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Jamie Dupree's Washington Insider
Updated: 4 days 11 hours ago

With Manafort on trial, Trump erupts over Russia probe

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 16:30

With his former campaign manager on trial across the Potomac River for tax and bank fraud, President Donald Trump called on the U.S. Attorney General to end the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, taking to Twitter to again denounce the investigation into any possible links between Moscow and his campaign.

“This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further,” the President said in a series of posts on Twitter.

Tweeting from the White House, Mr. Trump compared the legal situation of Manafort to that of legendary Chicago gangster Al Capone, who was chased for years by the feds, before ultimately being convicted on tax evasion charges.

It was just one of a series of tweets from the President on Wednesday, in which he again denounced the Russia investigation, being led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller.

Looking back on history, who was treated worse, Alfonse Capone, legendary mob boss, killer and “Public Enemy Number One,” or Paul Manafort, political operative & Reagan/Dole darling, now serving solitary confinement – although convicted of nothing? Where is the Russian Collusion?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 1, 2018

“FBI Agent Peter Strzok (on the Mueller team) should have recused himself on day one. He was out to STOP THE ELECTION OF DONALD TRUMP. He needed an insurance policy. Those are illegal, improper goals, trying to influence the Election. He should never, ever been allowed to……..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 1, 2018

…..remain in the FBI while he himself was being investigated. This is a real issue. It won’t go into a Mueller Report because Mueller is going to protect these guys. Mueller has an interest in creating the illusion of objectivity around his investigation.” ALAN DERSHOWITZ….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 1, 2018

..This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further. Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 1, 2018

Paul Manafort worked for Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other highly prominent and respected political leaders. He worked for me for a very short time. Why didn’t government tell me that he was under investigation. These old charges have nothing to do with Collusion – a Hoax!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 1, 2018

Russian Collusion with the Trump Campaign, one of the most successful in history, is a TOTAL HOAX. The Democrats paid for the phony and discredited Dossier which was, along with Comey, McCabe, Strzok and his lover, the lovely Lisa Page, used to begin the Witch Hunt. Disgraceful!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 1, 2018

At the White House, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the President’s tweets, saying it was not a directive to the Attorney General.

“It’s not an order, it’s the President’s opinion,” said Sanders, who added the President has been ‘crystal clear’ about his feelings about the Mueller investigation.

“It’s not an order, it’s the President’s opinion,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders says about President Trump’s tweet calling for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the Russia investigation pic.twitter.com/SqtcKTaCmi

— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) August 1, 2018

“Certainly, the President has been clear,” Sanders added, “he thinks Paul Manafort has been treated unfairly.”

On Capitol Hill, Democrats had a much different take on Wednesday’s tweets, as lawmakers said it was obvious what was going on with the President’s call for Attorney General Sessions to end the Mueller probe.

“He’s panicking,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA).

“How is this not obstruction of justice?” asked Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA).

I’m sure we will soon find out what has President Trump so panicked, but he is clearly trying to interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation. That is obstruction of justice. https://t.co/ahB7AIWOxq

— Rep. John Yarmuth (@RepJohnYarmuth) August 1, 2018

The President of the United States just called on his Attorney General to put an end to an investigation in which the President, his family and campaign may be implicated.

This is an attempt to obstruct justice hiding in plain sight. America must never accept it. https://t.co/F8b6a0IGOh

— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) August 1, 2018

“Obstruction in plain sight,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA).

“The trail of evidence regarding conspiracy, money laundering and obstruction of justice is leading closer to the President and people important to him,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX).

In echoes of 2016, Facebook deactivates fake political accounts

Wed, 08/01/2018 - 01:37

Cracking down on accounts which were stirring political debate in the U.S. on issues that crossed party lines, the social media giant Facebook announced Tuesday that it had found evidence of “coordinated inauthentic” political behavior, raising questions about new efforts – possibly by Russia – to tamper with the 2018 election climate in the U.S.

“We’re sharing what we know today because of the connection between these bad actors and an event planned in Washington next week,” said Sheryl Sandberg, the CEO of Facebook in a call with reporters, who added that the investigation was still in an early stage.

“This kind of behavior is not allowed on Facebook because we don’t want organizations or individuals creating networks of accounts that mislead people about who they are or what they’re doing,” Sandberg added.

The rallies that Facebook wanted to head off were set for August 10 and August 12 not far from the White House – targeted against conservatives, and aligned more with “Resist” groups who oppose President Donald Trump’s administration.

Examples of other graphics sent out by these fake accounts – one of which was labeled “Resisters” – was a photo of President Trump, saying he only needs to tweet two words, “I RESIGN,” as the examples of social media messages and memes released by Facebook showed that like in 2016 – the social media postings touched on hot button issues in the American political landscape which would inflame both political parties.

As for who was responsible for these accounts and the fake rallies, Facebook officials said that just wasn’t clear, noting that the groups behind these postings had clearly learned some lessons from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

“It’s clear that whoever set up these accounts went to much greater lengths to obscure their true identities than the Russian-based, Internet Research Agency, IRA, did in the run up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election,” Sandberg said.

“As we’ve developed this investigation, we’ve been working closely with law enforcement and have briefed lawmakers on what we’ve found,” said Nathaniel Gleicher, the head of cybersecurity for Facebook.

“Our team has determined these actors have gone to greater lengths than those we’ve seen before to conceal their identity and origin,” he added.

Facebook officials said more than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of the deactivated pages, which were created between March 2017 and May 2018.

“This is information warfare,” declared Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) during a Tuesday evening speech on the Senate floor, as he displayed some of the content identified by Facebook.

“This is not a pro-Trump message or a pro-Democrat message,” Rubio said. “This is an outrage message.”

“This is not a relic of 2016,” Rubio added.

#Putin interference is not on behalf of GOP or Dems. It’s 21st century information warfare against the American people. Today’s @Facebook revelations show how an anti-American dictator uses our computers & mobile devices to divide us against each other: https://t.co/hGYerR85zc

— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) August 1, 2018

“We know that Russia is coming back in 2018, 2020, and beyond,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE). “Americans in Washington and in Silicon Valley have work to do.”

The revelation from Facebook came as the Senate Intelligence Committee was ready to hold a hearing on Wednesday with a group of social media experts.

“The goal of these operations is to sow discord, distrust, and division,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), who will chair the hearing.

“The Russians want a weak America,” Burr added.

Kick the can – Congress okays seventh short term flood insurance plan

Tue, 07/31/2018 - 17:55

For the seventh time in less than a year, the Congress has sent President Donald Trump a short-term extension of the federal flood insurance program, as lawmakers continue to search for a bipartisan legislative fix to a program that is already in over $20 billion in the red.

“Congress has got to start doing things differently,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA). “The current program is unsustainable, and taxpayers deserve better.”

The Senate voted 86-12 on Tuesday for a four-month extension of the National Flood Insurance Program, as the White House has urged Congress to agree on major financial reforms.

“As currently structured, the NFIP cannot handle catastrophic losses like those caused by the devastating hurricanes in 2017,” the White House said last week.

. @SenJohnKennedy on Senate passage of NFIP extension: It would have been bone-deep, down-to-the-marrow stupid to let the National Flood Insurance Program expire in the middle of hurricane season & my colleagues realized that @theadvertiser, @thenewsstar, @shreveporttimes, #NFIP

— Deborah Berry (@dberrygannett) July 31, 2018

The lack of a deal on federal flood insurance is simple to explain – there’s no agreement on how best to improve the program, no consensus on how much of a private market to create, and strong resistance from coastal areas to the idea of large increases for homeowners in flood insurance premiums to pay for the program.

“The NFIP is broke, outdated, and in need of critical reforms,” said Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL), who wants to see more private flood insurance, and competition, as part of the answer.

“Today, we are in the middle of Hurricane season and the NFIP still owes over $20 billion to the U.S. Treasury,” Ross added, as lawmakers reminded each other that Congress forgave another $16 billion in debt last year.

“The National Flood Insurance Program is in desperate need of changes.” said Sen. Marco Rubio, as both the House and Senate have different plans on what needs to be changed – but no agreement on how to forge a bipartisan compromise.

Maybe the biggest single stumbling block is a familiar one – how to fund the federal flood insurance program without setting higher premiums that residents of flood-prone communities cannot support.

“People have been living near the water since Moby Dick was a minnow,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA). “Few of them are living in luxury beach homes.”

The deal approved today will extend the flood insurance program through the end of the current hurricane season – but there’s no guarantee any deal will be reached by the end of November, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see another short-term extension of the program.

One reason is that with the elections in November, the House has only 27 scheduled legislative work days – during seven work weeks – over the next four months.

Five things to know about the Paul Manafort trial

Tue, 07/31/2018 - 08:00

As former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort goes on trial Tuesday in a federal court in Virginia on charges of tax and bank fraud, the specter of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections – and any ties to President Donald Trump’s campaign – won’t be the main issue on the docket, but it will certainly be in the background as the trial gets underway.

Manafort faces a variety of charges – subscribing to false individual income tax returns, failure to report foreign bank and financial accounts, bank fraud and bank fraud conspiracy.

In all, Manafort faces 18 federal criminal charges, as he will be the first to go through a trial involving the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

What’s at stake, and what might we see in the weeks ahead?

1. This trial is not about the Russia probe – but it is. While Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office is in charge of this prosecution, the charges of tax and bank fraud levied against the former Trump Campaign Manager have nothing to do with the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. But the specter of the overall Mueller probe certainly is the elephant in the courtroom, as the judge has made clear in previous hearings on the case. “You really don’t care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud,” Federal Judge T.S. Ellis said back in May to lawyers for the Special Counsel’s office. “You really care about getting information Mr. Manafort can give you that would reflect on Mr. Trump and lead to his prosecution or impeachment. That’s what you’re really interested in,” the judge added. While backers of the President hailed that talk in May, the judge refused to set aside the prosecution, allowing the trial to go forward.

2. What is the trial of Manafort actually about? Before working on the Trump Campaign, Manafort was an adviser to Viktor Yanukovych, who was the President of Ukraine between 2010 and 2014, a leader who was more friendly to Moscow and Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The case against Manafort centers on whether Manafort was paid millions of dollars for his work on behalf of Yanukovych, then failed to report that income to the IRS, employing a variety of ways to launder the money for his own personal use in the U.S., mainly by disguising it through transactions with shell companies. “As explained at the hearing, the government expects to prove that Manafort earned for than $60 million dollars from his Ukraine work…and failed to report a significant percentage of it on his tax returns,” the feds argued. The second part of the charges center around whether Manafort lied to U.S. banks about his personal debts, as he applied for very large loans. One of the loans – for $16 billion – came from an Illinois bank run by an economic adviser to the Trump Campaign, and who reportedly was interested in a post in the Trump Administration, raising questions of a quid-pro-quo. Two people who work for that bank were given limited ‘use immunity’ to testify in the case against Manafort. None of the five are household names – some more conservative news outlets had said that Tony Podesta, the brother of Clinton campaign chief John Podesta, would be granted immunity for his testimony. That did not happen in this case.

3. This trial is not the venue for testimony on the Russia probe. Federal prosecutors have already made clear that they do not intend to use this first trial against Manafort (there two already scheduled – the next in September in Washington, D.C.) to start making the case about possible ties between Russia and the Trump Campaign. “The government does not intend to present at trial evidence or argument concerning collusion with the Russian government,” the Special Counsel’s office stated in court papers filed in recent weeks. But as stated above, part of the prosecution of Manafort will show his ties to pro-Putin groups, and one of the star witnesses will be his former top aide, Rick Gates, who has already cut a plea bargain with Mueller to provide testimony in the Russia investigation. While the feds say they aren’t going to bring up the issue of Manafort and Russia, one can’t rule out the possibility that little pieces of evidence get dropped along the way in this trial related to that issue.

4. Trump has said little about Manafort trial. While President Trump has routinely attacked the Russia investigation, and the work of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the President has rarely addressed the legal fate of his former campaign manager, downplaying Manafort’s importance to Mr. Trump’s bid for the White House. “Paul Manafort came into the campaign very late and was with us for a short period of time,” the President tweeted in June. As for the charges of financial wrongdoing – “Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign,” the President tweeted in October of 2017, as he then segued into a familiar argument. “But why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?” Certainly the outcome of this case – while not focused on the issue of the Russia investigation – could have a major impact on where that probe goes. An acquittal for Manafort would be a major boost for critics of Mueller, especially President Trump.

As only one of two people left who could become President, why wouldn’t the FBI or Department of “Justice” have told me that they were secretly investigating Paul Manafort (on charges that were 10 years old and had been previously dropped) during my campaign? Should have told me!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 3, 2018

5. Manafort’s legal problems don’t end with just this trial. This is not the only trial set for Manafort, as a second case against him in a Washington, D.C. federal court deals with money laundering, and not registering as a foreign lobbyist, for his Ukraine work. That trial is not set to begin until September. The big question about Manafort is fairly simple – would he ‘flip’ and offer testimony against the President if found guilty in this first trial? Manafort was involved in some key moments which have come under scrutiny in the Mueller investigation, like the infamous June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting where Russian emissaries were supposedly ready to offer ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton. It is not clear what other evidence has been generated by the Mueller investigation with regards to Manafort. It could be there is nothing of note. Or, it could be that there is more. But those questions are for another day – and not for this trial.

President Trump again threatens government shutdown over immigration

Mon, 07/30/2018 - 18:53

Two months before a funding deadline for the U.S. Government, President Donald Trump on Monday signaled that he would favor using the threat of a government shutdown to force action on tougher immigration legislation, arguing once more that the Congress needs to vote on major changes to current U.S. immigration laws, which Mr. Trump says are not tough enough.

“I would certainly be willing to consider a shutdown if we don’t get proper border security,” the President said, amplifying a tweet from earlier in the day in which he again called for action by the Congress.

In a joint news conference with the Italian Prime Minister at the White House, the President indicated he would not think twice about using the leverage of a government shutdown to force the Congress to act on legislation which would toughen U.S. immigration laws.

“I would have no problem doing a shutdown,” the President said. “It’s time we had proper border security.”

“I’ll always leave room for negotiation, but this has been many years.” Trump says on his government shutdown threat over border wall funding. “I would certainly be willing to close it down to get it done" #tictocnews pic.twitter.com/UsTLHcKUcc

— TicToc by Bloomberg (@tictoc) July 30, 2018

But Mr. Trump’s efforts to get changes through the Congress – an end to ‘catch and release’ of immigrants illegally entering the United States, the end of the ‘visa lottery’ program, and an end to what’s known as ‘chain migration’ – have borne little fruit.

Back in February, the Senate was unable to muster even a majority for a bill backed by the President, getting only 39 votes for a plan favored by Mr. Trump.

More recently in the House, Republicans in June failed to rally behind a pair of immigration reform bills which contained provisions backed by the President.

We must have Border Security, get rid of Chain, Lottery, Catch & Release Sanctuary Cities – go to Merit based Immigration. Protect ICE and Law Enforcement and, of course, keep building, but much faster, THE WALL!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2018

While it might seem like there is a lot of time to reach a deal – the House is off on an extended summer break until after Labor Day, as lawmakers there have only 11 scheduled work days between now and October 1 – when the new Fiscal Year begins.

That would seem to leave little time for action – and little time to hash out a compromise on immigration, which so far has proven elusive for President Trump.

Among Republicans in the Senate, there was not much of an embrace for the idea of a shutdown.

CORNYN also says he doesn't think a shut down is going to happen, and says of immigration policies Trump wants included in the funding bill: "We’ve had a vote on some of those and they didn’t pass, and so I don’t know anything that’s change on any of those."

— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) July 30, 2018

New: Amid Trump threats to shut it all down, McConnell remains publicly upbeat: “I’m confident we can avoid a shutdown,” he tells me just now.

— Seung Min Kim (@seungminkim) July 30, 2018

Trump hits news media, Mueller in series of tweets

Mon, 07/30/2018 - 00:51

President Donald Trump on Sunday vented his frustration with both the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, and any possible ties to the Trump Campaign, and also again blasted the the press, as he accused the news media of never-ending negative coverage of ‘the tremendously positive results we are achieving.’

“I will not allow our great country to be sold out by anti-Trump haters in the dying newspaper industry,” the President said in a flurry of salvos at the news media on Sunday, in which he took specific aim at the New York Times and Washington Post.

Tweeting from his golf club in New Jersey, the President revealed that he had a recent meeting with the Publisher of the New York Times, A.G. Sulzberger, as Mr. Trump said he spent time talking about “Fake News,” again labeling the the press the “Enemy of the People.”

Had a very good and interesting meeting at the White House with A.G. Sulzberger, Publisher of the New York Times. Spent much time talking about the vast amounts of Fake News being put out by the media & how that Fake News has morphed into phrase, “Enemy of the People.” Sad!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 29, 2018

When the media – driven insane by their Trump Derangement Syndrome – reveals internal deliberations of our government, it truly puts the lives of many, not just journalists, at risk! Very unpatriotic! Freedom of the press also comes with a responsibility to report the news…

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 29, 2018

…dying newspaper industry. No matter how much they try to distract and cover it up, our country is making great progress under my leadership and I will never stop fighting for the American people! As an example, the failing New York Times…

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 29, 2018

The mention of the meeting with the New York Times Publisher drew a response from the “Gray Lady,” as Sulzberger said by talking about the meeting, the President had violated the off-the-record nature of the sitdown.

In a statement issued by the paper on Sunday, Sulzberger said he accepted the meeting with the President to push back on Mr. Trump’s “deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric.”

“I told the president directly that I thought that his language was not just divisive but increasingly dangerous,” Sulzberger stated on Sunday.

“I am far more concerned about his labeling journalists “the enemy of the people,” Sulzberger wrote. “I warned that this inflammatory language is contributing to a rise in threats against journalists and will lead to violence.”

On the Russia investigation, the President once more accused Mueller of supposedly ignoring wrong doing by Democrats, continuing to press the GOP argument that the Justice Department has gone easy on questions involving Hillary Clinton, while doggedly pursuing issues related to Mr. Trump.

For the second time in the last eight days, the President said the “The Robert Mueller Rigged Witch Hunt” was now employing 17 “Angry Democrats,” up from the usual figure of 13 which the President has used for months.

It was not immediately apparent why the President now indicated that number had changed.

It was also not immediately obvious what spurred the sudden spasm of tweets about the Russia investigation – though the trial of his former campaign manager Paul Manafort does begin on Tuesday.

While that case was spurred by the work done by the Special Counsel’s office – the actual details of the bank and tax fraud charges brought by a federal grand jury do not seem to have any tentacles to the broader Russia investigation.

There is No Collusion! The Robert Mueller Rigged Witch Hunt, headed now by 17 (increased from 13, including an Obama White House lawyer) Angry Democrats, was started by a fraudulent Dossier, paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC. Therefore, the Witch Hunt is an illegal Scam!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 29, 2018

Is Robert Mueller ever going to release his conflicts of interest with respect to President Trump, including the fact that we had a very nasty & contentious business relationship, I turned him down to head the FBI (one day before appointment as S.C.) & Comey is his close friend..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 29, 2018

….Also, why is Mueller only appointing Angry Dems, some of whom have worked for Crooked Hillary, others, including himself, have worked for Obama….And why isn’t Mueller looking at all of the criminal activity & real Russian Collusion on the Democrats side-Podesta, Dossier?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 29, 2018

During a speech to a convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Kansas City last week, the President made clear his contempt for the news media.

“Don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news,” he said as members of the audience booed the assembled press corps.

The VFW issued a statement after the President’s speech saying, “we were disappointed to hear some of our members boo the press during President Trump’s remarks.”

“We were happy to have them there,” the VFW tweeted.

With House gone, Congress again poised to fail on spending work

Sat, 07/28/2018 - 08:00

As the U.S. House left Thursday on an extended summer break which will last until Labor Day, Republican leaders in Congress signaled that 2018 won’t be much different from the past twenty-plus years on Capitol Hill, as lawmakers once more will not get their spending work done on time by the end of September, requiring the approval of a temporary funding plan to avoid a government shutdown on October 1.

“There will be some bills that won’t pass or won’t be ready by then,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan of the fiscal deadline, acknowledging at a Thursday news conference what everyone on Capitol Hill already knew, that Congress won’t finish its spending work on time for the twenty-second consecutive year.

So far, the House has approved six of the twelve bills which fund the operations of the federal government. The Senate has voted on three of those spending bills.

Lawmakers in the House certainly have the time to act on the six unfinished bills awaiting action – but the House is now gone until September 4 – leaving only 11 scheduled legislative work days in September – between the end of July and the start of the new fiscal year on October 1.

While the Senate will work most of August – the House schedule shows no legislative work in August in D.C. – and if you’re not in session, it’s sort of hard to pass bills.

In an event this past week at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, there was no surprise at the inability of the House and Senate to do their spending work on time among those who have worked in Congress or watched lawmakers up close for years.

“I think a lot of it is there is just not the will to get the appropriations process done each year,” said Molly Reynolds of the Brookings Institute.

Since Congress reformed its budget process in 1974, Congress has only completed spending work on time in 1976, 1988, 1994, and 1996.

And this year will be no different, requiring the use of stopgap funding measures, known as “Continuing Resolutions,” and maybe a giant “Omnibus” funding bill to finish that spending work – something President Donald Trump had vowed not to do this year.

“I think he better be prepared to sign another Continuing Resolution or an Omnibus bill before the year is out,” said Bill Hoagland, a former top staffer on the Senate Budget Committee.

So far, the House has approved 6 of the 12 spending bills for 2019:

“Best case scenario – five or six (bills) – probably more realistic three or four, will be signed into law,” by October 1, said Donald Wolfensberger, a former top staffer on the House Rules Committee.

“So, you are going to have a Continuing Resolution, and they’ll be back after the election to patch things up,” Wolfensberger added, which brings into play the possibility of an Omnibus funding bill, something which President Trump said in March he would not approve.

“I will never sign another bill like this again – I’m not going to do it again,” the President said in March, when Congress jammed all the 12 spending measures into one giant bill, and sent it to the White House for his signature.

This time, maybe what the President will be asked to sign in terms of overdue spending legislation will be something a bit smaller – but still, it won’t happen until after the spending deadline.

“We know that Congress is quite bad at meeting these deadlines,” said Reynolds of Brookings, as some have suggested getting rid of the fiscal year, and simply budgeting on a calendar year basis, or move to a two-year ‘biennial’ budget.

“I guess the big question always looming as we near October 1, is will there be another government shutdown?” said Wolfensberger.

“I don’t think either party wants to have one, because it’s not going to help either party in the November elections,” he added.

Obviously, it would be much easier to get the work done – if the House was in session in August.

Reminder: Since 1974, the Congress has finished its spending bills on time (by October 1) in 1976, 1988, 1994 & 1996

— Jamie Dupree (@jamiedupree) January 19, 2018

“Congress and members of Congress could stand up and make the process work better,” said John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center, who noted that a special panel is now looking at changing the budget process.

“The current budget process has dysfunction and disorder built into the process,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), who is on a special House-Senate committee to consider changes to the budget system on Capitol Hill.

One piece of that dysfunction might be the five week break the House is now on, which all but insures failure when it comes to finishing the spending bills for 2019.

But that reform effort won’t change the budget process this year, again raising the threat of a government shutdown and an omnibus funding bill – a repeat Capitol Hill has seen every year since 1997.

Trump trumpets trade tactics at Illinois steel mill

Thu, 07/26/2018 - 22:19

A day after agreeing to wide-ranging negotiations on trade with leaders of the European Union, President Donald Trump took credit for a resurgence in heavy industry jobs in the steel industry, arguing that his tariffs on imported steel and aluminum from Europe, Canada, and Mexico were bolstering American security and economic growth.

“We love our steel workers, and our steel workers are going back to work,” the President said at a U.S. Steel plant in Granite City, Illinois, which has added on shifts since Mr. Trump’s tariffs were put in place.

“We are once again pouring new American steel into the spine of our country,” the President said to cheers.

In his remarks, Mr. Trump mixed in support for his tariffs with pointed talk for other nations, saying that “no one rips off the United States” on trade anymore.

President Trump: "We're putting the world's trade cheaters on notice. No one rips off the United States of America and nobody takes advantage of our workers or our companies anymore. And this includes protecting our great farmers."

Full video here: https://t.co/ijOy8Q7Qg0 pic.twitter.com/3EnyCeH55U

— CSPAN (@cspan) July 26, 2018

While the President trumpeted his stance on steel and aluminum tariffs, he also gave a brief mention to an emergency $12 billion bailout plan for farmers which was issued this week by the Agriculture Department, as farm communities have been hit hard by retaliatory tariffs from other nations, angered by the steel and aluminum import duties.

Mr. Trump said he believes farmers understand their pain is part of his larger plans.

“They interview them on television, and they say, ‘he’s doing the right thing,'” the President said of farmers hit by tariffs and lost markets.

“We’ve given them a little help,” Mr. Trump said of the $12 billion aid plan. “We’re giving them a little help.”

Asked about the aid by reporters at the White House on Thursday morning, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin bristled at the characterization of the aid plan as a ‘bailout.’

“We’re not bailing out any farmers, that’s a ridiculous comment,” Mnuchin said.

Mnuchin pressed whether $12B aid to farmers is a “bailout”:
“We're not bailing out any farmers, that's a ridiculous comment. It's not a bailout… to the extent that other countries unfairly and illegally target our farmers, we will stand up and fight for them."

— Peter Alexander (@PeterAlexander) July 26, 2018

But farmers – and farm state Senators – have been growing increasingly vocal in recent weeks, worried that their trade losses will continue for years.

At a hearing with the U.S. Trade Representative on Thursday, Senators chided the Trump Administration’s trade policy choices, as they were told there would be no aid for anyone other than farmers.

“Are you also talking about aid for small businesses…who are being hurt by this policy?” asked Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).

“Agriculture has been particularly targeted,” said Robert Lighthizer, echoing the President’s complaints about retaliatory tariffs, which have been aimed at more than farm products.

“So you’re not contemplating that kind of assistance for other small businesses that are being hurt by this trade war?” Shaheen pressed.

“No. Not at this time,” said Lighthizer.

Despite the bipartisan complaints, there is no sign that Congress will act on any legislation to roll back the President’s tariffs.

The House on Thursday went home on an extended summer break, as lawmakers on that side of the Capitol won’t be back for legislative action until after Labor Day.

Speaker Ryan opposes GOP bid to impeach Rosenstein

Thu, 07/26/2018 - 17:10

Breaking with a group of more conservative GOP lawmakers, House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday that he did not support an effort unveiled last night to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, as Ryan argued that despite concerns over cooperation from the Justice Department, the dispute did not merit such a constitutional showdown.

“Do I support impeachment of Rod Rosenstein? No, I do not,” Ryan said at a news conference, just before House members went home for an extended summer break which will run until after Labor Day.

“I don’t think we should be cavalier with this process, or with this term,” said Ryan, referring to the impeachment process, which hasn’t been used against a federal official – other than a judge or President – since 1876.

“I don’t think this rises to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors,” Ryan added.

.@SpeakerRyan: "Do I support impeachment of Rod Rosenstein? No, I do not."

Full video here: https://t.co/VfBrKwwbo0 pic.twitter.com/nwjOi9kaac

— CSPAN (@cspan) July 26, 2018

But a small band of Republicans from the House Freedom Caucus see things much differently, as they introduced a resolution to impeach Rosenstein on Thursday night, complaining that Rosenstein – who oversees the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections – has dragged his feet on turning over documents about that investigation.

“We can’t get answers for the American people if we can’t get information from the DOJ,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH).

“It’s time to impeach Rod Rosenstein,” Jordan added, just hours before he announced he would try to succeed Ryan as Speaker, if Republicans can keep the House majority in the 2018 elections.

“We have had enough,” said Freedom Caucus head Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC).

“The DOJ has continued to hide information from Congress and repeatedly obstructed oversight–even defying multiple Congressional subpoenas,” he added.

Rosenstein has engaged in an obstruction of justice and obstruction of Congress. The delays, obfuscation and intransigence demonstrate a disregard for his sworn duties to the Constitution and the American people. Enough is enough. #ImpeachRosenstein https://t.co/PMfdJMOsO1 pic.twitter.com/A9vWNJrVfr

— Rep. Paul Gosar, DDS (@RepGosar) July 26, 2018

But while critics of Rosenstein were loudly pronouncing their effort, it’s clear they don’t have the votes to get a majority of the House to join with them – and even if they did, the Senate does not have a two-thirds super majority to convict and oust Rosenstein.

In a news conference with reporters, Speaker Ryan said while there have been problems getting documents, he believes there has been a lot of compliance in recent months from the Justice Department.

“We do not have full compliance – and we have to get full compliance – but we are making tremendous progress,” Ryan added.

The issue isn’t going anywhere for now, as lawmakers go home for an extended legislative break – leaving the matter until September, or later.

You can read the full text of the Rosenstein impeachment articles at this link.

House conservatives unveil impeachment resolution against Rosenstein

Thu, 07/26/2018 - 00:32

A small group of Republicans in the House on Wednesday evening filed an impeachment resolution against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, charging that the top Justice Department official had repeatedly not cooperated and refused to share documents with Congressional investigators, as the more conservative GOP lawmakers argued it was time to ‘hold him accountable.’

“The stonewalling over this last year has been just as bad or worse than under the Obama administration,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), who filed the impeachment articles on the House floor.

“The DOJ is keeping information from Congress. Enough is enough,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). “It’s time to hold Mr. Rosenstein accountable for blocking Congress’s constitutional oversight role.”

Republicans accuse Rosenstein of defying and resisting Congressional oversight, on both the Russia investigation, and questions about how the FBI and Justice Department handled the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

I just filed a resolution with @Jim_Jordan and several colleagues to impeach Rod Rosenstein. The DOJ has continued to hide information from Congress and repeatedly obstructed oversight–even defying multiple Congressional subpoenas.

We have had enough.

— Mark Meadows (@RepMarkMeadows) July 25, 2018

Meadows and his allies filed the impeachment resolution soon after lawmakers met with Justice Department officials, again demanding documents related to the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

“We have given Rod Rosenstein every opportunity to comply with Congressional requests,” said Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA). “He has evaded our oversight time and again.”

“Rod Rosenstein and the Department of Justice have repeatedly ignored Congressional requests and subpoenas, showing a complete disregard for Congressional oversight authority,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL).

“Mr. Rosenstein’s Department is subject to constitutional checks and balances,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ). “I call on my colleagues to assert our constitutional responsibility and approve these articles of impeachment.”

Not all Republicans were ready to line up behind the plan.

“Reckless publicity stunt,” tweeted Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL). “No different from Dems who filed articles of impeachment against the President some months ago.”

Democrats also blasted the move.

“The American people have had enough of this manufactured crisis and Republicans’ continuing efforts to undermine Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY).

“What has the modern Republican Party become?” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), as Democrats urged voters to register their disapproval at the ballot box in November, as they labeled the charges an “unfounded attack.”

VOTE. THEM. OUT. https://t.co/gNbNVWxal1

— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) July 25, 2018

“These articles of impeachment against Rod Rosenstein were filed in bad faith and show extraordinary lengths to which House Republicans will go to protect Trump,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

“Conservative GOP impeachment push against Deputy AG Rosenstein is a naked assault on the rule of law in America,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA).

The official introduction of the resolution came a day before the House was scheduled to leave Washington for an extended summer break, as members are not back for legislative business until after Labor Day in September.

The resolution is not “privileged” – so, immediate action is not required.

The move is not supported by a number of Republicans in the House, one reason a vote will not occur before September.

The full House would have to approve articles of impeachment, which would then be subject to a trial in the Senate. A two-thirds supermajority is needed to remove an official from office.

Trump, EU chief agree to trade talks instead of trade war

Wed, 07/25/2018 - 21:34

Stepping back from what seemed like the onset of a trade war between the U.S. and European Union, President Donald Trump and the European Commission chief said Wednesday at the White House that they would start wide-ranging talks on trade, agreeing to hold off on further tariffs and trade duties, and work towards the goal of a lowering trade barriers between the two giant trading partners.

“This is why we agreed today, first of all, to work together towards zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers, and zero subsidies on non-auto industrial goods,” the President said to applause in the White House Rose Garden.

“So we had a big day,” Mr. Trump said.

Standing with the President, European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said it was time to iron out differences on trade, not to undermine the $1 trillion trade relationship between Europe and the U.S.

“If we team up, we can make our planet a better, more secure, and more prosperous place,” Juncker said.

President Trump during news conference with European Commission President @JunckerEU: "We agreed today, first of all, to work together toward zero tariffs, zero non-tariffs barriers and zero subsides on non-auto industrial goods."

Full video here: https://t.co/WTNUkVY8Fb pic.twitter.com/eVN7ESI2CP

— CSPAN (@cspan) July 25, 2018

“Our trading partners are looking at the trade imbalances in a different light under President Trump,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA). “The long-term goal has never been tariffs, but equal access to other markets.”

“This is a positive development,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) of the U.S.-E.U. agreement to trade talks. “I look forward to seeing the fruits of these negotiations.”

The agreement to halt further trade retaliation by each side, and engage in new negotiations, came as President Trump has come under increasing criticism – especially from fellow Republicans in the Congress – as they charge his aggressive trade actions against Europe, China, Mexico and Canada have only hurt U.S. businesses, and especially farmers.

“The administration tells us don’t worry, be patient,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), “but from where we sit, it appears that in a Ready, Aim, Fire fashion, the White House is waking up every morning and making it up as they go.”

“Now is the time for EU and US – both victims to unfair China trade practices – to unite against China,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), as lawmakers in both parties have complained that he President has wasted valuable time by going after Europe, Canada and Mexico on trade, instead of focusing on Beijing.

As for what Messrs. Trump and Juncker agreed to on trade – here are the basic bullet points, as the two countries agreed to:

+ Work toward zero tariffs on industrial goods
+ Work toward zero trade barriers and zero subsidies on ‘non-auto industrial goods’
+ Work to reduce barriers on trade in services, chemicals, pharmaceutical products
+ Have Europe import more US liquefied natural gas
+ Have Europe import more US soybeans
+ Consider measures for WTO reform
+ Address unfair trading practices by other nations
+ Hold off on further tariffs while negotiating
+ US will reassess tariffs on EU steel and aluminum
+ Europe will reconsider retaliatory tariffs as talks progress
+ Launch dialogue on standards dealing with trade bureaucracy

Soybeans are a big deal in #Iowa. Thank you @realDonaldTrump for engaging the European Union and working toward a win for U.S. #farmers

— Joni Ernst (@SenJoniErnst) July 25, 2018

In the White House Rose Garden, Mr. Trump labeled it a ‘new phase’ in the US-EU relationship, moving away from threats to slap up to a 25 percent tariff on imported cars from Europe.

The agreement to hold talks quickly defused what had become a growing political problem for the President, as Republicans issued a parade of statements in recent days breaking with Mr. Trump’s tough talk on trade, especially the move to funnel $12 billion in trade aid to farmers hurt by retaliatory tariffs against the U.S.

“The administration clobbers farmers with an unnecessary trade war then attempts to assuage them with taxpayer handouts,” said Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), as several Republicans labeled the aid plan, ‘welfare for farmers.’

Trump, EU leaders set for showdown talks on trade

Wed, 07/25/2018 - 08:00

A few weeks after labeling the European Union a ‘foe’ of the United States, President Donald Trump will sit down with leaders of that economic community on Wednesday at the White House, amid threats of an escalation of tariffs in a trade dispute that some fear could swell into a full-blown trade war.

“What the European Union is doing to us is incredible – how bad,” the President said in a speech on Tuesday in Kansas City, where he doubled down on his use of tough trade threats against Europe, Canada, China and Mexico, trying to use the possibility of more tariffs as leverage to draw concessions on American exports.

“They sound nice but they’re rough. They’re all coming in to see me,” Mr. Trump told a convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, where the audience embraced his talk on trade with strong applause.

“I said, “You have to change.” They didn’t want to change,” the President said of Europe. “I said, ‘Okay. Good. We’re going to tariff your cars.'”

Trump taunts EU before meeting with Juncker pic.twitter.com/9gwzYvzL27

— Ruptly (@Ruptly) July 24, 2018

The European Union is coming to Washington tomorrow to negotiate a deal on Trade. I have an idea for them. Both the U.S. and the E.U. drop all Tariffs, Barriers and Subsidies! That would finally be called Free Market and Fair Trade! Hope they do it, we are ready – but they won’t!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2018

“They’re a big abuser,” the President said of the EU, as the President defended his tariffs, which have drawn retaliation around the world, and caused economic heartburn in the U.S. on a number of levels.

The European Union has already retaliated against President Trump’s tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, targeting a series of agricultural products in the U.S., bourbon, motorcycles and more.

Initial reports from Europe indicated that Jean-Claude Juncker would not arrive with trade deal offers for President Trump, but would instead be trying to figure out what Mr. Trump might agree to in a trade deal.

Borse ottimiste alla vigilia del vertice Trump-Juncker – La Repubblica https://t.co/WWsnPaU5B1

— Giacomo Giostra (@GiostraGiacomo) July 24, 2018

“I campaigned on that issue,” the President told a convention of the VFW in Kansas City as he defended his moves on trade. “I understand that issue better than anybody.”

But a number of lawmakers in the Congress – especially Republicans – see it much differently, as they blasted the Trump Administration announcement on Tuesday that it would funnel $12 million in trade aid to America’s farmers, to make up for economic losses incurred in Mr. Trump’s trade fights.

“Given the low prices farmers have been facing, the tariff situation is making things worse for producers as we speak,” said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

“We need a longer-term strategy to ensure farmers are able to sell their goods around the globe,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is trying to put a band-aid on a self-inflicted wound. The administration clobbers farmers with an unnecessary trade war then attempts to assuage them with taxpayer handouts. This bailout compounds bad policy with more bad policy.

— Senator Pat Toomey (@SenToomey) July 24, 2018

The President “now wants to give a taxpayer bailout to farmers who were hurt by his tariffs, i.e., his tax increase on Americans,” said Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), as GOP discontent simmered in the halls of Congress on the tariff issue.

“Time and time again I’ve heard from farmers that they want trade, not aid,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who told some reporters off the Senate floor that the $12 billion plan for farmers reeked of a “Soviet-type economy.”

Trump defends tariffs, offers $12 billion in trade aid to farmers

Tue, 07/24/2018 - 18:13

In the face of mounting complaints about his trade strategy, President Donald Trump on Tuesday gave no signs of backing down on his move to levy tariffs on imports into the United States, as the Trump Administration announced a $12 billion bailout plan to help farmers who have been hit by retaliatory tariffs from other nations.

“Our workers have been cheated, our companies have been cheated,” the President said in a speech to a VFW convention in Kansas City, Missouri, as he demanded ‘reasonable’ and ‘fair’ trade deals with other nations.

“We have to do it – other countries have tariffs on us,” Mr. Trump said, as he staunchly defended his effort to force other nations to lower their trade barriers, by slapping U.S. import duties on foreign products.

“These countries have been ripping us off for decades,” the President added, acknowledging that it may take time to force trade changes.

“It doesn’t take a week – it takes a little longer. But we’re going to get it done,” Mr. Trump said.

Tariffs are the greatest! Either a country which has treated the United States unfairly on Trade negotiates a fair deal, or it gets hit with Tariffs. It’s as simple as that – and everybody’s talking! Remember, we are the “piggy bank” that’s being robbed. All will be Great!

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

But while the President proclaimed on Twitter Tuesday that, “Tariffs are the greatest!” – many in his own party strongly disagree, as they hear more and more complaints from back – especially from farmers – about how the President’s tariffs have triggered retaliation, which have cost farmers markets, and money.

“I just don’t think tariffs are the way to go, and our members are making that clear,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, referring to growing complaints from GOP lawmakers.

“I don’t think the tariff route is the smart way to go,” the Speaker added at a news conference, though he again gave no hint that the Congress would take any kind of actual vote to rein in the President’s trade actions.

House Speaker Paul Ryan says he disagrees with President Trump’s use of tariffs: “I don’t think tariffs are the right answer. I don’t support tariffs … I think there are better tools that we can use” https://t.co/zRDp8EjbQv

— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) July 24, 2018

As for the $12 billion in emergency aid to farmers, to offset losses because of the growing trade war between the U.S. and other nations, that idea landed with a thud on Capitol Hill.

“America’s farmers don’t want to be paid to lose,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE). “This administration’s tariffs and bailouts aren’t going to make America great again, they’re just going to make it 1929 again.”

“Tariffs are not “the greatest,” Mr. President,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). “American farmers want access to markets, not taxpayer funded bailouts.”

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson: "Time and time again I've heard from farmers that they want trade, not aid. Instead of throwing money at a problem we've helped create … we should stop self-inflicting permanent damage to America’s economy through tariffs and a trade war."

— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) July 24, 2018

But in his speech, Mr. Trump brushed aside complaints about his effort to force other countries to lower their own tariffs and trade barriers.

“The farmers will be the biggest beneficiary,” the President said confidently. “Watch.”

But positive comments about the $12 billion trade bailout were hard to find in the hallways of the Capitol.

Sen. Bob Corker characterizes Trump's farm aid proposal: "You have a terrible policy that sends farmers to the poorhouse, and then you put them on welfare, and we borrow the money from other countries."

"It's hard to believe there isn't an outright revolt right now in Congress."

— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) July 24, 2018

“Most of the people in the ag community that I talk to don’t want a bailout, they just want their markets,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), who was waiting to see details of the $12 billion farm bailout plan on Tuesday afternoon.

“What happens next year and the year after, every time you do tariffs and some sector is hurt?” asked Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who said the Trump Administration decision seemingly opens the White House up to billions in aid to all sorts of different industries that have not been helped by the President’s tariffs.

“It’s clear that they haven’t thought through this,” Brown told reporters.

Judge grants five witnesses limited immunity in Manafort trial

Tue, 07/24/2018 - 00:57

Postponing the start of Paul Manafort’s trial on bank and tax fraud until next week, a federal judge in Virginia on Monday granted the request of Special Counsel Robert Mueller to give limited immunity to five different people in exchange for their testimony in the bank and tax fraud trial of the former Trump Campaign Manager.

Judge T.S. Ellis III gave Manafort’s defense an extra six days to review documents in the case, setting the start of the trial for July 31.

During a pair of hearings on Monday, federal prosecutors indicated they believed that Manafort had given false financial information to the Federal Savings Bank of Chicago, in order to get $16 million in home loans after the 2016 election.

According to the government, the head of that bank, former Trump Campaign economic adviser Stephen Calk, was interested in getting a position within the Trump Administration.

New from latest Manafort hearing: Govt. said explicitly that banker Stephen Calk knew Manafort submitted a fraudulent loan application but approved it anyway because he wanted a Trump job

— Rachel Weiner (@rachelweinerwp) July 23, 2018

Also on Monday afternoon, Judge Ellis agreed to the request by Mueller’s office for ‘use immunity’ for five different witnesses, all of whom had said they would take the Fifth Amendment if called to testify in Manafort’s trial.

The five witnesses who will get limited immunity for their testimony are:
+ James Brennan
+ Donna Duggan
+ Conor O’Brien
+ Cindy Laporta
+ Dennis Raico

At least two of those five were employees of the Federal Savings Bank, which granted the $16 million in loans to Manafort.

While a variety of conservative media had reported that one of the five to get immunity would be Tony Podesta, the brother of former Hillary Clinton campaign chief John Podesta, that name did not show up among those who were given what is known as “use immunity,” which applies only to this case, and is not a blanket grant of immunity.

Lawyers for Manafort had asked for a trial delay of several months, but Judge Ellis refused to grant that, opting for a July 31 start date.

Hearings will start on Tuesday morning on the questionnaire for prospective jurors in the trial, as Manafort faces bank and tax fraud charges.

Manafort also faces a trial in federal court in Washington, D.C. on separate charges.

White House explores plan to strip security clearances from top Obama officials

Mon, 07/23/2018 - 19:20

Aggravated by public criticism surrounding the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections and possible ties to the Trump Campaign, the White House on Monday said that officials were exploring the possibility of stripping security clearances from top officials in the Obama Administration, many of whom have been highly critical of President Donald Trump.

The threat came after Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) suggested on Twitter this morning that the President take away the clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan, who has been a relentless critic of the President over the Russia investigation.

But White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made clear to reporters that the inquiry is focused on more than just the former Director of Central Intelligence.

“Not only is the President looking to take away Brennan’s security clearance, he’s also looking into clearances of Comey, Clapper, Hayden, Rice and McCabe,” Sanders added, rattling off the names of a series of top officials in the last administration.

.@PressSec Sarah Sanders: "Not only is the president looking to take away Brennan's security clearance, he's also looking into the clearances of Comey, Clapper, Hayden, Rice and McCabe." pic.twitter.com/9sc7n68Lgr

— CSPAN (@cspan) July 23, 2018

Comey was fired as FBI Director by the President in May of 2017. James Clapper left as Director of National Intelligence when Mr. Trump took over the Oval Office. Michael Hayden is a former CIA and National Security Agency chief. Susan Rice was President Obama’s National Security Adviser. Andrew McCabe was a former Deputy FBI Director, who was also fired by the President.

“The President doesn’t like the fact that people are politicizing agencies and departments that are specifically not meant to be political, and not meant to be monetized,” as Sanders accused those officials of making money off of their at-times vocal criticism of Mr. Trump.

Brennan, once CIA chief under President Obama, has been especially critical of President Trump, accusing him of ‘treasonous’ behavior after meeting Russian leader Vladimir Putin last week in Finland,

Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of “high crimes & misdemeanors.” It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???

— John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan) July 16, 2018

But the President’s move may mean little for some of those named by Sanders at the White House podium, as there were quickly reports that both Comey – the former FBI Director, and McCabe, the former Deputy FBI Director – no longer had active security clearances.

Comey’s friend Benjamin Wittes said on Twitter that Comey indicated he had been “read out” – meaning he lost his clearance when he was fired by the President.

I just texted @Comey asking whether he even has a security clearance to revoke.

“Nope,” he responded. There’s nothing for POTUS to revoke. Comey says he was “read out” when he left government as per normal practice. 1/2

— Benjamin Wittes (@benjaminwittes) July 23, 2018

He even recently declined a temporary clearance from the IG to read the classified annex to the IG’s recent report. He didn’t want to see any classified material lest the president accuse him of leaking it. 2/2

— Benjamin Wittes (@benjaminwittes) July 23, 2018

Meanwhile, a lawyer for McCabe said he also had no security clearance to be revoked.

Andrew McCabe's security clearance was deactivated when he was terminated, according to what we were told was FBI policy. You would think the White House would check with the FBI before trying to throw shiny objects to the press corps… https://t.co/ZOKJDChpeP

— Melissa Schwartz (@MSchwartz3) July 23, 2018

“Won’t have any impact on what I say or write,” Hayden tweeted on Monday, as the former CIA and NSA chief said he does not ‘go back for classified briefings.’

“This is nonsense,” said John McLaughlin, a former Acting head of the CIA in the George W. Bush Administration.

Some government officials are allowed to keep a security clearance after leaving the employment of Uncle Sam – for example, former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn – who once headed the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Obama, had a security clearance which expired in 2016, by which time he was involved in the Trump Campaign.

In his renewal application, Democrats charged that Flynn lied about his December 2015 trip to Russia, which was paid for by the Russian government television network RT.

“General Flynn did not disclose this trip or any contacts he had with foreign government officials or foreign business associates as part of his security clearance renewal application in 2016,”

Digging into the release of the Carter Page FISA application

Sun, 07/22/2018 - 21:06

President Donald Trump on Sunday accused the FBI and Justice Department of misleading a special intelligence court, as both parties wrestled over the details of surveillance requests made in 2016 and 2017 on a one-time Trump Campaign aide, Carter Page, in which the FBI made the case that “Page has been collaborating and conspiring with the Russian Government.”

“Witch Hunt Rigged, a Scam!” the President tweeted from his New Jersey golf club, as he again denounced the investigation into Russian interference of the 2016 elections, and any possible ties to the Trump Campaign.

What exactly do the details show? Let’s take an extended look.

1. First, this is a historic move by the FBI. This was the first time that the FBI had ever released details about a surveillance warrant requests under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which are made to a special, secret intelligence court. The release was spearheaded by a lawsuit filed in part by Brad Heath, an investigative reporter with USA Today. As one might expect, much of the document is redacted because of intelligence and investigative reasons, keeping many people guessing about what was actually in the 412 pages released to the public, which you can read for yourself.

2. FBI request came after Page left Trump Campaign. After stories had surfaced in September of 2016 raising questions about Carter Page’s ties to certain Russian interests, Page had left his role as a foreign policy adviser to the Trump Campaign. The FBI did not ask for a surveillance warrant until October of 2016, after Page was already out of his role. That undermines the President’s complaint on Sunday which he aired on Twitter: “Looking more & more like the Trump Campaign for President was illegally being spied upon (surveillance) for the political gain of Crooked Hillary Clinton and the DNC,” the President wrote. But the facts when it comes to the timing of the case don’t bear that out.

Trump seems to be referring to the FISA warrant of Carter Page, which was approved four times by judges appointed by GOP presidents and started in October 2016 (after the Trump campaign said Carter Page had no role in the campaign) and continued after the election https://t.co/SEVqCsj2Jw

— Manu Raju (@mkraju) July 22, 2018

3. What did the FBI base its request on? Here we start getting into the meat of the political debate on the Page FISA warrant. The FBI was pretty blunt about what it believed was happening when it came to Russian interference in the 2016 elections: “the FBI believes that the Russian Government’s efforts are being coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated with Candidate #1’s campaign,” the FBI wrote in the original surveillance warrant request. One redacted section sets out “Clandestine Intelligence Activities of the Russian Federation,” before even getting to details about Page. “The FBI believes Page has been the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian Government,” the FISA request states. One name that makes an appearance early on in the FBI request is that of George Papadopoulos, who has already plead guilty to lying to the FBI about contacts with Russians.

4. Zeroing in on the Page FISA request. The FBI sets out that “Page has established relationships with Russian Government officials, including Russian intelligence officers” – and then a redacted session of evidence. The document recounts how two Russian intelligence agents tried to recruit Page in 2015 during meetings in New York. Finally after 15 pages, the FBI gets to a ‘confidential human source (Source #1) – that would be Michael Steele, who authored what’s become known as the Steele Dossier, assembled by the company Fusion GPS, and paid for by interests supporting Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

5. The FBI addresses the Steele Dossier. Here is where the two parties will go different ways on what was included in the FBI surveillance request on Carter Page, as it pertains to Steele. In the GOP memo released earlier this year by House Intelligence Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), Republicans accused the FBI of not giving the FISC court any information about who was bankrolling the information from Steele – but the document clearly says that a “U.S.-based law firm had hired the identified U.S. person to conduct research regarding Candidate #1’s ties to Russia,” and the FBI makes clear what they thought it was for: “The FBI speculates that the identified U.S. person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate #1’s campaign.” Even with that knowledge, “the FBI believes Source #1’s reporting herein to be credible.”

6. The FBI document undermines Nunes on one point. In the GOP memo released back in February about this FISA request, Republicans state clearly that the “Carter Page FISA application also cited extensively a September 23, 2016 Yahoo News article by Michael Isikoff,” making it seem like the FBI was relying on information in that article to support the FBI request for surveillance of Page. Except when you read the actual FISA document, that article is noted under a section headlined, “Page’s Denial of Cooperation with the Russian Government,” as the FBI even includes information from a letter that Page wrote to the FBI Director denying any wrongdoing. The GOP memo is first in the below graphic, followed by the FISA warrant request.

8. The FBI’s bottom line in October 2016. The FBI wraps up its request with a succinct accusation – “the FBI believes that Page has been collaborating and conspiring with the Russian Government.”

9. This is really four surveillance applications. While the document begins with the FBI’s initial request for 90 days of surveillance on Carter Page from October of 2016, the 412 pages also include a renewal request from January of 2017, another renewal in April 2017, and a final renewal of the FISA warrant on Page in June of 2017. Each time, the information supporting the request for surveillance increased in length, suggesting that the FBI was including actual intelligence information gleaned from the investigation of Page, and why it supported further monitoring by U.S law enforcement. We don’t get to read any of that, because in those sections, it is page after page of blacked-out materials, making it difficult for us to evaluate what was presented by the FBI, and how the rulings were made by the intelligence court.

10. The four judges involved were appointed by Republicans. For the first time, we learned the identities of the judges on the special Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court who dealt with the four requests for surveillance on Carter Page – and it turns out that all four were put on the federal bench by Republican Presidents – Reagan, the first President Bush, and President George W. Bush. In a tweet, the President quoted Andrew McCarthy, a legal analyst who often appears on Fox News: “This is so bad that they should be looking at the judges who signed off on this stuff, not just the people who gave it.”

The 4 judges who signed Carter Page warrants are revealed: They are Rosemary Collyer, Michael Mosman, Anne Conway, and Raymond Dearie. Appointed by Bush 2, Bush 2, Bush 1 and Reagan, respectively. https://t.co/7ZstgwlVOh @dailycaller

— Chuck Ross (@ChuckRossDC) July 21, 2018


FBI releases declassified Carter Page FISA application

Sat, 07/21/2018 - 23:02

The Federal Bureau of Investigation on Saturday released a highly redacted copy of the application made by the bureau to a special intelligence court, asking to establish surveillance in the fall of 2016 on Carter Page, a one-time foreign policy adviser to President Donald Trump’s campaign, showing officials feared that Page was working with Russia to undermine the Presidential election.

“The FBI believes Page has been the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian Government,” the document states – interrupted by redactions – but then continues, “undermine and influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election in violation of criminal law.”

The FBI released an unclassified version of the FISA application document after requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

At one point, the 412 page document states that “the FBI believes that the Russian Government’s efforts are being coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated with Candidate #1’s campaign.”

“Page has established relationships with Russian Government officials, including Russian intelligence officers,” the documents states, before additional evidence was redacted, in order to protect intelligence sources and classified information.

White House figures show Trump on pace to equal Obama deficits

Sat, 07/21/2018 - 08:00

Despite clear signs of expanded economic growth, the latest White House budget estimates predict that President Donald Trump is on the verge of overseeing an expansion of federal deficits which will rival that of President Barack Obama’s two terms in office, as the Trump Administration now forecasts a deficit next year that will be over $1 trillion, with no signs of a balanced budget on the horizon.

The latest figures issued by the Office of Management and Budget now predict a deficit this year of $890 billion – and deficits of over $1 trillion per year in 2019, 2020 and 2021.

When you take the $665 billion deficit from Fiscal Year 2017 – Mr. Trump’s first year in office – and then add the projected deficits from the White House budget office for seven more years – you get $7.3 trillion in debt for what would equal two terms of a Trump Administration.

That would be almost identical to the $7.28 trillion in deficits run up under the eight years of the Obama Administration.

The deficit under Trump will jump $420B a year from 2017-2019 according to the White House's new OMB projections.

To put that in perspective, that delta is roughly equal to 2X the spending in the Affordable Care Act.

It's a 63% increase in yearly red ink.

— Steven Dennis (@StevenTDennis) July 18, 2018

The deficit for 2018 is already running at $607 billion, not far from the 2017 total of $665 billion; one reason for the increase this year is fairly straightforward according to figures from the Treasury Department – revenues coming in to Uncle Sam are down since the implementation of the tax cut plan earlier this year, and overall government spending is up.

The update in budget deficit estimates earlier this month by the White House drew almost no attention on Capitol Hill, where GOP demands for budget restraint have for the most part, gone silent.

The last time the budget was close to being balanced was 2007, when the deficit dropped to $161 billion. But in 2008, the Wall Street Collapse led to an extended recession, as deficits jumped to $458 billion in 2008, and $1.41 trillion in 2009.

A few weeks ago, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow boldly pronounced in a television interview that the federal deficit was coming down, because of a jump in revenues spurred by economic growth under the Trump tax cuts.

But figures clearly show, that just is not the case, as the budget estimates for the White House show flat revenues in 2018, when compared to a year earlier.

.@larry_kudlow: "The deficit… is coming down, and it's coming down rapidly. Growth solves a lot of problems." pic.twitter.com/H375h7rV0a

— FOX Business (@FoxBusiness) June 29, 2018

“The White House is living in an alternate economic universe,” says Maya MacGuiness, the head of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

But few in Washington seem to be listening to warnings from budget watchdog groups like the CFRB, as the deficit just keeps going up, generating little consternation among GOP lawmakers in Congress who once badgered the Obama Administration about its deficit spending.

Cohen’s lawyer confirms existence of Trump tape

Fri, 07/20/2018 - 22:26

A lawyer for Michael Cohen, the former personal attorney for President Donald Trump, confirmed late Friday that Cohen does have a recording of a phone call with Mr. Trump from 2016, disputing assertions by the President’s current lawyer that it would be ‘exculpatory’ evidence which would help the President.

In a post on Twitter, Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis wrote, “suffice it to say that when the recording is heard, it will not hurt” Cohen.

“Any attempt at spin can not change what is on the tape,” Cohen added, in what was interpreted by some as a jab at Mr. Trump’s lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who downplayed the tape to news organizations on Friday.

The recording of the President – if done by Cohen in New York – would be legal, as the Empire State has laws which only require one party on a phone call to consent to any recording.

Obviously, there is an ongoing investigation, and we are sensitive to that. But suffice it to say that when the recording is heard, it will not hurt @MichaelCohen212. Any attempt at spin can not change what is on the tape.

— Lanny Davis (@LannyDavis) July 20, 2018

The White House made no statement about the tape. The President ignored questions shouted at him about the subject, as he left the White House for a weekend at his golf club in New Jersey.

The tape was part of extensive evidence seized by the FBI during an April 9 raid on Cohen, which sparked outrage from the President – “Attorney-client privilege is dead!” Mr. Trump tweeted a day after the raid.

The raid was an effort by prosecutors in New York to find out more about work that Cohen had done for the President on payments to women such as porn star Stormy Daniels, and model Karen McDougal. Both women have claimed they had relationships with the President, and were paid money to keep quiet.

Prosecutors have indicated that they are probing questions about how the payments were made before the 2016 elections – and whether any of the transactions could run afoul of federal campaign finance laws.

In recent weeks, Cohen has cut his legal cooperation with the President, making it clear in statements and interviews that his loyalty was to his family, and not Mr. Trump.


— Michael Cohen (@MichaelCohen212) July 3, 2018

“I will not be a punching bag as part of anyone’s defense strategy,” Cohen told ABC News earlier this month.

It wasn’t immediately clear if this tape recording of a Cohen-Trump phone call was among the items which had been reviewed by a former federal judge, as to whether or not attorney-client privilege would prevent its release to prosecutors.

Acting as special master in the Cohen case, Barbara Jones has already released over 2 million items seized by the FBI to prosecutors.

On Friday, she told a federal judge in court documents that of 4,085 items designated as privileged – either by Cohen or by the President’s lawyers – 1,452 of those did not deserve that designation, and were given to the feds for further review.

No charges have yet been filed against Cohen, as he now is being represented by Davis, well known for his unyielding defense of President Bill Clinton during the Whitewater investigation.

Trump faces more domestic flak over tariffs, trade policies

Fri, 07/20/2018 - 08:00

In a loud, bipartisan message from lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and across the landscape of American business and agriculture, President Donald Trump is facing sharp questions about his tariffs on China, Mexico, Canada, and Europe, as businesses and farmers say they’re being economically harmed by the President’s actions on trade.

In hearings this week in Congress and at the Commerce Department, in speeches on the floors of the House and Senate, and in news conferences outside the Capitol, the message has been simple – the Trump Tariffs are hurting, and more won’t help.

Sporting signs that said, “Say No to the Car tax,” auto workers rallied outside the Capitol on Thursday morning as Commerce Department officials were listening to car industry officials denounce the idea of a new tariff threatened by President Trump on imported cars from Europe.

“The opposition is widespread and deep, because the consequences are alarming,” said Jennifer Thomas, with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

Not too many years ago, my hometown was falling apart. But because of global auto investment, our community is back to work & thriving. I will continue to stand up for my neighbors in the global auto industry so that decisions here in DC don’t hurt our vibrant communities at home pic.twitter.com/XPq9qeyGfZ

— Drew Ferguson (@RepDrewFerguson) July 19, 2018

Thomas’ testimony was echoed by a series of other industry groups, all arguing that a new tariff on imported autos and auto parts would only hurt U.S. consumers.

“The tariffs will lead to higher vehicles prices for all automakers, foreign and domestic,” said Matt Blunt, the former Governor of Missouri, now with the American Automotive Policy Council.

“Tariffs on parts will also increases cost on other things made in America,” said Linda Dempsey of the National Association of Manufacturers.

On Capitol Hill, 149 lawmakers signed a letter to the Commerce Secretary opposing the use of a special ‘national security’ tariff procedure.

“We do not believe that imports of automobiles and automotive parts pose a national security threat,” read the letter, spearheaded by Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN). “Price increases from tariffs, quotas, and other trade restrictions will ultimately be borne by American families in the form of higher vehicle prices.”

A day earlier, Walorski had joined members in both parties at a House hearing to vent their frustration at how earlier tariffs levied by the Trump Administration were hurting U.S. farmers back home.

“We are concerned with the administration’s decision to place tariff’s on our trading partners,” said Russell Boening, the head of the Texas Farm Bureau, who said one-quarter of Texas agriculture depends on exports.

“The current tariffs, the continuing back-and-forth retaliatory actions, and trade uncertainties are hitting American agriculture from all sides,” said Kevin Papp, the President of the Minnesota Farm Bureau.

“Once you lose a market, it’s really hard to get it back,” Papp added, who grows corn and soybeans on his family farm.

“Farmers are dealing with big shifts in the commodity markets because of trade and tariff threats,” said Scott VanderWal, who heads the South Dakota Farm Bureau.

The stories of concerns on the farm – and in other every day businesses – are echoed almost daily by lawmakers in both parties, who worry that President Trump’s drive to level the trade playing field is going to turn into a trade war.

Russell Boening of Texas Farm Bureau: “We’re also concerned that many of the benefits of the tax reform which is helping many of our farmers and ranchers will be nullified due to the retaliatory measures on US ag products."

— Natalie Brand (@NatalieBrandK5) July 18, 2018

“If this starts to spiral out of control, business will pull back,” said Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), who has been an especially sharp critic of the President’s tariffs on imported steel and aluminum from Canada, Mexico and Europe.

Rattling off examples of businesses back home who are feeling the pinch from either the higher tariffs – or retaliatory tariffs by other nations – has become almost a daily experience on Capitol Hill.

“We’re in the midst of a full-blown trade war,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). “If it gets out of control, it can take us into an economic recession.”

It has led Democrats to hammer on the issue more in recent weeks, convinced that rural voters with ties to agriculture might not be as thrilled to vote Republican in the fall elections for Congress.

At the White House, there has been no sign that President Trump is going to back off of his push on trade, as he looks at tariffs as leverage to force other countries to lower their own trade barriers.

But so far, the only response from other countries has been retaliatory tariffs – and those are clearly being felt across the U.S., especially in agriculture.

“There have been very few issues in my career as a farmer that have caused me to lose sleep,” said Michelle Erickson-Jones, with the Montana Grain Growers Association.

“But these tariffs are one of them.”