Rex Tillerson: a rocky road with Trump that ended with a surprise firing

The secretary of state had known a battle was brewing – but he had survived similar clashes with the president before

Rex Tillerson’s last significant act as secretary of state was characteristically out of tune with the White House.

Donald Trump’s spokeswoman Sarah Sanders had avoided any blame of Russia for the poisoning of an ex-spy in Britain, but minutes later Tillerson issued his own statement, which was definitive in supporting the UK assessment that Moscow was behind the attack.

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Beaten Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore asks for money to fight lawsuit

  • Former judge seeks $250,000 in donations from supporters
  • Leigh Corfman, who says Moore molested her, suing for defamation

Roy Moore, the former judge who lost a special US Senate election in Alabama in December, is appealing for financial help as he fights a lawsuit brought by a woman who says he molested her when she was 14.

Related: Movie night with the Reagans: a time to disconnect, recharge and be entertained

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Donald Trump Jr cancels US foreign policy speech in India

A scheduled speech by Donald Trump Jr on US foreign policy in India has been abruptly changed to a “fireside chat” hours before the address was supposed to begin in Delhi.

The 15-minute speech was initially called “Reshaping Indo-Pacific ties: the new era of cooperation”, but the title was amended on the website of the business conference to remove any reference to a topic.

Trump Jr was interviewed instead by the journalist Supriya Shrinate about his experiences as the son of the US president and his views on India’s business culture.

Ethics watchdogs and Democratic lawmakers had questioned why Trump Jr, who has been in India since Tuesday touring properties licensed by the Trump Organization, was discussing US foreign policy on what was ostensibly a business trip by a private citizen.

The US state department and the US embassy in Delhi have denied any involvement in the speech or knowledge of its contents.

Organisers of the business summit, which was also addressed by India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, and several cabinet ministers, did not respond to questions about why the topic and format of Trump’s appearance had been changed.

Trump Jr told the audience of about 2,000 people he rarely talked politics with his father any more. “We see him so little that when we’re together it’s really about being a family,” he said.

Asked about corruption in India, his response – “There’s an entrepreneurial spirit here … that’s different to elsewhere in the world” – drew laughter from the crowd.

Trump stressed he was “here as a businessman, not representing anyone”.

The New Jersey senator, Bob Menendez, said earlier this week his visit could send the “mistaken message” that he was speaking on behalf of the US government.

In a letter to Kenneth Juster, the new US ambassador to India, Menendez said he expected the US state deparment and the embassy in Delhi to “treat Mr Trump no differently than it would any other American individual visiting on private business, and will take every effort to avoid any perception of special treatment or a conflict of interest”.

He asked whether US officials would have any role in a dinner hosted by Trump Jr on Friday with investors in a Trump Organization-licensed project in Gurgaon, a city about an hour’s drive from Delhi.

One partner in the project boasted that the visit, announced in front-page advertisements in national newspapers, had generated around $15m (£10.7m) in sales for the project.

At least one journalist allowed to interview Trump Jr said they were given strict instructions that political questions were off limits, and that minders had blocked several questions about his father.

Trump Jr spoke of his frustration at not being able to do new business deals, a measure his father imposed to avoid conflicts of interest, but which ethics lawyers say does not sufficiently isolate Trump’s policy decisions from his finances.

“When we’re out of politics, I think we will get some credit for it and will be welcomed again with open arms,” Trump Jr said.

The Trump Organization has licensed its name to four other projects in Gurgaon, Pune, Kolkata and Mumbai.

Trump Jr has no official role in the Trump administration and took the reins of the family company, with his brother Eric, after their father was inaugurated.

Trump meets Florida survivors as shooting suspect plans to plead guilty

President praises response to shooting while public defender says Nikolas Cruz will plead guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder

Students at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school.

Students at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school. The suspect, Nikolas Cruz, allegedly abandoned many dozens of unspent rounds.
Photograph: USA Today/Sipa/Rex/Shutterstock

Donald Trump visited a Florida hospital on Friday night to meet survivors of this week’s deadly high school shooting, as the local public defender said the suspect would plead guilty.

“It’s very sad something like this could happen,” Trump told reporters at Broward Health North hospital. “But the job the doctors did, the nurses, the hospital, the first responders, law enforcement, was really incredible.”

But when asked if gun laws needed to be changed, Trump had no comment.

break the cycle

Also Friday night, the Broward County public defender Howard Finkelstein told CNN that Nikolas Cruz, 19, planned to plead guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder in order to escape the death penalty.

“Everybody knows who committed the crime and that the only question is does he live or does he die,” public defender Howard Finkelstein said, adding: “This is an opportunity to put the criminal case behind and help the victims and families begin to pick up the pieces of their lives.”

The president and the first lady also planned to meet with law enforcement officials at the Broward County sheriff’s office later Friday. The president arrived at the hospital, immediately after landing in West Palm Beach where the president will spend the weekend at his estate, which is about 40 miles from the school in Parkland.

Donald and Melania Trump at a hospital in Pompano Beach, Florida.

Donald and Melania Trump at a hospital in Pompano Beach, Florida. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

The arrival of Donald and Melania, who visited several victims in hospital as well as first responders and medical staff, came amid mounting anger within the town and beyond about political inaction on gun control and an admission by the FBI that it failed to investigate a January tip about the alleged attacker’s instability.

Some of the parents, survivors and others affected by the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school have angrily called for firm action to prevent future assaults.

‘No more guns’: chants ring out at Florida vigil – video

“I don’t want Trump to come but we want more gun safety,” said 18-year-old Kevin Trejos, a senior at the school. “It’s a dream. It hasn’t hit me yet.”

As Parkland began the distressing process of staging funerals for the 17 students and teachers killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school, grief in the community gave way to anger and renewed calls to change the nation’s gun control laws.

The mood began to swing from shock to protest Thursday, led by Scott Israel, the sheriff of Broward County at an emotional candlelit vigil. Police said Cruz, a former student of the high school, used an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle to carry out the attack.

“If you’re an elected official, and you want to keep things the way they are, and not do things differently, if you want to keep the gun laws as they are now, you will not get re-elected in Broward County,” Israel told about 8,000 mourners at Pine Trails park, less than two miles from the scene of Wednesday’s shooting.

By Friday, the close-knit city of 30,000 prepared to begin burying their dead. A thousand people and Florida governor Rick Scott crammed into Temple K’ol Tikvah for the funeral of 18-year-old Meadow Pollack, where her father, Andrew Pollack cried out in reference to Cruz: “You killed my kid.”

He looked down at his daughter’s plain pine coffin. “My kid is dead,” he said. “It goes through my head all day and all night. I keep hearing it. This is just unimaginable that I will never see my princess again.” As he paused, mourners began to wail.

Meanwhile school students who survived attacked Washington’s inaction after a slew of previous mass shootings in American schools.

Cameron Kasky, a 17-year-old in his junior year at Stoneman Douglas high, criticised the Republican party.

“Everything I’ve heard is we can’t do anything, this is out of our hands and this is inevitable’. But that’s just the facade the GOP is putting up,” said Kasky, who has set up a Facebook page for fellow students and the community to press for action.

Mourners at the vigil on Thursday night.

Mourners at the vigil on Thursday night. Photograph: Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images

It emerged on Friday that Cruz, who legally bought the rifle and ammunition used in the shooting at a tactical supply store in Coral Springs after passing a background check, allegedly fired more than 150 rounds at the school, and abandoned many dozens of unspent rounds.

Trump failed to use the word gun in his address to the nation on Thursday and in a coded message to his pro-gun supporters in the NRA, set his face against tougher background checks and a ban on assault weapons as he said: “It is not enough to simply take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference. We must actually make that difference.”

Trump on Florida shooting: ‘We hurt for the entire community’ – video

The campaign group Everytown for Gun Safety said on Friday it has received $800,000 in unsolicited donations since Wednesday’s shooting, calling it a precursor for voter sentiment in the midterm elections in November 2018.

In the search for basic safety measures, parents who lost their children in the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook are pushing for one route through the political inertia in Washington which could help make every school in America safer.

Quick guide

Mass school shootings in the US

How many have there been so far this year?

There have been eight shootings at US schools this year that resulted in injury or death, including 17 dead on Wednesday. In December, the fifth anniversary of the Sandy Hook school shooting, in which 20 children and six teachers died, was marked by congressional Republicans seeking to weaken restrictions and make it easier to carry a concealed weapon across state lines. Donald Trump promised to support the National Rifle Association (NRA) and oppose limits to gun ownership. 

Key statistics

97 children have been killed and 126 injured in mass shootings in schools since 1989. These are the three worst incidents:

14 February 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School, Florida

14 December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary, Connecticut

20 April 1999 Columbine High School, Colorado

Why is the NRA so powerful?

In 2017, the NRA spent at least $4.1m on lobbying. In the 2016 US elections, it spent $14.4m supporting 44 candidates who won, and $34.4m opposing 19 who lost, according to CRP. But “the real source of its power comes from voters”, said Adam Winkler, a UCLA professor of constitutional law. The 145-year-old organisation claims 5 million active members and Prof Robert Spitzer of the State University of New York at Cortland said it has “a very powerful ability to mobilise a grassroots support ”.

The public view

79%: Proportion of Americans who favour banning assault-style weapons, according to a recent poll

84%: Democratic voters who said that gun laws should be ‘a lot’ or ‘somewhat’ stricter than at present

72%: Republican voters who agreed that ‘the benefits of gun ownership outweigh the risks’

Photograph: Allen G. Breed/AP
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In the five years since 20 children were murdered in the Connecticut elementary school, Mark Barden, whose son Daniel died in that shooting, has worked with a small group of other Sandy Hook families to try to change America’s reaction to the ‘red flags’, warning signs that indicate a student might be a risk.

Sandy Hook Promise has shared its “Know the Signs” training programs with 2.5 million students and adults, working across the country, one school district at a time, offering the training free of cost to school to educate kids and teachers about what to look for and what to do.

Legislation brought forward by Republicans and Democrats would authorise federal funds to expand the programme.

Barden said he felt extreme sorrow and frustration. “We know all too well that this is preventable, that there were plenty of warning signs missed,” he said.


‘What a year it’s been’: Trump lauds major feats of 2017 in end-of-year video

Donald Trump has posted a video summarising his first year in office, which gives an insight into what the president sees as his biggest accomplishments as 2018 begins.

Beginning with martial drums and numerous shots of the Marine One helicopter, and US soldiers keeping watch over the president, the three-and-a-half-minute clip focuses first on Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the supreme court – one of his best decisions in the eyes of conservatives, but a move viewed much more nervously by liberals.

Donald J. Trump

What a year it’s been, and we’re just getting started. Together, we are MAKING AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! Happy New Year!!

December 31, 2017

The video then skips to footage of Trump speaking to victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and holding up a Puerto Rican flag – glossing over his lengthy dispute with authorities in the US territory over the perceived weakness of the federal response to Hurricane Maria there compared to the aid given after disasters on the mainland.

A quick out-of-focus shot of Trump chatting to Theresa May at the G20 in Germany also airbrushes a tricky relationship – most recently when her criticism of his decision to retweet messages from a British far-right group led to Trump tetchily telling her she should focus on “Radical Islamic Terrorism” and not on him.

As the controversial speech he made in Poland in which he said “our civilisation will triumph” plays, Trump is shown at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, the city he recognised as Israel’s capital this month in the face of almost unanimous opposition from foreign allies, who view its status as a key part of future negotiations with the Palestinians.

Trump goes on to hail jobs figures (whose strength can be overstated), the rise in the stock market (which he has been accused of using as “a substitute metric for success given his anemic poll numbers”), and his recent tax cuts (which favour the rich and corporations), as well as his idiosyncratic campaign to politicise the phrase “Merry Christmas”, before ending with an excerpt from a speech he made to the US air force in which he told personnel, “For America, the sky is never the limit,” as the camera lingers ominously on a fighter jet.

Trump’s social media team has made a habit of releasing short videos to mark what the administration considers key events. This new year one is perhaps less avant-garde than the recap of Trump’s trip to Asia in November, which featured backwards footage of local cyclists and slo-mo clips of the president striding along red carpets, all soundtracked by a tune that recalled Hans Zimmer’s Rain Man soundtrack. And it is slightly less jingoistic than his iMovie-style slideshow of his trip to the G20, which included a song based around his campaign slogan “make America great again”.

But he returned to that theme with the message that accompanied his new year video, telling his 45.5 million followers: “What a year it’s been, and we’re just getting started. Together, we are MAKING AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! Happy New Year!!”

Whether the thought that Trump is just getting started will delight or terrify you in 2018 may depend somewhat on your political persuasion.

As midnight approached, the president followed up with a tweet that recalled last year’s infamous new year’s message focusing on his “many enemies”.

The enemies, and indeed haters, still got a mention, but there was room this year for friends too – and even the “Fake News Media”.

Donald J. Trump

As our Country rapidly grows stronger and smarter, I want to wish all of my friends, supporters, enemies, haters, and even the very dishonest Fake News Media, a Happy and Healthy New Year. 2018 will be a great year for America!

December 31, 2017