Ex-Trump Aide Manafort to Be Arraigned Thursday in New York

Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman for U.S. President Donald Trump, will be arraigned Thursday in a New York court in Manhattan on state criminal charges, after having been convicted last year on federal fraud charges.

Manafort, 70, is scheduled to appear before Justice Maxwell Wiley of the state Supreme Court at 2:15 p.m. EDT (1815 GMT) Thursday, court spokesman Lucian Chalfen told Reuters.

Manafort faces 16 felony charges brought by the Manhattan district attorney. The state charges include mortgage fraud, conspiracy and falsifying business records, and relate to alleged efforts by Manafort and others to obtain millions of dollars in loans on New York properties.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance made the indictment public in March, on the same day Manafort was sentenced on federal crimes.

Manafort is serving a 7 1/2-year federal sentence for tax fraud, bank fraud and other charges.

Federal prosecutors accused him of hiding $16 million from U.S. tax authorities that he earned as a consultant for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, and then lying to banks to obtain $20 million in loans when the money dried up.

The federal charges stemmed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Manafort faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted on the top charges in the New York case.

Ironman of the Irons

Mark Brooks is no stranger to golf. In fact, he says, “I chose golf, I certainly had designs on maybe doing something else if golf didn’t work out, but it has worked out for me and it is an interesting game.”

 

Mark Brooks plays on the Champions Tour of the Professional Golfers Association. Brooks has seven wins on the PGA Tour, including one major win, the 1996 PGA Championship. He turned became a professional in 1983, and he holds the record for most career starts on tour: over 800 and counting.

 

“I went straight to the PGA Tour. I never played any other tours around the world. I did not have to play the ‘mini tours,’ you know, where you’re scraping by. I went straight to ‘the show.’ You have to qualify. It’s a big qualifier. A six-round golf tournament, played in the fall, and it’s been that way for quite a few years,” he says. “I was fortunate enough to get my first shot right of college.”

 

Brooks says playing with professional golf players right out of college helped him to realize his own shortcomings and the need for learning how to improve his play.

 

“Once I got on tour, I basically saw that everything about my game needed to be improved.  I had a pretty good swing but I needed these things to change. I made some changes after about five years of struggling, trying to stay on tour, you know, pretty much just kind of gutting it out, playing on instinct.  And within probably four or five months, I saw some dramatic improvement in my ball striking, which, you know, it’s how close you hit it to the hole and hit fairways and all that.  And after about five years on tour, things kind of clicked.”

 

Brooks says although physical abilities matter when playing, the game of golf tests a player’s mental stamina, but he says the game has changed.

 

“One of the things we’re seeing, the equipment gotten so much better, the golf ball itself, which is integral to playing the game, the ball has changed quite a bit in the last 20 or 30 years. It goes straighter. It goes further. It fights the elements better as far as the wind. Technologies kind of entered the game in a strong way in the last 15 or 20 years, so it’s allowed a different style of athlete, I’m going to say, to do really well in golf,” he says. “So, we’re seeing a little bit of a change, unfortunately, in my opinion, with golf and the characteristics of a person that make you probably be a good player, not a great player. And so, I think a little bit of the mental part has been taken out. They have to figure out how to make golf become more of testing a player’s mental ability other than just a few weeks of the year when you turn on the Masters or U.S. Open. Golf is supposed to be a game of, you know, testing oneself against oneself. The golf course is just an element that’s there to bring those things out.”

 

Brooks still plays on the tour. He says now that he is older, the toughest challenge is dealing with less than perfect play. 

 

“You want to go out there and produce shots that you know you’re capable of, but you know when you’re in your prime years, you can go reproduce a shot eight or nine out of 10 times. Three in a row is easy. As you get older, it is far more difficult to have your body repeat those things. In my opinion, your mind wants your body to do certain things and sometimes your body doesn’t listen. I’ve had knee issue, shoulder issue, you know, back issues, herniated disc, so playing mediocre golf doesn’t feel good.

As I’ve gotten older, I think it’s not just patience, it’s just I just don’t enjoy going out there playing really crappy golf. And I think I’m not alone in that regard.”

 

Mark Brooks holds a significant record in the Pro Golfers Association: most career starts.

 

“I’ve played over 800 tournaments that are just the PGA tour alone, and when you start doing the math, you just go, ‘That’s insane.’ I mean, if you play 20 tournaments a year, that’s 40 years. It’s ridiculous,” Brooks says.  “So, I would say that’s probably my greatest achievement.”

 

Brooks says choosing a time to retire from golf has been difficult.

 

“I had a shot at something pretty big in the early 2000s. I said at the time I would retire if I won that week and I was dead serious and I didn’t win.” So, to my body’s demise and my family, I am still doing it because I did not win that playoff. Retiring is difficult. Golf sort of wanes you off. You are weaned off the competitive circuit. And then I’d love to spend the rest my life, the next 10 or 15 years doing television and teaching good players because I think that’s what I have the most experience with, and the most expertise in.”

 

Kushner Mum on Details, But Tells Palestinians Door Open to US Peace Plan

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said Wednesday the Palestinians can still help refine a U.S. Middle East peace plan they have rejected because the economic proposal ignored their political aspirations for statehood.

During a news conference at the end of an economic workshop in Manama, Bahrain, aimed at jump-starting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Kushner said it was “important to bring out the economic vision before the political vision” because people need to see what the future can look like.

Kushner said his team would disclose the plan’s secret political details “when we’re ready” and added, “We’ll see what happens.”

The multibillion-dollar “Peace to Prosperity” proposal to boost Palestinian and neighboring Arab states’ economy is part of a Middle East peace plan heralded by U.S. President Donald Trump as the “Deal of the Century,” and spearheaded by Kushner, his son-in-law.

Head of the Hamas political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, third from left, and Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar protest the conference in Bahrain, which focuses on the White House’s plan for Mideast peace, in Gaza City, June 26, 2019.

The plan, presented on the White House website over the weekend, is billed as “the most ambitious and comprehensive international effort for the Palestinian people to date.”

Under the initiative, donor nations and investors are invited to contribute about $50 billion to the region, with $28 billion going to the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. About $7.5 billion will go to Jordan, $9 billion to Egypt and $6 billion to Lebanon.

The proposed funding would mainly be from Persian Gulf countries through grants and private equity sources. Kushner would not confirm whether the U.S. will provide any funding, saying only that Trump would “be interested in looking at opportunities” but only “if there is a deal.”

Neither Israeli nor Palestinian officials attended the Manama conference. 

Reaction to plan

Palestinians have rejected the plan, as it does not address Palestinian statehood, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of refugees. They insist that economic development cannot happen without a political settlement.

“We’ll hear the American proposition, hear it fairly and with openness,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, adding that Palestinian rejection of the plan is “not the way to proceed.”

Kushner decided on a new approach to the peace process after previous U.S. administrations tried and failed to resolve the thorniest issues of the conflict: borders, Palestinian refugees, Jewish settlements and the status of Jerusalem. 

The Trump administration believes economic prosperity will benefit the entire region and curb extremism, but the Palestinians say they cannot be bought and that their homeland is not for sale. 
 

Ironman of the Irons

Mark Brooks plays on the Champions Tour of the Professional Golfers Association. Brooks has seven wins on the PGA Tour, including one major win, the 1996 PGA Championship. Brooks says although physical abilities matter when playing, the game of golf tests a player’s mental stamina, but he says the game has changed.

US: Coca Cultivation in Colombia Dropped Slightly in 2018

The Trump administration is reporting that coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia dropped slightly in 2018 for the first time in six years, but it remained at historically high levels.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy says that coca cultivation in Colombia dropped to 208,000 hectares in 2018 from 209,000 hectares in 2017, while the potential pure cocaine production went to 887 pure metric tons in 2018 from 900 pure metric tons in 2017.

The South American country says the data released Wednesday shows progress toward a goal agreed upon with Washington to cut cultivation and drug production in half by 2023.

Colombia is the world’s largest exporter of cocaine and the growth of its coca crop has tested relations with the United States.  

US Confirms 200 Unaccompanied Minors Removed From CBP Facility

VOA’s Victoria Macchi contributed to this report.

WASHINGTON — More than 200 children held in a border facility described as unsafe and unsanitary last week were transferred to the care of another U.S. agency by Tuesday, U.S. health authorities confirmed.

In a statement emailed to VOA, U.S. Health and Human Services acknowledged it worked with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to remove 249 unaccompanied children from the CBP Clint Station facility in Texas.

The statement came after the Associated Press reported unsanitary living conditions and inadequate food and medical treatment at the facility.

The children held at Clint Station were those who crossed the border without authorization and without a guardian, and are referred to as “unaccompanied alien children,” or UACs.

Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, joined at left by Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., vice chair of the Democratic Caucus, speaks with reporters following a meeting of fellow Democrats focusing on a path to emergency humanitarian aid to help migrant detained on the southwestern border.

While CBP is the agency that detains unauthorized border crossers, HHS generally takes custody of detained, unaccompanied children within 72 hours, as is mandated by law except for rare occasions in which a child is held by CBP for longer.

“UAC are waiting too long in CBP facilities that are not designed to care for children,” an HHS official told VOA.

The agency said it was able to expedite how soon children in its care were released to sponsors  often an extended family member, like a grandparent. A process that was taking 90 days in November 2018 was down to an average of 44 days in May, according to HHS.

But like other agencies working with children and families detained at the border, HHS and CBP are struggling to meet the demands of the recent increase in arrivals.

Trump “personally concerned”

Meanwhile, despite the confirmation from HHS that 249 children were removed from the Clint facility, media outlets reported that an official from CBP, who briefed reporters on Tuesday, said the government moved more than 100 children back to the same facility .

CBP drew criticism from human rights groups and federal lawmakers  over the AP report last week.

After signing an affordable housing executive order in the Oval Office on Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump said he was “personally concerned about the conditions” at border facilities after AP’s report. 

Trump said “A lot of these young children come from places that you don’t even want to know about, the way they’ve lived, the way they’ve been.” 

He also said his administration is trying to get Democrats to give “some humanitarian aid humanitarian money.”

CBP chief resigning

It is also unclear whether that report played a role in the announcement on Tuesday that the head of CBP, Acting Commissioner John Sanders, is resigning.

He will leave his post on July 5, a CBP official confirmed in an email to VOA.

The agency declined to provide further comment on the resignation.

Pompeo Hopes for Afghan Peace Deal Before September

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday during a visit to Afghanistan that the Trump administration is aiming for a peace deal in the war-ravaged country by September.

His visit came as American and Taliban negotiators are scheduled to meet in Qatar later this week (June 29) for the next round of talks in their months-long dialogue aimed at finding a political settlement to the Afghan war.

“I hope we have a peace deal before September 1st. That’s certainly our mission set,” Pompeo told reporters at the U.S. embassy in Kabul after his meetings with Afghan leaders. The country is due to hold presidential elections on September 28.

The U.S.-Taliban dialogue process is primarily focused on working out a timeline for the withdrawal of American and NATO forces from Afghanistan in return for assurances international terrorists will not be allowed to use Taliban-controlled areas for attacks against other countries.

The insurgent group controls or contests more than 50% of the Afghan territory and continues to inflict battlefield losses on U.S.-backed Afghan security forces,

“We have made real progress and are nearly ready to conclude a draft text outlining the Taliban’s commitments to join fellow Afghans in ensuring that Afghan soil never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists,” Pompeo noted.

He said discussions with the Taliban regarding foreign troop withdrawal have begun.  Pompeo also said insurgent claims that Washington has agreed to pull out of Afghanistan are not true.

“While we’ve made clear to the Taliban that we are prepared to remove our forces, I want to be clear we have not yet agreed on a timeline to do so,” Pompeo explained. He acknowledged the U.S.-Taliban discussions will be the basis for intra-Afghan peace and reconciliation talks.

Pompeo visited Kabul on a day when members of opposition groups held a large public gathering in the city to protest against extension given to President Ashraf Ghani by the country’s Supreme Court. They insisted Ghani’s constitutional five-year term ended in May and demanded the president must step down. The incumbent president is seeking re-election.

“We call upon the former president (Ghani) to withdraw his candidacy if he should continue to hold office as a caretaker president for the purpose of realization of the principles of justice and impartiality,” said a post-rally statement by the Council of Presidential Candidates (CPC).

Pompeo also emphasized the need for a credible Afghan presidential election.

“I urge the Afghan government, the Independent Election Commission, and all political stakeholders to take all necessary steps to ensure that the elections are credible,”  Pompeo stressed.

US Plays Down Expectations of Trump-Xi Meeting

Top U.S. officials are saying no one should expect any major deals when President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet later this week at the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan.

The officials say the main purpose of the meeting is to reach agreement to restart trade negotiations that broke off in May.

Eleven rounds of talks have failed to ease U.S. concerns over China’s massive trade surplus with the U.S. and alleged intellectual property theft. 

Trump has already threatened another $325 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods, which would cover just about everything China exports to the U.S. that is not already covered by the current 25% tariff on $250 billion in Chinese imports.

China has slapped its own tariffs on U.S. products, including those produced by already financially strapped American farmers.

FILE – In this April 8, 2019, file photo, Boeing 737 Max aircraft are parked near a Boeing Co. production facility in Renton, Wash. From airplanes to fruit to wheat no other state will feel the effect of tariffs like Washington.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Tuesday in Beijing the meeting will hopefully “promote mutual trust” and “resolve some of the outstanding issues we are facing now.”

A senior U.S. official said Monday the meeting will provide Trump the chance to get China’s position on the escalating trade war. The official added Trump would be “comfortable with any outcome” of the meeting.

The U.S. has accused China of building a huge trade surplus with the U.S. while stealing technological and trade secrets. It alleges China demands U.S. businesses operating in China to give up some of that information if they want access to the Chinese market. 

China denies the charges and says the U.S. is trying to deny a competitor a piece of the global marketplace.

In NATO Debut, New Pentagon Chief Aims to ‘Internationalize’ Iran Effort

Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Tuesday he aimed to recruit support from NATO allies for U.S. efforts to deter conflict with Iran and “open the door to diplomacy,” as he made his international debut as Pentagon chief.

Esper emphasized diplomacy over military action as he briefed reporters for the first time since taking the helm of the U.S. military on Monday. The former Army secretary was thrust into the position after the surprise resignation of Patrick Shanahan as acting defense secretary the previous week.

Ahead of talks with European defense ministers, Esper said he would tell allies that the United States was not seeking war with Iran.

FILE – U.S. Secretary of the Army Mark Esper speaks during a House Armed Services Committee budget hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 2, 2019.

His remarks came just days after U.S. President Donald Trump narrowly called off strikes against military targets in Iran over Tehran’s downing of a U.S. drone. But Trump threatened on Tuesday to obliterate parts of Iran if it attacked “anything American.”

“We need to internationalize this issue and have our allies and partners work with us to get Iran to come back to the negotiating table,” Esper said shortly before landing in Brussels, home to NATO headquarters.

Washington’s European allies, critical of Trump’s decision to withdraw from a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, have reacted with alarm in recent weeks, repeatedly warning both sides of the danger that a small mistake could lead to war.

U.S. officials said on Monday that the United States was building a coalition with its allies to protect Gulf shipping lanes following recent attacks on oil tankers that Washington blamed on Iran.

But Esper suggested the plan was still in its early stages and played down the idea that U.S. allies would offer up the majority of ships, saying: “Nobody’s counting ships or compositions at this point in time.”

Asked what he wanted U.S. allies to do on Iran, Esper said: “Express with us the concern, outrage … with regard to Iran’s activities in the region. That would be a good first step.”

“And then secondly, to support any range of activities we may think merit participation to help, again, deter conflict and show that we’re resolute. What we’re trying to do, what we want to do, is to close the door to conflict and open the door to diplomacy.”

NATO “speed dating”

Esper is now the third person in six months to work at the defense secretary’s desk, stoking fresh questions about leadership at the Pentagon.

For many NATO allies, this week’s NATO defense ministerial will be a unique chance to get an early sense of Esper, who has deep roots in the U.S. military, Congress and even the U.S. defense industry.

It will be a similar opportunity for Esper, who said he aimed to emphasize to NATO allies that the change in leadership at the Pentagon did not represent a change in policy.

“A NATO ministerial is a good way to get to know key partners, kind of like diplomatic speed-dating,” said Derek Chollet, a former senior Pentagon official during the Obama administration.

FILE – General James Mattis testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 27, 2010.

Chollet said allies would be closely watching for hints about the kind of role Esper will play, including whether he might be like Jim Mattis, Trump’s first defense secretary who was a strong advocate for NATO and was seen as a moderating influence on the U.S. president.

Mattis, who resigned in December over policy differences with Trump, brought Esper into the job.

One European diplomat joked: “Jim Mattis is not someone we can clone, as much as we’d like to, but Esper is talked about positively.”

“Everyone will want to make a good impression and to get some time because he is the new face of the Pentagon,” the diplomat said.

‘Desperate’ Decision Led Indian Family to Fatal US Desert Crossing

The parents of a six-year-old Indian girl who died after crossing from Mexico into the Arizona desert this month say they made a “desperate” choice for their family in a bid for asylum.

“We wanted a safer and better life for our daughter, and we made the extremely difficult decision to seek asylum here in the United States,” Ms. Kaur, 27, and Mr. Singh, 33, said in a joint statement released Monday through the U.S.-based Sikh Coalition.

It was the family’s first public statement since Gurupreet Kaur’s body was found in the desert on June 13.

“We trust that every parent, regardless of origin, color or creed, will understand that no mother or father ever puts their child in harm’s way unless they are desperate,” her parents said.

The statement did not give the parents’ first names.

Gurupreet traveled in a group of five with her mother, two other adult women and another child.

Two of the women — including Gurupreet’s mother — split from the group in search of water. That’s when they came into contact with border agents.

When they told the agents they were traveling with three others, the official search began for the remaining members of the group.

U.S. Border Patrol agents found the child’s body west of Lukeville, Arizona. Temperatures reached a high of 42 degrees Celsius (108 degrees Fahrenheit) on the day she died. The local medical examiner said heatstroke killed her, days before her seventh birthday.

The agents later found the missing mother and her 8-year-old daughter. They were transported to a local hospital and treated for dehydration, according to the agency.

The group is part of a small, but growing number of Indians attempting to cross from Mexico into the United States.

During a period when border apprehensions dropped by more than half, from 858,638 in fiscal year 2007 to 396,579 in fiscal year 2018, the number of Indian nationals increased from under 200 to nearly 10,000.

The girl’s father has been living in the United States since 2013, according to CNN. He had applied for asylum, said Mark Reading-Smith, Sikh Coalition program director.

As the number of Indians apprehended increased dramatically in the last decade, the asylum claims granted also increased, though at a much slower pace.

 

Gurupreet’s parent’s are Sikhs, and U.S. organizations focused on the Sikh community have rallied around them, issuing updates and statements through the press and social media. 

“We have been trying to figure this out,” Gujari Singh, communications director for the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, told CNN. “Each case has been slightly different. There doesn’t seem to be one exact cause. … There is definitely some sort of movement, but we’re not really sure why.”