Trump Vows He’ll ‘Probably’ Declare National Emergency If Congress Doesn’t OK Wall Money

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump moved closer Thursday to declaring a national emergency in an effort to secure funds for a border wall and resolve a government shutdown now into its 20th day.


"I have the absolute right to declare a national emergency," Trump said to reporters before departing the White House for McAllen, Texas, where he was scheduled to tour Border Patrol facilities and meet with agents along the U.S.-Mexico border.

"If this doesn't work, probably I will do it," he continued. "I would almost say definitely. This is a national emergency."

Insisting that he would prefer Congress approve money for the wall, Trump left himself some wiggle room, but clearly signaled that an emergency declaration is becoming more likely.

"If we don't make a deal — I mean, I would say 100 percent," the president said, responding to a question about its likelihood. "But I don't want to say 100 percent because maybe something else comes up. But if we don't make a deal, I would say it would be very surprising to me that I would not declare a national emergency and just fund it through the various mechanisms."

Trump also addressed the discrepancy between his famous, often-repeated campaign promise that Mexico would pay for a border wall and the current reality of fighting Congress to secure U.S. dollars to build a steel barrier.

"When — during the campaign, I would say, 'Mexico is going to pay for it' — obviously, I never said this and I never meant they're going to write out a check," the president said.

In fact, Trump did specifically say that Mexico would make direct payments, threatening at one point to halt remittances that Mexican American workers send to relatives in Mexico to force Mexico to "make a one-time payment of $5 (billion) to $10 billion."

Trump repeated his more recent claim that Mexico will indirectly pay for the wall through a new North American trade agreement. That agreement has yet to win legislative approval in the U.S., Mexico or Canada and has no provision in it that would involve Mexico's reimbursing the U.S. for the costs of a wall.

Trump's comments and the visit to the border came a day after a meeting with congressional leaders ended abruptly with the president walking out of the room after Democrats told him they did not plan on approving more money to fund a physical barrier along the southern border.

"I didn't pound the table. I didn't raise my voice. That was a lie," Trump said Thursday, describing the acrimonious end to the meeting the day before. "I very calmly said, 'If you're not going to give us strong borders, bye-bye,'" he told reporters. "I didn't rant like you reported."

Although Democrats have approved $1.3 billion for border security in the current fiscal year, the president has been unable to persuade them to go further and vote for the $5.7 billion in wall funds that he has asked for.

With the stalemate pushing the partial government shutdown close to a fourth week, the option of declaring a national emergency has become more attractive to Trump. Although an emergency declaration would face legal challenges, it would provide him a way to reopen the government without appearing to cave in on his demand for a wall.

Trump has received conflicting advice about declaring an emergency from administration aides and friends outside of Washington. Some view it as an effective way out of the prolonged stalemate that would still show the president's supporters that he continues to fight to achieve his signature campaign promise. Others, however, have expressed concerns.

Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee who has fought to boost defense spending, said this week that he opposed using money from the Pentagon's budget to pay for a wall.

And other conservatives have cautioned the White House that declaring a national emergency to bypass a stubborn Congress would set a dangerous precedent, one that could backfire on Republicans in the future should Democrats retake the presidency and attempt to fund other initiatives without approval from lawmakers.

During the freewheeling exchange with reporters on the South Lawn on Thursday morning, Trump said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., were more difficult to negotiate with than the Chinese.

He also reprised his blanket denunciations of Democrats from the campaign trail.

"I really believe the Democrats don't care about crime," he said. "They've been taken over by young people who — I really believe this — I think they're crazy."

Trump did, however, leave the door open to a legislative compromise. Senior White House aides and GOP senators have had conversations in recent days about some sort of funding package that might include the additional wall funding the president wants as well as something to entice Democrats to accept it.

"I'm OK making a compromise," Trump said. "Compromise is in my vocabulary very strongly."

But the president would not accept the premise that responsibility for resolving the shutdown is his alone.

"The buck stops with everybody," he said.

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©2019 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO — A Navy SEAL sniper on Wednesday contradicted earlier testimony of fellow SEALs who claimed he had fired warning shots to scare away civilian non-combatants before Chief Eddie Gallagher shot them during their 2017 deployment to Mosul, and said he would not want to deploy again with one of the prosecution's star witnesses.

Special Operator 1st Class Joshua Graffam originally invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege before Navy Judge Capt. Aaron Rugh gave him immunity in order to compel his testimony.

Graffam testified that Gallagher was essentially justified in the shooting of a man he is accused of unlawfully targeting, stating that "based off everything i had seen so far ... in my opinion, they were two shitheads moving from one side of the road to the other."

Spotting for Gallagher in the tower that day, Graffam said, he called out the target to him and he fired. He said the man was hit in the upper torso and ran away.

Graffam, who joined the Navy in 2010 and has been assigned to SEAL Team 7's Alpha Platoon since September 2015, deployed alongside Gallagher to Mosul in 2017, occasionally acting as a spotter for Gallagher when the SEALs were tasked with providing sniper support for Iraqi forces from two towers east of the Tigris River.

Another SEAL, Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Dalton Tolbert, had previously testified under direct examination by prosecutors that, while stationed in the south tower of a bombed-out building in June 2017, he had observed Gallagher shoot and kill an elderly civilian.

"He ran north to south across the road," Tolbert testified on Friday. "That's when I saw the red mark on his back and I saw him fall for the first time. Blood started to pool and I knew it was a square hit in the back." Over the radio, he said he heard Gallagher tell the other snipers, "you guys missed him but I got him."

Former SO1 Dylan Dille, who was also in the south tower that day, testified last week that he watched an old man die from a sniper shot on Father's Day. He said the date stuck out in his mind because he thought the man was probably a father.

Later that day, after the mission, Graffam said he spoke with Dille about the shooting and they disagreed about the circumstances. Dille, he said, believed the man was a noncombatant.

"I, on the other hand, was confident that the right shot was taken," Graffam said, although he said later under cross-examination that the man was unarmed. Dille previously testified that the SEALs were authorized to shoot unarmed personnel if they first received signals intelligence or other targeting information.

Photo: Paul Szoldra/Task & Purpose

Graffam described the man as a male between 40 and 50 years old wearing black clothing, giving him the impression of an ISIS fighter who was moving in a "tactical" manner. He testified that he did not see anything like Dille had described.

Graffam further testified that he didn't see Gallagher take any shots that he shouldn't have on that day or any other.

Although Graffam said he did not hear of allegations that Gallagher had stabbed a wounded ISIS fighter on deployment, he testified that he started to hear rumblings in early 2018. Chief Craig Miller, he said, asked him at one point whether he would "cooperate" with others in reporting him.

When asked whether he would like to serve with Miller again in a SEAL platoon, Graffam said, "I don't feel as confident about it." A member of the jury later asked him why he'd feel uncomfortable deploying with Miller and he responded, "I just wouldn't."

Graffam said he would serve with Gallagher again if given the chance.

Under cross examination by prosecutors, Graffam said he couldn't say whether there were warning shots fired that day, though Dille and Tolbert both said happened. "There were multiple shots throughout the day," Graffam said.

Prosecutors also asked him about his previous statements to NCIS, in which Graffam said of Miller that "he has good character" and was "a good guy." Graffam confirmed he said just that.

Defense attorney Tim Parlatore, however, said those statements were back in January and "a lot had happened since then." Parlatore said Graffam had also said at the time that Gallagher was a good leader.

"That part remains unchanged, correct?" Parlatore asked.

"Yes," Graffam said.

The defense is expected to call more witnesses in the case, which continues on Thursday.

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