Chaos, consultation: Inside Trump’s decision to strike Syria
WASHINGTON (AP) — For the second time in his presidency, President Donald Trump stared, horrified at pictures of children killed in a chemical attack in Syria.
And for the second time in his presidency, those visceral images helped propel Trump toward military strikes in a country he sees as a trap for the United States.
At times, the lead-up to Friday’s strikes was orderly — a traditional decision-making process for an unconventional president. He sought the input of national security advisers and convened Situation Room meetings. He consulted with allies, who shared his anger at the photos emerging from Syria of children and adults apparently killed or sickened by poisonous gases.
But at other moments, the chaotic nature of Trump’s presidency broke through. He hinted at his plans in bellicose and at times confusing tweets. And he seethed over the legal threats springing up around him, including a raid on his longtime lawyer’s home and office.
Through it all, U.S. and Western officials said it was clear Trump intended to take military action. Discussions with France and Britain were focused not on whether to strike, but how to do so in a way that went beyond “punishing” the Assad regime for the attack and instead would degrade its ability to use chemical weapons in the future, according to two Western diplomats with knowledge of the discussions.
Trump claims success in Syria, but chemical weapons remain
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Saturday declared “Mission Accomplished” for a U.S.-led allied missile attack on Syria’s chemical weapons program, but the Pentagon said the pummeling of three chemical-related facilities left enough others intact to enable the Assad government to use banned weapons against civilians if it chooses.
“A perfectly executed strike,” Trump tweeted after U.S., French and British warplanes and ships launched more than 100 missiles nearly unopposed by Syrian air defences. “Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!”
His choice of words recalled a similar claim associated with President George W. Bush following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Bush addressed sailors aboard a Navy ship in May 2003 alongside a “Mission Accomplished” banner, just weeks before it became apparent that Iraqis had organized an insurgency that tied down U.S. forces for years.
The nighttime Syria assault was carefully limited to minimize civilian casualties and avoid direct conflict with Syria’s key ally, Russia, but confusion arose over the extent to which Washington warned Moscow in advance. The Pentagon said it gave no explicit warning. The U.S. ambassador in Moscow, John Huntsman, said in a video, “Before we took action, the United States communicated with” Russia to “reduce the danger of any Russian or civilian casualties.”
Dana W. White, the chief Pentagon spokeswoman, said that to her knowledge no one in the Defence Department communicated with Moscow in advance, other than the acknowledged use of a military-to-military hotline that has routinely helped minimize the risk of U.S.-Russian collisions or confrontations in Syrian airspace. Officials said this did not include giving Russian advance notice of where or when allied airstrikes would happen.
Analysis: Trump wanted out of Syria, but he’s drawn back in
WASHINGTON (AP) — In heated exchanges with his national security team in recent weeks, President Donald Trump repeatedly made clear he saw little incentive for the United States to be involved in Syria’s intractable civil war.
Then he pushed the U.S. military back into the quagmire.
In doing so, Trump is trying to confront a dilemma that haunted his predecessor, Barack Obama. Syria’s seven-year civil war presents few fast or easy solutions for the U.S., yet the geopolitical rivalries at play, the presence of the Islamic State group and other extremists, and the atrocities perpetrated by the Assad government make the situation impossible to ignore.
Thus far, Trump and his top advisers have sent mixed messages about what Friday’s U.S., British and French strikes may mean for his administration’s future commitment in Syria.
The strikes themselves were limited — 105 weapons launched against three targets. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis described the action as a “one-time shot” in retaliation for the Syrian government’s apparent use of chemical weapons in an April 7 attack that killed more than 40 people.
Defiant Syrians say West hasn’t shaken their resolve
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Hundreds of Syrians poured into the streets of Damascus on Saturday, dancing and chanting in defiance of what they called the West’s “failure” to shake their nation’s resolve with airstrikes that jolted the capital only hours earlier.
The demonstrations in support of President Bashar Assad were carried live on state TV, which also reported that Syrian air defences had intercepted most of the missiles fired by the United States, Britain and France to punish Syria’s purported use of chemical weapons. The broadcaster also urged people not to believe media reports that exaggerated the results of the airstrikes.
“We are not scared of America’s missiles. We humiliated their missiles,” said Mahmoud Ibrahim, who waved a Syrian flag as he hung out of his car window.
As car horns blared, the crowd moved toward nearby Damascus University where pro-government fighters danced and waved their automatic rifles over their heads. Many denounced U.S. President Donald Trump and also waved flags of Syria’s allies, Iran and Russia, as they cheered Assad.
The display of national fervour later mixed with celebrations over the news that the Syrian army declared the eastern suburbs of Damascus “fully liberated” after the last group of rebels left the town of Douma. Its recapture marks the biggest victory for Assad’s forces since the capture of the eastern half of the city of Aleppo in 2016.
AP investigation: Doctors keep licenses despite sex abuse
WASHINGTON (AP) — The first time that Dr. Anthony Bianchi came onto a patient, California’s medical board alleged, the gynecologist placed a chair against the exam room door, put his fingers into the woman’s vagina and exposed his erect penis.
The second time, the board claimed, he told a patient that he couldn’t stop staring at her breasts and recounted a dream in which he performed oral sex on her in the office.
The third time, the board charged, he told a pregnant patient suffering from vaginal bleeding that she shouldn’t shave her pubic hair before her next visit, as he was getting too excited.
These episodes led to disciplinary actions by the state’s medical board in 2012 and in 2016. Bianchi agreed not contest the charges, and he held onto his medical license. Under a settlement with California’s medical board, he agreed to seek therapy and refrain from treating women during five years of probation.
Bianchi did not respond to telephone messages from The Associated Press left for him at the workers’ compensation clinic in Fresno, California, where he now evaluates occupational health claims.
Police chief: Officers did nothing wrong in Starbucks arrest
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Philadelphia’s police commissioner on Saturday defended officers who arrested two black men at a Starbucks, prompting accusations of racism on social media, concern from the mayor and an apology from the company.
Videos posted online show officers handcuffing the men in the downtown establishment on Thursday. A white man in the video is heard saying he was meeting with the men and calls the arrest “ridiculous.”
Commissioner Richard Ross said Starbucks employees called 911 to say the men were trespassing. He said officers were told that the men had come in and asked to use the restroom but were denied because they hadn’t bought anything, as he said is company policy. He said they then refused to leave.
Ross, who is black, said police asked the men to leave three times but they refused, and they were then arrested but were later released after the company elected not to prosecute. He said the officers “did absolutely nothing wrong” and were professional in their conduct toward the individuals but “got the opposite back.” He did not mention the person who said he was meeting with the men.
“As an African American male, I am very aware of implicit bias; we are committed to fair and unbiased policing,” Ross said. But he added “If a business calls and they say that ‘Someone is here that I no longer wish to be in my business’ (officers) now have a legal obligation to carry out their duties and they did just that.”
GOP devotes $250M to midterm strategy: Keep House majority
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican National Committee has committed $250 million to a midterm election strategy that has one goal above all else: Preserve the party’s House majority for the rest of President Donald Trump’s first term.
Facing the prospect of a blue wave this fall, the White House’s political arm is devoting unprecedented resources to building an army of paid staff and trained volunteers across more than two dozen states. The RNC is taking the fight to Senate Democrats in Republican-leaning states, but much of the national GOP’s resources are focused on protecting Republican-held House seats in states including Florida, California and New York.
“Our No. 1 priority is keeping the House. We have to win the House,” RNC political director Juston Johnson said. “That is the approach we took to put the budget together.”
RNC officials shared details of their midterm spending plan with The Associated Press just as several hundred volunteers and staff held a day of action on Saturday in competitive regions across the country. The weekend show of force, which comes as Democrats have shown a significant enthusiasm advantage in the age of President Donald Trump, was designed to train 1,600 new volunteers in more than 200 events nationwide.
There were more than three dozen events in Florida alone, a state that features competitive races for the Senate, the governorship and a half dozen House races.
Bon Jovi reunites to enter Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
CLEVELAND (AP) — Bon Jovi reunited with former members Richie Sambora and Alec John Such for a powerful performance on Saturday night as the band earned a spot in the prestigious Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Jon Bon Jovi, Sambora and Such were joined by current bandmates David Bryan, Tico Torres and Hugh McDonald at the Public Auditorium in Cleveland, where the Rock Hall is based.
They performed crowd favourites like “You Give Love a Bad Name” and “It’s My Life.”
Sambora left Bon Jovi in 2013 and Such in 1994. Each of the members spoke onstage, giving thanks for the honour and telling old stories about the New Jersey band. They all hugged as a group afterward.
Jon Bon Jovi said he has been writing his Rock Hall speech for years.
Storm blasts central US with snow, ice and wind, killing 3
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A storm system stretching from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes has buffeted the central U.S. with heavy snow, winds, rain and hail, forcing flight cancellations, creating treacherous road conditions and killing at least three people, including a sleeping 2-year-old Louisiana girl.
In the Upper Midwest, the early spring storm brought snow to a region pining for sunshine and warmth. Around 400 flights were cancelled at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, which grounded all flights Saturday afternoon as heavy snow made it difficult to keep runways clear and planes deiced, while blizzard conditions forced the airport in South Dakota’s biggest city, Sioux Falls, to remain closed for a second straight day.
The Minnesota Twins home game against the Chicago White Sox was snowed out Saturday, marking the first back-to-back postponements of baseball games in the stadium’s nine seasons. Sunday’s game was also called off because of the storm, which by Saturday night had buried Minneapolis under more than 13 inches of snow (33 centimetres). The Yankees and Tigers were rained out Saturday in Detroit.
Authorities closed several highways in southwestern Minnesota, where no travel was advised, and driving conditions were difficult across the southern half of the state. The National Weather Service predicted that a large swath of southern Minnesota, including Minneapolis and St. Paul, could get up to 20 inches of snow (51 centimetres) by the time the storm blows through early Sunday.
“It’s a cool experience for me, the best Minneapolis experience,” Niko Heiligman, of Aachen, Germany, said as he braved the snow Saturday to take a walk along the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis. “I’m only here for the weekend, so I guess that’s how it goes. There’s snow and it’s cold. So it’s good.”
Durant, defending champ Warriors get defensive, beat Spurs
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors had something to prove all right: Oh yes, they plan to stay on top in these playoffs despite a disappointing finish to the regular season.
Kevin Durant helped the defending champions get defensive in a hurry, finishing with 24 points, eight rebounds and seven assists and the Warriors returned to their old dominant selves at playoff time to beat the cold-shooting San Antonio Spurs 113-92 on Saturday.
“Absolutely,” Klay Thompson said about playing a memorable, statement-making Game 1. “We did not end the season on a high note, we kind of hobbled into the playoffs. We know how talented we are. We know how good we are. We have been here before in the post-season and know what it takes to win.”
And they still know how to win in impressive fashion on the NBA’s big stage.
Durant, Thompson and Draymond Green took charge in Game 1 of the first-round series to elevate the Warriors’ intensity at last playing without fellow All-Star and injured two-time MVP Stephen Curry, sidelined since March 23 with a sprained left knee.