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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Julia Edwards

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House said on Wednesday it was in the final stage of drafting a plan for closing the Guantanamo prison for foreign terrorism suspects, racing against time to resolve one of President Barack Obama’s most intractable problems.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the administration hoped to “short circuit” opposition from Republicans in Congress who have blocked Obama from closing the prison, one of his top goals.

Republicans have barred transfers to America from the facility at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval base in Cuba. The administration has also faced resistance in the Pentagon to repatriating those still seen as a potential threat.

The prison has been the source of alleged abuses, including the waterboarding of prisoners under interrogation, and the White House says it is used as a propaganda tool for militant groups recruiting supporters to fight America.

It was set up after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks for al Qaeda and Taliban detainees. Obama vowed to close it within a year when he came to office in 2009.

“The administration is … in the final stages of drafting a plan to safely, responsibly, the prison at Guantanamo and to present that plan to Congress,” Earnest told a regular briefing.

There were two transfers of prisoners to their homeland or third countries this year that cut the total there from 127 to 116. Washington has ruled out sending 69 Yemenis home because of the chaotic security situation in their homeland.

POTENTIAL THREATS TO U.S.

The New York Times reported on Wednesday that there were concerns in the White House about delays in transfers by the Pentagon.

It said White House national security adviser Susan Rice had last week met with Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and presented him with a memo that said he would have 30 days to make decisions on a number of newly proposed transfers.

The newspaper said Carter did not make a commitment to moving the prisoners by a particular date.

Republican lawmakers have argued that transferring Guantanamo prisoners to other countries may eventually lead to them being freed and returning to fight against U.S. interests.

Earnest said the White House would share the closure plan with lawmakers once it was completed.

The Senate is debating an annual defense policy bill that would permit closure of the prison, but only if the president first submits a plan that is approved by Congress.

Senator John McCain, head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has long urged Obama to submit a plan for closing Guantanamo and is backing the language in the policy bill, the National Defense Authorization Act.

McCain says the closure proposal would have to include a plan for hearing the cases of the remaining prisoners at the camp. It also would need a proposal for future detention of the remaining prisoners.

The Guantanamo prison still provokes debates among rights advocates and security officials over whether terrorism suspects should be prosecuted in the U.S. civil legal system or treated as enemy fighters and held under laws of war.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards; Editing by Leslie Adler and Christian Plumb)

Photo: A guard tower of Camp Delta is seen at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba September 4, 2007. (REUTERS/Joe Skipper)

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was forced to defend President Donald Trump's recent attacks on MSNBC host Joe Scarborough on Tuesday, an unenviable task she nevertheless intentionally signed up for. She desperately tried to divert the attention back to Scarborough — without engaging in the president's conspiracy theorizing — but offered no credible defense of the president's conduct.

Trump has been spreading the debunked theory that Scarborough killed a staffer in 2001 while he was in Congress, even though it was determined she died of natural causes. The staffer's widower wrote a released a letter on Tuesday pleading with Twitter to take down the president's offensive tweets promoting the thoery. He said he was "angry," "frustrated," and "grieved" by the president's promotion of the harmful allegations. Trump is perverting his late wife's memory, he said, and he fears her niece and nephews will encounter these attacks.When asked about the letter, McEnany said she wasn't sure if the president had seen it. But she said their "hearts" are with the woman's family "at this time." It was a deeply ironic comment because the only particularly traumatizing thing about "this time" for the family is the president's attacks, which come nearly two decades after the woman's death.

McEnany refused to offer any explanation of Trump's comments and instead redirected reporters to a clip of Scarborough on Don Imus's radio show in 2003. In that show, Imus made a tasteless joke obliquely referring to the death, and Scarborough laughed at it briefly.

"Why is the president making these unfounded allegations?" asked ABC News' Jonathan Karl. "I mean, this is pretty nuts, isn't it? The president is accusing someone of possible murder. The family is pleading with the president to please stop unfounded conspiracy theories. Why is he doing it?""The president said this morning, this is not an original Trump thought. And it is not," she said, bringing up the Imus clip. But she made no mention of why the president is bringing up the issue 17 years later and with a much larger platform.

When pressed further on the president's conduct, she again diverted blame to Scarborough, saying his morning show unfairly criticizes the president. But again, she offered no substantive defense of Trump.

After McEnany had moved on, PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor brought it up again: "Why won't the president give this widower peace and stop tweeting about the conspiracy theory involving his wife?"

McEnany said she had already answered the question, which she hadn't, and said the onus is on Scarborough to explain the Imus clip."The widower is talking specifically about the president!" Alcindor shot back. But McEnany called on Chanel Rion, with the aggressively pro-Trump outlet OAN, who changed the subject to conspiracy theories about the origins of the Russia investigation.

"Are you not going to answer that?" Alcindor called out, still trying to get a substantive response to her question, but Rion spoke over her.

At the end of the briefing, another reporter asked whether Trump was looking for any actual law enforcement steps be taken in response to his conspiracy theory. But McEnany had nothing to add, and simply told people to listen to the Imus clip again. As she hurried out of the briefing room, a reporter asked if Trump would stop promoting the theory — but she left without answering.

Watch the exchange about Klausutis, which begins at 48:45.