‘Shameful’: US lawmakers blast Trump over Putin summit

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin listens while US President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference at Finland’s Presidential Palace on Monday, July 16. (AFP)
Updated 17 July 2018
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‘Shameful’: US lawmakers blast Trump over Putin summit

  • ‘Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory’
  • Astonished Republicans and Democrats uniformly condemned Trump, with harsh criticism coming even from hosts on Fox News — a network normally friendly to the president

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump returned late Monday from his European tour to face ire in Washington, where US intelligence officials and senior Republicans were denouncing the president as “shameful” and “disgraceful” after he refused to challenge Russian leader Vladimir Putin over interference in American elections.
Republican Senator John McCain said Trump’s seeming acceptance of Putin’s denial was a historical “low point” for the US presidency and the Helsinki summit between the two leaders a “tragic mistake.”
“Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory. The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naivete, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate,” McCain said in a blistering statement.
“No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.”
Taking direct issue with the president who appointed him, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said US spy agencies have been “clear” and “fact-based” in their assessment that Moscow interfered in the presidential race two years ago — an assessment that Trump refused to endorse in Helsinki.
Coats added that Russia remains behind “ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy.”
Trump stunned US political allies and foes alike with his answer to a question about Russian hacking and interference in the 2016 election which saw him defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Putin “just said it is not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be,” Trump said.
That came three days after the US Justice Department indicted 12 Russians for hacking Democratic Party computers, the latest in a series of actions taken by the US government since late 2016 in retribution for what intelligence agencies say was a broad plan to support Trump’s election campaign directed by Putin himself.
Yet Trump appeared to take Putin’s word in dismissing that conclusion.
“I have great confidence in my intelligence people. But I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
Trump also appeared to embrace Putin’s offer to have Russian investigators work together with US prosecutors on the case of the 12 just indicted.
“I think that’s an incredible offer.”
Astonished Republicans and Democrats uniformly condemned Trump, with harsh criticism coming even from hosts on Fox News — a network normally friendly to the president.
“The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally,” said Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan.
“There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals,” he said.
Senior Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Trump’s answer on meddling “will be seen by Russia as a sign of weakness.”
Bent on forging a personal bond with the Kremlin chief, Trump headed into the summit blaming the “stupidity” of his predecessors for plunging ties to their present low.
“This is shameful,” said Senator Jeff Flake, a fellow Republican and staunch critic of the president.
“I never thought I would see the day when our American president would stand on the stage with the Russian president and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression.”
The language used by Democrats was much harsher, including accusations of “treason.”
“For the president of the United States to side with President Putin against American law enforcement, American defense officials, and American intelligence agencies is thoughtless, dangerous, and weak,” said Chuck Schumer, the senior Democrat in the Senate.
Democratic California Representative Jimmy Gomez charged: “To side with Putin over US intelligence is disgusting; to fail to defend the US is on the verge of treason.”
Congressman Adam Schiff, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Trump had given Putin “a green light to interfere in 2018.”
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy was blunter: “This entire trip has just been one giant middle finger from President Trump to his own country. Just jaw dropping,” he wrote on Twitter.
Coats’ statement was seen as an uncommonly brusque pushback by the US intelligence community against the White House.
Retired spy chiefs were more direct however.
Coat’s predecessor, James Clapper, called Trump’s acquiescence to Putin “an incredible capitulation,” while former CIA chief John Brennan labelled it “nothing short of treasonous.”


Indonesia’s radical cleric to be freed next week

Updated 8 min 2 sec ago
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Indonesia’s radical cleric to be freed next week

  • Bashir’s lawyers say their client had already served eight years out of his 15-year sentence
  • Bashir was convicted in 2011 of supporting paramilitary training in Aceh

JAKARTA: Abu Bakar Bashir, Indonesia’s Muslim cleric known for his radical religious views and the ideological icon for the 2002 Bali bombers, is to be released from prison next week on health grounds, his lawyers confirmed on Saturday.

Muhammad Mahendradatta, the head of Bashir’s legal team, told journalists at a press conference that Bashir had served eight years out of his 15-year sentence. He said the team had been seeking his early release for the past two years, as his poor health required him to undergo regular medical checkups.

“So this early release didn’t just come out of the blue. This is a legal matter, (not) a gift. It is his right for parole and a normal procedure that has legal grounds,” Mahendrattta said, rebuffing claims that the cleric’s release had any political interests just because it required the approval of the president.

“We are talking about the office of the president. Whoever is sitting in office now would be required to do so,” Mahendradatta said.

Incumbent President Joko Widodo is running for a second term in office on April 17 amid a popular perception that he lacks Islamic credentials and that his regime persecutes the ulemas.

Achmad Michdan, one of Bashir’s lawyer, said the cleric had been eligible for parole by Dec. 13, but he remained in prison as he refused to sign a document for his release that required him to pledge loyalty to the state ideology of Pancasila.

“We understand and respect his views and his refusal to be tied to terrorism,” Michdan said.

According to Widodo’s legal adviser Yusril Ihza Mahendra, who lobbied the president for Bashir’s release, the cleric insisted that he would only be loyal to God, even if that meant that he would have to serve the rest of his sentence.

Mahendra, who is the leader of a minor Islamic political party, said the political gravity of Bashir’s case required the president’s approval to override a regulation that details conditions for the early release of extraordinary offenders, including terrorism offenders. 

“President Jokowi’s consideration to grant the release was based on humanitarian grounds and his respect for the ulemas,” Mahendra said, referring to the president by his nickname.

He added that, as the president’s legal adviser, he had been entrusted by Widodo with taking care of the matter and coordinating accordingly with related ministers and law enforcement agencies.

Mahendradatta said the release would be unconditional from both the government’s and Bashir’s side.

The decision was announced on Friday, after the first presidential debate on Thursday evening, during which Widodo and his opponent Prabowo Subianto and their respective running mates, head of the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) Ma’ruf Amin and former Jakarta deputy governor Sandiaga Uno, presented their visions and programs on law enforcement, human rights, and terrorism.

“The MUI has issued an edict that declares terrorism is not jihad and that it is haram (forbidden in Islam),” Amin said when he spoke in the debate.

Bashir was convicted in 2011 of supporting paramilitary training in Aceh. The cleric is described as the ideological icon of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), including those who carried out bomb attacks in Bali in 2002. Bashir has insisted that he was not rebelling against the country and that he was only collecting money to fund training and travel for those who wanted to go as mujahideen to Palestine.

Bashir could have asked for clemency to get an early release but refused to do so since it would have meant pleading guilty to the charges against him.

In March last year, Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said the government was weighing up which form of sentence leniency it could give Bashir. Chief security minister Wiranto said the government would move Bashir to a prison near his hometown in Solo, Central Java.

However, Michdan said the plan never materialized and Bashir remained in his isolation cell in Gunung Sindur prison in Bogor, West Java.