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March 5, 2019, 5:33 PM GMT
By Courtney Kube
WASHINGTON — Two months after declaring all U.S. troops are leaving Syria, President Donald Trump wrote to members of Congress that he now agrees "100%" with keeping a military presence in Syria.
A bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives wrote to Trump on Feb. 22, applauding his decision to keep a small residual force in Syria.
"We support a small American stabilizing force in Syria," the group wrote, adding that a force "which includes a small contingent of American troops and ground forces from our European allies, is essential to ensure stability and prevent the return of ISIS."
In a copy of the letter obtained by NBC News, President Trump highlighted a paragraph in the letter about the U.S. goals in Syria, which said, "Like you, we seek to ensure that all of the gains made in Syria are not lost, that ISIS never returns, that Iran is not emboldened, and that we consolidate our gains and ensure the best outcome in Geneva for American interests."
"I agree 100%. ALL is being done," President Trump responded, writing directly on the letter and signing it.
Click here to read the letter
Since before he took office, Trump has promised to end the fight against the Islamic State, criticizing the cost to the U.S. in both blood and treasure. In a video message on Twitter posted Dec. 19, 2018, the President said, "Our boys, our young women, our men, they're all coming back and they're coming back now. We won."
The Syrian Democratic Forces continue to battle ISIS in the small area of land they still control in the Middle Euphrates River Valley in Syria. U.S. military officials say the battle to re-take the final part of the town of Baghuz still held by ISIS has been slowed by the exodus of thousands of civilians and the terror group's use of some women and children as human shields.
Late last month, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed that some U.S. troops will stay in Syria after the SDF finish clearing out Baghuz.
"A small peace keeping group of about 200 will remain in Syria for period of time," Sanders said in a one-sentence statement. U.S. military officials have since confirmed the residual force could be double that and that some U.S. troops could stay in the northeastern part of the country, and others in southern Syria.
Courtney Kube is a national security and military reporter for NBC News.
President Trump And Xi Jinping Are Close To Signing A Deal But Trade War Isn't Over
(Bloomberg) — The world’s two largest economies are nearing the finish line on a trade deal that could be signed by President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping as early as this month. But that doesn’t mean the trade war ends.
More work remains on a deal that will ensure that Beijing will follow through on its commitments, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told Congress last week. Days later, Trump warned he can still walk out on China like he did with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at their summit over a nuclear deal in Vietnam.
There was a sign of de-escalation on Tuesday, when the U.S. confirmed it’s postponing “until further notice” a scheduled tariff increase on Chinese goods. It had been set to take effect March 1, but now the rate will remain at 10 percent, according to a statement from the U.S. Trade Representative’s office.
Here’s the latest on where the U.S.-China trade negotiations stand.
China wants Trump to remove tariffs that he imposed last year on $200 billion of Chinese goods, but it’s not yet clear if the president will roll back some or all of the duties. (The U.S. duties on $200 billion of Chinese imports come on top of a first round on $50 billion of goods, which Beijing will also wants to see eliminated.)
There are competing forces inside the Trump administration that are debating how wise it would be to lift the duties on the first day of a deal because keeping some of the tariffs in place would allow the U.S. to maintain leverage.
Some advisers argue that the tariffs should only be fully removed once China lives up to all of its pledges, which could take months or even years. Even if some or most tariffs are removed at the outset they could come back as part of the enforcement mechanism, to punish China if it breaks the terms of any trade deal, Lighthizer said last week.
Still, the U.S. president has repeatedly delayed implementing higher duties on goods to give the two sides more time to strike a broad deal.
Lighthizer has said the two countries plan to set up a system that requires regular consultations at various levels of the U.S. and Chinese governments to address irritants. If talking doesn’t yield progress, Lighthizer said the U.S. will respond with ”proportional” and ”unilateral” action, likely referring to tariffs.
On its face, the mechanism looks similar to previous negotiating efforts the U.S. and China used to discuss trade issues — and that the Trump administration said it would abandon because they haven’t been successful in getting Beijing to make the required changes to its trade policies. China hawks have already picked up on that, which could make it even harder to sell the agreement to a skeptical audience that’s expecting a different result from this White House than what previous administrations got in years of failed economic dialogues.
Trump’s team is asking China to give up its right to retaliate should the U.S. take action unilaterally. The U.S. also wants China to refrain from bringing any challenges at the World Trade Organization. It’s not clear if Beijing has agreed to that plan yet and what, if any, changes it is asking for.
While Lighthizer has emphasized that he’s seeking a deal that’s more than what he dubbed a “soybean solution,” significant amounts of purchases are on the table in the talks.
China has offered to increase purchases of U.S. goods by $1.2 trillion over six years, benefiting agriculture and energy. That would help sell the deal to the president who has pledged to reduce the chronic U.S. trade deficit with Beijing.
Trump on Friday asked China to immediately remove all tariffs on U.S. agriculture, though he didn’t indicate if his demand was limited to retaliatory duties or more far-reaching.
But Lighthizer and his team are more focused on China making structural changes to its intellectual property practices and policies that require U.S. companies to transfer their technology to Chinese entities as a condition of doing business in the country.
Trump’s deal will most definitely be scrutinized by Democrats and more hawkish members of his own party who have been outspoken about the need for the president to hold a tough line in the talks with Beijing. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer last week urged Trump to hold out until he gets a deal that addresses structural issues in China’s economy.
“President Trump should not fall into the trap of seeking a deal for the sake of a deal, especially now that the talks with Pyongyang are on hold,” Schumer said on Thursday. “What he did in North Korea was right, he must do the same thing in China — hold out, because he has the upper hand, until we get China to do the right thing.”
Still, Trump doesn’t need, at least practically-speaking, the help of lawmakers. The White House will treat this deal as a so-called executive agreement, that doesn’t require the Congressional stamp of approval, because there won’t be changes to U.S. tariff lines.
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Ex-Trump Attorney Calls Robert Mueller 'an American Hero,' Says Probe Not A 'witch Hunt'
Former Trump White House lawyer Ty Cobb is coming to the defense of special counsel Robert Mueller. Veuer's Nick Cardona has that story. Buzz60
WASHINGTON – Former White House attorney Ty Cobb defended special counsel Robert Mueller on Tuesday, calling him an "American hero" and disputing President Donald Trump's characterization of Mueller's investigation as a "witch hunt."
"I've known him for 30 years as a prosecutor and a friend and I think the world of Bob Mueller," Cobb told ABC News in a podcast interview. "He is a very deliberate guy, but he's also a class act and a very justice-oriented person."
Cobb – who left the White House legal team at the end of May 2018 – said he did not agree with the highly critical statements Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani have made about Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
He conceded that Trump and Giuliani have been effective in ratcheting up "the public's concerns about the investigation and its legitimacy" but he said, "It's not my view that it's a witch hunt."
"I object to that approach, but it's his choice," Cobb said of president's criticisms of Mueller's work.
More: Trump lawyer Ty Cobb plans to retire, and everyone wants to joke about his mustache
He then heaped more praise on Mueller.
"I think Bob Mueller is an American hero," Cobb said. "I think Bob Mueller is a guy that, even though he came from an arguably privileged background, has a backbone of steel. He walked into a firefight in Vietnam to pull out one of his injured colleagues."
Cobb said he does not expect Mueller to uncover evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russians working to sway the election.
"But at the same time, what do I know?" he added, conceding that "it's conceivable" Mueller's final report could reveal something new.
He said that while Mueller's team has "done an effective job" of "laying out the facts as they develop" in various court filings, none of those detailed and extensive documents have directly linked Trump to Russian election meddling.
Cobb said that while he understands "the impetus" for people to wonder, "'Why does the president act guilty?'" it is important to remember that Trump has consistently cooperated with Mueller's team.
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"In reality, this is a president who did not fight the special counsel in terms of its evidentiary request," he said. "The president was very clear from day one that anybody who was asked to speak with the special counsel "should be encouraged to do so voluntarily."
Cobb said he believes congressional Democratic leaders, such as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., share his belief that Mueller's probe will not uncover evidence of collusion. He said that is why they are expanding their investigations into Trump's associates and finances.
"Schiff has tacked to basically saying Mueller didn't look into enough things, and we need to be fishing around to find other possible avenues through which to get to the president," he said.
He said Schiff, along with House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., are "hell-bent on issuing a lot of subpoenas to get to the administration and perpetuate this investigation."
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has expressed a similar view of the widening investigations by House Democrats.
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Cobb said that while he was working in the White House he was largely "able to prevent the president from going on the attack as to Mueller."
He said it was after "Rudy joined the team that the onslaught" against Mueller began.
"I think the president felt unleashed," Cobb said. "He's found this very frustrating. It's particularly frustrated him in foreign affairs. He doesn't like the timing. He wants this over, but its never going to be over. This will go through 2020, and if the president's re-elected it will go beyond that."
In the interview, Cobb also described the "chaos" of working in the Trump White House, beginning with his first day on the job, which he said was the same day that John Kelly replaced Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff and Anthony Scaramucci's brief stint as communications director came to an end.
"And it really never let up after that," Cobb said. "It was a challenging environment and it's not for everybody."
USA TODAY Editorial Board: When Mueller files, free the taxpayer-funded report
Opposing view: Full release of Mueller report isn’t in the public interest