White House rejects ‘sham referendums’ in occupied Ukraine – as it happened – The Guardian US

White House rejects ‘sham’ referendums in occupied Ukraine

National security adviser Jake Sullivan says the Biden administration will be “unequivocal” in rejecting the “sham referendums” in four Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine.

Speaking at a White House press briefing, Sullivan said the announcement of the votes in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, which analysts say is a likely forerunner to the Kremlin formally annexing the provinces, is “an affront to the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity that underpin the international system”:

We know that these referenda will be manipulated. We know that Russia will use the sham referenda as a basis to purportedly annex these territories, either now or in the future.

Let me be clear, if this does transpire, the United States will never recognize Russia’s claims to any purportedly annexed parts of Ukraine. We will never recognize this territory as anything other than a part of Ukraine. We reject Russia’s actions unequivocally.

Sullivan also addressed reports of new Russian mobilization measures, including the calling up of prisoners to shore up depleted troop numbers:

This is reflective of Russia’s struggles in Ukraine. [Russian president Vladimir Putin] may be resorting to partial mobilization, forcing even more Russians to go fight his brutal war in Ukraine, in part because they simply need more personnel and manpower given the success that Ukraine has had on the battlefield, particularly in the north east but even pushing into other parts of previously occupied territory.

The bottom line is that Russia is throwing together sham referendums on three days’ notice as they continue to lose ground on the battlefield and as more world leaders distance themselves from Russia on the public stage.

Russia is scraping for personnel to throw into this fight. These are not the actions of the competent country. These are not acts of strength, quite the opposite.

Key events

Closing summary

That’s a wrap on Tuesday’s US politics blog. Thanks for joining us.

It was a brutal afternoon for Donald Trump, whose lawyers were excoriated by the “special master” in his document-hoarding case for having no proof to back up the former president’s vocal proclamations he declassified the papers before he left office.

Judge Raymond Dearie, who was the Trump team’s nomination to act as independent arbiter in the justice department’s criminal investigation, told his attorneys at a hearing in New York: “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”

Here’s what else we followed:

  • Florida’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis refused to confirm reports he was behind another planeload of migrants reportedly sent on Tuesday to Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware. The White House decried as “a political stunt” DeSantis’s action to dump about 50 Venezuelan migrants in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, last week.

  • The flow of so-called “dark money” in politics is damaging democracy in the US and eroding public trust, Joe Biden said at an afternoon briefing in which he called on Congress to pass the Disclose Act requiring sizeable campaign donations to be declared.

  • The White House says the US will never accept Russia attempting to annex occupied areas of Ukraine through “sham” referendums, the Biden administration’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan told a press briefing at the White House.

  • Sullivan offered a preview of Joe Biden’s address to the United Nations general assembly on Wednesday, saying the president will offer a strong rebuke of Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, and make “significant new announcements” about his government’s investments to address global food insecurity.

  • White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden was “closely monitoring” the devastating impact of Hurricane Fiona on Puerto Rico, and says hundreds of federal emergency workers are already on the ground, including Fema administrator Deanne Criswell.

  • Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell says he is now “cautiously optimistic” about his party’s chances of winning back control of the chamber in November’s midterm elections, Axios reports. The former Senate leader had previously expressed doubt about a Republican majority.

Please join us again tomorrow.

If Judge Raymond Dearie’s first meeting with Donald Trump’s lawyers on Tuesday is anything to go by, the former president’s insistence on a “special master” for his classified documents case is backfiring spectacularly.

According to reports of their meeting in New York this afternoon, which was also attended by attorneys for the justice department, Dearie was brutal in his dismissal of the Trump legal team’s assertions that papers marked “top secret” found at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach last month were not classified.

Trump has claimed, with no evidence whatsoever, that he declassified the documents before he left office. And now Dearie, who was proposed by Trump’s team to serve as the special master to independently vet the documents, is calling him on it, demanding to see proof from his lawyers that such an act took place.

They had none.

“You can’t have your cake and eat it too,” Dearie said, according to Politico.

NEW: Special master in Trump Mar-a-Lago docs case chides Trump lawyers for declining to produce evidence of declassification. Judge Dearie: ‘You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.’ More from Brooklyn. w/@kyledcheneyhttps://t.co/urQaYOP1F7

— Josh Gerstein (@joshgerstein) September 20, 2022

Dearie was appointed last week to the role of independent arbiter by Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee, in a surprise ruling that halted the justice department’s criminal investigation into thousands of documents found in the FBI search.

Trump had claimed he had earlier returned to the National Archives all the boxes of documents he took from the White House to Florida when he left office in January 2021.

Cannon denied a request from the justice department to be allowed to resume their investigation last week, prompting an immediate appeal, and an indication from department lawyers on Tuesday they were prepared to take their argument to the supreme court.

Dearie indicated that he considered closed the issue of whether the documents were classified or not.

“What business is it of the court?” he said.

“As far as I’m concerned, that’s the end of the matter.”

Trump documents case ‘special master’ meets with lawyers

The “special master” appointed to look into top secret documents seized by the FBI last month in a search of Donald Trump’s Florida home has met with lawyers for the former president and the justice department this afternoon.

According to early accounts, Judge Raymond Dearie did not appear sympathetic to Trump’s assertions, which haven’t been repeated by his legal team on the record, that he declassified the documents before leaving office.

The justice department has argued the papers are in fact classified, and it needs to be allowed to continue its investigation into Trump’s improper handling of them.

We’ll have more details of the meeting as we learn them.

BREAKING: Judge Dearie makes clear he is taking government’s position that the classified Mar-a-Lago documents are in fact classified.

“What business is it of the court? … As far as I’m concerned that’s the end of it.”

Trump’s insistence on a special master is NOT going well.

— Tristan Snell (@TristanSnell) September 20, 2022

New DeSantis migrant flight ‘heading for Delaware’

Ron DeSantis is refusing to confirm reports that he’s sent another planeload of migrants that reports suggest will imminently touch down in Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware.

The White House on Tuesday decried as “a political stunt” the Republican Florida governor’s action to dump about 50 Venezuelan migrants in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, last week, and today’s reported flight from Texas of more to a small airport in Delaware.

Migrants in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, last week.
Migrants in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, last week. Photograph: Ray Ewing/AP

The Biden administration was “coordinating” with federal and local authorities in Delaware to aid those on the flight, the White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at her afternoon briefing.

She said DeSantis had not attempted to contact the administration:

Alerting Fox News, and not city or state officials about a plan to abandon children fleeing communism on the side of the street is not burden sharing. It is a cruel, premeditated political stunt.

DeSantis, speaking at a morning press conference in Bradenton, Florida, refused to say he was behind today’s reported flight of migrants to Delaware, WESH2 News said.

“I cannot confirm that, I can’t,” DeSantis said when asked by reporters if he had arranged the flight.

He also defended dropping off the Massachusetts migrants with no notice, blamed the government, and attempted to paint himself as their savior:

Those migrants were being treated horribly by Biden. They were hungry, homeless, had no opportunity at all.

DeSantis’s asylum flights, meanwhile, are now the subject of a criminal inquiry in Texas:

Biden: ‘Dark money’ erodes public trust

The flow of so-called “dark money” in politics is damaging democracy in the US and eroding public trust, Joe Biden has said at an afternoon briefing in which he called on Congress to pass the Disclose Act requiring sizeable campaign donations to be declared.

In the address from the White House, the president highlighted a recent example of an anonymous donor who secretly transferred $1.6bn to a Republican political group as one reason for needing to curb the “influence on our elections” of undeclared streams of cash.

Joe Biden speaks about the Disclose Act at the White House on Tuesday.
Joe Biden speaks about the Disclose Act at the White House on Tuesday. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Biden called on Republicans to join congressional Democrats to sign the act, which would require the disclosure of individual donations of $10,000 and above during an election cycle, and ban foreign money outright:

A conservative activist who spent decades working to put enough conservative justices on the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade now has access to $1.6bn in dark money to do more damage and, from our perspective, restrict more freedoms.

Dark money erodes public trust. Republicans should join Democrats to pass the Disclose Act and to get it on my desk right away.

Dark money has become so common in our politics, I believe sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Biden said Republicans had so far shown little interest in “more openness and accountability” other than “Republican governors and state legislatures in Tennessee and Wyoming that have passed disclosure laws”:

Let’s remember, getting dark money out of our politics has been a bipartisan issue in the past. My deceased friend [Republican former Arizona senator] John McCain spent a lot of time fighting for campaign finance reform.

For him, it was a matter of fundamental fairness. And he was 100% right about that.

Interim summary

Here’s where things stand midway through a busy day in US politics:

  • The White House says the US will never accept Russia attempting to annex occupied areas of Ukraine through “sham” referendums, the Biden administration’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan told a press briefing at the White House.

  • Sullivan offered a preview of Joe Biden’s address to the United Nations general assembly on Wednesday, saying the president will offer a strong rebuke of Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, and make “significant new announcements” about his government’s investments to address global food insecurity.

  • White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden was “closely monitoring” the devastating impact of Hurricane Fiona on Puerto Rico, and says hundreds of federal emergency workers are already on the ground, including Fema administrator Deanne Criswell.

  • Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell says he is now “cautiously optimistic” about his party’s chances of winning back control of the chamber in November’s midterm elections, Axios reports. The former Senate leader had previously expressed doubt about a Republican majority.

White House rejects ‘sham’ referendums in occupied Ukraine

National security adviser Jake Sullivan says the Biden administration will be “unequivocal” in rejecting the “sham referendums” in four Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine.

Speaking at a White House press briefing, Sullivan said the announcement of the votes in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, which analysts say is a likely forerunner to the Kremlin formally annexing the provinces, is “an affront to the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity that underpin the international system”:

We know that these referenda will be manipulated. We know that Russia will use the sham referenda as a basis to purportedly annex these territories, either now or in the future.

Let me be clear, if this does transpire, the United States will never recognize Russia’s claims to any purportedly annexed parts of Ukraine. We will never recognize this territory as anything other than a part of Ukraine. We reject Russia’s actions unequivocally.

Sullivan also addressed reports of new Russian mobilization measures, including the calling up of prisoners to shore up depleted troop numbers:

This is reflective of Russia’s struggles in Ukraine. [Russian president Vladimir Putin] may be resorting to partial mobilization, forcing even more Russians to go fight his brutal war in Ukraine, in part because they simply need more personnel and manpower given the success that Ukraine has had on the battlefield, particularly in the north east but even pushing into other parts of previously occupied territory.

The bottom line is that Russia is throwing together sham referendums on three days’ notice as they continue to lose ground on the battlefield and as more world leaders distance themselves from Russia on the public stage.

Russia is scraping for personnel to throw into this fight. These are not the actions of the competent country. These are not acts of strength, quite the opposite.

White House: Biden ‘to rebuke Russia’ at UN summit

Joe Biden is heading for the United Nations summit in New York “with the wind at his back”, and will deliver a firm rebuke of Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, national security adviser Jake Sullivan is telling reporters at the White House.

He’s speaking at the daily press briefing and outlining what the president will be talking about in his address to the UN general assembly on Wednesday morning, as well as taking a dig at world leaders who won’t be there:

We’re making historic investments at home; our alliances are stronger than they’ve been in modern memory; our robust, united support for Ukraine has helped the Ukrainians push back against Russian aggression; and we’re leading the world in response to the most significant transnational challenges that the world faces from global health to global food security to global supply chains to tackling the climate crisis.

Meanwhile, our competitors are facing increasingly strong headwinds, and neither President Xi [Jinping of China] nor [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin are even showing up to this global gathering.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan speaks at a press briefing at the White House on Tuesday.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan speaks at a press briefing at the White House on Tuesday. Photograph: Andrew Harnik/AP

Sullivan says Biden will concentrate on foreign policy in his address on Wednesday morning:

He’ll offer a firm rebuke of Russia’s unjust war in Ukraine and make a call to the world to continue to stand against the naked aggression that we’ve seen these past several months.

He will underscore the importance of strengthening the UN and reaffirm core tenets of its charter at a time when a permanent member of the security council has struck at the very heart of the charter by challenging the principle of territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Sullivan adds Biden will also make “significant new announcements” about the US government’s investments to address global food insecurity, and hold a number of meetings with other world leaders, including his discussions with new UK prime minister Liz Truss.

An afternoon “pledging session” hosted by Biden for the global fund to fight HIV, Aids, tuberculosis and malaria is expected to “produce a historic outcome in terms of the financial commitments made by our partners and by the US”, Sullivan adds.

Jean-Pierre: White House ‘monitoring’ Hurricane Fiona impact

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre says the Biden administration is “closely monitoring” the impact of Hurricane Fiona on Puerto Rico, and says hundreds of federal emergency workers are already on the ground in the island.

She opened up her daily press briefing at the White House with some words of comfort:

As the president has said, we are keeping the people of Puerto Rico in our prayers. Before the hurricane made landfall, President Biden issued an emergency disaster declaration to ensure the federal government was ready to surge resources and emergency assistance to Puerto Rico.

The President called Governor [Pedro] Pierluisi from Air Force One to discuss Puerto Rico’s immediate needs as the storm made landfall. Today, Fema [Federal Emergency Management Agency] administrator Deanne Criswell will be on the ground to assess the emergency response.

Hundreds of Fema and federal responders are on the ground in Puerto Rico, including US army corps of engineer power restoration experts. And urban search and rescue teams. More federal responders are arriving in the coming days.

President Biden is receiving regular updates on the storm and these emergency efforts.

Mary Peltota’s election as the first Native Alaskan to represent the state in Congress had even more historical significance.

As NPR notes today, it means that for the first time, spanning back more than 230 years, Indigenous people are fully represented with a Native American, a Native Alaskan and a Native Hawaiian all in the House of Representatives.

Congressman Kaiali’i Kahele of Hawaii tweeted a photo of himself with Peltota, and Sharice Davids of Kansas, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation.

It has taken 233 years for the U.S. Congress to be fully represented by this country’s indigenous peoples.

Tonight, a Native American, a Native Alaskan & a Native Hawaiian are sitting members of the people’s House.

Welcome U.S. Representative Peltola to the 117th Congress! 🤙🏽 pic.twitter.com/AxJ8MH7aLQ

— Congressman Kaiali‘i Kahele (@RepKahele) September 14, 2022

The House press gallery notes all six Indigenous Americans who are members here.

Democrat Peltota, also the first woman elected to represent Alaska in the House, beat off a challenge from the state’s former governor and Republican former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin to capture the seat last month.

Democratic senator Amy Klobuchar is seizing on the occasion of National Voter Registration Day to make a new, likely quixotic, bid to make it easier to go to the polls nationwide.

The Minnesota lawmaker has introduced two bills containing ideas included in a major voting rights proposal that died earlier this year. First is the Same Day Voter Registration Act, which is intended to expand Americans’ ability to register to vote at the same time as they cast ballots. The second, the Save Voters Act, would clamp down on states’ ability to kick people off voting rolls, while offering new flexibility to Americans who have recently moved and are looking to cast ballots.

Don’t expect either measure to pass the chamber. Not only are senators really busy, the bills would probably need at least 10 Republican votes in addition to all Democrats to overcome a filibuster, and the GOP has showed few signs of changing its mind about such laws.

On another note, the Guardian’s Richard Luscombe is now at the reigns of the blog, and will take you through the afternoon, including Joe Biden’s speech on a proposal to require more disclosure from the super PACs that have become influential in American politics.

The gears of justice continue turning in the case of the alleged government secrets found at Mar-a-Lago, with lawyers for Donald Trump facing a deadline today to file their latest response in the case. Here’s the latest from Ramon Antonio Vargas on the saga:

Donald Trump’s legal team has acknowledged the possibility that the former president could be indicted amid the investigation into his retention of government secrets at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

Despite claiming days earlier that Trump couldn’t imagine being charged, his lawyers made the stark admission in a court filing on Monday proposing how to conduct an outside review of documents that were seized by the FBI in August.

A special court official appointed to help administer the review process, the federal judge Raymond Dearie, had previously asked Trump to detail any materials stored at Mar-a-Lago that he may have decided to declassify. In the court filing, Trump’s lawyers said that requiring him to do so could hurt any possible defense should he later be charged, and that he should not have to “fully and specifically disclose a defense to the merits of any subsequent indictment without such a requirement being evident” during the review.

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