Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney shakes hands with Donald Trump at a press conference where Trump endorsed Romney, on Feb. 2 in Las Vegas.
LAS VEGAS -- "He doesn't want to talk about it."
Or so said Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's spokesman, on the question of where President Obama was born.
Cohen, in a phone interview, called the renewed controversy over Trump's questioning of whether Obama was born in the U.S. "a distraction," and blamed it on "the liberal media."
But five minutes after The Huffington Post talked to Cohen on the phone, a call to Trump's New York offices resulted in the casino, real-estate and reality-TV mogul being patched through on the line, from here in Las Vegas.
Adding to the surreal nature of the day, Trump openly disagreed with his own spokesman's assessment.
"I don't imagine this is distraction at all," Trump said. "In fact, we have a fundraiser that's going to take place in a couple of hours, and I'm just walking through the lobby of Trump international and this place is packed."
And that, in a nutshell, is the problem for Mitt Romney.
Romney is set to mathematically clinch the Republican nomination on Tuesday evening when polls close in Texas and he is expected to finally cross the line of winning the required 1,144 delegates. But it was Trump's theatrics ahead of an evening fundraiser with Romney in Las Vegas that stepped all over the day's triumphs for the presumptive GOP candidate.
Trump went on CNBC in the morning to double down on his comments last week, when he seized on a report earlier this month from a conservative website, Breitbart.com, that uncovered a "promotional booklet" from 1991 in which Obama's "then-literary agency, Acton & Dystel … touts Obama as 'born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii.'"
Even the Breitbart site said at the time that they considered the booklet an act of biography embellishment by Obama, and that they have always believed that Obama was born in Hawaii on Aug. 4, 1961, as his long-form birth certificate states.
But Trump told HuffPost Tuesday that he disagreed with Breitbart's assessment, and talked for almost 10 minutes about why the Obama campaign -- which released a web video and a statement condemning Romney for not disavowing Trump's comments -- actually wants the birther issue to go away.
President Obama in the Oval Office with Thomas E. Donilon, left, the national security adviser, and John O. Brennan, his top counterterrorism adviser.
By JO BECKER and SCOTT SHANE
WASHINGTON — This was the enemy, served up in the latest chart from the intelligence agencies: 15 Qaeda suspects in Yemen with Western ties. The mug shots and brief biographies resembled a high school yearbook layout. Several were Americans. Two were teenagers, including a girl who looked even younger than her 17 years.
A Measure of Change
The Shadow War
This is the third article in a series assessing President Obama’s record.
President Obama, overseeing the regular Tuesday counterterrorism meeting of two dozen security officials in the White House Situation Room, took a moment to study the faces. It was Jan. 19, 2010, the end of a first year in office punctuated by terrorist plots and culminating in a brush with catastrophe over Detroit on Christmas Day, a reminder that a successful attack could derail his presidency. Yet he faced adversaries without uniforms, often indistinguishable from the civilians around them.
“How old are these people?” he asked, according to two officials present. “If they are starting to use children,” he said of Al Qaeda, “we are moving into a whole different phase.”
It was not a theoretical question: Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret “nominations” process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical. He had vowed to align the fight against Al Qaeda with American values; the chart, introducing people whose deaths he might soon be asked to order, underscored just what a moral and legal conundrum this could be.
Mr. Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture, and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding “kill list,” poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre “baseball cards” of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a dronestrike at a top terrorist arises — but his family is with him — it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.
“He is determined that he will make these decisions about how far and wide these operations will go,” said Thomas E. Donilon, his national security adviser. “His view is that he’s responsible for the position of the United States in the world.” He added, “He’s determined to keep the tether pretty short.”
Nothing else in Mr. Obama’s first term has baffled liberal supporters and confounded conservative critics alike as his aggressive counterterrorism record. His actions have often remained inscrutable, obscured by awkward secrecy rules, polarized political commentary and the president’s own deep reserve.
In interviews with The New York Times, three dozen of his current and former advisers described Mr. Obama’s evolution since taking on the role, without precedent in presidential history, of personally overseeing the shadow war with Al Qaeda.
They describe a paradoxical leader who shunned the legislative deal-making required to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, but approves lethal action without hand-wringing. While he was adamant about narrowing the fight and improving relations with the Muslim world, he has followed the metastasizing enemy into new and dangerous lands. When he applies his lawyering skills to counterterrorism, it is usually to enable, not constrain, his ferocious campaign against Al Qaeda — even when it comes to killing an American cleric in Yemen, a decision that Mr. Obama told colleagues was “an easy one.”
His first term has seen private warnings from top officials about a “Whac-A-Mole” approach to counterterrorism; the invention of a new category of aerial attack following complaints of careless targeting; and presidential acquiescence in a formula for counting civilian deaths that some officials think is skewed to produce low numbers.
The administration’s failure to forge a clear detention policy has created the impression among some members of Congress of a take-no-prisoners policy. And Mr. Obama’s ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron P. Munter, has complained to colleagues that the C.I.A.’s strikes drive American policy there, saying “he didn’t realize his main job was to kill people,” a colleague said.
Beside the president at every step is his counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, who is variously compared by colleagues to a dogged police detective, tracking terrorists from his cavelike office in the White House basement, or a priest whose blessing has become indispensable to Mr. Obama, echoing the president’s attempt to apply the “just war” theories of Christian philosophers to a brutal modern conflict.
But the strikes that have eviscerated Al Qaeda — just since April, there have been 14 in Yemen, and 6 in Pakistan — have also tested both men’s commitment to the principles they have repeatedly said are necessary to defeat the enemy in the long term. Drones have replaced Guantánamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants; in his 2010 guilty plea, Faisal Shahzad, who had tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square, justified targeting civilians by telling the judge, “When the drones hit, they don’t see children.”
Dennis C. Blair, director of national intelligence until hewas fired in May 2010, said that discussions inside the White House of long-term strategy against Al Qaeda were sidelined by the intense focus on strikes. “The steady refrain in the White House was, ‘This is the only game in town’ — reminded me of body counts in Vietnam,” said Mr. Blair, a retired admiral who began his Navy service during that war.
Mr. Blair’s criticism, dismissed by White House officials as personal pique, nonetheless resonates inside the government.
William M. Daley, Mr. Obama’s chief of staff in 2011, said the president and his advisers understood that they could not keep adding new names to a kill list, from ever lower on the Qaeda totem pole. What remains unanswered is how much killing will be enough.
“One guy gets knocked off, and the guy’s driver, who’s No. 21, becomes 20?” Mr. Daley said, describing the internal discussion. “At what point are you just filling the bucket with numbers?”
‘Maintain My Options’
A phalanx of retired generals and admirals stood behind Mr. Obama on the second day of his presidency, providing martial cover as he signed several executive orders to make good on campaign pledges. Brutal interrogation techniqueswere banned, he declared. And the prison at Guantánamo Bay would be closed.
What the new president did not say was that the orders contained a few subtle loopholes. They reflected a still unfamiliar Barack Obama, a realist who, unlike some of his fervent supporters, was never carried away by his own rhetoric. Instead, he was already putting his lawyerly mind to carving out the maximum amount of maneuvering room to fight terrorism as he saw fit.
It was a pattern that would be seen repeatedly, from his response to Republican complaints that he wanted to read terrorists their rights, to his acceptance of the C.I.A.’s method for counting civilian casualties in drone strikes.
The day before the executive orders were issued, the C.I.A.’s top lawyer, John A. Rizzo, had called the White House in a panic. The order prohibited the agency from operating detention facilities, closing once and for all the secret overseas “black sites” where interrogators had brutalized terrorist suspects.
“The way this is written, you are going to take us out of the rendition business,” Mr. Rizzo told Gregory B. Craig, Mr. Obama’s White House counsel, referring to the much-criticized practice of grabbing a terrorist suspect abroad and delivering him to another country for interrogation or trial. The problem, Mr. Rizzo explained, was that the C.I.A. sometimes held such suspects for a day or two while awaiting a flight. The order appeared to outlaw that.
Mr. Craig assured him that the new president had no intention of ending rendition — only its abuse, which could lead to American complicity in torture abroad. So a new definition of “detention facility” was inserted, excluding places used to hold people “on a short-term, transitory basis.” Problem solved — and no messy public explanation damped Mr. Obama’s celebration.
“Pragmatism over ideology,” his campaign national security team had advised in a memo in March 2008. It was counsel that only reinforced the president’s instincts.
Even before he was sworn in, Mr. Obama’s advisers had warned him against taking a categorical position on what would be done with Guantánamo detainees. The deft insertion of some wiggle words in the president’s order showed that the advice was followed.
-- To say that Facebook's debut as a public company was bungled is something like saying Facebook is a website you might have heard of.
Either way, a colossal understatement.
The response from small-time investors has been equal parts frustration, confusion and bitterness. Fed up, some are dumping their shares and accepting the losses. Others, while miffed, are holding on and hoping to ride the stock's eventual success.
Some blame themselves for embracing the hype over a company whose underlying value likely didn't merit the price at which it went public. But many accuse Facebook and its underwriting banks of setting the price too high and for trying to sell too many shares.
Others are pointing fingers at the Nasdaq stock market for botching buy and sell orders on opening day. Or they're angry over brokers who pushed them to buy.
And others are irked over reports that Morgan Stanley, which guided Facebook through its public debut, told only some select clients of an analyst's negative report about Facebook before its stock began trading May 18.
Michael Hines had felt uneasy about Facebook. He thought the shares were priced too high, and the excitement overblown – especially once the company raised its target price for the opening two days beforehand. Yet when the chance arose to buy into the company's $38-a-share initial public offering, he seized it.
"I figured: Nothing ventured, nothing gained," said Hines, 61, a retiree and private investor in Boston.
Now, he wishes he'd listened to his misgivings. Instead, Hines watched with dismay as the stock languished on its first day, then slid on its second. On Tuesday, determined to unburden himself of a nagging headache, he sold his shares at $32.76, taking a loss on his investment. He declined to say how many shares he'd bought.
The richest women may span the globe, but two of them come from the same family: the Waltons.
Two of the Walmart heirs capture spots one and and three on Wealth-X’s list of the world’s richest women. Valued at $29.8 and $28.2 billion respectively, the two women are part of a family that’s worth the same amount as the bottom 30 percent of Americans, according to an analysis from a labor economist at the University of California-Berkeley.
Other super-wealthy women that made Wealth-X’s cut include Australian mining mogul Gina Rinehart, valued at $29.1 billion, and French socialite Liliane Bettencourt, who is valued at $24 billion.
WASHINGTON -- Government spending and debt are emerging as a campaign tug-of-war, with Mitt Romney blaming President Barack Obama for a "prairie fire of debt" and Obama calling the charge a "cowpie of distortion." House Speaker John Boehner is talking about a debt ceiling that is still more than eight months away.
What gives? In a word, polling.
The American public is growing increasingly distressed about government spending and high budgets. The issue now ranks as high on the worry scale as lack of jobs. And it worked well for Republicans in 2010, who galvanized voters with ads and flyers that drew attention to government red ink and took back control of the U.S. House after four years of Democratic rule.
Republicans are looking for that magic again.
Romney has maintained a drumbeat of criticism over Obama's handling of federal spending and the national debt in recent weeks, forcing the president on the defensive on an issue where public opinion is stacked against him.
In Iowa earlier this month, Romney said a "prairie fire of debt" was sweeping across the nation, threatening the country's future. He accused Obama of inflating the debt that he had pledged to reduce and ballooning the federal budget deficit with the 2009 economic stimulus and 2010 health care bill after saying he would cut it sharply.
Obama, in campaign events in Colorado, California and Iowa this week, argued that federal spending had slowed to rates not seen in decades after he inherited a $1 trillion large debt and later pushed for $2 trillion in spending cuts. The president pointed to Romney's tax proposal, saying it would give millionaires tax cuts at the expense of the debt.
Obama called Romney's claims a "cowpie of distortion" and would saddle the debt with $5 trillion in new tax cuts, likening it to trying to put out "a prairie fire with some gasoline."
"What happens is, the Republicans run up the tab, and then we're sitting there and they've left the restaurant," Obama said at a campaign event in Des Moines. "And then they point and (say), `Why did you order all those steaks and martinis?'"
Donald Stewart, of Somerset, N.J., stands next to his wife, Betty Stewart, at the grave of her son, U.S. Navy veteran Twain S. Bryant, during Memorial Day ceremonies at Brig. General William C. Doyle Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Wrightstown N.J., Saturday, May 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
The Associated Press
(AP) -- Boy Scouts carry a large American flag through the Memphis National Cemetery in Tennessee, where scouts also placed flags on 42,000 graves. In Little Rock, Ark., a 4-year-old girl fills her arms with flags to place on gravesites.
Across the U.S. this weekend, Americans are honoring the fallen, veterans and military personnel in ceremonies and private remembrances.
Here's a gallery of AP photos from Memorial Day weekend.