companies, and to tell them how to do business with a third country, in this case with Russian energy providers, on a contractual or other level.”

The bills also limit the president’s authority to ease sanctions against Russians and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has argued that limits his flexibility in negotiating with the Russian Government.

The White House remains noncommittal on the bills the House and Senate have already passed.

There’s a possibility that more changes take place and so we’re going to see what that looks like before we make a final decision,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “The President and the entire administration as we’ve said many times before strongly support sanctions against Russia, Iran, and North Korea.”

The U.S. is relying more on sanctions to address adversaries’ aggressive behavior, as two senior U.S. officials say the intelligence community believes North Korea continues its ballistic missile program and Iran is poised to launch another rocket.

Congress is still considering these sanctions and the House passed a version this week that is different from the bill the Senate approved. Congressional leaders, with wide support in both parties, will have to work out those differences before sending a bill to the White House.

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