Washington, Jul 27 (AP/UNB) — The White House on Thursday defended its decision to bar a CNN correspondent from attending an open press event but contended it had nothing to do with the questions she asked.
Deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said Kaitlan Collins was denied access to Trump's Rose Garden event with the European Commission president on Wednesday because of her refusal to leave the Oval Office during a previous availability with the president. She and her employer, CNN, said she was barred because White House officials found her questions "inappropriate," which Gidley disputed.
"It had nothing to do with the content of the question," Gidley told reporters aboard Air Force One as President Donald Trump headed back to Washington from Iowa and Illinois.
Collins had served as a representative of the television networks during an earlier "pool spray" availability in the Oval Office. She and a handful of other reporters peppered the president with questions, including many focused on his former lawyer, Michael Cohen. A day earlier, CNN had obtained and aired a secret audio recording that captured Trump and Cohen discussing a potential payment to a former Playboy model who claims she had an affair with Trump.
Gidley said Collins "was told repeatedly to leave the Oval Office." She refused and stayed "despite staff, Secret Service, everyone trying to usher everyone out of the room," Gidley said. "And that can't happen."
Other journalists who were in the room disputed the White House account.
Numerous reporters, including many from the European Union delegation, had been shouting questions, and, as usual, it took some time for the pack of journalists to file out the doors. Trump frequently answers reporters' questions even as staffers try to usher them out of the room, creating sometimes-chaotic scenes where low-level press officers shout at reporters as the president tries to speak.
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday said the White House had made clear that other CNN journalists were welcome at the Rose Garden event, just not Collins.
"To be clear, we support a free press and ask that everyone be respectful of the presidency and guests at the White House," she said.
Earlier Thursday, White House communications chief Bill Shine quibbled with the use of the word "ban" in describing the action taken against Collins.
"Would you ask her if we ever used the word 'ban'?" Shine told reporters.
And Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway said the incident showed the need broadly for more "civility" between reporters and the White House.
"I think it should start here at the White House and just show a little bit more respect," she said.
Asked whether Trump had directed the decision, Gidley replied: "The president does feel strongly about this."
CNN, in a statement Wednesday, objected to the White House decision, calling it "retaliatory in nature" and "not indicative of an open and free press."
"Just because the White House is uncomfortable with a question regarding the news of the day doesn't mean the question isn't relevant and shouldn't be asked," the network said.
The White House Correspondents' Association also issued a harshly worded statement condemning "the White House's misguided and inappropriate decision ... to bar one of our members from an open press event after she asked questions they did not like."
Granite City, Jul 27 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump on Thursday trumpeted the renewed success of an Illinois steel mill, pushing back against criticism that his escalating trade disputes are hurting American workers and farmers.
The president pointed to the U.S. Steel plant's reopening as a success story after he slapped tariffs on imported steel and aluminum last spring. On Wednesday, he and European leaders agreed to open talks on trade, a decision he called a breakthrough.
"America never surrenders," Trump said in an address to workers at the company's steel coil warehouse in Granite City. "We don't wave the white flag."
Trump held events in Iowa and Illinois a day after reaching an accord with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the White House to discuss tearing down trade barriers and address U.S. tariffs on steel imports. Trump also said the EU had agreed to buy more soybeans from American farmers, who have seen prices decline sharply since China imposed retaliatory tariffs.
Farmers and manufacturers have criticized tariffs imposed by Trump, warning that they will spur a global trade war and retaliatory tariffs from countries like China, Mexico and Canada that will damage their livelihoods and raise prices on consumers.
But Trump said he stepped forward to protect the U.S. steel industry with tariffs of 25 percent on imports out of national security concerns and in solidarity with workers who had been hurt by unfair trade agreements. In the past, Trump said Thursday, "Our steel towns became ghost towns" and the U.S. engaged in "the worst trade deals ever made in history." Now, he said, he was negotiating better terms.
"After years of shutdowns and cutbacks, today the blast furnace here in Granite City is blazing bright, workers are back on the job and we are once again pouring new American steel into the spine of our country," Trump said.
Earlier, Trump said his talks with European allies would benefit Iowa farmers who have been hurt by the fallout from his protectionist trade measures.
"We just opened up Europe for you farmers. You're not going to be too angry with Trump, I can tell you," the president said at the workforce development event in Peosta, where he was joined by two Iowa Republicans, Gov. Kim Reynolds and Rep. Rod Blum.
Business leaders and Republicans in Congress have said the tariffs could hurt companies reliant on steel and aluminum raw materials in their manufacturing and raise prices.
That includes Mid Continent Nail Corp. in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, which has shuttered a multimillion-dollar plant and is "on the brink of extinction" and blames its issue on Trump's tariffs.
"This is a county that went 79 percent for Trump so people are certainly willing to give him the benefit of the doubt," said spokesman James Glassman. "But their jobs are at stake because of this misguided tariff."
Iowa is among the nation's leading producers of soybeans, and the event at Northeast Iowa Community College came on the heels of the Agriculture Department's announcement of $12 billion in temporary aid to help farmers deal with retaliatory tariffs from U.S. trading partners.
Tariffs threaten more than $3.8 billion in Illinois exports, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and major companies including Caterpillar and Boeing already have been hurt.
But Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, briefing reporters on Air Force One, said more jobs have been created by the steel and aluminum tariffs than are being lost, and said companies were wrongly blaming Trump for their issues.
"This is a real vindication that the president's trade policy is starting to work," Ross said of Wednesday's EU deal.
On the outskirts of St. Louis, more than 2,000 workers from Granite City Works were given layoff notices just before Thanksgiving 2015. U.S. Steel cited low oil prices —the mill produces steel for oil refineries and the auto industry — as well as the availability of cheap, imported steel.
Granite City Works is now near its 2015 employment level of 2,100, with a second blast furnace to be operating by this fall. Jobs there mean dozens more at steel-processing plants throughout the city that bend, cut, coat or reshape the raw product, said James Amos, Granite City's economic development director.
David Burritt, U.S. Steel's president and CEO, said the company was experiencing a "renaissance" and credited Trump's actions for the steel industry's revival. "The president has been in office really only a short time, but a lot has happened for our company because of the president," Burritt said.
Trump appeared eager to keep promoting more good economic news. The Commerce Department delivers its first estimate of second-quarter gross domestic product on Friday, and the president signaled the numbers would be in line with what economists have forecast: a sizzling growth rate of 4 percent or more.
"You're going to see on Friday what happens with GDP. Lot of predictions. Lot of predictions," Trump said in Iowa. "I told you before, some with a 5 in front of it ... we'll take anything with a 4 in front."
Baltimore, Jul 26 (AP/UNB) — A judge overseeing a federal oversight program requiring sweeping police reforms will quiz Baltimore authorities on their progress.
Just last week, U.S. District Judge James Bredar expressed doubts that the city's police department has the leadership or resources to put the mandated reforms into place.
On Thursday, Bredar will hold the second hearing to reveal how initial progress is going.
Earlier this year, Bredar described the relationship between Baltimore police and the community it serves as "fundamentally broken."
Baltimore and the Justice Department entered into the decree last year after federal investigators detailed longstanding patterns of racial profiling and excessive force. A scathing report followed the 2015 in-custody death of a black man.
The force has gone through three commissioners since then and was humiliated by a major corruption scandal.
Atlanta, Jul 25 (AP/UNB) — With a damning secret recording of his opponent and a late Trump-Pence endorsement, Secretary of State Brian Kemp on Tuesday won a bruising Republican runoff in the race for Georgia governor.
A self-described "unapologetic conservative" whose campaign ran an eyebrow-raising ad that said he could use his own pickup truck to "round up criminal illegals," Kemp rode a national wave of voter contempt for the establishment in favor of bare-knuckled outsider politics.
He now faces Democrat Stacey Abrams, who could become the country's first black female governor, in a race that will test Democrats' assertion that changing demographics have turned the Republican stronghold into a swing state.
Kemp thanked supporters at a party in his hometown of Athens, Georgia, on Tuesday night and said he had won a "clear, convincing victory." He credited the White House's backing for sealing his win. "They poured gasoline in the fire and fueled the Kemp surge to victory," Kemp said.
Kemp portrayed the race against Abrams as a battle with the "radical left" as Georgia's future hangs in the balance. "Do you want a governor who is going to answer to Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton?" he asked.
Abrams tweeted her reaction to Kemp's win Tuesday, saying "Tonight, I have an opponent: Kemp. The race for #GAGov may change, but our values never will. Service, faith & family guide our vision for GA: Affordable health care. Excellent public schools for every child. An economy that works for all."
"Stand with us," she wrote, followed by a link to a fundraising page.
Kemp beat once heavily-favored Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who outraised Kemp more than 2-to-1 and had a Rolodex of endorsements from establishment Republicans in the state including Gov. Nathan Deal.
In a tweeted endorsement last week, President Donald Trump pointed to Kemp's tough stance on illegal immigration and strong support for gun rights. With days left in the race, Vice President Mike Pence also stumped for Kemp on the campaign trail. Both reiterated their support for Kemp in tweets Tuesday.
Kemp's victory is likely to embolden Trump to become even more engaged in shaping the Republican Party in the final months of the primary season. And it is another election success for a Trump-approved candidate, following victories by Katie Arrington in South Carolina and Martha Roby in Alabama.
Nichole Jacobs went to Sandy Springs Christian Church to vote Tuesday for Kemp, citing his stance on immigration. Jacobs sends both her children to private schools, and feels her affluent Atlanta suburb is overrun with "illegal immigration."
"People are moving out of Sandy Springs to get into a better school district or putting their kids in private schools," Jacobs said.
Cagle began to lose ground after the release of a secret recording in June in which he says he helped pass a "bad public-policy" bill for political gain. The recording was made without Cagle's knowledge during a private conversation with former GOP gubernatorial rival Clay Tippins, who last week endorsed Kemp.
"Trump is a very powerful man," Cagle told watch party attendees Tuesday night in Atlanta after conceding to Kemp. He pumped his fist in the air, saying he put his best foot forward in the race as he congratulated Kemp.
"We have to rally behind him, so he can before the next governor of the state of Georgia," Cagle said of Kemp. "He is a person who is undeniably ready to lead this state. We have to rally behind him."
But Keenan Rogers, a 25-year-old Cagle supporter, was not yet convinced. He said he is leaning toward voting for Abrams over Kemp, but hasn't come to a decision yet.
"My knee-jerk reaction is to vote for Stacey Abrams," Rogers said, but added that he wanted to do more research on both candidates. "She might be a step forward for millennials ... But right now, I'm a little apprehensive."
Kemp had received widespread criticism — and national headlines — with television ads in which he pretends to intimidate a young man interested in his daughter with a shotgun and says he has a big pickup truck "just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take 'em home myself."
Kemp's opponents also hammered his record of securing voter data as secretary of state, in a line of attack likely to become a refrain for Abrams during the general election.
Cagle labeled Kemp "inKempetent," pointing to a 2015 incident in which Kemp's office inadvertently released Social Security numbers and other identifying information of millions of Georgia voters on disks sent to members of the media and political parties.
Kemp said a member of his staff was responsible for the error, that person was fired, and procedures were changed.
Kemp's office made headlines again last year after security experts disclosed a gaping security hole that wasn't fixed until six months after it was first reported to election authorities. Personal data was again exposed for Georgia's 6.7 million voters, as were passwords used by county officials to access files.
Kemp spokeswoman Candice Broce laid the blame squarely on Kennesaw State University, which had a contract to manage the system. "It was not our system. It was not our equipment. It was not our network," Broce said.
In the race ahead, Democrats point to a Georgia electorate that has become more urban and less white in recent decades as a sign they may be able to break the GOP winning streak for statewide office. Abrams already has star power, having garnered national attention when she won more than 76 percent of Democratic votes in her May 22 primary.
Bogota, Jul 25 (AP/UNB) — Influential former President Alvaro Uribe said he would resign from his Senate seat after Colombia's Supreme Court ordered Tuesday that he be called to testify on allegations of witness tampering.
Uribe tweeted that he felt "morally impeded" from continuing in his role as a senator while also mounting a defense against accusations that he has he denied.
"I've proceeded according to the law and my rights," he wrote on Twitter, while decrying the Supreme Court's press release as a "pre-judgment."
For several years the powerful ex-chief of state has been involved in a protracted legal dispute related to long-simmering and vehemently denied claims of ties to right-wing paramilitary groups.
The conservative Uribe accused another senator at the opposite end of the political spectrum, Ivan Cepeda, of pressuring prison inmates to falsely state that he was linked to one such group.
The Supreme Court found no evidence to support Uribe's claim but decided there were grounds to investigate him for manipulating witnesses instead.
In a statement, the court provided few details but said the case concerns acts that took place this year. The court said that after Uribe's case against Cepeda was blocked from going forward, "People close to ex-President Uribe began new acts of manipulating witnesses."
Cepeda told The Associated Press that Uribe's associates had offered one witness a bribe in exchange for retracting accusations against the former president.
"Colombia is showing today that no one is above the law," Cepeda said.
The case comes just two weeks before President-elect Ivan Duque will be sworn into office, having handily won a runoff election against ex-guerrilla Gustavo Petro thanks in large part to Uribe's support.
Many Colombians had speculated whether Uribe would use his position in the Senate and close relationship with Duque to sway the new president on decisive matters, such as making changes to the government's peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
Uribe has been dogged by allegations of links to drug cartels and paramilitaries since the start of his political career in the early 1980s, when the civil aviation agency he led was accused of giving air licenses to drug traffickers. U.S. State Department cables declassified in May showed U.S. officials were told more than two decades ago that Uribe had ties to drug cartels.
His brother, Santiago Uribe, is awaiting trial on charges that he was a leader of a death squad called the "Twelve Apostles" that was run from his cattle ranch.
Uribe, in a video posted on social media, has dismissed the allegations in the State Department cables as "fake news, in electoral periods and without proof."