Paris, July 28 (AP/UNB) — The former presidential security aide at the center of a firestorm over his violent behavior toward a protester on May Day says President Emmanuel Macron is not to blame and that he committed "a form of betrayal" of his boss.
The identification 10 days ago of Alexandre Benalla as the man in a video acting violently toward a protester has swelled into a political crisis for Macron. Benalla was embedded with police as an observer that day.
In his first TV interview, Benalla told TF1 that he didn't feel he had committed a "reprehensible" act, but conceded his actions were "not the role of a collaborator" of the president who "has nothing to do with May 1."
Among charges Benalla now faces is "violence in a group."
Washington, Jul 27 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump is prematurely claiming he proved naysayers wrong in boosting U.S. economic growth.
Speaking at events Thursday in Iowa and Illinois, Trump claimed victory in advance of Friday's government release of quarterly gross domestic product data, saying "nobody thought we were going to be this great" and that when he became president, "those numbers were bad."
In fact, the skepticism from economists has centered more on whether strong GDP growth would be sustainable after a few quarters. That question has yet to be answered; it's not unusual for the economy to surge forward temporarily.
Trump also falsely repeated a claim that the U.S. economy is the best "we've ever had" and incorrectly asserted that Canada's trade market is "totally closed."
A look at the claims:
TRUMP: "We're having the best economy we've ever had in the history of our country." — remarks in Granite City, Illinois.
THE FACTS: Even allowing for some Trumpian exaggeration, this overstates things.
The unemployment rate is near a 40-year low and growth is solid, but by many measures the current economy trails other periods in U.S. history. Average hourly pay, before adjusting for inflation, is rising at about a 2.5 percent annual rate, below the 4 percent level reached in the late 1990s when the unemployment rate was as low as it is now.
Pay was growing even faster in the late 1960s, when the jobless rate remained below 4 percent for nearly four years. And economic growth topped 4 percent for three full years from 1998 through 2000, an annual rate it hasn't touched since.
TRUMP, on GDP figures: "On Friday, the numbers come out, and I don't know what they are, but there are predictions from 3.8 to 5.3. ... Nobody thought we were going to be this great. ... When I took over, those numbers were bad, and they were heading in the wrong direction, because of regulation. Really the taxes were too high ... jobs were, forget it." — remarks at workforce event in Peosta, Iowa.
THE FACTS: Economists do expect a strong number for growth in the April-June quarter, but it is likely to be a temporary bounce. And the U.S. economy wasn't doing nearly as bad before Trump took office as he suggests.
Few economists doubted that growth could accelerate after the Trump administration's tax cuts were passed last year, and Congress approved a big increase in government spending earlier this year.
But the skepticism Trump describes centers on whether the second quarter's outsize growth can be sustained. The economy faces two significant structural drags: an aging population, which means fewer people are working and more are retired, and weak productivity growth, which means that those who are working aren't increasing their output as quickly as in the past.
Trump's tax cuts can stimulate faster growth by putting more money in people's pockets, but most economists expect the effect will be temporary, as those two trends act like gravity and pull the economy's longer-term growth lower.
When the Commerce Department releases the growth figures for the April-June quarter Friday morning, economists forecast they will show the economy expanded at a 4.1 percent annual rate, according to data provider FactSet. Some analysts have said the figure could reach as high as 5 percent.
Americans have ramped up their spending after cutting back in the first three months of the year, encouraged by tax cuts that have left more money in their pockets. Yet the tax cuts provide a one-time lift to take-home pay and will likely have less impact next year, analysts say.
A large, temporary surge in agricultural exports, specifically soybeans, should also juice growth in the second quarter. Exports of U.S. soybeans soared as companies sought to ship them to China before that country slapped tariffs on them in retaliation for U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods. Daniel Silver, an economist at JPMorgan Chase, forecast that soybean exports alone likely boosted GDP by 0.5 percentage point in the second quarter.
Many economists forecast growth will drop back to roughly 2.5 percent to 3 percent in the third quarter.
For the year, the economy is likely to expand at a 3 percent pace or more for the first time since 2005. But most economists forecast it will fall back below 3 percent soon afterward.
It's not unusual for the economy to surge forward temporarily. Growth reached 5.2 percent in the third quarter of 2014, before falling back to 2 percent in the next quarter.
Growth also wasn't as bad when he took office as Trump claims. The economy expanded 2.9 percent in 2015, though it slowed the following year. Businesses added 2.3 million jobs in 2016, before Trump took office, more than the 2.2 million gained in 2017.
TRUMP: "The Canadians, you have a totally closed market ... they have a 375 percent tax on dairy products, other than that it's wonderful to deal. And we have a very big deficit with Canada, a trade deficit." — remarks in Peosta, Iowa.
THE FACTS: No, it's not totally closed. Because of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Canada's market is almost totally open to the United States. Each country has a few products that are still largely protected, such as dairy in Canada and sugar in the United States.
Trump also repeated his claim that the U.S. has a trade deficit with Canada, but that is true only in goods. When services are included, such as insurance, tourism, and engineering, the U.S. had a $2.8 billion surplus with Canada last year.
Pyeongtaek, Jul 27 (AP/UNB) — North Korea on Friday returned the remains of what are believed to be U.S. servicemen killed during the Korean War, the White House said, with a U.S military plane making a rare trip from a U.S. base in South Korea to a coastal city in the North to retrieve the remains.
The handover follows through on a promise Kim Jong Un made to President Donald Trump when the leaders met in June and is the first tangible result from the much-hyped summit.
An Associated Press journalist at Osan Air Base outside of Seoul saw the plane land, and the White House earlier confirmed that a U.S. Air Force C-17 aircraft containing remains of fallen service members had departed Wonsan, North Korea, on its way to Osan. A formal repatriation ceremony will be held there Aug. 1.
At Osan, U.S. servicemen and a military honor guard lined up on the tarmac to receive the remains, which were carried in boxes covered in blue United Nations flags.
Details of what specifically the U.S. had picked up were unclear, but reports said previously that Pyongyang would return about 55 sets of remains from the 1950-53 Korean War.
About 7,700 U.S. soldiers are listed as missing from the Korean War, and 5,300 of the remains are believed to still be in North Korea. The war killed millions, including 36,000 American soldiers.
Despite soaring rhetoric about denuclearization ahead of their meeting, Trump and Kim's summit ended with only a vague aspirational goal for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula without describing when and how that would occur. Friday's handover will be followed by a lengthy series of forensic examinations and tests to determine if the remains are human, and whether they are actually American or allied troops killed in the conflict.
Officials in North Korea had no immediate comment on the possible return of the remains Friday, the 65th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, which the country celebrates as the day of "victory in the fatherland liberation war."
Friday's repatriation could be followed by strengthened North Korean demands for fast-tracked discussions with the United States on reaching a declaration to formally end the war, which was stopped with an armistice and not a peace treaty. South Korea's Defense Ministry also said that the North agreed to general-level military talks next week at a border village to discuss reducing tensions across the countries' heavily armed border.
The remains are expected to be flown to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii for scientific testing to identify them.
The U.S. military last month said that 100 wooden "temporary transit cases" built in Seoul were sent to the Joint Security Area at the Korean border as part of preparations to receive and transport remains in a dignified manner. U.S. Forces Korea spokesman Col. Chad Carroll also said, at the time, that 158 metal transfer cases were sent to a U.S. air base and would be used to send the remains home.
The remains are believed to be some of the more than 200 that North Korea has held in storage for some time, and were likely recovered from land during farming or construction. The vast majority of the war dead, however, have yet to be located and retrieved from cemeteries and battlefields across the countryside.
Efforts to recover American war dead had been stalled for more than a decade because of a standoff over North Korea's nuclear program and a previous U.S. claim that security arrangements for its personnel working in the North were insufficient.
From 1996 to 2005, joint U.S.-North Korea military search teams conducted 33 recovery operations that collected 229 sets of American remains. The last time North Korea turned over remains was in 2007, when Bill Richardson, a former U.N. ambassador and New Mexico governor, secured the return of six sets.
The North marked Friday's anniversary with ceremonies at war-related memorials; the capital Pyongyang and other cities were decked out in national flags and bright red banners. For the first time since 2015, Kim Jong Un has announced a general amnesty will be granted for prisoners who have committed crimes against the state.
North Korea has held out the return of remains as a symbol of its goodwill and intention to improve ties with Washington. Officials have bristled, however, at criticism from the U.S. that it seeks to profit from the repatriations by demanding excessive fees for handling and transporting the remains.
Pyongyang has nevertheless expressed its willingness to allow the resumption of joint search missions in the country to retrieve more remains. Such missions had been held from 1996 until they were cancelled by President George W. Bush amid heightening tensions over the North's nuclear program in 2005.
Post Kim-Trump summit talks between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior North Korean officials got off to a rocky start earlier this month, with the North accusing the Americans of making "unilateral and gangster-like" demands on denuclearization. The North also said U.S. officials came up with various "conditions and excuses" to backtrack on the issue of formally ending the war.
"The adoption of the declaration on the termination of war is the first and foremost process in the light of ending the extreme hostility and establishing new relations between the DPRK and the U.S.," the North's Korean Central News Agency said in a statement on Tuesday, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. "Peace can come only after the declaration of the termination of war."
Pompeo said Wednesday that a great deal of work remains ahead of a North Korea denuclearization deal, but he dodged requests to identify a specific denuclearization timeline in testimony to members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Experts say a declaration to officially end the war, which could also involve Seoul and Beijing, would make it easier for Pyongyang to direct the discussions with Washington toward a peace treaty, diplomatic recognition, security assurance and economic benefits. Some analysts believe that North Korea would eventually demand that the United States withdraw or dramatically reduce the 28,500 troops it keeps in South Korea as a deterrent.
Washington has maintained Pyongyang wouldn't get sanctions relief and significant security and economic rewards unless it firmly commits to a process of completely and verifiably eliminating its nuclear weapons. There are lingering doubts on whether Kim would ever agree to fully relinquish his nukes, which he may see as a stronger guarantee of survival than whatever security assurance the United States could offer.
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."