Russia bans Biden but not Trump, on list of Americans travel-barred


President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, July 16, 2018. 

Grigory Dukor | Reuters

President Joe Biden made Russia’s “blacklist” but former President Donald Trump didn’t.

Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry on Saturday released an updated list of nearly 1,000 Americans permanently barred from entering the country, a largely symbolic slap in response to harsh sanctions imposed by Western countries for its brutal invasion of Ukraine in February.

Biden since mid-March had already been banned from visiting Russia, as were Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

But the updated list now includes Vice President Kamala Harris, as well as Biden’s scandal-plagued son Hunter Biden, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and first lady.

The actor Morgan Freeman and billionaire investor George Soros also made the list. Soros’ philanthropic support of liberal causes, and groups in the former Soviet bloc, have made him a boogeyman for both Russia and right-wing conspiracy theorists.

Jen Psaki, who until this month served as Biden’s White House press secretary, posted a sarcastic tweet about the list Saturday evening: “I guess we will have to cancel our August family trip to Moscow…”

Trump was not on the list of 963 banned Americans.

Over the years, Trump has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and criticized investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election that ended with Trump’s victory over Democratic rival Clinton.

Trump was impeached in 2019 for withholding congressionally appropriated military aid to Ukraine while pressuring that country’s then-newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, to announce investigations into Joe Biden, who at the time was the leading Democratic candidate for the White House.

Trump was acquitted after a trial in the Senate.

On Saturday morning, in an interview with Fox News, Trump griped about the Russia probe again.

“This is one of the greatest political scandals in history,” Trump said. “Where do I get my reputation back?”

A spokeswoman for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his omission from Russia’s travel-ban list.

Former President Barack Obama and Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, also are not on the list, but Pence’s brother, Rep. Greg Pence, R-Ind., is banned.

So are 211 of Greg Pence’s fellow Republicans in the House of Representatives and Senate — along with 224 Democratic members of both congressional chambers.

The GOP House members on the banned list included two hard-core, Republican Trump supporters, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Arizona’s Paul Gosar.

Also making the list are two Democratic House members whose strongly progressive policy stances are anathema to Trump World: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, and Minnesota’s Rep. Ilhan Omar.

So is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who this week also was banned from receiving communion by the archbishop of the San Francisco Roman Catholic Archdiocese because of her support for abortion rights.

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In a statement published by Russia’s state news agency RIA, the Foreign Ministry said, “Russian counter-sanctions are of a forced nature and are aimed at forcing the ruling American regime to change its behavior” and recognize “new geopolitical realities.”

The ministry also accused the U.S. of trying to impose a neo-colonial “rules-based world order” on the rest of the world.

The ministry said “hostile actions” taken by the U.S. government “boomerang back to hit the United States itself” and “will continue to receive proper rebuffs.”

Russia also has barred entry to the country to hundreds of Canadians, among them Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, and hundreds of members of the United Kingdom’s Parliament.



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The Traveling Trump Show Comes to South Texas


HIDALGO, Texas — Organizers of the three-day We Stand America gathering were clearly frustrated on Day Two: In an arena built to accommodate thousands of spectators, only a few hundred people had shown up.

On a stage in the South Texas border city of Hidalgo, they blamed the lackluster crowd on liberal media and activists, claiming that they maliciously swiped up the free tickets that had been intended for veterans and law enforcement officials to keep the seats empty.

It was only the first conspiracy theory of the day.

Within minutes, there were multiple false claims that the 2020 election had been stolen. “Not since Hitler himself have we seen evil come across the country,” said Mark Finchem, an Arizona lawmaker who is running for secretary of state there. He described Arizona’s current top elections official as both a “demon” and “a plant” (and not the horticultural variety).

The event held late last month in the Rio Grande Valley — which featured a parade of conservative stars, including Ted Nugent and Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser — was just one of many right-wing symposiums and conferences that are happening across the country on a nearly weekly basis.

These events are something akin to religious revivals, a mix between protest and party. There’s anger, but also celebration. There are tailgate parties and barbecues and prayer services, the threads that make up the social fabric of Trumpism. The conferences illustrate how Trump and his false claims about the election have become a culture as much as a cause.

In Hidalgo, there were FJB bumper stickers in the parking lot — JB for Joe Biden, F for an expletive — along with flags proclaiming “Stolen, Rigged, Fraud, Election 2020.” T-shirts read, “Don’t California My Texas.”

One speaker referred to President Biden as “this freak in the White House,” adding that the “people in charge hate you and hate freedom.”

Christie Hutcherson, one of the organizers, described the event as nonpolitical, claiming the focus was on the “humanitarian effort” to save children who were crossing the border illegally with the help of coyotes, as human smugglers are called in the border region. She claimed, without evidence, that young children were being kidnapped and killed for “organ harvesting.”

Ms. Hutcherson, the founder of Women Fighting for America, a group that describes part of its mission as protecting values and spreading “biblical truth,” referred to herself as a “mama bear.” Countless other speakers and attendees embraced the moniker. “Don’t poke the mama bears,” said one woman, who declined to give her name. “We’re fed up and you’ve messed with the wrong people.”

Republicans have been making inroads in South Texas, a majority-Hispanic region that had been a Democratic stronghold for decades. In 2020, Trump won Starr County, a rural community along the border that he had lost back in 2016 by 33 percentage points. And while Biden won in other more populous counties along the South Texas border, including Hidalgo County, many voters swung sharply toward Trump.

The crowd at the We Stand America events, however, seemed to have more out-of-towners than locals and more white participants than Hispanic ones. Many attendees flew in from Albuquerque and Phoenix, or drove down from Dallas and Oklahoma City.

The highlight of the three days for many of them was a Sunday morning march to the border fence.

Maria Elena Veliz, a resident of nearby Edinburg and one of the local conservatives in the crowd at the Sunday protest, sat on a chair at the edge of the scene. She said she has attended protests at a local abortion clinic weekly for more than a decade in her own effort to stop women from having abortions.

“I am not one of these people who thinks anything you do is right, that we can make excuses for it,” she said. “That is my No. 1 issue and I will do anything to support people who agree with me. I am here for the unborn and born babies.”

Another woman who declined to give her name as she marched said she was “disgusted by open-border Democrats who don’t care about what is happening to the children.”

The group was accompanied by one man with a military-style rifle strapped across his chest. They prayed when they arrived at the fence, in an area near the National Butterfly Center. The center, the victim of right-wing misinformation spreading online, had closed down that weekend because of threats and security concerns.

Protesters prayed to “stop slave trading on our borders.” Some raised their hands in the air. Others held American flags. A few got down on their knees on the dirt hill. And they closed by singing Amazing Grace.

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On Politics regularly features work by Times photographers. On Thursday, Al Drago watched Marine One, the presidential helicopter, arrive at a regional airport in Brandy Station, Va., as President Biden traveled to an event about prescription drug prices. Here’s the story behind this image:

The president usually travels with multiple helicopters, in part as a security measure. Although President Biden typically flies on Air Force One, when we travel to smaller regional airports that are too small to handle the big plane or are close enough to Washington, the presidential envoy will use a series of helicopters. Typically, Secret Service, White House staff and the press pool will fly ahead in four V-22 Nighthawk Ospreys, operated by Marine Helicopter Squadron One. With their massive rotating turboprops, they make for quite the spectacle.

On Thursday, once we had landed following the 20-minute flight from Joint Base Andrews, we lined up against the edge of the tarmac to capture the president’s arrival on Marine One, which is one of three identical Sikorsky VH-3D Sea Kings. I noticed a bit of cloud cover, causing the light to change every few moments. The press pool cast a shadow on the terminal windows, giving us a glimpse inside.

You aren’t supposed to know which helicopter the president is riding, so I photographed a series of images as people pressed up against the glass with their cameras and smartphones as Marine One began to approach. I joked to a fellow photographer that the small boy probably had a better camera than me.

Is there anything you think we’re missing? Anything you want to see more of? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com.



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Joe Biden’s challenge at his first UN General Assembly: Convince allies he’s not another Trump


CNN

By Kevin Liptak, CNN

When President Joe Biden mounts the iconic green marble rostrum inside the hall of the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, he will face an audience skeptical he really is as different from his predecessor as he likes to claim.

For world leaders who were alternately addled and amused by former President Donald Trump — who once encountered mocking laughter from the UN crowd in the middle of his big speech — Biden represented hope for a different era in American foreign relations. He spent his first foreign trip in June declaring across Europe that “America is back.”

He continued that message in his first appearance in New York when he met with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

“The strong partnership between the United States and the U.N. is based on common values and principals, and at this moment, those bonds are more important than ever. America’s back and we believe in the United Nations and its values,” Biden said.

Yet this week he finds himself under intense scrutiny from allies who have been disappointed his election has not done away entirely with the “America First” policies Trump espoused during the former President’s annual speeches to the UN. They have complained bitterly about being left out of key decisions. In increasingly public fashion, foreign officials have begun unfavorably comparing Biden to Trump — an insult to a President who ran as the capable and experienced alternative to Trump’s global tumult.

In his first address as President to the General Assembly, Biden will seek to allay those fears, making the case for a collective approach to simmering world problems like the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change. He will argue for a wholesale recalibration of priorities away from the wars of the past two decades and toward threats emerging today.

The President is expected to make the case for “rallying allies and partners and institutions to deal with the major challenges of our time,” a senior administration official said. Like in almost every aspect of his foreign policy, China will loom large, and Biden will warn in his speech against the world devolving into a new Cold War that divides the globe into spheres of influence.

Still, the growing wariness of once-enthusiastic allies isn’t lost on the President or his aides.

“I think the President’s view, having been on the world scene for 50 years, is that you always have to work on your relationships. That includes with global leaders,” press secretary Jen Psaki said. “He believes our relationships are sustaining over the course of many decades, and every step he has taken since the moment he took office was with the intention of rebuilding alliances and rebuilding those partnerships that were frayed over the last four years.”

Psaki said that didn’t mean countries would always agree with each other, but argued over the long run, global relationships would be made stronger by Biden’s approach.

A high-profile moment on the world stage

The annual appearance at the UN is one of the highest-profile opportunities for any president to spell out his foreign agenda, though this year’s gathering has been scaled down due to the pandemic. Biden will not engage in the usual flurry of pull-aside sessions in the corridors of UN headquarters on Manhattan’s East Side and he will return to the White House by Tuesday afternoon.

Officials view Biden’s speech and the other events surrounding it — including a Covid summit on Wednesday and a meeting of Pacific leaders on Friday — as a critical moment for the President to articulate his foreign policy vision and lay out what he believes should be the world’s priorities.

He arrived in New York reeling from setbacks in his quest to restore American leadership. France is fuming over a deal to equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines, which deprived Paris of a lucrative contract for conventional subs and, in the telling of French officials, came as a total surprise to America’s oldest ally. Biden has asked to speak soon with French President Emmanuel Macron to lower the temperature.

Uncertainty surrounding Biden’s domestic agenda will have ramifications for his designs on harassing the global initiative to combat climate change. Democrats remain divided on the massive spending bill that amounts to the bulk of Biden’s plan to cut carbon emissions.

And his decision to end the war in Afghanistan, which resulted in a messy evacuation, created waves of refugees in Europe and the United States and left some allies frustrated at how the exit was planned. Biden’s vows of continued effective counterterrorism efforts were undercut by the revelation last week an American drone strike in the war’s final days killed 10 civilians instead of ISIS-K targets.

Still, Biden will not shy away from his decision to end America’s longest war during his speech, according to senior administration officials. Instead, he will place the war’s end at the center of his message, arguing it was a necessary decision to propel the world into a new, more cooperative era of confronting the challenges of today.

“The President will essentially drive home the message that ending the war in Afghanistan closed the chapter focused on war and opened a chapter focused on purposeful, effective, intensive American diplomacy,” a senior administration official said in previewing the speech.

Biden aims to show off a shift in priorities

Downplaying rifts that are emerging with foreign allies, the White House said Biden’s multiple summits this week — on Covid-19, climate change and partnership in the Indo-Pacific — were evidence of a multilateral approach that contrasts directly with the approach of the previous administration.

And the announcement Monday that the United States would ease travel restrictions on all fully vaccinated foreign visitors, replacing a patchwork of bans that had begun to cause fury in Europe, was cheered in foreign capitals.

The travel ban had been expected to be a major point of contention in a meeting later Tuesday afternoon with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who will make his first visit to Biden’s White House.

Biden also plans to convene a virtual Covid-19 summit on Wednesday, calling on leaders of developed nations to step up vaccine sharing commitments and boost the global supply of oxygen. And he’ll end the week hosting his first in-person summit of the QUAD nations — Japan, Australia and India — to discuss the pandemic and security in Asia.

That summit underscores Biden’s broader goal of shifting focus away from places like Afghanistan and toward the threat from China, whose military and economic moves have caused a deterioration in ties with the West.

Biden’s decision to partner with the United Kingdom and Australia on the nuclear-powered submarines was a sign of his willingness to look beyond traditional alliances — like with France — to better address security challenges in Asia.

Spat with Paris surprises White House

That approach hasn’t been welcomed in Paris, where officials accused the Biden administration of operating in secret to deprive France of important defense contracts. France’s outsized reaction has been surprising to some in the White House, and one official said France’s behavior, including recalling their ambassador for consultations, was an overly dramatic response to the rift.

For now, there is a general belief that the dust-up will not permanently damage relations with France, but officials acknowledge the spat remains in its early days. Biden has asked to get Macron on the phone to “directly” address the matter, an official said.

“We understand the French position,” the official said. “We don’t share their view in terms of how this all developed.”

The submarine spat underscores larger differences between Biden’s approach to China and the views of certain European leaders, who have sought a more conciliatory approach to a major trading partner. Those rifts were on display at this summer’s G7 summit, though eventually the grouping emerged with a collective statement admonishing China for its human rights abuses.

In his speech on Tuesday, Biden will seek to underscore the US isn’t seeking conflict with China or its leader Xi Jinping, with whom he spoke by phone earlier this month.

“President Biden will communicate tomorrow that he does not believe in the notion of a new cold war with the world divided into blocks. He believes in vigorous, intensive, principled competition that does not tip over into conflict,” the official said.

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Trump Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite spent $2.3 million on travel


WASHINGTON – Former Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite traversed the globe in his brief tenure under the Trump administration, spending about $2.4 million in air travel, according to figures and documents obtained by USA TODAY.

Braithwaite spent $232,000 the week before President Joe Biden’s inauguration to fly to Wake Island, a tiny Pacific atoll, where, according to Navy spokesman Capt. Jereal Dorsey, no sailors or Marines are stationed. The executive director of the government watchdog Project On Government Oversight called the trip “an expensive abuse of power.”

Braithwaite was Navy secretary, the service’s most senior civilian, from May 29 until Biden took office on Jan. 21. During that time, Braithwaite embarked on 22 trips to foreign and domestic destinations – more than any other senior Pentagon civilian – even as the COVID-19 pandemic trimmed the wings of other senior officials, according to two Defense Department officials.

Kenneth Braithwaite, served as 77th secretary of the Navy from May 29, 2020 to January 20, 2021.

Kenneth Braithwaite, served as 77th secretary of the Navy from May 29, 2020 to January 20, 2021.
Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP

The COVID-19 pandemic, according to the two Defense officials who were not authorized to comment publicly, cut back foreign travel for most senior officials. Some countries limited travel for visiting delegations, making trips less useful, one official said. Domestic travel was also limited, the other official said, to prevent exposure and spread of the virus among troops and officials.

Braithwaite’s international travels included Norway, Italy, Greece, Japan and India. His domestic trips included more than $24,000 to attend the Army-Navy football game with his family and more than one visit to Hawaii. 

Braithwaite trips from June 2020 to January 2121

Over the same period, then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper and his successor, acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, took 15 trips. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy took 17 trips, and Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett recorded 19 trips. McCarthy and Barrett had led their services since 2019. McCarthy’s trips cost roughly $900,000 and his family did not accompany him on any trips, said spokeswoman Army Lt. Col. Audricia Harris. Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, took four trips during Braithwaite’s tenure.

Former President Donald Trump nominated Braithwaite for Navy secretary after acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly was forced to resign for his handling of the outbreak of COVID-19 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. Modly came under criticism from Congress for his $243,000 flight to Guam where he stayed briefly to blast the captain of the stricken ship in an address to the crew.

In a statement, Braithwaite said his trips were necessary to bolster the Navy, citing recent crises it had endured, including, presumably the troubles surrounding the Roosevelt. 

Navy Sec. Kenneth Braithwaite
I submit it’s impossible to lead men and women deployed around the world from behind a desk in Washington.

“I am extremely proud of the record of accomplishments of Our Sailors and Marines during my tenure as Secretary, especially following such a tumultuous chapter in the Navy’s recent history of crisis following crisis as compared to our other services,” Braithwaite wrote in an email. “I submit it’s impossible to lead men and women deployed around the world from behind a desk in Washington.” 

Wake Island: ‘Where America’s Day Really Begins’

Among Braithwaite’s travels, his trip to Hawaii and Wake Island in the South Pacific stands out. The Air Force, not the Navy, has administrative control of the Wake Atoll, a string of islands generally not accessible to civilians. Navy F-18 pilots use the strip and ranges nearby for training. It serves chiefly as a refueling stop and emergency landing strip in the middle of the ocean, thousands of miles from Hawaii. Wake, according to a senior Defense Department official, is not a strategic base like Guam, where the Navy and Air Force have extensive facilities.

Two F-22 Raptors fly over Wake Island as part of a rapid deployment June 21, 2013.

Two F-22 Raptors fly over Wake Island as part of a rapid deployment June 21, 2013.
U.S. Air Force Handout photo by Master Sgt. Connie Reed

While on Wake Island, Braithwaite recorded his farewell message to the Navy and Marine Corps. He appeared in a flight jacket with a gravelly beach, scrubby brush and water in the background. Braithwaite recounted the bravery of sailors and Marines who defended the island. Wake has historical significance, coming under attack by the Japanese in December 1941 just before Pearl Harbor sparked America’s entry into World War II. 

“The focus of the end of an administration should be the peaceful transfer of power and how to best help the next administration to lead the Navy,” said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight. “Given that Wake Island has no strategic significance, it looks like this trip was an expensive abuse of his power.”

Danielle Brian, Project on Government Oversight
The focus of the end of an administration should be the peaceful transfer of power … it looks like this trip was an expensive abuse of his power.

Braithwaite traveled in January and sought and received a waiver from a 2018 Pentagon policy for ethical use of military aircraft that cracked down on the use of multiple crews and planes in order to “be peerless stewards of taxpayers’ dollars,” according to a memo outlining the policy.

Waivers have been rarely issued since the policy went into effect. They have been granted for commanders traveling to war zones. Modly had filed a request for a waiver after his trip to Guam and it was approved retroactively. The Navy’s top officer, Adm. Mike Gilday, has not sought a waiver from the policy in his 20 months as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to his spokesman, Cmdr. Nate Christensen.

$8K an hour

Braithwaite flew aboard a C-37B, a Gulfstream 550 business jet modified for military use. It has a crew of four and costs $8,007 per hour to operate. He took several short trips, including three to Norfolk, Virginia, home to a sprawling Navy presence. In all, Braithwaite’s trips cost about $2.4 million, according to Dorsey.

In comparison, the Air Force estimates that Barrett’s trips, aboard a C-37 and C-40, based on a Boeing 737, cost $1.6 million, according to Lt. Col. Justin Brockhoff, an Air Force spokesman. 

Braithwaite’s trip to Wake Island took place from Jan. 11 to Jan. 14, taking off from Joint Base Andrews outside Washington and arriving in Hawaii. From there, he boarded a separate plane with a new crew for the flight to Wake Island. Braithwaite’s waiver request notes that the use of two planes and two crews for his trip would ensure he would return for a full day of work on Jan. 15 where he was needed to help with the transition to the Biden administration. He cites a minimal increase in cost because the extra crew and plane were based in Hawaii and did not have a previously scheduled mission.

His wide travels, Braithwaite said, were necessary to put the Navy back on course.

“I believe that as a result of meeting and working with those brave Americans serving in Wake, in Japan, in Bahrain and all the far corners of the world, I left the Navy and the Marine Corps better positioned to respond to our nation’s defense today and tomorrow,” Braithwaite wrote.

Braithwaite was previously ambassador to Norway. A Naval Academy graduate, he served as a pilot in the Pacific tracking submarines and later moved to public affairs. He left active duty in 1993 and joined the Navy Reserve from which he retired as vice chief of information.

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Trump Hotels dropped by Virtuoso, a major luxury travel agency network


The split, which was first reported by Zenger News, means the hotels are not listed on Virtuoso’s website, and the network’s advisers will no longer be able to access previously negotiated benefits for travelers.

Travelers may turn to advisers to take advantage of preferred hotel rates, perks, VIP treatment and special access, or just to get expert help with planning where to go and what to do on a vacation. Virtuoso promises to connect clients to “carefully curated travel providers.”

In April 2016, Virtuoso touted its affiliation with the soon-to-open Trump International Hotel in D.C. An announcement said only guests who reserved a stay with a Virtuoso travel adviser would get “exclusive benefits” including a room upgrade; daily full breakfast for two; $100 spa credit; welcome amenity; early check-in and late checkout.

“Trump International Hotel, Washington, D.C. will soon take its place among the most esteemed landmarks of our nation’s capital,” the announcement said.

An agency that is part of Virtuoso’s network can still book a client at a Trump-branded hotel through other channels, said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group. But they won’t get the privileges that comes with preferred partners because Virtuoso no longer has a direct relationship with the hotels.

“It’s a big deal because Virtuoso is very well-respected in the industry,” Harteveldt said. “It serves a very elite base of customers and its actions are often studied by others. With Virtuoso doing this, some travel agencies that may have been debating whether or not to do it could decide well, if Virtuoso has done this, we too will end our professional relationship with the Trump hotels.”

It was not clear if any other travel agencies had cut ties with the company; several declined to comment or did not respond to questions. Representatives for Trump Hotels could not be reached for comment.

Since Jan. 6 — when former president Donald Trump encouraged a mob of his supporters that later attacked the U.S. Capitol — a number of Trump’s former business partners and clients have cut ties with his company. These have included lenders, bankers, insurers, lawyers and the PGA of America, which canceled a major golf tournament planned at one of Trump’s courses.

In some cases, these former clients or lenders explicitly cited the Jan. 6 riot as the reason for their decision. Others, such as Virtuoso, have declined to give a reason.

Whatever the cause, experts say the loss of Virtuoso’s affiliation could be bad news for the hotel company. It was already wounded by the pandemic and earlier by a backlash to Trump’s political moves.

Chekitan Dev, a professor of marketing and branding at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, said in an email that Virtuoso is “one of the largest, best known, and influential third-party channels of distribution, especially for luxury hotels.”

He said hotels face a challenge in finding ways to fill their rooms at the highest possible rate — which can be where travel agents come in.

“Getting fired by Virtuoso is a very big deal because the hotels or hotel brands lose exposure to a vast network of agents who are very skilled at booking business for their most discriminating and high-net worth customers who are typically also frequent travelers,” Dev said.



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New Hope woman was visited by the FBI, detained after Trump rally


JD Mullane
 
| Bucks County Courier Times

play

Dana Kurtbek went to Washington D.C. on Jan. 6  to hear ex-President Trump, and through anonymous tips and a case of mistaken identity said she was targeted by the feds as among the insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Capitol.

At airports, she said she has been hassled by TSA, detained by gun-carrying agents of U.S. Homeland Security, and questioned on her doorstep in New Hope by FBI agents. Her daughter, who didn’t attend the Jan. 6 rally, has also been detained and questioned as she has traveled through airports.

Kurtbek, 54, a self-employed graphic designer, said the feds allege that facial recognition software tagged her in the Capitol.

“They said they had a picture of me inside. It is absolutely false. I was nowhere near that building,” she said.

The feds have not accounted to this news organization for the evidence they allege show Kurtbek among the mob.

I asked the FBI and Homeland Security to confirm her version of the events, and for comment. Homeland Security never got back. An FBI spokeswoman said the agency will neither confirm nor deny Kurtbek’s story.

All we need is the picture. Send it anytime.  

So here’s Kurtbek’s version, as she told it to me.

She’s not a MAGA hat owner and doesn’t own any Trump gear. She said she has mixed emotions about the former president. He’s crass. But along with 74 million Americans, she voted for Trump on Nov. 6 because she liked his economic policies and his “America First” agenda.

“I don’t believe everything has been investigated thoroughly when it comes to the election,” she said.

Which is why she and her boyfriend decided to go to hear the speeches.

“Especially the president. I wanted to hear for myself what he had to say. No offense, but I don’t trust the media when it comes to Trump,” she said.

She got to D.C. early. She parked in Georgetown and walked to the Ellipse, at the Washington Monument. President Trump spoke about 11 a.m.

“At the end, he said we were going to walk to the Capitol and make sure (Vice President) Mike Pence does his job,” she said, referring to that day’s counting of state electoral votes, as required by the U.S. Constitution.

But it was freezing and overcast and windy in Washington.

“There were supposed to be speeches at the Capitol, but they were canceled. We had already been there about five hours, and it was really cold,” she said.

They decided to leave. They walked back to the car. They learned about the Capitol siege from phone alerts.  

“They said there were riots at the Capitol. We couldn’t believe it,” she said.

She condemned it.

“These were idiots. Just look at the pictures of them,” she said.

Back home in Bucks County, she planned for a short trip to Cancun, departing Jan. 16, where she would meet her daughter. She arrived at Philadelphia International Airport, and went to the American Airlines counter.

“I couldn’t check in, which was weird,” she said.

She’s an experienced air traveler, and has never been delayed at an airport for any reason, she said.

“The American Airlines woman is looking at her screen and said, ‘I’m sorry, I need to make a call. Take a seat. This could take a while,’” she said.

About 40 minutes later, she was informed that TSA wanted a full background check on her. No reason was given. She was not overly concerned.

“I thought it was random bad luck and they picked me,” she said.

But something wasn’t right.

“There must have been 20 agents all around me, watching me,” she said. “I asked if this was a training exercise.”

The agents were aggressive.

“There was a full pat-down,” she said. “The woman agent got to know me well, that’s all I’ll say.”

She continued on her trip. It didn’t occur to her that her attendance at the Trump rally had anything to do with the delay. That changed as she tried to leave Cancun. Neither she nor her daughter could check in at the airport. Security flagged both.

“My daughter said, ‘Oh, mom, this is because you went to that rally.’ I said that’s nonsense,” she said.

After a brief interview, they were allowed to return to Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey.

“That’s when all hell broke loose for us,” she said.

Airport officials wouldn’t stamp their passports. They were escorted to a back room.

“This wasn’t TSA anymore, it was Homeland Security. The police were there. They took both of us to a sealed-off room,” she said.

Mother and daughter were questioned in separate offices.

“The one officer said, do you know why you’re here? I said I had no idea. He said you have been identified by facial recognition software as being a participant in the domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol, Jan. 6, and you were in the Capitol during the attack,” she said.

Stunned, she told the man, “You must have the worst software on the planet, because I was nowhere near the Capitol, and my daughter wasn’t even there.”

She wasn’t shown the picture they alleged to have of her.

“But then I didn’t ask to see it,” she said.

She was nervous.

“These were very serious people. They had guns,” she said.

She said the agent informed her that her daughter was questioned because they were “traveling together.”  

An hour and a half later, they were released. The agent seemed apologetic for the inconvenience, she said. There were no charges. 

She was handed a paper from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (which operates under the Dept. of Homeland Security) explaining why she “may have” been detained for “travel screening,” which includes, “You have a name that matches a person of interest in one of the government’s enforcement databases.”

Afterward, she vented on social media. On Friday Jan. 29th, about 4:30 p.m., two FBI agents showed up at her house in New Hope, again saying facial recognition software placed her in the Capitol during the attack.

“So now I’m getting better at this stuff,” she said. “I was seriously annoyed. I asked for a business card. Neither said they had any.”

They flashed their badges, she said. One did the talking, the other didn’t speak.

“They wouldn’t come into the house. They wouldn’t let me record the conversation, either,” she said.

She asked to see the pic that allegedly showed her among the mob within the Capitol. They did.

“I laughed. I said are you kidding? Other than both of us being middle-aged white women, we look nothing alike. She has brown eyes, mine are green. I have brown hair, she has blonde.”

She said the FBI agent doing the talking agreed that the woman in the picture looked nothing like her. Then he asked if she owned guns.  

“He said, well, you shouldn’t have any more problems. I said after what I’ve been through, I doubt it. I asked them: Why are you here? Why aren’t you at the houses of the people who actually were in the Capitol? Should the people who gave you this false tip about me face repercussions?”

She said the agent told her they didn’t know the identity of the tipsters, both were anonymous.

Since then her daughter, who frequently flies on business, has been detained and questioned four times by authorities at airports around the country, she said.

“I’ve lived in countries with oppressive governments,” she said. “I don’t want to think our country has joined them. But I mean, why are they doing this to my daughter?

“I never blindly followed Trump,” she said. “I liked his policies, that’s it. But that we can no longer have an open, honest conversation about the differences we have in this country over elections is disheartening. If we’re depending on the government to unite us, we’re in a lot of trouble.”   

More: Mullane: Are there any Black Catholic American saints? Not yet.

Columnist JD Mullane can be reached at 215-949-5745 or at jmullane@couriertimes.com.



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Bill Would Disclose Noem’s Security Costs for Trump Travel | South Dakota News


PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A House bill endorsed by both parties seeks to disclose the security costs for Gov. Kristi Noem’s travel on behalf of former President Donald Trump’s campaign last year.

Requests for the information by The Associated Press and other media outlets have been rejected with officials citing security concerns.

Republican Rep. Taffy Howard says the proposed legislation would not only require future costs to be disclosed, but would be applied retroactively to Noem’s security costs during her travel across the country on behalf of Trump and other Republicans.

Howard says the governor’s office has told her the Trump campaign covered Noem’s travel costs, but officials would not disclose the cost of security provided by the South Dakota Highway Patrol.

“This should be disclosed to every citizen,” Howard told the Argus Leader Tuesday. “We’ve asked several times and keep getting stonewalled. Taxpayers have a right to know. This governor wants to be the most transparent administration, and this bill is all about transparency.”

Noem’s deputy general counsel, Katie Hruska, has said she can’t provide the cost of Noem’s security detail, citing a law that says “public safety information that would create a substantial likelihood of endangering public safety or property, if disclosed” can’t be shared.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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Gaetz traveling to Wyoming to take aim at Cheney amid uproar over her Trump impeachment vote


One of former President Trump’s top supporters in the House of Representatives is targeting one of Trump’s biggest House GOP critics.

GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida is heading to House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney’s home state of Wyoming on Thursday, where he’ll hold an event outside the state capitol in Cheyenne.

MCCARTHY RAISES ‘CONCERNS’ ABOUT CHENEY’S IMPEACHMENT VOTE

Cheney, the number three House Republican in leadership, has been pilloried by some of her GOP colleagues in the chamber for voting to impeach Trump earlier this month. Cheney, a vocal Republican critic of Trump’s foreign policy during his tenure in the White House and the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, was the most high profile of the 10 Republicans who joined all 222 House Democrats in voting to impeach the president. The vast majority of House Republicans – 197 of the 211 in the chamber, voted against impeachment.

Taking to Twitter over the weekend, Gaetz denied that he was seeking Cheney’s leadership position.

“I do not want her job. I unequivocally am not seeking a position in House Leadership. I also know Wyoming can do better,” he tweeted.

The event caught the eye of the former president’s son – Donald Trump Jr. – who tweeted “Can’t join in person, but can I Skype in or call?”

And Sergio Gor, a top adviser on Trump’s unsuccessful 2020 re-election campaign who previously worked for Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul, tweeted that Gaetz was heading to Wyoming “to highlight the failed policies advocated by @Liz_Cheney! Her impeachment vote should disqualify her from representing Wyoming & @HouseGOP!”

Gaetz, a former Florida state lawmaker from the state’s panhandle region who was first elected to Congress in 2016, has been taking aim at Cheney since her impeachment vote.

CHENEY ON CALLS TO STEP DOWN AFTER IMPEACHMENT VOTE: I’M ‘CONFIDENT’ GOP WILL BE UNITED AGAINST BIDEN

“By embracing the language and the arguments of the radical left instead of the America First movement, Liz Cheney is spitting into the eyes of tens of millions of Americans,” Gaetz charged last week as he tweeted out a video clip of his interview on Fox Business’ “Lou Dobbs Tonight.”

More than half of House Republican members are backing an effort to remove Cheney from her leadership role.

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy has given tepid support to Cheney, telling reporters late last week that he didn’t support her removal from her leadership position.

But in an interview this weekend on “Full Court Press with Greta Van Susteren,” McCarthy said “look, I support her, but I also have concerns. She took a position as a number three member in the conference, she never told me ahead of time.”

HOUSE TRUMP IMPEACHMENT ARTICLES BEING SENT TO SENATE ON MONDAY, TRIGGERING TRIAL

Cheney has pushed back from the criticism, saying that “I’m not going anywhere. This is a vote of conscience,” she told Politico a week and a half ago. “It’s one where there are different views in our conference. But our nation is facing an unprecedented, since the Civil War, constitutional crisis.”

The congresswoman is already facing at least one primary challenge in Wyoming. Last week Wyoming state Sen. Anthony Bouchard announced that he would challenge Cheney for Wyoming’s sole House seat. He said that his campaign was triggered by Cheney’s “long-time opposition to President Trump and her most recent vote for Impeachment.”

Bouchard grabbed plenty of national media attention after launching his primary challenge, including an interview late last week on Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle.”

Bouchard touted on Saturday that “we’ve now raised over $63,000 in the fight to beat Liz Cheney.”

Meanwhile, three GOP county organizations in Wyoming have censured Cheney for her impeachment vote.

 



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Biden To Impose Covid Travel Restrictions On South Africa, Reinstate Ban On Other Countries Lifted By Trump


Topline

Reversing a directive by the Trump administration, President Joe Biden on Monday will sign an executive order that keeps in place restrictions barring entry by most non-U.S. citizens traveling from the United Kingdom, Brazil, and 26 countries in Europe, and that also bars most travelers from South Africa beginning Saturday, a Biden administration official told Forbes Sunday, aiming to curb the spread of new more infectious—and possibly more deadly—coronavirus variants.

Key Facts

The order, which was first reported by Reuters, comes nearly one week after President Donald Trump sought to lift the restrictions he imposed in one of the final moves of his administration.

Hours after Trump announced he would lift the restrictions January 26, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration would not follow Trump’s order, asserting that with the “pandemic worsening” it was “not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel.”

Case numbers and hospitalizations around the U.S. have dropped in recent weeks, but cases derived from the new variant could alter that trajectory. 

Crucial Quote

“We are adding South Africa to the restricted list because of the concerning variant present that has already spread beyond South Africa,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director, told Reuters Sunday.

What To Watch For

Vaccines may not be as effective against the Covid-19 variant found in South Africa, three preliminary studies have suggested

Key Background

It’s not clear how effective travel restrictions are in curbing the spread of the virus and scientists are split about whether it’s a good idea to implement bans at all. Trump repeatedly touted his administration’s “ban” on travel from China during the 2020 campaign, but the restrictions were permeable, late and ineffective

Further Reading

Trump Lifted Covid Travel Bans For Next Week — But Biden’s Team Plans On Keeping Them In Place (Forbes)

Exclusive: Biden to impose South Africa travel ban to combat new COVID-19 variant – CDC (Reuters)



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