Don’t hit the panic button, the Dodgers are in a good spot with Kershaw on the mound in Game 5 – Los Angeles Times

Strangest night of October.

Cody Bellinger took the final big swing, yet somewhere down the right-field line he stopped running, stared at the sky, and rubbed his head as if lost.

Chris Taylor had the final slide, yet when he stood up at second base, he was swarmed by celebrating Chicago Cubs, leaving him dusty and outnumbered.

Weirdest moment of the playoffs. The Dodgers lost. The Chicago Cubs won. Wrigley Field roared. Nobody is perfect.

On an unseasonably warm Wednesday night that played like late August at Chavez Ravine, the Dodgers lost their first postseason game after six consecutive wins, 3-2 to the Cubs to end a possible sweep in the National League Championship Series.

After which, another unusual sight, Dodgers shaking their heads and speaking in monotone.

“It sucks we took our first ‘L’” said pitcher Alex Wood, who took that loss. “It was a tough game.”

It was, indeed, but everybody chill. It was strange, but it wasn’t ominous. It was a hiccup, not a heartache.

You knew the defending champs weren’t going to go down without one last punch. You knew Wrigley Field wasn’t going to roll over without one last roar.

The Dodgers still lead the series three games to one. They can still finish it Thursday night here with their ace Clayton Kershaw on the mound against the Cubs’ Jose Quintana.

The Cubs still just had five hits, scoring all their runs on home runs. They are still just batting .163 in this series. They still don’t have a bullpen, because they used closer Wade Davis for 48 pitches to save their season.

“We’ll come back here tomorrow and we got our guy going and hopefully finish it off tomorrow,” said Wood.

That’s the feeling. That’s what the Dodgers are thinking. And even though Kershaw lost the clinching NLCS game on this same mound last October, this is a different team, a more rested Kershaw, a stronger bullpen.

“Yeah, I wouldn’t say that the pressure is on us,” said Dodger manager Dave Roberts. “I think that we’re in a pretty good spot. We’ve got our No. 1 pitcher going tomorrow, and we’ve got two of the guys at the back end rested [Brandon Morrow and Kenley Jansen].”

Roberts doesn’t sound like he’s panicking, so neither should you. “I still like the position we’re in,” he said.

But still, it was all so odd.

Until the final out, it felt like the Dodgers would win. A week ago, perhaps, the Dodgers would have won.

In the ninth inning against a tiring Davis, Chris Taylor worked a one-out walk and up stepped Bellinger, who had earlier homered off Cubs starter Jake Arrieta. If Bellinger couldn’t get it done, then the impossibly hot Justin Turner, who had homered in his previous at-bat, was waiting on-deck to finish it.

Except Bellinger finished it first, and not in a good way, hitting a sharp ground ball that second baseman Javier Baez snagged for the start of a game-ending double play. “It felt good off the bat, but unfortunately, it was hit right at ’em,” Bellinger said. “That’s the last thing I wanted to do, hit a ground ball with J.T. behind me, but that’s baseball.”

Those final words were ones that have been repeated by vanquished Dodgers foes throughout this postseason, but never by the Dodgers themselves. “That’s baseball” is usually spoken after a defeat. Such a peculiar night.

Still, it was startling to hear the crowd of 42,195 erupting in cheers and jeers throughout a night that began with the place smothered in church quiet.

Willson Contreras and Baez each homered against Wood in the second inning, and the building shook. Baez homered again in the fifth and he later emerged from the dugout to pump his fist and lead the cheers. Then, when Arrieta left the mound in the seventh inning after allowing just one run in what might be his final Cubs appearance, the crowd stood and screamed as if he had just thrown a no-hitter.

Finally, in the eighth, the fans erupted in a chanted expletive that fueled them for the rest of the game. With one out and Yasiel Puig on first, Curtis Granderson swung through what was clearly a third strike that was dropped by catcher Contreras. But the umpires ruled it a foul tip. With the Cubs egging on the fans with a video replay showing the terrible call, with Cubs manager Joe Maddon running around the field screaming and gesturing, Wrigley was engulfed in chaos.

Normally this October, the Dodgers have capitalized on such madness. But this time, Granderson was sent back to the plate, where, rather appropriately for this night and for his brief Dodgers career, he promptly struck out.

The game ended one inning later with one final Wrigley salute, the fans singing “Go Cubs Go” in a full-throated tribute to a team that stayed alive for one more night.

“It’s great to have this win, because if we’re not, we’re going home tomorrow,” said Baez. “I feel like we’re still not on track as a team. I think if we get back on track, everybody as a team, we’re going to be the best again.”

Does anybody believe they can do that against Kershaw? Well, at least one person thinks it’s possible.

“We have to elevate our game offensively,” said Maddon. “You’ve got to be a tougher out with two strikes. You’ve got to move the baseball in situations. We’re capable of doing all those things.’’

Yet for the Dodgers, this still feels a bit like the Lakers’ losing the first game of the 2001 NBA Finals to the Philadelphia 76ers after winning 11 straight games to the start the postseason. This also feels like the Kings’ losing Game 4 of the Western Conference finals to the Phoenix Coyotes after winning 11 of the first 12 games to start the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Both of those teams won championships. For these Dodgers, that remains a reasonable goal.

“Sweeping the Cubs was going to be a hard thing to do,” said Bellinger. “Good thing we got out front [in the series]. We’re not going to take it easy, but it is nice to have that little breather.”

It is a breather which, one way or another, officially ends Thursday night. If the Dodgers win, they are in the World Series for the frst time in 29 years. If the Dodgers lose, OK, you can start to panic.

Finally, in the eighth, the fans erupted in a chanted expletive that fueled them for the rest of the game. With one out and Yasiel Puig on first, Curtis Granderson swung through what was clearly a third strike that was dropped by catcher Contreras. But the umpires ruled it a foul tip. With the Cubs egging on the fans with a video replay showing the terrible call, with Cubs manager Joe Maddon running around the field screaming and gesturing, Wrigley was engulfed in chaos.

Normally this October, the Dodgers have capitalized on such madness. But this time, Granderson was sent back to the plate, where, rather appropriately for this night and for his brief Dodgers career, he promptly struck out.

The game ended one inning later with one final Wrigley salute, the fans singing “Go Cubs Go” in a full-throated tribute to a team that stayed alive for one more night.

“It’s great to have this win, because if we’re not, we’re going home tomorrow,” said Baez. “I feel like we’re still not on track as a team. I think if we get back on track, everybody as a team, we’re going to be the best again.”

Does anybody believe they can do that against Kershaw? Well, at least one person thinks it’s possible.

“We have to elevate our game offensively,” said Maddon. “You’ve got to be a tougher out with two strikes. You’ve got to move the baseball in situations. We’re capable of doing all those things.’’

Yet for the Dodgers, this still feels a bit like the Lakers’ losing the first game of the 2001 NBA Finals to the Philadelphia 76ers after winning 11 straight games to the start the postseason. This also feels like the Kings’ losing Game 4 of the Western Conference finals to the Phoenix Coyotes after winning 11 of the first 12 games to start the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Both of those teams won championships. For these Dodgers, that remains a reasonable goal.

“Sweeping the Cubs was going to be a hard thing to do,” said Bellinger. “Good thing we got out front [in the series]. We’re not going to take it easy, but it is nice to have that little breather.”

It is a breather which, one way or another, officially ends Thursday night. If the Dodgers win, they are in the World Series for the frst time in 29 years. If the Dodgers lose, OK, you can start to panic.

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Get more of Bill Plaschke’s work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke

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Catalonia: Spain ultimatum looms over independence push – BBC News

Catalonia’s leader Carles Puigdemont is facing a final deadline to drop a secession bid, with Spain warning it will suspend the region’s autonomy if he fails to do so by 10:00 (08:00 GMT).

After a referendum on 1 October, he signed an independence declaration but then suspended it, asking for dialogue.

Reports suggest he will press ahead on independence if Madrid moves to take direct control.

There are fears that this may lead to civil unrest in Catalonia.

Article 155 of Spain’s 1978 constitution, which cemented democratic rule after the death of dictator General Franco three years earlier, allows Madrid to impose direct rule in a crisis but it has never been invoked.

In the lead-up to the deadline, there have been mass protests over the detention of two leaders of the separatist movement.

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Political leaders in Madrid and Barcelona have been engaged in a tense stand-off since the disputed referendum, which Catalan leaders say resulted in a “Yes” vote for independence but which the central government regards as illegal.

What is Madrid’s position?

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy set the deadline for Mr Puigdemont to offer a definitive answer on the independence question, and has called on him to “act sensibly”.

“It’s not that difficult to reply to the question: Has Catalonia declared independence? Because if it has, the government is obliged to act in one way, and if it has not, we can talk here,” he said in parliament on Wednesday.

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This is a second and final deadline, as Madrid says Mr Puigdemont on Monday failed to clarify whether he had declared independence.

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What happens if Mr Puigdemont stands firm?

If Mr Rajoy decides that his government should intervene, he is expected to call a special cabinet meeting to discuss what specific measures should be taken.

He is due to attend an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday afternoon. It is possible a cabinet meeting could be called before he goes or postponed until Friday.

It would be Spain’s Senate, controlled by Mr Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party (PP) and its allies, that would launch the transfer of powers from Catalonia to Madrid under Article 155 of the constitution.

It is thought the measures taken could range from taking control of the regional police and finances to calling a snap election. The timetable for this process is imprecise.

Reality Check: Would Catalonia be a viable country?

For Madrid this is about upholding the rule of law in Catalonia, protecting the Spanish constitution and disciplining what it sees as an unruly, disobedient devolved government, the BBC’s Tom Burridge in Barcelona reports.

However, the central government wants to minimise the risk of large-scale demonstrations, our correspondent says. Civil servants and government lawyers have thought long and hard about what measures to adopt and when and how they should be implemented.

What are the Catalan leader’s options?

Reports in Spanish and Catalan media suggest Mr Puigdemont will move ahead with the independence bid if Madrid rejects his call for dialogue and suspends the autonomy of the wealthy north-eastern region.

He is under pressure from influential factions within the secessionist movement to lift the suspension of the independence declaration.

On Wednesday, Barcelona football fans called for political negotiations, unveiling a huge banner reading “Dialogue, Respect, Sport” during a Champions League match against Olympiakos from Greece.

Mr Puigdemont appears to have one more option.

If he calls elections in the region himself, Madrid would not invoke Article 155, government sources say.

But the foreign affairs chief for Catalonia’s regional government, Raul Romeva, said on Wednesday: “Elections are not on the table now.”

The Spanish parliament has seen sharp exchanges in recent days, with the head of one left-wing Catalan party accusing the government of choosing humiliation, repression and fear over dialogue.

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At one point, politicians from radical left-wing Spanish party Podemos held up placards urging the release of the Catalan independence activists, calling them “political prisoners”.

Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart are being investigated over a protest on 20 September in which a crowd blocked Civil Guard officers inside a building in Barcelona.

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The remarkably unpredictable Jake Arrieta gave the Cubs life in NLCS vs. Dodgers – CBSSports.com

Consistency is boring. Sure, every GM on the planet would sell their soul to nab a hitting metronome like Joey Votto and drop him into the middle of his team’s lineup. But sports are most fun when your range of outcomes sways from thrilling success to spectacular failure. The players who can do both, sometimes in the very same game, are the ones we can’t stop watching.

The Cubs’ nail-biting 3-2 win in Game 4 of the NLCS was noteworthy for a few reasons. First, it staved off elimination for Chicago. Second, it featured one of the most stupefyingly silly displays of umpiring you’ll ever see, with Curtis Granderson’s whiffed strike three somehow getting overturned (without the benefit of replay) to a foul tip, making everyone at Wrigley wish we could just junk umpires entirely and go to total Calvinball rules. Third, it featured not one but two home runs from Javy Baez, the give-zero-f’s infield dynamo who was 0 for 20 coming into this game, then won over the fans so convincingly, 41,000-plus chanted his name over and over. (There’s a 90 million-word essay on Baez coming some time soon on how damn fun Baez is. He’s absolutely electrifying.)  

But the biggest reason the Cubs are a game away from sending the series back to Los Angeles is that they have one of the highest-variance pitchers in the league on their roster. And he was absolutely scintillating on Wednesday night.

To understand the depths of Jake Arrieta’s unpredictability, you can probably just start here. (Apologies in advance to Orioles fans.)

The Orioles have acquired RHP Scott Feldman & CA Steve Clevenger from the Cubs in exchange for RHPs Jake Arrieta & Pedro Strop.

— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) July 2, 2013

As Tom Verducci detailed in his excellent book, The Cubs Way, Arrieta didn’t lack talent in his O’s days, not with a screaming fastball and a sharp-breaking slider. His problem was that he had no idea where his pitches were going. Arrieta used (and still uses) a crossfire delivery, and everyone from pitching coaches to scouts believe (rightfully so) that throwing across your body leaves a pitcher vulnerable to injuries, and lots of bad outcomes. The Cubs believed they could harness Arrieta’s talent, plus his hellacious work ethic and fitness habits, and make him the outlier pitcher who could succeed with that risky and unorthodox pitching motion.

That gamble has paid off brilliantly. Arrieta finished in the top 10 in Cy Young voting three times as a Cub, with his masterpiece the 22-6, 1.77 ERA 2015 season that nudged him just ahead of world-beaters Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke to claim the hardware that year. But even at the top of his game, Arrieta has thrown down some clunkers. He ran out of gas in the 2015 postseason, posting a 6.75 ERA in the NLCS and World Series. Then in 2016 he posted the lowest hit rate in the league, only to throw up another stinker in the NLCS, then respond by dominating in his two World Series starts, just when the Cubs needed him most. Then this season, we saw Arrieta go through an early-season stretch where he allowed 22 runs and 33 hits in 20 innings… and a nine-start run late in the year in which he never allowed more than two runs in a start.

So when Arrieta opened his 2017 postseason by lasting just four innings (with five walks) against the Nationals in the NLDS, you didn’t know what he and his funky delivery would produce the next time out. Another clunker? A 27-strikeout perfect game?

Much closer to the latter than the former, as it turned out. Arrieta still struggled at times to find the plate, issuing another five free passes on the night. But he also punched out nine Dodgers, going 6 2/3 innings, allowing just one run on three hits, and firing every one of his 111 pitches with the back-of-mind knowledge that the relievers behind him consisted of Wade Davis, a pack of Big League Chew, and the remains of Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown. He found success with his curveball in Game 4, throwing 24 after having thrown just eight his last time out. 

Our ace pitching correspondent Nick Pollack of PitcherList.com offered more detail on Arrieta’s success, and the razor’s edge he walks with his funky delivery:

Pitching coaches take a look at Jake Arrieta’s mechanics and they cringe. It hurts. It’s not his arm action or his shoulders that trigger them, but his landing foot that makes Arrieta a great example for what aspiring pitchers should not do. Take a look at it in action:

Arrieta’s stride doesn’t take him on a straight line to the plate, but rather he steps closer to third base into a closed position. This forces Arrieta to throw what’s called “across his body,” with his arm action travelling from east-to-west. It’s the reason Arrieta goes through phases where he looks unhittable, and others where he can’t find the plate.

Pitching coaches hate this because of the small margin of error it creates. Normally, pitchers throw “north-to-south,” as their arm action and release is more over the top. This allows the location of the pitch not to be a product of timing – the moment they release the ball as they throw to the plate – but rather where their momentum is taking them as they stride to the target. Throwing across your body as Arrieta does forces him to release at just the right moment, like trying to throw a football through a moving tire-swing. He may have the feel for a few pitches, but the swing’s speed changes the next time and his accuracy is way off.

But there are benefits to these mechanics. Arrieta gains an extra element of deception, hiding the ball behind his body for a longer period of time. There’s also the added element of intimidation to consider, with Arrieta’s release point often coming from behind the backs of right-handed hitters. Most importantly, though, is the added movement on Arrieta’s pitches. By coming across the ball at such an extreme angle, Arrieta is able to get extra horizontal movement on his all his pitches, which we got a great look at tonight against Cody Bellinger:

It’s a give and take for Arrieta. When he has his feel, there’s little batters can do to survive. When he’s off, pitch sail up, dive into the dirt, or end up catching way too much of the plate. With his cross-body mechanics, on any given pitch, we just don’t know if Arrieta’s going to squeeze the ball through the swing.

When Arrieta walked off the mound with two outs in the seventh inning, the Wrigley faithful gave him a thunderous standing ovation. The fans saluted Arrieta’s stellar effort in a win-or-go-home game. They applauded Arrieta’s four and a half years of excellence in Chicago, with Game 4 possibly his last time in a Cubs uniform, if the Dodgers win this series and Arrieta leaves via free agency this winter. A few of them might’ve even tipped their caps for this display of brilliance.

Let’s hope they also appreciated how Arrieta has pulled off a minor miracle. The delivery that would get most pitchers demoted to Abu Dhabi has somehow worked. And the pitcher who can serve up nine runs, or nine innings of no runs on any given night, came up one last huge, unpredictable masterpiece.

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Trump’s Condolence Call to Soldier’s Widow Ignites an Imbroglio – New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s condolence call to the widow of a slain soldier exploded into a vicious row that swamped the White House on Wednesday, with the soldier’s grieving mother accusing the president of disrespecting her family and a defiant Mr. Trump complaining that his words had been cynically twisted for political purposes.

The back-and-forth made a furious spectacle of what is, at the best of times, one of the most emotionally wrenching contacts between the commander in chief and a bereaved citizen. It overshadowed any talk of Mr. Trump’s legislative priorities and instead recalled his history of feuding with military families or even, as in the case of Senator John McCain, a war hero.

Twelve days after four Americans were killed in an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger, the president called the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, who was among the slain, and said that her husband “knew what he signed up for,” referring to the soldier only as “your guy,” according to Sergeant Johnson’s mother and a Democratic congresswoman, who both listened to the call.

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The podcast that makes sense of the most delirious stretch of the 2016 campaign.

Mr. Trump angrily disputed that account, insisting that he “had a very nice conversation with the woman, with the wife, who sounded like a lovely woman.” The White House accused the congresswoman, Frederica S. Wilson of Florida, of politicizing a sacred ritual after Mr. Trump initially said she “fabricated” it.

It was, to a great extent, a self-inflicted wound. Mr. Trump opened the issue on Monday when he deflected a question about why he had not spoken publicly about the deaths of the four soldiers by falsely accusing his predecessor, President Barack Obama, of not contacting the families of fallen troops.

On Tuesday, Mr. Trump dragged his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, into the dispute. He told reporters that Mr. Obama had not called Mr. Kelly, a former Marine Corps general, when his son Second Lt. Robert Kelly was killed in action in 2010 in Afghanistan. Mr. Kelly, who has long been reluctant to talk about the loss of his son, did not comment on the issue.

But the White House presented Mr. Kelly as a character witness on Wednesday, noting that he was present for Mr. Trump’s call on Tuesday afternoon to Sergeant Johnson’s wife, Myeshia Johnson, and viewed it as a respectful expression of presidential sympathies.

“He thought that the president did the best job he could under those circumstances to offer condolences on behalf of the country,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary. She said that Mr. Kelly is “disgusted by the way this has been politicized, and that the focus has become on the process and not the fact that American lives were lost.”

It was Mr. Trump, however, who first put a spotlight on politics and process by comparing his practices with those of Mr. Obama and other presidents. Mr. Obama did, in fact, call or meet with the families of multiple fallen soldiers, though he sent letters to many others. Mr. Trump said he planned to call as many families of fallen soldiers as was “appropriate.”

His call to Ms. Johnson came as she and her two young children were in a limousine at Miami International Airport awaiting a plane carrying the remains of Sergeant Johnson. Mr. Trump spoke for three to five minutes, Ms. Wilson said.

“When she got off the phone, she said, ‘He didn’t even know his name. He kept calling him, ‘Your guy,’” Ms. Wilson said of Ms. Johnson. “He was calling the fallen soldier, ‘Your guy.’ And he never said his name because he did not know his name. So he kept saying, ‘Your guy. Your guy. Your guy.’ And that was devastating to her.”

Mr. Trump flatly dismissed Ms. Wilson’s account and suggested he would produce evidence to discredit it.

“Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!” he wrote in an early-morning Twitter post. He repeated his denial hours later, before a White House meeting with senators. “I didn’t say what that congresswoman said,” the president said. “Didn’t say it at all, she knows it.”

Ms. Wilson quickly fired back on Twitter. “I still stand by my account of the call b/t @realDonaldTrump and Myeshia Johnson. That is her name, Mr. Trump. Not ‘the woman’ or ‘the wife’” she wrote in a post.

Sergeant Johnson’s mother, Cowanda Jones-Johnson, backed the congresswoman’s version. “Yes, he did state that comment,” Ms. Jones-Johnson said, via message on Facebook, of Mr. Trump’s remark that her son “knew what he signed up for.”

By midafternoon, the White House was no longer disputing Ms. Wilson’s account of Mr. Trump’s choice of words. Ms. Sanders said the White House did not tape the call. But she said Ms. Wilson had willfully mischaracterized the spirit of the conversation.

“This is a president who loves our country very much, who has the greatest level of respect for men and women in uniform, and wanted to call and offer condolences to the family,” Ms. Sanders said. “To try to create something from that, that the congresswoman is doing, is frankly appalling and disgusting.”

The dispute over Mr. Trump’s condolence call topped several contentious issues that marked yet another rancorous day at the White House.

The president kept up his feud with the National Football League over players who take a knee in protest during the playing of the national anthem. And he revived his unproven charges that the former F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, had lied, leaked information and protected Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump’s opponent in last year’s presidential election.

But the way Mr. Trump has handled grieving military families loomed over all, and thrust the sensitive issue of how presidents deal with the casualties of war to center stage. His reference to Mr. Obama’s lack of calls also drew furious responses from the former president’s aides and expressions of discomfort from former military commanders.

The feud with Sergeant Johnson’s family was reminiscent of a public fight Mr. Trump began with the parents of a Muslim American soldier, Humayun Khan, who was killed in 2004 in Iraq. The soldier’s parents, Khizr and Ghazala Khan, appeared at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, where Mr. Khan criticized Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump’s charged relationship with Gold Star families — those who have lost relatives in war — took another turn with the White House’s disclosure on Wednesday that it had sent a check for $25,000 to the family of Sgt. Dillon Baldridge, who was shot to death by an Afghan police officer, along with two other American soldiers, in June.

Mr. Trump had promised the check to Sergeant Baldridge’s father, Chris, in a phone call a few weeks after his son’s death, according to The Washington Post. But the president did not send the money until the newspaper inquired about it on Wednesday.

“For somebody to tell me they were going to give me something and then not come through, it feels like kicking me when I’m down,” Mr. Baldridge said Wednesday.

Some experts sympathized with the challenge Mr. Trump faced in placing condolence calls.

“It’s always been difficult for presidents,” said Peter D. Feaver, an expert in civilian-military relations at Duke University, “but in some ways, it’s become more difficult as the number of casualties dwindled, so each one can be individualized to a much greater extent.”

Other calls Mr. Trump has made to families have been well received. The president called Eddie Lee, the father of First Lt. Weston C. Lee, who was killed in April by a roadside bomb in Iraq, and told him, “I bet he never gave you a minute’s trouble as a child.”

“It’s true,” Mr. Lee said, chuckling, “he didn’t.”

“The president was just so nice and caring, you could hear it in his voice, you could tell what a caring family man he is,” said Mr. Lee, who volunteered, “I voted for Trump and I’d vote for him again.”

But the president’s call to Sergeant Johnson’s widow illustrated the pitfalls to his improvisational approach, according to other experts. Kori Schake, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University who specializes in civilian-military relations, said the account of Mr. Trump’s call suggested he did not follow the “time-honored rituals” of such calls.

“My guess is that he thought he was showing respect for the toughness and patriotism of people who sacrifice for something bigger than themselves, and just did it clumsily,” Ms. Schake said.

Correction: October 18, 2017

An earlier version of this article referred imprecisely to Sgt. La David T. Johnson. He was serving in Africa with an Army Special Forces unit; he was not a Green Beret.

Eileen Sullivan contributed reporting from Washington, and Jesse James DeConto from Zebulon, N.C.

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Is Niger Trump’s Benghazi? Four US Soldiers Died and It Took Him 12 Days to Respond – Newsweek

“This might wind up to be Mr. Trump’s Benghazi.” 

Those are the words of Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, a Florida Democrat who was present during a controversial phone call between President Donald Trump and the widow of one of the four U.S. special forces soldiers killed in Niger on October 4. 

The soldiers died in an ambush near the Niger-Mali border believed to be perpetrated by an ISIS-linked group. The president’s reaction to the deaths is being widely criticized as questions remain about U.S. involvement in Niger and Africa more generally. 

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Republican Senator John McCain, widely regarded as the top authority on military matters in the Senate, said Wednesday the Trump administration is not being upfront about what happened in Niger.

This is somewhat reminiscent of rhetoric surrounding what happened in Benghazi under the Obama administration. 

Indeed, some are suggesting there’s more to the Niger story. And Congresswoman Wilson isn’t the only one who’s begun to draw parallels between this situation and Benghazi.

Neera Tanden, president of the left-leaning Center for American Progress, tweeted hyperbolically on Wednesday: “We had about 4000 Benghazi hearings. Why isn’t there a single one on the deaths of soldiers in Niger?”

Joy Reid, national correspondent for MSNBC, echoed these sentiments: “Where are all the Benghazi obsessives now that we have lost four special forces troops in Niger? Anyone? Hearings? Any interest at all?” 

What happened in Benghazi?

On September 11, 2012, four Americans were killed in an infamous terror attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya at the time, was killed.

The incident prompted an extensive, costly investigation and was a source of controversy for Hillary Clinton, who was Secretary of State when the attack occurred. It was still around as a thorn in her 2016 presidential campaign.

The Obama administration’s initial explanation of the attack, which was based on faulty CIA intelligence, led to accusations of a cover-up from Republicans. Some also accused the administration of withholding military assistance to the Benghazi compound.

[embedded content]

Clinton and the Obama administration were widely criticized, but no evidence of a cover-up was ever found, and House Republicans even released a report that cleared Clinton of any wrongdoing over Benghazi in June 2016. 

Still, Benghazi remains controversial and a talking point for conservative news outlets, especially Fox News. 

What happened in Niger?

The soldiers killed in Niger were part of a 12-man team of Green Berets, training Nigerian soldiers in a remote part of the country. These soldiers belonged to the Third Special Forces group based out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. 

As they were leaving a meeting with local community leaders on October 4, they were ambushed by roughly 50 fighters believed to be linked to ISIS (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, is also active in the surrounding region). 

The soldiers were driving unarmored pickup trucks and immediately returned fire. The firefight reportedly lasted roughly 30 minutes. It was eventually broken up via French air support and the soldiers were evacuated with helicopters. 

Initially, the government only confirmed three had been killed and two wounded in the incident, along with two. But it was eventually reported a fourth soldier had gone missing during the ambush. His remains were found by Nigerien forces roughly 48 hours after the ambush.

The Department of Defense at first withheld information about the missing soldier. The circumstances of how he was separated and the nature of his death are unknown. 

Many questions about what occurred remain, especially regarding why intelligence apparently didn’t indicate the soldiers would meet such heavy resistance. 

Are there any legitimate parallels between Benghazi and Niger?

Beyond the fact four Americans were killed in the respective incidents in Niger and Benghazi, the only parallel is the botched initial responses by both the Obama administration and Trump — responses that only led people to ask more questions about what went down.

It took Trump 12 days to respond to the deadly incident in Niger and he only did so after questioned by a reporter. In his response, Trump falsely claimed past presidents, including President Obama, didn’t call the families of fallen soldiers. He then called the widow and mother of one of the soldiers, Sgt. La David Johnson, only to end up disrespecting the family on Tuesday night. The president allegedly said Johnson “knew what he signed up for” during the call. 

Trump denied it, but Cowanda Jones-Johnson, the fallen soldier’s mother, told The Washington Post, Trump “did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband.” 

Johnson was the soldier who was separated from the 12-man team during the ambush. The circumstances of Johnson’s death and the fact he was missing for two days is perhaps the most curious aspect of the incident in Niger. Specific details on why he was left behind have not yet emerged, hence the questions that have followed Trump’s controversial treatment of this deadly incident. 

The other three soldiers killed in the ambush have been identified as Staff Sergeant Bryan Black, 35; Staff Sergeant Jeremiah Johnson, 39; and Staff Sergeant Dustin Wright, 29.

Why is the U.S. in Niger?

Many Americans may not have known the U.S. was present in Niger until this incident, which is another parallel to Benghazi.

The truth is the U.S. military has been involved in a broad effort to combat terrorism across Africa for years and Niger is just one of many countries the U.S. is currently present in. This started far before Trump — the U.S. military has had a presence in Niger since 2013, when Obama was still president. 

The U.S. military is also active in Chad, Somalia, Libya and Cameroon, among other countries in Africa. In May, a U.S. Navy Seal was killed in a raid on an Al-Shabab compound in Somalia. This was the first combat death involving a U.S. soldier in Somalia since the well-known “Black Hawk Down” incident in 1993, which resulted in the deaths of 18 American service members.

At the moment, there are roughly 800 U.S. troops in Niger, and the U.S. is in the process of building a major drone base in the city of Agadez, located in central Niger. The four U.S. soldiers killed on October 4 were training Nigerien forces in the broader counterterrorism effort. 

The Department of Defense announced Tuesday it was launching an investigation into the incident in Niger. But is this “Trump’s Benghazi”? Only time — and maybe a congressional investigation or 4,000 — will tell.

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