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Digging inside the details of the new indictments in the Russia probe

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 22:13

The investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election for President on Friday presented some of the first official government evidence of actions taken in the campaign, as a federal grand jury returned an indictment against 13 Russians and 3 Russian entities, alleging that they used social media to support President Donald Trump, and oppose Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

The highly detailed 37 page indictment covered everything from social media ads taken out by the Russian ‘Internet Freedom Agency,’ to efforts to help with Trump rallies in Florida and other states – and even a post-election foray into anti-Trump events.

Here is some of what we learned on Friday:

1. Russian interference no longer a “hoax.” For months, President Trump has complained that the Russia investigation is a hoax. But now, the feds have laid out a highly detailed indictment, alleging that 13 Russians and 3 different Russian entities used social media to buy political ads against Hillary Clinton (“Ohio Wants Hillary 4 Prison”), and for Donald Trump (“Trump is our only hope for a better future!”), organized actual rallies to support Mr. Trump (“Florida Goes Trump”), and much more. “If you had any doubt that Russia meddled in our 2016 elections, this is your wake-up call,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE). ” “There is no question that Russia meddled in our 2016 elections,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK).  Back in September, the President derided the idea that Russian groups had bought social media ads in the 2016 campaign. “The Russia hoax continues, now it’s ads on Facebook,” he tweeted. But Friday, the President seemed to finally accept that there had been Russian interference.

Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 16, 2018

2. Rosenstein takes the lead on new indictments. While Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is officially the boss of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Rosenstein has not participated in any of the earlier indictment or guilty plea announcements. But today, the ‘DAG’ was front and center at the Justice Department. He laid out the basics of the indictments of 13 Russians and described the outlines of the effort to meddle in the 2016 election. Rosenstein took only a few questions.

3. Trump – and his supporters – proclaim “NO COLLUSION.” On Twitter, and then in a statement issued by the White House on Friday afternoon, the President made clear that the latest indictments showed nothing in the way of collusion between Russians and his campaign. (The all-caps “NO COLLUSION” was in the White House statement.) But what was really said by Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein? “Now, there is no allegation – in this indictment – that any American was a knowing particpant in this illegal activity,” Rosenstein said, as he used “in this indictment” several times.

4. No names revealed of who Russians contacted. As the indictment detailed efforts by the Russians to set up events for Trump supporters in Florida, there were contacts made with people on the Trump Campaign. The indictment doesn’t list the names of those who were contacted by the ‘joshmilton024@gmail.com’ account – instead, they are referred to as “Campaign Official 1,” “Campaign Official 2” and so on. But let me play devil’s advocate for a minute. Why not reveal who those people were? Is it really that big of a deal?

5. Mueller reveals some of his evidence. At one point in the indictment, the feds quote an email from one of the Russians, Irina Viktorovna Kaverzina, in which she said: “We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity (not a joke).” While that jumps off the page of the indictment, it is also seems to send a message – that the FBI has a lot more information, from the social media accounts that were used by the Russians, to emails and more. Could some of this also be from intelligence efforts? We’ll see.

This Mueller indictment is good stuff. I gather they got into the Russians' online accounts (likely w/warrants for US-based accounts) and reconstructed the whole arrangement. Well done.

— Orin Kerr (@OrinKerr) February 16, 2018

6. Hillary Clinton in a cage – Russian supported? In the indictment, it talks about how the Russians moved “to build a cage large enough to hold an actress depicting (Hillary) Clinton in a prison uniform.” That jogged the memory of several reporters, who found stories about such a scene in Florida, during the 2016 campaign. And others remembered the Hillary-in-a-cage routine from other states.

I remember a flatbed truck with a depiction of Hillary Clinton in a cage repeatedly drove by a Hillary Clinton rally site in Orlando in Sept. 2016 https://t.co/V5o3vruJXm

— Steven Lemongello (@SteveLemongello) February 16, 2018

7. After the election, the Russians play both sides. The indictment also revealed that after the election was over – and President Trump had been declared the victor – the Russians even went into the business of anti-Trump rallies in New York and Charlotte, North Carolina. “Trump is NOT my President,” was the rally in New York – while at the same time, the group was organizing an event to “support President-Elect Donald Trump.”

8. Another guilty plea as well for the Mueller probe. Minutes after the indictments against the 13 Russians was released, the Special Counsel also revealed a recent guilty plea, from February 2, of Richard Pinedo, from California. Pinedo was charged with “Identity Fraud,” which may be related to efforts by the Russians indicted on Friday to use American identities while engaging in their work on the 2016 Presidential election. It wasn’t exactly clear how Pinedo fits in, though it seems that he is the first American to be charged with directly helping the Russian operation to influence the 2016 campaign – but there is no evidence presented that he knew that was happening. Documents show Pinedo could face up to 15 years in prison.


Mueller investigation charges 13 Russians in investigation over 2016 election interference

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 18:27

The office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller announced Friday that thirteen Russian nationals and three Russian groups had been charged with violating U.S. criminal laws for interfering with the 2016 election, detailing a string of efforts to help President Donald Trump’s campaign, and sew doubt about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, but not showing any evidence of coordination or collusion with the Trump Campaign.

“The indictment charges 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies for committing federal crimes, while seeking to interfere in the United States political system, including the 2016 Presidential election,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

“The defendants posed as politically and socially active Americans, advocating for and against particular candidates,” Rosenstein said. “They established social media pages and groups to communicate with unwitting Americans.”

Deputy AG Rosenstein says indictment charges 13 Russian nationals and 3 Russian companies that were seeking to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. The defendants allegedly conducted, what they called, information warfare against the United States https://t.co/gn9kcwv9K0 pic.twitter.com/4EvzMNBKwi

— CNN International (@cnni) February 16, 2018

The indictment, focused mainly on the Russian group known as the ‘Internet Research Agency,’ was returned by a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C. earlier today, charged that the group first went after multiple candidates for President, and then fine tuned their message.

“Defendants’ operation included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump (“Trump Campaign”) and disparaging Hillary Clinton.”

At one point, the indictment alleges that Russians posing as Americans, communicated directly with Trump Campaign staff officials about organizing efforts in Florida.

There was no evidence presented in the indictment that campaign officials knew they were getting help from a Russian group.

“The conspiracy had as its object impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful governmental functions of the United States by dishonest means in order to enable the Defendants to interfere with U.S. political and electoral processes, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election,” the indictment states.

The indictment charges that Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 election began at least by 2014, as they tracked and studied social media sites “dedicated to U.S. politics and social issues.”

Not all of this work was done from the safety of Russia over the internet, as the feds say some of the 13 Russians named in this indictment actually traveled to the U.S. “in order to collect intelligence for their interference operations.”

The feds charged that the Russian groups set out to use social media sites to stir activity in a wide variety of areas, focusing on immigration, the Black Lives Matters controversy, religion, and more.

“By 2016,” the indictment stated, “the size of many ORGANIZATION-controlled groups had grown to hundreds of thousands of online followers.”

The feds charge that the groups started out by criticizing candidates like Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio, but by fall were engaged mainly in helping Trump, and trying to undermine Clinton.

But there were also multiple social media accounts focusing on certain groups and issues – like “Woke Blacks,” “Blacktivist,” “United Muslims of America,” with some of those pressing claims against Hillary Clinton.

“Hillary Clinton had already committed voter fraud during the Democrat Iowa Caucus,” one Facebook post read from August read.

Right before election day, the Twitter hashtag “#VoterFraud” was used to accuse Democrats of “tens of thousands of ineligible mail in Hillary votes” in Broward County, Florida.

But it wasn’t all tweets and Facebook posts, as the indictment says the Russian groups paid for political advertisements on social media.

The ads mainly targeted Democrats – “Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote” – and praised Republicans – “Trump is our only hope for a better future.”

This was a list of social media ads in the indictment handed down on Friday afternoon.

At a Justice Department news conference, the Deputy Attorney General repeatedly said that despite all of the information showing interference by the Russians indicted today, there was no evidence to show it had swayed the 2016 election.

“There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity,” Rosenstein told reporters. “There is no allegation in the indictment that the charge conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”

In the highly detailed 37 page indictment, the Special Counsel’s office described a series of efforts to organize rallies to help the Trump Campaign, both before – and after – the November 2016 election as well.

Congress goes home for 10 day break with no deal on DACA, Dreamers

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 09:00

With the Senate failing to make any headway on how to deal with the status of illegal immigrant “Dreamers,” lawmakers in the Congress went home for a ten day break Thursday with no clear path forward on the politically difficult issue of immigration, with a deadline to deal with DACA set by the President less than three weeks away.

“It’s safe to say, this has been a disappointing week,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who repeatedly pointed the finger of blame over at Democrats for the lack of agreement in the Senate, as four different immigration plans were filibustered by both parties.

I was hoping we could reach a bipartisan solution,” McConnell added.

But the solution backed by McConnell and President Trump actually won the fewest votes in the Senate – just 39 – while a more limited bipartisan effort secured 54, short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster.

I am deeply concerned that @realDonaldTrump did everything he could to defeat a bipartisan agreement that would have protected Dreamers and strengthened our border security. I will continue working with the Common Sense Caucus and anyone willing to find a path forward.

— Sen. Maggie Hassan (@SenatorHassan) February 15, 2018

“We’re not done with this,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), who argues that the President’s plan is still the best course.

While Perdue told me that the two sides really aren’t that far apart, there were already GOP Senators looking for something else, with a March 5 deadline barely over the horizon.

“We have to do more work,” said Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who voted for the main bipartisan plan, which netted 54 votes, 15 more than President Trump’s preferred option.

GOP Sens. Thune, Portman and Moran are floating a fallback plan to protect Dreamers from deportation: An indefinite extension of administrative DACA in exchange for $25 billion for border security, capped allocation of $5 billion per year.

— Alex Bolton (@alexanderbolton) February 15, 2018

But in the President’s camp, there were some who simply said it was time to pull the plug on immigration and move on to other issues.

“We move on to confirming judges and banking reform,” said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), one of the more outspoken defenders of President Trump’s immigration plan, when asked what was next for the U.S. Senate.

The White House late on Thursday night threw cold water on the idea of any new legislative effort on DACA in the Senate, instead turning its attention to the House, where Republicans have put together a bill that contains even more immigration enforcement measures than what the President supported in the Senate.

“The next step will be for the House to continue advancing the proposal from Chairman Goodlatte and Chairman McCaul,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a written statement, as the White House blamed “Schumer Democrats” for the lack of action on DACA in the Senate.

The Goodlatte-McCaul bill though could face the same problems as the President’s did in the Senate – not having enough votes to get to a majority.

And as of now – that bill has not been scheduled for a vote in the House.


NO DEAL: Senate hits immigration deadlock on DACA, Dreamers

Thu, 02/15/2018 - 21:00

Unable to find an acceptable middle ground on the politically explosive issue of immigration, and the future of well over a million illegal immigrant “Dreamers,” Senators of both parties on Thursday voted to filibuster a pair of plans from each side, as a high profile legislative effort achieved only failure.

“This is it. This is your last chance to vote for a path to citizenship,” said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), just before the last of four votes, as the Senate failed to find a deal on DACA, with a March 5 deadline for action less than three weeks away.

“Our interest was to try and find some common ground,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD), who helped forge a bipartisan plan. “Our goal is to give the President what he’s asked for.”

But the President opposed both bipartisan efforts, as most Democrats returned the favor on a GOP plan that mirrored Mr. Trump’s DACA plan – leaving the Senate with nothing to show for their work on immigration.

Our immigration system is broken and that’s why I voted for solutions today. President Trump has repeatedly stated he wants to address the Dreamer population & increase border security & the proposals I supported today would have done exactly that.

— Cory Gardner (@SenCoryGardner) February 15, 2018

“It looks like demagogues on the left and the right win again on immigration,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who found himself on the sharp end of quotes from senior White House officials over his support for bipartisan DACA efforts.

“It’s an unfinished project,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) right after the vote. “At the end of the day, the problem is still there; you can’t just stop and walk away from it.”

GRAHAM: "After this crash and burn experience we'll do one of two things: We'll reconfigure the process to be able to get us to a 'yes' position where 70% of Americans reside, by the way, or we'll do what's happened for the last 35 years: punt. And I hope we don't punt."

— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) February 15, 2018

Senators had advertised this debate as one that would be open and freewheeling. Instead, it turned into four days of finger pointing, with little in the way of actual legislating on the Senate floor.

The Senate held four consecutive procedural votes on four different proposals Thursday afternoon – two bipartisan plans, and two from Republicans – but none of them garnered the needed 60 votes to force an end to debate.

In the first vote, the Senate fell short of the 60 vote threshold in a 52-47 vote on a bipartisan plan backed by Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). That allowed a pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers,” but no money for the President’s border wall.

A second plan from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), which only dealt with sanctuary cities, was 13 votes short of 60, on a vote of

The Senate then fell short on the main bipartisan effort, which would have funded Mr. Trump’s $25 billion request for border security, in exchange for a 10-12 year path to citizenship.

It received 54 votes – 6 shy of the 60 needed to force a final vote.

By my count, there were 8 GOP Senators voting for cloture on Rounds-King DACA plan: Alexander, Collins, Flake, Graham, Gardner, Isakson, Murkowski & Rounds

— Jamie Dupree (@jamiedupree) February 15, 2018

That left only a nearly $100 billion plan put together by Senate Republicans, which had the strong support of the President.

“There is only one bill that has a chance to pass the House of Representatives, and a chance to get the President’s signature,” said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR).

But as with other plans, there weren’t enough votes to support that either, leaving the Senate in gridlock, unable to advance any legislation on DACA and Dreamers. In fact, that plan backed by the President didn’t get a majority, only mustering 39 votes, with 60 voting against.

IMMIGRATION SUMMARY: The only thing 60 Senators agree on is that the president's plan should not become law.

— Lisa Desjardins (@LisaDNews) February 15, 2018

13 Republicans voted against the Trump plan, while two Democrats broke ranks to support it, raising obvious questions about the President’s demand that this plan be what lands on his desk for a signature.

The two Democrats who back the President were Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana.

Here is the list of Republicans who went against Mr. Trump:

As Senators left the floor following the immigration votes, a number of GOP Senators predicted that this was not the end of the fight on DACA.

“Back to square two,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA). “Not square one – we just finished square one.”

After Florida school shooting, Democrats in Congress plead for action on gun violence

Thu, 02/15/2018 - 17:55

The mass shooting that killed 17 people Wednesday at a high school in Florida plunged Capitol Hill back into a debate over gun restrictions, as Democrats cried out for some type of legislative response, criticizing the response of President Donald Trump and GOP leaders in the Congress.

“Mr. President, are you listening?” said Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL) on the House floor. “We need common sense gun safety legislation.”

It was a familiar political reaction in the House and Senate, as Democrats gave anguished speeches, rattled off a list of horrifying mass shootings, and asked when there would be some type of government response.

“All I can think is how many more times do we have to go through this?” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who repeatedly asked on the Senate floor, “When is enough, enough?”

On the House floor, Democrats cheered when Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) asked the chair, “can you tell us when the House may muster the courage to take up the gun violence?”

“What will it take for this body to finally grapple with this issue?” said Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-NJ).

“Why is nothing happening?” asked Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL), who cited the lack of action after the Pulse nightclub shooting in his hometown of Orlando.

In terms of legislation, Democrats have pressed tighter background checks on gun sales, ‘no fly, no buy,’ which would prohibit people on the airplane ‘no fly’ list from buying weapon, along with other ideas like a ban on certain assault weapons.

Democrats again pointed to the use of an AR-15 assault rifle in this latest school shooting, as lawmakers once more said there should be limits on the sale of those type of weapons.

Another mass shooting. Reportedly another AR-15. My bill to ban assault weapons is ready for a vote. How long will we accept weapons of war being used to slaughter our children?

— Sen Dianne Feinstein (@SenFeinstein) February 15, 2018

“An AR-15 is not for hunting, it is for killing,” said Sen. Nelson of Florida.

Just a few months ago, there had been talk of doing something about “bump stocks,” which were used in the mass shooting at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas – but no legislative action has taken place.

Democrats have increasingly criticized expressions of “thoughts and prayers” along with moments of silence, arguing those don’t do anything.

“Today we didn’t even have a moment have a moment of silence, because the House knows those are meaningless acts,” said Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN).

There had been a plan for a moment of silence on the House floor, but it was evidently scrapped after activists in the House galleries were loudly protesting approval of a piece of legislation related to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Regardless of the calls for action, those in favor of gun control legislation face the same difficulty to move forward on their plans which has existed in Congress since the mid-1990’s – they don’t have anywhere close to the votes needed to approve such measures.

VA chief faces call to resign after report questions why feds paid for his wife to go on 2017 trip to Europe

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 19:18

Veterans Secretary David Shulkin is facing increased scrutiny from Congress, after the Wednesday release of an internal watchdog report, which found Shulkin’s 9-day government trip to Europe in the summer of 2017 at times was more like a personal vacation, as investigators said Shulkin’s top aide misled ethics officials at the VA, which allowed his wife’s travel costs to be paid for by taxpayers.

The review accused Shulkin’s Chief of Staff, Viveca Wright Simpson, of altering two emails to ethics officials in order to have the VA authorize the travel costs of Shulkin’s wife, who joined him for the Europe trip.

The report also found that Shulkin wrongly accepted a gift of tickets to Wimbledon, that a VA employee was basically used by Shulkin as a “personal travel concierge to plan tourist activities,” and that not enough documents were ever turned over to investigators to figure out the true cost of the trip to the VA.

The details of the report from the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General drew quick reaction in Congress, where one GOP lawmaker, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), wasted little time in demanding Shulkin’s resignation.

“It’s exactly corruption and abuses like this that doesn’t help our veterans,” Coffman tweeted, as he said that Shulkin should resign from the VA.

Meanwhile, the top members of the House and Senate committees which have jurisdiction over the VA issued a statement that stopped just short of calling for Shulkin to leave his post.

“We believe that public officials must be held to a higher standard, and whether intentional or not, misusing taxpayer dollars is unacceptable,” read the statement from Senators Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Jon Tester (D-MT), along with Reps. Phil Roe (R-TN) and Tim Walz (D-MN).

“We’re counting on Dr. Shulkin to actively address all of the allegations outlined in this report,” the group said. “Our veterans deserve no less,”

The IG review found that while the VA delegation spent nine full days in Europe, “there were only three-and-a-half days of meetings” on the official schedule, as the report declared the 2017 trip a “misuse of VA resources.”

The release of the report came a day before Shulkin is scheduled to testify before the House Veterans Affairs Committee, where the subject is certain to be discussed.

Shulkin isn’t the only Cabinet official in the Trump Administration who has faced scrutiny over travel; excessive travel costs was part of the reason that Tom Price resigned as Secretary of Health and Human Services earlier this year.

Also, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke have faced questions about their travel.

Shulkin did not accept most of the findings in this report, as his legal counsel sent a lengthy letter to the VA Inspector General, accusing the VA of running an unfair investigation, which itself was beset by misconduct.

“Even after you provided us with a copy of your draft report, your office’s tactics seem intentionally designed to prevent a full airing of the facts and circumstances underlying the trip,” Shulkin’s legal team wrote in a blistering 16 page letter, which was attached to the Inspector General report.

Senate Republicans unveil DACA/Dreamers plan with nearly $100 billion immigration price tag

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 12:18

Pressing Democrats to accept an immigration plan along the lines of one endorsed by President Donald Trump, GOP Senators unveiled the details of their plan to address the future of illegal immigrant “Dreamers,” a 592 page, nearly $100 billion measure that focuses mainly on new efforts at border security, limits on family migration, and an end to the Diversity Visa Lottery program.

The new GOP plan includes $25 billion for a “Border Security Enforcement Fund,” $18 billion for ‘tactical infrastructure’ improvements by the Border Patrol, and $50 billion in foreign aid described as “financial assistance for foreign country operations to address migration flows that may affect the United States.”

The original outline released by GOP Senators on Sunday mentioned only the $25 billion in border security money.

The nearly $100 billion in spending authorized under this GOP immigration plan could grow even larger, as the Republican DACA bill includes four different sections where “such sums as may be necessary” would be approved for various immigration changes.

The DACA amendment was sponsored by a half dozen GOP Senators who want a plan that runs along the stated goals of President Trump.

“Everybody in the room wants DACA,” Mr. Trump told a bipartisan group of lawmakers at the White House on Tuesday. “It would be a great achievement.”

Republican leaders have said they want action this week on their DACA plan.

“I said we would have an open and fair process,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Tuesday. “And the sooner we do that the better.”

In one area, this new GOP DACA bill runs directly against Mr. Trump’s 2019 budget issued on Monday, which sought to eliminate the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program – that popular program funnels money to states to deal with the cost of holding illegal immigrants in prison.

The Trump budget predicted a savings of $210 million per year from that elimination – but this new GOP immigration plan would increase spending on the SCAAP program to $950 million – seemingly a $3.5 billion increase over a five year period.

With a table of contents that runs six pages, the provisions dealing with DACA and illegal immigrant Dreamers are just one small part of a much broader immigration bill, which has already run into united opposition from Democrats.

Democrats have said they could go along with Mr. Trump’s call for a $25 billion border security fund, in exchange for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrant Dreamers – but have resisted extra provisions, arguing those are better dealt with in a broader immigration reform measure.

Congress has tried repeatedly over the last 15 years to deal with immigration reform, but each effort has run into major controversy.

The new GOP plan also includes a number of restrictions on federal judges, to keep them from overturning decisions made by immigration officials on visa revocations, naturalization applications, as well as other specific immigration decisions by the Secretary of Homeland Security.

The GOP bill also has some provisions that are not related to immigration, like a section dealing with opioids, the “Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act.”

There is also a section which would prohibit “flight training and nuclear studies for nationals of high risk countries.”

The bill is chock full of other GOP immigration measures introduced in Congress, like these:

+ the “Putting the Brakes on Human Smuggling Act”
+ “Strong Visa Integrity Secures America Act”
+ “Secure Visa Act”
+ “Visa Fraud and Security Improvements Act of 2018”
+ “Keep Our Communities Safe Act”

Reading between the lines – Senate panel raises eyebrows on Russia investigation

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 02:48

As the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded a public hearing on Tuesday with top intelligence officials, the main headline was a warning for lawmakers that Russia was planning influence operations in 2018 to again stir trouble in the upcoming mid-terms elections in the United States.

But then, panel chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) gave his final remarks to end the hearing, sending a series of messages along the way, as he signaled that his panel would have a lot more to say about Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

“What was unsaid today is that the Special Counsel is not the only investigation going on in Washington,” Burr told the hearing room, as he went on to make clear that the Intelligence Committee might be in the news a lot in coming weeks.

Here’s some of what we learned from Burr’s statement, and some of what you might read between the lines about the Russia probe.

1. Senate Intelligence Committee may give the first big Russia review. While most of the attention has been on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, Senators on the Intelligence Committee have been conducting their own extensive probe, working to better explain what happened in 2016, and what the Russians did. “We realize we have to answer for the American people, what did Russia do to mess with the 2016 elections,” Chairman Burr said on Tuesday. The North Carolina Republican said he hopes his committee in coming months will put out reports on election security in 2018, how U.S. Intelligence dealt with the 2016 Russian interference, and a full review of what happened.

Senator Richard Burr of Senate Intel Cmte says the panel intends to make public an "overview" of its Russia probe findings before 2018 primaries

— Max Kutner (@maxkutner) February 13, 2018

2. Burr says Russia focus could include a “company.” In his final comments at Tuesday’s hearing, Burr said his panel would keep investigating to uncover any “cooperation or collusion by any individual, campaign or company” – that last word was a notable one to reporters who have covered the Russia story, because it raised the specter of a specific business being involved in a concrete manner in possible Russian interference in the 2016 elections. In the past, Burr has pointedly refused to rule out collusion involving the Trump Campaign. From his statement, it sounded like he wants his panel’s findings out in coming months – that could make the committee the first authority to produce a report about the election meddling by Moscow.

3. While the House fights, the Senate works. The dynamic could not be any different between the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee right now on Russia. While Senators are preparing to release a bipartisan array of findings and recommendations in coming weeks and months, the House panel is fighting over dueling partisan memos, with no sign of any final report that could be agreed upon. That’s also true of the situation in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has split along partisan lines. But on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Burr, and top Democrat Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), have been able to hold together their panel in a way that others have not. If they bring forward a truly bipartisan final report, it will make their findings in the Russia investigation that much more believable.

Burr & Warner deserve a lot of credit for bipartisan functionality of ssci on russia investigation vs partisan breakdown at hpsci, sen.jud

— Laura Rozen (@lrozen) February 13, 2018

4. More than just Senate Intel focusing on election security. As the Senate Intelligence Committee was warned about possible Russian meddling in the 2018 elections, another committee on Tuesday afternoon looked at the same matter, as experts warned that much needs to be done by the states to protect against cyber threats from Russia and other actors. “The threat to electoral processes remains high,” said Robert Butler, a former senior Pentagon information operations official. Butler suggested – and some Senators embraced – the idea that the U.S. needs to be more aggressive in responding to any Russian meddling in the U.S. elections. Others worry local officials aren’t ready to take on the Russians. “Electoral integrity cannot be protected by leaving civilians alone on the front lines,” said Professor Richard Harknett of the University of Cincinnati.

RT CNNPolitics: Coats says Russia views the 2018 midterm election as “a potential target for Russian influence operations” https://t.co/XxT27X3Gv1

— Top News (@TopTwts) February 13, 2018

Intelligence officials warn again that Russia will interfere in 2018, 2020 U.S. elections

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 17:35

Against the backdrop of an ongoing investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, and any possible ties to the Trump Campaign, top U.S. intelligence officials joined Tuesday on Capitol Hill to once more warn lawmakers that Moscow will try to again stir trouble with the 2018 and 2020 elections.

“Any elections that are coming up, we need to assume there might be interference with that, particularly from the Russians,” said Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence.

“There should be no doubt that Russia perceives that its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations,” Coats added.

At a public hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee, other U.S. Intelligence officials agreed that Russian propaganda efforts will be underway in 2018.

FBI and intelligence chiefs at the Senate Intelligence hearing say Russia will continue to meddle in US elections https://t.co/9hAxjX5s8r https://t.co/uRAWGxzuyz

— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) February 13, 2018

“Yes, we have seen Russian activity and intentions to have an impact on the next election cycle here,” said CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

Pompeo told Senators there was a “significant effort” to push back against any Russian threat, but when Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) pressed the intelligence chiefs about whether the President had specifically directed to combat interference by Moscow, there were only general responses.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), said his panel would be issuing a series of reports in coming weeks on what happened in 2016.

“Before the primaries begin, we intend to have an overview of our findings that will be public,” Burr announced, saying his panel would hold an open hearing on election security in 2018.

Senate Intel Chairman Burr says committee hopes to have its findings from its own #Russia investigation complete before the primaries begin

— Suzanne Kianpour (@KianpourWorld) February 13, 2018

Burr also made clear the work of the Senate Intelligence Committee continues on one of the central issues of 2016 – how did the Russians interfere, and did they have any accomplices within the United States.

“We will continue to work towards conclusions related to any cooperation or collusion by any individual, campaign, or company, with efforts to influence the outcome of elections or to create societal chaos in the United States,” Burr said.

“We realize we have to answer for the American people, what did Russia do to mess with the 2016 elections,” he added.

Earlier in the hearing, FBI Director Christopher Wray was asked about a GOP memo written by members of the House Intelligence Committee, which was publicly released earlier this month – Wray again said he had “grave concerns” about the document, saying that evidence had been omitted from the Republican memo.

Wray says the FBI had “grave concerns” about the release of Nunes GOP memo https://t.co/w9y0moVghD

— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) February 13, 2018

“We had then, and we continue to have now “grave concerns” about the accuracy of the memo because of omissions,” Wray explained.

GOP, Trump press for fast action on immigration plan as Senate starts work on DACA, Dreamers

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 12:19

As the Senate voted 97-1 on Monday to move past the first procedural hurdle in the way of an immigration debate on the Senate floor, Republican Senators made clear they were not interested in a lengthy debate on DACA, as they pressed Democrats to simply accept a plan offered by President Donald Trump on illegal immigrant Dreamers, arguing no other measure would get through the U.S. House and garner the President’s support.

“The President’s framework is not an opening bid in negotiations, it is a best and final offer,” said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), as a group of GOP Senators – backed by their Senate leadership – argued for a quick resolution on DACA.

“This plan is the only Senate plan that has any possibility of passing the House of Representatives and becoming law,” said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), as Republicans pressed ahead with an immigration plan that mirrors the four points backed by President Trump, labeling it a ‘reasonable compromise.’

On Tuesday morning, the President turned up the heat another notch – casting the next few weeks as a last opportunity for Democrats to get a deal to help as many as 1.8 million illegal immigrants – brought here by their parents – to stay in the country.

“This will be our last chance, there will never be another opportunity!” Mr. Trump tweeted.

Negotiations on DACA have begun. Republicans want to make a deal and Democrats say they want to make a deal. Wouldn’t it be great if we could finally, after so many years, solve the DACA puzzle. This will be our last chance, there will never be another opportunity! March 5th.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 13, 2018

The GOP plan unveiled on the Senate floor Monday tracks what the President has said he will accept, 1) $25 billion for border security, 2) an end to the diversity visa lottery program, 3) new limits on family migration for those who gain citizenship, and 4) a 12 year path to citizenship for certain illegal immigrant “Dreamers” and DACA recipients.

“There’s no reason that reasonable people can’t get behind this,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), who argued there must be more than a resolution for just Dreamers.

“This plan to fix our immigration system will ensure we aren’t back here in just a few years,” Perdue said.

But the push for a quick vote this week on that GOP plan was not what had been advertised to Democrats, who arrived on the Senate floor Monday afternoon believing they were ready for a rare freewheeling debate on the Senate floor, where no one was sure of the outcome.

“It’s going to be a robust debate, and it could produce the best of what the Senate can produce, a bipartisan agreement, which it will have to be in order to get to 60 votes,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), as both sides know they need votes from the other party in order to come up with a plan that can pass the Senate.

Democrats continue to complain that weeks of negotiations on immigration have barely moved the needle on the DACA debate, as they argue White House hardliners are preventing the President from cutting a deal.

To give Dreamers a path to citizenship we need a narrow Senate bill with NO poison pills or anti-immigrant policies. Dreamers should not be used as a bargaining chip for Republicans’ immigration wish list. #ProtectDreamers

— Sen Dianne Feinstein (@SenFeinstein) February 12, 2018

There has been some talk of a one-for-one offer – Democrats would get Dreamer protections in exchange for the President’s $25 billion in border security money, as Democrats aren’t very interested in the President’s other immigration ideas.

But when the Senate adjourned on Monday evening, it became clear that Republicans were not looking for an extensive floor debate featuring votes on a variety of amendments and proposals.

Instead, top GOP Senators made clear they want to finish work on DACA as soon as this week, as Republicans said no plan from Democrats would ever make it to the President’s desk.

Senate GOP Whip @JohnCornyn says it’s this week or bust on immigration bill: “It’s this week or not at all… we need to wrap this up by Thursday.”

— Heather Caygle (@heatherscope) February 12, 2018

Q: Can (the immigration/#DACA debate) go past the end of this week?

THUNE: "I don’t think so, I think the leader wants to wrap it up."

— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) February 12, 2018

“I have a huge problem with producing a result here in the Senate that has no chance of going to the President’s desk and becoming law,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), who has worked with fellow Republicans to forge a plan based along the lines of what President Trump has said that he would support.

“The ultimate is whether the President will sign it or not,” said Grassley.

Trump 2019 budget proposal makes no headway on a balanced budget

Mon, 02/12/2018 - 22:32

President Donald Trump on Monday sent Congress a $4.4 trillion budget proposal for 2019 which all but waves the white flag on efforts to hold down on federal deficits, as the White House is predicting that the deficit will hover just below $1 trillion in four of the next five years, estimating that Mr. Trump would see over $7 trillion added to the debt if he served two terms in office.

“In Washington, empty rhetoric about fiscal responsibility is about to be swept aside by the reality of trillion-dollar deficits,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who last week lectured his colleagues on rising deficits.

The White House predicted the deficit in fiscal year 2018 would be $832 billion, and then stay just below $1 trillion for the next four years – never getting anywhere close to being in balance.

But the budget is about much more than how much money comes in each year in revenues, and how much goes out in spending (known as outlays) – so here’s a few nuggets from inside the Trump budget plan:

1. The Trump budget is already dated. Little did the White House budget experts know that just a few days before the 2019 budget was proposed, the Congress would cut a two-year budget agreement, meaning this document is based on assumptions for lower spending than provided for in that agreement. The White House added on an extra letter to explain some of the differences. In that note, the Trump Administration says the budget deal will add an additional $680 billion to the federal deficit over 10 years. Remember that number.

2. Infrastructure plan gives states new power for highway tolls. Released along with the budget, President Trump’s new $200 billion infrastructure plan would encourage states to come up with new ways to fund the construction of roads and bridges – and one of those ways is by letting states put tolls on interstates. I’m old enough to remember a lot of interstate tolls, but that’s been limited for many years. “Tolling restrictions foreclose what might otherwise serve as a major source of revenue for infrastructure investment,” the White House says. Democrats had a different description – Trump Tolls.

3. Another push to get rid of small federal agencies. Again this year, President Trump is asking Congress to take the budget ax to some popular and lesser-known parts of the federal government. The Trump budget would zero out funding for public television, a move that seems unlikely to gain Congressional approval. It was also do away with things like the “Progress Food Aid Program,” rural water and wastewater grants, the Economic Development Administration, the “McGovern-Dole International Food for Education” program, and small commissions like the Denali Commission and the Delta Regional Authority.

White House FY 2019 budget proposal calls for eliminating:
-Community Development Block Grants
-HOME Investment Partnerships Program
-Economic Development Administration
-TIGER Grants
-Rural water and wastewater grants (would provide $1.2B for loans)

— Bill Lucia (@bill_lucia) February 12, 2018

4. White House wants to sell Washington’s water supply. For a second straight year, the President’s budget includes a provision which would have the federal government sell the system which supplies water to the nation’s capital and much of its suburbs. Created by an act of Congress in 1859, the water authority acts as what the feds describe as “a potable water wholesaler,” as they sell water to local jurisdictions in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. The sale of this U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continuous project would net an estimated $120 million. Just as Congress ignored this last year, one would think this plan goes nowhere again in 2018.

5. Repeal and Replace is still a priority. The President’s budget again calls on Congress to do away with the Obama health law, something the GOP was unable to do in 2017, though Republicans did make some changes through the tax cut package that was approved in December. Liberal activists were raising red flags about other details of the Trump budget, which would reduce spending on Medicaid by $1 trillion over ten years, reduce Medicare spending by $554 billion, and institute a new plan to hold down on the level of automatic yearly benefit increases linked to inflation. In all, the Trump health care plans would save $674 billion over ten years.

6. Farm interests would see new fees, program cuts. With lawmakers ready to start work on a new Farm Bill, the Trump budget for 2019 unveiled a series of plans which would limit eligibility for farm payments to those who have Adjusted Gross Income over $500,000. “In 2013 (a year of record-high farm income), only 2.1 percent of farmers had AGIs in excess of this amount,” the White House stated. The budget also would establish a series of new fees for agricultural interests, for marketing, inspection, health inspection, and a new packers and stockyards fee.

7. No balanced budget – and a lot of red ink. White House estimates in the 2019 budget proposal show President Trump would run up $6.5 trillion in deficits over his eight years in office. That would be slightly less than the $7.2 trillion in deficits added during the Obama Administration. But remember my note from above – where the White House says the new budget deal adds $680 billion to the deficit? Well, take $6.5 trillion, and add $680 billion – that’s almost $7.2 trillion. In other words, even the White House right now predicts that President Trump would run up as much in deficits as President Obama. This is the deficit projections made by the White House (these are not Congressional Budget Office numbers):

To give some context, here is the list of deficits under the Obama Administration, followed by figures for the Trump Administration – 2017 is an actual deficit – the later years are estimates.

2009 deficit – $1.41 trillion
2010 deficit – $1.29 trillion
2011 deficit – $1.3 trillion
2012 deficit – $1.09 trillion
2013 deficit – $679.5 billion
2014 deficit – $484.6 billion
2015 deficit – $438.4 billion
2016 deficit – $584.7 billion
2017 deficit – $665.3 billion
2018 estimate- $832.6 billion
2019 estimate- $984.4 billion
2020 estimate- $986.9 billion
2021 estimate- $915.9 billion
2022 estimate- $907.8 billion
2023 estimate- $778.5 billion

To get more information about the Trump budget – click here for the basic overview of federal spending at various departments.

If you want very detailed budget plans by agency, then use this link.

If you are a numbers cruncher, go here for all sorts of spreadsheets on past and future federal spending, revenues and more.

And then there is even more information in what is known as the Analytical Perspectives document.


Trump sends $4.4 trillion budget to Congress featuring high yearly deficits

Mon, 02/12/2018 - 16:52

Moving away from Republican Party orthodoxy on fiscal matters, President Donald Trump on Monday sent Congress a budget plan for 2019 that makes little headway on reducing the federal deficit in coming years, as estimates from Mr. Trump’s own plan show the yearly deficit running close to $1 trillion in four of the next six years.

Numbers from the fine print of the Trump budget show deficits over $900 billion in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.

The White House estimate for the budget deficit in the current 2018 fiscal year is $832 billion.

These figures do not take into account the two-year budget agreement reached last week by Congress, which would increase spending by some $400 billion over the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years.

This graphic from the Trump budget proposal shows estimated revenues (receipts coming into Uncle Sam) and spending (outlays), along with the estimated deficit.

As you can see, the Trump budget projects that tax revenues coming in to the feds will go up by over $1 trillion in five years – but that spending will also go up by about $1 trillion in the same period.

In this estimate, the feds would run up new deficits of $5.4 trillion between 2018 and 2023.

To get more information about the Trump budget – click here for the basic overview of federal spending at various departments.

If you want very detailed budget plans by agency, then use this link.

If you are a numbers cruncher, go here for all sorts of spreadsheets on past and future federal spending, revenues and more.

And then there is even more information in what is known as the Analytical Perspectives document.

Senate ready to start wide open immigration debate on DACA, Dreamers

Mon, 02/12/2018 - 01:59

With lawmakers in both parties unable to reach an agreement in negotiations in recent weeks on how best to deal with illegal immigrant “Dreamers” who were brought to the United States by their parents, the U.S. Senate on Monday is set to begin a freewheeling debate which could produce a compromise on DACA, Dreamers, and border security, or the effort could also run aground in the continuing political hailstorm on Capitol Hill that surrounds the issue of illegal immigration.

“It is time for Congress to act, and to protect Americans,” the President declared in his weekly address on Saturday, as he again made clear his goals in any immigration bill approved by Congress that deals with the Obama Administration’s DACA program.

Republicans want to fix DACA far more than the Democrats do. The Dems had all three branches of government back in 2008-2011, and they decided not to do anything about DACA. They only want to use it as a campaign issue. Vote Republican!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 10, 2018

Let’s look at where this debate might go:

1. What does the President want? This will be an important part of the debate, because not only is it about what kind of bill can get through the House and Senate, but also, what is the President going to accept on immigration. He’s sticking with his plan which has 1) $25 billion for his border wall, 2) end to the visa lottery program, 3) limits on family migration for new citizens, and 4)A 12 year path to citizenship for DACA recipients and eligible illegal immigrant “Dreamers,” totaling 1.8 million. Mr. Trump reminded everyone of those parameters in this weekend White House video:

2. This is definitely a unique Senate debate. The bill that is coming to the Senate floor Monday evening doesn’t have one word in it about immigration – it’s actually about health care – but it will be the ‘vehicle’ for the immigration debate. The floor will be wide open to amendments from both sides, and we should have votes along the way about a series of key immigration issues. Because the House bill amends the Internal Revenue Code, Senators can add provisions dealing with immigration fees, spending and more – so there will be no limits, and no questions about the procedure involved in amending what’s known as the “Broader Options for Americans Act,” H.R. 2579. And please don’t write to tell me this runs against the Constitution. It doesn’t.

3. More conservative Republicans stake out their position. On Sunday evening, a group of GOP Senators issued their own immigration plan – much like the one set out by President Trump. It starts with $25 billion for increased border security, and includes everything else – and more – pushed by the President. “It’s the only solution that fully addresses the four pillars of his framework,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA). But can this plan muster a majority on the Senate floor? I’m not so sure about that. And getting to 60 votes seems almost impossible.

If people really want to solve the DACA situation, secure our border, & fix the flaws in our current system that incentivize illegal immigration, they should be eager to support this plan. MORE: https://t.co/btMaaYsVs5

— David Perdue (@sendavidperdue) February 12, 2018

4. Democrats have a different map for this debate. While conservatives stress items which reach into broader immigration reform, Democrats would like to approve just one, narrow item – the Dream Act – and end this debate. “Senator McConnell has guaranteed a fair and open process for Senators to finally act to protect Dreamers, and I am ready for that fight,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who has led Democratic efforts in the Senate on DACA. The Dream Act would allow illegal immigrant “Dreamers” to go to college and serve in the U.S. military as a way of gaining legal status, and then citizenship. Can that get a majority in the Senate? I’m not so sure about it. We’ll see. And getting to 60 votes? That is tricky as well.

Saba is the 108th Dreamer I’ve spoken on the floor about. She’s a talented Texan Phd student studying mathematical biology, hoping to apply her skills to advance research into cures for diseases like cancer. She must remain part of America’s future. https://t.co/idThNSu9Bu

— Senator Dick Durbin (@SenatorDurbin) February 8, 2018

5. There is no guarantee of success. I really believe this point must be stressed as the debate begins in the U.S. Senate – it might be that nothing is approved. Immigration has been a very controversial issue for years. Democrats and Republicans are not only divided – but bitterly divided on some of the key issues. And while some Republicans are ready to vote for a solution on DACA, there is also a big chunk of the party – backed by many on conservative talk radio – who are ready to highlight their opposition to anything that looks like ‘amnesty’ for illegal immigrants. Just because this bill is coming to the Senate floor doesn’t mean a compromise will emerge. And don’t forget, no matter what you believe, you will need 60 votes in order to get something through the Senate – a point that the Senate Majority Leader made last week.

6. Will the President compromise? Not only is compromise needed in the Congress, but it might be necessary for the President as well. The issue is simple – are any of those items the President wants – border wall, family migration limits, and ending the visa lottery – would he drop any of those along the way to get a deal on DACA? It’s clear that the President wants to send a message that the answer to that question is, ‘no.’ But just like Democrats don’t have 60 votes in the Senate for what they want to do, neither do Republicans and Mr. Trump.

Important story by @ByBrianBennett: WH testing possible compromise idea to guarantee that Trump’s immigration proposals wouldn’t reduce current legal levels for 13 years. https://t.co/tWaS8Pxn3J

— David Lauter (@DavidLauter) February 11, 2018


Trump fires back at Democrats over rejected Russia probe memo

Sat, 02/10/2018 - 15:31

A day after the White House told House Democrats to edit an intelligence memo about the probe of Russian interference in the 2016 elections in order to remove sensitive intelligence materials, President Donald Trump accused Democrats of adding in too much classified information on purpose, as Republicans said the President’s critics were simply playing political games over the Russia investigation.

“The Democrats sent a very political and long response memo which they knew, because of sources and methods (and more), would have to be heavily redacted,” the President wrote in a Saturday morning message on Twitter.

Mr. Trump’s decision on Friday to reject the memo from Democrats came a week after he had allowed the release of a GOP memo on the Russia probe, which accused the FBI of wrongly using partisan information to get court approval for surveillance on Carter Page, a former foreign policy adviser for the Trump Campaign.

The Democrats sent a very political and long response memo which they knew, because of sources and methods (and more), would have to be heavily redacted, whereupon they would blame the White House for lack of transparency. Told them to re-do and send back in proper form!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 10, 2018

Democrats said their rebuttal memo was an effort to set the record straight on that first GOP document.

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), backed up the President’s charge, saying it was “no surprise that these agencies recommended against publishing the memo without redactions.”

Republicans encourage the minority to accept the DOJ’s recommendations and make the appropriate technical changes and redactions so that no sources and methods are disclosed and their memo can be declassified as soon as possible,” Nunes said in a written statement.

Backers of Trump pushed ahead with that argument on Saturday.

.@CLewandowski_: “Democrats specifically put information in this memo that they knew the White House could not sign off on because of national security reasons.” pic.twitter.com/xR19ljbSKq

— Fox News (@FoxNews) February 10, 2018

While Republicans accused Democrats of playing political games, Democrats leveled the same charge at the GOP, as they again questioned why the President overrode concerns of the FBI a week earlier.

“You said you wanted to release the Nunes memo before you even read it, and your appointees at the FBI and DOJ warned you it was inaccurate and misleading. You didn’t care then,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA).

“Got something to hide, Mr. President?” Beyer tweeted.

“The President immediately—and without scrutiny—approves the release of a memo that he claims “vindicates” him,” said Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, where the memo battles have been fought.

“When it comes to a memo that bolsters the credibility of our investigation and the intelligence community… well then, things are a little bit different,” Quigley wrote on Twitter.

“Rank hypocrisy,” added Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN).

The Democratic memo is not dead by any means, as if Democrats can find an agreement with the FBI and Department of Justice, then the intelligence panel could approve those changes, and send it back to the President for his review.

President Trump refuses to release Democratic memo on Russia probe

Sat, 02/10/2018 - 01:33

A week after giving the green light to a memo written by Republicans in Congress which raised questions about the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, President Donald Trump on Friday refused to release a rebuttal memo from Democrats, raising questions about details in the document.

“Although the President is inclined to declassify the February 5th memorandum, because the Memorandum contains numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages, he is unable to do so at this time,” wrote White House Counsel Donald McGahn.

“The hypocrisy is on full display,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. “What does the President have to hide?”

The letter from McGahn said that Democrats could try to rewrite the memo, and go through the same submission process, followed by another review by the White House.

Democrats in Congress were not pleased with the decision.

“Donald Trump’s double standard when it comes to transparency is appalling,” said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer.

“Refusal to release Democratic response to Nunes Memo – evidence of obstruction of justice by Donald Trump happening in real time,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

“Americans deserve the truth and this only raises more red flags,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA).

One House Republican said the President had made the wrong move.

“I’ve read both memos. Neither one endangers national security,” said Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI). “The American people deserve the opportunity to read both memos.”

This move by @realDonaldTrump confirms what we have all known for weeks — that his decision to release the #NunesMemo was a blatantly political move made without concern for national security. The hypocrisy is on full display. What does the President have to hide?

— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) February 10, 2018

“The fact that the President is only interested in “transparency” when he thinks it “totally vindicates Trump” speaks volumes,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting its own investigation into the Russian meddling, and whether there were any ties to the Trump Campaign.

After ignoring urging of FBI & DOJ not to release misleading Nunes memo because it omits material facts, @POTUS now expresses concerns over sharing precisely those facts with public and seeks to send it back to the same Majority that produced the flawed Nunes memo to begin with: pic.twitter.com/qNVyS99eXs

— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) February 10, 2018

Several things can happen now – Democrats can work out an agreement with the FBI and the Department of Justice and make changes in the memo – but there is no guarantee that the document will be made public.

“Blocking its release, and not the Republican one, is clearly a partisan move to muddy the facts, deceive the American public, and distract from Special Counsel Mueller’s Russia investigation,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

With early morning votes, Congress ends overnight government shutdown

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 10:30

While most of America was asleep, the federal government suffered its second shutdown in less than a month, as one Republican Senator prevented action in Congress to avoid a budget lapse at midnight, forcing the House and Senate to work through the night to restore funding, ensuring that government offices would be open on Friday.

“This is the dumbest shutdown ever,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI).

“It’s been an awful long night, and it didn’t need to be,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), as the House ended the shutdown just after 5:30 am, voting 240-186 to approve a two-year budget deal.

73 Democrats voted for the bill, while 67 House Republicans voted against it.

The overnight session was forced by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who single-handedly blocked action in the Senate before a midnight funding deadline, as he criticized fellow Republicans for backing a two-year budget deal which features almost $300 billion in spending increases in 2018 and 2019.

Sen. Rand Paul on the vote tonight: “It really is a litmus test of conservatism” https://t.co/4PohLB1mAj https://t.co/NdAI3z7Br9

— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) February 9, 2018

“If you were against President Obama’s deficits, and now you’re for the Republican deficits, isn’t that the very definition of hypocrisy?” Paul asked on the Senate floor, as he predicted the deal would mean the return of $1 trillion yearly deficits.

“I don’t advocate for shutting the government down, but neither do I advocate for keeping it open, and borrowing a million dollars a minute,” Paul added.

Other Republicans agreed with Paul, refusing to back the largest spending addition since the Obama Stimulus in 2009.

“Our federal government is on an unsustainable fiscal path,” said Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA). “This spending spree makes it worse.”

"Are we to be conservative all the time or only when we're in the minority?" says @RandPaul, distilling this whole debate to a sentence.

— Niels Lesniewski (@nielslesniewski) February 9, 2018

But those arguments failed, as a majority of both parties voted 71-28 at 1:52 am to approve the two-year budget deal unveiled on Wednesday, which included full funding for the military, and temporary funding for the rest of the federal government through March 23.

“Like any compromise, neither side got exactly what it wanted,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

Other Democrats registered their disappointment with the lack of provisions on DACA and illegal immigrant Dreamers.

“I voted against this legislation because Dreamers are not included in it,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI). “An overwhelming majority of the public supports legislation to protect Dreamers.”

Voted NO because this bill once again fails our Dreamers. @realDonaldTrump has destroyed their legal status, throwing their lives into stressful chaos. This must be remedied. #DreamActNow

— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) February 9, 2018

While the Senate will start a wide open debate on immigration next Monday, it’s not clear when the House will work on DACA and the Dreamers, as Democrats repeatedly voiced their frustration.

“We ought to have a debate on this,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA). “It really is frustrating, at this late hour, that we can’t even get a committment from the Speaker of the House.”

As for the details of the budget agreement approved early Friday, it would funnel $165 billion in new money over the next two years to the Pentagon, along with $131 billion in new spending for domestic programs.

There was also $89.3 billion for hurricane aid, to help deal with damage in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“We got what we needed in hurricane disaster assistance, to help people rebuild their lives,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL).

Senate just approved $90 billion in disaster assistance to help people in Florida and Puerto Rico recover from last year’s hurricanes. This is a big win for all those who are still struggling to recover from these devastating storms. pic.twitter.com/vMDWmd3G55

— Bill Nelson (@SenBillNelson) February 9, 2018

When combined with the almost $300 billion in new spending for defense and non-defense accounts, the hurricane aid brought the package to almost $400 billion.

For a lot of Republicans, that was not the right formula.

“The spending bill Congress is considering breaks just about every promise House Republicans have made over the last 8 years,” said Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), who is leaving to run for Governor of Idaho.

“Do you oppose massive spending increases only when a Democrat is in the White House?” asked Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), as he echoed Rand Paul’s debate points in the Senate.

4:14 am. Headed in to vote 'NO' on further mortgaging our children's future. pic.twitter.com/jaHCwvPEys

— Tom Garrett (@GarrettforVA) February 9, 2018

In debate on the House floor, most Democrats focused on the issue of DACA and the Dreamers, demanding a vote on legislation dealing with that immigration matter.

“All we want is a commitment,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA), as Democrats continued to press House Speaker Paul Ryan for a concrete pledge on a DACA vote.

Senate approves budget deal, as overnight government shutdown could end before breakfast

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 04:57

For the second time in less than a month, the federal government officially ran out of money to operate, as the latest shutdown began at the stroke of midnight here in Washington, D.C., though Congressional leaders were hopeful that the federal government would be fully open for business by breakfast, as the Senate voted early Friday to approve a funding plan – while the House aimed to finish that before sunrise.

The lapse in funding occurred despite an agreement on a two-year budget deal, which also included full funding for the Pentagon, and a temporary funding plan for the rest of the federal government, as Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) blocked action on the measure in the Senate, refusing to allow any votes until after a midnight deadline.

“I don’t advocate for shutting the government down, but neither do I advocate for keeping it open, and borrowing a million dollars a minute,” Paul said on the Senate floor, as he repeatedly denounced the plan, which he said would create huge amounts of new deficit spending.

Just after 1 am, the Senate voted 73-26 to end debate on the budget deal. The 1:45 am tally was 71-28 on final passage, sending the bill to the House for final debate and votes.

Fellow Republicans tried repeatedly to get Paul to agree to a vote before the midnight deadline, arguing in vain that the result would be no different.

BREAKING: The U.S. government shut down at midnight, as Congress misses deadline to pass spending bill.

— AP Politics (@AP_Politics) February 9, 2018

“I don’t understand why the Senator from Kentucky wants to insist on shutting down the federal government,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the number two Republican in the Senate.

But Paul stood his ground, leaving his colleagues aggravated, as he demanded a more open budget process, and accusing his fellow Republicans of embracing a huge increase in spending, which he said might lead to a $1 trillion deficit this year.

“If you were against President Obama’s deficits, and now you’re for the Republican deficits, isn’t that the very definition of hypocrisy?” Paul asked on the Senate floor.

Paul ridiculed the budget deal, which will increase defense spending by $165 billion over two years, and add $131 billion in non-defense spending in that same period.

The budget deal also includes $89 billion in hurricane disaster relief, as it totals close to $400 billion in new spending.

When both parties are happy, they're usually looting the Treasury. And that's what this bill does.

— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) February 8, 2018

Some Republicans were ready to join Paul, frustrated by the details of the agreement.

“This budget deal shows the American people exactly how broken our budget and appropriations process is,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK).

“It does not address our runaway deficits, and actually takes major steps backwards in the fight to reign in Washington’s overspending appetite,” Lankford added.

With Sen. Paul blocking action on a funding plan, Democrats were more than happy to blame the GOP more broadly for the shutdown – no matter how short it lasts.

We are barreling towards the SECOND government shutdown in less than a month.

The chaos of Republican rule is hurting our country and must end.

— Senator Bob Menendez (@SenatorMenendez) February 9, 2018

INCREDIBLE. Republicans have shut the government down for the second time in less than one month despite being in charge of the entire federal government.

— Congressmember Bass (@RepKarenBass) February 9, 2018

Senators were expecting a final vote in the Senate by around 3 am; the bill would then be rushed right to the House, for action there by sunrise.

“At this point, we expect next votes in the House to occur at very roughly 3:00-6:00 a.m.,” Republicans were told by their leadership.

A number of more conservative GOP lawmakers in the House were ready to vote against the bill, but Republicans were counting on a number of Democrats to vote for the plan, and keep it on track.

Deep in the fine print of the two-year budget deal in Congress

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 19:20

As the Congress moved to approve a stopgap funding plan to avoid a government shutdown, and a two-year budget agreement worked out by leaders of both parties, lawmakers were still digging into the details of that budget deal, which approves close to $400 billion in new spending over the next two years, the first significant increase since the Obama Stimulus law in 2009, as Republicans celebrated more money for the military, and Democrats highlighted more money for domestic programs.

“With today’s vote, we’re finally going to get the military the budget they need,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, as Republicans celebrated $165 billion in new military funds over the next two years.

“That is by far the biggest achievement in this bill,” Ryan added.

But as with any bill of this size – 652 pages – there was a lot more than the headlines on Congressional press releases.

Here’s some of the details in the fine print:

1. What’s a good summary of this bill? There will be a double digit increase in spending this year and next year in the budget, for both the military and non-defense programs. The $165 billion for defense and the $131 billion for non-defense totals to $296 billion over two years. There is also $89 billion in disaster relief. $20 billion will be added for new roads and bridges. The tax provisions will cost just over $17 billion. Most of the spending details still have to be worked out, so you won’t see a breakdown of those on the House or Senate floor until mid-to-late March, when the Congress will try to finish work on the 2018 budget, months behind schedule.

WHAT"S IN THIS BILL? Let me try to provide a starting summary.

– $296 B more discretionary spending (2 yrs)
– $89 B for disaster funding.
– $6 B opioid crisis
– $20 B infrastructure
– CHIP extend 10 yrs total.
– 2 yrs funding for Comm Hlth Ctrs
– Medicare: Repeals IPAB

— Lisa Desjardins (@LisaDNews) February 8, 2018

2. For Republicans, it’s all about the Pentagon. From the White House and Capitol Hill, the GOP focus in this budget deal is on the increases for military spending. Not only does the base budget for the Pentagon go up by $165 billion, but even more will be added via “Overseas Contingency Operations,” bringing the Pentagon budget to $700 billion in 2018, and $716 billion in 2019. In order to get that level of funding, and do away with the “sequester,” GOP leaders had to allow for a big increase in domestic spending as well. But it was the military angle that was hammered home by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks ahead of the vote on the budget deal: "We can never allow anyone to politicize our military or using our troops as bargaining chips" https://t.co/RU9XKp4irD

— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) February 8, 2018

3. For Democrats, it’s all about non-defense spending.While the Republicans talk about the military spending increase, Democrats are focusing on the extra $131 billion going to domestic programs under this agreement. $6 billion for the opioid epidemic. $2 billion more to the National Institutes of Health for advanced medical research efforts. It funds Community Health Centers for two years. Extends the Children’s Health Insurance Program for another four years. “It will help America in so many ways,” said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), whose office used this graphic on Twitter about the deal. It’s not hard to tell what each side was emphasizing.

4. $89.3 billion in delayed disaster relief. The budget deal finally frees up a large package of disaster aid for those hit by hurricanes in 2017, as well as money to deal with recent wildfires in California. Lawmakers from Texas and Florida have been making noise for months about the need for more disaster aid – the House approved a plan just before Christmas, but the Senate had not taken any action on that legislation. This bill will also help those hit in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as it will bring the total amount of money spent on disasters in 2017-2018 to over $140 billion – and many say that tab will grow even more in the months ahead.

I'm happy to say that we finally have a path forward to provide the people of Florida and Puerto Rico with some much needed disaster relief after last year’s storms. I took to the Senate floor earlier to urge my colleagues to pass this bill immediately. pic.twitter.com/GpqwDhzwNj

— Bill Nelson (@SenBillNelson) February 7, 2018

5. Another piece of the Obama health law gone. It didn’t get much fanfare, but the budget deal does away with Medicare’s “Independent Payment Advisory Board.” This was what some Republicans called “death panels” back during the debate over the Obama health law in 2009-2010. The group would meet if Medicare’s growth rate went over a certain level, triggering the need for cuts. So, critics said it would mean decisions on who got care and who did not. There were Democrats who didn’t like the IPAB – but this was a check mark on the GOP side for sure in this budget agreement.

My two cents on IPAB. I was always offended by it. An august body makes decisions that Congress is incapable of making but designed for a guaranteed outcome: provider cuts. Thus providers banded together to kill it from the start. Thus IPAB was never launched. RIP.

— Rodney Whitlock (@RodneyMLS) February 8, 2018

6. Two new special committees in Congress. Unless you’re a legislative nerd like me, this one isn’t getting much attention – but the budget deal would set up two new special committees in the House and Senate, to look at two separate matters – pensions and the budget process in Congress. On pensions, as more companies stop paying for pension plans, the cost to the government is going up to help bail out retirees who had been counting on that money. As for the budget process – this bill is a pretty good example that things aren’t working, as the budget work for 2017 was supposed to be done by September 30 – of LAST year. As I have reported many times, since the budget process was reworked in 1974, Congress has finished its spending work on time only in 1976, 1988, 1994 and 1996. That’s right. Four times in over 40 years.

7. Some very familiar budget gimmicks. I’ve seen this too many times. Yes, there are provisions in this budget deal which would save money. But it won’t happen for a number of years – which means it probably won’t happen. If you find the two section labeled “Offsets,” there are a number of provisions that save money. Customs user fees would be added in – 2026. $1.64 billion in Aviation Security Service fees in – 2026. New immigration fees in – 2027. You get the point. They are legitimate items in the “ten year budget window” for Congress, but it’s not like the money is coming in to offset new spending in 2018 or 2019 under this agreement. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) told reporters that most of the offsets in the bill “aren’t particularly real.”

8. The debt limit will increase by (fill in the blank). This two-year budget deal includes language which will ‘suspend’ the nation’s debt ceiling temporarily, until March 1, 2019. Sometimes the Congress picks a number by which to raise the debt ceiling. Sometimes the Congress just allows it to go up until a certain date. This time, it’s anyone’s guess as to how much the debt will go up over the next 13 months. Maybe we should have a pool in the Press Gallery.

9. More life for the tax extenders. About every year or two, there is a push to renew a series of temporary tax breaks, known as the “tax extenders.” It seemed like that wasn’t going to happen, and then, this budget deal appeared, and they were added in. The extension of the 7-year recovery period for motorsports entertainment complexes is a familiar one, along with a tax break for race horses, and special expensing rules for certain film, TV and live theatrical productions. This is not a full list below, but you will notice that all of these breaks are for 2017 – last year. A full breakdown of all the tax provisions is available from the Joint Committee on Taxation.

10. And there were some late edits to the bill. What is the old saying? You don’t want to watch sausage or legislation being made. We’ve had examples of late adds in recent bills, and here’s another one that I stumbled on. All I can say is that most people probably didn’t read the bill, because I haven’t seen many people talking about this handwritten addition. It was only on page 146 – but, remember, not many people read the actual bills.

Two-year budget deal leaves conservative Republicans fuming over deficits

Thu, 02/08/2018 - 01:26

A two year budget agreement announced Wednesday by Congressional leaders was met with scorn from many more conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill, as the combination of big increases in military and domestic spending left some GOP lawmakers frustrated over a lack of budget discipline, while outside groups quickly predicted the plan could swiftly bring back $1 trillion yearly deficits.

“It’s almost a quarter trillion dollar increase in spending,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who told reporters it reminded him of the Obama Stimulus law. “We all know how obnoxious that was.”

“The spending increase is a big problem for a lot of people,” said Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), who said he liked the $165 billion extra in defense spending over two years – but not the $131 billion for non-defense programs.

“We’re going to add to the deficit in a huge way,” said Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL).

Official position: HFC opposes the caps deal. We support funding our troops, but growing the size of government by 13 percent is not what the voters sent us here to do.

— House Freedom Caucus (@freedomcaucus) February 8, 2018

“The big spending, liberal Republicans spoke in favor of it,” said Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), expressing his frustration after a closed door meeting of GOP lawmakers.

Asked how he would vote, Brooks was clear.

“I’m not only a no, I’m a hell, no.”

Other Republicans were clearly having heartburn as well, inclined to support more money for the Pentagon, but acknowledging that without 60 votes in the Senate, they would have to give Democrats more money for domestic spending as well.

“If the agreement fully funds the military, then I’m willing to give on the other side of the equation,” said Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA).

“Fully funding the military, to me, is incredibly important,” said Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK).

As details of the two year budget deal were announced by Senate leaders, conservative groups on Wednesday quickly tried to marshal opposition against the plan.

Key Vote Alert: "NO" on Schumer-McConnell Budget Deal. https://t.co/BootszXk2T pic.twitter.com/fsXg10GvUq

— Club for Growth (@club4growth) February 8, 2018

Five other conservative organizations looked to put further pressure on Republicans with a letter that labeled the budget deal, a “betrayal of American taxpayers and a display of the absolute unwillingness of members of Congress to adhere to any sort of responsible budgeting behavior.”

Independent budget watchdog groups cringed at the details.

“Based on what we know, the budget deal would increase next year’s deficits to roughly $1.2 trillion,” reported the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which predicted that yearly “deficits would remain over $1 trillion indefinitely.”

The Budget Agreement today is so important for our great Military. It ends the dangerous sequester and gives Secretary Mattis what he needs to keep America Great. Republicans and Democrats must support our troops and support this Bill!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 7, 2018

The deficit in 2017 was $666 billion – so far in Fiscal Year 2018, the deficit is running about seven percent higher. Add in extra spending for this deal, plus over $100 billion in disaster aid, along with higher interest payments on the federal debt, and the deficit might be close to $1 trillion this year.

When deficits hit that level for four straight years in the Obama Administration, Republicans were outraged, as they forced the adoption of strict budget caps in 2010.

But those caps ultimately proved to be too tight on military spending for Republicans.

Congress, White House, strike 2-year budget deal for $300 billion spending increase

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 18:09

Ending months of negotiations, Senate leaders on Wednesday announced an agreement with the White House to do away with restrictive budget limits for both the Pentagon and domestic spending programs, as the plan will add nearly $300 billion to the federal budget over the next two years.

“This bill is the product of extensive negotiations,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “No one would suggest it is perfect, but we worked together to find common ground.”

I believe we have reached a budget deal that neither side loves, but both sides can be proud of,” said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer.

Lawmakers said domestic programs would see an increase of about $131 billion – but much of that would go into infrastructure, money for the opioid epidemic, and more – while the military would get almost $165 billion in new funding over two years.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announces a new bipartisan budget deal to avert a shutdown: “The compromise we’ve reached will ensure that for the first time in years, our armed forces will have more of the resources they need to keep America safe” https://t.co/tia7S8trJ8

— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) February 7, 2018

.@SenSchumer: "I am pleased to announce that we have reached a two-year budget deal." https://t.co/cijocq0ADQ pic.twitter.com/Kor4cfpzqj

— CSPAN (@cspan) February 7, 2018

In a speech on the Senate floor, Schumer rattled off a series of programs that would see extra money:

+ $2 billion for research at the National Institutes of Health
+ $20 billion for infrastructure
+ $4 billion for college affordability
+ $6 billion to fund the fight on opioids
+ $4 billion for work on veterans hospitals and clinics

The quick review from budget hawks in the House was not receptive.

“This spending proposal is disgusting and reckless,” said Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) “I urge every American to speak out against this fiscal insanity.”

“I’m not only a no, ,I’m a hell, no,” said Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL).

Freedom Caucus member Jim Jordan’s take on the budget deal as he leaves House GOP conference meeting: “Bad agreement.”

— Cristina Marcos (@cimarcos) February 7, 2018

“It’s like the second largest spending increase in the last decade – second only to the Obama stimulus package,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). “And we all know how obnoxious that was.”

Full details were not immediately available, as GOP lawmakers said the plan would also include $100 billion in budget savings.

Senate leaders also said the agreement would pave the way for approval of nearly $90 billion in disaster aid for areas hit hard by hurricanes and wildfires in recent months.

Lawmakers from Texas and Florida have been urgently pressing for action on that, arguing as well for more relief for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

This deal did not include any agreement about immigration enforcement, DACA or illegal immigrant “Dreamers” – McConnell reiterated that he would allow a debate to go forward on that subject next week on the Senate floor.

Meanwhile, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi was engaged in a filibuster of sorts on the floor of the House, speaking at length on the need for a vote there on the DACA issue.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi began speaking 3 hours ago.

This is technically not a #filibuster. Leaders of either party can speak as long as they like when recognized.

Continue watching LIVE on C-SPAN https://t.co/uNLfEP8AKE pic.twitter.com/eGGeIwazzI

— CSPAN (@cspan) February 7, 2018

“Our Dreamers hang in limbo,” Pelosi said, as she demanded that GOP leaders set a vote. “The Republican moral cowardice must end.”

The deal will also include an increase the debt ceiling through March of 2019 – after the mid-term elections.

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate were being briefed on the details, which had been closely guarded for days, as Senators McConnell and Schumer worked out the final numbers.

Pleased to see there is a bipartisan budget agreement to provide additional funding to combat the #opioidcrisis & support our military. Look forward to reviewing the details of this proposal.

— Rob Portman (@senrobportman) February 7, 2018

The goal would be to approve the outline of the agreement this week, and give the House and Senate Appropriations Committees until mid-March to work out all the details for 2018.