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Trump tours border, repeats threat to declare national emergency

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Washington | US President Donald Trump on Friday appeared to be inching closer to imposing a national emergency that could allow him to bypass Congress to fund a controversial wall along the US-Mexico border that has led to a bitter political impasse and a 21-day government shutdown.

Trump has asked for USD 5.6 billion from Congress to construct the border wall, which he said is crucial to stop the flow of illegal immigrants and smuggling of drugs into the country.

The Democrats have repeatedly refused to approve any legislation to fund the wall. The standoff led to the partial government shutdown.

During his visit to the southern border state Texas on Thursday to push for the wall plan, Trump was asked if he is closer to declaring an emergency — an action that would likely face legal challenges.

“We are. I would like to look it broader. I think we could do this quickly because this is common sense and it’s not expensive. We will save the cost of the wall every year but much more than that,” the president said.

Trump had on Wednesday said that imposing a national emergency is the last option and threatened to use it if the Democrats did not allocate USD 5.7 billion funding for the wall.

The president’s inclination towards declaring a national emergency has gained momentum after he walked out of a meeting with top Democratic leaders — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer — on Wednesday following their refusal to allocate funding.

During an interaction with media personnel in Texas on Thursday, Trump said, “I would like to do a much broader form of immigration, and we can do immigration reform. It’ll take longer. It’s been complex. It’s been going on for 30-35 years, they’ve been talking about immigration reform. But before we do that, we have to create a barrier. That we could do very quickly.”

Contending strongly for construction of a barrier, concrete or steel, along the southern border with Mexico, the president has been claiming that illegal immigrants cause USD 250 billion drain on the American economy.

Republican leaders insist the party stands behind the president, although some Republican lawmakers have spoken out in favour of ending the shutdown.

The opposition Democrats, who are now in majority in the House of Representatives have refused to support such a move arguing that building the wall is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Referring to his meeting with Reggie Singh, the brother of Indian-origin policeman Ronil Singh killed in California recently allegedly by an illegal immigrant during a border patro, Trump said, “Reggie, I got to know him today a little bit. This shouldn’t be happening in our country.”

“This shouldn’t be happening. And what you see of the border, that’s not as much of a problem as they (illegal immigrants) come through the border and they go out throughout our nation,” Trump said.

“As hard as we work, and as well as we’re doing nationwide on crime, a lot of it is caused by people that come in through the southern border. So, and you know, if we had the barrier, it wouldn’t happen,” he told reporters.

But the Democrats appeared to be unconvinced by Trump’s argument of national emergency.

“If and when the President does that, you’ll find out how we will react, but I’m not going to that place now. But I think the president will have problems on his own side of the aisle for exploiting the situation in a way that enhances his power. But not to go there. Let’s see what he does,” Pelosi told reporters at the Capitol Hill.

Democratic Congresswoman Grace Meng from New York on Thursday announced that a legislation would be introduced in the House of Representatives on Friday to prevent Trump from declaring a national emergency.

Some others said that they will file a lawsuit against national emergency.

Trump said he is ready for the lawsuit and asserted that he will win it.

“I am prepared for anything. The lawyers tell me, like, 100 per cent,” he told reporters.

As the government shutdown neared the end of its third week, the president left Washington with no additional negotiations scheduled with congressional leaders over a possible compromise that could both provide border security and open the government.

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Pakistan court grants bail to Nawaz Sharif for his treatment

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Islamabad | In a relief to Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday granted bail to the jailed former prime minister for six weeks in a corruption case on medical grounds.

Sharif, 69, is in jail since December last year, serving 7-year imprisonment in the Al Azizia Steel Mills graft case.

He filed appeal earlier this month against a judgment by the Islamabad High Court which on February 25 rejected his bail on medical grounds in the same case.

A three-member bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa in a short order granted bail to Sharif for six weeks for his treatment.

But the court ruled he cannot go out of the country during this period.

Three corruption cases – Avenfield properties, Flagship investment and Al-Azizia steel mills – were registered against the Sharif family by the anti-graft body in 2017 following a judgment by the Supreme Court that disqualified Sharif in the Panama Papers case in 2017.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison in the Avenfiled corruption case in July 2018 which was related to his properties in London. Later he was given bail in September.

In December, the accountability court convicted him in the Al-Azizia graft case but acquitted him in the Flagship corruption case.

The Al-Azizia Steel Mill case is related to setting up steel mills in Saudi Arabia allegedly with corruption money.

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I regret not testifying at my trial: Rajat Gupta

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New York | Rajat Gupta, India-born former Managing Director of McKinsey, feels not testifying at his insider trading trial was a “bad call” and he regrets not taking the stand in his defence.

Gupta, 70, has penned his memoir Mind Without Fear’ that released Monday and tells of his dramatic rise to the top of the corporate and financial world in America and then his fall after being charged in 2012 in one of the largest insider trading cases in the US. He served a 19-month prison term and was released in 2016.

“I always believed that I should testify and I kept telling this to my lawyers. Till the very last weekend (of the trial) I was going to testify,” Gupta told PTI in an interview here.

The former director of Goldman Sachs said he had been telling his lawyers to prepare him to testify in court and he had been preparing himself for it. He, however, said that his lawyers advised him throughout the case that he should not take the stand in the courtroom.

“They kept saying don’t testify, don’t testify. It was a bad call on my part. I always regret it (not testifying in court),” he said adding that it was a very difficult circumstance for him since he did not know anything about the legal system. “Here were my lawyers, my advisers who are supposed to be in my interest. Right? They kept saying don’t testify,” he said.

Gupta said throughout his life as a consultant, he has given advice to his clients and they listened to him. “The situation was reversed. I was the client. So in the end I succumbed to their arguments. I felt it was a moment of weakness. I feel very badly about it that I didn’t testify,” he said.

In 2012, Gupta was found guilty of passing confidential boardroom information to then hedge fund founder Raj Rajaratnam, who is currently serving 11 years in prison for insider trading. One such information the prosecutors alleged Gupta shared with Rajaratnam in September 2008 was about Berkshire Hathaway’s five billion dollar investment in Goldman Sachs.

The prosecutors said Gupta participated in the Goldman Sachs board meeting via telephone and then 16 seconds after the Goldman call ended, he called Rajaratnam’s direct office line at the Galleon Group hedge fund.

Gupta maintains that he did not pass any inside information to Rajaratnam and said that it was routine for him to make phone calls when he got out of board meetings. “They (prosecutors) made a big thing about 16 seconds. I make calls after board meetings all the time, within 16 seconds. I get out of the board meeting, I make a call generally. I make call to my secretary saying who do I have to call, what do I have to attend to,” he said.

Gupta pointed out that Goldman chairman and chief executive Lloyd Blankfein had admitted during the trial he too used to make phone calls after getting out of board meetings. “The fact that I called him (Rajaratnam) after 16 seconds has no particular meaning. It’s just the normal procedure,” he said.

Gupta notes that “all I can remember” about the call was that he had been trying to contact Rajaratnam for information about his account related to the Voyager investment. During the trial, Gupta’s lawyers had presented evidence that Rajaratnam had cheated Gupta out of USD 10 million in the Voyager investment.

Gupta said he had called Rajaratnam on the morning of that September day and had spoken to him for several minutes because he needed some information about the Voyager account, which Rajaratnam was not giving to him.

He said he had been “exasperated” trying to get the Voyager information from Rajaratnam. Gupta’s bank needed the information and Rajaratnam said during the call that he would give Gupta the information later that day. “That I remember clearly,” he said.

“After the board meeting, I called my secretary. If I were to pass inside information to Raj, I would have called him directly. I didn’t. I called my secretary. I said ‘Did Raj send the information’. She said no. I said ‘Get me Raj’,” Gupta said, explaining the circumstances of his call to Rajaratnam after the Goldman board meeting.

He added that as his case began four years later, he didn’t even remember whether he was able to connect with Rajaratnam over phone that day. “I don’t know whether it was just his secretary or he was there or what. Because I don’t remember any conversation,” he said.

Gupta said had he testified at his trial, he would have definitely shared all the details with the jury. Gupta replied “of course” when asked if he feels he was wrongly convicted. “The fact that I appealed every step of the way should tell you that I am not an insider trader,” he said.

He pointed out that insider trading involves three things – there has to be evidence that one passed insider information, there has to be a quid pro quo and that the person giving inside information has to have a significant benefit. The prosecutors “demonstrated nothing of the second two. They had circumstantial evidence, just connecting the timing. But there is no real evidence,” he said.

In January this year, Gupta had suffered a setback when the Second Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his bid to throw out his 2012 insider-trading conviction, affirming a lower court’s ruling in the case. Gupta had been arguing that he served time in jail for conduct that is not criminal even though the government lacked evidence to show he “received even a penny” for passing confidential boardroom information to Rajaratnam.

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Pentagon authorizes USD 1 bn for Trump’s border wall

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Washington | Acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan said on Monday he had authorized USD 1 billion to build part of the wall sought by President Donald Trump along the US-Mexico border.

The Department of Homeland Security asked the Pentagon to build 92 kilometers of 5.5-meter fencing, build and improve roads, and install lighting to support Trump’s emergency declaration as concerns the border.

Shanahan “authorized the commander of the US Army Corps of Engineers to begin planning and executing up to USD 1 billion in support to the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Patrol,” a Pentagon statement read.

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