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AP Fact Check: Trump Distorts Migrant Policy, Russia Probe

President Donald Trump mischaracterized the plight of children who were taken from parents at the Mexico border and what’s known about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election investigation in his wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press.

A look at his comments on those subjects Tuesday:

Immigration

Trump: “We have the worst laws in the history of the world on immigration and we’re getting them changed one by one. We’ve made a lot of progress in the last couple of weeks even, but we’re getting them changed one by one.”

The facts: He’s actually failed to achieve changes in immigration laws. All of the immigration-related changes pushed by his administration were done by executive order, not legislation, or through policy shifts like the zero-tolerance policy that criminally prosecuted anyone caught crossing illegally and gave rise to family separations. The administration has also used regulations to tighten the rules on how immigrants can receive public benefits. Immigration legislation has failed despite Republican control of the White House and both houses of Congress.

Trump, on the separation of children from their parents at the border: “Now President Obama had the same law. He did the same thing.”

The facts: Obama did not do the same thing as a matter of policy. It’s true the underlying laws were the same. But the Trump administration mandated anyone caught crossing the border illegally was to be criminally prosecuted. The policy meant adults were taken to court for criminal proceedings, and their children were separated and sent into the care of the Health and Human Services Department, which is tasked with caring for unaccompanied migrant children. The so-called zero-tolerance policy remains in effect, but Trump signed an executive order June 20 that stopped separations.

Jeh Johnson, Obama’s homeland security secretary, told NPR there may have been unusual or emergency circumstances when children were taken from parents but there was no such policy.

​Trump: “And in fact the picture of children living in cages that was taken in 2014 was a picture of President Obama’s administration and the way they handled children. They had the kids living in cages. They thought it was our administration and they used it, and then unbeknownst to them and the fake news they found out, ‘Oh my God, this is a terrible situation.’ This was during the Obama administration.”

The facts: He’s right. Images that circulated online during the height of Trump’s family separations controversy were actually from 2014 under the Obama administration. But circumstances for some children have not changed. In June, an Associated Press reporter was part of a group that visited a U.S. Border Patrol holding facility, where hundreds of children were waiting in a series of cages created by metal fencing. One cage had 20 children inside, scattered around were bottles of water, bags of chips and large foil sheets intended to serve as blankets. The cages in each wing opened out into common areas to use portable restrooms.

The children both in 2014 and 2018 were separated temporarily from their parents in the facilities, placed in areas by age and sex for safety reasons.

Russia investigation

Trump, about Mueller’s Russia investigation: “It’s a tremendous waste of time for the president of the United States. To think that I would be even thinking about using Russia to help me win Idaho, we’re using Russia to help me win the great state of Iowa or anywhere else is the most preposterous, embarrassing thing.”

​The facts: Trump may be right that he did not need a boost in Idaho and Iowa, states he won in 2016 with comfortable margins of 31 points and 9 points, respectively. But the notion of Russia-backed activities on his behalf “anywhere else” in the U.S. is not far-fetched, according to an indictment in February by special counsel Robert Mueller.

The indictment accuses 13 Russians and three Russian entities of seeking to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton by running a hidden social media trolling campaign and seeking to mobilize Trump supporters at rallies while posing as American political activists in “purple states like Colorado, Virginia and Florida.” According to the indictment, the surreptitious campaign was organized by the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm financed by companies controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a wealthy businessman with ties to President Vladimir Putin.

The indictment says the defendants commonly referred to targeting more closely divided “purple states” after being advised by a Texas-based grass-roots organization in June 2016 to focus efforts there.

The indictment details contacts targeting three unidentified officials in the Trump campaign’s Florida operation. In each instance, the Russians used false U.S. personas to contact the officials. The indictment doesn’t say if any of them responded.

Trump lost by nearly 2.9 million votes in the popular vote to Clinton, but captured the needed Electoral College votes to win the presidency after prevailing in politically divided states including Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Trump: “This was an excuse made by the Democrats for the reason they lost the Electoral College, which gives them a big advantage — a big advantage. Very different than the popular vote. The popular vote would be much easier to win if you were campaigning on it. … But winning the Electoral College is a tremendous advantage for the Democrats.”

The facts: Trump is falsely asserting, as he has before, that Democrats have a “big advantage” in the Electoral College. Its unique system of electing presidents is actually a big reason why Trump won the presidency. Four candidates in history have won a majority of the popular vote only to be denied the presidency by the Electoral College. All were Democrats.

In the 2016 election, Clinton received nearly 2.9 million more votes than Trump after racking up lopsided victories in big states such as New York and California, according to election data compiled by The Associated Press. But she lost the presidency due to Trump’s winning margin in the Electoral College, which came after he narrowly won less populous Midwestern states including Michigan and Wisconsin.

Unlike the popular vote, Electoral College votes are set equal to the number of U.S. representatives in each state plus its two senators. That means more weight is given to a single vote in a small state than the vote of someone in a large state.

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AP Fact Check: Trump Distorts Migrant Policy, Russia Probe

President Donald Trump mischaracterized the plight of children who were taken from parents at the Mexico border and what’s known about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election investigation in his wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press.

A look at his comments on those subjects Tuesday:

Immigration

Trump: “We have the worst laws in the history of the world on immigration and we’re getting them changed one by one. We’ve made a lot of progress in the last couple of weeks even, but we’re getting them changed one by one.”

The facts: He’s actually failed to achieve changes in immigration laws. All of the immigration-related changes pushed by his administration were done by executive order, not legislation, or through policy shifts like the zero-tolerance policy that criminally prosecuted anyone caught crossing illegally and gave rise to family separations. The administration has also used regulations to tighten the rules on how immigrants can receive public benefits. Immigration legislation has failed despite Republican control of the White House and both houses of Congress.

Trump, on the separation of children from their parents at the border: “Now President Obama had the same law. He did the same thing.”

The facts: Obama did not do the same thing as a matter of policy. It’s true the underlying laws were the same. But the Trump administration mandated anyone caught crossing the border illegally was to be criminally prosecuted. The policy meant adults were taken to court for criminal proceedings, and their children were separated and sent into the care of the Health and Human Services Department, which is tasked with caring for unaccompanied migrant children. The so-called zero-tolerance policy remains in effect, but Trump signed an executive order June 20 that stopped separations.

Jeh Johnson, Obama’s homeland security secretary, told NPR there may have been unusual or emergency circumstances when children were taken from parents but there was no such policy.

​Trump: “And in fact the picture of children living in cages that was taken in 2014 was a picture of President Obama’s administration and the way they handled children. They had the kids living in cages. They thought it was our administration and they used it, and then unbeknownst to them and the fake news they found out, ‘Oh my God, this is a terrible situation.’ This was during the Obama administration.”

The facts: He’s right. Images that circulated online during the height of Trump’s family separations controversy were actually from 2014 under the Obama administration. But circumstances for some children have not changed. In June, an Associated Press reporter was part of a group that visited a U.S. Border Patrol holding facility, where hundreds of children were waiting in a series of cages created by metal fencing. One cage had 20 children inside, scattered around were bottles of water, bags of chips and large foil sheets intended to serve as blankets. The cages in each wing opened out into common areas to use portable restrooms.

The children both in 2014 and 2018 were separated temporarily from their parents in the facilities, placed in areas by age and sex for safety reasons.

Russia investigation

Trump, about Mueller’s Russia investigation: “It’s a tremendous waste of time for the president of the United States. To think that I would be even thinking about using Russia to help me win Idaho, we’re using Russia to help me win the great state of Iowa or anywhere else is the most preposterous, embarrassing thing.”

​The facts: Trump may be right that he did not need a boost in Idaho and Iowa, states he won in 2016 with comfortable margins of 31 points and 9 points, respectively. But the notion of Russia-backed activities on his behalf “anywhere else” in the U.S. is not far-fetched, according to an indictment in February by special counsel Robert Mueller.

The indictment accuses 13 Russians and three Russian entities of seeking to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton by running a hidden social media trolling campaign and seeking to mobilize Trump supporters at rallies while posing as American political activists in “purple states like Colorado, Virginia and Florida.” According to the indictment, the surreptitious campaign was organized by the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm financed by companies controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a wealthy businessman with ties to President Vladimir Putin.

The indictment says the defendants commonly referred to targeting more closely divided “purple states” after being advised by a Texas-based grass-roots organization in June 2016 to focus efforts there.

The indictment details contacts targeting three unidentified officials in the Trump campaign’s Florida operation. In each instance, the Russians used false U.S. personas to contact the officials. The indictment doesn’t say if any of them responded.

Trump lost by nearly 2.9 million votes in the popular vote to Clinton, but captured the needed Electoral College votes to win the presidency after prevailing in politically divided states including Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Trump: “This was an excuse made by the Democrats for the reason they lost the Electoral College, which gives them a big advantage — a big advantage. Very different than the popular vote. The popular vote would be much easier to win if you were campaigning on it. … But winning the Electoral College is a tremendous advantage for the Democrats.”

The facts: Trump is falsely asserting, as he has before, that Democrats have a “big advantage” in the Electoral College. Its unique system of electing presidents is actually a big reason why Trump won the presidency. Four candidates in history have won a majority of the popular vote only to be denied the presidency by the Electoral College. All were Democrats.

In the 2016 election, Clinton received nearly 2.9 million more votes than Trump after racking up lopsided victories in big states such as New York and California, according to election data compiled by The Associated Press. But she lost the presidency due to Trump’s winning margin in the Electoral College, which came after he narrowly won less populous Midwestern states including Michigan and Wisconsin.

Unlike the popular vote, Electoral College votes are set equal to the number of U.S. representatives in each state plus its two senators. That means more weight is given to a single vote in a small state than the vote of someone in a large state.

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Treasury Employee Accused in Leak Linked to Mueller Probe

A Treasury Department employee was accused Wednesday of leaking confidential banking reports of suspects charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and an unidentified high-ranking colleague was cited in court papers as a co-conspirator but was not charged.

Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, a senior official at the department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, also known as FinCEN, is accused of leaking several confidential suspicious-activity reports to a journalist, whose name was not disclosed in court papers. But they list about a dozen stories published by BuzzFeed News over the past year and a half. A spokesman for the news organization declined to comment.

According to the government, the material included reports on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, political consultant Richard Gates and Maria Butina, who is accused of trying to infiltrate U.S. political organizations as a covert Russian agent. 

Edwards is currently on administrative leave, FinCen spokesman Steve Hudak said.

Questionable transactions

Banks must file the suspicious-activity reports with the Treasury Department when they spot transactions that raise questions about possible financial misconduct such as money laundering.

When federal agents confronted Edwards this week, she described herself as a whistle-blower and said she had provided the reports to the reporter for “record-keeping,” the court papers said.

Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, where the criminal complaint was filed, said Edwards “betrayed her position of trust by repeatedly disclosing highly sensitive information.”

Edwards is alleged to have taken photographs of the confidential documents and sent them to a reporter using an encrypted messaging app, according to court documents. Edwards also sent the reporter internal Treasury Department emails, investigative memos and intelligence assessments, prosecutors allege.

When she was arrested, Edwards was in possession of a flash drive containing the confidential reports, prosecutors said.

Edwards was to make an initial court appearance later Wednesday in Virginia. It was not immediately clear whether she had a lawyer.

Co-conspirator

Court papers also list another FinCEN employee as a co-conspirator, noting that this person exchanged more than 300 messages with the reporter via an encrypted messaging application. This person has not been charged and was not named in the court papers, and was identified only as an associate director at FinCEN to whom Edwards reported.

According to court papers, federal investigators obtained a court order to monitor the calls to and from the associate director’s personal cellphone, and that monitoring captured the frequency of contacts with the reporter via the encrypted messaging application. Court papers do not detail the contents of those messages.

“Protecting sensitive information is one of our most critical responsibilities, and it is a role that we take very seriously,” said Sigal Mandelker, the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

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Treasury Employee Accused in Leak Linked to Mueller Probe

A Treasury Department employee was accused Wednesday of leaking confidential banking reports of suspects charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and an unidentified high-ranking colleague was cited in court papers as a co-conspirator but was not charged.

Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, a senior official at the department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, also known as FinCEN, is accused of leaking several confidential suspicious-activity reports to a journalist, whose name was not disclosed in court papers. But they list about a dozen stories published by BuzzFeed News over the past year and a half. A spokesman for the news organization declined to comment.

According to the government, the material included reports on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, political consultant Richard Gates and Maria Butina, who is accused of trying to infiltrate U.S. political organizations as a covert Russian agent. 

Edwards is currently on administrative leave, FinCen spokesman Steve Hudak said.

Questionable transactions

Banks must file the suspicious-activity reports with the Treasury Department when they spot transactions that raise questions about possible financial misconduct such as money laundering.

When federal agents confronted Edwards this week, she described herself as a whistle-blower and said she had provided the reports to the reporter for “record-keeping,” the court papers said.

Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, where the criminal complaint was filed, said Edwards “betrayed her position of trust by repeatedly disclosing highly sensitive information.”

Edwards is alleged to have taken photographs of the confidential documents and sent them to a reporter using an encrypted messaging app, according to court documents. Edwards also sent the reporter internal Treasury Department emails, investigative memos and intelligence assessments, prosecutors allege.

When she was arrested, Edwards was in possession of a flash drive containing the confidential reports, prosecutors said.

Edwards was to make an initial court appearance later Wednesday in Virginia. It was not immediately clear whether she had a lawyer.

Co-conspirator

Court papers also list another FinCEN employee as a co-conspirator, noting that this person exchanged more than 300 messages with the reporter via an encrypted messaging application. This person has not been charged and was not named in the court papers, and was identified only as an associate director at FinCEN to whom Edwards reported.

According to court papers, federal investigators obtained a court order to monitor the calls to and from the associate director’s personal cellphone, and that monitoring captured the frequency of contacts with the reporter via the encrypted messaging application. Court papers do not detail the contents of those messages.

“Protecting sensitive information is one of our most critical responsibilities, and it is a role that we take very seriously,” said Sigal Mandelker, the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

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Trump Wants Audio, Video Evidence From Turkey About Missing Saudi Journalist, ‘If It Exists’

U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday he wants audio and video intelligence from Turkey “if it exists” regarding the disappearance of a U.S.-based Saudi journalist whom Turkish officials say was killed and dismembered by Saudi agents inside Riyadh’s consulate in Istanbul.

Trump’s demand at the White House came as he expressed support for Saudi Arabia, a longtime U.S. ally, and said he expects its investigation into the missing journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, would be completed by the end of the week. Saudi Arabia has denied Khashoggi was killed.

When questioned on what he would do if the Saudi investigation showed that Saudi leaders King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman were responsible, Trump told Fox Business in an earlier interview, “Well, I hope we’re going to be on the better side of the equation.”

“You know we need Saudi Arabia in terms of our fight against all of the terrorism, everything that’s happening in Iran and other places,” Trump said.

When asked if the U.S. would distance itself from Saudi Arabia over the Khashoggi case, Trump said, “I do not want to do that and frankly they have a tremendous order, $110 billion,” referring to a promised Saudi purchase of U.S.-made weaponry in the coming years.

“It is 500,000 jobs, it will be ultimately $110 billion. It’s the biggest order in the history of our country from an outside military, and I said we are going to turn that down?” he added.

“So hopefully it is working out. We’ll find out, we’ll get down to the bottom of it,” Trump said of the Saudi investigation. “I hope that the king and the crown prince didn’t know about it. That is a big factor in my eyes, and I hope they haven’t.”

Pompeo meetings

Trump’s assessment came as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo completed visits to Saudi Arabia and Turkey for talks with the Saudi leaders and with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu about the disappearance of Khashoggi, who was last seen October 2 walking into the Saudi consulate.

Pompeo, heading back to Washington, told reporters that the U.S. needs “to know the facts before we can begin to formulate what the appropriate response” would be if Saudi Arabia is responsible for Khashoggi’s disappearance.

“I do think it’s important that everyone … keep in their mind that we have lots of important relationships — financial relationships between U.S. and Saudi companies, governmental relationship, things we work on together all across the world,” Pompeo said. “The efforts to reduce the risk to the United States of America from the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, Iran — the Saudis have been great partners in working alongside us on those issues.

“I … could go on about places where the Saudis and the Americans are working together,” the top U.S. diplomat said. “Those are important elements of U.S. national policy that are for, are in Americans’ best interests. And we just need to make sure that we are mindful of that as we approach decisions that the United States government will take when we learn all of the facts associated with whatever may have taken place.”

Earlier, Pompeo said that when he met with Saudi leaders, they did not want to talk about any of the facts involving Khashoggi’s disappearance.

As he headed to Ankara to talk to the Turkish leaders about their investigation regarding the missing journalist, Pompeo said that the Saudi monarch and his son assured him they “would show the entire world” the results of their investigation.

Pompeo said the Saudis committed to holding accountable “anyone connected to any wrongdoing that may be found,” making no exceptions for anyone, including members of the royal family.

When asked whether the Saudi officials told him whether Khashoggi is alive or dead, Pompeo said, “I don’t want to talk about any of the facts. They didn’t want to either, in that they want to have the opportunity to complete this investigation in a thorough way.”

Media reports

The Wall Street Journal reported late Tuesday that Saudi operatives beat and drugged Khashoggi, then killed and dismembered him, with pro-government media in Turkey publishing similar accounts. The U.S. newspaper said Turkish officials have shared evidence, including details of an audio recording, with Saudi and U.S. officials.

When asked what gave him the benefit of the doubt in believing Saudi Arabia’s account that it was not involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance, Pompeo said, “I’m waiting for the investigation to be completed. They promised that they would achieve that, and I’m counting on it, and they gave me their word. And we’ll all get to see if they deliver against that commitment.”

A critic of the Saudi monarchy who wrote for The Washington Post, Khashoggi was last seen October 2 entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Turkish officials have said 15 Saudi agents, who arrived in Istanbul the same day, killed Khashoggi, while Saudi officials say he walked out of the consulate on his own. Neither country has publicly offered evidence of its version of events.

The New York Times and the Post both reported late Tuesday that several people from the list of Saudi agents are linked to Saudi security services and the crown prince.

Turkish investigators on Wednesday scoured the residence of Saudi consul general Mohammed al-Otaibi for evidence in the case, after doing the same at the consulate Tuesday. The Saudi envoy left Istanbul for Riyadh on Tuesday.

While Trump has voiced support for Saudi Arabia as the investigation continues, some U.S. lawmakers have all but accepted Turkey’s version of the events — that a team of Saudi agents arrived in Istanbul and killed Khashoggi when he went to the consulate to pick up documents he needed to marry his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish national who waited in vain for Khashoggi to emerge from the consulate.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Tuesday the United States should “sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia” over the incident and that he would never again work with the crown prince, assailing him as “toxic” and calling him a “wrecking ball.”

Ken Bredemeier, Chris Hannas and State Department correspondent Nike Ching contributed to this report.

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Trump Wants Audio, Video Evidence From Turkey About Missing Saudi Journalist, ‘If It Exists’

U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday he wants audio and video intelligence from Turkey “if it exists” regarding the disappearance of a U.S.-based Saudi journalist whom Turkish officials say was killed and dismembered by Saudi agents inside Riyadh’s consulate in Istanbul.

Trump’s demand at the White House came as he expressed support for Saudi Arabia, a longtime U.S. ally, and said he expects its investigation into the missing journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, would be completed by the end of the week. Saudi Arabia has denied Khashoggi was killed.

When questioned on what he would do if the Saudi investigation showed that Saudi leaders King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman were responsible, Trump told Fox Business in an earlier interview, “Well, I hope we’re going to be on the better side of the equation.”

“You know we need Saudi Arabia in terms of our fight against all of the terrorism, everything that’s happening in Iran and other places,” Trump said.

When asked if the U.S. would distance itself from Saudi Arabia over the Khashoggi case, Trump said, “I do not want to do that and frankly they have a tremendous order, $110 billion,” referring to a promised Saudi purchase of U.S.-made weaponry in the coming years.

“It is 500,000 jobs, it will be ultimately $110 billion. It’s the biggest order in the history of our country from an outside military, and I said we are going to turn that down?” he added.

“So hopefully it is working out. We’ll find out, we’ll get down to the bottom of it,” Trump said of the Saudi investigation. “I hope that the king and the crown prince didn’t know about it. That is a big factor in my eyes, and I hope they haven’t.”

Pompeo meetings

Trump’s assessment came as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo completed visits to Saudi Arabia and Turkey for talks with the Saudi leaders and with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu about the disappearance of Khashoggi, who was last seen October 2 walking into the Saudi consulate.

Pompeo, heading back to Washington, told reporters that the U.S. needs “to know the facts before we can begin to formulate what the appropriate response” would be if Saudi Arabia is responsible for Khashoggi’s disappearance.

“I do think it’s important that everyone … keep in their mind that we have lots of important relationships — financial relationships between U.S. and Saudi companies, governmental relationship, things we work on together all across the world,” Pompeo said. “The efforts to reduce the risk to the United States of America from the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, Iran — the Saudis have been great partners in working alongside us on those issues.

“I … could go on about places where the Saudis and the Americans are working together,” the top U.S. diplomat said. “Those are important elements of U.S. national policy that are for, are in Americans’ best interests. And we just need to make sure that we are mindful of that as we approach decisions that the United States government will take when we learn all of the facts associated with whatever may have taken place.”

Earlier, Pompeo said that when he met with Saudi leaders, they did not want to talk about any of the facts involving Khashoggi’s disappearance.

As he headed to Ankara to talk to the Turkish leaders about their investigation regarding the missing journalist, Pompeo said that the Saudi monarch and his son assured him they “would show the entire world” the results of their investigation.

Pompeo said the Saudis committed to holding accountable “anyone connected to any wrongdoing that may be found,” making no exceptions for anyone, including members of the royal family.

When asked whether the Saudi officials told him whether Khashoggi is alive or dead, Pompeo said, “I don’t want to talk about any of the facts. They didn’t want to either, in that they want to have the opportunity to complete this investigation in a thorough way.”

Media reports

The Wall Street Journal reported late Tuesday that Saudi operatives beat and drugged Khashoggi, then killed and dismembered him, with pro-government media in Turkey publishing similar accounts. The U.S. newspaper said Turkish officials have shared evidence, including details of an audio recording, with Saudi and U.S. officials.

When asked what gave him the benefit of the doubt in believing Saudi Arabia’s account that it was not involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance, Pompeo said, “I’m waiting for the investigation to be completed. They promised that they would achieve that, and I’m counting on it, and they gave me their word. And we’ll all get to see if they deliver against that commitment.”

A critic of the Saudi monarchy who wrote for The Washington Post, Khashoggi was last seen October 2 entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Turkish officials have said 15 Saudi agents, who arrived in Istanbul the same day, killed Khashoggi, while Saudi officials say he walked out of the consulate on his own. Neither country has publicly offered evidence of its version of events.

The New York Times and the Post both reported late Tuesday that several people from the list of Saudi agents are linked to Saudi security services and the crown prince.

Turkish investigators on Wednesday scoured the residence of Saudi consul general Mohammed al-Otaibi for evidence in the case, after doing the same at the consulate Tuesday. The Saudi envoy left Istanbul for Riyadh on Tuesday.

While Trump has voiced support for Saudi Arabia as the investigation continues, some U.S. lawmakers have all but accepted Turkey’s version of the events — that a team of Saudi agents arrived in Istanbul and killed Khashoggi when he went to the consulate to pick up documents he needed to marry his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish national who waited in vain for Khashoggi to emerge from the consulate.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Tuesday the United States should “sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia” over the incident and that he would never again work with the crown prince, assailing him as “toxic” and calling him a “wrecking ball.”

Ken Bredemeier, Chris Hannas and State Department correspondent Nike Ching contributed to this report.

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Border Insecurity in Iran Amid Regime Crackdown on Minorities   

Armed conflict between Iranian security forces and separatist militants on the Iranian border is growing, as the government tightens its grip on the minority population. 

With a population of more than 80 million people, Iran is predominantly ethnic Persian. The country’s religion is Shi’ite Islam, and it is home to millions of ethno-religious minorities, including Kurds, Azeris and Baluchis.  

Iran’s media Tuesday reported that 14 members of the Iranian security forces were abducted by militants near the southeastern province of Sistan-and-Baluchestan, which shares a border with neighboring Pakistan. The Baluch separatist group Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice), claimed responsibility. 

In a statement, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) blamed “terrorist groups led and backed by foreign services” for the kidnappings. It asked Pakistan to protect its western borders and facilitate the release of the abducted Iranian forces.

On Friday, the Kurdish separatist Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran said its fighters engaged in a “three-hour confrontation with the Iranian forces in Kermanshah province.” 

At least two Kurdish fighters and one civilian were killed, according to the statement.

Iranian officials, who say the violence on the border is an isolated incident, are blaming the United States and its allies, particularly Saudi Arabia, for the unrest in parts of the country. 

U.S. and Saudi officials have rejected the accusations.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei last month accused the U.S. and its “puppets” of plotting to create insecurity in Iran. 

His comments were in response to the deadly attack in September on a military parade in the southwestern city of Ahvaz in which 25 people were killed. The Islamic State and the Ahvaz National Resistance, an Arab separatist group, both claimed responsibility for the attack. 

Earlier this month, IRGC announced it had fired six missiles at militants near the Euphrates River where IS is active, only weeks after its missiles hit the headquarters of the Iranian Democratic Party of Kurdistan in the northern Iraqi city of Koya. 

U.S. reaction

A U.S. State Department official told VOA that Washington is “not supporting Kurdish military activity” against the regime in Iran, but it accused Iran of working to “maintain a pattern of malign behavior in the region.”

“Our activities in Iraq stand in stark contrast with those of the Iranian regime, which is working on a daily basis, through violence and intimidation, to subvert the will of the Iraqi people and undermine Iraq’s sovereignty,” the official added.

The Iranian government has come under domestic and international criticism for its treatment of minorities. 

Saleh Hamid, the Sweden-based representative for the Ahwaz Human Rights Organization, said Tehran has increased acts of discrimination and repression against minorities, particularly against the Arab-speaking population of Ahvaz. 

The “Islamic Republic is insisting on the idea that the Arab-speaking minority could get their palms easily greased by the Arab states because of cultural and linguistic similarities,” Hamid said, adding that the government has increased its crackdown following the September attack in Ahvaz. 

“The pressure is so immense that even Arabic poetry night events have canceled their gatherings, fearing they could be arrested and sent to unknown jails,” he said. 

According to Iranian Kurdish writer and activist Abdullah Hijab, Iran’s recent curb on minorities is due to its fear that the separatist groups could be used by the U.S. and its regional allies following the American withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in May.

“Regime officials are concerned that U.S. sanctions could further destabilize Iran and bring about a movement for change within Iran. They are using the American threat as an excuse to suppress any anti-regime activity throughout the country,” said Hijab.

Regime change

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month said U.S. President Donald Trump’s strategy after leaving the deal was to force a change in Iran’s “behavior.” 

Pompeo has repeatedly said the United States is not trying to change the regime. 

“We are fighting for human dignity of the Iranian people by speaking the truth about the oppressive and corrupt regime that controls those people,” Pompeo said during remarks at the 13th Annual Values Voter Summit on Sept. 21. 

“Religious minorities in Iran are routinely imprisoned, stripped of their rights, kicked out of their jobs and subject to many other abuses,” he added.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has, however, denounced the U.S. actions as seeking “regime change.”

“In the past 40 years, there has not been a more spiteful team than the current U.S. government team toward Iran, Iranians and the Islamic Republic,” Rouhani said in a speech broadcast Sunday on state TV.

Experts charge that the rising tensions between Iran and the U.S., and Saudia Arabia’s concern about Iran’s ambitions in the Arab countries, would likely empower the country’s various separatist movements in the future.

Alex Vatanka, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, believes Iran has a history of mistreating minorities, and the different ethno-religious grievances have often been used as leverage by Iran’s enemies.

“I think unfortunately, this semi-Cold War between Tehran and Riyadh is in a stage that the two countries are taking every chance to harm each other, from Twitter vitriol to a war of proxies,” Vatanka told VOA.

“Given the fact that the Saudis are threatening Tehran of bringing the war into Iranian borders, it is not fantasia to assume that these minorities could be a target by the Saudis or other rival states,” he said. 

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Border Insecurity in Iran Amid Regime Crackdown on Minorities   

Armed conflict between Iranian security forces and separatist militants on the Iranian border is growing, as the government tightens its grip on the minority population. 

With a population of more than 80 million people, Iran is predominantly ethnic Persian. The country’s religion is Shi’ite Islam, and it is home to millions of ethno-religious minorities, including Kurds, Azeris and Baluchis.  

Iran’s media Tuesday reported that 14 members of the Iranian security forces were abducted by militants near the southeastern province of Sistan-and-Baluchestan, which shares a border with neighboring Pakistan. The Baluch separatist group Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice), claimed responsibility. 

In a statement, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) blamed “terrorist groups led and backed by foreign services” for the kidnappings. It asked Pakistan to protect its western borders and facilitate the release of the abducted Iranian forces.

On Friday, the Kurdish separatist Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran said its fighters engaged in a “three-hour confrontation with the Iranian forces in Kermanshah province.” 

At least two Kurdish fighters and one civilian were killed, according to the statement.

Iranian officials, who say the violence on the border is an isolated incident, are blaming the United States and its allies, particularly Saudi Arabia, for the unrest in parts of the country. 

U.S. and Saudi officials have rejected the accusations.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei last month accused the U.S. and its “puppets” of plotting to create insecurity in Iran. 

His comments were in response to the deadly attack in September on a military parade in the southwestern city of Ahvaz in which 25 people were killed. The Islamic State and the Ahvaz National Resistance, an Arab separatist group, both claimed responsibility for the attack. 

Earlier this month, IRGC announced it had fired six missiles at militants near the Euphrates River where IS is active, only weeks after its missiles hit the headquarters of the Iranian Democratic Party of Kurdistan in the northern Iraqi city of Koya. 

U.S. reaction

A U.S. State Department official told VOA that Washington is “not supporting Kurdish military activity” against the regime in Iran, but it accused Iran of working to “maintain a pattern of malign behavior in the region.”

“Our activities in Iraq stand in stark contrast with those of the Iranian regime, which is working on a daily basis, through violence and intimidation, to subvert the will of the Iraqi people and undermine Iraq’s sovereignty,” the official added.

The Iranian government has come under domestic and international criticism for its treatment of minorities. 

Saleh Hamid, the Sweden-based representative for the Ahwaz Human Rights Organization, said Tehran has increased acts of discrimination and repression against minorities, particularly against the Arab-speaking population of Ahvaz. 

The “Islamic Republic is insisting on the idea that the Arab-speaking minority could get their palms easily greased by the Arab states because of cultural and linguistic similarities,” Hamid said, adding that the government has increased its crackdown following the September attack in Ahvaz. 

“The pressure is so immense that even Arabic poetry night events have canceled their gatherings, fearing they could be arrested and sent to unknown jails,” he said. 

According to Iranian Kurdish writer and activist Abdullah Hijab, Iran’s recent curb on minorities is due to its fear that the separatist groups could be used by the U.S. and its regional allies following the American withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in May.

“Regime officials are concerned that U.S. sanctions could further destabilize Iran and bring about a movement for change within Iran. They are using the American threat as an excuse to suppress any anti-regime activity throughout the country,” said Hijab.

Regime change

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month said U.S. President Donald Trump’s strategy after leaving the deal was to force a change in Iran’s “behavior.” 

Pompeo has repeatedly said the United States is not trying to change the regime. 

“We are fighting for human dignity of the Iranian people by speaking the truth about the oppressive and corrupt regime that controls those people,” Pompeo said during remarks at the 13th Annual Values Voter Summit on Sept. 21. 

“Religious minorities in Iran are routinely imprisoned, stripped of their rights, kicked out of their jobs and subject to many other abuses,” he added.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has, however, denounced the U.S. actions as seeking “regime change.”

“In the past 40 years, there has not been a more spiteful team than the current U.S. government team toward Iran, Iranians and the Islamic Republic,” Rouhani said in a speech broadcast Sunday on state TV.

Experts charge that the rising tensions between Iran and the U.S., and Saudia Arabia’s concern about Iran’s ambitions in the Arab countries, would likely empower the country’s various separatist movements in the future.

Alex Vatanka, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, believes Iran has a history of mistreating minorities, and the different ethno-religious grievances have often been used as leverage by Iran’s enemies.

“I think unfortunately, this semi-Cold War between Tehran and Riyadh is in a stage that the two countries are taking every chance to harm each other, from Twitter vitriol to a war of proxies,” Vatanka told VOA.

“Given the fact that the Saudis are threatening Tehran of bringing the war into Iranian borders, it is not fantasia to assume that these minorities could be a target by the Saudis or other rival states,” he said. 

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