Donald Trump Jr. headlining fundraiser in Kansas for a leader of his father’s voter fraud commission

For $1,000, fundraiser attendees can attend a “VIP reception” and have their picture taken with Donald Trump Jr. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

President Trump’s eldest son is headlining a fundraiser in Kansas next week for Republican gubernatorial hopeful Kris Kobach, marking the Trump family’s entrance into a crowded race on behalf of a high-profile leader of the president’s controversial voter fraud commission.

Donald Trump Jr. is scheduled to appear in Overland Park, Kan., on Tuesday at a dinner and reception benefiting Kobach, currently Kansas’s secretary of state.

Kobach serves as vice chairman of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which Trump launched in the wake of his baseless claim that illegally cast ballots cost him the popular vote in his election last year against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Vice President Pence chairs the commission, but Kobach — who has aggressively pursued voter fraud cases in his state — is the driving force behind the 11-member panel and has presided over the substantive discussions at its meetings.

The Trump family’s involvement in the 2018 Kansas governor’s race is also notable because it is likely to include a Republican incumbent.

Kansas Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer (R) is preparing to take the reigns from Gov. Sam Brownback (R), who was nominated by Trump in July to serve as ambassador at large for international religious freedom. Brownback plans to step down as governor once his appointment is confirmed by the Senate.

The White House did not immediately respond to questions about whether Trump Jr.’s appearance in Kansas next week signals that the president will also support Kobach over Colyer in a primary that includes a host of other Republican contenders as well.

Individual tickets for Tuesday’s fundraiser start at $200, according to Kobach’s campaign website. For $1,000, donors can attend a “VIP reception” and have their picture taken with Trump Jr.

The voter fraud commission has proven a magnet for controversy, and it remains unclear when it will meet again. The panel is the subject of multiple lawsuits, including one from one of its Democratic members.

In a court filing Monday, a judge referenced a Justice Department lawyer’s representation that the commission had no plans to meet again by the end of the year. It previously has met publicly twice, in Washington in July and in New Hampshire in September.

The lawsuit from Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, one of the commission members, alleges that he has been kept in the dark about the commission’s operations, rendering his participation “essentially meaningless.”

Kobach has sought to refute Dunlap’s allegations, calling them “baseless and paranoid.”

The commission has also encountered other turbulence. At the September meeting, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, another Democrat on the panel, chastised Kobach for a piece he wrote for Breitbart News in which he alleged out-of-state voters could have tipped the U.S. Senate race in New Hampshire last year.

The commission’s work was also hindered by the arrest of a staff member last month on charges of possession of child pornography.


Trump offers support for Roy Moore in Alabama’s Senate race despite misconduct allegations

President Trump on Nov. 21 did not rescind his support for Roy Moore, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Alabama. Trump criticized Doug Jones, Moore’s Democratic opponent. (The Washington Post)

President Trump on Tuesday appeared to offer support to Republican candidate Roy Moore in Alabama’s U.S. Senate race, saying the former state judge “totally denies” allegations of sexual misconduct against underage girls years ago.

“He denies it,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “He says it didn’t happen, and you have to listen to him, also.”

Trump criticized Moore’s opponent, Democrat Doug Jones, as being “terrible on crime, terrible on borders.”

“We don’t need a liberal person in there, a Democrat,” Trump added.

The president’s remarks came as Moore has faced mounting pressure from Republicans, as well as Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, over  accusations that he pursued romantic relations with teenage girls and engaged in sexual misconduct against two of them. Moore, who initially appeared to be headed for an easy victory in a reliably Republican state, has trailed Jones in recent polls ahead of the Dec. 12 election.

“There’s a special place in hell for people who prey on children,” Ivanka Trump told the Associated Press last week. “I’ve yet to see a valid explanation, and I have no reason to doubt the victims’ accounts.”

But President Trump said Tuesday that the accusations against Moore concern events that took place “40 years ago” and noted that the candidate has insisted “this did not happen.” Asked whether he would actively campaign for Moore, Trump said he would let reporters know next week.

On the broader revelations about alleged sexual assaults among powerful men in Hollywood and the media, Trump said it was a “very special time” and that “a lot of things are coming out that are good for our society and very good for women.”

He declined to answer questions about recent accusations lodged against Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.).

The women who have accused Moore are “Trump voters,” the president said, before again stating that Moore “totally denies it.”


Trump puts North Korea back on state sponsors of terrorism list to escalate pressure over nuclear weapons

President Trump announced Nov. 20 that he had re-designated North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism to further isolate the “murderous regime.” (The Washington Post)

President Trump on Monday announced that his administration has redesignated North Korea as a state sponsor of terror, a move aimed at increasing pressure on Pyongyang nearly a decade after the George W. Bush administration removed the rogue nation from the list.

Trump made his decision public during a brief photo op at a Cabinet meeting, calling it “a very critical step” that “should’ve happened a long time ago.” The president cited assassinations by the dictator Kim Jong Un’s regime carried out on foreign soil, as well as the treatment of American college student Otto Warmbier, who died in June days after he was released in a coma by the North after spending 17 months in captivity.

Trump vowed that Pyongyang will face further sanctions in the near future that will amount to the “highest level of sanctions by the time it’s finished.” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders amplified the message on Twitter.

[email protected] announced that the U.S. is again designating North Korea a state sponsor of terror

— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) November 20, 2017

The White House had signaled during Trump’s Asia trip this month that the president was likely to make the designation. The North spent 20 years on that list before being removed in 2008 by the Bush administration for meeting nuclear inspection requirements. Pyongyang later violated the agreement.

In a speech to the South Korean national assembly two weeks ago, Trump cited atrocities carried out by the Kim regime and called the North “a hell that no person deserves.” Among other acts, Kim’s regime stands accused of carrying out the assassination of his half brother, Kim Jong Nam, with a deadly nerve agent at a Malaysian airport in February.

Iran, Sudan and Syria also are on the list, which is administered by the State Department. According to that agency, sanctions for those nations on the list include “restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance; a ban on defense exports and sales; certain controls over exports of dual use items; and miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.”

Last month, a bipartisan group of House members wrote to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging him to add North Korea to the list, citing the deaths of Warmbier and Kim Jong Nam.

“Such acts are not isolated events, but part of a consistent pattern by the Kim regime,” stated the letter, signed by Rep. Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), the committee’s ranking Democrat, among others.

Michael Green, who served as senior Asia director at the National Security Council under Bush from 2001-2005, said the removal of the North from the terror-sponsor list was “very controversial” and turned out to be a “crappy deal” that Pyongyang quickly violated. He added that the Japanese government had lobbied the Bush administration not to remove the North in 2008 until Pyongyang brought resolution to Tokyo’s claims that the North had kidnapped at least 17 Japanese citizens in the 1970s.

During his visit to Tokyo two weeks ago, Trump met with families of the dozen Japanese abductees whose cases have not been resolved.

“Putting them back on the list is important symbolically as a demonstration of good faith with Japan,” Green said of North Korea. “It also helps add spin on the ball with sanctions overall.”

Daniel Russel, former NSC senior Asia director under President Barack Obama, agreed that the move was symbolically potent because the lifting of the sanctions represented the “high water mark of U.S.-North Korea efforts to reconcile their differences and negotiate and engage in 2008.”

The re-listing of the North is tantamount to “taking one of the trophies out of the glass case and shattering it,” he said.

Russel said the Obama administration had deliberated over the North’s behavior but had been unable to cite a legal rationale for re-listing the country on the terror-sponsor list. He suggested that the Kim Jong Nam assassination provided such rationale for the Trump administration.

Carol Morello contributed to this report.


Trump calls elephant hunting a ‘horror show’ and suggests he’ll enforce a ban on trophy imports

President Trump called elephant hunting a “horror show” Sunday and strongly suggested he will permanently block imports of elephant trophies from two African nations despite his administration’s earlier approval of the practice.

Following strong bipartisan criticism of the administration’s decision to allow imports of trophy carcasses, a practice was halted under the Obama administration, Trump had moved Friday to put the imports on hold. On Sunday, Trump said on Twitter that he would announce a final decision this week. He suggested that he does not buy the argument advanced by pro-hunting advocates within his Interior Department that the imports help protect endangered African elephants.

Trump wrote that he would be “very hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal.”

Big-game trophy decision will be announced next week but will be very hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2017

It was not immediately clear whether the reference to “any other animal” might mean he is also reconsidering his administration’s separate lifting of import bans on lion trophies last month. That decision received little attention at the time but has since come under fire as the elephant decision received wide attention.

The president’s abrupt reversal Friday means that elephants shot for sport in Zimbabwe and Zambia cannot be imported by American hunters as trophies.

“Put big game trophy decision on hold until such time as I review all conservation facts,” Trump wrote Friday evening on Twitter. “Under study for years. Will update soon with [Interior] Secretary [Ryan] Zinke. Thank you!”

That halted a decision by his own U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday to end a 2014 government ban on big-game trophy hunting in Zimbabwe and Zambia. Under U.S. law, the remains of African elephants, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, can be imported only if federal officials have determined that hunting them benefits the species more broadly.


Hillary Clinton called Donald Trump a sexual assaulter. He responded with mere insults.

Donald Trump, left, and Hillary Clinton — at the time candidates for president — face off during a debate in October 2016. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

Hillary Clinton claimed last week that President Trump was a sexual assaulter, based on his own statements and accusations by multiple women. It very well may be the worst thing she has ever said about him.

Clinton had called Trump many things before — dangerous, impulsive and divisive — as she campaigned against him during the 2016 presidential race. The occasional insult or two. In her book about the election, she called him a “creep” who “bragged about sexual assault,” referring to a 2005 hot-mic video in which Trump told another man that he aggressively kissed and groped women without permission.

But in an interview with 77 WABC on Friday, even the host seemed taken aback by Clinton’s escalated rhetoric.

“You’ve just said you have a sexual assaulter in the White House,” Rita Cosby told Clinton. “How could you say that about President Trump?”

“Based on the very credible statements that have come forward from, I think now, a dozen women,” Clinton said, referring to accusations such as a woman who claimed that Trump reached under her skirt in the 1990s and a reporter who said he forced his tongue down her throat in the 2000s.

“And, really, based on his own words,” Clinton added.

Trump, as we all know, is a big believer in asymmetrical retaliation — “hit ’em back five times harder than they ever thought possible,” as he once put it.

But having just been straight up called a sex criminal by Clinton, what could he accuse her of that he hadn’t already said?

He has suggested many times that she’s a criminal. He has called her the devil and a terrorist founder, a beneficiary of voter fraud, wife to “the WORST abuser of women in U.S. political history,” and several times threatened to jail her if he became president.

So come Saturday morning, as Clinton’s radio interview spread through the news, Trump reached into his arsenal and found only superlatives. He called Clinton “the worst (and biggest) loser of all time.”

Leaving aside the merits of Clinton’s accusations, it was a bit of an anomaly to see her go darker than Trump for once, after so many confrontations on the campaign trail.

A much more typical example of Clinton-Trump dynamics can be seen in how they reacted to last year’s release of a 2005 video in which Trump brags in private about grabbing women’s genitals and using his celebrity to have his way with them.

The Washington Post broke news of the tape in October 2016, a month before the election, and unleashed a tidal wave of condemnation and speculation that Trump’s campaign was doomed. He was probably never more vulnerable, and Clinton never stronger.

Two days later, in the midst of this scandal, Trump faced off against Clinton for a debate — and somehow took the offensive.

Clinton didn’t go easy on Trump, exactly. She called him unfit for the White House and said of the tape: “What we all saw and heard on Friday was Donald talking about women, what he thinks about women, what he does to women.”

But despite these “flashes of ire,” The Washington Post wrote, Clinton was restrained in her comments for most of the night, leaving Trump to go on the attack.

The candidate quickly apologized for his “locker room talk” in the video and then gleefully dug into Clinton, interrupting her and calling her a liar and worse. By the end of the debate, Trump had accused Clinton of attacking women on her husband’s behalf and threatened to jail her over her conduct as secretary of state.

That was standard-candidate Trump and standard-candidate Clinton. He played the aggressor all the way up to Election Day.

In her book about her loss, “What Happened,” Clinton reflected on her restraint during that debate, and in general.

“He was literally breathing down my neck. My skin crawled,” she wrote. “It was one of those moments where you wish you could hit Pause and ask everyone watching, ‘Well? What would you do?’ Do you stay calm, keep smiling, and carry on as if he weren’t repeatedly invading your space? Or do you turn, look him in the eye, and say loudly and clearly, ‘Back up, you creep, get away from me.’ ”

“I wonder, though, whether I should have chosen option B,” she wrote. “It certainly would have been better TV.”

In the same book, Clinton demonstrated that she may have learned her lessons. She mentioned the 2005 videotape at least half a dozen times, always noting that Trump had “bragged” about or described sexual assault — though she never quite called him a sexual assaulter.

And then two months after her book went on sale, Clinton went on the radio and upped the ante.

“The Republicans are led by a man who admitted to sexually assaulting women,” she told 77 WABC, prompting headlines nationwide.

And the man who had already accused her of everything under the sun could respond only with old insults.

Crooked Hillary Clinton is the worst (and biggest) loser of all time. She just can’t stop, which is so good for the Republican Party. Hillary, get on with your life and give it another try in three years!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 18, 2017

Read more:

Everything that was said at the second Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton debate, highlighted

Abuse allegations have revived scrutiny of Bill Clinton — and divided Democrats

Trump just downgraded Hillary Clinton from ‘the devil’ to the ‘founder of ISIS’


Can President Trump pressure the Justice Department to investigate Hillary Clinton?

On the 2016 campaign trail, Trump repeatedly led his supporters in chants of “Lock her up!” at his rallies. Trump told voters that his opponent in the presidential race, Hillary Clinton, could not be trusted, mostly for her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state.

In a presidential debate with Clinton in October Trump said, “I’ll tell you what. I didn’t think I’d say this, but I’m going to say it, and I hate to say it. But if I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation.”

Once Trump took office, though, he toned down his rhetoric and suggested he would not seek to prosecute Clinton. That is, until recently.

Trump has since been calling for the Justice Department to look into Clinton’s email server, donations to the Clinton Foundation, and the sale of U.S. mines to a company called Uranium One.

In a Nov. 3 radio interview on “The Larry O’Connor Show,” Trump said, “The saddest thing is, because I am the president of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department. I’m not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I’m not supposed to be doing the kind of things I would love to be doing and I am very frustrated by it.”

And more yet, Trump ramped up tweets on the subject writing, “At some point the Justice Department, and the FBI, must do what is right and proper. The American public deserves it!”

Repeated pressure from a sitting president on the traditionally apolitical Justice Department seems unconventional. Is it? How much can and should a president influence the Justice Department when it comes to criminal investigations?

On this week’s episode of “Can He Do That?” Washington Post national security reporter Devlin Barrett guides us through the latest news.  The Post’s fact checker Glenn Kessler explains the complicated details of Uranium One deal. Plus, Peter R. Zeidenberg, who served as deputy special counsel in the probe of former White House aide Lewis “Scooter’’ Libby, explains the limitations of presidential influence on criminal prosecutions. 

Listen to the full episode below.

 Each week, “Can He Do That?” examines the powers and limitations of the American presidency, focusing on one area where President Trump is seemingly breaking precedent. We answer the critical questions about what today’s news means for the future of the highest office in the nation.

Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.


Sanders: President believes Alabama voters alone should decide Senate race winner

President Trump speaks to reporters as he departs the U.S. Capitol after addressing the House Republican Conference on Thursday. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

President Trump considers the allegations of sexual assault and misconduct against Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore “extremely troubling” but doesn’t plan to rescind his endorsement of the former state judge and firmly believes that Alabama voters should be the ones to pick their next senator, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Thursday.

“The president believes that these allegations are very troubling and should be taken seriously, and he thinks that the people of Alabama should make the decision on who their next senator should be,” Sanders told reporters at a briefing.

Sanders said that if the accusations are true, the president wants Moore to drop out of the race, but she repeatedly declined to say whether the president believes the women who have accused Moore of abuse or misconduct. Sanders did say that the president “supported the decision” by the Republican National Committee earlier this week to pull funding from Moore’s race.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders didn’t weigh in on the ongoing scandal plaguing Roy Moore saying Trump thinks the people should decide. (Reuters)

Trump has largely refrained from commenting on the allegations against Moore, who has been publicly accused of pursuing teenage girls when he was in his 30s, initiating a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl and sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl about 40 years ago. Moore has denied all of these charges and has refused to drop out of the race.

During a lengthy overseas trip to Asia last week, Sanders told reporters that “like most Americans, the president does not believe we can allow a mere allegation, in this case one from many years ago, to destroy a person’s life. However, the president also believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside.” On Saturday, Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One that he is sticking with that same statement “for now, but I’ll have further comment as we go down the road” when he returns from the trip.

Since returning late Tuesday, Trump has not mentioned Moore in any public comments or tweets, and he has ignored questions about Moore that reporters have shouted at him.

Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter who works as an adviser in the White House, said earlier this week that “there’s a special place in hell for people who prey on children” and that she has “no reason to doubt the victims’ accounts,” although she has not called for Moore to drop out of the race.

During the Thursday briefing, Sanders was asked about allegations raised by several women during the campaign that Trump touched and kissed them without their consent. Trump has repeatedly denied these allegations, and Sanders recently said that the president continues to consider all of those women liars.

“The president has certainly a lot more insight into what he personally did or didn’t do, and he spoke out about that directly during the campaign, and I don’t have anything further to add beyond that,” Sanders said, when asked to compare the charges against Trump to those against Moore.

In an extensive report published last week, The Post detailed allegations that Moore initiated a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl nearly four decades ago when he was in his early 30s and that he pursued three other girls around the same time who were between the ages of 16 and 18.

None of the women sought out The Post. While reporting a story in Alabama about supporters of Moore’s Senate campaign, a Post reporter heard that Moore allegedly had sought relationships with teenage girls. Over the ensuing three weeks, two Post reporters contacted and interviewed the four women. All were initially reluctant to speak publicly but chose to do so after multiple interviews, saying they thought it was important for people to know about their interactions with Moore. The women say they don’t know one another.

Another woman held a news conference on Monday to accuse Moore of sexually assaulting her in the late 1970s when she was 16. And on Wednesday, The Post published the accounts of two additional women who say that Moore pursued them in the late 1970s and early 1980s when he was in his 30s, and they were teenagers who worked at the local mall. One of those women said that she went to a movie with Moore and that he aggressively kissed her without permission.


Why can’t Jeff Sessions remember interactions related to Russia?

Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified before the House Judiciary  Committee Nov. 14, 2017. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

In this occasional series, we will bring you up to speed on the biggest national security stories of the week.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday again revised his account of what he knew about Trump campaign dealings with Russia — revealing for the first time that he, indeed, recalled a meeting in which a campaign adviser talked about having contacts who could possibly arrange a meeting between then-candidate Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Sessions said news accounts helped refresh his recollection of the encounter with adviser George Papadopoulos, and Sessions  particularly remembered pushing back on the idea that Papadopoulos was proposing. That is notable because Sessions had previously said he was “not aware” of anyone on the Trump campaign who had contacts with Russians.

1. Why does Sessions now remember shooting down the proposal from Papadopoulos?

In October, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russian-related dealings and, as a part of that plea, admitted he told a group of Trump campaign officials — including Sessions and Trump himself — that he had contacts who could possibly broker a Trump-Putin meeting. That called into question Sessions’s earlier assertion about not being aware of any other campaign advisers having contacts with Russians.

Sessions said that reading Papadopoulos’s account improved his own recall, though his memory of the encounter was still vague.

“I remember the pushback,” Sessions said. “I remember that he suggested an ability to negotiate with Russians or others, and I thought he had no ability, or it would not be appropriate for him to do so.”

2. What explanation does Sessions give for not remembering in the first place?

Sessions vigorously disputes that he has ever been intentionally deceptive with Congress or the public when it comes to his and others’ Russia related dealings.

“I will not accept, and reject, accusations that I have ever lied,” Sessions said.

He said, essentially, the Trump campaign was a hectic affair, and he should not be faulted for not recalling details of meetings that happened months ago.

“We traveled some times to several places in one day. Sleep was in short supply, and I was still a full-time Senator at a very — with a very full schedule,” Sessions said Tuesday.

3. What are the other meetings that Sessions hasn’t been able to recall?

The Papadopoulos encounter is not the first instance in which Sessions has had to change his account when it comes to Russia.

At his January confirmation hearing, Sessions asserted he “did not have communications with the Russians” during the campaign. When The Washington Post later revealed that he had twice spoken with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sessions revised that slightly, saying that he had no meetings with Russians “to discuss issues of the campaign.”

The Post, though, called that into question, reporting in July that Russia’s U.S. ambassador told his superiors that he and Sessions discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow. At an October appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions conceded that was possible. This time, he said he had conducted no “improper discussions with Russians at any time regarding a campaign or any other item facing this country” but acknowledged that it was possible in one of his conversations that “some comment was made about what Trump’s positions were.”

Sessions said he still does not recall an encounter in which Carter Page, another Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, told him he was planning a trip to Moscow — though Sessions said he is “not able to dispute” Page’s account. Page has noted the interaction was brief, and his trip was unrelated to the Trump campaign.

4. How does this affect the Russia investigation?

Page and Papadopoulos are key figures in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin to influence the 2016 election. Papadopoulos already had pleaded guilty in the probe and is cooperating with investigators, and Page was the target of a secret court order last summer that allowed authorities to monitor his communications.

It is unclear, though, to what extent — if any — Sessions’s shifting account could play a role. Mueller’s investigators are working to determine the extent to which the Trump campaign worked with Russian officials, and they would certainly be interested in dealings between campaign advisers and those working for the Kremlin. The investigators would also potentially be interested in attempts to conceal those dealings, as that could be evidence that something more nefarious was afoot. Sessions is recused from supervision of Mueller’s probe.


Duterte spokesman: Trump offered to return Philippine fugitive during bilateral talks

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte shakes hands with President Trump during the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Philippines Nov.13, 2017. (Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images)

MANILA — A spokesman for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday that President Trump offered to return a fugitive who had fled to the United States and did not bring up human rights issues at all during the bilateral meeting a day earlier.

Spokesman Harry Roque’s account of the meeting in an interview with The Washington Post appears to contradict White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who said “human rights briefly came up” as the two leaders discussed the Philippines’ bloody fight against illicit drugs.

Roque suggested he was surprised that Sanders had told American reporters here that the issue had come up. “It was not Trump who raised it. Trump never raised it, honestly,” Roque said. Sanders did not reply to an email seeking comment.

In the course of the discussion, Duterte emphasized that relations between the two allied nations had traditionally been strong but had deteriorated over one “sour point,” a reference to former president Barack Obama, Roque said.

Duterte believed Obama was “oblivious to the actual threat presented by drugs in the Philippines,” the spokesman declared. During the meeting, Trump agreed the Philippines has one of the worst drug problems in the world. Later, Trump asked if it was as bad as in Latin America. Roque said Duterte believes that it is.

At one point, Trump offered to extradite a Philippine fugitive in the United States. “Do you want him back?” Trump asked, according to Roque. The U.S. president added: “I will send him back because I know you follow the rule of law.”

Before boarding Air Force One en route back to Washington on Tuesday, Trump spoke briefly with reporters. He said the Obama administration had a “a lot of problems” in terms of its relationship with the Philippines, calling it “horrible.”

“It is very important that we get along with the Philippines and we do,” he said, calling it a “strategic location.”

Roque, in the interview, said he believes Sanders was interested in making it appear that Trump had raised human rights in a bid to placate Trump’s “domestic constituency.” He said he decided not to challenge Sanders’ statement immediately after it was distributed to reporters in an email as a way of compromising with her. He said that a charitable reading of the meeting would be that Duterte was alluding to human rights issues when he said the drug war was important as an issue of “human development.”

“It’s not as if we are trigger happy,” Duterte apparently told Trump. “It’s not as if we kill people who are kneeling down and shooting them in the head.”

Trump told reporters during his two days here that he has a “great relationship” with Duterte. In a phone conversation in April, Trump praised the Philippines leader for doing “an incredible job” in the drug war.





Trump personally asked Xi Jinping to help resolve case of UCLA basketball players arrested in China

Three UCLA basketball players were arrested Nov. 7 in Hangzhou, China, on suspicion of shoplifting. LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley, and Jalen Hill were accused of stealing sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store. (Victoria Walker/The Washington Post)

MANILA — President Trump personally asked his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, to help resolve the case of three UCLA men’s basketball players who were arrested for shoplifting while in Hangzhou for a tournament last week, people familiar with the situation said Monday.

Trump raised the arrests during a two-day state visit to Beijing, arriving a day after the three freshman players were accused of stealing sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store next to the team’s hotel. Guard LiAngelo Ball, brother of Los Angeles Lakers rookie guard Lonzo Ball, and forwards Cody Riley and Jalen Hill did not play in the team’s victory over Georgia Tech on Saturday in Shanghai. They did not fly home with the team, and ESPN has reported that authorities have surveillance footage and that the players could be required to remain in Hangzhou for a week or two.

After Trump raised the matter, Xi promised to look into the case and ensure that the players are treated fairly and expeditiously, said a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. Chief of Staff John F. Kelly has been in touch with the families of the players and has spoken with UCLA Coach Steve Alford, and Kelly remains in contact with Chinese authorities, the official added. This official indicated that charges against the players have been reduced and that the case is proceeding toward a resolution.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed in an email that Trump raised the matter with Xi.

The fact the charges have been reduced, and that the case appears headed toward some kind of resolution in the near future, indicates the three players have cooperated with authorities. According to the China Law Translate, the penalties for shoplifting can vary greatly.

While stealing goods worth more than 2,500 yuan ($380) is supposed to merit jail time — and someone stealing goods worth between 7,000 and 10,000 yuan ($1,050 and $1,510) could bring between two and three years in jail — the site says the fact the players are teenagers could reduce the severity of the punishment, as could their cooperation to try to make the situation right. Doing so could include admitting wrongdoing, as well as providing compensation for the stolen goods.

The State Department typically takes the lead on cases involving U.S. citizens who are arrested abroad, and the U.S. Embassy in Beijing is aware of the case, officials said. UCLA is one of the top basketball programs in the country, and the Ball family — including LiAngelo’s outspoken father, LaVar Ball — has become well-known in the sports world.

Monday afternoon, UCLA officials declined to comment on the latest developments, referring back to the school’s original statement on the matter last week. After Saturday’s win in Shanghai over Georgia Tech, Coach Steve Alford also elected not to elaborate beyond what he originally said in the wake of the initial reports.

News of the arrests was widespread, not only in the United States but also in China, breaking just a day before Trump arrived in the country. The president spent most of two days with Xi, a stay that included a tour of the Forbidden City, a state dinner and meetings. The two leaders discussed North Korea’s nuclear threat, bilateral trade relations and a host of other issues. They made no public mention of the UCLA case.

Trump learned about the details of the case from aides, including Kelly, said the official familiar with the internal discussions. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also might have spoken about the case with Trump, the official said.

The arrest of the three college players overshadowed the trip UCLA and Georgia Tech took to China last week, which included a tour of the Chinese mega-corporation Alibaba. While touring the company, they met with its executive vice president, Joe Tsai, who recently came to an agreement to purchase 49 percent of the Brooklyn Nets from Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, with the option to purchase another chunk of the team — believed to be 80 percent — that would make him the controlling owner in four years.

The story also eclipsed the Ball family’s entry into the Chinese market. In concert with the middle son’s expected participation in the game, the family’s shoe and apparel business, Big Baller Brand, opened the first of two pop-up stores in Shanghai Friday. At the event, LaVar Ball declined to answer questions about the incident, which came after he had canceled a news conference to promote the opening. The father appeared to get himself in hot water last week after telling ESPN he didn’t think the incident was a big deal.

“I’m going to wait until I get more intel on what’s going on,” LaVar Ball said at the time. “He’ll be fine.

“Everyone’s making it a big deal. It ain’t that big a deal.”

It is notable that LaVar Ball has gone quiet on the subject, given he has refused to be quiet about virtually anything for the past several months. As his son prepared for the NBA draft — eventually becoming the No. 2 overall pick by his hometown Lakers — the Ball father became a household name across the country by virtue of his willingness to speak his mind. Most recently, he criticized Lakers Coach Luke Walton for his rotations, saying that was partly to blame for Lonzo’s shooting struggles so far this season.

While LiAngelo Ball remains in custody in Hangzhou, his older brother continues to suit up for his NBA team. Speaking to reporters in Phoenix Monday morning ahead of a game against the Suns, Lonzo Ball said in speaking to both his youngest brother, LaMelo, and father over the past few days, that it seems like the situation is moving closer to a resolution.

“Hopefully [Trump] helps him, and everything works out,” he said.

“When I talked to my dad and my little brother, it seemed like everything was going fine, so I assume everything is going cool out there.”

When asked when he thinks the situation could be resolved, and when his brother and teammates could return to the United States, Lonzo Ball said, “Hopefully within the next week or two.”

Meanwhile, the rest of the family — LaVar Ball, his wife and youngest son — have traveled to Hong Kong, where its second pop-up store is set to open Tuesday. UCLA’s next game is at home Wednesday against the University of Central Arkansas.