TIME Ukraine

Obama Accuses Separatists of Removing Evidence From MH17 Site

"What exactly are they trying to hide?"

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President Barack Obama sharply condemned Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine for keeping international investigators away from the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site, calling on Russian President Vladimir Putin to compel them to cooperate.

Speaking from the South Lawn of the White House Monday morning, Obama called the separatists’ actions “an insult to those who have lost loved ones” in Thursday’s shooting down of the plane.

Noting that U.S. and international investigators stand at the ready to examine the crash site and assist in recovering the remains of the 298 killed, Obama said they’ve been chased away from the area by separatists firing weapons into the air. “The separatists are removing evidence from the crash site. All of which begs the question: What exactly are they trying to hide?” Obama said.

“Our immediate focus is on recovering those who were lost, investigating exactly what happened, and putting forward the facts,” Obama said. “We have to make sure that the truth is out.”

American officials believe that Russia-trained Ukrainian separatists shot down the plane Thursday with a SA-11 surface-to-air missile. Obama said the “burden is on Russia” to force the separatists to provide access to the site.

“Russia, and President Putin in particular, has a direct responsibility to compel them to cooperate with the investigation,” Obama said. “That’s the least they can do.”

Obama said his preference is to find a diplomatic solution to the months-long Ukraine crisis, but said the United States and the international community will continue to escalate “costs” on Russia if it does not reign in the separatists. On Friday, Obama ruled out an American military response to the incident.

Obama also addressed the ongoing war in Gaza, saying he has directed Secretary of State John Kerry to push for an “immediate cessation of hostilities” based off the 2012 cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

“As I’ve said many times, Israel has a right to defend itself against rocket and tunnel attacks from Hamas,” Obama said. “I’ve also said, however, that we have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives.”

Obama acknowledged that Kerry, who departed for Cairo early Monday to work on a cease-fire plan, has a tough job ahead of him. “The work will not be easy,” he said. “Obviously, there are enormous passions involved in this and some very difficult strategic issues involved. Nevertheless, I’ve asked John to do everything he can to help facilitate a cessation of hostilities. We don’t want to see anymore civilians getting killed.”

 

TIME

New Clinton Docs Disparage Ginsburg, Underscore Security Concerns at Atlanta Olympics

Clinton Global Initiative America Meetings Begin In Chicago
Former President Bill Clinton listens as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks to guests at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) on June 13, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. Scott Olson—Getty Images

Among other revelations in the newly-released papers, the White House warned of the Supreme Court candidate's "halting speech" and "laconic nature" in one memo

The latest trove of previously-unreleased documents from the Clinton White House reveal the administration’s candid and at times unflattering assessment of Ruth Bader Ginsburg before her confirmation to the Supreme Court.

The memo, drafted by then-White House Associate Counsel Ron Klain to David Gergen, lists Ginsburg’s defense of the American Civil Liberties Union and “her failure to make eye contact, her halting speech, her “laconic” nature” as potential “performance pitfalls” for her in Senate confirmation hearings. It also includes the underlined warning that, “Judge Ginsburg views the White House’s interest and her interests as being at odds with each other.”

“She sees us as having a stake in presenting her as a moderate and in getting along well with the Senate; she sees her interests as ‘being herself,’ preserving her ‘dignity,’ and promoting her ‘independence,’” the memo continued.

The document is part of the latest batch of memos from the Clinton administration that have been released by the Clinton Library over the past several months. Also in this release is a memo from Klain outlining the subjects President Bill Clinton should bring up and which to avoid in a conversation with soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

Also of note is the multiple-choice memo to Clinton seeking his preferences for a planned trip to Spain, Poland, Romania and Denmark, and a White House memo outlining contingency planning for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.

Bonus: With this check mark, President Bill Clinton began the process of nominating Sonia Sotomayor to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

Clinton Library

The Ginsburg memo:

The Breyer memo:

The Olympics memo:

The trip planning memo:

TIME

Malaysia Airlines Ukraine Crash: Obama Says 1 American Aboard Flight

TOPSHOTS-UKRAINE-RUSSIA-POLITICS-CRISIS-MALAYSIA-NETHERLANDS-PLA
A piece of wreckage from the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 is pictured on July 18, 2014 in Shaktarsk, Ukraine. Dominique Faget—AFP/Getty Images

At least one American citizen was on board Malaysia Airways Flight 17 when it plummeted to earth Thursday, President Barack Obama said Friday, adding that the U.S. government believes that the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile fired from separatist-held territory in eastern Ukraine.

Quinn Lucas Schansman, a dual Dutch-U.S. citizen, is believed to be the lone American killed in what Obama called “an outrage of unspeakable proportions.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said Friday at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council that the U.S. government believes the plane was shot down Thursday “by an SA-11 operated from a separatist-held location in eastern Ukraine.”

“Because of the technical complexity of the SA-11, it is unlikely that the separatists could effectively operate the system without assistance from knowledgeable personnel,” Power said. “Thus we cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel in operating the systems.”

Obama called on Russia, Ukraine, and separatist groups to immediately declare a ceasefire so that an independent investigation can begin, adding that any evidence removed from the site must be turned over to investigators.

“If indeed Russian-backed separatists were behind this attack on a civilian airliner, they and their backers would have good reason to cover up evidence of their crime,” Power said. “Thus, it is extremely important that an investigation be commenced immediately.”

Describing the downing as a “global tragedy,” Obama said it was too early to know the intentions of those who shot down the plane. “The eyes of the world are on eastern Ukraine and we are going to make sure that the truth is out,” Obama said.

A day after Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed Ukraine for the plane’s downing, Power said Russia is responsible for continuing to back Ukrainian separatists despite repeated assurances that they were working to de-escalate the situation.

“Russia says that it seeks peace in Ukraine, but we have continually provided evidence to this council of Russia’s continued support for the separatists,” Power said. “Time after time President Putin has committed to working towards dialogue and peace. Every single time he has broken that commitment.”

“This war can be ended,” Power concluded. “Russia can end this war. Russia must end this war.”

Obama said it is time for Putin to put aside propaganda. “He and the Russian government have to make a strategic decision,” Obama said, saying “It is not possible for these separatists to function the way they are functioning,” including shooting down planes, without Russia’s backing.

Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin said his government blames the Ukrainian government for the shoot-down, questioning why the plane was even there. “Why did the Ukraine aviation dispatchers send this plane over a war zone,” he said, warning against “insinuations” about the attack.


TIME 2016 Election

McCain to GOP: If You Want to Beat Hillary, Pass Immigration Reform

Senate Clears U.S. Debt-Limit Suspension For Obama's Signature
Senator John McCain speaks to the media after leaving the Senate floor in Washington on Feb. 12, 2014. Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images

'We are marginalizing the Republican Party'

Arizona Sen. John McCain said Thursday that he believes Republicans can defeat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016, but only if they pass immigration reform.

“She’s the odds-on favorite right now,” McCain said of Clinton at the “Politics on Tap” event hosted by CNN and National Journal. “But I think we have a long list of people who could defeat Hillary Clinton.” McCain suggested New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich by name as potential Clinton vanquishers. “We’ve got some very successful governors that have done very well in their states that I think once exposed to the American people could be very competitive.”

McCain noted that Clinton’s poll numbers have dropped over the recent controversy over her wealth and her speaking fees, but said that could all be for naught if the Republican Party doesn’t enact immigration reform.

“I expect it to be very competitive,” McCain said, “except if we don’t enact some kind of comprehensive immigration reform, I do not see a way for us to really win a general election.”

Pressed on the lingering House Republican opposition to taking up immigration reform, McCain said he will continue to “hope and pray and work” to make them reconsider.

Passing immigration reform was the sole policy recommendation of the 2013 Republican Party autopsy into its 2012 rout, but the House Republican conference has repeatedly blocked any action on the measure since the Senate passed a reform bill last year.

“Hopefully my colleagues in the House will realize the same demographics that I am referring to and that they will at least in some way bring up immigration reform, whether it’s piecemeal, whether it’s one-at-a-time,” he said. “I think as the 2016 campaign gets closer that my colleagues will recognize … that we are marginalizing the Republican Party,” McCain added.

TIME Congress

McCain: Iraq War Might Not Have Happened Had I Won In 2000

John McCain Discusses The Situation In Iraq At American Enterprise Institute
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) participates in a discussion on the unfolding violence in Iraq at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research in Washington on June 18, 2014. T.J. Kirkpatrick—Getty Images

'You'll find this surprising'

Arizona Sen. John McCain, once one of the most ardent defenders of American involvement in Iraq, said Thursday that had he been President in 2003 the U.S. might never have invaded.

“You’ll find this surprising,” McCain said at an event hosted by CNN and National Journal Thursday in Washington, “but I think I would have been more reluctant to commit American troops.”

The 2008 Republican presidential nominee and one of the chief proponents of the Iraq surge argued that his background in the military and his experience in Washington would have led him to see through “flimsy” evidence, had he defeated former President George W. Bush in the 2000 Republican primaries.
“I think I would have challenged the evidence with more scrutiny,” McCain said. “I hope that I would have been able to see through the evidence that was presented at the time.
“The guy named Curveball that we were relying on turned out to be some guy in a German prison that was an alcoholic,” McCain continued. “On the evidence—I think I would have challenged the evidence with greater scrutiny.
But McCain added that he was not blaming the Republican President for his handling the run-up to the war, which polarized the nation and cost more than 4,400 American and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives. “I’m not blaming President George W. Bush. It’s not for me to critique my predecessors, especially those that I lost to,” he said.
Interviewed by CNN’s Jake Tapper and National Journal’s Ron Fournier, McCain said he relied on the credibility of former Secretary of State Colin Powell for his vote in favor of the war.
“In Iraq in 2003, the Secretary of State, one of the most respected men in America, went to the United Nations Security Council and alleged that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” McCain said. “If I was presented with that same evidence today, I would vote the same way. I respected and trusted the Secretary of State Colin Powell. It’s obvious now that Saddam Hussein, though he had used weapons of mass destruction, did not have the inventory that we seemed to have evidence, that looking through with some hindsight was very flimsy.”
TIME Ukraine

U.S. Warned Of Unsafe Airspace Over Crimea, But Not Where MH17 Crashed

An armed pro-Russian separatist stands at a site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014.
An armed pro-Russian separatist stands at a site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. Maxim Zmeyev—Reuters

The Federal Aviation Administration warned U.S. air carriers not to fly in a region about 200 miles away from where Malaysian crash occurred in Ukraine.

Earlier this year the Federal Aviation Administration banned American air carriers from flying over part of the disputed area between Russia and Ukraine over safety concerns, but the area where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed on Thursday was not included in this restricted airspace.

The agency warned American aircraft on April 25 against flying over the Crimean peninsula and the surrounding waters after Russia, which had moved to annex the territory, claimed control over that airspace.

“In the FAA’s view, the potential for civil aircraft to receive confusing and conflicting air traffic control instructions from both Ukrainian and Russian ATS providers while operating in the portion of the Simferopol (UKFV) FIR covered by this SFAR is unsafe and presents a potential hazard to civil flight operations in the disputed airspace,” the agency wrote. “In addition, political and military tension between Ukraine and the Russian Federation remains high, and compliance with air traffic control instructions issued by the authorities of one country could result in a civil aircraft being misidentified as a threat and intercepted or otherwise engaged by air defense forces of the other country.”

But the Donetsk region where Flight 17 reportedly crashed is roughly 200 miles northeast from the restricted zone. The map below was included in the FAA advisory.

 

 

FAA
TIME russia

U.S. Imposes New Sanctions Against Russia

President Barack Obama speaks about foreign policy and escalating sanctions against Russia in response to the crisis in Ukraine in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington DC, on July 16, 2014.
President Barack Obama speaks about foreign policy and escalating sanctions against Russia in response to the crisis in Ukraine in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington DC, on July 16, 2014. Charles Dharapak—AP

The Obama Administration announced new sanctions against firms in Russia’s energy, financial, and defense sectors Wednesday in response to Russia’s continued support for Ukrainian separatists.

Senior administration officials said Wednesday that Russia has continued to violate Ukraine’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity” after its annexation of the Crimean peninsula earlier this year, precipitating the sanctions after months of warnings. The new sanctions, the first so-called “sectoral sanctions” used by the U.S. against Russia hit two banks, Gazprombank OAO and VEB, and two Russian energy firms, OAO Novatek and Rosneft, limiting their access to the United States’ capital markets.

Also sanctioned by the U.S. Wednesday are the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic, as well as the top general in Russia’s FSB security service, reportedly a leading separatist supporter within the FSB. Eight state-owned defense and technology firms dealing in arms or related material sector in Russia are also included.

“These sanctions are significant, but they are also targeted,” President Barack Obama said Wednesday, adding that they are designed to limit spillover effects on U.S. and European interests. “We live in a complex world and at a challenging time.”

Administration officials said the sanctions would “only further exacerbate Russia’s economic problems,” adding that sanctions already in place are responsible for slowing the growth of that country’s economy. They also warned that the U.S. has the ability to expand sanctions if Russia continues its “inappropriate behavior.” The officials added that “there is an off-ramp here for Russia” if they move swiftly to close the border between Russia and Eastern Ukraine as well as back off supporting the separatists fighting the Ukrainian government.

However, Edward Chow, a senior fellow and energy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says these new sanctions weren’t designed to dramatically reduce Russia’s rate of growth. “Russia was already forecast to have near-zero economic growth this year, before the Ukraine crisis which it created,” said Chow. “Most economists were forecasting negative growth this year before these latest sanctions were announced.”

Even if the overall Russian economy isn’t slowed by these sanctions, though, the firms targeted will certainly feel the hurt.

“I think the actions taken by Treasury today will limit the sources from which Rosneft can get financing and thus raise the cost of capital for the firm, making it more difficult and more costly to do business,” said Jason Bordoff, Professor of Professional Practice in International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. “It does not prohibit U.S. firms from doing business with Rosneft or bar Russian energy supplies from flowing into the global market, but it is the next step in a gradually escalating series of measures the Administration can take to ratchet up the economic pressure on Moscow, while seeking to minimize the collateral damage to the US and its allies who have close economic ties to Russia.”

European Union officials imposed their own increased sanctions against Russia separately on Wednesday.

With reporting by Alex Rogers/Washington

TIME White House

Biden: I ‘Reject’ Dick Cheney’s Stance on Defense Spending

Joe Biden
U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden discusses international intellectual property protections at the 2nd Annual Creativity Conference presented by the Motion Picture Association of America at The Newseum on May 2, 2014 in Washington, D.C. Paul Morigi—WireImage

Vice President Joe Biden took aim at his immediate predecessor Wednesday, arguing that former Vice President Dick Cheney was wrong when he said this week that defense spending should trump domestic expenditures.

“I saw Vice President Cheney saying that we should be spending more money on our military, not on food stamps and highways,” Biden told Generation Progress, an off-shoot of the Center for American Progress.

Cheney criticized the Obama administration for cutting the size of government Monday at an event hosted by POLITICO. “That ought to be our top priority for spending. Not food stamps, not highways, or anything else,” Cheney said.

“When it comes to the safety of our warriors we have to spend the money,” Biden said in response on Wednesday. “But this idea of it’s somehow inherently more important to spend money on the military than on domestic needs is a policy I reject—I reject out of hand.”

Before criticizing Cheney, Biden said, “I don’t take a backseat to anyone, including Vice President Cheney, on the issue of our military. I know what it’s like to have a son stationed in Iraq for a year.”

Biden also encouraged attendees not to give up hope on the unaccomplished promises of President Barack Obama’s 2008 election. “Everybody says because we tried in ‘08 and it didn’t happen, it’s not possible—wrong,” Biden said. “We’ve gone through these periods before … Change. Change for the better, is absolutely possible and I believe it’s close to inevitable, if you’re the drivers of it.”

TIME Immigration

White House Leak Hits Democratic Governor After Immigration Comments

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley speaks with reporters in his office inside the Maryland State House in Annapolis, Md., on April 7, 2014.
Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley speaks with reporters in his office inside the Maryland State House in Annapolis, Md., on April 7, 2014. Patrick Semansky—AP

Policy differences over immigration between the Maryland's governor and the Obama Administration leads to an unusually nasty battle in the press.

In 2012, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley was ubiquitous on the campaign trail for President Barack Obama’s re-elect, appearing regularly on cable TV and in spin rooms to lob attacks on behalf of the president. He was the only governor on Obama’s National Finance Committee. He and his Celtic rock band even played the White House on St. Patrick’s Day.

But all of that goodwill came tumbling down Friday after O’Malley, who is positioning himself for a White House bid in 2016, whacked the White House’s handling of the surge of unaccompanied minors across the nation’s southern border. “It is contrary to everything we stand for to try to summarily send children back to death,” O’Malley told reporters at the National Governors Association, breaking with the president who has said that most of the migrants will be returned to their home countries. The statement drew a private complaint from Domestic Policy Director Cecilia Muñoz in the form of a phone call.

But that phone call didn’t stay private, with Muñoz’s frustrations relayed to the press on Tuesday, as well as O’Malley’s request on the call to keep the children out of a proposed detention facility in Westminster, Md. The leak—which Democratic operatives pinned on the White House and which O’Malley pinned on Muñoz personally in a conversation with the Washington Post—suggested that the governor was being a hypocrite, gaining points with the Democratic base for calling more humane treatment for the children while declining to house them in his state.

“He privately said ‘please don’t send these kids to western Maryland,’” the “Democratic source” behind the leaked call told CNN.

But O’Malley and his aides offer a sharply different take on what transpired. “What I said was that would not be the most inviting site in Maryland. There are already hundreds of kids already located throughout Maryland,” O’Malley told CNN Wednesday morning. Days after the call, the proposed facility was sprayed with misspelled graffiti, saying “No illeagels here. No undocumented Democrats.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest declined to discuss the source of the leaked details of the phone call. “From the podium here, I’m not going to be in a position to share the details of a private conversation between a senior White House official and a prominent governor of an important state,” he said, adding that the relationship between the White House and O’Malley was “as strong as ever.”

A senior O’Malley administration official said the state is working with the federal government on a number of Maryland sites to house the detainee children. On Monday, O’Malley’s administration began the process to speed licensing for future Department of Health and Human Services facilities in the state. “His focus continues to be on trying to be a constructive force in resolving this humanitarian crisis at the border and making sure that these children are cared for while they await due process,” the official said.

The sharp White House response and the controversy over the Maryland facility masks the real controversy at play. The real difference between the O’Malley and the White House is not whether the children should be housed in Maryland, but how the illegal immigrants should be treated in the first place. “The better course here is to place as many kids with families and relatives as we possibly can or use the available foster system,” O’Malley said Friday, saying they should be held in the “least restrictive setting,” rather than the current facilities which he compared to “kennels.” The White House, on the other hand, is seeking a legal change that will allow them to more quickly deport those children that do not present humanitarian claims, without ever placing with families in the United States. It is that law-and-order approach that has the White House on defense from many in its own party.

TIME Congress

Compromise Disrupts the Daily Vitriol in Washington, D.C.

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner (C) reacts after signing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act with (from left to right) Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Congressman George Miller, Republican Congressman John Kline, Republican Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, and Democratic Congressman Ruben Hinojosa in the Speaker's Conference Room in the US Capitol in Washington on July 11, 2014.
Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner (C) reacts after signing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act with (from left to right) Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Congressman George Miller, Republican Congressman John Kline, Republican Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, and Democratic Congressman Ruben Hinojosa in the Speaker's Conference Room in the US Capitol in Washington on July 11, 2014. Jim Lo Scalzo—EPA

The political war of words hasn't stopped, but Republicans and Democrats are proving they can still get stuff done together

The rhetoric in Washington Tuesday was as poisonous as ever, with President Barack Obama lashing out again at House Republicans and Speaker John Boehner returning the favor. “The American people have to demand that folks in Washington do their job, do something,” Obama said, in an attack. “Giving speeches about a long-term highway bill, it’s frankly just more rhetoric,” Boehner responded in kind.

But under the hood, things did not look quite so dire. With little fanfare, the tiny sounds of compromise on infrastructure funding and immigration policy echoed through the marbled halls of Washington. House Republican leadership decided to break with their conservative flank to support a ten-month highway funding bill that the White House endorsed. Then House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer said Democrats would also support the measure, just a week after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi criticized it.

Meanwhile, House and Senate Republicans found themselves echoing the rhetoric of the White House as they push for a legal change that will allow for the quicker deportation of Central American children who cross the border illegally, a move that has infuriated liberals. “This would be done in a humane and responsible way,” said a Republican aide close to the House working group working on immigration, echoing the White House talking points on the proposal.

Despite the hesitant cooperation, both sides tried to use the potential for agreement as a way score political points. “Breaking news,” White House Spokesman Josh Earnest said, dryly after he was asked about the transportation deal. “Maybe the presidential rhetoric is having an effect.” Republicans, similarly, tried to cast the fleeting agreement as a victory. “The point is there are ways to get things done—they rarely included campaign speeches by the President,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

To be sure, many areas of disagreement remain, and the limited cooperation with 10 legislative days before Labor Day is more a function of clearing the docket of urgent business before the long midterm-election-year recess than a genuine breakthrough. The GOP remains divided over the $3.7 billion budget request from the White House to deal with the border fix, and there is no sign of a larger deal on immigration reform. The historic standoff over deficit spending levels remains unresolved. And in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid has rejected proposal by Republican Whip John Cornyn to change deportation process for Central American minors.

But the week’s work proves that even in a city riven by division and broken trust, work still gets done on occasion, even if neither party shows any interest in ending the daily onslaught of recriminations over the coming months. “Now that President Obama has endorsed the House highway bill, we hope he will urge Senate Democrats to pass some of the nearly 50 House-passed jobs bills still awaiting action,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker of the House John Boehner. “The American people are still asking, where are the jobs? And it’s time for the president to fight the Senate gridlock from his own political party.”

At the White House, Earnest said the temporary bipartisanship wouldn’t change the president’s summer plans to continue on offense. “Republicans have put their political ambitions ahead of the interests of middle-class families so many times, but like I said, I’m willing to give credit where it’s due,” he said of the highway agreement. “But it’s not going to stop this administration from continuing to advocate for the kind of long-term highway reauthorization that’s in the best interests of the American economy.”

Additional reporting by Alex Rogers/Washington

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