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Former U.S. hostages in Iran say Trump’s bellicose threats revive their 1979 trauma

President Trump warned Iran on Saturday that if it retaliated against the U.S. for killing Gen. Qassem Suleimani — one of Iran’s highest-level military figures — it would come to deeply regret it.

“Iran is talking very boldly about targeting certain USA assets as revenge,” Trump wrote. “Let this serve as a warning that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago).”

In making such bellicose threats, Trump has reopened deep-seated wounds from the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-81.

Trump’s tweet also amplified feelings of anxiety for many Iranian Americans who had already been struggling to understand what the rise in tensions meant for their loved ones back in Iran.

That’s because, for many in the diaspora, historical sites in Iran continue to represent a large part of their identity and remain a strong source of pride, helping to unite Iranians from all religious, social and political backgrounds.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif took to Twitter to respond to Trump, pointing out that “targeting cultural sites is a war crime.” Some legal observers on social media also noted that under Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions, the deliberate targeting of cultural sites is prohibited.

Even though four decades have passed since Iranian protesters stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took the Americans hostage, resulting in a 444-day ordeal, those wounds continue to haunt Americans. The crisis is viewed by many as a watershed moment that reshaped U.S.-Iran relations. The two countries cut off formal diplomatic relations in 1980.

“By raising the idea of targeting 52 cultural sites, it seems to me Trump wants to dig into the resentment that the American public has about the hostage crisis,” said Ali Akbar Mahdi, a sociology professor at Cal State Northridge. “The American public has not forgotten the trauma of that. It’s always a reservoir that could be used for whatever political gain could be made from Iran.”

Indeed, for some survivors of the hostage crisis, the flaring of tensions and drumbeat of war in the days after the storming of the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad by pro-Iranian militia members and their supporters have stirred emotions in ways that they say they haven’t experienced in many years.

“The moment I heard it happened, I couldn’t help but flash back to what happened to us,” said Mark J. Lijek, one of six Americans who managed to evade capture and take refuge at the Canadian Embassy.

Still, not all surviving members of the hostage crisis agree that the U.S. stands to benefit from Trump’s assassination of Suleimani, the commander of the elite Quds Force, which carries out the foreign operations of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, melding intelligence work with a military strategy of nurturing proxy forces across the world.

William J. Daugherty, a 72-year-old former CIA case officer who lives in Georgia, said he didn’t believe Iran’s proxy war capability had taken a hit because of Suleimani’s death.

“Suleimani has already been replaced,” Daugherty said. “I’m not sure killing him will have any positive result.”

Tensions between Iran and the U.S. have been rising since Trump withdrew the U.S. from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal. Those tensions increased after a dangerous tit-for-tat between the U.S. and Iran in recent months, eventually culminating in the U.S. airstrike last week that killed Suleimani.

Mahdi, the sociology professor, said that although Suleimani’s death does not necessarily cripple Iran’s ability to cultivate its proxy groups across the Middle East, the general was the highest-level target that the U.S. had struck since the establishment of the Islamic Republic. As such, the killing represents a significant intensification of the worsening relationship between Iran and the United States. It also could lead Iran to intensify its efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

“The symbolic significance is very high,” Mahdi said.

Indeed, the reverberations of Suleimani’s death have swept the nation: Iranians are in the midst of three days of national mourning, and red flags have been raised throughout the country, a symbolic gesture meant to unify the country’s most pious Shiites to fight back against the U.S.

Those in the U.S. who have arguably been burdened most by the weight of recent events are Iranian Americans and survivors of the hostage crisis.

“I won’t even get into how the last three days have invited the tired accusations of dual loyalties and assimilationist demands to be trotted out, or how statements about threats in our communities have renewed anxieties about not just belonging, but also personal safety,” said Amy Malek, a sociocultural anthropologist specializing in the Iranian diaspora, on Twitter.

For Lijek, the images from Baghdad of pro-Iranian militia fighters and their supporters storming the walls of the U.S. Embassy compound and setting a guardhouse on fire reminded him of the fateful morning of Nov. 4, 1979, when, as a 29-year-old foreign service officer, he watched Iranian protesters storm the 27-acre compound that surrounded the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

“It put me back in that mind-set … especially the first couple hours when you don’t know what’s happening.”

Days later, when news broke that the U.S. took out Suleimani, Lijek wasn’t surprised by Trump’s strong response.

“Part of me says: You don’t miss a chance to get someone like him,” he said of the general.

Barry Rosen, who was a 23-year-old press attache at the time the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was overrun by protesters, said the recent events felt like an emotional roller coaster.

“It’s been the closest emotional feeling to 1979 for me given the fact that Iraq is so influenced by Iran,” Rosen said.

Now 75, Rosen was at home in New York City watching NBC with his wife, Barbara, when he saw images of protesters attacking the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. “I told my wife, ‘Not again,’” he said. When he heard of Suleimani’s death, his attention turned to current American prisoners detained in Iran.

“I fear that now the American prisoners will not be freed for a long while,” he said.

Daughterty hopes Americans will interpret events that have unfolded over the last week with nuance.

“A huge number of Iranians seem to want to reengage with the West,” he said. “It is an educated nation.”

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House Republicans no longer expected to take a formal role in impeachment trial

Senate leaders are preparing for a contentious Tuesday session that could stretch several hours and could send the chamber into a closed session as Democrats try to force the GOP into accepting witness testimony and documents to be produced during the trial, according to multiple senators and other sources familiar with the planning.

Democrats will try to amend the organizing resolution that will be offered by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Under McConnell’s plan, there is expected to be no guarantee that there will be witness testimony or documents produced, decisions Republicans want to punt until after opening arguments are completed on both sides and senators have a chance to ask questions.

But Democrats will attempt to change that. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is expected to offer at least one amendment to stipulate that witnesses must testify and that documents blocked so far by the White House be turned over to senators. But Democratic senators told CNN that it’s possible Schumer could try to offer multiple amendments, and that could stretch debate on for several more hours.

That’s because, at the moment, it’s expected that there will be two hours of debate — equally divided between the two parties — for each amendment.

It’s still uncertain how many amendments there would be, or precisely how Tuesday’s debate would shake out because McConnell has yet to unveil his resolution publicly that will detail the procedures of the trial.

Opening arguments from the House Democratic managers would not occur until after debate over the amendments concludes and the Senate resolution is adopted. GOP senators are expected to unify and reject the Democratic amendments.

Here’s where things could also get interesting: Senators are not allowed to debate in open session while the trial is ongoing. If they want to debate, they would have to go into closed session, and a vote of at least 51 senators is required to make the proceedings private.

Otherwise, the amendments would be debated in public between the House impeachment managers and President Trump’s defense team.

Schumer on Thursday suggested he would seek to limit the number of closed sessions that would occur.

A Senate leadership aide said that closed-sessions might be needed since senators are required to keep quiet during an impeachment trial.

CNN’s Phil Mattingly and Ted Barrett contributed to report.

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After Ken Starr Reportedly Joins President’s Legal Team, Video Resurfaces Of Trump Calling Him a ‘Lunatic’

Friday on the MSNBC program Andrea Mitchell Reports, host Mitchell showed a clip of Donald Trump before he became president saying that Ken Starr, who acted as independent counsel during the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, was a “lunatic.”

Starr has reportedly joined the legal team set to defend Trump during his upcoming impeachment trial.

“I think Ken Starr is a lunatic,” Trump said on an episode of The Today Show from October 1999. “I really think that Ken Starr is a disaster. I hated the way the president handled it. It was a long and terrible process. I really think that Ken Starr was terrible.”

Newsweek reached out to the White House for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Why Trump would choose Starr for his legal defense team has left some people confused. Chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times told Mitchell that key players who were involved in both the Clinton and the Trump impeachment trials have “flipped sides.”

“It’s really remarkable to have this Flashback Friday [with] some of the same characters though in different roles, in effect,” Baker said.

Lawyer Kenneth Starr has reportedly joined President Donald Trump’s legal defense team for the upcoming impeachment trial, but video has resurfaced of a 1999 interview with Trump in which he calls Starr a “lunatic.”
Win McNamee/Getty

“Two of the managers that were selected this week to prosecute the case against President Trump were Zoe Lofgren and Jerry Nadler, who were two of President Clinton’s biggest defenders against impeachment 21 years ago,” Baker explained. “Lindsey Graham of course, one of the managers 21 years ago prosecuting President Clinton on the floor of the Senate, today is one of President Trump’s most vocal defenders. Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Minority Leader accusing the president, was one of the senators that voted against [impeachment] 21 years ago.”

“So it’s just a remarkable set of head-spinning developments here,” Baker added.

Deputy Editorial Page Editor for The Washington Post Ruth Marcus told Mitchell there were some “significant differences” between Clinton’s impeachment trial and Trump’s.

“In the Clinton impeachment,” Baker said, “we were working from a very extensive record, in fact, one Ken Starr had assembled for us. We had multiple grand jury transcripts, multiple transcripts with interviews including the president himself.”

“People knew the facts,” Baker continued. “Here, people do not know the facts. Those who called or insisted on witnesses then have a hard time explaining why they’re not insisting on witnesses now. But those who were… against witnesses then like Senator Schumer are not necessarily being hypocritical.”

Mitchell also spoke with Senator Patrick Leahy, who has been in office long enough to be involved in both Clinton and Trump’s impeachment trials. Leahy said the addition of Starr to Trump’s legal defense team was a “weird choice.”

“I’m looking at it as a former prosecutor, as a lawyer,” Leahy said. “I see Kenneth Starr, a man who pushed the weakest impeachment case certainly in my lifetime, and now he’s up here to defend the strongest impeachment case in my lifetime. That’s their choice, but it’s a weird choice.”

During the Clinton administration Starr’s investigation into Bill and Hillary Clinton’s financial dealings, particularly a failed land development commonly known as Whitewater, led to Clinton’s impeachment. Starr’s investigation also discovered Clinton’s sexual misconduct with then-White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Clinton was acquitted by the Senate in February 1999.

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Pompeo says State will investigate possible surveillance of ex-US ambassador, after more than 48 hours of silence

“We will do everything we need to do to evaluate whether there was something that took place there,” Pompeo told conservative radio host Tony Katz.

“I suspect that much of what’s been reported will ultimately prove wrong, but our obligation, my obligation as secretary of state, is to make sure that we evaluate, investigate. Any time there is someone who posits that there may have been a risk to one of our officers, we’ll obviously do that,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo’s comments Friday were the first public acknowledgment of an inquiry into Yovanoviitch’s potential monitoring while serving in Kiev, although a senior State Department official told CNN that the investigation was officially launched by State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security on Tuesday night.

In a separate interview on Friday, Pompeo said he was not aware of the possible surveillance.

“Until this story broke, I had, to the best of my recollection, had never heard of this at all,” Pompeo told Hugh Hewitt.

Texts released earlier this week by House Democrats that were turned over to them by indicted Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas show Connecticut Republican congressional candidate Robert Hyde berating Yovanovitch and suggest he was monitoring her while she was in Kiev and relaying her movements to Parnas. Hyde declined to comment to CNN when asked if he had surveilled Yovanovitch, who served as a key witness in the House impeachment probe into President Donald Trump.

Pompeo told both radio shows that he did not believe he had ever met Parnas.

“I’ve not met this guy, Lev Parnas, to the best of my knowledge. I’ve never encountered, never communicated with him,” he told Tony Katz.

‘We do our best to make sure that no harm will come to anyone’

The secretary of state did not offer words of support for Yovanovitch personally, but said that “it is always the case at the Department of State that we do everything we can to ensure that our officers, not only our ambassadors but our entire team, has the security level that’s appropriate.”

“We do our best to make sure that no harm will come to anyone, whether that was what was going on in our embassy in Baghdad last week or the work that was going on in Kyiv up and through the spring of last year when Ambassador Yovanovitch was there, and in our embassy in Kiev even today,” he told Tony Katz.

Asked if the impeachment hurts American interests abroad, the top US diplomat said his team is “very focused” and again referred to the matter as “noise.”

“I’ve done my best to make sure that everybody here knows that we’ve got a mission that’s ongoing, and to make sure that we tell our partners and friends around the world that, too,” he told Hewitt. “We do our best to make sure that everyone’s focused on the things that really matter.”

Yovanovitch calls for investigation into 'disturbing' surveillance as ex-diplomats outraged over her treatment

The new evidence of the potential monitoring of the ambassador was released to the public on Tuesday evening. Parnas, who turned over that evidence, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that he did not take Hyde’s suggestions that he was surveilling Yovanovitch seriously and claimed that if he had believed the alleged threats were real, he would have contacted the authorities.

In the texts to Parnas, Hyde wrote in one message, “F**k that bitch.” In another the next day, he said, “Wow. Can’t believe Trumo (sic) hasn’t fired this bitch. I’ll get right in that.”

In another, he relayed to Parnas, “Wake up Yankees man. She’s talked to three people. Her phone is off. Computer is off. She’s next to the embassy. Not in the embassy. Private security. Been there since Thursday.”

“They are willing to help if we/you would like a price.” he said in another message. Hyde told CNN Tuesday there was “no effing way” that he had been offering to harm Yovanovitch.

CNN’s Kylie Atwood contributed to this report.

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Democrats stop betting on a Biden implosion

Two of his top rivals, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have started feuding, raising the prospect of a splintered progressive vote. Pete Buttigieg, a well-funded, well-organized, moderate alternative to Biden, has still not demonstrated that he can appeal to people of color. And three of the five top-polling candidates in Iowa — Sanders, Warren and Sen. Amy Klobuchar — are about to be pulled away from the campaign at the most inopportune time, stuck in Washington for President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.

Until recently, Democrats had operated on a seemingly universal consensus that Biden — an aging moderate with a record of losing presidential races — would wither in a competitive field. Many of his rivals stitched that thinking into their own plans.

Yet, less than three weeks before the Iowa caucuses, the opposite is turning out to be true. Even critics of Biden’s campaign here have been surprised at his resilience.

“I thought he would be in trouble by now,” said Tom Courtney, a former Iowa state senator and now co-chairman of the Des Moines County Democrats in Iowa.

Courtney, who is neutral in the contest, described Biden’s field operation as “terrible,” with a far lighter footprint in the state than some of his competitors.

Still, Courtney said, “I can read the polls, too. … There’s every chance that he’ll win Iowa.”

Democratic Party officials and operatives working with several of Biden’s opponents now say they no longer believe Biden’s support is as fragile as they once believed it was. Instead, they now see a durable floor of support for him at least in the first caucus state.

His opponents are preparing for defections to Biden on caucus night from supporters of more moderate candidates who have dropped out already, or who fail to meet the 15 percent threshold necessary to win delegates. Rival campaigns are urgently working to persuade caucus-goers and potential endorsers in Iowa to shift their support elsewhere.

Earlier this week, Buttigieg was phoning supporters of Sen. Cory Booker in Iowa shortly after his withdrawal from the contest, nurturing potentially critical lines of communication with caucus-goers suddenly without a candidate, according to a source familiar with his outreach.

Courtney, like other Democrats, is aware that there is also a real chance there is no clear winner — with little air between Biden and three other frontrunners. And some Democratic operatives believe that if Biden finishes third or fourth in Iowa and New Hampshire, his support may begin to crumble in later states, including South Carolina, where he now holds an enormous lead.

But no one is betting on an implosion, anymore.

A Monmouth University poll of likely Iowa caucus-goers this week put Biden in first in Iowa at 24 percent. His frontrunner status nationally hasn’t changed, and the burgeoning hostilities between supporters of Warren and Sanders have unnerved many progressive Democrats who fear the distraction could help Biden.

“When progressives fight each other, the establishment wins,” Charles Chamberlain, chairman of the political action committee Democracy for America, said in a prepared statement on Thursday, after audio surfaced confirming a post-debate confrontation between Warren and Sanders over Warren’s accusation that Sanders told her privately in 2018 that a woman could not win the election. “We saw it in 2004 when progressives took each other out and John Kerry slipped through to win Iowa and then went on to lose in November to a very unpopular Republican incumbent. We’re determined to not let that happen again.”

Launching what they called a “Progressives Unite 2020” campaign, DFA and 17 other groups pledged to “focus our fight for the nomination against candidates supported by the corporate wing, instead of fighting each other.”

For Biden, the anxiety on the left represents a turnaround from just last fall, when moderate Democrats were loudly voicing concerns about their candidates and two potential alternatives, Deval Patrick and Michael Bloomberg, announced late runs.

It was only after that unrest, a strategist working with another presidential candidate said, that Biden seemed to “get it together.”

“I can’t tell if he was scared straight or if it was just the longer ramp-up of a more seasoned candidate,” the strategist said. “But it sure seems like ever since that mortal threat of Bloomberg and Patrick, he’s cruising — he’s finding his stride.”

Biden gained endorsements from the ranks of the Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Julián Castro and Booker campaigns. And he stepped up his fundraising — collecting about $23 million in the final quarter of 2019. Though that was not the biggest haul among the field, in a campaign defined by momentum, it marked Biden’s best fundraising quarter of the year.

Then, early this month, Trump’s intervention in Iran turned the focus of the primary for the first time to foreign affairs, which accentuated long-held policy differences between Biden and Sanders and appeared to elevate each of them with moderate Democrats and progressives, respectively.

While calling the race “still wide open,” former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said that for Biden, “I just think the stars are aligning his way.”

“Now what he needs to do, I believe, is end up either second or third in both Iowa and New Hampshire,” said Richardson, who ran for president in 2008. “And then, I think if that happens, he will have a clear path, because I know he’s strong in South Carolina, and Nevada, I think, will be the state that starts tilting in his direction.”

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McSally Campaign Rolls Out ‘You’re A Liberal Hack’ T-Shirt

Like the fighter pilot that she is, Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ) wasn’t afraid to call CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju ‘a liberal hack’ earlier this week when he unexpectedly approached her in the halls of Congress. He asked her if the Senate should “consider new evidence as part of the impeachment trial?”

In fact, what McSally said to Raju when he confronted her was exactly what her Senate reelection campaign has adopted the new slogan for ‘left’ wing media outlets: ” You’re a liberal hack.” She called him out and didn’t answer his question.

“NEW SHIRT! I’m in the Senate to fight for all Arizonans, not play politics and games with the liberal hacks of the left-wing media!” McSally’s campaign wrote on Twitter Thursday with a link to the website for purchase.

McSally joined Fox News host Laura Ingraham Thursday night after CNN hosts spiraled into a frenzy over her response to their colleague. McSally told Ingraham she didn’t regret what she said.

“As you know, these CNN reporters, many of them around the Capitol, they are so biased. They are so in cahoots with the Democrats, they so can’t stand the President, and they run around trying to chase Republicans and ask trapping questions,” McSally explained.

She concluded, “I’m a fighter pilot. I called it like it is and that’s what we see out of the mainstream media and especially CNN every single day and so obviously I’m going to tell the truth and that’s what I did today.”

McSally will face a tough race in November. Her opponent, Democrat and former astronaut Mark Kelly leads the race, according to the Real Clear poll.

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The Democratic Candidates Are Totally Down With The People, Yo!

The 2020 Democratic presidential primary is kicking into high-gear weeks out from the Iowa caucus, but the candidates’ comedic talent still continues to fall short.

Throughout the campaign, candidates such as Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and former Vice President Joe Biden have tried to show they are in touch with the common man through jokes, but is anyone laughing?

Chime in with your thoughts in the comment section below:

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