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Updated: 7 hours 19 min ago

Senate approves new reforms on Capitol Hill harassment

19 hours 35 min ago

Under growing pressure from the House to change how lawmakers deal with workplace harassment claims and damage awards, the Senate on Thursday approved a package of reforms that would not allow members to use taxpayer funds to pay any legal settlements, and change the process for Congressional employees to bring complaints against lawmakers.

“This is an incredibly important moment,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who joined with Senators in both parties to forge a compromise that was approved on a voice vote.

“We are completely overhauling the sexual harassment policies of the Congress,” Klobuchar said on the Senate floor.

The Senate just passed bipartisan reforms to fix Congress's broken process for reporting sexual harassment, and finally end taxpayer-funded harassment settlements. This is a big step in the right direction towards transparency and accountability.

— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) May 24, 2018

“These reforms are commonsense,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who had been more and more vocal in recent days about the lack of action on a similar measure passed by the House.

Along with streamlining the process for employees to bring a complaint – and then have it evaluated by Congressional officials – the plan would force members to personally pay for any legal settlement, and not have taxpayers foot the bill.

“Hardworking taxpayers should not foot the bill for a Member’s misconduct, and victims should not have to navigate a system that stands in the way of accountability,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO).

The extra protections for employees would also be extended to unpaid staffers on Capitol Hill, including interns, legislative fellows, and detailees from other executive branch offices.

As the Senate approved the plan, the leaders of the House Ethics Committee confirmed that ex-Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA) had reimbursed taxpayers for a $39,000 settlement involving a former female staffer in his office.

“We understand he sent that reimbursement payment to the Treasury. We welcome that action,” said ethics chair Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN), and the top Democrat on the panel, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), in a joint statement.

“There is overwhelming bipartisan consensus in the House that Members should be personally accountable for settlements paid with public funds to resolve claims against them alleging sexual harassment,” Brooks and Deutch wrote in a statement.

But what about when lawmakers leave the Congress? The ethics leaders said even then – they should still have to pay up.

Ethics committee writes in new letter they believe “any proposal to reform the CAA should include provisions to ensure that Members remain personally liable for their own conduct with respect to discrimination and retaliation & that they remain liable even if they leave Congress”

— Alex Moe (@AlexNBCNews) May 24, 2018

Brooks and Deutch also noted that ex-Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) – who had resigned without following through on a promise to pay off an $84,000 settlement – was a perfect example of why the system needs to be changed.

“Farenthold publicly promised to reimburse the U.S. Treasury for $84,000 in funds paid to settle the lawsuit brought against him for claims of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and retaliation,” they wrote.

“Last week, he announced that he would not do so,” the two added.

The House and Senate must still hammer out a compromise measure between the bills passed by each chamber – but the Senate vote gives a new shot of energy to the effort, though there are House members who feel the Senate plan is not strong enough, especially in dealing with lawmakers.

“I’m optimistic that we can finish the job and get this bill signed into law,” Gillibrand added.

“Situation normal” as Trump cancels summit with Kim Jong Un

Thu, 05/24/2018 - 18:58

After days of increasingly bellicose statements from Pyongyang, President Donald Trump on Thursday pulled the plug on a scheduled June 12 summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, but left the door open to future negotiations over efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

“If and when Kim Jong Un chooses to engage in constructive dialogue and actions, I am waiting,” the President said at the White House.

“The ball is in North Korea’s court right now,” said a senior White House official.

Mr. Trump’s remarks came several hours after he publicly released a letter to Kim Jong Un, calling off their summit, as U.S. officials laid the blame directly on the North Koreans, saying the Kim regime failed to send people to organizational meetings last week in Singapore, as the chances for the summit seemed to get dimmer on a daily basis in recent weeks.

“While many things can happen and a great opportunity lies ahead, potentially, I believe that this is a tremendous setback for North Korea and, indeed, a setback for the world,” the President said.

I have decided to terminate the planned Summit in Singapore on June 12th. While many things can happen and a great opportunity lies ahead potentially, I believe that this is a tremendous setback for North Korea and indeed a setback for the world… pic.twitter.com/jT0GfxT0Lc

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 24, 2018

Both in his letter to Kim, and in his public remarks, the President edged back toward some of the tougher rhetoric that had characterized the Kim-Trump relationship of last year, when the two men lobbed threats of possible military action.

“Hopefully, positive things will be taking place with respect to the future of North Korea. But if they don’t, we are more ready than we have ever been before,” Mr. Trump said.

His letter was even more direct.

“You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used,” Mr. Trump wrote, labeling the cancelled summit a ‘missed opportunity.’

A White House official said President Trump’s warning about the use of US military force was done specifically to send a message to Pyongyang, and respond to what officials felt was a threat in a statement made Wednesday night by the North Koreans.

In a briefing for reporters, the senior official said the goal of the President was still the same – a denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers asked the Secretary of State – who happened to be at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – what would happen next, as Secretary Mike Pompeo said the U.S. would continue with the “maximum pressure” campaign of economic sanctions against Pyongyang, and wait for the response of Kim Jong Un.

Pompeo on what's next: "It's Kim's choice. We welcome that call, that outreach." Sounding somewhat dejected: "In some ways, situation normal. The pressure campaign continues."

— Michelle Kosinski (@MichLKosinski) May 24, 2018

“I am hopeful that we can continue to have conversations so that we can put his back on track,” Pompeo said, though he admitted it was not clear why the North Koreans suddenly went from being willing partners to not answering phone calls.

“I don’t really know I want to speculate why they took those actions, because I don’t think we know,” Pompeo added.

“In some ways, it’s situation normal,” Pompeo said to one question. “The pressure campaign continues.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the US wants the complete denuclearization of North Korea https://t.co/ZvF0b8XHpG https://t.co/LNKUmWLNww

— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) May 24, 2018

Pompeo sparred with several Senate Democrats during the hearing, as he rejected assertions that the U.S. had rushed into a summit with Kim, and wasn’t really prepared to deal with a North Korean leader who is known for sudden course changes.

“Unfortunately, it seems that our chief diplomat is negotiating war,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) of Pompeo.

“From the beginning, when Trump impulsively decided that he would meet with Kim Jong Un, it has been clear that the summit involved very little preparation,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

“We cannot return to the name-calling and saber-rattling of the last year,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA).

President Trump scraps summit meeting with Kim Jong Un

Thu, 05/24/2018 - 13:54

After days of uncertainty about a planned June 12 summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, President Donald Trump on Thursday told Kim in a letter that because of hostile statements from the Pyongyang regime in recent days, the summit in Singapore would not take place.

“Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is in appropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” the President wrote in his letter to Kim.

The decision came as North Korean officials seemed to back away from public assurances that they would give up on their nuclear weapons program, which had been Mr. Trump’s demand from the start – as the President delivered a clear warning to Kim about a possible conflict.

President Trump says the cancellation of the summit with Kim Jong Un is a “tremendous setback for North Korea and, indeed, a setback for the world” https://t.co/TMOVSI1a8z https://t.co/ayO9BEqsOs

— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) May 24, 2018

In both his letter to Kim Jong Un, and his statement at the White House, the President said the U.S. military was ready to deal with any new threats from North Korean military forces.

“You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used,” Mr. Trump wrote.

Trump says the U.S. military is “ready if necessary if such an unfortunate situation is forced upon us” #tictocnews pic.twitter.com/NHQ2wQmyMk

— TicToc by Bloomberg (@tictoc) May 24, 2018

Here is the President’s letter to Kim Jong Un.

In the letter, Mr. Trump did not foreclose the possibility of meeting with Kim, but the move represented a major foreign policy setback for the President, who had made the case that his diplomatic efforts had brought dramatic changes to future U.S.-North Korean relations.

At a previously scheduled hearing on Capitol Hill, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo read the letter to Senators, and immediately faced criticism from some Democrats.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (@SecPompeo) reads President Trump's letter to Kim Jong Un cancelling planned June 12 summit.

Full video here: https://t.co/gHHhai0v5s pic.twitter.com/UGyRLCWu8m

— CSPAN (@cspan) May 24, 2018

“The cancellation of this summit reveals the lack of preparation on the part of President Trump in dealing with a totalitarian dictator like Kim Jong Un,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL).

““To make matters worse, the President’s bizarre letter returns to the same bellicose rhetoric that last year heightened tensions and raised the specter of war,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY).

“The art of diplomacy is a lot harder than the art of the deal,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ).

In a back-and-forth with Menendez at a previously scheduled hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary Pompeo defended U.S. preparation for the North Korean summit, blaming the failure on the Pyongyang regime, as Pompeo said in the last week, their North Korean counterparts had simply stopped communicating with the U.S.

“I regret the statements the North Koreans have made over the last few days,” Pompeo said, telling Senators he had made clear that the U.S. expected Kim to agree to a complete dismantling of the North Korean nuclear weapons program.

South Korea's presidential Blue House seems blind-sided by Trump's cancelation of the summit: "We are attempting to make sense of what, precisely, President Trump means," says spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom.

— Anna Fifield (@annafifield) May 24, 2018

Asked by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) if the White House had told South Korea and Japan in advance of the decision to cancel the summit, Pompeo did not give a direct answer, as he kept the focus – and blame – on Kim Jong Un.

“In some ways, it is situation normal,” Pompeo said in a somewhat resigned voice. “The pressure campaign continues.”

“Not a lot of insight there,” Shaheen replied.

Republicans on Capitol Hill stood by the President, blaming North Korea for backing off a pledge to walk away from their nuclear program.

“I 100% support the President’s decision,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). “For two weeks now, North Korean tyrant Kim Jong Un has been trying to sabotage the summit and set the United States up to take the blame.”

.@POTUS maximum pressure campaign must remain in place until #NorthKorea changes course & ends its dangerous pursuit of nuclear weapons. No more empty promises. Our resolve must remain strong.

— Rob Portman (@senrobportman) May 24, 2018

“Kim Jong Un is a murderous despot and habitual liar,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE). “The President made the right call to cancel this summit.”

“I think Kim Jong Un has walked away from a historic opportunity for peace,” said Sen. Corey Gardner (R-CO), “and should be held accountable for his decision.”

On Capitol Hill, Pompeo said there was still hope things would change in the future, but for now, the North Koreans remain a threat.

Trump renews attacks on Russia probe as lawmakers see documents

Thu, 05/24/2018 - 10:58

President Donald Trump renewed his attacks on how investigators dealt with allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 elections and any links to his campaign, as he again charged that top officials at the FBI had committed misconduct, led by former FBI Director James Comey.

“The FBI is a fantastic institution but some of the people at the top were rotten apples,” the President said. “James Comey was one of them.”

“How is he going to explain to his grandchildren all of the lies, the deceit, all of the problems he has caused for this country?” the President said in a recorded interview aired on the Fox News morning program, “Fox and Friends.”

“I’ve done a great service for this country by getting rid of him,”

Mr. Trump and his allies have been on a public blitz in recent days against the Russia probe, trying to cast the actions of the FBI – and the Obama Administration – as an effort to infiltrate his campaign, in order to dummy up charges of collusion against his campaign and top aides.

“The firing of Comey is a good thing”: President @realDonaldTrump discusses former FBI Dir. James Comey & possible spying by the FBI pic.twitter.com/7J4lS7PG40

— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) May 24, 2018

Democrats though point out that while the FBI was investigating the Trump Campaign during the 2016 election, news of it never leaked, even as Comey was publicly inserting himself into the campaign with announcements about Hillary Clinton and her email troubles.

On Thursday afternoon, officials at the Justice Department will brief lawmakers in both parties about how the FBI used an informant to check out reports of ties between Russia and the Trump Campaign in 2016.

Originally, only House GOP lawmakers were going to be involved, but protests from Senators forced that to change; the briefings will involve the FBI Director, the Deputy Attorney General, and the Director of National Intelligence.

Those three officials met earlier this week with President Trump at the White House, as Mr. Trump has charged the FBI basically planted a ‘spy’ in his campaign, an allegation that has so far gained little traction outside a group of more conservative House Republicans.

As for Special Counsel Robert Mueller, his office provided an update of sorts on the investigation while submitting documents to a federal judge handling criminal charges against Paul Manafort, once the head of the Trump Campaign in 2016.

“The Special Counsel’s conduct of the investigation remains ongoing,” the Mueller team reported, saying the probe continues to look at “links and/or coordination between Russia and individuals affiliated with the campaign of President Trump.”

“The investigation is not complete and its details remain non-public,” the Special Counsel’s office stated, in arguing against the public release of search warrants involved in the Manafort case.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, Mueller’s office started moving toward the final stages in the guilty plea of one-time foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos.

“The parties respectfully request that the Court refer this case for the preparation of a presentence investigation report, and that the parties provide a joint status report within thirty days, no later than June 22, 2018,” the two sides agreed in a court document.

Legal experts said that showed the feds were ready to have Papadopoulos sentenced, and that he likely had no more information to offer to investigators.

Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in October 2017 to lying to investigators, when asked about Russian contacts who had told him they had negative information on Hillary Clinton.

The Special Counsel’s office outlined their indictments and guilty pleas this way in their Manafort case submission:

Congress sends Trump new plan to expand private care options for veterans

Wed, 05/23/2018 - 21:17

Still searching for answers on how best to help veterans frustrated by their options within the VA health system, the Senate sent President Donald Trump a bill on Wednesday which allow vets more options to use private medical care if they face lengthy delays or a lack of certain medical services at VA health centers around the nation.

“The Senate passage of the VA MISSION Act is a major victory for our nation’s veterans who will benefit from more choice and fewer barriers to care,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), who chairs the Senate Veterans Committee.

It’s not the first time that Congress has tried to help vets use medical resources outside of the VA for health care, as lawmakers continue to hear stories of vets who have been unable to get care near their homes, or have been forced to endure long waits for specialized appointments.

“This is a transformational piece of legislation that will improve the lives of veterans for generations to come, and I am thrilled this bill will soon be law,” said Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), the chair of the House Veterans Committee.

We’re putting the needs of veterans first by giving them the option of seeking care when and where it makes the most sense for their needs, and we’re creating a force multiplier for the VA to better utilize its resources and provide even better care to veterans. #VAMISSIONAct pic.twitter.com/gKG4AquIxD

— Johnny Isakson (@SenatorIsakson) May 23, 2018

“Passing this legislation is another promise made and promise kept to America’s Veterans under President Trump’s leadership, which has provided the most substantial VA reform in a generation,” the White House said in a written statement.

“This bill puts the needs of veterans first by giving them the option of seeking care when and where it makes the most sense for their needs,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH).

The 230 page bill was named after Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the late Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), and retiring Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX).

The measure was easily approved by the House earlier this month on a vote of 347-70. The Senate vote on Wednesday was 92-5.

The 230 page bill has a wide reach within the VA, doing much more than just allowing veterans more access to care outside the VA health care system.

While a number of veterans groups supported the plan, there were some critics in the Congress, who charged this was just a step on the road to privatization of the VA system.

The plan authorizes $51 billion for the growing “Choice” program in the VA on outside medical care.

The VA bill was the third big piece of legislation approved by Congress and sent to the White House this week, as lawmakers also gave final approval to a “Right to Try” bill on experimental life-saving drugs, and a measure to roll back some of financial restrictions on banks approved after the 2008 Wall Street Collapse.

Trump still not sure about summit with Kim Jong Un

Wed, 05/23/2018 - 17:05

A day after meeting with the leader of South Korea, President Donald Trump told reporters that a final decision should be made next week about a scheduled June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a meeting which has suddenly been surrounded by questions about what the Pyongyang regime will give up on its nuclear weapons program.

“It could happen,” the President said. “Some day a date could happen, it could very well be June 12th.”

“We will know next week,” Mr. Trump added, as preparations for the summit continue, without any clear indication of what concessions the North Koreans might make in any meeting with the President in Singapore.

Trump: “We will know next week about Singapore, and if we go I think it’ll be a great thing for North Korea” #tictocnews pic.twitter.com/TZSrFHVmCK

— TicToc by Bloomberg (@tictoc) May 23, 2018

On Tuesday, Mr. Trump seemed to back away from his bottom line demand that North Korea give up its nuclear weapons program as part of any agreement.

“It would certainly be better if it were all in one,” the President said when asked about immediate denuclearization by the North Koreans, which had seemingly been the requirement for any summit meeting with the North Korean leader.

Earlier in the day on Capitol Hill, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told lawmakers that the summit was a “generational opportunity to resolve a major national security challenge,” when it comes to North Korea.

“Our eyes are still wide open,” Pompeo acknowledged, as there are many lawmakers in both parties in Congress who are worried that little may be achieved in a summit, especially after signals from the Kim government that it was not willing to summarily end its nuclear weapons program.

At the hearing, lawmakers pressed Pompeo for more on the summit – the Secretary of State simply said the U.S. stands ready to talk, and now it will be up to the North Koreans.

Rep. @JoaquinCastrotx: "Is a North Korea summit going to happen or not?"

Pompeo: “Sir, that decision will ultimately be up to Chairman Kim” #tictocnews pic.twitter.com/HlvmalfW9H

— TicToc by Bloomberg (@tictoc) May 23, 2018

“I’m very hopeful that meeting will take place,” Pompeo said at a House hearing.

In flurry of legislative action, Congress delivers pair of bipartisan bills to Trump

Wed, 05/23/2018 - 02:35

With the support of a few dozen Democrats, Congressional Republicans notched a pair of legislative victories for President Donald Trump on Tuesday in the U.S. House, giving final approval to a plan to roll back certain regulations on smaller banking institutions, as well as voting out a bill to help terminally-ill Americans seek new medicines and treatments.

Known as the “Right to Try” legislation, that measure would open new avenues to experimental drugs for those people who have found no cure for a life threatening disease or medical condition.

“As President Trump said in his State of the Union Address this year, every terminally-ill patient should have the right to try innovative drugs that could save their lives,” said Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA).

“Almost forty states have passed their own versions of this important legislation, and we look forward to addressing this at the Federal level,” the White House said in a statement.

“Americans deserve the chance to fight for their lives,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), as he praised the plan which allows terminally-ill patients access to medicine that has been approved by federal regulators, but might not be available yet to the general public.

“Americans and their loved ones deserve the chance to fight for their lives,” Goodlatte added.

The “Right to Try” vote came just before the House approved another bill from the Senate, which eases some financial regulations enacted under the Dodd-Frank law, as 33 Democrats joined with Republicans to ease restrictions on smaller banks.

For Republicans, it was part of a pre-Memorial Day flurry of legislative advances, as the House also approved a prison reform bill backed by the White House.

Before leaving town on Thursday, the House is expected to approve a major defense policy bill, and may take another shot at voting on a farm policy measure – that bill failed last week in an internal GOP dispute over how best to deal with immigration legislation.

Both the defense and farm plans would still need action in the Senate.

Meanwhile, the Senate on Wednesday is expected to send the President another bill on veterans medical care; the Senate voted 91-4 on Tuesday to shut off debate on the measure.

“There is nothing less we need to ask of ourselves than to see to it they have the healthcare benefits we’ve promised veterans for so long,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), as the bill would make a number of new changes in medical care efforts for veterans, which have been plagued by internal troubles for years.

House poised to approve plan to loosen federal banking regulations

Tue, 05/22/2018 - 03:41

With Republicans unable to muster the votes to repeal a major financial regulation law put in the place after the 2008 Wall Street Collapse, the House on Tuesday is expected to give final approval to a less sweeping plan already backed by the Senate, which would ease a series of financial rules and regulations on smaller banking institutions enacted under the 2010 Dodd-Frank law.

“The cycle of lending and job creation has been stifled by onerous regulation,” said Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), who shepherded the bill through the Senate with bipartisan support, and then prevailed on House Republicans to simply accept the plan, instead of trying to make changes which might have doomed the bill’s chances.

“I’m happy to say we’re in the final stages of making these bills law,” said Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA), as a House panel moved to set up Tuesday’s debate on the banking regulation changes.

Among the many provisions in the bill:

+ Banks with less than $250 billion in assets would no longer be subjected to federal “stress tests” – the current threshold is $50 billion.
+ Eases regulatory requirements on banks with less than $10 billion in assets (mainly known as ‘community banks’)
+ Loosens minimum standards on certain home mortgage loans, with a goal of allowing more small banks and credit unions to make such loans.
+ The plan steps up protections for veterans on predatory loans.
+ Active duty service members would get additional protections from foreclosures.
+ Consumers would be eligible in some cases for unlimited credit security freezes to deal with credit fraud alerts.

As in the debate earlier this year in the Senate, more liberal Democrats in the House have sternly argued against the bill, making the case that it takes away too many protections enacted in the original 2010 Dodd-Frank law.

“Defeating this legislation is important to preventing Wall Street from crashing our economy again,” said Rep. Pramila Jaypal (D-WA).

“We must not allow the GOP Congress to drag us back to the same lack of oversight that ignited the Great Recession,” wrote House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) to their colleagues.

Pelosi & Waters write to House Democrats to “urge you to vote no on this dangerous rollback of the consumer protections of Dodd Frank,” the Senate-passed banking overhaul on House floor tomorrow.

— Craig Caplan (@CraigCaplan) May 21, 2018

Consumer watchdog groups like Public Citizen have labeled the bill, the “Bank Lobbyist Act,” arguing it would increase chances for ‘another taxpayer bailout of reckless financial institutions.’

But while the progressive wing of the Democratic Party has objected, other Democrats heard the pleas of small community and regional banks, one reason the Senate voted 67-31 to approve the bill earlier this year.

“It is no coincidence that the bill’s Democratic sponsors come not from major financial hubs, but rural areas where small banks provide a disproportionate share of loans,” said Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO).

While the bill falls well short of the repeal of Dodd-Frank which had been sought by many Republicans, it is still a plus for the GOP, giving President Trump one more item to sign into law, one more bullet point to rattle off for supporters on achievements during his time in office.

“This bill will provide long overdue relief from the regulatory behemoth that is Dodd-Frank,” said Rep. Blaine Leutkemeyer (R-NE), as Republicans said the changes would spur new economic growth, by helping businesses gain access to new credit.

A section-by-section summary of the bill is available <A HREF="https://www.banking.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/S.%202155%20Section%20by%20Section%20Summary,%20March%202018.pdf&quot; target="_blank"here.

You can see the text of the 196 page bill here.

White House agrees to review of DOJ actions in 2016 campaign

Mon, 05/21/2018 - 20:58

A day after President Donald Trump demanded an investigation into how the FBI dealt with investigations during the 2016 campaign, the White House accepted a plan from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to expand an ongoing review of the probe into Russian interference in the elections, and how it touched on the Trump Campaign.

“Based on the meeting with the President, the Department of Justice has asked the Inspector General to expand its current investigation to include any irregularities with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s or the Department of Justice’s tactics concerning the Trump Campaign,” read a statement issued by the White House.

“It was also agreed that White House Chief of Staff Kelly will immediately set up a meeting with the FBI, DOJ, and DNI together with Congressional Leaders to review highly classified and other information they have requested,” the statement added, referring to an ongoing battle between Republicans in Congress and the feds for documents about the Russia probe.

The outcome of the meeting between Mr. Trump, the Deputy Attorney General, the FBI Director, and the Director of National Intelligence – which was not listed on the President’s public schedule – was less explosive than what President Trump had seemingly threatened on Sunday, when he said he would demand a full investigation into whether the feds had “infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes.”

Mr. Trump and Congressional Republicans have been playing up the issue in recent days, arguing that initial FBI efforts to find out what Russia was doing with relation to the Trump Campaign, was actually an effort to undermine Mr. Trump’s bid for the White House.

But Democrats say what’s going on now is an effort by Mr. Trump and his allies in the Congress to undermine the current investigation, by allowing the President’s lawyers to see what evidence the Special Counsel’s office – and maybe U.S. Intelligence – had been able to gather during the 2016 campaign.

Giuliani removes all doubt – the White House effort to force DOJ to give investigatory materials to Congress is really about the defense team getting their hands on them. If the President is charged with a crime, he has a right to see the evidence. Not before. https://t.co/HfzzdZ894d

— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) May 21, 2018

The Monday meeting at the White House came as Republicans stepped up demands for documents about the investigation, as Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), asked the Justice Department for information on contacts between officials and former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, who put together a controversial ‘dossier’ on the President, funded by Democratic sources.

In a letter to Rosenstein, Grassley zeroed in Monday on Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, and his contacts with Steele.

“Accordingly, please provide all records related to Mr. Ohr’s communications about these matters, including: (1) emails from Mr. Ohr’s personal and work accounts, (2) phone logs, (3) handwritten notes, and (4) text messages from personal and work accounts,” Grassley wrote in a letter.

Trump targets ex-Obama CIA chief in fresh attacks on Russia probe

Mon, 05/21/2018 - 12:27

For a second straight day, President Trump used Twitter to go on the attack over the probe into links between Russian interference into the 2016 elections and his own campaign for President, this time targeting a former CIA Director in the Obama Administration, John Brennan, who publicly ridiculed the President and GOP leaders in Congress on Sunday, after Mr. Trump launched a Twitter barrage over the fairness of the Russia probe.

“John Brennan is panicking,” the President said of the former CIA chief. “He has disgraced himself, he has disgraced the Country, he has disgraced the entire Intelligence Community.”

In his tweets, Mr. Trump placed Brennan at the center of a conspiracy to use the ‘Steele Dossier’ to start what the President says was a politically motivated investigation of the Trump Campaign.

“This guy is the genesis of this whole Debacle,” the President wrote, quoting Dan Bongino, a conservative commentator who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Florida and Maryland.

“This was a Political hit job,” the President wrote.

“John Brennan is panicking. He has disgraced himself, he has disgraced the Country, he has disgraced the entire Intelligence Community. He is the one man who is largely responsible for the destruction of American’s faith in the Intelligence Community and in some people at the….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 21, 2018

….top of the FBI. Brennan started this entire debacle about President Trump. We now know that Brennan had detailed knowledge of the (phony) Dossier…he knows about the Dossier, he denies knowledge of the Dossier, he briefs the Gang of 8 on the Hill about the Dossier, which….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 21, 2018

…they then used to start an investigation about Trump. It is that simple. This guy is the genesis of this whole Debacle. This was a Political hit job, this was not an Intelligence Investigation. Brennan has disgraced himself, he’s worried about staying out of Jail.” Dan Bongino

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 21, 2018

Mr. Trump’s tweets came just a few hours before he was going to the CIA to swear in the new Director of Central Intelligence, Gina Haspel, who was confirmed to the post last Thursday by the U.S. Senate.

Ironically, Brennan has been a strong public supporter of Haspel, breaking with many Democrats, who had pressed for her rejection in the Senate.

Brennan, who was CIA Director during the second term of the Obama Administration, earned the ire of the President with a Sunday tweet that not only slammed the President, but as GOP leaders in Congress, accusing them of doing nothing in the face of an effort by Mr. Trump to interfere in a lawful investigation of Russian meddling in 2016.

Brennan has sniped at Mr. Trump on Twitter before, accusing him earlier this month of lying about the Iran nuclear deal, and arguing he has diminished the office of the President of the United States.

“Your hypocrisy knows no bounds,” Brennan tweeted in late April, when Mr. Trump accused former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper of leaking the Steele Dossier to CNN and lying about it.

Senator McConnell & Speaker Ryan: If Mr. Trump continues along this disastrous path, you will bear major responsibility for the harm done to our democracy. You do a great disservice to our Nation & the Republican Party if you continue to enable Mr. Trump’s self-serving actions. https://t.co/uAhgL6wfIC

— John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan) May 20, 2018

Mr. Trump: Your hypocrisy knows no bounds. Jim Clapper is a man of integrity, honesty, ethics, & morality. You are not. Jim Clapper served his country for over a half century, including in Vietnam. You did not. By your words & behavior, you diminish the Office of the Presidency. https://t.co/bYlmZInDoM

— John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan) April 28, 2018

The tweets by the President on Monday morning did not rival his outburst on Sunday, in which he savaged the probe of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and said he would demand a review of whether the investigation was political in nature.

Top Justice Department officials responded on Sunday evening by saying they would have the Inspector General review Mr. Trump’s claims.

It was not immediately clear if that move satisfied the President, who made this declaration Sunday afternoon on Twitter:

I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes – and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2018

Democrats derided the President’s outburst on Twitter, again saying the Mueller investigation should be allowed to go forward without interference.

“Trump can wriggle and squirm and spew on Twitter all he wants, but in America the law will run its own course,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

Trump explodes on Twitter, demands new review of 2016 investigation

Sun, 05/20/2018 - 19:08

Venting his frustration in a series of tweets on Sunday, President Donald Trump again demanded to know how the Justice Department, FBI, and Obama Administration handled questions of Russian interference in the 2016 election, saying he would request a new review specifically to see if an investigation was opened for ‘political purposes’ involving his campaign.

“I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes – and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!” the President said.

It was one of a number of tweets where Mr. Trump flashed aggravation with the investigation into questions of Russian interference in the 2016 elections this weekend, as he repeated his charge that the feds had gone easy on Hillary Clinton and Democrats, while focusing investigative resources on his own campaign.

I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes – and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2018

Things are really getting ridiculous. The Failing and Crooked (but not as Crooked as Hillary Clinton) @nytimes has done a long & boring story indicating that the World’s most expensive Witch Hunt has found nothing on Russia & me so now they are looking at the rest of the World!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2018

….At what point does this soon to be $20,000,000 Witch Hunt, composed of 13 Angry and Heavily Conflicted Democrats and two people who have worked for Obama for 8 years, STOP! They have found no Collussion with Russia, No Obstruction, but they aren’t looking at the corruption…

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2018

…in the Hillary Clinton Campaign where she deleted 33,000 Emails, got $145,000,000 while Secretary of State, paid McCabes wife $700,000 (and got off the FBI hook along with Terry M) and so much more. Republicans and real Americans should start getting tough on this Scam.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2018

Now that the Witch Hunt has given up on Russia and is looking at the rest of the World, they should easily be able to take it into the Mid-Term Elections where they can put some hurt on the Republican Party. Don’t worry about Dems FISA Abuse, missing Emails or Fraudulent Dossier!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2018

What ever happened to the Server, at the center of so much Corruption, that the Democratic National Committee REFUSED to hand over to the hard charging (except in the case of Democrats) FBI? They broke into homes & offices early in the morning, but were afraid to take the Server?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2018

….and why hasn’t the Podesta brother been charged and arrested, like others, after being forced to close down his very large and successful firm? Is it because he is a VERY well connected Democrat working in the Swamp of Washington, D.C.?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2018

The Witch Hunt finds no Collusion with Russia – so now they’re looking at the rest of the World. Oh’ great!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2018

What seemingly set off Mr. Trump on Sunday was a report in the New York Times, which said Donald Trump Jr. had held a meeting at Trump Tower in the months before the elections, to hear an offer of help from emissaries of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“The Witch Hunt finds no Collusion with Russia – so now they’re looking at the rest of the World,” the President tweeted.

The President’s call for a review of how the FBI handled questions about Russian interference is already the subject of a review inside the Justice Department – it wasn’t clear how this request would be dealt with by officials.

“There are rules,” said Carrie Cordero, a former Justice Department national security lawyer, who is now a professor at Georgetown University Law School.

The Department of Justice doesn't open investigations for political puposes, which is what the president says today he will order tomorrow. There are rules. And I'm convinced there are people left in this government who will follow them.

— Carrie Cordero (@carriecordero) May 20, 2018

In Congress, Democrats saw the President’s tweets as a signal of one thing – that he’s worried about what investigators are finding out about the 2016 probe, as they raised questions of whether the President is trying to exert political pressure on the Justice Department.

“Trump’s claim of an embedded “spy” is nonsense,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA). “His “demand” DOJ investigate something they know to be untrue is an abuse of power, and an effort to distract from his growing legal problems.”

“The President has sent 8 tweets in 5 hours on Hillary and the Mueller investigation,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA). “He is unhinged.”

I would like a lawyer to explain to me why that last tweet from POTUS is not a big deal, because it seems like maybe it’s a pretty big deal.

— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) May 20, 2018

“You need to be subpoenaed for obstruction of justice/conspiracy/money laundering,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX). “Let Mueller do his job.”

Democrats also questioned how the FBI did anything improper with regards to the Trump Campaign, because while then-Director James Comey spoke out about the Hillary Clinton email investigation just before the election, he said nothing about an ongoing counter-intelligence probe involving Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russia.

“A President who has nothing to hide would not have done another series of tweets this Sunday Morning smearing the DOJ investigation,” said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA).

Farm bill derailed over House GOP battle on immigration

Fri, 05/18/2018 - 20:09

Unable to broker an agreement on a schedule for votes on bills dealing with immigration, a simmering internal fight among Republicans on that hot button issue boiled over on the House floor Friday, resulting in the defeat of a major farm policy bill, with the outcome raising the chances that the House will have a wide open showdown over DACA and illegal immigrant “Dreamers” in June.

A frustrated House Speaker Paul Ryan stood with his arms folded in the Well of the House as the 213-198 rejection of the Farm Bill was an embarrassing reminder of the inability of GOP leaders to forge an immigration bill that can pass Congress – and get the support of the President.

“I don’t know if the Freedom Caucus is ever going to say ‘yes’ to anything,” said Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL), as many Republicans blamed the group of more conservative GOP lawmakers for opposing the Farm Bill, in an effort to get a vote on an immigration bill that they would support.

“We had an agreement yesterday,” said Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA). “They pulled back off of that agreement.”

The failure to pass the #FarmBill is a perfect example of the dysfunction within Washington. If we can’t get behind something as simple as supporting agriculture then that just goes to show how completely screwed up our system has become. https://t.co/y0BWn1pXSO

— Tom Rooney (@TomRooney) May 18, 2018

There were 30 Republicans who voted against the Farm Bill, for a mixture of reasons. Some over immigration, some because it spent too much, while there was also a group of more moderate Republicans who opposed changes in work requirements in the food stamp program.

“It doesn’t actually save money,” said Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH). “In the first five years of the bill, it spends more money.”

For others, their opposition had nothing to do with farm policy.

“I think at this point, we really just need to deal with immigration,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), the head of the House Freedom Caucus. “Hopefully we’ll fix the Farm Bill and the immigration bill.”

“My main focus was making sure we do immigration policy right,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH).

Those type of comments sparked finger pointing from fellow Republicans.

“When you have people like Jim Jordan taking down the Farm Bill for other issues, they’re acting just like Chuck Schumer and the Democrats over in the Senate,” said Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH).

In the aftermath of the vote, Republicans who have pressed a ‘discharge petition’ to force action on immigration said their efforts were not over.

“What we have been working on most of the week is a timeline, a date certain, when we bring most of this up,” Rep. Denham told reporters, as he predicted there would be 218 signatures soon, which would force action on immigration.

Under the plan, four different immigration bills would be in order, giving all sides an opportunity to bring up their issues – but Denham says the final outcome must be something that allows “Dreamers” a pathway to citizenship, and includes serious border security measures.

I’ve signed a bipartisan discharge petition to force a vote to #ProtectDreamers. I urge my Republican colleagues to join this effort to give #Dreamers the certainty they deserve.

— Rep. Doris Matsui (@DorisMatsui) May 18, 2018

“We are now working on the substance of that bill, and trying to come together on a 218-bipartisan bill,” Denham added, saying he was working with the White House as well.

“Ultimately we want to have something we not only put on the President’s desk, but one the President will actually support,” Denham said.

Once there are 218 signatures, that will start a clock for action in June. As of Friday afternoon, there were 196 members who had signed, including 20 Republicans. Five more would be needed to join with all 193 Democrats in the House.

Trump expresses support for victims of Texas school shooting

Fri, 05/18/2018 - 17:09

In the wake of shooting at a high school in Texas, President Donald Trump on Friday expressed the grief of the nation, telling the families of the victims, “We’re with you in this tragic hour, and we will be with you forever,” as Mr. Trump bemoaned what has become a familiar occurrence, a mass shooting involving young students.

“This has been going on too long in our country,” the President said in the East Room of the White House. “Too many years. Too many decades.”

“My administration is determined to do everything in our power to protect our students, secure our schools, and to keep weapons out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves and to others,” Mr. Trump added.

We grieve for the terrible loss of life, and send our support and love to everyone affected by this horrible attack in Texas. To the students, families, teachers and personnel at Santa Fe High School – we are with you in this tragic hour, and we will be with you forever… pic.twitter.com/LtJ0D29Hsv

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2018

Mr. Trump’s message echoed his words after a mass shooting late last year in Parkland, Florida, which set off a loud political response.

“Everyone must work together, at every level of government, to keep our children safe,” the President said.

“I’m praying for all of the victims and their families and loved ones,” said Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), who was seriously wounded in a gun attack last year on a group of Republican lawmakers, gathered for an early morning baseball practice outside of Washington, D.C.

“This is a senseless tragedy,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA).

News of the shooting spread as the U.S. House was wrapping up work for the week, as Democrats swiftly demanded action in the Congress on measures dealing with gun violence.

“Children’s lives are being cut short by senseless gun violence,” said Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA). “It is past time for Congress to act to prevent more innocent deaths.”

“We have to stop this,” said Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), as Democrats said Capitol Hill and the White House must act.

My heart and thoughts go to everyone at Santa Fe High School. We failed you. #EnoughIsEnough #NeverAgain

— Eric Swalwell (@ericswalwell) May 18, 2018

Let’s call it like it is: the horrifying inaction of Congress, slaughter after slaughter, has become a green light to would-be shooters, who pervert silence into endorsement.

— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) May 18, 2018

“We are not powerless,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA). “We are supposed to be leaders and take action.”

“Congress and Trump must finally have the courage to stand up to the NRA and do what the American people want,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). “Enough is enough!”

Immigration debate roils Republicans again in Congress

Fri, 05/18/2018 - 02:26

An internal wrestling match over the best path forward on immigration left various factions of Republicans in the House increasingly at odds with each other Thursday, imperiling approval of a major farm policy bill, as GOP leaders struggled to prevent an arcane rules maneuver from being used to force a vote on the DACA program.

“What we’ve been trying to do is find an immigration bill that has 218 votes,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan. “We’ve been laboring to get to 218.”

“It’s clear that we don’t have 218 for a specific bill,” Ryan told reporters, the first real public admission by GOP leaders that a plan favored by President Trump is not going to make it through the House without changes.

“We’re working in earnest with our members to try to address all of their concerns,” the Speaker added, as meetings in the Capitol among various Republicans stretched into the night.

On one hand, more conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus were trying to get GOP leaders to agree to bring up an immigration bill backed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) – even though it won’t have enough votes to pass – doing all they can to avoid a vote on a plan which would allow illegal immigrant “Dreamers” to get on a pathway to citizenship in the United States, an idea that was sure to draw support from Democrats.

While over 130 Democrats on Thursday signed onto a special “discharge petition,” which would force votes on four different immigration plans, the key figure was still the number of GOP signatures, which remained at 20.

A combination of 25 Republicans – and all 193 Democrats – would set in motion a procedural push on immigration which GOP leaders want to avoid, because it might only mean a victory for a bill dealing with DACA, and not measures called for by the President on illegal immigration.

These are the 20 GOP lawmakers who have signed on so far:

One solution being floated was a minimal immigration bill dealing with DACA and border security – but the problem for the GOP in the House is fairly straightforward – if a bill does nothing on DACA it loses certain votes, and if you add DACA in, that pushes other Republicans away.

Trump denounces Russia probe one year after Mueller appointment

Thu, 05/17/2018 - 12:18

A year to the day after former FBI Director Robert Mueller was named as Special Counsel to investigate allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, President Donald Trump lashed out at the ongoing probe, again denying that he coordinated any actions with Russia, or obstructed justice in the resulting investigation, as Mr. Trump charged that the FBI ‘spied’ on his campaign.

“Congratulations America, we are now into the second year of the greatest Witch Hunt in American history,” the President wrote on Twitter.

Mr. Trump’s tweet came a day after the current FBI Director, Christopher Wray, rejected assertions that the probe was a ‘witch hunt,’ telling a Senate panel that his agents are doing the best they can to find the truth about Russian meddling in the 2016 race.

Congratulations America, we are now into the second year of the greatest Witch Hunt in American History…and there is still No Collusion and No Obstruction. The only Collusion was that done by Democrats who were unable to win an Election despite the spending of far more money!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 17, 2018

Wow, word seems to be coming out that the Obama FBI “SPIED ON THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN WITH AN IMBEDDED INFORMANT.” Andrew McCarthy says, “There’s probably no doubt that they had at least one confidential informant in the campaign.” If so, this is bigger than Watergate!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 17, 2018

Despite the disgusting, illegal and unwarranted Witch Hunt, we have had the most successful first 17 month Administration in U.S. history – by far! Sorry to the Fake News Media and “Haters,” but that’s the way it is!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 17, 2018

The President’s frustration with the probe came on the heels of a large document dump from the Senate Judiciary Committee, which officially released testimony – for the first time – of Donald Trump Jr., and others who had been present for a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, where Trump Campaign officials thought they would get ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton from a woman who had been described as a lawyer with ties to the Russian government.

Among the news items from over 2,000 pages of documents released by the panel:

+ Jared Kushner was described as “agitated” when he didn’t get Hillary Clinton ‘dirt’ in Trump Tower meeting.
+ Donald Trump Jr. denied that his father knew of that meeting or any collusion with Russia.
+ Wikileaks asked Donald Trump Jr. to leak his father’s tax returns to them – so they could then leak them on line.
+ Trump Organization lawyers coordinated the press response in 2017 when news of the Trump Tower meeting got into the press.

The bottom line for the President and his supporters remains straightforward – there was no collusion, no wrongdoing.

GIULIANI on the Russia investigation:

“If there was collusion with the Russians, they [the Trump campaign] would’ve used it.”pic.twitter.com/pIBMnmw09C

— JM Rieger (@RiegerReport) May 17, 2018

While the President and his allies said it was time for the Russia investigation to end, Mueller’s team shows no signs of wrapping up that probe – which began well before he was tapped as Special Counsel – as many Democrats argue it’s obvious much still needs to be learned.

“There’s a lot we still don’t know about the Trump-Russia connection,” said Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO).

New documents spur new questions on Trump-Russia probe

Thu, 05/17/2018 - 01:02

Donald Trump Jr. told Senate investigators that he did nothing wrong in a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting which had been advertised as one that might give the Trump Campaign “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, as an unexpected document dump by a Senate committee on Tuesday released new information about the investigation, spurred new questions, and filled in some blanks about the ongoing probe into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

“I did not collude with any foreign government and did not know anyone who did,” Trump Jr. said flatly in his interview with the Senate Judiciary Committee, as the panel released transcripts of Trump Jr. and others involved in that controversial Trump Tower gathering, handing out no information which showed any direct links to President Donald Trump, but raising more questions about contacts with Russians during the election.

It was the first time official testimony had been made public from a Trump family member on the Russia probe, as Trump Jr. made no bones about declaring his innocence, but sidestepped dozens of queries by saying he didn’t remember or recall what had happened.

Here’s some of what we learned, and some questions raised Tuesday in the Russia investigation:

1. Senate Judiciary documents provide more detail on Russia probe. The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday dropped over 2,000 pages of transcripts, emails, text messages, and other documents from that panel’s review of the Russia probe. No final report was issued by committee Republicans, but it didn’t take long to find new nuggets in the fine print, especially in the interview done with Donald Trump Jr., which focused a great deal on the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between campaign officials and a group of Russians. Trump Jr. denied any wrongdoing.

2. Wikileaks asked Trump Jr. to leak his father’s tax returns. Among the questions asked of the President’s son, were there contacts between the campaign and Wikileaks, the internet group which ended up leaking large amounts of emails from Democratic Party staffers and officials, and which U.S. Intelligence regards as a pawn of Russian Intelligence. Trump Jr. revealed that he had been in contact with Wikileaks via Twitter, and revealed one interesting request – they wanted Trump Jr. to forward his father’s tax returns, in order to be leaked out by Wikileaks.

3. Jared Kushner not pleased with Trump Tower meeting. While Kushner, the President’s son-in-law, refused to sit for an interview with investigators on the Senate Judiciary Committee, there was an interesting insight provided about him from Rob Goldstone, who had helped set up the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Trump Campaign officials and a woman who was characterized as a “Russian government attorney.” Before the meeting, there had been a promise of “dirt” which would incriminate Hillary Clinton, but instead, the presentation centered more on changes in adoption policies dealing with Russians. Goldstone told investigators that Kushner seemed agitated, and then infuriated, when there was no ‘smoking gun’ on Clinton presented in the meeting.

4. Scramble as details of Trump Tower meeting emerges. When press reports in July of 2017 began to detail who was involved in the meeting, and the focus on opposition research involving Hillary Clinton, emails and text messages from some of the participants show them scrambling to figure out what to say as reporters zeroed in for comment. While Trump Jr. had maintained the meeting was only about Russian adoption policies, that changed when he released email traffic from before the meeting, just before it was being published by the New York Times. In one email to Ike Kaveladze, who was in the meeting, an unidentified acquaintance wondered if the President’s son had caused himself trouble. “Why did he release this e-mail admitting to collusion?” the person wrote.  One other thing – if you note the attachment listed on the below email, you can find that same identifier string by going to a tweet by Donald Trump Jr., when he released his email traffic about the Trump Tower meeting. So this email is clearly about that tweet.

5. Trump Organization lawyers coordinated press response. As details of that Trump Tower meeting emerged in July 2017, putting Trump Jr. and others on the defensive, emails released by the Judiciary Committee show that the Trump Organization stepped in to put together a response. Rob Goldstone, who helped facilitate the meeting, pleaded with a top legal official for the Trump Organization for guidance as the press coverage intensified. “Can I please at least now see the statement you guys put out?” A day later, everyone seemed to be on the same page, as Goldstone sent out an email with the subject line, “Here is statement drafted by Trump lawyers which they have asked me to release.”

6. Senate Intelligence Committee at odds with House on Russia probe. Just as the Senate Judiciary Committee made its document dump, the Senate Intelligence Committee released an overall statement on how the U.S. Intelligence Community assessed the threat from Russia, during the 2016 campaign. Taking a much different path than their colleagues on the other side of the Capitol, the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee said their investigation agreed with the findings of the U.S. Intelligence Community, that Russia was not only trying to interfere in the 2016 election, but trying to help one particular candidate. “The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated, and ordered by President Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA).

Vice Chairman @MarkWarner and I released the following statements regarding today's Senate Intelligence Committee closed hearing to complete its review of the Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) on “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections”: pic.twitter.com/AK6vgim8Ly

— Richard Burr (@SenatorBurr) May 16, 2018

7. FBI Director: Russia probe not a witch hunt. A few hours later on Capitol Hill, the FBI Director was before a Senate panel for a regular budget hearing, but fielded questions on a variety of topics, one of them being the Russia investigation. FBI chief Christopher Wray defended the work of his agents, and specifically stood by his statement of July 2017, when he disagreed with President Trump’s charge that the Russia probe is a “witch hunt.” Wray did that again on Tuesday.

NEW: FBI Director says Russia probe is not a witch hunt

Leahy: You said at your confirmation hearing that the Russian investigation was not a witch hunt. You’ve been there now 10 mos, you’re far more immersed in the details of the FBI. Is that still your opinion?

Wray: Yes.

— David P Gelles (@gelles) May 16, 2018

8. Trump formally admits paying Michael Cohen, who paid Stormy Daniels. In a submission to the Office of Government Ethics, President Trump’s financial disclosure form for 2017 had a small footnote added, confirming that Mr. Trump had “reportable liabilities” in 2016 to his personal attorney, Michael Cohen. “Mr. Cohen sought reimbursement of those expenses and Mr. Trump fully reimbursed Mr. Cohen in 2017. The category of value would be $100,001 – $250,000 and the interest rate would be zero,” it said. Maybe of more interest was that OGE officials then sent a letter to the Deputy Attorney General, advising him of the addition. Acting OGE Director David Apol wrote, “you may find the disclosure relevant to any inquiry you may be pursuing regarding the President’s prior report that was signed on June 14, 2017. It almost sounded like a criminal referral for a false statement.

9. Cohen still battling with lawyer for Stormy Daniels. As the lawyer for Daniels, the outspoken Michael Avenatti, tries to get involved in the case surrounding the April 9 FBI raid on Cohen, a federal judge in New York ordered Cohen to weigh in on why Avenatti should not be allowed to be heard in the case. Avenatti has already uncorked a series of revelations about payments to Cohen, which brought an unprecedented release of banking records, supposedly from a financial whistleblower, who told the New Yorker of the movement of large amounts of money through accounts linked to Cohen. Does it have anything to do with the Russia probe? Something to think about.

10. The Rolling Stones and Donald Trump. Reporters who have regularly covered President Trump on the road are very familiar with the songs played for the crowd, both before and after Mr. Trump speaks. When his events end, the Rolling Stones blares with the song, ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want.’ Ironically, the FBI nicknamed the investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election after another Stones song – according to a report in the New York Times, the investigation was named Operation Crossfire Hurricane. For you Stones fans out there, that’s from the first line of the song Jumpin’ Jack Flash. This is from Madison Square Garden in 1969. I wonder if the name of the operation is a play on Five Eyes, and the reach of U.S. Intelligence partners.


Trump: “We’ll see what happens” with North Korean summit

Wed, 05/16/2018 - 17:06

A day after North Korea raised objections to a United States demand that Pyongyang end its nuclear weapons program as part of an upcoming summit meeting, President Donald Trump told reporters he would wait to hear more from Kim Jong Un’s government.

“We’ll see what happens,” the President told reporters during an Oval Office photo opportunity. “We’ll have to see. We’ll have to see.”

Asked if Kim was bluffing, the President gave the same answer, but signaled that his own goal for the historic meeting remains the same – the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

“We haven’t been notified at all,” Mr. Trump said of any possible change to his June 12 summit in Singapore. “We haven’t heard anything. We will see what happens, whatever it is.”

President Trump on #NorthKorea: "We haven’t been notified at all. We haven't seen anything. We haven't heard anything. We will see what happens." pic.twitter.com/tuzRZrW5ux

— CSPAN (@cspan) May 16, 2018

Amid the uncertainty, lawmakers in the Congress – both supporters and critics – urged the President to go slow.

“This is a case where we need to verify before we trust,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), as members say Kim Jong Un has to do more than just promise to pull back on his nuclear ambitions.

.@potus is right to insist on denuclearization by #NorthKorea BEFORE any benefits come from any deal with them. This is a case where we need to verify before we trust. https://t.co/cJDAFgiSFB

— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) May 16, 2018

“I’ve never put much faith in the summit itself,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who urged the President to rely more on experts at the State Department, amid concerns that the North Koreans might talk a lot about change, but not follow through on that.

“We will not solve this in one meeting but we can make it worse if we are excitable,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI).

Meanwhile, foreign policy experts said it should be no surprise that the North would push back on the President’s demand for an end to Pyongyang’s nuclear program, arguing that total denuclearization as a first step might be an unrealistic goal.

“All or nothing approach to diplomacy will likely yield nothing,” said Richard Haass, the head of the Council on Foreign Relations.

“Kim Jung Un has jump-started the North Korea nuclear talks with this abrasive but predictable statement,” said Nicholas Burns, a top diplomat in both the Clinton and Bush Administrations.

BREAKING: Trump responds to NKorea threat to cancel Kim Jong Un summit, says he will still insist on denuclearization.

— AP Politics (@AP_Politics) May 16, 2018

The change in tone came late Monday, when North Korea suddenly threatened to cancel the Trump-Kim summit because of previously scheduled military drills involving American and South Korean forces.

“Don’t give Kim Jong Un anything for free,” said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer. “We must be strong, and we must be resolute – this exercise should move forward.”

Trump Jr. tells Senate he can’t recall discussing Russia meeting with his father

Wed, 05/16/2018 - 13:31

In testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Donald Trump Jr. denied doing anything wrong by meeting with a group of Russians who promised ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 elections, telling investigators that he did not remember if he had talked about the details of that meeting with his father, the President, as a U.S. Senate panel released hundreds of pages of documents related to the controversial election year meeting at Trump Tower in New York.

“I have no recollection of documents being offered or left for us,” Trump Jr. said. “I did not collude with any foreign government and did not know anyone who did.”

“That was the end of it and there was no further contact or follow-up of any kind,” Trump Jr. said of the June 9, 2016 meeting, which has raised red flags with investigators. “My father knew nothing of the meeting or these events.”

Good catch: Trump (on June 7) and Goldstone (on June 3) both used the words "very interesting" when describing damaging info they'd allegedly received about Hillary Clinton. Trump Jr. called it a coincidence, but acknowledged that he couldn't be sure. pic.twitter.com/O6C5w8XONf

— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) May 16, 2018

The Trump Jr. deposition was just part of over 2,500 pages of documents released by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“These materials, taken in their entirety, provide the most complete public picture of the events surrounding the meeting to date. Americans can now review this unfiltered information and arrive at their own conclusions,” said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), the Chairman of the Judiciary panel.

In the 224 pages of testimony by Trump Jr., investigators repeatedly pressed him on what he expected out of the meeting – which he had said was about Russian adoption issues.

“But what is it that specifically you were interested in getting out of that meeting?” Trump Jr. was asked.

“I was interested in listening to information,” Trump Jr. replied.

“Information of Hillary Clinton?”

“Yes,” Trump Jr. said.

The documents released today include transcripts of interviews with Glenn Simpson, who headed Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm which helped to assemble the Steele Dossier, as well as several people present at the Trump Tower meeting.

Also made public, submissions of documents by President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and former Campaign Manager Paul Manafort.

Both Kushner and Manafort refused to be interviewed by committee investigators.

Among the many documents released were emails between people who attended the Trump Tower meeting; one email from Rob Goldstone – who helped set up that meeting – expresses surprise at a breaking news story one week later about Russian hackers being responsible for taking files from the Democratic National Committee.

The documents made public by the Senate also show participants in the Trump Tower meeting scrambling to deal with press reports about the matter, as news emerged in July of 2017.

One email – sent by a person whose name was redacted – questioned the statement of Donald Trump Jr. about the Trump Tower meeting.

“Why did he release this email admitting to collusion?” the unidentified person asked Ike Kaveladze, who was at the June 2016 gathering.

The attachment noted in the above graphic is a tweet from Donald Trump Jr., where he releases emails about the Trump Tower meeting. If you go to that and right click on the graphic to save it, you will get the identical attachment name,”DEdnhw-WsAEbW9N.jpg.”

At one point in his testimony, Trump Jr. was asked about contacts with Wikileaks during the campaign – he volunteered that Wikileaks at one point had asked him to leak his father’s tax return to the group.

DC judge rejects Manafort bid to dismiss Mueller charges

Tue, 05/15/2018 - 22:40

In a legal setback for former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort, a federal judge in Washington, D.C. ruled on Tuesday that the Special Counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections did not overstep its authority by bringing indictments against Manafort which were unrelated to the Russia probe.

“The motion to dismiss will be denied for a number of reasons,” wrote Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who argued in a 37 page decision that charges related to Manafort’s work in Ukraine – which predated the 2016 campaign – “falls squarely” within the authority granted to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

“Manafort was, at one time, not merely “associated with,” but the chairman of, the Presidential campaign, and his work on behalf of the Russia-backed Ukrainian political party and connections to other Russian figures are matters of public record,” the judge added.

“Manafort was an obvious person of interest,” the judge wrote.

“It bears emphasizing at this stage that Manafort is presumed to be innocent of these charges, and it will be the prosecution’s burden to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” Judge Jackson added. “But the indictment will not be dismissed, and the matter will proceed to trial.”

The decision comes about two weeks after another federal judge – T. S. Ellis, III – raised questions in a court hearing about the scope and breadth of the Mueller probe, giving hope to critics who believe that the investigation has overstepped its bounds.

Ellis is handling a case against Manafort in Virginia; Jackson in the District of Columbia.

This is a judge Trump will not be quoting at rallies: “The Special Counsel would have been remiss to ignore such an obvious potential link between the Trump campaign and the Russian government” – Federal Judge Berman dismissing Manafort’s motion to dismiss.

— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) May 15, 2018

The charges filed in Washington, D.C. relate to money laundering, and failure by Manafort to register as a foreign agent for the government of Ukraine.

The case originally involved both Manafort, and his top campaign deputy Rick Gates – but Gates is now cooperating with federal investigators.

This effort by Manafort was to dismiss the revised indictment filed by the Special Counsel filed along with Gates’ guilty plea.

GOP Senators continue to defend McCain, urge White House apology

Tue, 05/15/2018 - 14:59

More Republicans in the U.S. Senate stepped to the defense of ailing Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) on Tuesday, amplifying calls for the White House to publicly apologize over the comments of a top aide to President Donald Trump, who dismissed McCain’s opposition to a top nominee, citing his health troubles.

“Of course there should be an apology,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) during a U.S. Capitol news conference, as he said there should also be more public praise for the 81 year old McCain, who is battling brain cancer.

“I think more broadly, we need to be thinking less about senseless comments, and more about prayers for a great American,” Sullivan added.

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used a speech on the Senate floor to pay tribute to McCain, as McConnell said he had traveled to Arizona to see their GOP colleague, who has been at home for cancer treatment since December.

“I told him we miss him,” the Majority Leader said.

“I said I was confident I was speaking for everybody in the Senate, and conveying our deepest respects for him and all he’s done for the county in his extraordinary life.”

McConnell’s description of McCain as an “American hero” was picked up by others GOP Senators on Tuesday.

“I’m going to put an exclamation point on that,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA). “John McCain is an American hero.”

GOP Senators have stepped to McCain’s defense in the wake of leaked remarks by a special assistant to the President, Kelly Sadler, who had dismissed McCain’s opposition to the President’s pick for CIA chief by saying McCain’s stance didn’t matter – “He’s dying anyway.”

“I regret that comment by that employee, that certainly does not speak for this President or any of us in this caucus,” Perdue told reporters.

Sadler reportedly told McCain’s daughter that she would publicly apologize, but that has not occurred, and it clearly has been noted on Capitol Hill.

“I think long term in the history of this country, when we think of duty, honor, and country, we will also think of John McCain,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD), who was not asked about McCain, but made sure to tell reporters his views on Tuesday.

At Monday’s White House briefing, Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah said Sadler had apologized directly to the family, as he was pressed several times over why that apology had not been a public one.

“I don’t have anything further to add,” Shah said.