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Visas to Muslim-majority countries down 20 percent

President Donald Trump’s "Muslim ban" may be tied up in court , but newly released figures show his administration is issuing fewer visas to visitors from Arab and Muslim-majority countries.

Data posted online this week by the State Department showed that non-immigrant visas granted to people from nearly 50 Muslim-majority countries were down almost 20 percent in April compared to the 2016 monthly average.

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When only Arab countries were considered, non-immigrant visas were down nearly 30 percent in April compared to the 2016 monthly average. Visas issued to the six countries targeted by Trump's March 6 travel ban — Iran, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen — declined even further, down 55 percent compared to the 2016 monthly average.

State Department data made public last month showed similar declines in visas to these three country groupings for March, but the April declines were more dramatic.

Before this spring, the State Department did not release monthly breakdowns of visas; it released only annual totals. So POLITICO compared the March and April 2017 numbers to monthly country averages for 2016, calculated by dividing the State Department's annual totals by 12.

William Cocks, a spokesperson for the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, downplayed the April numbers' significance. "Visa demand is cyclical, not uniform throughout the year, and affected by various factors at the local and international level," he said. "Visa issuance numbers tend to increase during peak travel seasons, such as during the summer and the winter holidays, though there may be different trends at the country, nationality, or visa-category level."

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Three immigration experts consulted by POLITICO agreed that the number of visas fluctuated according to season, but said they'd observed no significant fluctuation previously during the months of March and April.

Stephen Pattison, an immigration lawyer in Maryland who spent nearly three decades as a State Department consular officer, said he thinks Trump policies are having a “chilling effect” on travel to the United States from Muslim nations.

“Some people may have canceled trips," Pattison said. "Some people may have traveled last year but not this year. But I think it would be naive to assume that’s what’s going on in Washington isn’t having an effect on consular adjudications.”

In a possible sign that Trump administration policies are discouraging visits to the U.S. worldwide, non-immigrant visas issued to people from all countries fell 15 percent in April compared to the 2016 monthly average. In March non-immigrant visas issued to all countries rose 5 percent.

POLITICO was unable to identify the precise causes for visa declines for Arab, Muslim, travel-ban, and all countries, because the State Department did not make public how many people applied or on how many of those applications were rejected. It is therefore unclear how much of the decline can be attributed to fewer people wanting


45 After Dark: Kush for Answers edition

Jared Kushner is pictured.

Jared Kushner's lawyer says he will speak to Congress "if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry." | Getty


Trump still hasn't given allied leaders what they want

SICILY — Despite a day of pitches from European leaders, President Donald Trump has yet to give them what they want — a commitment to the Paris climate accord ahead of the G7 summit.

Trump departed late Thursday from Brussels, where he met with his fellow NATO heads of state, and headed to Sicily, where he embarks Friday on his first meeting with leaders of the G7.

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Trump’s national economic advisor Gary Cohn set the bar low for any strong commitments from the U.S. at the global summit, where Trump will meet with his Canadian, French, German, Italian, Japanese and British counterparts.

"The G7 is set up to be more of an ad-hoc session where the leaders get together and they listen and talk to each other,” Cohn told U.S. reporters on the way to Italy.

"The president has told you that he’s going to ultimately make a decision on Paris and climate when he gets back,” Cohn added. "He’s interested to hear what the G7 leaders have to say about climate. It will be a fairly robust discussion on that.”

That position is a departure from standard practice for international summits, at which policy commitments are typically agreed in advance.

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Diplomats from other nations said their top priority was keeping Trump in the Paris accord, a 2015 agreement intended to limit global warming.

Trump has argued that the regulations imposed hamper domestic economic growth but has said he would consider some pollution limits.

"This time there's going to be a substantive negotiation that can last late into the night Friday into Saturday on a final communiqué,” warned a French official. “We want the most ambitious agreement possible, and we don't want the United States to leave.”

While the EU leaders described the meeting as “cordial” and “friendly,” it was clear that the new and unpredictable American president had not offered reassurances on some core areas of concern for Brussels.

European Council President Donald Tusk said they had found common ground on fighting terrorism, and appeared to be “on the same line” about the conflict in Ukraine. But Tusk said there were unresolved questions on trade and climate change – two topics that will be addressed at the G7 summit.

"Some issues remained open like climate and trade,” EU Council President Donald Tusk told reporters shortly after a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels on Thursday morning.

He reserved his most pointed remarks for the U.S. position on Russia though. “I am not sure that we can say 100 percent today that we have a common position, common opinion about Russia,” Tusk said.

Sanctions on Russia were also raised at the NATO summit, but Trump has not taken a position either way. "I think the president is looking at it. Right now,


Lawyer: Kushner willing to answer questions on Russian meetings

Jared Kushner is pictured.

Jared Kushner met at least one time last year with Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, as well as with Russian banker, Sergey Gorkov. | Getty


Gianforte leads in early Montana results

Republican Greg Gianforte has an early lead in Montana's special House election, as returns trickle in a day after he was charged with assault for allegedly attacking a reporter covering his campaign.

The race between Gianforte and Democrat Rob Quist captured national attention this week after Gianforte’s on-tape blow-up with The Guardian’s Ben Jacobs, which was described by him and three other journalists who witnessed the episode as a “bodyslam.”

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Gianforte's lead over Quist was at 50 percent to 44 percent with about 300,000 ballots counted.

Private polling indicated the campaign was getting closer, with Gianforte’s lead shrinking, even before the incident threw an extra dose of unpredictability into the unusual Thursday election. Gianforte, a former technology executive who lost a gubernatorial bid in 2016, and Quist, a folk singer and first-time candidate, are running to fill the congressional seat formerly held by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Though President Donald Trump carried Montana by 20 points in November and remains popular there, the state has become a battleground in the past few months. Energized Democratic activists have poured more than $6 million into Quist’s campaign, trying to push back against Republicans in Washington.

"I remember talking to people when it first started who said this was a slam dunk, Gianforte’s it. And it’s not there anymore,” Montana Democratic Party Chairman Jim Larson told POLITICO recently. “It is a lot closer than people ever thought it would be.”

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Over a quarter-million voters had already cast absentee ballots by the time of the Gianforte incident, which will limit its impact on the final results. But the story led local newscasts throughout Montana on Wednesday night and Thursday morning as the remaining voters prepared to go to the polls.

Gianforte’s campaign blamed Jacobs on Wednesday — but that account was directly contradicted by Fox News reporters who witnessed the altercation. Gianforte “grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him,” Fox News’ Alicia Acuna wrote. “Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the man, as he moved on top the reporter and began yelling something to the effect of 'I'm sick and tired of this!'”

Republicans had been growing concerned about Gianforte’s performance for weeks, noting that the GOP has underperformed its usual margins in a number of special elections so far this year — and that Gianforte was still damaged from the negative ads he faced while running for governor in 2016.

Gianforte’s personal wealth helped fund his campaign, but it also became a point of attack for the populist, cowboy hat-wearing Quist, whose campaign also criticized Gianforte as an out-of-stater. (He is originally from New Jersey.) And Quist’s big, late fundraising helped him go on offense with more blistering TV ads.

But while small-dollar donors

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