WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump returned to his own kind of code talking Monday by deriding Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren as "Pocahontas" at a White House event honoring Native American war heroes.
"You were here long before any of us were here," Trump said as he honored three Navajo code talkers from World War II. And then he added, without naming Warren: "We have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas. But you know what, I like you."
In fact, Trump deployed that nickname for the Massachusetts senator repeatedly during the 2016 presidential campaign and, as president, as recently as a Nov. 3 tweet. Native American leaders have called Trump's past attacks on Warren offensive and distasteful. Some Democrats have called the nickname racist.
Trump made the comment as he stood near a portrait of President Andrew Jackson, which he hung in the Oval Office in January. Trump admires the seventh president's populism. But Jackson also is known for signing the Indian Removal Act of 1830, in which the Cherokee Nation was removed from its lands in what is now known as the "trail of tears."
The Navajo Nation suggested Trump's remark Monday was an example of "cultural insensitivity" and resolved to stay out of the "ongoing feud between the senator and President Trump."
"All tribal nations still battle insensitive references to our people. The prejudice that Native American people face is an unfortunate historical legacy," Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said in a statement. He added that the Navajo Nation remains honored by the White House recognition of the code talkers.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, asked about criticism of Trump's remarks, said a racial slur "was certainly not the president's intent."
But the remark is the latest in a long list of remarks Trump has made about people from specific ethnic and racial groups. Announcing his longshot campaign for president in 2015, Trump said many Mexican immigrants are rapists. He's sought to ban immigrants from certain Muslim majority nations. He's come under fire for what some said was a too-slow federal response to hurricane damage in Puerto Rico. Trump also raised eyebrows for apparently having some fun in October with the name of the U.S. territory — "Puerrrto Rico," he said — at an East Room event for Puerto Ricans.
Those in the Oval Office for Monday's event gave no visible reaction to Trump's "Pocahontas" comments. But Warren and other Democrats were quick to respond.
"This was supposed to be an event to honor heroes, people who put it all on the line for our country, who, because of their incredible work, saved the lives of countless Americans and our allies," Warren said in an interview on MSNBC. "It is deeply unfortunate that the president of the United States cannot even make it through a ceremony honoring these heroes without having to throw out a racial slur."
New Mexico Sen. Sen. Tom Udall, vice chairman of the Indian Affairs committee, added: "Donald Trump's latest racist joke — during Native American Heritage Month no less — demeaned the contributions that the code talkers and countless other Native American patriots and citizens have made to our great country."
The president has long feuded with Warren, an outspoken Wall Street critic who leveled blistering attacks on Trump during the campaign. Trump seized on questions about Warren's heritage, which surfaced during her 2012 Senate race challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Scott Brown.
During that campaign, law school directories from the Association of American Law Schools from 1986 to 1995 surfaced that put Warren on the association's list of "minority law teachers" when she was teaching at the University of Texas and the University of Pennsylvania. Warren said she listed herself with Native American heritage because she hoped to meet people with similar roots.
In a 2012 interview with The Associated Press, Warren said she and her brothers were told of the family's heritage by their parents, the late Don and Pauline Herring.
Brown pressed Warren to release more information about how she described her heritage to potential employers. Warren said she never sought proof of ancestry because she didn't think it was necessary.
Sanders said Monday that Warren was the offensive one when "she lied about something specifically to advance her career."
PHOENIX (AP) — The arrests of six Middle Eastern men caught entering the United States illegally from Mexico two years ago set off alarm in border states and in some right-wing blogs and other media outlets.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey called it a matter of national security and invoked the Islamic State group in a statement calling for stepped-up border security in response to the arrests. Conservative publications like the Washington Examiner reported on the men from "Middle East terror hotbeds," while Fox News questioned whether "Islamic State militants could be probing security."
Now, documents obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request reveal the men were fleeing violence and persecution in their homelands and were cleared of any terrorism ties. They also were physically and verbally abused by two Mexican smugglers with a history of crossing the border illegally and went days without food and water, the records show.
The case highlights the highly politicized nature of the U.S.-Mexico border as hysteria sometimes overtakes facts in an era where President Donald Trump, during his campaign, labeled Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. Some blogs incorrectly reported the men were released. Others tied them to the Islamic State.
In fact, the men cooperated with the government, and four have been deported. The remaining two are in removal proceedings, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Yasmeen Pitts O'Keefe.
The five men from Pakistan and one from Afghanistan were arrested at a time when the Islamic State group was committing some of its bloodiest acts, just days after coordinated bombings and shootings in Paris heightened fears about attacks in the U.S.
The arrests also came around the same time as two Syrian families with children presented themselves at the border seeking asylum. The families were Christian and fleeing persecution. Still, the incident prompted a tweet from Trump that said, "Eight Syrians were just caught on the southern border trying to get into the U.S. ISIS maybe? I told you so. WE NEED A BIG & BEAUTIFUL WALL!"
But none of the cases had any ties to terrorism.
Government officials have long denied there have been any arrests of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border with ties to the Islamic State, and private security analysts agree.
Scott Stewart, vice president of tactical analysis for Texas-based intelligence firm Stratfor, said he knows of no instances of terrorists sneaking into the U.S. through the southern border.
He says it's much more likely a terrorist would use the Canadian border to sneak into the country, as Ahmed Ressam did in 1999. Ressam planned to bomb the Los Angeles airport and used false documents to enter the U.S. from Canada. Border authorities caught him with a car full of explosives.
Stewart added it's highly unlikely the Mexican cartels, which control smuggling corridors, would help a terrorist enter the United States.
"The last thing they want is to be labeled as narco-terrorists. That's just terrible for business," Stewart said. "I'm honestly much more concerned about meth, fentanyl and heroin than I am of Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State coming across."
Despite most border crossers being from Latin America, a small number come from far-away places like China, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Investigative files obtained by the AP show the Middle Eastern men completed a long and costly journey to America.
The Afghan man told Border Patrol agents he left his home seven months earlier and traveled through at least 10 countries before making it to the U.S. He was detained for weeks in Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama and Mexico and paid nearly $15,000 in smuggling fees along the way.
Once the men reached the U.S. border, the smugglers told them crossing illegally into Arizona would be a matter of a few easy hours.
But their trip took several days in treacherous conditions.
The men spent three or four days walking through the desert. They ran out of water on the first night and food on the second, and then trekked through mountains near the border in snow and rain. The men said they had no jackets.
They said the smugglers verbally accosted them and threw rocks at them if they walked too slowly. The Afghan man said one of the smugglers punched him in the chest. When one man injured his ankle, a smuggler said "Bye-bye" and kept walking. Another man who couldn't keep up said he paid the smugglers more to slow down.
The men were arrested in November 2015 after triggering a Border Patrol sensor about 15 miles (24 kilometers) north of the border.
The arrests were first reported by right-wing blogs, then other news organizations. Three days after the Middle Eastern men were taken into custody, Ducey issued a statement saying their arrests were troubling, "especially in light of new threats on the United States from ISIS in a video released in just the last 24 hours."
But the FBI had already cleared the men, finding they had no ties to terrorism, according to the documents.
When asked about the governor's tweet, Ducey's spokesman issued a statement that touted the Republican's border efforts but did not address the issue of invoking the Islamic State when the men had no terrorism ties.
"The governor continues to put public safety at the forefront," spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said.
The men were interviewed separately, and all told authorities about abuses at the hands of the two Mexican smugglers. They became witnesses in the case against Ernesto Dorame-Gonzalez and Martin Lopez-Alvarado, who had committed prior immigration offenses and pleaded guilty to smuggling charges.
"We find smugglers are more interested in treating people as a commodity instead of human beings," said Stephanie Dixon, a spokeswoman with the Border Patrol's Tucson sector. "Many people are being lied to by smugglers, which leads to deaths and illnesses, for the sole purpose of criminal profiting."
NEW YORK (AP) — Despite holiday deals all month, shoppers still picked up their spending on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday, one technology company says.
Spending for Thursday and Friday together increased 11.9 percent compared with the same two-day period last year, says First Data, which analyzed online and in-store payments across different forms of cards from 1.3 million merchants. Retail spending, which excludes grocery stores, restaurants, auto parts merchants and gas stations, rose 9.3 percent.
The buying was helped by higher consumer confidence, low unemployment and cooler weather, the firm said. It said hurricane cleanup-related spending may also have had an effect. Texas, pummeled by Hurricane Harvey in August, had the second-highest percentage increase in sales, a rise of 13.4 percent that was fueled by electronics and furniture.
Nationwide, both retail spending and overall spending rose nearly 6 percent from Nov. 1 through Nov. 22. The firm's data captures about 40 percent of all card transactions in the U.S. but excludes cash.
"There was no making up for a weak pre-season. And there was no stealing from the holiday season with a strong pre-season," said Glenn Fodor, head of information and analytics at First Data. "It's the perfect storm of the economic backdrop and weather."
E-commerce sales rose 13 percent for the Thanksgiving and Black Friday period, the traditional kickoff to the holiday shopping season. Physical stores saw an increase of 8.5 percent, First Data said.
According to First Data, 29 percent of the total dollars spent over the two-day period came from e-commerce, up from 25 percent last year and about double from the 14 percent of 2014. Electronics and appliances were by far the big attractions, with a 19 percent sales increase. The clothing and accessories category was the only one among the seven that First Data tracks to show higher sales growth in stores for Thanksgiving and Black Friday compared with online.