Walmart under fire for pro-gun T-shirts

In wake of two shootings, T-shirts sold by third-party vendors on Walmart website ignite social media storm.Following a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas and a shooting at a Walmart in Southaven, Mississippi, the largest retailer in the United States is facing criticism for allowing the sale of pro-gun tee-shirts on its website [File: Luke E. Montavon/Bloomberg]

Following a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas and a shooting at a Walmart in Southaven, Mississippi, the largest retailer in the United States is facing criticism for allowing the sale of pro-gun tee-shirts on its website [File: Luke E. Montavon/Bloomberg]

Walmart Inc., already facing pressure for being a major vendor of guns and ammunition in the U.S. after a pair of shootings inside its stores, is feeling renewed heat on social media over a selection of pro-gun T-shirts for sale on its website from third-party vendors.

One shirt, for sale by a vendor called Tee’s Plus, suggests buyers can either be gun owners or victims. Another, offered by third-party seller Old Glory, is emblazoned with a crosshairs reading “gun control is being able to hit your target.”

Commenters on social media were divided on the gun owner shirt. Some called it “disgusting” and “horrifying,” while others argued that “most people in the country completely agree with the sentiment of this shirt.”

As news outlets began to report on the shirts, some of the original listings were no longer available.

Two people died in a shooting at a Walmart in Mississippi on July 30. More than 40 were shot in an unrelated attack Aug. 3 at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas. An additional shooting may have been thwarted Thursday when a gunman wearing body armor was stopped by an armed private citizen outside a Walmart in Springfield, Missouri.

A spokesman for Walmart did not immediately reply to a request for comment. The t-shirts weren’t being sold by Walmart itself, but by outside sellers who can sign up to advertise products on Walmart’s website.

As one of the country’s biggest firearms retailers, Walmart is a frequent target of anti-violence activists. In 2015, the company stopped selling military-style weapons, citing sluggish demand. Last year the company said it would increase the age to purchase firearms and ammunition to 21 years old.

It’s not the first time Walmart has gotten into hot water for controversial t-shirts for sale on its website. The retailer felt heat in 2017 after a third-party seller offered t-shirts that suggested killing journalists. The t-shirts read: “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.” Last year, its website offered t-shirts from third-party sellers with “IMPEACH 45” emblazoned across the front in big capital letters — a call to bring down the 45th U.S. president, Donald Trump.

–With assistance from Leslie Patton and Joe Deaux.

Amash first Republican legislator to call for Trump’s impeachment

In a series of tweets, legislator Justin Amash says the US president has engaged in ‘impeachable conduct’.

Amash first Republican legislator to call for Trump's impeachment
Amash sent a series of tweets, faulting Trump and Attorney General William Barr over Mueller’s report 

Republican legislator Justin Amash has said he believes Donald Trump has engaged in “impeachable conduct”, becoming the first politician from his party to call for removing the US president.

The Michigan representative on Saturday also accused Attorney General William Barr of “deliberately” misleading the public over the actual content and tenor of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference aimed at tipping the election to Trump.

WATCH

The Mueller report: Can Trump be impeached?

In a series of tweets, Amash – a member of the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus – said “few members of Congress even read Mueller’s report,” which identified “multiple examples of conduct satisfying all the elements of obstruction of justice”.

“Undoubtedly any person who is not the president of the United States would be indicted based on such evidence,” he posted.

“Contrary to Barr’s portrayal, Mueller’s report reveals that President Trump engaged in specific actions and a pattern of behaviour that met the threshold for impeachment.”

Justin Amash

@justinamash

Here are my principal conclusions:
1. Attorney General Barr has deliberately misrepresented Mueller’s report.
2. President Trump has engaged in impeachable conduct.
3. Partisanship has eroded our system of checks and balances.
4. Few members of Congress have read the report.

Amash’s comments went even further than those by most Democratic leaders in Congress.

Fellow Michigan legislator Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat, urged Amash to co-sponsor her impeachment resolution.

“@justinamash come find me in 1628 Longworth. I’ve got an impeachment investigation resolution you’re going to want to cosponsor,” she wrote in response to Amash’s thread.

Trump has proclaimed he was fully exonerated by Mueller’s report.

But some Democrats, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, a 2020 presidential candidate who has called for impeachment proceedings, argue that the document lays out multiple occasions in which the president may have obstructed justice.

What is US impeachment? Six things to know

Other senior Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have cautioned against such a move, stressing it could deeply divide the nation of about 325 million people.

These Democrats warn it could backfire politically in the run-up to the 2020 election, especially with the Republican-controlled Senate likely to acquit the president in the event of impeachment by the House of Representatives.

Putin tells Pompeo he wants to ‘fully restore’ US-Russian ties

US secretary of state met Russian president and foreign minister to discuss Iran, Ukraine, Venezuela and Syria.

The Russian President Putin told Pompeo his country had not interfered in US elections [Pavel Golovkin/Pool via Reuters]
The Russian President Putin told Pompeo his country had not interfered in US elections

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he would like to “fully restore” relations with the United States and believes that his US counterpart Donald Trump wants to do the same.

Putin on Tuesday told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo he came to that conclusion after a phone call with Trump a few days ago.

The Russian president, speaking ahead of  a meeting with Pompeo, also said that his country had not interfered in US elections.

Earlier, Pompeo met Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi in hopes of finding common grounds in strategic issues over Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela.

At a joint news conference following the meeting, Pompeo urged Russia to end support for President Nicolas Maduro, but his call was flatly rejected by Moscow.

“The time has come for Nicolas Maduro to go, he has brought nothing but misery to the Venezuelan people, and we hope that Russian support for Maduro will end,” Pompeo said. The US along with about 50 other countries, backs the opposition movement led by Juan Guaido, who declared himself interim president in January.

For his part, Lavrov said Maduro’s future should be decided by the Venezuelan people and called US pressure on him undemocratic.

‘Many differences’ on Iran

Speaking on Iran, Russia’s ally, Lavrov said that Russia and the US “have many differences” and criticized the US decision to unilaterally withdraw from Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement meant to rein in the country’s nuclear programme.

US air carrier in the Gulf a target not a threat: Iran commander

Pompeo said that the US will respond appropriately to any Iranian attacks on US interests, in an apparent reference to the Iranian military’s threat to shut the strategic strait of Hormuz in the Gulf. The US secretary, however, added that his country did not “seek war with Iran”.

The US recently tightened restrictions on Iran’s nuclear programme by revoking key sanctions waivers, a move staunchly opposed by Moscow, over a year after Washington withdrew from a landmark deal that curbed Iran’s nuclear programme. It also imposed new sanctions on the country’s metal sector.

On the Ukrainian crisis, an issue the sides are also loggerheads, the Pompeo said the US would not recognize Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and would keep in place economic sanctions imposed on Russia over that move.

Mike Pompeo met Sergey Lavrov in Sochi to discuss a range of issues including Iran, Venezuela and Ukraine [Pavel Golovkin, Pool/AP]

Pompeo said he asked Moscow to free a group of Ukrainian sailors, seized by Russia last November, and to work with Ukraine‘s new president to bring peace to eastern Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Lavrov said that the Kremlin would welcome an official request by Washington for a meeting between the US and Russian presidents at a G20 summit scheduled for June.

US warning on 2020 polls

Pompeo also said he had made it clear to Lavrov that there could be no repeat of election interference of the kind Washington accuses Moscow of undertaking in the 2016 United States presidential election.

If Russia interferes in the 2020 presidential election, “it would put our relationship in an even worse place,” Pompeo said.

Ties between the two countries have been damaged by allegations that Russia tried to influence the results of the election in favour of Trump, a claim denied by Moscow.

Putin tells Pompeo he wants to ‘fully restore’ US-Russian ties

“It’s clear that such insinuations are absolute fiction,” Lavrov said at the joint press conference.

Pompeo’s visit represents the first high-level contact between Moscow and Washington since US Special Counsel Robert Mueller submitted a report examining the nature of Russia’s role in the 2016 election.

His inquiry had cast a pall over US-Russian relations, and Russian officials had expressed hope that Washington would have more scope to build friendlier relations with Moscow once it was out of the way.

Before his meeting with Pompeo, Putin praised the report.

“Despite the exotic nature of Mr Mueller’s commission, on the whole he conducted quite an objective investigation and confirmed the absence of any collusion between the US administration and Russia.”

The Mueller report called Russia’s efforts to influence the election “the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations”.

What is US impeachment? Six things to know

How does it work? Which presidents have been impeached? What do Americans think? A guide to the US impeachment process.
President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a rally at Aaron Bessant Amphitheater [Evan Vucci/AP Photo]
President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a rally at Aaron Bessant Amphitheater

As the confrontation between US President Donald Trump and Democrats over Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s Russia report intensifies, talk of impeachment has continued to swirl around Congress.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, has so far resisted calls to begin impeachment proceedings. Instead, House committees are aggressively investigating Trump, a Republican, through subpoenas of witnesses and documents.

In an April 22 letter to fellow Democratic politicians, Pelosi urged restraint and patience, insisting that it is “important to know that the facts regarding holding the president accountable can be gained outside of impeachment hearings”.

She repeated that sentiment on Thursday, saying Democrats will take a step-by-step approach. “We won’t go any faster than the facts take us or any slower,” she said.

But she did say that as Trump continues to stonewall congressional investigations, he is “becoming self-impeachable”.

Trump and his supporters argue the Mueller investigation into the president and Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election is “case-closed”.

Despite the top Democrats’ effort to tamp down impeachment talk, several Democrats, including some 2020 presidential contenders, want the House to start impeachment proceedings.

Here’s what you need to know about the US impeachment:

1. What is impeachment in the US political system?

The founders of the United States included impeachment in the US Constitution as an option for removal of presidents by Congress.

Top House Democrat agrees US faces ‘constitutional crisis’

Impeachment, a concept in English common law, was one of the more hotly debated points during the constitutional convention of 1787 in Philadelphia. Delegates agreed that presidents could be removed if found guilty by Congress of “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors”.

Sole authority under the Constitution to bring articles of impeachment is vested in the House of Representatives where proceedings can begin in the Judiciary Committee. If the House approves articles of impeachment, or “impeaches” a president, he or she would then be subject to trial in the US Senate.

2. On what grounds can a president be impeached? How does impeachment work?

Under the Constitution, the president, vice president and “all civil officers of the United States” can be removed from office for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors”.

To begin impeachment proceedings, a House member can introduce an impeachment resolution, or the entire House can vote to initiate an investigation into whether there are grounds for impeachment. The House Judiciary Committee or a special committee will then investigate. The panel votes on whether to bring a vote to the full House. Impeachment in the 435-member House must be approved with a simple majority.

Post-Mueller: Can Trump block witnesses, access to documents?

If the House votes to impeach, the matter moves to the Senate, where a trial is held. The chief justice of the US Supreme Court presides over the trial.

A two-thirds majority vote is required in the 100-member Senate to convict and remove a president from office.

The Senate is made up of 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats. At least 20 Republicans would have to vote with all Democrats and the two independents to remove the president.

3. Which presidents have been impeached?

Only two US presidents have ever been successfully impeached and in neither instance was the president removed from office. Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868 in the tumultuous aftermath of the American Civil War; and Bill Clinton in 1998 for issues including his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Both times, the House approved formal charges and impeached the president, only to have the Senate fail to convict and remove him.

The House Judiciary Committee in 1974 voted to recommend impeachment accusing another president, Richard Nixon, of planning to obstruct an investigation in the Watergate scandal. Before the full House could vote on impeachment, Nixon became the only US president ever to resign.

4. Who would become president if Trump was impeached and removed? What would happen to Trump?

A Senate conviction that removed Trump from office would automatically elevate Vice President Mike Pence to become president, completing Trump’s term, which ends on January 20, 2021.

Top House Democrat agrees US faces ‘constitutional crisis’

Criminal charges cannot be brought against a sitting president, however, the Constitution does allow for separate criminal charges once a president is removed.

5. What do the Democrats say about impeachment? What does Trump’s team say?

The Democratic leadership has so far tried to tamp down impeachment talk, instead advocating a “methodological” approach.

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt for his failure to hand over the full, unredacted Mueller report.

Pelosi said, however, that she isn’t going to rush the full House vote on the contempt resolution.

“This is very methodical, it’s very Constitution-based,” the top Democrat told reporters on Thursday. “We won’t go any faster than the facts take us, or any slower than the facts take us.”

Democrats want to see Mueller’s full Russia-Trump investigation report, as well as some of the underlying evidence.

Barr last month released a 448-page redacted version of Mueller’s report on his 22-month investigation into Russian election meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

US: White House orders ex-counsel McGahn to defy House subpoena

The redacted Mueller report details extensive contacts between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Moscow, as well as the campaign’s expectation of benefiting from Russia’s actions.

It did not establish that the Trump campaign conspired with Russian operatives.

The investigation did, however, examine “multiple acts by the president that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations”. Mueller did not conclude that Trump committed obstruction of justice, but did not exonerate him either. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein subsequently concluded that Trump did not break the law.

The Department of Justice has accused Democrats of engaging in “inappropriate political theatrics” – an accusation Democrats dismissed.

Hours before the House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Barr in contempt, Trump asserted executive privilege to block the release of the Mueller report.

The Trump administration has also blocked staffers and former aides from attending interviews or hearings, as well as having refused to disclose his subpoenaed tax returns.

Top Republicans have declared the Mueller investigation “case closed”.

“This investigation went on for two years,” McConnell said from the Senate floor. “It’s finally over.”

Can the Supreme Court help Trump?

On the question of impeachment, Trump’s personal lawyer said in a recent New York Daily News interview that impeachment would give Trump a boost in advance of the 2020 presidential election.

Democrats “can do it if they want to,” Rudy Giuliani said. “Would it politically be the best thing that could happen to the president? Absolutely.”

US: What does the redacted Mueller report say?

But he has somewhat backtracked on those comments, telling the New York Times, “Nobody wants to be impeached. I think Clinton would say, even though it worked out to his favour, he would have rather not been impeached.”

Trump himself has falsely said he could turn the Supreme Court if the House moved to impeach him.

“I DID NOTHING WRONG,” Trump tweeted last month. “If the partisan Dems ever tried to Impeach, I would first head to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

But the Supreme Court has previously ruled that impeachment authority resides solely with Congress.

Pelosi said she recognised what the Trump administration is trying to do.

“Trump is goading us to impeach him,” she recently said at a Cornell University event.

US: What does the redacted Mueller report say?

“That’s what he’s doing,” she said. “Every single day, he’s just like taunting, taunting, taunting because he knows that would be very divisive in the country, but he doesn’t really care. He just wants to solidify his base.”

Who’s calling for impeachment?

As Democratic leadership continue to tiptoe around impeachment, a number of more progressive members of Congress have said it’s time for proceedings to begin.

“I believe impeachment is the solution to a constitutional crisis,” Representative Al Green told US media.

US Representative Rashida Tlaib speaks during a press conference [Saul Loeb/AFP]

Similar calls have also come from Rashida Tlaib, as well as Elizabeth Warren, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.

“If any other human being in this country had done what’s documented in the Mueller report, they would be arrested and put in jail,” Warren said during a CNN town hall.

“He serves the whole thing up to the United States Congress and says, in effect, if there’s going to be any accountability, that accountability has to come from the Congress,” Warren said. “And the tool that we are given for that accountability is the impeachment process. This is not about politics; this is about principle.”

6. What do Americans say about impeachment?

The number of Americans who said Trump should be impeached rose five percentage points to 45 percent since mid-April, while more than half said multiple congressional probes of Trump interfered with important government business, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Thursday.

The opinion poll, conducted on Monday, did not make clear whether investigation-fatigued Americans wanted House of Representatives Democrats to pull back on their probes or press forward aggressively and just get impeachment over with.

WATCH

Debating Mueller, Trump and the lies told

In addition to the 45 percent pro-impeachment figure, the Monday poll found that 42 percent of Americans said Trump should not be impeached. The rest said they had no opinion.

In comparison, an April 18-19 survey found that 40 percent of all Americans wanted to impeach Trump.

An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll from April 24-29 put the overall support of impeachment at 39 percent.

The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll showed stronger support for impeachment among Democrats and independents.

It also showed that 57 percent of adults polled agreed that continued investigations into Trump would interfere with important government business. That included about half of all Democrats and three-quarters of all Republicans.

The poll also found that 32 percent agreed that Congress treated the Mueller report fairly, while 47 percent disagreed.

Trump’s popularity was unchanged from a similar poll that ran last week – 39 percent of adults said they approved of Trump, while 55 percent said they disapproved.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online in English, throughout the US. It gathered responses from 1,006 adults and had a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of about four percentage points.

US House panel votes to hold Attorney General Barr in contempt

Vote comes just hours after President Donald Trump invoked executive privilege over Mueller’s Russia report.

US Attorney General William Barr testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing [Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters]
US Attorney General William Barr testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing [Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters]

Washington, DC – Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee voted on Wednesday to recommend a contempt citation against US Attorney General William Barr, setting the stage for a constitutional confrontation with the White House over Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s full Russia report.

The 24-16 vote by the key Judiciary Committee came along party lines with all Democrats voting in favour, and all Republicans present opposed. One Republican was absent.

“This was very great and momentous step that we were forced to take today to move a contempt citation against the attorney general of the United States. We did not relish doing this but we have no choice,” Representative Jerrold Nadler, the Democrat chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told reporters after the vote.

Barr had “proved himself to be the personal attorney of President Trump rather than the attorney general of the United States, by misleading the public as to the contents of the Mueller report, twice, by not being truthful with Congress”, Nadler said.

The approval of the contempt resolution, which now goes to the full House for a vote, will likely prompt a court battle that may result in fines or jail time for Barr.

The vote came after weeks of talks between the lawyers for the committee and the attorney general failed to yield an agreement over access to Mueller’s full, unredacted report.

“Democrats are angry Mueller did not provide a roadmap for impeachment,” said Representative Doug Collins, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

By “moving to this contempt citation at lightning speed”, the committee Democrats were pursuing “craven and insincere politics that seem to be yielding no benefits for the American people,” Collins said.

Trump invokes executive privilege

Hours before the vote, Republican President Donald Trump invoked executive privilege to block the release of the unredacted version of the Mueller report.

Trump invokes executive privilege over entire Mueller report

Federal courts have recognised a limited right by presidents to keep executive branch materials confidential.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the privilege claim was in response to Nadler’s “blatant abuse of power” and “at the attorney general’s request”.

House Democrats argued that Trump has already waived any right to executive privilege by allowing aides to provide information to the special counsel.

The Department of Justice said on Wednesday that “it’s not true the president waived executive privilege by sharing materials with the special counsel’s office”, according to Reuters news agency, quoting an unnamed department official.

The department also accused Democrats of engaging in “inappropriate political theatrics”.

Nadler called Trump’s executive privilege decision a “nonsense claim”.

“We will win these court fights because the law is one sided. And when the president or Attorney General Barr or anybody else cites executive privilege in these cases, they are not being honest, because there is no real claim at all,” he said.

Wednesday’s developments come as a battle between House Democrats and the Trump administration intensifies. Trump has sought to block aides and former staffers from cooperating with a number of congressional investigations looking into the president’s behaviour and finances.

‘If we don’t put the breaks, we won’t have a democracy’

The Judiciary Committee is seeking to have Mueller testify at a hearing later this month, perhaps as soon as May 15, and has asked former White House Counsel Don McGahn to appear on May 21.

US: What does the redacted Mueller report say?

White House lawyers are attempting to block McGahn from testifying. Reversing his earlier stance, Trump indicated in a series of tweets he is now opposed to Mueller testifying.

“The president keeps saying there is not going to be a ‘do over’. And he has talked about a number of people have said we should just be finished. That is the worst thing we could do,” Representative Elijah Cummings, the Democrat chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told Al Jazeera.

“If we do not put brakes on what is happening in our country, we will no longer have a democracy,” Cummings said. “We are being blocked every which way from getting information. We also being blocked from having access to members of the administration.”

Representative David Cicilline, a Democrat, told reporters in the US Capitol that sentiment among Democrats was hardening against Trump’s refusal to cooperate with the House review of the Mueller probe.

“Everyone recognises that the administration is attempting to stonewall and prevent progress because they want to run out the clock. We recognize that,” Cicilline said.

Republicans discounted the Judiciary Committee vote to hold Barr in contempt as a partisan exercise.

Post-Mueller: Can Trump block witnesses, access to documents?

“It’s a political contempt vote and we fully expected it,” said Representative Mark Meadows, a Republican who chairs the conservative Freedom Caucus in the House in advance of the vote.

“When you play politics with somebody who has been as honest and forthright as Attorney General Barr has been, I think the American people will see it for what it is. It’s political,” Meadows told Al Jazeera.

‘In favour of prosecution’

Barr has come under criticism for his handling of Mueller’s 22-month investigation. More than 500 former Justice Department officials have signed an open letter calling Trump’s actions described in the Mueller report criminal.

“We believe strongly that … the overwhelming weight of professional judgment would come down in favour of prosecution for the conduct outlined in the Mueller report,” the letter said.

US: What does the redacted Mueller report mean for Trump?

The redacted version of the Mueller report did not establish that the Trump campaign conspired with Russian operatives.

The investigation did, however, examine “multiple acts by the president that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations”.

Mueller did not conclude that Trump committed obstruction of justice, but did not exonerate him either. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein subsequently concluded that Trump did not break the law.

The Justice Department has made a less-redacted version available for House and Senate leaders and some committee heads, but the Democrats have said that is not enough and have so far declined to read it.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has criticised Barr for mischaracterising the Mueller report said last week she believed Barr lied to Congress when he told House and Senate hearings he did not know of any concerns among Mueller’s team about his actions.

Mueller had written a letter to Barr in March that said the attorney general’s summary of the investigation had failed to adequately characterise the substance of the investigation.

US Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on ‘The Justice Department’s Investigation of Russian Interference with the 2016 Presidential Election’ [Nicholas Kamm/AFP]

Barr was grilled by Democrat senators in a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 1.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are seeking to bring an end to the controversy over the Mueller report. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham has said he does not intend to call Mueller to testify. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave a speech in the Senate on Tuesday arguing the matter should be closed.

Pentagon: US carrier sent to Middle East on credible Iran threat

The acting US defence secretary says carrier, bombers sent to region due to indications of ‘credible threat’ by Iran.
The US Navy aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln departs from Naval Station Norfolk before Hurricane Florence in Norfolk, Virginia, on September 11, 2018 [Handout/Navy/Stacy M Atkins Ricks/Reuters]
The US Navy aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln departs from Naval Station Norfolk before Hurricane Florence in Norfolk, Virginia, on September 11, 2018 

Acting US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said on Monday that he had approved sending a carrier strike group and bombers to the Middle Eastbecause of indications of a “credible threat by Iranian regime forces”.

“[It] represents a prudent repositioning of assets in response to indications of a credible threat by Iranian regime forces,” Shanahan said on Twitter.

“We call on the Iranian regime to cease all provocation. We will hold the Iranian regime accountable for any attack on US forces or our interests,” he added.

Shanahan in his tweet provided no details on the threat.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Sunday that the United States was deploying the Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Middle East to send a message to Iran.

Keyvan Khosravi, spokesman for Iran’s supreme national security council, said on Monday that Bolton’s statement was “a clumsy use of an out-of-date event for psychological warfare”.

Tasnim news agency quoted Khosravi as saying that Iranian armed forces had observed the carrier entering the Mediterranean Sea 21 days ago.

Bolton “lacks military and security understanding and his remarks are mostly meant to draw attention to himself”, Khosravi added.

Three US officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters News Agency on Monday that “multiple, credible threats” picked up by intelligence were primarily against US forces in Iraq by Iran and its proxy forces. They said there was also concern about US forces in Syria and in the waters nearby.

One of the officials said the intelligence was specific enough that it detailed the locations of potential attacks against US forces and the timeframe within which it could occur. The official added that the threat was not only against US forces in Iraq but those coming in and out of the region. There are currently about 5,200 US troops in Iraq and under 2,000 American forces in Syria.

Increased pressure

The US action marked the latest in a series of moves by President Donald Trump‘s administration aimed at ratcheting up pressure on Iran in recent months.

WATCH

How will Trump’s Iran oil gamble affect the global economy?

The Trump administration’s efforts to impose political and economic isolation on Tehran began last year when it unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal it and other world powers negotiated with Iran in 2015.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking in Finland where he was attending the Arctic Council meeting, said on Monday the United States has seen activity from Iran that indicated a possible “escalation”, one day after the United States said it would send a carrier strike group to the Middle East to counter a “credible threat by Iranian regime forces.”

Last month, Trump announced the US will no longer exempt any countries from US sanctions if they continue to buy Iranian oil, a decision that primarily affects the five remaining major importers: China and India and US treaty allies Japan, South Korea and Turkey. The US also recently designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a “terrorist group”, the first ever for an entire division of another government.

Iran sanctions explained

In response, Iran said it has mobilised all its resources to sell oil in a “grey market”.

Amir Hossein Zamaninia, Iran’s deputy oil minister, told state media on Sunday that Iran would continue to export oil despite the US sanctions, which he said were neither just nor legitimate.

“We have mobilised all of the country’s resources and are selling oil in the ‘grey market’,” state news agency IRNA quoted Zamaninia as saying.

“We certainly won’t sell 2.5 million barrels per day as under the [nuclear deal],” he said. “We will need to make serious decisions about our financial and economic management, and the government is working on that.”

Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called for the country to “resist and unite” against US pressure in what he called a “war on hope” waged against the Islamic Republic.

“America will only let go of this game when it realises it cannot achieve anything. We have no way but to resist and unite,” Rouhani said in a televised speech on Saturday.

“Our war today is the war on hope. They want to break our hope, and we have to break their hope.”

‘I lost my son’: Guatemala mum mourns boy who died in US custody

Transito Gutierrez last saw her son at the beginning of April
Transito Gutierrez last saw her son at the beginning of April [Jeff Abbott/Al Jazeera]
by Jeff Abbott/Al Jazeera

Tizamarte, Guatemala – Transito Gutierrez did not want her 16-year-old son, Juan de Leon Gutierrez, to migrate to the United States from their small town in southern Guatemala, near the border with Honduras. But Juan assured her he would make it.

“He told me, ‘Mommy, I am going to cross over the border and I will send you money. It may not be every day, but I will when I can.'” Gutierrez, 46, told Al Jazeera.

Juan was one of Gutierrez’s six children. He was hoping to join his older brother who migrated to the US in 2011.

The teen left the small village of Tizamarte in the arid, rain-starved mountains over the town of Camotan, Chiquimula on April 4 with a friend from a nearby village. They travelled with a migrant guide, commonly known as a coyote.

He was detained by US authorities as he tried to cross the US-Mexico border a little over two weeks later. He was eventually sent to a migrant youth shelter, and on April 30 he died following surgery to relieve pressure in his head caused by an infection, according to local media.

16-year-old migrant boy dies in US government custody in Texas

Juan is the third minor from Guatemala to die in US custody along the southern border since the beginning of December. His death has left the family devastated.

“I’ve lost my son, but his soul is still with us,” Gutierrez said, as she held back tears.

The family is waiting for the return of Juan’s body to Guatemala. This is especially important for his mother, who laments that she does not have a photo of her son.

‘He was healthy’

Juan was detained on April 19 as he attempted to cross into the US near El Paso, Texas by US Customs and Border Protection. According to US media, he was transferred a day later to Southwest Key Casa Padre, an Office of Refugee Resettlement facility in Brownsville, Texas built in an old shopping centre.

In an emailed statement to Al Jazeera, Evelyn Stauffer, spokesperson for the Administration for Children and Families of the US Department of Health and Human Services said “no health concerns were observed” prior to the teen being transferred.

7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died in US custody is laid to rest

On April 21, Juan woke up with chills, a fever, and a headache. According to Stauffer, he was taken to the hospital, where he was treated and released. His condition did not improve.

On April 22, he was taken to the emergency room and placed in intensive care. He died eight days later. The exact cause of death is currently under review, Stauffer said.

According to Gutierrez, Juan’s pain began to develop while he was en route to the US border, but he was taking medicine to limit the pain.

“When it use to rain here, he would go work in the field and return saying that his head hurt,” Gutierrez said. “But he was healthy.”

Gutierrez didn’t want her son to travel to the US [Jeff Abbott/Al Jazeera]

While Juan was sick, his mother was informed of developments in his condition by US officials. At times they came in Spanish, other times they came in English, which she didn’t understand.

Juan’s older brother, who was already in the US, also kept his mother informed of the teen’s condition, Gutierrez said.

At one point, officials from the Guatemalan Ministry of Foreign Affairs called to ask her if she would be interested in travelling to the US, but this only brought her more concern.

“I don’t have the money to travel or to pay for a passport,” she said.

Poverty and climate change

Juan was one of many migrating from the southern regions of Guatemala, an area known as the dry corridor.

The situation has grown worse in the last two years. According to Gloria Amador, a 41-year-old nurse who has worked in the village of Tizamarte and the surrounding region for nine years, people began to migrate to the US in July 2018.

“Many people are migrating due to necessity,” Amador told Al Jazeera. “There is little work, there are families with few resources, and there is a severe drought.”

The region where Juan is from is experienced a drought and severe poverty [Jeff Abbott/Al Jazeera]

The drought has heavily affected the region, Amador said, adding that farmers in the area lost 80 to 90 percent of their crops last year due to drought.

The dwinding capacity to work the land also drove Juan to seek opportunities in the US.

“Now that it doesn’t rain, we cannot produce anything,” Gutierrez said.

“[Juan] told me that the coffee plants were dying. He said he was desperate,” she added. “He said he could earn more there in the United States than here. He could earn more than the $4 a day working in the field.”

Sixteen-year-old Juan de Leon Gutierrez travelled to the US to join his older brother and send money home to his family.