Politics ESSENTIAL WASHINGTON

Here's our look at the Trump administration and the rest of Washington:

    German police seize thousands of 'Trump' ecstasy tablets

     (Associated Press)
    (Associated Press)

    German police say they have seized thousands of tablets of the party drug Ecstasy in the shape of President Trump's head, a haul with an estimated street value of $45,900.

    Police in Osnabrueck, northwest Germany, say they found the drugs while checking an Austrian-registered car on the A30 highway Saturday.

    They say the people in the car, a 51-year-old man and his 17-year-old son, told officers they had been in the Netherlands to buy a vehicle but hadn't succeeded so were returning home.

    Officers said they found about 5,000 of the orange, Trump-shaped Ecstasy tablets along with a large, but unspecified quantity of cash.

    A judge on Sunday ordered the father and son kept in custody. The car was seized.

    ALSO:

    Trump heads to Arizona to tout immigration crackdown and rally supporters

    Afghans express hope for Trump's new war strategy, while Pakistanis feel stung by criticism

    Pentagon chief says he hasn't decided on number of U.S. troops for Afghanistan

    U.S. Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said Tuesday that the new strategy for Afghanistan will try to replicate "a lot" of the tactics that have successfully pushed Islamic State from large parts of Iraq and Syria since 2014.

    Key to those campaigns has been a willingness to embed U.S. advisors closer to the front lines to help ground assaults by Iraqi security forces and Syrian militias. The advisors help on battlefield strategy and coordinate airstrikes on enemy targets.

    But Mattis said he is still awaiting a detailed plan from Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for how to implement the strategy that President Trump announced Monday night. 

    Trump has given Mattis authority to send about 4,000 more troops, adding to 8,400 U.S. forces already deployed to Afghanistan. But during a previously unannounced visit to Baghdad, Mattis said he won't decide a precise figure until he gets Dunford's plan.

    "When he brings that to me, I will determine how many more we need to send in," Mattis said. "It may or may not the number that is bandied about."

    Trump disclosed few details about his plan to again deepen U.S. involvement in the nearly 16-year-old U.S. war against an array of Islamist insurgents who have gained ground against the central government in Kabul.

    The Taliban now controls or contests more than 40% of Afghan territory — more ground than at any point since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 toppled the militants from power, according to recent United Nations estimates.

    Trump said he won't provide a “blank check” for U.S. support to the Afghan government, but added he didn't want to be hemmed in by timelines.

    Mattis also refused to provide specifics on the military's strategy, which has been deliberated for months by top U.S. military and government officials, or say how Pakistan figures in. 

    "There is a broader approach to this and it all comes down to the execution and we will have to stand and deliver on this,” Mattis said. “You'll just have to watch it unfold to really get the answer to it."

    More U.S. sanctions on Russian, Chinese firms accused of working with North Korea

     (Yonhap News)
    (Yonhap News)

    The Trump administration on Tuesday imposed a new round of economic sanctions on Russian and Chinese companies and individuals who it said are working with North Korea.

    Sanctions have served as the cornerstone of U.S. efforts to isolate North Korea economically and diplomatically over the last two decades as the country has developed and tested nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

    The United Nations Security Council supports the efforts, voting unanimously this month for a package of additional sanctions after North Korea successfully tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles. 

    After North Korean media said the country's autocratic ruler, Kim Jong Un, was considering a plan to send four ballistic missiles into waters off Guam, President Trump warned that he could unleash "fire and fury" if North Korea attacked the U.S. territory.

    Kim shelved the plan, at least for now, and tensions eased. His government has denounced annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises that began Monday, but without adding a specific threat of attack. 

    The newest Treasury Department sanctions target 10 firms and six individuals, all from China or Russia. The sanctions mean U.S. authorities can freeze any assets the targets have in the United States, and U.S. companies and people are barred from doing business with them.

    Among those blacklisted are a company based in Hong Kong accused of helping finance Pyongyang's ballistic missile program; three Chinese coal companies that the U.S. says imported nearly $500 million in North Korean coal between 2013 and 2016; and a Chinese firm based in Africa that facilitates the employment of North Korean workers, whose wages go to Kim's government.

    Three Russians who run a company that exports oil to North Korea also were targeted, administration officials said.

    “Treasury will continue to increase pressure on North Korea by targeting those who support the advancement of nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and isolating them from the American financial system,” Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said in a statement. 

    “It is unacceptable for individuals and companies in China, Russia and elsewhere to enable North Korea to generate income used to develop weapons of mass destruction and destabilize the region," he added. 

    Louise Linton, wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, slams Instagram follower after criticisms from several users

     (Saul Loeb / Associated Press)
    (Saul Loeb / Associated Press)

    Louise Linton, the wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, blasted as "adorably out of touch" a person who criticized her Instagram post in which Linton depicted her designer-label outfit.

    Linton posted the picture of herself Monday getting off a government plane in Kentucky with Mnuchin. In her post, she mentioned several designer labels for her all-white outfit, including Tom Ford and Valentino.

    The commenter responded: "Glad we could pay for your little getaway. #deplorable."

    Linton, an actress, responded on Instagram by calling the commenter "adorably out of touch." She suggested she and Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs executive and hedge fund investor, contributed more to the U.S. economy and paid more in taxes than her critic.

    "Pretty sure the amount we sacrifice per year is a lot more than you'd be willing to sacrifice if the choice was yours," Linton added.

    She went on to call the commenter's response "passive aggressive" and "nasty" before ending her retort with a suggestion that the critic, "go chill out and watch the new game of thrones."

    Linton's Instagram account is private, but a screengrab of her response has circulated online. Linton and the Treasury Department didn't immediately respond to requests for comment from the Associated Press on Tuesday.

    Mnuchin was visiting Kentucky on Monday for an appearance with Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a tour of Fort Knox.

    The Scottish-born Linton apologized last year amid criticism of a self-published memoir of a year she spent in Africa as a teen, and withdrew the book. Critics deemed it inaccurate in its depiction of life on the continent. An excerpt was published online by the Telegraph, but taken down by the British newspaper "in light of the concerns raised by readers."

    Linton has also had small roles in films and television shows and more recently worked as a producer. Mnuchin produced several films before being tapped for the Treasury post by President Trump. The pair married in June in a ceremony attended by the president.

    On eve of Trump's Arizona rally, GOP Sen. Jeff Flake — a vocal critic — isn't worried about blowback

    Republican Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake. (Kurtis Lee / Los Angeles Times)
    Republican Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake. (Kurtis Lee / Los Angeles Times)

    For Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, the political climate around him is far from ideal.

    In recent days, the president, a fellow Republican, has taunted Flake on Twitter and even praised his rival in the state’s Republican primary — a rare move in politics before Donald Trump came along.

    But for a day at least, Flake ignored it all and let political bygones be bygones.

    On Monday, reporters asked Flake — who spoke to a gathering of local business leaders — what he thought of Trump calling him toxic on Twitter.

    “I don’t worry about it at all,” Flake said at an events center here in the suburbs east of Phoenix.

    Is Trump right in offering aid and comfort to his primary challenger, former state Sen. Kelli Ward?

    “That's not my realm. That's somebody else’s. I just — I’m running my own campaign. It’s going well. And what the president does, that’s his prerogative,” Flake said.

    CongressWhite House

    Trump's Afghanistan strategy is met with mixed reviews, reviving war authorization and funding debate in Congress

    President Trump's strategy for Afghanistan quickly divided Congress along familiar lines, as Republicans splintered between defense and deficit hawks, and Democrats resisted what many see as a never-ending conflict.

    House Speaker Paul Ryan said he was "pleased" with the president's plan while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell commended Trump and his national security team for a "thoughtful" approach.

    But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi warned that by failing to cap troop levels or provide a timeline for withdrawal Trump was "declaring an open-ended commitment of American lives with no accountability."

    Congress is reluctant to pour more money into the military strategy without greater oversight, and may have trouble approving extra funds if the White House seeks them.

    Lawmakers wary of broader military entanglements have found momentum for efforts to revisit the war authorization first approved after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

    Even before the president spoke Monday night, the GOP's libertarian-leaning wing refused to commit to approve more money or personnel to the Afghan war.

    "I think it is a terrible idea to send any more troops into that war," said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)

    And though defense hawks welcomed Trump's approach, which many saw as overdue, some signaled caution, in part a reflection of the GOP's disconnect with the White House.

    Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Armed Service Committee, said the panel will review the administration's plan when lawmakers return from the August recess.

    "The President must conduct himself as a wartime commander-in-chief," said McCain counseled. "He must speak regularly to the American people, and to those waging this war on their behalf, about why we are fighting, why the additional sacrifices are worth it, and how we will succeed."

    At the same time, McCain said, "Congress has a role to play in sending America's young men and women into harm's way, and we intend to exercise that responsibility."

    CongressWhite House

    House Speaker Paul Ryan: Trump 'messed up' in response to Charlottesville violence

    House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said President Trump "messed up" in responding to the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va., by saying both sides were to blame for violence between white supremacists and groups protesting them.  

    "He could have done better," Ryan said Monday at a CNN televised town hall.

    "I do believe that he messed up in his comments."

    Pressed on Trump's remarks, Ryan said that those marching with Nazi slogans and racist signs did not include, as Trump suggested in a combative news conference last week, "very fine people."

    "You’re not a good person if you’re there," Ryan said.

    Trump revisited the issue Monday evening during his speech to the nation on Afghanistan. Reading from prepared remarks, he called on Americans to find the courage to "heal our divisions."

    "I just think he needs to do better," Ryan said after the speech, "and I think he just did today."

    Secret Service runs short of money to pay agents protecting Trump and his circle

    The Secret Service is close to its annual caps for salary and overtime pay for more than 1,000 agents, partly because of President Trump’s large family, multiple properties and frequent travel, according to a report Monday in USA Today.

    The Secret Service director, Randolph “Tex” Alles, told the newspaper that he is working to raise the combined salary and overtime caps for agents from $160,000 to $187,000 for the duration of Trump’s first term, but said he doesn’t see the problem changing “in the near term.”

    In a CNN report, Alles said the issue cannot be attributed to the current administration but rather to “an overall increase in operational tempo” over nearly a decade.

    Yet with Trump as president, the agency is responsible for protecting 42 people, compared with 31 people during the Obama administration. It also must guard several Trump-owned properties where the president stays, including Trump Tower in Manhattan, Mar-a-Lago in Florida and his private golf club in Bedminster, N.J., where Trump recently vacationed.

    Also, among others, agents protect Trump's two adult sons, who often travel internationally for business, and their families, as well as daughter Ivanka Trump and her family.

    The Los Angeles Times reported in May that in the first 100 days of Trump's presidency, the total cost of travel and protection for him and his family was about $30 million, compared with an annual cost of $12 million for President Obama, who did not travel as frequently but came in for criticism nonetheless from conservatives.

    Congress allocated an additional $13 million to the Secret Service in May to cover unanticipated overtime for its agents and $61 million to reimburse New York and Palm Beach for their expenses during the election season.

    Trump, in a statement in July marking the 152nd anniversary of the Secret Service, said he and First Lady Melania Trump were “especially thankful for those who selflessly stand by our side to safeguard our family every day.”

    Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio 'very unlikely' to appear with Trump at Arizona campaign rally

     (Mary Altaffer / Associated Press)
    (Mary Altaffer / Associated Press)

    Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, one of President Trump's most loyal and most polarizing supporters, is "very unlikely" to be included in Trump's campaign-style rally in Phoenix on Tuesday night, nor is he likely to receive word of a pardon during the event, according to a person familiar with the planning efforts.

    The person, who requested anonymity to discuss the internal decision-making process, said a final decision has not been made, but that event organizers fear an appearance by Arpaio could cause an unnecessary distraction.

    Since Trump announced the rally last week — part of his first trip to the West as president — Arpaio's potential appearance has been the subject of speculation. He had introduced Trump in his home state during the campaign, ridden in his plane and formed what Arpaio described as a warm relationship.

    Even if organizers do not plan for Trump to announce a pardon, Trump is known for going off script and may very well decide to talk extemporaneously about the possibility of one.

    Arpaio said in a phone interview Monday that he did not know whether he would be invited to the event as a dignitary.

    “If you hear anything, will you let me know?” Arpaio said.

    He said he would not show up without an invitation.

    “I don’t think I’ll be in the crowd these days," he said. "I don’t want to cause any havoc, if you know what I mean.”

    Trump told a Fox News contributor last week that he was considering a pardon for Arpaio, whose immigration enforcement tactics drew legal and political scrutiny long before Trump's rise in politics. 

    Arpaio was recently found guilty of contempt of court for defying a judge’s order to stop racial profiling of Latinos and turning detainees over to federal immigration officials during his tenure in office.

    Arpaio said he had not spoken with the president since before Trump took office. Trump called Arpaio's wife before the inauguration to check on her health, he said. She has been battling cancer and Arpaio said Trump has checked in on her four or five times.

    He said he does not know whether Trump will pardon him for what he calls "a miscarriage of justice." 

    “I know that he’s sure got a good case to do that," Arpaio said. "I don’t know what he’s thinking.”

    Arpaio is due to be sentenced in October.

    CongressWhite House

    Bannon's ouster could boost the powerful Koch network, which has surprising sway in Trump's White House

    With the ouster last week of White House senior strategist Stephen K. Bannon, left, the influence of billionaire Charles Koch is likely to grow. (Associated Press, Getty Images) None
    With the ouster last week of White House senior strategist Stephen K. Bannon, left, the influence of billionaire Charles Koch is likely to grow. (Associated Press, Getty Images)

    During the presidential campaign, about the only common ground between Donald Trump and billionaire conservative Charles Koch was a colorful disregard for each other.

    Koch called the choice between Trump and Hillary Clinton like opting for cancer or a heart attack. And Trump bashed big-money donors, deriding his Republican rivals as “puppets” who begged at Koch’s door.

    Not surprisingly, Koch and his allies largely sat out the presidential election, and Trump won without them. Normally such a high-profile snub would carry a steep political price.

    But Koch’s network of conservative advocacy groups has exerted surprising sway in the Trump administration, scoring some early victories and pushing its priorities to the top of the White House agenda.

    Its influence is likely to grow after the ouster of Trump’s top strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, amid the White House turmoil over neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, Va. Bannon had clashed with several of Trump’s top aides, including those aligned with the Koch crowd, over his hard-right views.

    Bannon’s populist agenda, with its nationalist, nativist and anti-immigration bent, found few fans among the business-oriented, small-government conservatives aligned with Koch.

    With Bannon back at Breitbart News, a far-right website, the question is whether he will still have Trump’s ear from the outside while Koch and his cohorts retain strong allies in the White House.

    Speaker Paul Ryan on Charlottesville: 'There are no sides'

    House Speaker Paul D. Ryan kept a noticeably low profile in the aftermath of President Trump's equivocating response to the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12. On Monday he spoke up with more force.

    In amplifying his views — and implicitly upbraiding the president — Ryan anticipated what is likely to be a top question during his nationally televised appearance Monday night, in a CNN town-hall-style broadcast immediately after Trump's address to the nation on the Afghanistan policy.

    "We all need to make clear there is no moral relativism when it comes to neo-Nazis. We cannot allow the slightest ambiguity on such a fundamental question," Ryan wrote on Facebook.

    "The immediate condemnations from left, right and center affirmed that there is no confusion about right and wrong here. There are no sides. There is no other argument. We will not tolerate this hateful ideology in our society."

    Republicans are coming under continued scrutiny for their own responses after Trump blamed "both sides" for the violence in Charlottesville — the neo-Nazis who rallied there and the counterprotesters opposing them — after one of the counterprotesters was killed in a car attack by an alleged white supremacist.

    Ryan, like many Republicans, still did not directly criticize Trump by name. But his latest remarks more clearly implied criticism of the president's rhetoric than last week's reaction, before the onslaught of opprobrium of Trump.

    "White supremacy is repulsive," Ryan said last week. "This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity."

    Republicans in Congress continue to calculate the best way to interact with Trump and respond to him, especially as lawmakers begin their 2018 reelection campaigns without having achieved many of their biggest legislative promises, including repealing the Affordable Care Act or enacting tax reform.

    Ryan, who has been trying to push ahead to tax reform this fall, after the failure of the Obamacare repeal, wrote that he was camping with his family last weekend when the white supremacist groups descended on Charlottesville, a quiet college town that is home to the University of Virginia. 

    "I felt the range of emotions that so many of us did. Anger, bewilderment, sadness," the speaker wrote.

    Republicans had hoped in the final weeks of the congressional recess to begin laying the groundwork for their legislative efforts this fall, with Ryan's CNN appearance part of the campaign for public support. But Ryan was upstaged by Trump's plans, announced Sunday, for the Afghanistan address. 

    Russia

    Putin names new Russian ambassador to U.S. to replace Sergei Kislyak

    Russian President Vladimir Putin has appointed a new ambassador to the United States.

    The Kremlin said on Monday that Putin has replaced Sergei Kislyak, whose tenure ended in July, with Anatoly Antonov, a deputy foreign minister and former deputy defense minister seen as a hardliner regarding the U.S.

    The outgoing ambassador played a prominent role in the controversy over Russia's possible involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

    President Trump's first national security advisor, Michael Flynn, resigned after lying about contacts with Kislyak. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election after reports that he hadn't disclosed meetings with Kislyak.

    White House

    Trump, who once backed withdrawal from Afghanistan, will try to sell the nation on deeper involvement

    President Trump, who as a private citizen blamed “stupid leaders” for prolonging the war in Afghanistan, plans to make a prime-time speech Monday in an attempt to sell Americans on his proposal for deeper involvement there.

    It’s another challenge for a president who rose to popularity as a sharp-elbowed commentator in the public arena, now being forced to confront the tough realities of war and peace through the lens of American security and interests in what has become the nation’s longest war.

    Militants serving the TalibanIslamic State and other militias have wrought more violence and instability in Afghanistan over the past year, increasing pressure on Western forces brought in to bolster overmatched Afghan security forces. 

    Trump delivers the speech, an important milestone in any presidency, as his temperament and focus have been criticized by influential lawmakers in his own party and by a public who, according to polls, has not been convinced of his leadership abilities.

    Even as he prepared for the sobering task Monday night, he showed his penchant for distraction, tweeting a morning complaint about the “very dishonest Fake News Media.”

    His long record on Twitter shows Trump’s quick transformation on the issue.

    “We have wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Their government has zero appreciation. Let's get out!” Trump tweeted in 2013, one of several similar statements he made that year. 

    U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan (@latimesgraphics)
    U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan (@latimesgraphics)

    Less than four years later, Trump is expected to authorize some 4,000 more U.S. troops for counter-terrorism missions, as well as U.S. advisors who will work on the front lines. That’s on top of 8,400 U.S. and 5,000 North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops already in the country, advising Afghan security forces.

    On the campaign trail, Trump spoke more often about the need to win wars, while disdaining efforts at nation-building that have plunged past administrations into longer engagements.

    Trump made the newest troop decision over the weekend after a meeting with his military advisors on Friday at Camp David. 

    Trump was presented with three options, according to a former national security official familiar with the internal administration deliberations: 1) Scale back to a skeletal presence 2) Deploy only a robust counter-terrorism operation headed by Joint Special Operations Command and the Central Intelligence Agency 3) Increase troop levels by 4,000 to 5,000 while at the same time increasing counter-terrorism operations.

    Trump seems to have chosen the third option. 

    Calls for more troops or money will almost certainly run into a coalition of resistance from liberal Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans who reject a muscular military presence.

    On Monday, Rep. Thom Massie (R-Ky.) was among those reminding the president of the opposition from the right.

    CongressRussia

    U.S. will stop issuing nonimmigrant visas in Russia in deepening diplomatic standoff

    The U.S. embassy in Moscow (Mladen Antonov / AFP/Getty Images)
    The U.S. embassy in Moscow (Mladen Antonov / AFP/Getty Images)

    In the latest tit-for-tat in the diplomatic standoff between the United States and Russia, the U.S. embassy in Russia announced Monday that it will suspend visa processing for Russian applicants beginning Aug. 23.

    The move is a response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's order for the U.S. to cut its staff at the U.S. embassy and three consulates by 755 people by Sept. 1. Russia also seized a warehouse and a resort complex in Moscow used by U.S. diplomatic staff.

    The State Department hasn't said how many U.S. diplomats will be forced to leave and how many Russian nationals and others who work at the U.S. government will be laid off.

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said he will respond by Sept. 1, but has not yet given a public assessment of how the cuts are likely to impact the vast array of embassy-backed services in Russia, from assisting U.S. businesses to enforcing arms control agreements.

    U.S. relations with Moscow have nosedived since Putin's government seized Crimea and backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014, promping U.S. sanctions.

    They worsened last year when U.S. intelligence agencies determined that the Kremlin interfered in the U.S. presidential race in a bid to help Donald Trump win.

    President Obama retaliated in December by expelling 35 Russian diplomats who the White House said were spies, and seizing two Russian-owned waterfront compounds - one in New York and the other in Maryland - that it said were used for espionage.

    Putin initially did not respond, but his order to cut the U.S. staff last month followed a near-unanimous vote in the U.S. Congress to impose additional sanctions on Russia for its meddling in the election. President Trump later signed the bill into law.

    Trump has repeatedly praised Putin and called for improving relations with Moscow. But any attempts to do so have been hampered by the widening FBI investigation into whether his campaign cooperated with the Russian attempts to influence the U.S. election.

    The U.S. embassy statement Monday cited the Russian order to cut staff as the reason it was suspending visa processing.

    “As a result of the Russian government’s personnel cap imposed on the U.S. Mission, all non-immigrant visa operations across Russia will be suspended beginning August 23, 2017,” the embassy said on its website.

    The move will affect Russians applying for tourist, business and other kinds of nonimmigrant visas to the United States.

    The U.S. Mission in Russia issued 182,958 visas in 2016, according to the State Department. About 25% were issued at U.S. consulates in St. Petersburg, Ekaterinburg and Vladivostok, and the rest in Moscow.

    The embassy said it would begin Monday to cancel appointments for visa interviews. No visas will be processed until Sept. 1, after which all applicants must undergo an interview in Moscow, it said.

    Even before the announcement, interview schedules were backed up 45 days or more. After Sept. 1, the embassy warned, visa processing for Russian citizens will be conducted “on a greatly reduced scale.”

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would respond after a closer examination of the U.S. announcement. He cautioned against a response that would similarly reduce applications of American applicants for Russian visas, saying that the Russian response would not be intended to punish American citizens.   

    “If someone hoped that in this case a bad example would be contagious, then he miscalculated," Lavrov told a news conference Monday.

    In Russia’s upper parliament, Andrei Klimov, the deputy head of the Committee on International Affairs, suggested that Russia should respond by reducing visas issued to U.S. citizens.

    “The legitimate rights of our citizens must be defended, so if there are any infringements on our citizens, then mirror measures should also be introduced against the citizens of the United States," Klimov said, according to Interfax, a Russian news agency.

    Klimov's counterpart in Russia's lower house of parliament, called the Duma, blamed the United States for the nosedive in relations.

    “It  always comes from the American side,” Leonid Slutsky, who chairs the Duma's international affairs committee, posted on the Russian social media site VKontakte.  “We believe it is testament to Washington's mood to further accelerate the deterioration of relations with Moscow.”

    Trump to outline new Afghanistan strategy in Monday evening address

     (EPA)
    (EPA)

    President Trump on Monday evening will spell out a new U.S. strategy for the war in Afghanistan, where U.S. troops have been fighting for 16 years, and other parts of South Asia, the White House said Sunday.

    Trump made his decision after meeting with his national security team at the presidential retreat at Camp David on Friday, capping months of deliberations on how to proceed in America's longest war.

    On Sunday, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis told reporters traveling with him in Amman, Jordan, that the new strategy is the result of a  “rigorous” process. He declined to provide details on precisely what Trump will announce.

    Trump will make a nationally televised statement from Ft. Myer in Virginia at 9 p.m. Monday, the White House said.

    He will “provide an update on the path forward for America’s engagement” in Afghanistan and South Asia, the statement said.

    Mattis was authorized in June to deploy about 4,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, but any significant buildup has been on hold pending the broad strategic review.

    Trump’s advisors had offered competing visions for bolstering Afghan forces against a resurgent Taliban.

    Ousted White House strategic advisor Stephen Bannon had supported the notion of hiring private mercenaries rather than sending in more U.S. troops, as Mattis and others have urged.

    With American forces in Afghanistan now numbering fewer than 10,000, Afghan forces have been shouldering the brunt of fighting but have been struggling to hold ground against the Taliban. 

    U.S. commanders have said extra troops could be used to help train and advise Afghan units to make them a more effective fighting force in hopes of breaking what the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, has termed a “stalemate."

    The plan is also expected to encompass U.S. dealings with other players in the Afghan conflict, including neighboring Pakistan, which has long sheltered insurgents and their allies.

    Trump ran on a platform of reducing American foreign military entanglements, and during his first seven months in office, the president balked at authorizing more troops, deferring longer-term decisions on how to proceed.

    On Saturday, Trump tweeted that “many decisions” had been made on how to approach the Afghan conflict.

    Congress

    Sen. John McCain tweets photos of the 'three amigos' together again as he undergoes cancer treatment in Arizona

    Republican Sen. John McCain, undergoing his first week of chemotherapy treatment after being diagnosed with brain cancer, had a little help over the weekend from some friends.

    Fellow travelers Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and former Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democrat-turned-Independent from Connecticut -- who together with McCain were often called the three amigos -- reunited for a visit in Arizona.

    The three became a close-knit trio of globe-trotting defense hawks, particularly during then-President George W. Bush's administration, and disbanded only after Lieberman, who stunned his party when he backed McCain's 2008 presidential bid, retired from the Senate.

    Aides have said McCain is doing well as he starts cancer treatment. 

    McCain remains active at home, according to his social media posts, and is expected to return to the Senate.

    Over the weekend he posted photos of the amigos, together again.

    Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says it's 'hard to believe' he has to defend himself and Trump. Then he does

    Steven Mnuchin, left, stands with Trump and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on Tuesday (Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
    Steven Mnuchin, left, stands with Trump and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on Tuesday (Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

    Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin issued a statement Saturday in response to comments from his Yale classmates and others that he "speak out" about President Trump's response to Charlottesville.

    An open letter signed by more 300 of members of his 1985 graduating class, said Mnuchin had a "moral obligation to resign."

     

    Mnuchin and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao flanked Trump on Tuesday during what was supposed to be a news conference about infrastructure. Instead, the questions quickly turned to the president's delay in directly condemning white supremacist groups who had marched in Charlottesville with tiki torches and carrying KKK and Nazi symbols. 

    Mnuchin, who is Jewish, said in his statement that he believed he understood the "long history of violence and hatred against the Jews (and other minorities.)"

    Saying he found it "hard to believe I should have to defend myself on this, or the president, I feel compelled to let you know that the president in no way, shape or form believes that neo-Nazis and other hate groups who endorse violence are equivalent to groups who protest in peaceful and lawful ways."

    Mnuchin referenced his years at Yale as making him "familiar with the culture wars being fought in our country."

    He called those issues "more complicated than we have been led to believe by the mass media."

    He also said Trump "deserves the opportunity to propose his agenda" without efforts by others to "distract the administration and the American people from these most important policy issues --  jobs, economic growth and national security."

    Adding that he did not "believe the allegations against the president are accurate," Mnuchin said "having highly talented men and women" serve the Trump administration should be "reassuring to you and all the American people."

     

     

    White House

    Trump tweets about 'anti-police agitators' as counter-protesters confront far-right rally in Boston

    President Trump weighed in on the far-right rally held Saturday in Boston, describing "anti-police agitators" and complimenting the police. 

    Boston police said they had a tight security plan in place to ensure the violence that roiled Charlottesville, Va., last weekend did not take place in their city.

    The large gathering ended as scheduled by 2 p.m. local time without any major incidents.

    Trump followed that tweet by another that appeared to be quickly deleted, then posted again, then deleted again.

    In that tweet, Trump said the country had been "divided for decade, but will come together again. Sometimes protest is needed in order to heel, and heel we will!" 

    Then he tweeted the sentiment again, with a spelling correction.

    He also praised those who came out in Boston to oppose bigotry.

    Trump has come under intense criticism from both Democrats and Republicans for his response to the events in Charlottesville.

    He initially laid blame for the violence on "many sides" and walked away when reporters shouted questions about whether he specifically denounced white supremacism. After the backlash, he gave a scripted statement Monday that said racism was evil and called out the "KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups" as repugnant.

    But in a news conference on infrastructure the following day, he again spoke about "blame on both sides."

    "What about the 'alt-left' that came charging at, as you say, the 'alt-right'? Do they have any semblance of guilt?" Trump asked reporters. "They came charging with clubs in their hands."

    UPDATES:

    1:54 p.m.: This article was updated with additional Trump tweets and information about the Boston rally as well as his previous comments about Charlottesville.

    White House

    Trump thanks Steve Bannon - 'it was great!'

     (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)
    (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

    President Trump thanked Stephen Bannon on Saturday, his first public comments since the controversial presidential advisor left the White House and returned to his perch at Breitbart News.

    Bannon was an architect of Trump's America First agenda during the campaign last year, but his fiery brand of nationalist rhetoric and economic populism sparked harsh criticism of the Trump's response to last weekend's white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. 

    Trump's tweet Saturday morning thanked Bannon for helping take over his presidential campaign last summer when Trump was trailing in polls to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. Trump did not mention Bannon's work in the White House.

    "I want to thank Steve Bannon for his service. He came to the campaign during my run against Crooked Hillary Clinton - it was great! Thanks S"

    Later Saturday, as thousands of protesters rallied against a far-right group's "free speech" rally in Boston, Trump tweeted again about the role he expects Bannon to play on the outside to counter what the president calls "Fake News."

    "Steve Bannon will be a tough and smart new voice at @BreitbartNews...maybe even better than ever before. Fake News needs the competition!"

    A White House spokeswoman had no information Saturday about how Trump was spending his day or if he had spoken to Bannon since his exit.

    The president, at his golf resort in Bedminister, had no public events on his schedule.

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