DC Roundup: North Korea Sanctions, Crackdown on Leaks, Trump Vacation

Developments in Washington, D.C., in recent days include the U.N. Security Council voting for stricter sanctions against North Korea, special counsel Robert Mueller looks at whether former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was paid by Turkey, top U.S. intelligence officials are as wary of Russia as ever, and President Donald Trump begins a 17-day stay at his golf retreat in New Jersey.

VOA Explains:

Former National Security Officials: Leak of Trump Transcripts Could Cause Lasting Damage — Former senior members of the White House National Security Council say they are shocked at what they call the rare leak of full transcripts of phone calls between Trump and the leaders of Australia and Mexico, and are worried about the lasting effects it could have on American diplomacy. The transcripts, published by The Washington Post, revealed that Trump engaged in candid, disjointed and often contentious discussions with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during the early days of his administration.

UN Security Council Approves New North Korea Sanctions — The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Saturday to pass a resolution being pushed by the United States that will deprive North Korea of $1 billion a year in revenue that helps fuel its illicit nuclear and ballistic missile program. The move for additional sanctions came in response to Pyongyang’s intercontinental ballistic missile launches July 3 and 28, which showed that the rogue nation might now have the capacity to bring the U.S. mainland and much of Europe into its cross hairs.

Report: Mueller Looks at Whether Flynn Was Secretly Paid by Turkey — Special counsel Robert Mueller is questioning witnesses about whether former Trump administration national security adviser Michael Flynn was secretly paid by the Turkish government during the final months of the 2016 presidential campaign, according to The New York Times.

Top US Intelligence Officials Wary as Ever of Russia — Top U.S. intelligence officials are refusing to back down over concerns about Russia, even as Trump and Russian officials lament what they describe as deteriorating relations between the two countries.

New Staff Discipline Is Giving Trump Time to Make Decisions, Observers Say — Trump’s choice of a general as chief of staff has quickly brought more order to the White House and is giving the president more time to ponder decisions as he tries to bounce back from a rocky six months with no major legislative achievements. But John Kelly, a retired four-star Marine Corps general with an intimidating air, still has many challenges to confront to stem the chaos that has raged at the White House since Trump took office in January, not least the Republican president’s freewheeling style.

Justice Department Crackdown on Leaks May Also Focus on Journalists — U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is putting journalists on notice as he cracks down on a deluge of leaks of classified information that has dogged the Trump administration since it took office in January. Sessions said the department is reviewing guidelines on subpoenaing journalists’ records as part of a stepped-up effort to investigate and prosecute leakers.

Sessions’ Task Force Urges No Change on Marijuana Policy — The betting was that law-and-order Attorney General Jeff Sessions would come out against the legalized marijuana industry with guns blazing. But the task force Sessions assembled to find the best legal strategy is giving him no ammunition, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. The Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, a group of prosecutors and federal law enforcement officials, has come up with no new policy recommendations to advance the attorney general’s aggressively anti-marijuana views. The group’s report largely reiterates the current Justice Department policy on marijuana.

Strategists: Democrats Risk Backlash Over Pushing Russia Probes — There is apparent discord within the U.S. Democratic Party over how vigorously it should emphasize allegations of collusion between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia, according to Politico. Democratic candidates and political operatives expressed concern to Politico that maintaining the Russia controversy as a primary issue, instead of health care and other pocketbook issues, could backfire.

US Sees Strong Job Growth, Drop in Unemployment in July — The U.S. economy had a net gain of 209,000 jobs in July, while the unemployment rate fell slightly to 4.3 percent. That matches the lowest jobless rate in 16 years. Friday’s Labor Department report says job gains were seen in restaurants, business services and health care. The average hourly wage rose nine cents an hour in July, to reach $26.36. That is up 65 cents over the past year, or growth at a 2.5 percent rate.

Trump Vows Quick Response to Hurricanes as Forecasters Predict High Number of Storms — Trump is promising a quick federal response to hurricanes, as U.S. weather forecasters are predicting a high number of storms this season. Trump told Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials Friday that his administration would respond rapidly with funding in the event of an emergency during the hurricane season.

Secret Service Moves Offices Out of Trump Tower — The Secret Service command post inside Trump’s namesake Manhattan skyscraper has been moved. A spokeswoman for the umbrella company that controls Trump’s businesses said Friday that the Secret Service moved out of Trump Tower to somewhere “more cost effective and logistically practical.”

Ahead of His Vacation, Trump Rallies Base Against Russia ‘Fabrication’ — Trump is off on a 17-day vacation at his golf resort in central New Jersey. Trump departed Friday, hoping to leave behind the Washington turmoil that has largely engulfed his presidency in recent weeks and brought about the appointment of a new White House chief of staff, retired Marine Corps General John Kelly.

UN Receives US’ Intent to Formally Withdraw From Paris Climate Agreement — The United Nations confirms it has received notification from the United States about its intention to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, “unless it identifies suitable terms for re-engagement.” Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for Secretary General Antonio Guterres, said in a statement that the secretary general “welcomes any effort to re-engage in the Paris Agreement by the United States.”

Trump Aide Miller Is Communications Director Candidate, Official Says — The White House may appoint a senior policy adviser with hard-line views on immigration, who recently sparred with reporters in a televised briefing, as its new communications director, a senior administration official said Saturday. Stephen Miller, a top aide and speechwriter for Trump, is a candidate to lead the White House’s communications team after a series of personnel changes in the more than six months that Trump has been president.

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