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On Pompeo’s Latin America visit, Venezuela crisis and China trade loom large

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On Pompeo's Latin America visit, Venezuela crisis and China trade loom large

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday began a three-day visit to Chile, Paraguay and Peru, a clutch of fast-growing countries in a region where China’s growing presence is a concern for Washington and Venezuela’s crisis has escalated.

FILE PHOTO – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies before a Senate foreign Relations Committee hearing on the State Department budget request in Washington, U.S. April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott

It will be the first time since 1965 that a U.S. secretary of state has visited Paraguay, a symbolic gesture that experts say underscores U.S. commitment to the region.

Pompeo will also travel on Sunday to Cucuta, a Colombian border city receiving many of the millions of Venezuelan migrants fleeing hunger and violence in their homeland.

Venezuela’s political crisis is expected to dominate the trip as the United States pressures President Nicolas Maduro to step down and urges more countries to join the coalition supporting opposition leader Juan Guaido.

“The trip is an opportunity to showcase the transformation that is happening for the great majority of South American nations where like-minded democracies are coming together to solve regional challenges,” State Department spokesman Robert Palladino told reporters.

The visit comes as Washington considers more sanctions against Maduro’s government and pushes Russia to remove its troops from Venezuela.

Vice President Mike Pence, in an address to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday, encouraged more countries to join the coalition in support of Guaido. While most Western nations have recognized Guaido as head of state, Russia, China and Cuba have stood by Maduro.

Roberta Braga, a director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council, said she expected Pompeo to reiterate the importance of Peru’s leadership as part of the Lima Group regional bloc in addressing Venezuela’s crisis.

“At the top of the priority list for Pompeo’s trip this week will be to continue to reinforce and strengthen the coalition that has been built in support of Guaido,” Braga said.

“Pompeo will likely reiterate the administration’s prior warnings to external actors, including China, Cuba and Russia, to not intervene in the crisis.”

About a quarter of Venezuelans are in need of humanitarian aid, according to the United Nations, with people lacking food, medicine and basic services.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said this week Venezuela’s economy was expected to contract by one-fourth in 2019, and a further 10 percent in 2020 – a greater collapse than it projected in October.

The Fund said the decline “generates a sizable drag on projected growth for the region and for the emerging

market and developing economy group in both years.”

During his travels, Pompeo is expected to highlight the gains from economic and trade cooperation with America, whose regional influence has been increasingly challenged by China.

China, whose demand for raw materials increased during rapid economic growth the past two decades, is already the top trade partner for countries ranging from Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy and the world’s top soybean exporter, to tiny Uruguay.

Slideshow (2 Images)

Latin American countries’ turn to China for financing has alarmed Washington even as its own policy toward the region shifts.

Trump’s December 2017 national security strategy said China was seeking to “pull the region into its orbit through state-led investment and loans.”

Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) in the region has risen by $70 billion since 2012, according to the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center. While the United States remains the largest source of FDI, its share fell to 20 percent in 2016 from 25.7 percent in 2015 and 24 percent in 2012, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Reporting by Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Editing by James Dalgleish

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Ambassador Grenell: Mayor Buttigieg pushing ‘Jussie Smollett’ hate hoax against Pence

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Mike Pence hits back at Pete Buttigieg after criticism: 'He knows better'

The U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, defended Vice President Mike Pence against accusations of homophobia alleged by Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg and compared the claims to a “hate hoax along the lines of Jussie Smollett.”

“Mayor Pete has been pushing this hate hoax along the lines of Jussie Smollett for a very long time now, several weeks,” Grenell, who is openly gay, said Thursday on “The Story with Martha MacCallum.”

Smollett, an actor, is accused of faking a hate crime and is currently being sued by the city of Chicago.

ROB SMITH: I’M GAY AND SUPPORT MIKE PENCE — DON’T BELIEVE PETE BUTTIGIEG’S CLAIM THAT PENCE IS ANTI-GAY

Buttigieg, who is openly gay and was once cordial with Pence, has boosted criticism of the vice president calling him anti-gay.

“This is someone who was against ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ who felt it was too pro-gay.  He wanted to make sure even closeted of couldn’t serve,” Buttigieg said Tuesday about Pence on CNN.

Grenell, who called Pence a friend, accused the mayor of South Bend of drumming up accusations to boost fundraising and asked why he didn’t speak up while Pence was the governor of Indiana.

“It’s ironic that right about now when he’s starting his fund-raising apparatus to run for president that he comes up with this… idea and this attack,” Grenell said.

The ambassador defended Pence and his wife and cited their Christianity and said the couple “accepted” Grendell and his partner.

“Mike and Karen are great people, they’re godly people, they’re followers of Christ.  They don’t have hate in their heart for anyone. They know my partner, they have accepted us. You asked me do we agree philosophically on every single issue? No,” Grendell said adding that he disagrees with other people he respects.

BUTTIGIEG, ONCE CORDIAL TO PENCE, NOW CRITICAL AMID CAMPAIGN

Grendell chastised the gay community for shifting from a group about tolerance to a group that demands “we all think alike” before noting that Pence has always supported Buttigieg.

“When Mayor Pete came out, the vice president complimented him and said he holds him in high regard. The vice president or then governor has said nothing but positive things about Mayor Pete. I think this is a total hate hoax and I think it’s outrageous,” Grenell said.

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Trump’s written — at times snarky — answers to Mueller’s questions revealed

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Why the Mueller report could turn into a never-ending story on the Hill

Special Counsel Robert Mueller and President Trump communicated directly at one point during the long-running investigation into Russian election interference, when the president’s legal team submitted written testimony in response to Mueller’s questions on a variety of topics in November 2018.

And in some cases, Trump and his attorneys brought the sass.

One of Mueller’s questions referred to a July 2016 campaign rally, when Trump said, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

That was a reference to the slew of documents deleted from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server — one that prompted numerous accusations that Trump was improperly sending a signal to Russian hackers. Mueller’s report noted that hours after Trump’s remarks, a Russian-led attempt to access some Clinton-linked email accounts was launched, although there was no evidence Trump or his team directed or coordinated with that effort.

“Why did you make that request of Russia, as opposed to any other country, entity or individual?” Mueller’s prosecutors asked.

Mueller’s report noted that after Trump’s statement, future National Security Adviser Flynn contacted operatives in hopes of uncovering the documents, and another GOP consultant started a company to look for the emails.

“I made the statement quoted in Question II (d) in jest and sarcastically, as was apparent to any objective observer,” Trump’s attorneys shot back. “The context of the statement is evident in the full reading or viewing of the July 27, 2016, press conference, and I refer you to the publicly available transcript and video of that press conference.”

Separately, Mueller asked Trump why he previewed a speech in June 2016 by promising to discuss “all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons,” and what specifically he’d planned to talk about.

Trump didn’t hold back.

“In general, l expected to give a speech referencing the publicly available, negative information about the Clintons, including, for example, Mrs. Clinton’s failed policies, the Clintons’ use of the State Department to further their interests and the interests of the Clinton Foundation, Mrs. Clinton’s improper use of a private server for State Department business, the destruction of 33,000 emails on that server, and Mrs. Clinton’s temperamental unsuitability for the office of the president,” Trump responded.

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE ‘BOMBSHELLS’ THAT FIZZLED? BUZZFEED’S COHEN TESTIMONY SCOOP, THE GOP PLATFORM SWITCH, ETC?

After discussing other events, Trump concluded his reply: “I continued to speak about Mrs. Clinton’s failings throughout the campaign, using the information prepared for inclusion in the speech to which I referred on June 7, 2016.”

In all, Mueller’s 448-page report included 23 unredacted pages of Mueller’s written questions and Trump’s written responses. The special counsel’s team wrote that it tried to interview the president for more than a year before relenting and permitting the written responses alone.

An introductory note included in the report said the special counsel’s office found the responses indicative of “the inadequacy of the written format,” especially given the office’s inability to ask follow-up questions.

Click here for the full exchange between Mueller’s team and Trump.

Citing dozens of answers that Mueller’s team considered incomplete, imprecise or not provided because of the president’s lack of recollection — for instance, the president gave no response at all to the final set of questions — the special counsel’s office again sought an in-person interview with Trump, and he once again declined.

Mueller’s team said it considered seeking a subpoena to compel Trump’s in-person testimony, but decided the legally aggressive move would only serve to delay the investigation.

Fox News’ Brooke Singman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Mueller report has held America ‘hostage’ for 2 years, Federalist editor says

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Mueller report has held America 'hostage' for 2 years, Federalist editor says

While many analysts are advising Democrats to move on from Mueller report and the issue of collusion, The Federalist senior editor Mollie Hemingway said Thursday it will be hard for America to move on because it’s been “held hostage” by the idea of President Trump colluding with Russia.

“The country was basically held hostage by a collusion theory, a theory that the president of the United States was a foreign agent. This undermined the administration of our government. It totally sidelined the Department of Justice, it hampered our ability to do foreign policy. It was a very negative thing,” Hemingway told “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

MUELLER REPORT SHOWS PROBE DID NOT FIND COLLUSION EVIDENCE, REVEALS TRUMP EFFORTS TO SIDELINE KEY PLAYERS

“There needs to be accountability. We are being given indications there will be accountability for this.”

After two years, a redacted version of Mueller’s report was released Thursday showing investigators did not find proof of collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia but revealed an array of controversial actions by the president that were examined as part of the investigation’s obstruction probe.

Democrats criticized Barr and demanded an unredacted version of the report while Republicans demanded an investigation into how the Russia collusion narrative began.

RUDY GIULIANI ON THE RELEASE OF THE MUELLER REPORT: ‘THIS PRESIDENT HAS BEEN TREATED TOTALLY UNFAIRLY’

Hemingway said the idea that people would just “move on” was “absurd.”

“The American people tolerated this investigation because they were told there was reason to believe the president was a traitor. The idea that we are just going to quickly move on from this like ‘OK, I guess it was our bad, there was no collusion,’ but now we’re trying to go on obstruction is patently absurd,” Hemingway said.

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