Monday 23 January 2017

Trump cabinet choices signal shift to the right

Ruth Sherlock and Harriet Alexander Washington and New York

Published 19/11/2016 | 02:30

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (R) at Trump Tower in Manhattan
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (R) at Trump Tower in Manhattan

A senator who claimed waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation techniques" were lawful has been nominated as Donald Trump's CIA director.

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US president-elect Mr Trump chose Mike Pompeo yesterday, and also put forward Jeff Sessions as his attorney general. Republican politician Mr Sessions, from Alabama, was turned down for the post of federal judge in the 1980s because of allegations of racism.

The appointments were the second and third cabinet roles to be filled after Mike Flynn, a retired military general whose decorated career has been overshadowed by controversial statements about Islam, was named national security adviser on Thursday night.

Mr Trump's choices signalled a sharp rightward shift in national security policy, and all three men have been fierce critics of President Barack Obama's handling of terrorism and international relations.

Mr Pompeo, a 52-year-old member of the Tea Party and a senator for Kansas, served in the army as a cavalry officer.

He is a trained lawyer and entered politics in 2011. Mr Pompeo made his fortune as the founder of Thayer Aerospace, then received strong backing from billionaire Republican donors the Koch brothers, who are based in his home town of Wichita, Kansas.

Congressman Mike Pompeo
Congressman Mike Pompeo

Before starting the job, Mr Pompeo will have to be confirmed by the US senate - something that could be complicated by his past support for the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques".

Mr Pompeo denounced the release in 2014 of a senate report that found many of these practices are torture and are unhelpful to national security.

Mr Trump backed many of the techniques during his presidential campaign, and said the US "should go tougher than waterboarding", which simulates drowning. Amnesty International said it was greatly concerned about Mr Pompeo's appointment and called on the senator to explain his views.

Mr Pompeo - a member of the House Intelligence committee - supports the NSA surveillance programmes and has previously criticised whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

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He caused anger in June 2013 when he said Muslims who failed to condemn terrorist acts were "potentially complicit".

Mr Trump's choice of Mr Sessions as attorney general is a sign he is rewarding key allies. The 69-year-old was the first senator to endorse Mr Trump, who he defended on television after the leak of Mr Trump's comments about groping women.

In 1986, Mr Sessions became only the second nominee in 50 years to be denied confirmation as a federal judge, after allegations he had made racist remarks. The comments included testimony that he called an African-American prosecutor "boy", which he denied.

Mr Sessions told a hearing he was not a racist, but he added groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People and the American Civil Liberties Union may be considered "un-American". Mr Trump's appointment of Mr Flynn as national security adviser puts back into power a retired intelligence officer who has called Islam "a cancer".

The president-elect, who is due to spend the weekend at his golf course in New Jersey, said he would today meet contenders for secretary of state. He is also scheduled to meet Mitt Romney, the former Republican presidential candidate.

Chuck Schumer, the incoming senate Democratic leader, said he was "very concerned" about Mr Trump's selection of Mr Sessions, and said he feared for the civil rights division at the Department of Justice.

All three appointments were welcomed by David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader, who tweeted: "[Steve] Bannon, Flynn & Sessions - Americans are on the way to taking back our government, our nation and our children's future!"

Also yesterday it emerged that Mr Trump has agreed to settle a series of fraud lawsuits brought against his Trump University enterprise for $25m. The settlement if approved would silence a dispute that dogged his presidential campaign, with opponents accusing him of "fleecing" students.

"The victims of Trump University have waited years for today's result, and I am pleased that their patience - and persistence - will be rewarded by this $25m settlement," said Eric Schneiderman, the New York attorney general who brought the case.

He added that Mr Trump would pay up to $1m in penalties for violating state education laws.

Lawyers for the president-elect have been arguing against students who claim they were they were lured by false promises into paying up to $35,000 to learn Mr Trump's real estate investing "secrets" from his "hand-picked" instructors.

It has since emerged that several of the teachers had no university degree or even an educational background.

One instructor was already a convicted felon when he was hired in 2008 - for aggravated assault, recent depositions in the Trump University case reveal.

There are three lawsuits relating to Trump University: two class actions suits in California and a case brought by Mr Schneiderman.

All of the cases would be covered in the possible settlement. Mr Schneiderman has said over 5,000 students across the country were defrauded out of about $40m.

The $25m settlement agreement would include roughly $4m to resolve Mr Schneiderman's claims.

Mr Trump has said he did not "hand pick" Trump University instructors, but that marketing language used was not to be taken literally.

He has said most students gave the classes high ratings.

Mr Trump came under fire during his campaign for claiming that the judge overseeing two of the cases was biased because he was of Mexican ancestry.

He said Gonzalo Curiel, the US judge who was born in Indiana to Mexican immigrant parents, could not be impartial because of Mr Trump's campaign pledge to build a wall on the US-Mexico border to control illegal immigration. Mr Trump's lawyers could not immediately be reached for comment. (© Daily Telegraph London)

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