President Trump offered views about the economy Wednesday that stood in contrast with things he said on the campaign trail. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump said he no longer considered China a currency manipulator, suggested he no longer wishes to shutter the Export-Import Bank, and announced his desire to replace Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen at the end of her term. As my colleague Gillian B. White notes, “these reversals, however abrupt, put his views much closer to being in harmony with the consensus of economists.”
—United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz called the incident in which a man was forcibly dragged off a flight a “system failure” in an interview Tuesday with ABC’s Good Morning America. More here
—We’re tracking the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Daylight Time (GMT -4).
Trump Revises Position on Federal Reserve, China's Monetary Policy
European Court Strikes Down Forced Sterilization of Transgender People
More than 20 European countries have laws that mandate sterilization for transgender people seeking to change their names and genders on their birth certificates. On April 6, the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights called that requirement a violation of fundamental rights. The case was brought by three transgender people in France who had been barred from changing their names and genders on their birth certificates because they had not undergone mandatory sterilization. The court ruled that the requirement violated their right to “respect for private and family life” as enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Though the ruling does not automatically outlaw the requirement that is law in 22 European Convention-member countries, it does establish a precedent that has been welcomed by rights groups. Julia Ehrt, the executive director of Transgender Europe, dubbed the decision a “victory” that “ends the dark chapter of state-induced sterilization in Europe.” The group also expressed disappointment that the court did not find state-required mental heath diagnoses for transgender people to be a violation.
Trump: NATO 'No Longer Obsolete'
In a reversal of what he has been saying since he began his presidential campaign two years ago, President Trump on Wednesday praised NATO’s role in international security. Trump, in a White House press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, seemed to take credit for some sort of shift in NATO’s role in the world, saying he “complained” and “they made a change and now they do fight terrorism.”
“I said it was obsolete,” he said. “It’s no longer obsolete.”
Contrary to what the president said Wednesday, NATO has played an active role in the international effort to fight terrorism. Trump said the conversation was “productive.” He also called NATO the “bulwark of international peace.”
During the presidential campaign, Trump complained that other NATO members were not paying their fair share into defense and questioned the body’s effectiveness. White House officials now say the U.S. pledge to NATO is “ironclad.”
UPDATE: Tillerson Describes Ties With Russia as 'at a Low Point'
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday U.S. relations with Russia are “at a low point” as he sat next to his Russian counterpart who at one point described him as the “new guy” before running through a list of U.S. foreign-policy mistakes of the recent past, and attributed the state of U.S.-Russian relations to “land mines left behind by the Obama administration.” The news conference capped a day in which the two men publicly disagreed on the U.S. missile strikes on Syria’s Assad regime, Russia’s support for the regime, and on whether Assad used chemical weapons last week. It also followed a unscheduled two-hour meeting that Russian President Vladimir Putin attended with Tillerson and Lavrov, after the two counterparts had met one-on-one. At the end of all this, Russia vetoed a UN Security Council Resolution requiring Syria to cooperate with investigators looking into the chemical-weapons attack.
As Tillerson’s meeting with Lavrov began, Putin gave an interview to Russian TV in which he said: “One could say that the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military level, has not improved but has rather deteriorated.” Upon meeting Tillerson, Lavrov himself said: “I won’t hide the fact that we have a lot of questions, taking into account the extremely ambiguous and sometimes contradictory ideas which have been expressed in Washington across the whole spectrum of bilateral and multilateral affairs. And of course, that’s not to mention that apart from the statements, we observed very recently the extremely worrying actions, when an illegal attack against Syria was undertaken.” Tillerson said he looked forward to the “very open, candid, frank exchange.”
Relations between the two countries are at their tensest since the election of President Trump. At issue are Russia’s support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, its role in an ultimately flawed pact designed to destroy Syria's chemical weapons, and what it knew about the use last week of chemical weapons in Syria. Tillerson, who as Exxon’s CEO, enjoyed close relations with the Russian leadership, is bringing a very different message to Moscow as secretary of state: Stop supporting Assad. Russia, which rejects the idea that Assad’s regime was behind last week’s chemical-weapons attack—despite evidence to the contrary—has stood firmly behind its client in Damascus, but has also made it clear its support for the Syrian regime isn’t unconditional. As Western pressure on Russia increases, the Trump administration has also reversed its position to say it envisions Syria’s future without Assad.
United Airlines CEO Calls Incident With Passenger a 'System Failure'
Updated at 6:23 p.m. ET
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz called the incident in which a man was forcibly dragged off a flight a “system failure” in an interview Tuesday with ABC’s Good Morning America. His comments follow three days of backlash over the incident, video of which shows law enforcement dragging a man, who has since been identified as 69-year-old Dr. David Dao, from his seat and down the aisle of the aircraft after Dao reportedly refused to leave the flight to make room for four stand-by United employees on a flight from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky. News outlets originally reported the flight was overbooked, which it was not. Munoz, who received criticism for his initial response, reaffirmed Tuesday the airline would no longer use law enforcement to remove “booked, paid, seated” passengers, adding that: “You saw us at a bad moment. This can never—will never—happen again on a United Airlines flight.” The Chicago Aviation Department said Monday the officer responsible for dragging Dao was placed on leave and announced Wednesday that two other officers involved would also be placed on leave. The U.S. Department of Transportation said Tuesday it would review whether the airline’s actions complied with the department’s regulations. Shares of United Continental Holdings Inc dropped by nearly 4 percent Tuesday amid the backlash, wiping nearly $1 billion off the company’s value.
Ex-Iranian President Ahmadinejad Declares Candidacy for Next Month's Election
Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared his candidacy Wednesday for next month’s presidential election, in apparent defiance of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s recommendation last year that his candidacy wasn’t “in his interest and that of the country.” Ahmadinejad had previously said he’d abide by the supreme leader’s wishes, but told reporters Wednesday Khamenei’s comments were “just advice.” In any event, his candidacy—and that of all others who have registered to run for president—must first be approved by the Guardian Council, a clerical body close to Khamenei that screens candidates for political and Islamic qualifications. Ahmadinejad said his decision to run was “merely to support” former Vice President Hamid Baghaei, an ally. The BBC adds: “Analysts said Mr Ahmadinejad might be trying to put pressure on the Guardian Council not to disqualify Mr Baghaei, as it did with his former chief-of-staff in 2013. Mr Baghaei was detained for seven months in 2015 on unspecified charges.” The case against him is reportedly still open. Ahmedinejad was a populist hard-liner who ruled the Islamic republic from 2005 to 2013. During this time, Iran was isolated and the subject of international sanctions over its nuclear program. He was succeeded in 2013 by the incumbent, Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who ushered the country through negotiations for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Rouhani is expected to seek re-election though he hasn’t yet registered for the May 19 contest. So far, more than 120 people, including six women, have registered as presidential candidates.
Fox's Bill O'Reilly Takes a Vacation as Advertisers Leave His Show
Bill O’Reilly, the host of Fox’s The O’Reilly Factor, announced last night he was going on a previously scheduled vacation as advertising dollars continue to flee the top-rated show amid the continuing fallout over allegations the network and O’Reilly paid about $13 million to settle claims by five women who accused the star of sexual harassment. O’Reilly said last night that around this time of the year, “I grab some vacation, because it's spring and Easter time. Last fall, I booked a trip that should be terrific.” He said he’d return April 24. The remarks follow the departure of abut 60 advertisers from the show over the allegations, first reported by The New York Times. Gabriel Sherman, the New York magazine reporter who has broken many of the recent stories about the network, reported last night:
But according to four network sources, there’s talk inside Fox News that tonight’s show could be his last. Lawyers for the law firm Paul, Weiss, hired last summer by 21st Century Fox to investigate Roger Ailes, are currently doing a “deep dive” investigation into O’Reilly’s behavior. They’re focused now on sexual harassment claims by O’Reilly guest Wendy Walsh after she reported her claims via the company’s anonymous hotline.
Fox News co-president Bill Shine has been working hard to keep O’Reilly, sources said. But O’Reilly’s future is in the hands of the Murdochs. “It’s up to the family,” the senior Fox News staffer said. The Murdochs are presently divided over how to handle it. Two highly placed Fox News sources say 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch would like O’Reilly to be permanently taken off the air, while his father, Rupert, and older brother, Lachlan, are more inclined to keep him. (A spokesperson for the Murdochs declined to comment.)
That’s the same dynamic that emerged during the controversy last year surrounding Roger Ailes; the scandal, which involved separate sexual-harassment charges against Ailes, resulted in the Fox News CEO’s exit from the network he helped start.
Suspect With 'Islamist Links' Arrested in Connection With Attack on German Soccer Team's Bus
German state prosecutors say one person with “Islamist links” has been arrested in connection with yesterday’s explosions near the Borussia Dortmund team bus that resulted in injuries to Marc Bartra, the team’s Spanish defender. “We currently have two suspects,” Frauke Koehle, the lead prosecutor, said Wednesday. “One the two has been arrested.” She said: “We found several letters of responsibility. One of them suggested a possible Islamist motive. Another demands the withdrawal of German military in Syria and the closure of the U.S. facility at Ramstein.” That last demand has long been an issue if German fringe politics. As we reported yesterday, three blasts went off ahead of Borussia Dortmund’s Champions League quarterfinal match against Monaco. The match, which was scheduled to take place at Westfalenstadion, the team’s home stadium in western Germany, has been postponed to today. Bartra, the defender, underwent surgery for injuries, Deutsche Welle reported.
The Latest Revelations About Trump's Associates and Russia
Two days, two revelations: Last night, the Washington Post reported that the FBI last year sought—and received—a secret warrant from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor Carter Page, Donald Trump’s onetime campaign adviser. News organizations had for weeks reported the FBI had targeted at least one Trump aide during the presidential election for the aide’s alleged links to Russian intelligence. Page has denied wrongdoing, and hasn’t been charged with anything, either. Then this morning, the Associated Press, expanding on its own previous reporting on Paul Manafort, Trump’s onetime campaign chair, said “financial records … confirm that at least $1.2 million in payments listed in the ledger next to Manafort's name were actually received by his consulting firm in the United States.” The ledger in question is one discovered last August in Ukraine with amounts and dates next to Manafort’s name. Ukrainian authorities had alleged the money was for secret work done for a pro-Russia party. Manafort worked for Ukraine’s pro-Russian president at the time. Here’s more from the AP:
The … payments came years before Manafort became involved in Trump's campaign, but for the first time bolster the credibility of the ledger. They also put the ledger in a new light, as federal prosecutors in the U.S. have been investigating Manafort's work in Eastern Europe as part of a larger anti-corruption probe.
The details in the ledger aren’t connected to the scrutiny Manafort is under as part of the FBI and congressional inquiry into possible contacts between Trump’s aides and Russia during last year’s presidential campaign.
Daily Mail Apologizes, Pays Damages to First Lady Melania Trump
The Daily Mail, the U.K. tabloid that retracted a story that falsely alleged Melania Trump had at one time worked as an escort, has apologized to the first lady and has paid her a reported $2.9 million in damages. In a statement, the newspaper said: “We accept that these allegations about Mrs Trump are not true and we retract and withdraw them. We apologise to Mrs Trump for any distress that our publication caused her. To settle Mrs Trump's two lawsuits against us, we have agreed to pay her damages and costs.” A lawyer for the first lady said at London’s High Court today that Trump accepted the apology and the damages from the Mail. The story about the former Melanija Knavs, a Slovenian-born model, was published in the tabloid and its associated website last year at the height of the contentious U.S. presidential election. Trump sued in February, seeking $150 million in damages. Her lawsuit against the tabloid garnered controversy because it initially said the allegations hurt her “unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity ... to launch a broad-based commercial brand in multiple product categories, each of which could have garnered multi-million dollar business relationships for a multi-year term during which [she] is one of the most photographed women in the world.” Those words were subsequently dropped from the lawsuit after criticism that they suggested she hoped to profit from her role as first lady.