Pentagon: US pulls back from watching ISIS convoy at request of Russians

Reporting by Lucas Tomlinson

The US military has pulled back its surveillance aircraft that had been watching an 11-bus ISIS convoy filled with hundreds of militants  including some of their family members at a request of the Russian government.

The ISIS convoy was given safe passage over 10 days ago to travel from the Lebanon-Syria border across the Syrian desert to the Iraqi border in a deal struck between Syria and Hezbollah, which angered the U.S. military.

Since the convoy departed, U.S. drones have picked off ISIS fighters when they left the convoy to relieve themselves, according to U.S. officials.

“We were able to exploit it and take advantage,” said Army Col. Ryan Dillon, a U.S. coalition spokesman Thursday during a press conference from Baghdad. 

The Russian military requested U.S. drones depart the area through the “de-confliction” line as Russian-backed Syrian forces battle to recapture the ISIS-held city of Deir ez-Zor located in eastern Syria.

The U.S. official was confident the U.S. military would pick up surveillance of the ISIS fighters in the future and said they would not threaten US military forces located in other parts of Syria.

A U.S. Army general said he would hold the Assad regime in Syria responsible for dealing with the convoy.

"The regime's advance past the convoy underlines continued Syrian responsibility for the buses and terrorists. As always, we will do our utmost to ensure that the ISIS terrorists do not move toward the border of our Iraqi partners," said Brig. Gen. Jon Braga, director of operations for the coalition.

A week ago the outgoing top U.S. commander in Iraq suggested he had no intention of letting this convoy make it across the desert.

“When ISIS came out to link up with them, we started striking ISIS, said Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend. “We have struck every ISIS fighter and/or vehicle that has tried to approach that convoy, and that -- will continue to do that.”

Townsend said the U.S. coalition did not target any civilians in the convoy, but now that there is no surveillance on the convoy there is no stopping the convoy from moving again.

President Trump reaches across the aisle

Reporting by John Roberts

In the Oval Office today, meeting with the Emir of Kuwait, President Trump reassured people in the path of Irma that while it has been strained to the max, the federal government is on the job.

“We’ve never had a thing like this where you get hit with Harvey which was about as bad as it gets, and then you get hit with Irma,” the president said. “ I think FEMA’s been—I don’t think anybody has done anything like they’ve done at FEMA, and they have done a really good job.”

The president also weighed in on the surprise deal he cut with Senator Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi yesterday, indicating that there may be more such deals ahead.

“The people of the United States want to see it coming together. At least to an extent,” Mr. Trump said. We’re different parties and we have different thoughts, different feelings, and different ideas. But I think you’re going to see a much stronger coming together.”

Already, President Trump is in preliminary discussions with the democratic leadership on how to do away with the need for repeated measures to raise the debt ceiling.

And a tweet President Trump sent out this morning telling DACA recipients: “For all of those that are concerned about your stats during the 6 month period, you have nothing to worry about—No action!”

The tweet was prompted by a morning phone call with Leader Pelosi: “When he called this morning, I said, thanks for calling. This is what we need; the people really need a reassurance from you, Mr. President, that the 6 month period is not a period of roundup.

Republicans who were blindsided by what President Trump did on the debt ceiling and government funding yesterday were left to put their best spin on it this morning.

Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters, “The president made it really clear, and what he was aiming for in that meeting yesterday was a bi-partisan moment, while the country is facing two horrible hurricanes.”

Sources tell FOX News the president went into the meeting with the intention of clearing the decks on the knotty issue of debt ceiling and government funding so congress could stay focused on tax reform.

Sources also say the president grew weary of the dithering that was consuming the meeting. When the two sides appeared to hit a stalemate, agreeing to disagree, President Trump jumped in to close the deal he could get—if not the one he wanted.

The move shocked the Republican leadership, angered many conservatives, and produced a remarkable photo of the president and Senator Chuck Schumer locked in a partial embrace—but it appears to have the intended effect.

“This is our number one priority this fall,” said Speaker Ryan. “As you may have heard me say earlier, we want Americans to begin the new year with a new tax system.”

 

Senator Bob Menendez on trial for bribery

Reporting by David Lee Miller

New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, on trial from bribery, was on the verge of tears as he proclaimed his innocence outside a federal court in Newark today.

“I appreciate my family, my son and daughter, for being here today and appreciate all my supporters.”

Menendez faces a dozen criminal charges. He is accused of accepting more than $700,000 in campaign related cash and thousands of dollars in free hotel rooms and air travel from a longtime friend, Dr. Solomon Melgen.

During opening statements the prosecution told the jury that as part of the bribery scheme Menendez sent the doctor an email asking him to provide a $1,500 a night Paris hotel room with a limestone bath and a view of the courtyard.

Prosecutors say Menendez in exchange helped the doctor in multi-million dollar business deals and allegedly tried to get visas for the doctors foreign girlfriends.

Both Melgen, who has a previous conviction for Medicare fraud, and Menendez are on trial, but there is more at stake. The trial could change the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.

The judge rejected a motion by Menendez to change the trial schedule to allow him to attend crucial votes such as healthcare.

In a testy exchange today, Menendez’s attorney accused the judge of disparaging the defense in his written opinion. At one point the judge told Menendez’s lawyer “shut up for a moment, if you don’t mind.”

Menendez says he will exercise his constitutional right to attend trial, but acknowledged the conflict he faces if Democrats need his vote in the senate.

“When conflict exists, the clash between those constitutional rights, I will make a decision based upon the gravity of the situation and the difference that my vote would make.”

During his opening statement Menendez‘s lawyer told jurors “a single word can cut through a mountain of evidence.” That word—friendship. The defense says this isn’t a case of bribery, just one friend helping another out.

The trial is expected to last six weeks.

U.S. settles suit over Trump travel ban

Reporting by Rich Edson

Hameed Khalid Darweesh is an Iraqi immigrant who worked with the U.S. military. In January, he was detained in New York—a result of the Trump administration’s first travel ban.

Under his settlement with the administration, the government must notify those wrongly blocked from entering the United States in January and help them reapply for U.S. visas.

A Justice Department spokeswoman tells FOX news: “Although this case has been moot since March, when the president rescinded the original executive order and issued a new one that does not restrict the entry of Iraqi nationals, the U.S. government has elected to settle this case on favorable terms.”

Department officials say the decision affects fewer than 20 people and that they had the right prior to this settlement to reapply for a visa.

The next and ultimate legal destination for the president’s travel ban is the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Trump administration unveiled its first travel ban in January barring citizens from entering Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the U.S. All are Muslim-majority countries.

The next day, a federal judge in New York blocked some of the order. Days later a U.S. district judge in Seattle halted the immigration ban nationwide.

A month later, the Trump administration issued a new, more limited order.

The following week, a federal judge in Hawaii blocked that executive order and in June, the Supreme Court reinstated some of it while it considers the issue.

Supreme Court oral arguments are scheduled for next month. Justices will consider how much power a president has over immigration, national security concerns and any role religion may have played in the order.

Harvey cleanup: Only 1 in 6 have flood insurance

Reporting by Mike Emanuel

The grim reality is many of Hurricane Harvey’s storm victims do not have flood insurance and soon they must decide if they’ll try to rebuild, or if it’s time to go elsewhere.

FEMA is trying to point all displaced families in the right direction, advising those with insurance to activate their national flood insurance policies, but for those without the Small Business Administration offers loans to homeowners and renters with 1.75% interest rate--more affordable than banks or credit cards.

For many, that loan would be on top of a mortgage, which may be difficult for many residents to juggle.

For those with insurance, people who default with rebuilding after Superstorm Sandy in New York and New Jersey warn it has been a very frustrating process.

“It’s a nightmare,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said during a recent interview. “And it’s one of the worst run programs in America, the National Flood Insurance Program.”

That flood insurance program is $25 billion in debt after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Sandy in 2012. It has less than $2 billion cash on hand with only $6 billion in borrowing capacity as it prepares for Hurricane Harvey recovery.

Congress must act to reauthorize it by October 1st, and some lawmakers are saying it’s time to fix flood insurance by creating a reserve fund for these kinds of disasters.

“We should look over the horizon and say how do you make this program work,” said Congressman Sean Duffy (R-WI). “We have properties that will flood multiple times, and when your property floods, you get mold in your house, let’s help people get out of those homes and into a different house that is actually safe and secure for them.”

Republican congressional leaders are considering putting some Harvey relief, government funding, and the debt ceiling all in one package.

“We obviously have now the hurricane spending which is an issue so that’s going to have some impact on our September spending but more importantly, we’re going have to go to Congress to get authorization to spend more,” said Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

In Texas this week, President Trump expressed a sense of urgency, saying “There’s never been anything so historic in terms of damage and in terms of ferocity as what we’ve witnessed with Harvey.”

There are only 12 legislative days in September that the House and Senate are both due to be in session so that would suggest a mega bill would seem likely. Plus, the Harvey components would make it much more difficult for lawmakers to vote no.

Trump heads to Missouri to push tax reform

Reporting by John Roberts

As the president kicked off his campaign for tax reform in Springfield, MO, a new FOX News poll finds his approval rating at just 41%. That’s down 4 points from April. 55% disapprove –a 7 point rise since April and a record high.

56% of registered voters think President Trump is tearing the nation apart vs 33% who believe he is drawing the country together.

His highest marks were on his handling of the economy with 49% giving him a thumbs up.

The president’s speech in Missouri was all about why tax reform is important to the economy, now how plans to do it, with a particular focus on the people who put him into the Oval Office—middle income Americans.

“We believe that ordinary Americans know better than Washington how to spend their money and we want to help them take home as much of their money as possible and then spend it,” the president told the crowd.

His speech set the table for meetings at the White House text week.

Tuesday, the president will strategize with the so called “big 6” on tax reform—Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Orrin Hatch, Kevin Brady, Stephen Mnuchin, and Gary Cohn.

Wednesday, he’ll meet with the bipartisan congressional leadership. Tax reform is not officially on the agenda, but likely to come up.

After the repeal of Obamacare fell flat, the president laid down a stern marker to his colleagues on Capitol Hill.

“I am fully committed to working with Congress to get this job done and I don’t want to be disappointed by Congress. Do you understand me?”

And he took specific aim at Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill who is up for re-election next year.

“She must do this for you and if she doesn’t do it for you, you must vote her out of office!”

President Trump also appeared to take notice of criticisms about his visit to Texas yesterday and his fire station address to people in Corpus Christi. Several publicans said the president’s tone lacked empathy and was more akin to that of a political rally.

At the top of his Missouri speech the president did reach out to victims of Harvey, saying “to those affected by the storm, we are praying for you and we are here for you every single step of the way.”

The president’s response so far to hurricane Harvey received middling marks. 44% of registered voters said they approve. Just 26% say they disapprove while 30% said they were unsure. With so much yet uncertain in the aftermath of Harvey a lot of folks have yet to make up their minds.

Staff changes at the White House

Reporting by James Rosen

With the firing on Friday of Sebastian Gorka, the Trump White House lost its last prominent foreign policy hard liner.

The author of a well-regarded history of Jihad, Gorka lost key backers when Mike Flynn and Steve Bannon were each sent packing, and sometimes failed, in his frequent TV appearances, to help his own cause.

In his resignation letter, Gorka noted the absence of the term “radical Islam” from the commander-in-chief’s recent Afghanistan address, and lamented: “A crucial element of the presidential campaign has been lost.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace “I think he’s completely wrong, Chris. And I think it shows a lack of understanding of the president’s broader policy…”

In the same appearance, Tillerson was only slightly less direct in declining to endorse President Trump’s post-Charlottesville rhetoric, saying the president “speaks for himself” when asked about his values.

On numerous issues, including trade policy, the president maintains his own hard line.

Reporter Jonathan Swan of Axios published a story Sunday, “undisputed by the White House,” he noted, recounting a scene from the first week of August in which the president told advisers in the oval office” “for the last six months, this same group of geniuses comes in here all the time and I tell them, ‘tariffs. I want tariffs. And what do they do?  They bring me IP,” meaning measures to curb Chinese theft of intellectual property.

“So, John [the president reportedly told his new Chief of Staff, General Kelly], I want you to know, this is my view. I want tariffs. And I want someone to bring me some tariffs.”

Swan added that top economic adviser Gary Cohn, who opposes tariffs and the protectionist trade measures pushed by the “Bannonites,” had his shoulders slumped and was clearly appalled by the situation.

Flooding in Houston

Reporting by Trace Gallagher

The numbers are unimaginable in their scope.

In Texas Alone up to 50 counties are being told to expect up to 50 inches of rain by Thursday. Two feed has fallen in the Houston area since the weekend.

In all, Harvey has so far produced nine trillion gallons of water.

With the catastrophic flooding and mandatory evacuations officials in Houston say the situation remains “very dangerous” as they prioritize rescue.

56,000 9-1-1 calls have been reported in the nation’s fourth largest city, overwhelming the system, with at least 2,000 residents evacuated so far by air and boat. Thousands more forces to seek a dry escape.

“It was just so real,” said one Houston resident. “We had to bust a window when they told us that the current was getting high. We had to bust a window to get out.”

Federal officials say at least 30,000 people are staying in temporary shelters and as many as 30,000 more may need a place to stay. Many facilities in Houston could soon approach capacity.

“I plan on staying here for the time they let us stay here,” said Houston resident Miranda Nowell. “Four or five days until the rain stops and then go home.”

To protect the city center long term, two area reservoirs released more water, adding to the short term concern. And adding to the chaos, a sad reality, with the rain often come looters.

“We’ve had four people that tried to loot and they were arrested,” said Chief Art Acevedo of the Houston Police Department. “After these events, frequently especially nce the natural disaster piece of it, where there are active floods going on, folks move in from around other states and even other cities and other regions to come in and loot and create problems.”

It’s a scene played out across Texas in communities’ big and small—stranded residents on roofs, cars and even in trees.

Admiral Paul Zukunft, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard tells Fox News they have “multiple flight crews” and have “thrown ever Coast Guard asset available” at the response, but there are conditions still where it is just not safe to fly.

With some coastal areas like Corpus Christi just beginning the massive cleanup officials estimate 450,000 people may require federal disaster assistance.

National Guard and citizen volunteers continue patrolling flooded-out streets and neighborhoods.

New Details: Manafort raid

Reporting by Catherine Herridge

The FBI’s July raid on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s Virginia home lasted 10 hours and involved a dozen federal agents, according to a source close to the investigation who described the raid as heavy-handed and designed to intimidate.

The source—whose account was backed up by a second individual not authorized to speak on the record—said both Manafort and his wife were asleep when armed FBI agents entered the Alexandria, VA condo, without warning at about 6 o’clock in the morning, concluding the search by late afternoon.

FOX News is told that agents copied his electronics through a process known in law enforcement circles as “mirroring” and agents collected records, including several documents marked “attorney-client” that included privileged material to prepare Manafort for congressional testimony.

The FBI raid came the same week Manafort appeared before two senate committees, providing documents on a voluntary basis. A spokesman for Special Counsel Robert Mueller declined to comment. A former Justice Department official pointed to the timing’s significance, saying: “The timing of all this is unusual because ordinarily if you are in the process of testifying before Congress and turning dogs over to Congress you would think the prosecutors might say, well this person is cooperating and there is no need for us to go in and get a search warrant. The fact that Mueller, nonetheless, went in, got a search warrant, and raided his home, suggests that there is something else going on here.”

 In a separate development, congressional investigators are reviewing a campaign email sent bu Rick Dearborn, now the president’s deputy chief of staff. A source tells FOX that Dearborn got an offer to set up a meeting between top Trump campaign officials and the Russian President. Dearborn was skeptical, but still forwarded the email, ultimately refusing the offer.

And on this week’s closed door testimony about the unverified Trump dossier, at least one Senator, Democrat Richard Blumenthal, wants the transcript public.

McConnell v. Trump

Reporting by James Rosen

House Speaker Paul Ryan rejected President Trump’s pledge to shut down the federal government if congressional Democrats block funding for the border wall the chief executive has vowed to build.

“I don’t think a government shutdown is necessary and I don’t think most people want to see a government shutdown, ourselves included,” Ryan told reporters.

At Tuesday night’s boisterous rally in Phoenix, the president said immigration control was, quote, “one of the reasons I’m here.”

Also in Phoenix, the president urged a drastic change to parliamentary protocol—one that GOP leaders have termed unnecessary.

“We have to get rid of what’s called the filibuster rule; we have to. And if we don’t, the Republicans will never get anything passed. You’re wasting your time,” the president told the crowd.

Such comments stand only to deepen tensions between a non-ideological president and party stalwarts anxiously eyeing the 2018 midterm elections.

Indeed, the New York Times reports Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, believing the Trump presidency effectively doomed, has not spoken to the president since an angry August 9th phone call in which both men vented frustrations they have also aired, in more measured tones, publicly.

McConnell: “Our new president has, of course, not been in this line of work before, and I think had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the Democratic process.”

Trump: “I said, Mitch, get to work and let’s get it done. They should have had this last one done. They lost by one vote. For a think like that to happen is a disgrace.”

Last Wednesday, McConnell issued a statement saying he and the president share an agenda focused on tax reform and infrastructure, adding, with respect to the Times report…”Anyine who suggests otherwise is clearly not a part of the conversation.”

No figure stands more precariously between the two feuding titans than Senator McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, who is also President Trump’s transportation secretary, and who told the Times with characteristic delicacy, “ I stand by my man—both of them.”

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