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Jamie Dupree's Washington Insider
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Capitol Hill ready to honor Sen. John McCain one final time

Fri, 08/31/2018 - 08:00

The U.S. Congress on Friday will give the late Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) a rare tribute, as his remains will lie in state in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, with leaders of the House and Senate, along with Vice President Mike Pence, oaying tribute to the Arizona Republican who found ways to vex both political parties during his almost 35 years of service in the Congress.

“When he said something, you had to listen, you had to take notice,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI). “You had to listen to John McCain.”

Like many Senators – new and old – Johnson told reporters of going overseas with McCain, and witnessing first hand the respect that McCain had, especially when it came to issues involving Russia.

“He was a national hero, not only to America, but to so many of these Eastern European countries that were trying to shed the legacy of the Soviet Union,” Johnson said. “You don’t replace that.”

With President Lincoln's statue in the background, the Lincoln Catafalque is now ready in the US Capitol Rotunda for the casket of the late Sen John McCain R-AZ pic.twitter.com/OdChKI44rc

— Jamie Dupree (@jamiedupree) August 30, 2018

The last time this honor was bestowed on a member of the Senate, it was for the late Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), who died in December of 2012.

McCain was first elected to the House in 1982, and then in 1986 won election to the Senate, succeeding Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-AZ).

While foreign policy and defense matters were mainly identified with McCain’s time in office, he was also a lonely voice for many years fighting against pork barrel spending in the Congress – often to the frustration of his fellow lawmakers in both parties.

“John McCain’s legacy is fighting for something greater than one’s self,” the group Citizens Against Government Waste said this week, noting how McCain helped raise red flags about hte ‘pork-barrel spending habits of Washington.’

“For me, this chamber is never going to be the same without him,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) on the floor of the Senate. “This place, the Senate, and our country for that matter, is better off because of him.”

In recent days, Senators have started shadow boxing over the best way to honor McCain – some want to rename a Senate office building for him, stripping the name of Sen. Richard Russell of Georgia, a Democrat maybe best known for his opposition to civil rights legislation.

Senators from Georgia have frowned on that idea, as former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-GA) said the best honor for McCain would be to make the Senate work in a bipartisan manner.

“John believed in the Senate,” Nunn said in a statement.

McCain was not only a force in politics, but also with reporters on Capitol Hill; he would almost always stop to answer questions, even from cub reporters who were just getting their ears wet in the halls of Congress.

Yes, there were times when the Arizona Republican might verbally rebuke you – but that was part of the daily give-and-take in the hallways.

While some Senators rarely stop in the hallways for interviews – Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is one that immediately comes to mind – others like McCain were almost always available.

On Friday, his casket will arrive at the Rotunda just before 11 am. After ceremonies with lawmakers, the public will be allowed to file past his casket in the Rotunda.

Officials have said they will keep the doors open into the night, as long as there are people in line.

Trump cancels scheduled 2019 pay raise for federal civilian workers

Thu, 08/30/2018 - 17:34

In a surprise move, President Donald Trump told Congressional leaders on Thursday that he was canceling a scheduled 2.1 percent pay increase for civilian federal workers in 2019, saying the move is needed to deal with rising federal deficits.

“We must maintain efforts to put our Nation on a fiscally sustainable course,” the President wrote in a letter to the House and Senate. “I view the increases that would otherwise take effect as inappropriate.”

Mr. Trump is not only canceling a scheduled increase in pay, but also what’s known as ‘locality pay increases,’ which go to federal workers who live in higher-cost areas of the country.

“In light of our Nation’s fiscal situation, Federal employee pay must be performance-based, and aligned strategically toward recruiting, retaining, and rewarding high-performing Federal employees and those with critical skill sets,” the President wrote.

President Trump, citing a national emergency because of the federal deficit, says he is changing Congress's decision to increase locality pay adjustments and to grant a 2.1% raise across the board for federal employees. @JoeDavidsonWP @conorsen

— Mara Lee (@MaraRhymesSarah) August 30, 2018

“These alternative pay plan decisions will not materially affect our ability to attract and retain a well‑qualified Federal workforce,” Mr. Trump wrote in his letter to Congressional leaders.

A pay freeze has happened before, as during contentious budget fights in the Obama Administration, President Obama froze pay for two years in 2011 and 2012.

But the decision was quickly condemned by Democrats in Congress and the unions representing federal workers.

“Let’s be clear: the President’s decision to cancel any pay increase for federal employees is not motivated by a sudden onset of fiscal responsibility,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), who labeled it part of a ‘war on federal employees.’

“For President Trump, the federal workforce is just a punching bag,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), who represents a significant amount of federal employees in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

“Trump sent the deficit skyrocketing to give massive tax breaks to big corporations and the wealthiest Americans, while working families got nothing,” the Democratic National Committee declared in a statement.

Step 1: Blow a $2 trillion hole in the deficit to give tax cuts to the very wealthy.
Step 2: Start a trade war requiring billion dollar bailouts.
Step 3: Pretend federal workers are the problem. https://t.co/nQiGonmUu9

— Rep. Norma Torres (@NormaJTorres) August 30, 2018

“This is a deeply disappointing action and one more indication that this administration, in this economic environment, simply does not respect its own workforce,” said Tony Reardon, President of the National Treasury Employees Union.

In a statement, Reardon noted correctly that the Congress could still override the President’s decision – but that would have to come as what might be a messy battle over funding the federal government by the end of September, which is the end of the current fiscal year.

“Federal employees have had their pay and benefits cut by over $200 billion since 2011, and they are earning nearly 5 percent less today than they did at the start of the decade,” said David Cox Sr., head of the American Federation of Government Employees, who also denounced the Obama pay freeze years earlier.

“It is simply obscene that the same person who gave away massive amounts of money to corporations and billionaires in a tax scam now is crying that we don’t have enough money for pay raises for the Federal workforce,” said Will Fischer of the veterans group VoteVets.

According to figures from the Office of Personnel Management, there are a total of 1.87 million federal civilian workers employed full-time by the federal government, of which about one-third work for the Department of Defense.

The top states:

1. California – 152,466
2. Virginia – 144,295
3. Texas – 132,952
4. Maryland – 120,705
5. Florida – 89,504
6. Georgia – 71,739
7. Pennsylvania – 62,366
8. New York – 60,727
9. Washington State – 53,211
10. Ohio – 49,450

“Republicans gave corporations a trillion dollar tax cut and are now cutting pay raises for social workers, janitors, painters, clerical workers, and more,” said Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). “It’s outrageous.”

The Senate has already approved a 1.9 percent pay increase for federal workers in 2019; that could still be sent to the President for his signature as part of broader funding measures for the federal government.

Trump complains about fake news, then makes baseless charge against NBC

Thu, 08/30/2018 - 12:14

In a series of tweets on Thursday morning expressing his frustration with press coverage of his administration, President Donald Trump again accused the media of using anonymous sources to develop stories which he charged are “pure fiction” – as the President then appeared to make up a story about an NBC News interview he gave just after firing FBI Director James Comey.

In a tweet attacking NBC, the President said, “When Lester Holt got caught fudging my tape on Russia, they were hurt badly!”

No evidence has ever been put forward by the White House or any media watchdog that NBC edited the tape of the interview that Holt did with President Trump in May of 2017, where the President all but confirmed that he had fired Comey out of frustration over the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, and any possible ties to the Trump Campaign.

It appeared to be the first time that the President had made such a charge against Holt, the anchor of the NBC Nightly News.

“I said to myself, I said ‘you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won,'” the President said in the interview, which was posted in its entirety by NBC, and remains online.

In the fifteen months since that interview, the President has never before questioned the contents of the tape, as today’s tweet was the first time he had ever mentioned Lester Holt by name on Twitter.

It was clear that the Holt interview – and how the details led some to charge that Mr. Trump was trying to obstruct justice in the Russia probe – was on the President’s mind this morning.

The only thing James Comey ever got right was when he said that President Trump was not under investigation!

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

Mr. Trump provided no evidence of how NBC supposedly edited the May 2017 interview, in which the President discussed his reasons for firing Comey, a move which led to the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

In earlier tweets today, the President laid into the press, accusing them of using anonymous sources to produce ‘fiction’ about his administration.

“I just cannot state strongly enough how totally dishonest much of the Media is,” the President wrote on Twitter.

“Truth does not matter to them, they only have their hatred & agenda,” Mr. Trump added in a series of tweets which started Wednesday night.

“Enemy of the People!” the President said.

I just cannot state strongly enough how totally dishonest much of the Media is. Truth doesn’t matter to them, they only have their hatred & agenda. This includes fake books, which come out about me all the time, always anonymous sources, and are pure fiction. Enemy of the People!

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

What’s going on at @CNN is happening, to different degrees, at other networks – with @NBCNews being the worst. The good news is that Andy Lack(y) is about to be fired(?) for incompetence, and much worse. When Lester Holt got caught fudging my tape on Russia, they were hurt badly!

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

The hatred and extreme bias of me by @CNN has clouded their thinking and made them unable to function. But actually, as I have always said, this has been going on for a long time. Little Jeff Z has done a terrible job, his ratings suck, & AT&T should fire him to save credibility!

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

CNN is being torn apart from within based on their being caught in a major lie and refusing to admit the mistake. Sloppy @carlbernstein, a man who lives in the past and thinks like a degenerate fool, making up story after story, is being laughed at all over the country! Fake News

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

One might expect Mr. Trump will bring up the press at a campaign rally this evening in Evansville, Indiana, as reporters gathered for his events are often a convenient foil for the President when he is on the road, drawing boos and catcalls, and a frequent chant as well of, “CNN Sucks!”

Trump defends North Korea diplomacy, blames China for lack of progress

Thu, 08/30/2018 - 00:47

With little evidence that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is making concessions to abandon his country’s nuclear weapons program, President Donald Trump on Wednesday defended his administration’s diplomatic work with the Pyongyang regime, in part saying that trade troubles with China slowed progress since his summit with Kim in June.

“I think we’re doing well with North Korea,” the President said, just a few days after he scrapped a planned trip to Pyongyang by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as the North Korean government publicly criticized, the U.S. over efforts at denuclearization.

“I have a fantastic relationship with Chairman Kim as all of you know,” the President told reporters, referring to his June summit in Singapore with the North Korean leader. “We’re just going to have see how it all turns out.”

“I think we’re doing well with North Korea,” President Trump says the US’ trade disputes with China are hurting progress with North Korea https://t.co/EO56xDUlC7 pic.twitter.com/O63PknQUQ0

— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) August 29, 2018

A day after Defense Secretary James Mattis said there were no plans to abandon upcoming military exercises with South Korea – which President Trump had unilaterally postponed earlier as a goodwill gesture earlier this year – Mr. Trump again seemed to take a different path than Pentagon leaders.

On Twitter, the President said, “there is no reason at this time to be spending large amounts…of money on joint U.S.-South Korea war games,” though Mr. Trump – reserved the right to re-start such military activities,
vowing “they will be far bigger than ever before,” if needed..

Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended in order to get info on an opponent. That's politics!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 17, 2017

…of money on joint U.S.-South Korea war games. Besides, the President can instantly start the joint exercises again with South Korea, and Japan, if he so chooses. If he does, they will be far bigger than ever before. As for the U.S.–China trade disputes, and other…

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

“I think part of the North Korea problem is caused by our trade disputes with China,” the President said, pointing a finger of blame at Beijing.

“China makes it much more difficult in terms of our relationship with North Korea,” as the President accused China of not enforcing economic sanctions against Pyongyang.

In Congress, Democrats said the President’s Singapore summit – and his move to cancel the military exercises – had clearly done nothing to sway the North Korean regime.

“Sadly, when Trump cancelled joint exercises with South Korea, he violated Rule #1 of negotiations: Make no major concession without getting something for it,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA).

Trump takes aim at Democratic nominee for Governor in Florida

Wed, 08/29/2018 - 12:53

Hours after his upset win in Florida’s Democratic Party race for Governor, Andrew Gillum was greeted on Twitter by someone who may become a familiar voice in that campaign, as President Donald Trump blasted Gillum’s record, and labeling him “a failed Socialist Mayor.”

“This is not what Florida wants or needs!” the President said in tweets about primary races in Florida and Arizona on Tuesday night – sandwiched around Twitter jabs at Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama’s Administration.

“On to November!” the President wrote as the votes came in on Tuesday night, as Mr. Trump has made clear he will do a lot to help the Gubernatorial bid of Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), and the effort by Florida Gov. Rick Scott to take on incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL).

“Ron will be a fantastic Governor,” the President added.

Not only did Congressman Ron DeSantis easily win the Republican Primary, but his opponent in November is his biggest dream….a failed Socialist Mayor named Andrew Gillum who has allowed crime & many other problems to flourish in his city. This is not what Florida wants or needs!

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

Gillum emerged as a surprise winner in a crowded Democratic field for Governor in Florida, edging out ex-Rep. Gwen Graham (D-FL), whose father Bob Graham had both served as Florida’s Governor, and as U.S. Senator.

Gillum didn’t ignore President Trump this morning, immediately tweeting back at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – and jabbing directly at Mr. Trump as well.

What our state and country needs is decency, hope, and leadership. If you agree, join us at https://t.co/fm0ODFFGWU. Also, @ me next time, @realDonaldTrump. https://t.co/59dQy8RLsm

— Andrew Gillum (@AndrewGillum) August 29, 2018

Time will tell if Gillum is ready to get into a daily back and forth with the President, who has used Twitter to amplify his message on a variety of fronts since he kicked off his campaign for President in 2015, and through his time in the White House.

The 39 year old Gillum would be the first African American Governor in Florida, mirroring a bid for Governor in Georgia by Stacey Abrams, also a young, progressive black candidate.

Congratulations to my dear friend & Democratic nominee for Governor @AndrewGillum! He ran a race that reached deep into Florida’s heart, and he will lead Dems to victory in November. Well done! https://t.co/cwVS55Kkqt

— Stacey Abrams (@staceyabrams) August 29, 2018

The election of either Abrams or Gillum would make history for Democrats, as there has never been a black Governor in Georgia or Florida.

Death toll from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico set at almost 3,000

Wed, 08/29/2018 - 02:00

Initially set at 64 people, the official death toll on the U.S. island of Puerto Rico from last year’s strike by Hurricane Maria was raised to almost three thousand on Tuesday, instantly making that storm into one of the most deadly natural disasters in the history of the United States.

The report, done by a research arm of George Washington University, and released jointly with the Governor of Puerto Rico, went through an extensive mortality study from the storm, in order to figure out a more accurate assessment of the damage from the storm.

The 2,975 deaths on Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria is far more than the over 1,800 attributed to Hurricane Katrina, which struck the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005.

El estimado del Instituto Milken es de 2,975 muertes asociadas al huracán María. Ante esto, estaré firmando una OE para crear la Comisión 9-20 que se encargará de implementar las recomendaciones y reformar los protocolos y los procesos durante emergencias y catástrofes. pic.twitter.com/nhLM0Ic6X5

— Ricardo Rossello (@ricardorossello) August 28, 2018

Trump in Puerto Rico last Oct: "We've saved a lot of lives…If you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina & you look at the tremendous 100s & 100s & 100s of people that died & you look at what happened here…16 people v. in the thousands."
Katrina=1,833 dead
Puerto Rico=2,975 https://t.co/wzrhDcruC1

— Jackie Calmes (@jackiekcalmes) August 28, 2018

Pressed for comment, the White House issued a statement on Tuesday evening reiterating its support for relief efforts in Puerto Rico, but not directly addressing the dramatic increase in the death toll.

“The President remains proud of all of the work the Federal family undertook to help our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement sent to reporters.

“The federal government has been, and will continue to be, supportive of Governor Rosselló’s efforts to ensure a full accountability and transparency of fatalities resulting from last year’s hurricanes,” Sanders added.

But on Capitol Hill, those words were empty for Democrats, who have long accused the White House of not doing enough in the wake of the damage in Puerto Rico, which left most of the island without power for months.

“The more we learn about the Trump administration’s mismanagement of the crisis in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, the more tragic the story becomes,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), as Democrats continue to charge that the President did too little, too late, for the island.

“The Trump administration’s lackluster response failed our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico,” said Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM).

Puerto Rico just raised its official Hurricane Maria death toll to 2,975 people – 46 times more than last estimated.

These were our fellow citizens and this administration failed them. Congress must do its job to send long-overdue resources. We can’t let this slip into silence.

— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) August 29, 2018

“This is a catastrophic loss of American lives,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

“The latest death toll estimate in Puerto Rico further confirms the Administration’s response to Hurricanes Maria & Irma was woefully inadequate,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD).

The battle over aid for Puerto Rico has turned into an important story this election year in the state of Florida, where thousands of Puerto Rican residents relocated, after the storm wrecked their island.

Pentagon: US to continue major military exercises with South Korea

Tue, 08/28/2018 - 15:41

With negotiations between the United States and North Korea seemingly stalled on efforts to get Kim Jong Un to abandon his country’s nuclear weapons program, top Pentagon officials said Tuesday that while President Donald Trump has postponed large U.S. military exercises in the past as a goodwill gesture to the North, no other large scale military cancellations are planned at this point.

“We have no plans at this time to suspend any more exercises,” Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters in a briefing at the Pentagon. “There is no discussion about further suspensions.”

“Are you suggesting that North Korea is acting in bad faith?” a reporter asked Mattis.

“No,” the Defense Secretary answered, repeatedly deferring to the State Department and its efforts to negotiate a nuclear deal with the North Korean government.

US READY TO RESTART KOREA MILITARY EXERCISES! SecDef #Mattis “We took the step to suspend several of the largest military exercise as a good faith measure … We have no plans to suspend any more.” pic.twitter.com/QNBlqFDwS6

— Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre) August 28, 2018

“We also knew very clearly, this was going to be a long and challenging effort,” the Defense Secretary said of talks with North Korea.

“The bottom line is that there was progress made, the whole world saw that progress, when the two leaders sat down,” Mattis added, referring to the June summit in Singapore.

But since then, talks have run into problems, as evidence continues to mount of problems with U.S. efforts to reach a deal with the Pyongyang regime on denuclearization.

This week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was to have been in North Korea for meetings, but that was suddenly scrapped last week by President Trump, as the North Koreans have turned up their public criticism of the United States in recent days.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers have made clear they aren’t surprised at the lack of progress in talks with Kim Jong Un and North Korea.

“I never had much more hope,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).

I never had much hope for talks with #KJU because I knew #NorthKorea wasn’t serious about denuclearization. That said @potus took a gamble & bent over backwards to try & find a peaceful resolution. But this effort, like all the ones before,failed, & Kim Jong un is 100% at fault.

— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) August 28, 2018

“Kim Jong Un has a choice – denuclearize or continue leading a country in isolation withering under maximum pressure,” said Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO).

Trump on Jacksonville shooting: “How it happens, nobody really knows”

Tue, 08/28/2018 - 02:45

More than 24 hours after a shooting killed two people and wounded ten at a video game tournament in Jacksonville, Florida, President Donald Trump on Monday evening offered his condolences to the victims of the attack, as Democrats in Congress turned up the volume on their calls for something to be done by the Congress on gun violence.

“I want to extend our prayers and condolences to the victims of the tragic shooting in Jacksonville,” the President told an audience at a White House dinner for evangelical leaders.

“That was a terrible thing indeed. And how it happens, nobody really knows,” the President added.

The President’s less than 25 seconds of comments about the shooting attack was the first official White House reaction to the incident.

Officials had said Sunday afternoon that Mr. Trump had been briefed on the shooting, but no written statement was issued by the White House, and the President did not post anything about the attack on Twitter.

For Democrats, the President’s short comments about the shooting was exactly part the problem, as Democrats continue to argue that expressing ‘thoughts and prayers’ does nothing to address the underlying issue of gun violence.

“Families in Jacksonville will now join countless others in America grappling with the unimaginable heartbreak that follows a mass shooting,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). “Enough is enough.”

“We have the power to reduce the likelihood of these shootings,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). “Everyone must demand change from those who don’t support commonsense gun safety laws.”

We witnessed the horror of another mass shooting in FL yesterday. As we think of their families, we rededicate ourselves to overcoming Republican resistance to reasonable gun safety measures in a new Congress. We must be steadfast in seeking to stop the epidemic of gun violence.

— Lloyd Doggett (@RepLloydDoggett) August 27, 2018

But as with every major shooting in recent years – ranging in size from the Jacksonville incident to the much larger 2017 attack on a concert in Las Vegas that killed 59 people – there was no evidence in the Congress that any action would take place on gun violence.

“Congress can’t keep avoiding its responsibility to protect the American People,” said Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA).

Under pressure, President Trump moves to honor Sen. McCain

Mon, 08/27/2018 - 20:26

As fellow lawmakers in Congress praised Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who died Saturday from brain cancer, the White House on Monday afternoon bent to mounting criticism from both parties over the President’s reaction to McCain’s death, as the flag was lowered to half-staff over the White House, and President Donald Trump finally issued a public statement about the veteran Arizona Republican.

“Despite our differences on policy and politics, I respect Senator John McCain’s service to our country and, in his honor, have signed a proclamation to fly the flag of the United States at half-staff until the day of his interment,” the President said.

Mr. Trump said he asked Vice President Mike Pence to speak at a special gathering on Friday at the U.S. Capitol, as it remained clear that the President would not be present at any of the ceremonies in the nation’s capital.

“I have asked General John Kelly, Secretary James Mattis, and Ambassador John Bolton to represent my Administration at his services,” the President concluded.

“The Senate won’t be the same without John McCain,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who led the tributes on the Senate floor for his former colleague, as the Senate returned to session on Monday.

McCain’s desk on the Senate floor held a vase of flowers, and was draped in black cloth, to mark his passing.

On Capitol Hill, the flags were at half-staff from the start, as McCain will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda late this week, before a funeral service on Saturday at the Washington National Cathedral.

The day began on a discordant note, as flags at the White House were at full-staff, while other government buildings were mixed between half and full – but that changed around 3:30 pm.

The flag at the White House, now at half-staff again. pic.twitter.com/K4I6Cwk3kj

— Jeff Mason (@jeffmason1) August 27, 2018

The President also issued a special Presidential Proclamation, ordering that flags be flown at half-staff until Saturday evening, after his burial at the U.S. Naval Academy cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland.

Some Republicans like Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) had said the refusal of the White House to offer special honors to McCain was ‘shameful.’

After bipartisan outcry, @POTUS backtracked and finally lowered flags to half-staff to honor @SenJohnMcCain, a great American patriot https://t.co/jJO9FExFCA

— Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (@RosLehtinen) August 27, 2018

Before issuing his written statement, the President steered clear of the McCain issue – refusing to answer questions from the press, and reportedly blocking the release of any official statement about McCain.

But as the day wore on at the White House on Monday, it was obvious that the questions for the President – and his staff – were not going to go away.

.@jonkarl: "Mr. President, do you have any thoughts on John McCain? Do you have any thoughts at all about John McCain? Do you believe John McCain was a hero, sir? Nothing at all about John McCain? OK." pic.twitter.com/82x4QP2Gbp

— CSPAN (@cspan) August 27, 2018

On the Senate floor, a parade of lawmakers in both parties praised McCain, and recounted endless stories about him.

“John was better than me, and I know it,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA). “John was the best of my generation.”

“Anybody who in any way tarnishes the reputation of John McCain deserves a whipping,” Isakson added.

Pleased that @POTUS has signed the proclamation to fly the flag of the United States at half-staff until Sunday in honor of the late @SenJohnMcCain. This week should be about his 60 years of service to America, and nothing else.

— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) August 27, 2018

“We are dealing with a hero,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who told about McCain helping him in his first campaign for the U.S. Senate.

“We were moved by his stubbornness, his courage, and his passion – sometimes all three at the same time,” Inhofe added.

US, Mexico gain ‘preliminary’ trade deal as Trump presses Canada on pact

Mon, 08/27/2018 - 19:03

President Donald Trump pushed ahead Monday with efforts to overhaul the North American Free Trade Agreement among the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, as the President announced a tentative trade deal with Mexico, and put public pressure on the Canadian government to join in talks on a new agreement, or face fresh U.S. tariffs on autos sent from Canada to the United States.

“It’s a big day for trade, a big day for our country,” the President joyfully declared in the Oval Office, as he spoke with the Mexican President by telephone in front of reporters.

“It’s an incredible deal, it’s an incredible deal for both parties,” the President said, as trade negotiators capped almost a year of meetings with Mexican officials.

“It’s an extremely historic time,” said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

President Trump: "They used to call it NAFTA. We're going to call it the United States-Mexico Trade Agreement. We'll get rid of the name NAFTA."

Full video here: https://t.co/FOE9Wt1Hem pic.twitter.com/Km8yVDip9n

— CSPAN (@cspan) August 27, 2018

Getting rid of NAFTA – or making major changes to that trade deal – was a main campaign promise in 2016 for the President, who has long argued that the deal was tilted in favor of both Canada and Mexico, at the expense of American workers and businesses.

“I think NAFTA has a lot of bad connotations for the United States because it was a rip-off,” the President told reporters.

In Congress, lawmakers were encouraged by the announcement, but they also wanted to see the details of the deal, which might not be finalized for another few months.

“We still need to review the text of the tentative agreement with Mexico, but this is an important step forward,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

“While we are still waiting to see the details of the final deal, it’s critical that any agreement include serious, enforceable labor and environmental standards to create a level playing field,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR).

While Republicans also wanted to see the details, they said this was more evidence of a promise made by the President – and a promise kept.

.@POTUS Trump promised to negotiate better trade deals – and he delivered. The US – Mexico trade agreement is a win for American farmers, ranchers, manufacturers & businesses pic.twitter.com/gVZisFefoE

— Alyssa Farah (@VPPressSec) August 27, 2018

I am very encouraged by the breakthroughs made in trade negotiations w/ Mexico & hopeful Canada will come back to the table. The Trump Administration is working to get a better deal that will help American workers & businesses compete.

— David Perdue (@sendavidperdue) August 27, 2018

“President Trump deserves a great deal of credit for making sure that America is treated fairly and is the best place in the world to do business,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA).

“Today’s agreement with Mexico is an important step forward in renegotiating fair trade deals,” said Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC).

“We hope that Canada can join in – and we expect them to begin that process very soon,” said Lighthizer, who has been in charge of the complicated negotiations.

“With respect to the U.S. and Mexico, we have an agreement that is absolutely terrific,” Lighthizer told reporters.

In a briefing for reporters after the President’s announcement, it still wasn’t clear when the deal would be finalized – it could be as soon as 90 days – but if the goal is to still include Canada in what would be an updated NAFTA trade pact, then that would most certainly delay final action into next year.

Mixed message from Washington flags after death of Sen. McCain

Mon, 08/27/2018 - 15:00

Two days after the death of veteran Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), flags were back at full-staff at the White House following a weekend tribute to the Arizona Senator, but other government buildings and museums in the nation’s capital were treating things differently on Monday morning, with some still flying flags at half-staff in McCain’s honor.

The federal flag code is clear on such honors, that unless there is a special declaration from the President of the United States, the flags are flown at half-staff ‘on the day and day after the death’ of a U.S. Senator or House member.

McCain died on Saturday afternoon, and the flags were at half-staff at the White House later that day, and again on Sunday.

And as the new work week began, the flags returned to their normal position at the White House.

As the nation remembers John McCain, the flags at the White House are not at half staff. pic.twitter.com/9D32OH6YZa

— Jonathan Karl (@jonkarl) August 27, 2018

But a quick morning tour of government buildings, museums, and private buildings around the National Mall – between Capitol Hill and the White House – showed various federal agencies treating this day differently when it came to how the flag was being displayed.

For example, flags at the Federal Aviation Administration on Independence Avenue were at half staff.


Next door at the Department of Energy, it was the same.


But just down the block at the Department of Agriculture, the flag was back at full-staff.


Museums and memorials were split – the headquarters of the Smithsonian had the U.S. flag at full-staff, as did the Washington Monument, while the National Gallery of Art and the National Museum of African American History were at half-staff.  The U.S. Postal Service had its flags at half-staff outside the headquarters building.

Also flying the flag at half-staff, was the Canadian Embassy, located on Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and White House.


Along Constitution Avenue, federal agencies like the Internal Revenue Service and the Environmental Protection Administration had their flags back at full-staff.


But about six blocks away, the Department of Labor was at half-staff.


Up on Capitol Hill, the rules are different, as Congress takes longer to honor a deceased lawmaker – here, the flag flies at half-staff over the Russell Senate Office Building, which some want to rename for Sen. McCain.


Some private buildings joined in that honor as well – this is home to the powerful Jones-Day law firm, not far from the U.S. Capitol.


But just over at the U.S. Supreme Court, the flags were at full-staff.


Meanwhile, down at the Washington Monument, the flags had been at full-staff when I drove by this morning. But on TV a little while later, you could see the flags were lowered to half-staff.

So striking to see WH flag at full staff in the foreground with all the flags at the Washington Monument lowered to half staff in the background. pic.twitter.com/VedJiLKcpO

— Jonathan Allen (@jonallendc) August 27, 2018

Earlier in the day, the flags at the Washington Monument had been at full-staff, as you can see in this photo that I took.

But through the day, there were changes. I took the photo above at the U.S. Supreme Court around 10:15 am. At 11:30, I looked out from the Capitol, and saw the flag at half-staff. An hour later, it was back to full-staff.  The National Monument flags were also at full-staff.

By 2 pm, the flags were at full-staff at the FAA, the Department of Energy, and the Postal Service.

But the National Archives had lowered its flags to half-mast, after being normal this morning.


Next door, the Department of Justice had its flags on Constitution Avenue lowered to half-staff – they were full-staff this morning around 10 am.



At the Capitol, and all of the House and Senate office buildings, the flags were at half-staff, as is usual custom for a departed lawmaker.


McCain will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda later this week; lawmakers will gather for a ceremony to honor him on Friday.

A funeral service on Saturday will be held at the Washington National Cathedral. McCain will then be buried at the U.S. Naval Academy cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland.


McCain to lie in state in U.S. Capitol late this week

Mon, 08/27/2018 - 02:18

Congressional leaders announced Sunday that they would give one of the highest honors possible to the late Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who died Saturday of brain cancer, as McCain’s body will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda, honoring his over 35 years of service in the U.S. House and Senate.

“The nation mourns the loss of a great American patriot, a statesman who put his country first and enriched this institution through many years of service,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The honors for McCain will begin Wednesday at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix; after a church service on Thursday, McCain’s body will be flown to Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington, D.C.

Friday morning, lawmakers will gather in the Rotunda to salute McCain; a funeral service will be held Saturday at Washington’s National Cathedral. McCain will be buried at the Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland.

Senator #JohnMcCain will lie in state here at the Arizona Capitol this Wednesday — his birthday. This is a rare and distinct occurrence for a truly special man. John McCain is Arizona, and we will honor his life every way we can.

— Doug Ducey (@dougducey) August 26, 2018

While members of both parties praised McCain on Sunday, there was no formal statement issued by the White House, as the Washington Post reported that the President wanted a simple tweet, and nothing more, a reminder of the bitter feud between them over the past three years.

“Petty and classless,” said Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA). “In other words, Trumpian.”

The feud got going in 2015, as then-candidate Donald Trump was just beginning his campaign for the White House; at an event, Mr. Trump said he didn’t consider McCain a war hero, because McCain had been captured and held prisoner in North Vietnam.

That drew rebukes from both sides, but it thrilled many of the President’s most ardent supporters, who considered McCain a GOP turncoat.

The bad blood continued as McCain refused to support Mr. Trump in the 2016 elections, during the transition, and after the President took the oath of office.

“I will not talk about Donald Trump,” McCain told reporters at one point after the election, though he went on for months to do exactly that in the hallways of the Capitol, unable to get away from the President’s actions on a host of policy fronts.

One of the biggest was on the issue of health care, as Republicans tried to get rid of the Obama health law. But after weeks of arm-twisting, the Senate waited for McCain to arrive on the floor after midnight to cast the deciding vote.

To gasps on the Senate floor, McCain gave a big “thumbs down,” dooming the last-ditch GOP health care bill backed by the President, further earning the ire of Mr. Trump.

Even after going back home for treatment of his cancer, McCain continued to sternly criticize Mr. Trump, especially over foreign policy matters and the President’s dealings with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

“President Trump must be willing to confront Putin from a position of strength,” McCain said in one statement, demanding tougher sanctions on Moscow, and raising questions about whether Mr. Trump should meet with the Russian leader in Helsinki.

That summit meeting did occur – and the news conference by the two leaders which followed brought forth a storm of criticism, led by McCain.

Today’s press conference in #Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.

My full statement on the #HelsinkiSummit: https://t.co/lApjctZyZl

— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) July 16, 2018

At campaign rallies in recent months, the President has repeatedly expressed his frustration with McCain’s health care vote – as even without saying McCain’s name – the mere reference would draw a negative reaction from the crowd.

President Trump also did not mention McCain’s name several weeks ago, when signing a major defense policy bill into law – which bore McCain’s name, as an honor to the Arizona Senator.

McCain’s family said that eulogies would be given at Saturday’s National Cathedral service by former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama – as it seemed possible that President Trump would not join in any of the Washington ceremonies to honor McCain, who was first elected to the House in 1982, then to the Senate in 1986.

My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 26, 2018

Reportedly, Vice President Mike Pence will attend the Saturday service instead of President Trump.

“We honor his lifetime of service to this nation in our military and in public life,” the Vice President tweeted soon after McCain’s death was announced.

“God Bless John McCain,” Pence added.

McCain had no use for Trump and made that clear. But when a person is nearing the end after years of honorable service, it is time to put hard feelings aside. It does not speak well of Trump that he won’t do that. https://t.co/TsoV2xrhbv

— Brit Hume (@brithume) August 26, 2018

In the halls of Congress, John McCain cut a unique political path

Sun, 08/26/2018 - 00:55

As news arrived Saturday evening that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) had died from an aggressive form of brain cancer, it ended the career of a ‘maverick’ Senator who managed to frustrate both major politcal parties at times during his almost 36 years of service in the U.S. Congress.

“John’s voice will be missed in the Senate and around the world,” said former Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), who admitted “I had my differences with John,” but like many other colleagues, they saw a Senator who cut a unique path through the Congress.

“I traveled the world with John, particularly to Iraq and Afghanistan, many times and the way he was respected around the world and among the US military was always so inspirational,” Chambliss said soon after word of McCain’s death was announced.

First elected to the House in 1982, and then to the Senate in 1986, McCain was one the few veteran members of Congress who could honestly say they drew intense scorn from Democrats and Republicans along the way, especially during his two bids for President in 2000 and 2008.

“I want to do the hard things,” McCain told voters in 2008, as his “Straight Talk Express” bus gave reporters all sorts of access to the candidate in early primary and caucus states, while the Arizona Republican rumbled from town to town.

On the campaign trail, he delighted in doing town hall meetings – especially in New Hampshire – where he relished the give-and-take with voters that most candidates seem to avoid.

“You come to the town hall meetings because you want to see the candidates, you want to examine them,” McCain said in 2008 gathering in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

In Congress, he broke with Republicans on campaign finance reform, over torture after the Nine Eleven attacks, and more. But he routinely didn’t go far enough for Democrats on a host of issues, especially with his hawkish views on the military and defense.

“When I’m President of the United States, the first pork barrel bill that comes across my desk, I’m going to veto it, and make the author of it famous,” McCain said in 2008.

Most Republicans don’t like to admit it, but McCain was a “Tea Party” Republican on wasteful spending well before many now in the Congress, as he routinely took to the Senate floor to verbally barbecue his colleagues on provisions they had stuffed in spending bills.

“$15 million to establish a new grant program to quote ‘improve’ the U.S. Sheep Industry,” McCain said on the Senate floor, as he laid into the details of a major farm policy bill, mocking provisions that funded everything from pine tree testing in Florida to moth pheremones.

“I have no clue what a moth pheromone is,” McCain admitted during his farm bill diatribe. “When did it become a national priority to study moth pheromones?”

While McCain would attract press attention as he railed against various items in giant bills, his speeches would often come just before the Senate would overwhelmingly reject his arguments, as the Arizona Republican was often a lonely voice on spending.

His colleagues in both parties often bristled when McCain would go on one of his anti-spending rants on the floor, but the Arizona Republican actually lived up to his word, always telling voters that he never asked for a home-state spending earmark during his time in office.

In the halls of Congress, McCain was a favorite of reporters for a variety of reasons – first, he took positions which often were at odds with his own party, and second, he could always be counted on for a sharp-nosed quote, as the quick-witted McCain clearly enjoyed the back and forth with reporters.

For a number of years when Bob Schieffer of CBS sat across from me in the press gallery, McCain would often stop by to chew over the latest happenings in Congress, and dispense some wisdom as well.

Told by his Press Secretary that I was having trouble on the dating scene, McCain had a quick suggestion.

“Why don’t you come by the office and see the new crop of interns we’ve got, McCain said with a big grin.

“Maybe that will change your luck.”

Despite his good-natured ways with the press and his colleagues, McCain didn’t suffer fools gladly.

“Maybe the Senator from Kentucky should know the rules of the Senate,” McCain said to Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a frequent target of his verbal barbs.

“Get out of here, you lowlife scum,” he barked at a group of Code Pink protesters at a Senate hearing in 2015, threatening to have them arrested.

McCain almost always stopped to talk to reporters in the hallways – the above photo (taken by Melina Mara of the Washington Post) was a great shot of him expressing his outrage over something, with me in the background getting the latest quote on tape.

McCain’s scrums with reporters were often rapid fire sessions that delved more deeply into actual details of policy debates than most of his colleagues – but he also had a bit of a “Get off my lawn” feel to him as well.

“I’m not talking about President-Elect Trump,” McCain said pointedly to reporters pursuing him in the Capitol, in November 2016. “I will not talk about Donald Trump.”

Of course, McCain did end up talking a lot about Donald Trump, with one of McCain’s final legislative moves being a late night vote against a last-ditch GOP health care bill in 2017, dooming the President’s efforts to overhaul the Obama health law.

Mr. Trump – who famously said that McCain was not a war hero, because he was captured after being shot down over North Vietnam – constantly refers to that health care vote by McCain at campaign rallies, but almost never says the Arizona Senator’s name.

The President paid tribute to McCain soon after his death was announced.

My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 26, 2018

The final irony of McCain’s life came in the timing of his death – as he died nine years to the day that Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) died – both from the same form of brain cancer.

Like Kennedy, those who worked on Capitol Hill watched McCain struggle with his health problems – much as one would watch the decline of a family member – as McCain’s departure in December of 2017 was a difficult sign of what was coming.

“The idea that he and Senator Kennedy can go back to arguing over policy however makes me smile,” said Kennedy’s long time aide Jim Manley, who acknowledged a ‘complicated’ relationship with McCain.

That was true of both Democrats and Republicans, one reason the ‘maverick’ McCain will be remembered for years in the U.S. Capitol.

Five lawmakers facing legal or ethical questions in November

Sat, 08/25/2018 - 12:31

With just over ten weeks until the 2018 elections, a series of legal and ethical questions are dogging a small group of lawmakers in both parties in the Congress, ranging from outright criminal indictments to accusations of domestic abuse, past legal troubles, and some election dirty tricks that may have crossed the line into illegal election activity.

Here’s a look at some of the lawmakers who are dealing with more than just the regular question of whether they can get their supporters out to vote in November:

1. Rep. Chris Collins R-NY. Indicted in early August on charges of insider trading and false statements, Collins suspended his campaign for re-election – but his name may remain on the ballot in New York’s 27th District. One reason is the complex nature of the election laws in the Empire State. As the Buffalo News reported earlier this week, there are three ways GOP leaders could get Collins off the ballot: “He can run for another office, he can move to another state, or he can die.” But the problem is that any move to replace his name is likely to be met by a lawsuit from Democrats, and even opposition from local Republicans. So, it’s still possible that Collins will be on the ballot come November. Could he still win? Absolutely. It happened in 2014 in New York when Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) won while under indictment. Grimm later resigned and went to prison.

The entire Eden Town Board — made of four Republicans and one Conservative — said they were against indicted Congressman Chris Collins being put on their town’s ballot to take him off the congressional one. https://t.co/HBSXjsnb02

— Livingston Co. News (@TheLCN) August 23, 2018

2. Rep. Duncan Hunter R-CA. Indicted just this week along with his wife for allegedly misusing over $250,000 in campaign funds, Hunter has given no hint of giving up his re-election bid, as he has publicly blamed his wife for his legal problems – the Hunters even have different lawyers – and the California Republican has charged that Democrats in the Trump Justice Department are engaged in a political prosecution against him. California’s 50th Congressional District is a solid Republican stronghold, so one can’t rule out the possibility that Hunter could get re-elected, even with his legal troubles. But the details of the indictment are sure to be used against him in the run to November.

3. Rep. Keith Ellison D-MN. While Ellison is not running for re-election to the Congress, he will be the Democratic Party’s candidate for Attorney General in the state of Minnesota. But questions have been raised recently by a woman who dated Ellison, as she claimed the Minnesota Democrat physically assaulted her, once yanking her off a bed by her ankle. Ellison has denied the allegation, and so far, state and national Democratic Party officials have stood by Ellison. The woman, Karen Monahan, has gone on TV to state her case, and claims there is even video evidence of the altercation – but that she won’t release it. For now, it’s a he-said-she-said story, but with possible details and evidence that could still explode before Election Day.

CBS NEWS EXCLUSIVE: @Jerickaduncan sits down with the woman alleging Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) physically abused her in 2016. Ellison has denied the allegations. https://t.co/kLFpBkZYMo pic.twitter.com/3eXXAQgc6o

— CBS Evening News (@CBSEveningNews) August 16, 2018

4. Sen. Bob Menendez D-NJ. While the New Jersey Democrat survived a federal corruption trial because of a hung jury on a 14-count indictment, the ethics issues for Menendez haven’t gone away, as Republican candidate Bob Hugin tries to unseat the veteran Democratic Senator. Recent polls have given Democrats a bit of heartburn in the Garden State, where the GOP is on the defensive in almost every key race except this one for U.S. Senate. “They are troubled by the ethics cloud hanging over him,” said polling analyst Mary Snow of voters in New Jersey. A new poll from Snow’s Quinnipiac University had only bad news for Menendez, showing him ahead by just six points, down from a 17 point lead in March. Menendez has gone on the offensive against Hugin, attacking his leadership of the drug company Celgene. But it may be that Democrats will be playing defense in this race more than they wanted to in 2018 because of the legal and ethical troubles of Menendez.

5. Rep. Scott Taylor R-VA. This story percolating in recent weeks in Virginia might be a bit confusing at first, but keep reading. Republican Scott Taylor is running for re-election in Virginia’s 2nd District, against Democrat Elaine Luria. But there is also an Independent candidate, Shaun Brown, who made it on the ballot – in part because of ballot signatures collected by staffers of Congressman Taylor. While that might sound like simple election dirty tricks – there’s more to the story – as news organizations keep ferreting out examples of fake and forged signatures, as well as the names and signatures of dead people who were supposedly signed up by staffers of Rep. Taylor. While the GOP Congressman has denied wrongdoing – these signature questions keep stacking up. A special prosecutor has been appointed to look into the matter, and a separate court hearing is set for next week on efforts by Democrats to get Brown off the ballot. This story bears watching, not only on the third candidate angle, but whether Taylor and his campaign staffers have any legal issues to face as well.

Virginian-Pilot investigation: 4 dead people, nearly 60 fraudulent signatures found on Shaun Brown petitions https://t.co/MZHbl62hmh

— The Virginian-Pilot (@virginianpilot) August 24, 2018


President Trump continues war of words aimed at his Attorney General

Fri, 08/24/2018 - 14:10

For a second day, President Donald Trump jabbed at his own Attorney General, all but taunting Jeff Sessions in a series of tweets, in which the President complained about a lack of focus by federal investigators on actions by Hillary Clinton and Democrats, along with certain current and former officials at the Department of Justice and FBI, complaining that the Russia probe was too one-sided against Mr. Trump and Republicans.

“Come on Jeff, you can do it, the country is waiting,” the President wrote to the Attorney General in one of his tweets, complaining there was a “Double Standard” about the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

The tweets came a day after the President had upbraided Sessions during an interview on “Fox and Friends,” again expressing his frustration that Sessions had recused himself from oversight of the Russia investigation.

“Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.” Jeff, this is GREAT, what everyone wants, so look into all of the corruption on the “other side” including deleted Emails, Comey lies & leaks, Mueller conflicts, McCabe, Strzok, Page, Ohr……

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

….FISA abuse, Christopher Steele & his phony and corrupt Dossier, the Clinton Foundation, illegal surveillance of Trump Campaign, Russian collusion by Dems – and so much more. Open up the papers & documents without redaction? Come on Jeff, you can do it, the country is waiting!

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

Ex-NSA contractor to spend 63 months in jail over “classified” information. Gee, this is “small potatoes” compared to what Hillary Clinton did! So unfair Jeff, Double Standard.

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

“You know the only reason I gave him the job? Because I felt loyalty, he was an original supporter,” the President said.

But then, Sessions didn’t do what the President wanted on the Russia probe.

“What kind of man is this?” Mr. Trump asked, in the Fox and Friends interview.

President @realDonaldTrump on if he would fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions pic.twitter.com/MiG6z18mmt

— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) August 23, 2018

In the halls of Congress, Republican Senators – who had once formed a secure brick wall around their former colleague – are no longer unified, as some suggested that Sessions should be ousted in the months ahead.

“You don’t have to be Dr. Phil to understand that the President and the Attorney General don’t have a good working relationship,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Fox News.

Graham told reporters in the Capitol on Thursday that he would not be surprised to Sessions pushed out after the November elections – which many took as a green light from the GOP for the President to finally take that move.

Democrats saw the same thing.

“I never thought I would be defending Jeff Sessions, but I am,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA).

“Unhinged,” tweeted Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), who said, “in one sentence Trump goes from opposing political interference at DOJ to ordering his Attorney General to investigate his political opponents.”

Seems to be 2 storylines emerging this week:

1. Trump getting more serious about firing Sessions/Mueller, turning DOJ into the law enforcement arm for his political grudges.

2. Congressional Republicans getting more serious about letting him get away with it. https://t.co/AxThwwIvH2

— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) August 24, 2018

The President has repeatedly criticized Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, which has left oversight of the Special Counsel probe to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, another Trump appointee.

Rosenstein has also earned verbal barbs from the President and some GOP lawmakers in Congress, as an impeachment resolution was filed last month in the House against the Deputy A.G.

But so far, only 15 Republicans have signed on to that impeachment plan.

A majority would have to vote to impeach Rosenstein, and then a two-thirds vote would be required in the Senate to force him from office.

GOP Senators scrambled after latest Trump jabs at Sessions

Fri, 08/24/2018 - 00:19

The latest public broadsides by President Donald Trump at his Attorney General sparked divisions among Republicans in the Senate on Thursday, as one openly predicted Jeff Sessions could be gone from his job in coming months, while others warned the President against taking any step to replace their former Senate colleague.

“I find it really difficult to envision any circumstance where I would vote to confirm a successor to Jeff Sessions if he is fired because he’s executing his job, rather than choosing to act as a partisan hack,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE).

In a speech on the Senate floor, Sasse said he had personally told the President not to get rid of Sessions, just hours after Mr. Trump had said in an interview on Fox News – again – that he was disappointed in the performance of Sessions, especially with his recusal in the Russia probe.

“The Attorney General’s job is to be faithful to the Constitution and the rule of law,” as Sasse said there had been “lots and lots of goofy talk about firing the Attorney General.”

“Jeff Sessions is doing his job honorably and the Attorney General of the United States should not be fired for acting honorably and for being faithful to the rule of law,” Sasse added.

With only a one vote margin in the Senate, any Republican like Sasse could stand in the way of a replacement for Sessions, who has repeatedly earned the ire of President Trump – basically for not helping to rein in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

In an interview with Fox and Friends broadcast on Thursday morning, the President again publicly blasted his Attorney General, as the President said he chose Sessions for the post because the former GOP Senator had been loyal – and presumably would return the favor to him in that position.

But then, Sessions didn’t do what the President wanted on the Russia probe.

“What kind of man is this?” Mr. Trump asked, in the Fox and Friends interview.

Trump on Sessions: "He took the job and then he said, 'I'm going to recuse myself' I said, 'what kind of a man is this?' And by the way, he was on the campaign. The only reason I gave him the job I felt loyalty." pic.twitter.com/EOrpblvIuq

— Maggie Jordan: (@MaggieJordanACN) August 23, 2018

A few hours later, in a highly unusual response, the Justice Department issued an official statement in the Attorney General’s name, defending his leadership of the DOJ.

“While I am Attorney General, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations,” Sessions said.

Statement from the Attorney General pic.twitter.com/eMF0CPXLZZ

— Sarah Isgur Flores (@SarahFloresDOJ) August 23, 2018

Among his former GOP colleagues in the Senate, some like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Sessions pushed out at some point – maybe after the November elections.

“Clearly, Attorney General Sessions doesn’t have the confidence of the President,” Graham told reporters, in what was a major shift, as Graham has previously warned the President against getting rid of Sessions.

Others who have defended Sessions in the past were also not as vocal after Mr. Trump’s latest jabs – Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) would only say Sessions is a “very good friend of mine,” when asked about his future.

But others warned the President not to try to get rid their former colleague, worried by the fallout, especially with respect to the Russia investigation.

“We don’t have time nor is there a likely candidate who could be confirmed in these circumstances,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the number two Republican in the U.S. Senate.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham suggests that President Trump may soon replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions. "The idea of having a new attorney general in the first term of President Trump's administration I think is very likely." PO-31TH pic.twitter.com/WVt5gniyfy

— CNN Newsource (@CNNNewsource) August 23, 2018

Democrats meanwhile said the latest threat by the President to get rid of Sessions was nothing more than an effort to interfere with the Russia probe – Sessions earned the ire of President Trump in March of 2017 by recusing himself, leaving Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein with oversight authority on the matter.

“While I have opposed many of the actions taken by Attorney General Sessions, it would be unacceptable for the president to fire him now in order to install someone willing to subvert the Mueller investigation,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Rep. Duncan Hunter pleads not guilty to misuse of campaign funds

Thu, 08/23/2018 - 17:43

Two days after a federal grand jury returned a 60-count indictment, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and his wife pleaded not guilty to charges that they illegally used over $250,000 in campaign contributions for personal expenditures, as the California Republican echoed President Donald Trump’s assertion that he was being unfairly targeted by Democrats in the Department of Justice.

Federal prosecutors say the Hunters not only used campaign funds for vacations, school tuition for their children, concerts and other personal items, but also falsified records in 13 separate reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, to cover their tracks.

Arriving at a federal courthouse in San Diego for his appearance before federal magistrate judge William Gallo, Hunter was greeted by protestors, who taunted the GOP Congressman with a favorite chant from President Trump’s own campaign rallies.

The greeting from protesters as indicted Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) walked into a courthouse today for his arraignment: "Lock him up! Lock him up!"

— Cristina Marcos (@cimarcos) August 23, 2018

Hunter, who has been under investigation by the Justice Department and the House Ethics Committee over the past two years, has condemned the charges against him, using an argument similar to President Trump’s complaints about the probe of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

“This is the new Department of Justice – this is the Democrats’ arm of law enforcement,” Hunter told reporters Wednesday, despite the fact that Republicans are in charge of the Executive Branch.

The indictment repeatedly details how Hunter and his wife were struggling to pay their bills, as they “spent substantially more than they earned.”

“They overdrew their bank account more than 1,100 times in a seven-year period resulting in approximately $37,761 in “overdraft” and “insufficient funds” bank fees,” the indictment states.

“Their credit cards were frequently charged to the credit limit, often with five-figure balances, resulting in approximately $24,600 in finance charges, interest, and other fees,” prosecutors indicated.

The indictment rattled off a laundry list of spending with campaign funds – $11,300 at Costco, $5,700 at Walmart, over $2,500 at Barnes & Noble, $2,300 at Target, and $3,300 at various fast food restaurants, from In N Out to Taco Bell and more.

“On or about March 4, 2016, in Washington, D.C., DUNCAN HUNTER spent $462.46 in Campaign funds for 30 shots of tequila and one steak at El Tamarindo restaurant during Individual 8’s bachelor party,” the indictment reads.

Hunter is the second GOP Congressman to be indicted this month, joining Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), who was charged with insider trading.

While Collins has suspended his campaign for re-election, both Collins and Hunter are expected to still be on the ballot in November, for the 2018 mid-term elections.

As reporters waited outside for Hunter, his Democratic opponent in November appealed to voters in the pro-GOP district to defeat Hunter in November.

“I think Washington chewed him up and spat him out,” said Ammar Campa-Najjar, saying that Hunter had been “engulfed in the corruption that has plagued Washington for too long.”

Both @Rep_Hunter and his wife were expressionless as they pled not guilty to all charges against them. They arrived separately and sat four seats apart. Almost no interaction between them in the courtroom even when they stood side by side during arraignment.

— Maeve Reston (@MaeveReston) August 23, 2018

Bond for Hunter and his wife was set at a low level of $15,000 for the Congressman and $10,000 for his wife – because prosecutors said they are living ‘paycheck to paycheck.’

The California Republican left the courthouse without commenting, as protesters yelled, “Shame on you, Duncan Hunter!”

Manafort, Cohen cause no GOP earthquake on Capitol Hill

Thu, 08/23/2018 - 02:40

A day after President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager was found guilty on eight counts of tax and bank fraud, and Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen plead guilty to charges that included illegal campaign contributions allegedly orchestrated by Mr. Trump, there was no rush to the exits by Republicans in the Congress, and no expectation on Capitol Hill that GOP lawmakers were ready to abandon the President.

“We’ll have to see where this goes, we just don’t know where it goes from here,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), as GOP Senators gave no hints of any rush away from President Trump, despite the twin legal setbacks on Tuesday.

“I’m sure we’ll stay tuned for the next move,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), who told reporters that he saw no need for any immediate reaction by the Congress, which left Democrats fuming.

“The Republican response so far has been an abdication of moral and legal responsibility,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), as Democrats expressed frustration over the legal chain of events, with some labeling it a ‘watershed moment.’

“Obviously, it’s shocking and very concerning,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) said of Cohen’s remarks in court, where the President’s former lawyer and long time ‘fixer’ made clear he had been directed by Mr. Trump to pay off two women to keep them silent before the 2016 election.

“I have a lot of faith in our judicial system,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who acknowledged he was ‘not particularly surprised’ by what happened in the Cohen guilty plea.

But if Democrats were looking for Republicans to suddenly stand and demand that Mr. Trump leave the White House in the wake of the Manafort and Cohen developments – there was none of that brewing in the halls of Congress on Wednesday.

Asked about making any legislative moves to defend the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller – routinely denounced by the President as a ‘witch hunt’ – there was also no GOP urgency.

“I don’t think Mueller needs any protection, at least he doesn’t need any protection from me,” said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

As for the President, he shrugged off the latest turmoil in his administration, invoking Hillary Clinton’s name for the twentieth time this month on Twitter.

The only thing that I have done wrong is to win an election that was expected to be won by Crooked Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. The problem is, they forgot to campaign in numerous states!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 23, 2018

Just as Mr. Trump has attacked the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 elections – and accused Mueller of stacking his investigation with partisan Democrats – that was echoed by a Republican House member who was indicted on corruption charges earlier this week.

“It’s happening with Trump, and it’s happening with me,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who was charged along with his wife with illegally diverting over $250,000 in campaign funds for personal use.

Hunter said the case was nothing but a political vendetta.

“This is the new Department of Justice – this is the Democrats’ arm of law enforcement,” Hunter contended, despite the fact that Republicans are in charge of the Executive Branch.

Back on Capitol Hill, Democrats saw something much different.

“This is the most corrupt administration in the history of the country,” Sen. Murphy told reporters on Wednesday.

“It is of course is troubling for our country,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said of the Cohen revelations.

“We are having a constitutional crisis in our country,” said Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO).

They've already made their choice. Most GOP will let the courts decide the fate of the party, it seems. What happens, happens. https://t.co/MWqhZPcq5z

— Amanda Carpenter (@amandacarpenter) August 23, 2018

But while those statements might get nods of approval in Democratic circles, there was no panic from the GOP over Manafort and Cohen – something we’ve seen play out a number of times since President Trump took office.

“The system is working, and everybody is playing their role,” said Sen. Isakson (R-GA).

Republican indicted for using campaign funds for personal expenses

Wed, 08/22/2018 - 08:00

In the second federal corruption indictment of a Republican member of Congress in recent weeks, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and his wife were charged with funneling over $250,000 in campaign donations to fund an array of personal expenditures, allegedly using the money to pay for trips, expensive dinners, overseas vacations and even flying the family’s pet bunny across the country.

In a 47 page indictment handed up by a federal grand jury on Tuesday, federal prosecutors detailed how Rep. Hunter and his wife repeatedly spent campaign money on everything from children’s books and puzzles for their family, to personal ski trips, airline tickets, groceries and other household items.

“The purchases included family vacations to Italy, Hawaii, Phoenix, Arizona, and Boise, Idaho; school tuition; dental work; theater tickets; and domestic and international travel for almost a dozen relatives,” prosecutors said in a statement.

“The Hunters also spent tens of thousands of dollars on smaller purchases, including fast food, movie tickets, golf outings, video games, coffee, groceries, home utilities, and expensive meals,” the feds added in a statement.

“They overdrew their bank account more than 1,100 times in a seven-year period resulting in approximately $37,761 in ‘overdraft’ and ‘insufficient funds’ bank fees,” the indictment read.

The indictment of Hunter had been expected by many on Capitol Hill for months, as the feds have had the California Republican under investigation – all the while, the GOP Congressman, whose father served before him in Congress, has sternly denied any wrongdoing.

“I was not involved in any criminal action,” Hunter told Politico back in March of 2017.

But the indictment goes through excruciating details of how campaign money was used for personal purposes, and that Hunter’s own campaign treasurer repeatedly raised questions about some of the spending involved.

The indictment says that Hunter floated the idea of hiring his wife as his paid campaign manager, but gave that up ‘when the Treasurer made it clear that this would not be a good idea.’

At one point in December of 2010, prosecutors said Hunter’s campaign treasurer pressed the Congressman on a variety of charges – and that Hunter ‘asked the Treasurer if he was “trying to create some kind of paper trail on him.'”

Or this one stands out: Rep. Duncan Hunter tried to get a tour of a Navy base to cover for a $14,000 family vacation in Italy. When Navy said they could only do certain days, Hunter told his chief of staff "tell the Navy to go f— themselves" pic.twitter.com/gTgJGzqQm0

— Sarah D. Wire (@sarahdwire) August 22, 2018

Included in the indictment against @Rep_Hunter: Using campaign funds to buy Hawaiian shorts and lying that it was money spent on wounded veterans (Hunter is a USMC vet who served in Iraq and Afghanistan). pic.twitter.com/jVEdPLAZhE

— Leo Shane III (@LeoShane) August 21, 2018

As with the recent indictment of Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), who faces charges of insider trading, Hunter’s name is likely to stay on the ballot for voters in November, presenting Republicans with a difficult election situation.

“A fair number of Rs will have a hard time voting for this fellow,” said the University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato on Twitter.

“Another Safe R seat that ain’t safe no more,” added Kyle Kondik, who works with Sabato on reviewing races for Congress.

There are no write-ins in CA general elections & no mechanisms for Rs to get Hunter off the ballot. Another headache for Rs in what should be a safe seat. #CA50

— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) August 21, 2018

Ironically, Collins was the first member of the House to endorse Donald Trump for President; Hunter was the second.

Like Hunter, Collins is also expected to still be on the ballot in November.

In 2014, Republicans in New York re-elected Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY), even though he was under a federal corruption indictment.

Grimm won, but resigned soon after the election, and went to prison.

“The charges against Congressman Hunter are further evidence of the rampant culture of corruption among Republicans in Washington today,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

“Speaker Ryan must immediately call on Congressman Hunter to resign, and affirm that no one is above the law,” Pelosi added, echoing her call for Collins to resign as well.

“The charges against Rep. Hunter are deeply serious,” Speaker Ryan said, as he announced he would remove Hunter from his House committees – as the Speaker did with Collins – while the legal process plays out.

Collins suspended his campaign for re-election earlier this month, but his name is likely to remain on the ballot in New York for November.

Read the documents from Michael Cohen’s guilty plea

Tue, 08/21/2018 - 22:07

President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer plead guilty to eight criminal charges in a federal court on Tuesday, as Michael Cohen told a federal judge that he paid money to two women – to keep them quiet just before the 2016 elections – at the direction of a specific candidate for federal office, and coordinated “with one or more members of the campaign.”

While the name of that candidate was not revealed in open court, or in any documents, it was very obvious that it was President Trump, referred to as “Individual-1.”

“On or about June 16, 2015, Individual-1 began his presidential campaign,” read documents submitted by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.

“In so doing, he coordinated with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments,” the documents stated.

The documents do not specifically name either Karen McDougal or Stormy Daniels – but go through previously known details about how money was paid to them to keep them from speaking to the press before the 2016 elections.

“MICHAEL COHEN, the defendant, caused and made the payments described herein in order to influence the 2016 presidential election,” prosecutors said in documents submitted to a federal judge.

Cohen then acknowledged that in 2017 he submitted to the candidate’s company what prosecutors described as “sham” invoices, what prosecutors said were “simply a means to obtain reimbursement for the unlawful campaign contribution.”

Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, says it was all done at the behest of one person – Donald Trump.

Today he stood up and testified under oath that Donald Trump directed him to commit a crime by making payments to two women for the principal purpose of influencing an election. If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn't they be a crime for Donald Trump?

— Lanny Davis (@LannyDavis) August 21, 2018

When the Stormy Daniels story first broke, President Trump told reporters on Air Force One that he had no idea about a $130,000 payment made to her.

But the documents submitted Tuesday showed something much different, as Cohen submitted fake invoices to the candidate’s company, in order to be reimbursed for the money paid to both women.

This is about how it was done for the Stormy Daniels payment.

Documents show that Cohen was repaid for his payment to McDougal on a monthly basis, falsely claiming that the money was actually for legal services which Cohen had delivered in 2017.

Prosecutors say that was an effort to cover up illegal campaign contributions which benefited the Trump campaign in 2016.

“Michael Cohen’s guilty plea appears to implicate the President in a knowing violation of campaign finance laws, with the payment of hush money to advance the Trump campaign,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA). “This is the first guilty plea directly alleging potential criminal activity by the President.”