US Navy moves second aircraft carrier near North Korea

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The US Navy is moving the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier to the Korean Peninsula where it will conduct dual-carrier training exercises with the USS Carl Vinson amid heightened tensions in the region, two defense officials told CNN.

The move comes just days after North Korea demonstrated a significant leap forward in their missile program after launching a projectile that achieved “successful” controlled reentry into the Earth’s lower atmosphere rather than falling back to the surface, according to a preliminary US intelligence analysis, two US officials tell CNN.

The USS Ronald Reagan departed for the Korean Peninsula on Tuesday after completing a maintenance period and sea trials in its homeport of Yokosuka, Japan, according to the Navy.

“Coming out of a long in-port maintenance period we have to ensure that Ronald Reagan and the remainder of the strike group are integrated properly as we move forward,” Rear Adm. Charles Williams said in a press release.

Once it arrives in the region, the carrier will conduct a variety of training exercises but primarily focus on certifying its ability to safely launch and recover aircraft, the Navy said. Defense officials would not comment on long the two carriers would be there, but ultimately the Reagan is expected to replace the Vinson in the region once its deployment ends.

The 1,092-foot Reagan, a Nimitz-class carrier, has a crew of 4,539 and is equipped with roughly 60 aircraft, according to the Navy. It was commissioned in 2003 and cost about $8.5 billion.

The USS Carl Vinson, also a Nimitz-class carrier, arrived at the Korean Peninsula late last month as a show of force in advance of a long-anticipated sixth nuclear test from the North Korean government.

Lightning strikes over the flight deck of the USS John C. Stennis, another Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, as the ship moves through the Persian Gulf in 2007. All of the Navy’s 10 active aircraft carriers are from the Nimitz class, which started in 1975 with the commission of the USS Nimitz.

Lightning strikes over the flight deck of the USS John C. Stennis, another Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, as the ship moves through the Persian Gulf in 2007. All of the Navy’s 10 active aircraft carriers are from the Nimitz class, which started in 1975 with the commission of the USS Nimitz.

The USS Ranger (CV-61) arrives at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 1993. The Forrestal-class carrier, which featured in the movie “Top Gun,” is to be scrapped this year.

The USS Ranger (CV-61) arrives at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 1993. The Forrestal-class carrier, which featured in the movie “Top Gun,” is to be scrapped this year.

In this photo released by the U.S. Navy, a tugboat works alongside the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Saratoga on Thursday, August 21, in Newport, Rhode Island. The Navy has paid a Texas recycling company a penny to dispose of the Saratoga, part of the Forrestal-class of “supercarrier” vessels built for the Atomic Age. The carrier was decommissioned 20 years ago.

In this photo released by the U.S. Navy, a tugboat works alongside the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Saratoga on Thursday, August 21, in Newport, Rhode Island. The Navy has paid a Texas recycling company a penny to dispose of the Saratoga, part of the Forrestal-class of “supercarrier” vessels built for the Atomic Age. The carrier was decommissioned 20 years ago.

Aircrew members are lifted from the flight deck of the USS John F. Kennedy during an exercise in 2002. The ship, which was decommissioned in 2007, was the only member of its class.

Aircrew members are lifted from the flight deck of the USS John F. Kennedy during an exercise in 2002. The ship, which was decommissioned in 2007, was the only member of its class.

An F/A-18 Hornet launches from the USS Enterprise in 2007. The Enterprise, the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, was decommissioned in 2012. Like the John F. Kennedy, it was the only ship built in its class.

An F/A-18 Hornet launches from the USS Enterprise in 2007. The Enterprise, the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, was decommissioned in 2012. Like the John F. Kennedy, it was the only ship built in its class.

The Kitty Hawk class was named for the USS Kitty Hawk, seen here departing Yokosuka, Japan, in 2008. At that time, the Kitty Hawk was the oldest carrier in the U.S. Navy and the only conventional-power aircraft carrier still in commission. It was decommissioned in 2009.

The Kitty Hawk class was named for the USS Kitty Hawk, seen here departing Yokosuka, Japan, in 2008. At that time, the Kitty Hawk was the oldest carrier in the U.S. Navy and the only conventional-power aircraft carrier still in commission. It was decommissioned in 2009.

The USS Independence, a member of the Forrestal class that preceded the Kitty Hawk class, heads up the East River in New York in 1959.

The USS Independence, a member of the Forrestal class that preceded the Kitty Hawk class, heads up the East River in New York in 1959.

Helicopters sit on the flight deck of the USS Saipan during the mid-1950s. The ship was one of two members of the Saipan class.
Photos: U.S. aircraft carriers
Helicopters sit on the flight deck of the USS Saipan during the mid-1950s. The ship was one of two members of the Saipan class.

The USS Midway, namesake of the Midway class of aircraft carriers, floats off the coast of North Vietnam in 1972. It was named after the Battle of Midway, when U.S. forces held back a Japanese attempt to take the Pacific atoll in 1942.

The USS Midway, namesake of the Midway class of aircraft carriers, floats off the coast of North Vietnam in 1972. It was named after the Battle of Midway, when U.S. forces held back a Japanese attempt to take the Pacific atoll in 1942.

Trump says he did not ask Comey to end investigation

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President Donald Trump said Thursday he did not ask FBI Director James Comey to end his investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

Trump emphatically said “no” when asked during a joint news conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in the White House’s East Room.

It was Trump’s first time taking questions since his Justice Department named a special counsel to probe Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election.

“Well, I respect the move but the entire thing has been a witch hunt,” Trump said when asked about the investigation. “There is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign. But I can always speak for myself and the Russians, zero. I think it divides the country, I think we have a very divided country because of that and many other things. So I can tell you that we want to bring this great country of ours together.”

Trump called talk of potential criminal charges or impeachment “totally ridiculous.”
He also said he thought that Comey’s firing would be bipartisan.

“I think it is totally ridiculous. Everyone thinks so,” he said when asked whether he ever thought he did something recently that merited criminal charges or impeachment.

“Director Comey was very unpopular with most people,” he said. “I actually thought when I made that decision, and I also got a very, very strong recommendation, as you know, from the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. When I made that decision I actually thought it would be a bipartisan decision because you look at all of the people on the Democratic side, not only the Republican side, that were saying such terrible thing about Director Comey.”

According to sources familiar with the matter, Trump asked Comey to end the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, a request documented in a memo written by the former FBI director.

“I hope you can let this go,” Comey wrote, quoting Trump in the document, which CNN has not viewed but which was described by the sources.

The bombshell revelation Tuesday escalated the already raging political crises engulfing the White House triggered by the bureau’s probe into alleged cooperation between Trump aides and Russia as well as new reports that Trump divulged classified information to top Russian officials.

Trump is both publicly and privately stewing about Rosenstein’s decision to name a special counsel. After the White House put out a subdued statement on Wednesday night about former FBI Director Robert Mueller being named special counsel, Trump publicly vented on Thursday morning about the new probe.

“This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history,” he wrote on Twitter. “With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special counsel appointed!”

Trump’s tweets signal his White House — or at least the man in charge — will try to resist Mueller’s investigation, meaning the shadow of that probe will now hang over a White House in need of a morale boost.

Trump has cast himself throughout the Russia investigation as an aggrieved president who is being mistreated by the media.
“No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly,” he said on Wednesday to the graduating class of the United States Coast Guard Academy. “You can’t let them get you down, you can’t let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams.”

Mike Pence’s disappearing act

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It’s hard for a vice president of the United States to disappear from sight. After all, you are the second most powerful person in the country and all that.

Despite those challenges, Vice President Mike Pence has been nearly invisible for the last 48 hours or so — even as the Trump Administration has been buffeted by a slew of negative stories that have occasioned a special counsel to be named to oversee the ongoing Russia probe.

Pence was spotted Tuesday by the eagle-eyed Kate Benett at a working lunch meeting with Turkish President Erdogan. (The tweet containing that photo was deleted minutes after it went up and reposted hours later.)

On Wednesday, Pence was nowhere to be seen for most of the day. His staff said that he was working on a series of speeches; Pence is set to deliver the commencement address at Notre Dame on Sunday. Pence’s one public event was to honor Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders late in the day.

Pence’s schedule today is a bit more robust. He spoke at the US Chamber of Commerce in the noon hour. He was scheduled to give another speech at the Laffer Associates Washington conference this afternoon before attending a bilateral meeting with President Trump and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.

Still, Pence has spoken nary a word about the blockbuster news that Trump divulged classified information in an Oval Office meeting with two top Russian officials or the bombshell that Trump reportedly asked then FBI Director James Comey to leave off an investigation into the Russia ties of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Pence has also said nothing publicly about the fact that Trump directly contradicted his version of events surrounding Comey’s firing 9 days ago.

What we did hear from Pence on Thursday was via a statement, reacting to a New York Times report that Flynn had warned transition officials that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey.

“The vice president stands by his comments in March upon first hearing the news regarding General Flynn’s ties to Turkey and fully supports the President’s decision to ask for General Flynn’s resignation,” an unnamed Pence aide told CNN.

The issue with that statement, of course, is that Pence was the head of the transition team. In that capacity, it seems somewhat hard to believe that Flynn’s warning to White House counsel Don McGahn that he was under investigation never made it to Pence’s ears.

Even as he has remained largely silent regarding Trump’s current troubles, Pence began laying the groundwork for his own political future. On Wednesday, Pence filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to establish the Great America Committee, a leadership political action committee that will allow him to raise money for his political interests and make donations to downballot candidates. Nick Ayers, who ran former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s 2012 presidential campaign, will run Pence’s PAC. (An email to Ayers seeking more information on how Pence plans to use the PAC was not returned.)

The last 48 hours, however, have highlighted Pence’s political problem: He is serving under a deeply unpredictable president who he will likely be latched to — in the public’s mind — no matter what happens over these next four or eight years. Pence has, to date, benefited politically from his willingness to embrace the Trump enigma. (He is vice president, after all.) But Trump is a double-edged sword and Pence has been feeling the sharp end of it since Monday.

‘Sessions must go’ projected on DOJ headquarters

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions dressed in a Ku Klux Klan costume and various hashtags were projected on Department of Justice headquarters and the FBI building in Washington, D.C., Thursday night.

Robin Bell (@bellvisuals) claimed credit for the sayings — #SESSIONSMUSTOGO, #WeNeedToSeeTheMemo and #fireSessions — decorating the buildings on Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the U.S. Capitol.

Bell was referring to the memo said to be written by former FBI Director James Comey after a discussion with President Trump about the FBI’s investigation into former National Security Adviser Gen. Michael Flynn.

On Monday night, Bell projected “Pay bribes here” and “Emoluments welcome” on the Trump International Hotel, just a few blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue from the DOJ.

Filmmaker and artist Bell told CNN he projected the words on the hotel to draw attention to accusations that foreign leaders can gain access to the president by paying to stay at the Trump property in nation’s capital.

Bell told CNN it was the fifth time he had projected a message on the Trump International Hotel, and he had no plans of stopping.

 

 

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