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In major shift, Trump to allow lawsuits against foreign firms in Cuba



In major shift, Trump to allow lawsuits against foreign firms in Cuba

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration will allow lawsuits in U.S. courts for the first time against foreign companies that use properties Communist-ruled Cuba confiscated since Fidel Castro’s revolution six decades ago, a senior U.S. official said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs for travel to Texas from the White House in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The major policy shift, which will be announced on Wednesday, could expose U.S., European and Canadian companies to legal action and deal a blow to Cuba’s efforts to attract more foreign investment. It is also another sign of Washington’s efforts to punish Havana over its support for Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

President Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton on Wednesday will explain the administration’s decision in a speech in Miami and will also announce new sanctions on Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, countries he has branded a “troika of tyranny,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

It is unclear, however, whether such property claims will be acceptable in U.S. courts. The European Union has already warned it could lodge a challenge with the World Trade Organization.

Trump threatened in January to allow a controversial law that has been suspended since its creation in 1996, permitting Cuban Americans and other U.S. citizens to sue foreign companies doing business in Cuba over property seized in decades past by the Cuban government.

Title III of the Helms-Burton Act had been fully waived by every president over the past 23 years due to opposition from the international community and fears it could create chaos in the U.S. court system with a flood of lawsuits.

The complete lifting of the ban could allow billions of dollars in legal claims to move forward in U.S. courts and likely antagonize Canada and Europe, whose companies have significant business holdings in Cuba.

It could also affect some U.S. companies that began investing in the island, an old Cold War foe, since former President Barack Obama began a process of normalizing relations between the two countries from the end of 2014.

U.S.-Cuban relations have nosedived since Trump became president, partially rolling back the detente initiated by Obama and reverting to Cold War rhetoric. A six-decade U.S. economic embargo on Cuba has also remained officially intact.

The Cuban government did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But the country’s National Assembly, meeting over the weekend, declared the Helms-Burton Act “illegitimate, unenforceable and without legal effect”.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said in a speech on Saturday that the United States “has pushed the precarious relations with our country back to the worst level … trying to activate the hateful Helms-Burton Law, which aims to return us in principle to … when we were a slave nation of another empire.”


Trump is going ahead despite protests by European leaders to U.S. counterparts.

The U.S. official dismissed the EU’s warning of a possible WTO challenge and a cycle of counter-claims in European courts as doomed to fail.

Among the foreign companies heavily invested in Cuba are Canadian mining firm Sherritt International Corp and Spain’s Melia Hotels International SA. U.S. companies, including airlines and cruise companies, have forged business deals in Cuba since the easing of restrictions under Obama.

Defending the decision, the U.S. official said allowing lawsuits would cause only a “bump” in the business world but would send a message of U.S. resolve against Havana.

In addition to halting any further waivers of Title III, the administration will begin enforcement of Helms-Burton’s Title IV, which requires the denial of U.S. visas to those involved in “trafficking” confiscated properties in Cuba.

Trump’s decision followed threats by his top aides in recent weeks to take actions against Cuba to force it to abandon Maduro, something Havana has insisted it will not do.

Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaido invoked the constitution in January to assume the interim presidency.

The United States and most Western countries have backed Guaido as head of state. Maduro has denounced Guaido as a U.S. puppet who is seeking to foment a coup and Maduro is backed by Cuba, Russia, China and the Venezuela military.

Trump’s toughened stance on Cuba as well as Venezuela has gone down well in the large Cuban-American community in south Florida, an important voting bloc in a key political swing state as he looks toward his re-election campaign in 2020.

In Bolton’s speech on Wednesday, he is expected to announce further measures against Cuba. While the specifics are unclear, the administration is considering a range of options, including sanctions against senior Cuban military and intelligence officials over their role in Venezuela and the tightening of limits on U.S. trade with the island, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Experts say it is unclear how activating Title III will affect investors in Cuba given legislation in some countries like Canada blocking enforcement of Helms-Burton against their companies.

“This is a fringe policy decision that has not been tested legally,” said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a Washington-based lobbying group working to normalize relations with Cuba.

Some 5,913 claims held by U.S. companies and individuals have been have been certified by the U.S. Justice Department and are now estimated to be worth roughly $8 billion.

Cuban law ties settlement of any claims to U.S. reparations for damages from Washington’s embargo and what it considers other acts of U.S. aggression. Cuban estimates of that damage range from $121 billion to more than $300 billion.

Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; additional reporting by Susan Heavy and David Alexander in Washington and Sarah Marsh and Marc Frank in Havana; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Lisa Shumaker

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Supreme Court to take up LGBT job discrimination cases




Supreme Court to take up LGBT job discrimination cases

The Supreme Court will decide whether the main federal civil rights law that prohibits employment discrimination applies to LGBT people.

The justices say Monday they will hear cases involving people who claim they were fired because of their sexual orientation. Another case involves a funeral home employee who was fired after disclosing that she was transitioning from male to female and dressed as a woman.

The cases will be argued in the fall, with decisions likely by June 2020 in the middle of the presidential election campaign.

The issue is whether Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, protects LGBT people from job discrimination. Title VII does not specifically mention sexual orientation or transgender status, but federal appeals courts in Chicago and New York have ruled recently that gay and lesbian employees are entitled to protection from discrimination. The federal appeals court in Cincinnati has extended similar protections for transgender people.

The big question is whether the Supreme Court, with a strengthened conservative majority, will do the same.

The Obama administration had supported treating LGBT discrimination claims as sex discrimination, but the Trump administration has changed course. The Trump Justice Department has argued that Title VII was not intended to provide protections to gay or transgender workers. The administration also separately withdrew Obama-era guidance to educators to treat claims of transgender students as sex discrimination.

President Donald Trump has appointed two justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

The justices will take up three cases in the fall.

In one, the federal appeals court in New York ruled in favor of a gay skydiving instructor who claimed he was fired because of his sexual orientation. The second case is from Georgia, where the federal appeals court ruled against a gay employee of Clayton County, in the Atlanta suburbs.

The third case comes from Michigan, where a funeral home fired a transgender woman. The appeals court in Cincinnati ruled that the firing constituted sex discrimination under federal law.

The funeral home argues in part that Congress was not thinking about transgender people when it included sex discrimination in Title VII.

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Kellyanne Conway: Trump can’t be impeached by an investigation Democrats started




Kellyanne Conway: Trump can't be impeached by an investigation Democrats started

As thousands gathered on the White House lawn for the annual Easter egg roll on Monday morning, Kellyanne Conway criticized House Democrats latest impeachment push, calling it “a ridiculous proposition.”

News broke on Sunday that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., plans to hold a private conference call with fellow Democrats to discuss the possibility of impeaching President Trump.

The issue was raised again after a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report was released last week, which Dems argue provides evidence to the contrary of Attorney General William Barr’s summary that the investigation found no evidence that President Trump obstructed justice.

However, Conway pushed back.



“You can’t impeach a Republican president for something the Democrats started, which is this ridiculous investigation that has cost us $25 million, over 2500 subpoenas,” Conway told “Fox & Friends” host Ainsley Earhardt on Monday morning.

“The special counsel provides a report to the attorney general who, in concert with the deputy attorney general and office of legal counsel, decided there was no obstructive conduct. They could not bring obstruction charges – they made that decision,” she continued.

“I’m sure if director Mueller and his team could have brought those very clear charges they would have.”

She added that many in the media are now trying to “save face” after fiercely believing and predicting Mueller’s investigation would uncover collusion between Trump and Russia, which would have supplemented their arguments in 2016 that Trump “lied and stole the election.”


As the 2020 election approaches, Conway also commented on the wide array of Democrats entering the race and reminded viewers that candidates need to run on real issues.

“Simple math,” she said. “One, 19, 50, anything times zero, simple multiplication … 19 are running, but if your message is zero it’s a big zero.”

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Ex-Trump attorney Dowd disputes Mueller report, says president never tried to oust special counsel




Ex-Trump attorney Dowd disputes Mueller report, says president never tried to oust special counsel

President Trump never said he wanted to “get rid” of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and instead cooperated fully with his investigation, according to one of the president’s former attorneys.

John Dowd, who served as a member of President Trump’s legal team from June 2017 until March 2018, discussed Trump’s approach to Mueller during an interview on “Fox & Friends” Monday.

Frequent media accounts prior to the release of the report suggested Trump tried to fire Mueller at times during the Russia investigation. The report itself said Trump told then-White House Counsel Don McGahn in June 2017 to tell the acting attorney general that Mueller “must be removed.” McGahn refused.

But asked on Monday when Trump said to fire Mueller, Dowd said: “He never did. I was there at the same time that the report says McGahn mentioned this, and I was assigned to deal with Mueller and briefed the president every day.



“At no time did the president ever say, ‘you know, John, I’m going to get rid of him.’ It was the opposite.

“Here’s the message the president had for Bob Mueller, he told me to carry — number one, you tell him I respect what he is doing; number two, you tell him he has my full cooperation; number three, get it done as quickly as possible; and number four, whatever else you need, let me know.

“That was always the message and that is exactly what we did.”

Dowd continued, saying he spoke to Mueller about the president’s frequent public criticism of the investigation.


“I talked to Bob about that. I said, ‘do you understand what’s going on?’ and he said, ‘oh, it’s political, he has to do that for political reasons’.

“I said, ‘I tell you what, the president and I will make sure, we’ll say publicly cooperate with Bob Mueller’ and we did early on. So that was it.”

Host Steve Doocy then asked Dowd about “the suggestion from the report that Don McGahn, the president’s attorney, was told go out and fire him” Mueller.


“I just I think there was a misunderstanding,” Dowd said.

“I just don’t believe it. I think the president simply wanted McGahn to call Rosenstein, have him vetted, because the president believed Mueller did have some conflicts.”

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