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For the last two years, Gerard Araud, France’s ambassador to the United States, has signed off on the cables he sends back to Paris with the same caveat: “Of course, a surprise can’t be excluded.”
Such is life for many diplomats in Washington, D.C. in the era of Donald Trump. But Araud, who retired this week after nearly five years in this latest post, proved a skilled navigator of the U.S. capital. His blunt talk, including on Twitter, has endeared him to many in the foreign policy community and beyond, even if they don’t always agree with him.
His advice to the people he leaves behind? Calm down. Take a deep breath.
“Washington is a bit hysterical,” Araud said. “People are so appalled by the behavior of the president that they listen a bit too much to their guts instead of really listening to the brain.”
So what should their brains tell them?
That Trump, for all his flaws, is asking legitimate questions, Araud said. That the Republican president saw the world “shifting, in a sense, to a new era” and that his “genius” was understanding the “malaise” in the United States.
It’s a malaise, Araud is quick to add, that is leading people to embrace populism and nationalism in France and other countries, too. “We have to address the concerns of these people,” he said. “It’s a serious crisis of our democracy.”
At one point, Arnaud even joked that he sounded like a “Trumpist in the closet.”
Araud, who named France’s U.S. ambassador in September 2014, is a figure Washington won’t soon forget — an openly gay diplomat who threw memorable parties, disdains political correctness and loves the Tintin comics.
“He’s a real patriot. It’s all in the defense of France and French interests,” said Philip Gordon, a former senior official in the Obama administration. “But he is well-liked because he’s funny and charming and, again, honest. It’s not like he’s playing games behind people’s back.”
This past week, Araud’s last in the job, was exceptionally difficult, and yet showcased his diplomatic talents: As a fire gutted the famed Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, Araud wrote and spoke movingly about how the images brought him to tears.
“Suddenly, I have the feeling that a part of myself was burning,” Araud told PBS NewsHour. “And all the other diplomats and employees of the embassy felt the same emotion.”
Araud, 66, has had extensive experience in the U.S. — he was in New York as France’s ambassador to the United Nations prior to moving to Washington, and he has warm relationships with numerous current and former U.S. officials. So he watched with a sense of wonder these past two years as the White House changed hands between two presidents with radically different styles.
Barack Obama, Araud said, was the “ultimate bureaucrat.” The Democratic president was famed for his attention to detail and reliance on meetings, briefings and other processes to help him make decisions.
Trump is “totally, totally different,” Araud said.
The Republican, who came to the White House from the world of real estate, pays little attention to bureaucracy or process, Araud said. Even if his underlings try to establish some sort of process “it’s not relevant” because Trump will simply ignore it, Araud said.
The Frenchman isn’t the first to notice these phenomena. But, like with any other foreign diplomat, it has caused him headaches.
Araud said that just days before Trump announced the U.S. is quitting the Iran nuclear deal — a move France implored him not to make — White House officials assured him that no decision was imminent because there had been no serious meetings about it.
And then, on May 8, 2018, Trump said the U.S. was out of the deal.
The envoy dismissed the idea that Trump will ever act in a more traditional way.
“As a diplomat, I am a realist,” Araud said. “President Trump is 72. It is what it is. He’s not going to change.”
Araud was quick to laugh throughout the interview, and appeared in good spirits for most of it. He is writing a memoir and in talks to join Richard Attias' strategic communications firm, which has an office in New York.
The memoir is almost certain to tackle some of the more unusual aspects of his tenure, including his spat with comedian Trevor Noah over whether France’s World Cup winning soccer team is actually more African than French. Another likely topic: Araud dramatic 2016 election-night tweet — “A world is collapsing before our eyes. Vertigo.” — that was quickly scrubbed.
The book may also tackle some harsh realities, such as the fact that, for all of Araud’s charm, France has had little luck convincing Trump to abandon positions contrary to France’s interests.
Even French President Emmanuel Macron’s attempts to flatter Trump — who initially seemed to like the youthful Macron very much — have yielded little. On issues like trade, climate change and the Iran nuclear deal, the countries remain far apart.
But to be fair, most world leaders and their envoys have found that neither flattery nor disdain is enough to convince Trump of anything.
It’s “a bar that no diplomat could conceivably reach,” Gordon said.
Asked about the health of the U.S.-France relationship, Araud insisted that it is good, especially on the defense side. He brushed aside Trump’s Twitter barbs targeting Macron, pointing out that Trump has done that to several other world leaders.
“I wouldn’t say that there are no clouds,” Araud said. “But the relationship is, I should say, is excellent on the military side, and globally, I should say, is totally in the average relationship that President Trump has with major European powers.”
Araud applauded Trump for tackling head on tough topics like China's questionable moves on the global stage and North Korea's nuclear program. He also argued that although some of the questions Trump asks may seem odd at first glance, they are nonetheless fair game.
For instance, Trump has wondered why the United States should go to war to protect the tiny nation of Montenegro if it was attacked. To foreign policy types, the answer is obvious: Montenegro is a NATO member and the military alliance is built on the idea of collective defense.
Araud, though, pointed out that many ordinary Americans would pose the same question if the scenario ever arose. By raising the point, Trump is exposing the fact that not everyone is automatically on board with the views of foreign policy elites in places like Washington.
The French envoy struck a pessimistic note when talking about the European Union.
While some observers have suggested that Trump’s disdain for multilateral institutions could offer an opportunity for the EU to assert itself, Araud worries that EU member states may not be able to deal constructively with populism, nationalism and other polarizing forces tugging at their electorates.
“I don’t want to be too gloomy about it, but the jury is out,” he said.
Nonetheless, he said U.S. officials should remember that Europe faces many of the same challenges as America, including the rise of China. That’s one reason that keeping the transatlantic alliance alive is so important.
“Don’t consider the EU as a problem,” Araud said. “The EU may be part of the solution.”
Araud is expected to be replaced as ambassador by Philippe Etienne, a diplomatic adviser to Macron. What will he tell his successor about navigating Trump’s Washington?
“You have really to keep cool,” Araud said.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
BEAUFORT, S.C. — When Elizabeth Warren got a question on housing discrimination at a campaign event this week, she went into full wonk mode — and the diverse crowd packed into a middle school auditorium ate it up.
The Massachusetts senator launched into a brief history lesson on African-American homebuyers getting rejected outside of designated areas, black families getting hit hardest by subprime mortgages and foreclosures during the 2008 crash, and black homeownership still lagging far behind whites. “That’s a problem, and it’s a race problem,” Warren thundered, emphasizing “race” as the crowd erupted into applause. “And we need to attack it head on.”
Warren is stuck in single digits in national polls and is getting overshadowed by white male rivals like Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg. But her consistent attention to racial disparities — and her truck-full of policy proposals to fix them across every economic issue — is drawing praise from a critical voting bloc that could eventually pay dividends: African-Americans, and especially African-American women.
The plans are penetrating the community of black operatives and activists working to mobilize black voters in 2020. Her housing affordability proposal is hailed as one that would do the most to close the racial wealth gap. She was one of the first candidates to endorse a House bill establishing a commission to study reparations for the descendants of slaves. And when she held a climate change forum in Charleston recently four out of the six panelists were local African-American leaders.
“Based on the fact that we've got a self-proclaimed nationalist in the presidential office, it's really important that we don't run away from identity politics,” said LaTosha Brown, founder of Black Voters Matter. “Elizabeth is not.”
“She is not running away from this conversation about race and class and gender and the intersection of that,” Brown continued, “To me that distinguishes her.”
The competition for black voters is intense and growing, and Warren is up against two prominent African-American senators, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris — plus former Vice President Joe Biden, who has strong ties to the black community and a bond with former President Barack Obama.
But Warren’s doing something right. Her three-state southern tour in March through Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama didn't go unnoticed. Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of the progressive BlackPAC, has seen a steady increase in the number of black influencers across social media “raising the flag,” asking why Warren and her policies centered on black communities aren’t getting more attention.
“No one,” Shropshire said, “is raising the flag around any of these other candidates in the same way.”
Warren’s affordable housing plan is cosponsored by one of her presidential rivals and six members of the Congressional Black Caucus. And in South Carolina, Warren delivered the details herself: If elected president she’d propose building 3.2 million new housing units, and federal assistance will go to any person of color who lives or lived in a redlined area, who is a first-time homebuyer or who lost a home.
When a young white man asked Warren about marijuana. “I would legalize it,” Warren said, because “this is a matter, for me, of racial justice.”
The black voters at her rally, many of whom said they were still undecided but ranked Warren at the top of their list, took stock of her answers.
“She’s really speaking to the people of color, the marginalized,” said 71-year-old Alice Walker, who is African American.
“I give her kudos for coming to the Deep South and not running away from areas that she cares about,” said Brown, who is from Selma, Alabama. “And that are probably not going to offer any electoral college votes for her.”
Warren wouldn’t say if her laser-focus on race across her policies is intentional or an attempt to learn from Democrats' past reluctance to embrace "identity politics” and the drop in African-American turnout in key places in the 2016 election.
“To ignore race in today’s political and economic system is to ignore reality,” Warren said in a brief interview with POLITICO on the sidelines of her South Carolina stop. “I want America to talk more about this.”
But a key ingredient to any presidential campaign is whether or not the voters buy a candidate’s message. So far, Warren’s decision to make race a focal point of her campaign has gotten her in the game with voters.
Ifeoma Ike, who worked on Doug Jones’ long-shot but ultimately successful Alabama Senate bid, said Warren is one of the candidates she’s “paid attention to from jump” and praised the senator’s “smart economic policy.”
“We pay attention to not just the comfortability but the rationale and the frequency with which candidates authentically talk about these things,” said Ike, who runs the Democratic consulting firm Think Rubix. “In ways that are not just trying to appease [black voters] as a community.”
Warren passes that test. And her focus on race separates her, according to Ike and Brown, from the one candidate she’s compared to the most: fellow Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“This is an area where she's actually breaking away from Bernie,” said Ike. “The minute she started talking about reparations, other candidates did too.”
Though Sanders did well with young black voters in 2016, he has made notable changes to his campaign this time around, frequently calling Trump a racist and attempting to integrate race more into his vision — but he doesn’t focus on race in his economic policies to the degree Warren does. Instead, Sanders talks about class, and the expanding gap between the rich and poor in the country.
Ike pointed out that the dynamics have markedly changed in the Democratic primary of today versus 2016. Where Sanders has pulled the party along on Medicare for All, Warren appears to be doing the same on her economic policies and race.
In 2016, Ike said, black activists struggled to get candidates to simply say “black lives matter,” referring to the movement against police brutality on people of color.
As Sanders and Hillary Clinton were met by protesting Black Lives Matter activists at their campaign stops, Warren delivered a speech in September of 2015 at the Edward Kennedy Institute, offering what was described then by The Washington Post as the strongest endorsement to date of the protest movement.
“We’ve had way too many decades, way too many generations of trying to sweep race issues under the rug and it’s not working for us,” Warren told POLITICO. “It’s time to do this differently, it’s time to do it more honestly and more directly.”
“Besides,” Warren said, “it’s just who I am.”
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
A Florida man has been arrested after making violent threats against three members of Congress, including two Democratic presidential candidates.
A trio of Democrats — Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Rep. Eric Swalwell of California and Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan — were on the receiving end of belligerent messages from 49-year-old John Kless, according to a complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of Florida.
All three have garnered increasing national attention in recent months: Booker as he took a starring role in Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing ahead of a presidential run, Tlaib for her vocal criticism of President Donald Trump and ascendance as a voice of Democrats’ rising progressive generation, and Swalwell for assailing Trump and promoting gun control as he pursues his own presidential bid.
The complaint quotes a profanity-laced message allegedly targeting Swalwell, who has made gun control a centerpiece of his platform and clashed with critics on Twitter, warning that “the day you come after our guns” is “the day you’ll be dead.”
Swalwell has previously highlighted similar threats, posting to Twitter a voicemail in which a caller can be heard mimicking the sound of gunfire and saying the California congressman would be a “casualty.” Swalwell responded to Kless’ arrest on Friday by praising law enforcement for “for protecting my staff and constituents.”
The alleged threats to Booker and Tlaib seem to reference comments about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) — who, like Tlaib, is Muslim — that Republicans, including Trump, have seized on to lambaste Omar. In both cases, Kless is quoted defending the president.
"Tell your Taliban friend to" stop talking about 9/11, he is quoted telling Tlaib, adding that "this ain't Trump's fault" and "you definitely don't tell our president, Donald Trump, what to say."
According to the complaint, Kless had formerly made “profane/harassing calls” to the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in which he spoke of “Congress taking away his guns, abortion, illegal immigration, and Muslims in Congress.”
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
SUNLAND PARK, N.M. (AP) - U.S. authorities are warning citizens not to take the law into their own hands after a group patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border stopped hundreds of migrants when they crossed into southern New Mexico this week.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued the warning through social media ...
Sen. Michael Bennet had “completely successful” surgery to treat prostate cancer, a spokesperson said Friday.
The Colorado Democrat received a cancer diagnosis last month, at least temporarily upending his plans for a presidential announcement.
Bennet underwent surgery last weekend; he’s now recovering at his home in Colorado and will return to the Senate after the current two-week congressional recess.
“His doctors report the surgery was completely successful and he requires no further treatment,” the spokesperson said. “Michael and his family deeply appreciate the well wishes and support from Coloradans and others across the country.”
Earlier this month, Bennet told the Colorado Independent that prior to his doctors informing him of his cancer diagnosis, he had planned to announce his candidacy for president in April and had even hired staff. At the time, he said that he intended to still run for president if he is cancer-free.
Bennet would be the seventh senator to enter the presidential race. He’s recently gained national attention for his speeches on the Senate floor. Among those speeches was a floor fight with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) during the government shutdown that became the most-viewed C-SPAN video of all time on Twitter.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
TALLAHASSEE — Sen. Rick Scott today demanded that the FBI release information about a suspected Russian hack of at least one Florida county, a revelation that came to light in Thursday's report from special counsel Robert Mueller.
The Florida Republican, in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray, asked the agency to provide information to both Congress and the Florida Department of State. He asked the FBI to identify which Florida county had been compromised and gave the agency seven days to comply.
“It is my goal to have free and fair elections with zero fraud,” wrote Scott, who noted his push to spend money on election cybersecurity ahead of the 2018 elections. “This is a very serious issue that needs the immediate attention of the FBI.”
The FBI did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
When then-incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson made a similar assertion about Russian hacking last year, then-Gov. Scott assailed him on the campaign trail, calling the comment “irresponsible" and the Democrat “confused” or “dishonest.” Scott narrowly defeated Nelson in November to take his seat in the Senate.
Russian attempts to access county offices in the 2016 election had been previously reported, but state officials—including those who worked directly for Scott at the time—had maintained that none of the efforts were successful.
Details released in the Mueller report Thursday stunned state officials, who stood by their past statements because they could not verify the new information with the FBI.
“The department maintains that the 2016 elections in Florida were not hacked,” Sarah Revell, a spokesperson for Secretary of State Laurel Lee, the state’s chief elections official, said Thursday.
Since initial reports of Russian efforts to target local election offices, details have been scant. An indictment filed by Mueller last summer said Russian operatives sent more than 100 fake emails to Florida elections offices and personnel. The report released Thursday said Russian hackers sent spearphishing emails to more than 120 email accounts operated by county election officials in Florida.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
Rep. Matt Gaetz — one of President Donald Trump’s most avid supporters in Congress — has hired a former White House speechwriter who was forced out last year amid scrutiny over his ties to white nationalists.
The Florida Republican announced Friday that former Trump administration aide, Darren Beattie, will join his Capitol Hill office.
“Very proud to have the talented Dr. Darren Beattie helping our team as a Special Advisor for Speechwriting. Welcome on board!” Gaetz tweeted Friday.
Beattie was fired from the White House in August 2018 after reports that he had delivered remarks at a 2016 conference, dubbed an “active hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, alongside a well-known white nationalist, Richard Spencer.
Organizers of the event, the H.L. Mencken Club, described it as a gathering for the “independent-minded intellectuals and academics of the Right.” But the SPLC has described its attendees as “a band of white nationalists, pseudoacademic and academic racists.”
The former Duke University instructor, who rose to prominence for his early prediction that Trump would win the presidency, later released what he said was a transcript of his speech. No video of his speech has been found.
Gaetz has been one of Trump’s most vocal defenders on Capitol Hill and on television, and is known for his bombastic rhetoric.
The attorney-turned-lawmaker has drawn scrutiny himself for inviting a Holocaust denier to one of Trump’s State of the Union addresses. Gaetz has also appeared on the conspiracy-peddling website “Infowars,” run by Alex Jones, though he later said he regretted having done so.
Gaetz’s office did not return a request for comment on the staffing decision.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
Presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said Friday she and the Senate "miss" former Sen. Al Franken but said they "couldn't stay silent" on sexual harassment allegations.
"We are all concerned about Senator Franken and frankly we all miss him. He was someone who really served us well on the Judiciary ...
LIMA, Peru (AP) - Large crowds have gathered in the Peruvian capital for the funeral procession of former President Alan Garcia, who killed himself after authorities arrived at his home to arrest him for alleged involvement in a corruption case.
Mourners carried Garcia's coffin through the streets of Lima Friday ...
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - A national activist group is calling on the removal of a Charleston, South Carolina statue saying it's one of several monuments nationwide that is Confederate-related and needs to be taken down.
The Make it Right project director, Kali Holloway, tells WCIV-TV that they are launching a ...
Radio host Mark Levin says the second volume of special counsel Robert Mueller's 400-page report is a disgrace that was written for "slip-and-fall" lawyers and reporters in "the unfree press."
The man who served as chief of staff to Ed Meese, President Reagan's second attorney general, told Fox News on ...
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Measures advancing in the Missouri Legislature would limit the scope of rules that local governments can slap on large animal feeding operations.
House lawmakers on Thursday voted 101-42 to pass a bill to give county sheriffs and federal or state agencies with authority over farms ...
HOUSTON (AP) - President Donald Trump has warned that Central American families are staging an "invasion" at the U.S.-Mexico border. He has threatened to take migrants to Democratic strongholds to punish political opponents. And his administration regularly complains about having to "catch and release" migrants.
At the same time, his ...
Rep. Chris Stewart warned Friday that anyone pressing for further action on special counsel Robert Mueller's report is handing President Trump a win.
"I think for those who are pursuing this, I think the American people are exhausted by this," the Utah Republican said on CNN's "Newsroom." "I think they ...
ALAMOGORDO, N.M. (AP) - A southern New Mexico county is demanding that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham use the National Guard to re-open Customs and Border Patrol checkpoints that were closed last month.
The Alamogordo Daily News reports that Otero County on Wednesday declared a state of emergency, noting the need ...
Rep. Steve Cohen said Friday he believes "impeachable offenses have been committed," following the release of special counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report investigating election interference and obstruction by President Trump's campaign.
"I believe impeachable offenses have been committed, and I believe it's worthwhile to put in the history's files what ...
The Trump administration is lauding Libyan military leader Khalifa Haftar, praising the former general's efforts to thwart terrorist groups in the divided North African country, according to the White House.
Mr. Trump spoke Friday morning by phone with Gen. Haftar, whose Russian-backed Libyan National Army is in the midst of ...
House Judiciary Committee Democrats said Friday that they’ve engaged with the Justice Department about preliminary arrangements for special counsel Robert Mueller to testify next month.
“We have had several conversations at a staff level with DOJ [Office of Legislative Affairs],” a committee spokesman told POLITICO.
The committee has yet to set an official date for Mueller to come in, but Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) has indicated he wants Mueller to testify no later than May 23.
Committee officials said the Justice Department confirmed receiving Nadler’s request. Attorney General William Barr told reporters Thursday that he has no objection to Mueller testifying before Congress. Barr is scheduled to testify before the committee on May 2.
Nadler issued a subpoena Friday for the unredacted version of Mueller’s report, in addition to the underlying grand jury evidence and testimony.
Mueller’s appearance on Capitol Hill would be among the most dramatic and consequential in recent memory, at least since former FBI Director James Comey’s 2017 appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Democrats would be likely to press Mueller on his thought process behind detailing vivid instances in which President Donald Trump may have attempted to obstruct his investigation, as well as Mueller’s decision to not “draw ultimate conclusions” about Trump’s conduct.
But Republicans may also see advantage to Mueller’s testimony, as they’d get the chance to have him state for the record that he could not establish collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia as the Kremlin sought to sway the 2016 election for Trump.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - President Trump is laying low after the dramatic release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings, enjoying the end of the season at his Florida resort and letting his thumbs do the talking.
The president has so far ducked opportunities to answer questions directly from the ...
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) - A judge on Brazil's top court has cancelled a ruling that forced two news sites to remove reports that a corruption investigation had included a reference to the court's president.
Thursday's ruling by Judge Alexandre de Moraes overturns his own order issued Monday, which had ...
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Friday defended the "sentiment" of her characterization of President Donald Trump's decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey as "100 percent accurate," even though she conceded to special counsel Robert Mueller that her comments at the time were not based on any facts.
In the wake of Trump's 2017 decision to fire Mueller, Sanders told reporters “the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director,” citing the testimony of “countless” agents. Mueller's report, completed last month and released to the public on Thursday, said the White House press secretary “acknowledged to investigators that her comments were not founded on anything."
Across multiple TV interviews Friday morning, Sanders offered a somewhat scattershot defense of her explanation of Comey's firing, insisting that it was Mueller who characterized the entire exchange about the dismissal as lies. She said she told investigators that her use of the word “countless” had been a slip of the tongue and her comment about agents’ loss of confidence was made in “the heat of the moment.”
“The big takeaway here is that the sentiment is 100 percent accurate,” Sanders told "CBS This Morning." "The FBI is a better place without James Comey. He disgraced himself, and he undermined the agency that he was supposed to be in charge of.”
Although Sanders insisted that her use of the word "countless" had been an unintentional slip, the press secretary used the same word one day later to characterize the number of FBI agents she claimed to have personally heard from who said morale had dipped at the bureau under Comey's leadership.
“I can speak to my own personal experience,” she said in 2017. “I’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that are grateful and thankful for the president’s decision.”
Even before Sanders's admission to Mueller's team, the press secretary's explanation of Comey's dismissal had been undercut by the president himself, who contradicting his own communications team's messaging when he told NBC News in an interview that he had fired the FBI director over concerns with the bureau's Russia investigation.
Mueller’s team honed in on Trump’s decision to fire Comey as part of its probe to determine whether the president intended to obstruct justice. The report said investigators found “substantial evidence” that Trump dismissed the FBI director for his “unwillingness to state that the president was not personally under investigation” by the special counsel.
The report also said after her briefing on Comey, Sanders spoke with the president, “who told her she did a good job and did not point out any inaccuracies in her comments.”
On Friday, Sanders said Trump never asked her to say something she knew not to be true.
“The president isn't asking people to break the law, isn't asking them to do anything that is dishonest,” she said. “If the president wants to fire somebody, he does.”
In a separate Friday morning interview with ABC's "Good Morning America," Sanders also pushed back against the idea that she misled the press in a separate instance described in Mueller’s report, when she told reporters in 2017 that the president “certainly didn’t dictate” a misleading statement Donald Trump Jr. provided to the New York Times about his meeting with a Russian lawyer who had promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton sourced from the Russian government.
The president’s personal lawyers told special counsel investigators several months later that Trump did dictate his son’s statement, according to Mueller’s report.
Sanders told “Good Morning America” that, to her knowledge, the president only “weighed in” on Trump Jr.’s statement. She also repeated her claims that only her use of the word “countless” had been a “slip of the tongue,” repeatedly pivoting quickly to the White House’s no collusion, no obstruction talking points.
“I'm sorry that I wasn't a robot like the Democratic party that went out for two-and-a-half years and stated time and time again that there was definitely Russian collusion between the president and his campaign,” she said in response to a question on why she would not admit to having made untrue statements. “They were the ones that were creating the greatest scandal in the history of our country.”
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
The second annual National Cannabis Policy Summit is underway Friday at the Newseum in the nation's capital, featuring the field's business leaders and activists, plus some vigorous support from Democratic lawmakers, and coverage on C-SPAN.
Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland gave the keynote address — with "video support" ...
Rep. Jamie Raskin said Friday lawmakers "shouldn't be afraid of impeachment" following the release of special counsel Robert Mueller's report investigation election interference and obstruction by President Trump's campaign.
"Impeachment is part of the Constitution, we shouldn't be afraid of any part of the Constitution...and I've said from the beginning ...
HAMMOND, Ind. (AP) - Federal charges have been filed against an Indiana man who authorities say threatened to shoot President Donald Trump in Facebook posts.
The indictment says 20-year-Steffon Gonzalez posted on March 28 that he was "standing outside the president's location with a bullet 'chambered' to 'blow his head ...
PARIS (AP) - A Paris court has dismissed a defamation case against six women who accused a former French lawmaker of sexual misconduct and the journalists who reported the allegations.
The court on Friday ordered Denis Baupin to pay 1,000 euros ($1,120) in damages to each of the 12 people ...
ROME (AP) - Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg has told a rally of several thousand young people in Rome's Piazza del Popolo they should aim that when they are older they can say they did everything they could to help the climate.
While the rally was part of the Friday ...
WASHINGTON (AP) - Stalled negotiations over dismantling North Korea's nuclear program loomed over high-level talks between the U.S. and Japan on Friday.
Just a day after North Korea called for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to be removed as President Donald Trump's top negotiator, Pompeo and acting Defense Secretary Patrick ...
House Democrats escalated the battle over access to the special counsel's report Friday when Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler issued a subpoena demanding the full document be produced to Congress.
Mr. Nadler also requested the "underlying evidence" special counsel Robert Mueller relied on to draw the conclusions in his 448-page ...
President Donald Trump on Friday ripped the damaging information his former aides offered to special counsel Robert Mueller as “total bullshit,” suggesting investigators for the special counsel skewed his staffers’ words and that some of his aides just wanted to make him look bad.
“Statements are made about me by certain people in the Crazy Mueller Report, in itself written by 18 Angry Democrat Trump Haters, which are fabricated & totally untrue. Watch out for people that take so-called ‘notes,’ when the notes never existed until needed,” he wrote in a string of tweets.
Trump complained that he was unable to push back on the claims made by his aides in Mueller’s report because of his decision not to sit down with Mueller in person. He also suggested he was unfairly thrown under the bus by those who had spoken freely to investigators.
“Because I never agreed to testify, it was not necessary for me to respond to statements made in the 'Report' about me, some of which are total bullshit & only given to make the other person look good (or me to look bad),” he continued in another tweet.
The anecdotes of White House staffers who worked in close proximity with Trump are littered throughout Mueller’s report, painting a devastating portrait of Trump’s presidency while undercutting his claim of “total exoneration” by Mueller. Two former aides in particular, former White House counsel Don McGahn and staff secretary Rob Porter, spent significant time with Mueller, and notes from their interactions with the president are referenced repeatedly in the report.
In one instance cited in the redacted report, which was released Thursday, the president apparently criticized McGahn for telling Mueller's investigators that Trump sought to have Mueller removed.
When McGahn responded that he had to, Trump questioned McGahn about his notetaking habits.
"Why do you take notes? Lawyers don't take notes. I never had a lawyer who took notes," Trump is quoted as saying, to which McGahn responded that a "real lawyer" does.
Trump countered that he'd had "a lot of great lawyers" like Roy Cohn, who he argued "did not take notes."
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
After months of "will he, won't he," former Vice President Joseph R. Biden reportedly has a date set to announce his official candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Mr. Biden will be announcing his candidacy on Wednesday via a campaign video, according to people speaking to The Atlantic who have ...
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) - Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko rallied his supporters in Kiev Friday in a last-ditch attempt to keep his job, hours ahead of a nationally televised debate against the challenger who is expected to beat him in the presidential runoff.
The 53-year-old Poroshenko, who is trailing in opinion ...
Conservative lawyer George Conway on Thursday called for President Donald Trump to be impeached, entrenching himself even deeper in opposition to his wife, senior counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, in the wake of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
In an op-ed in The Washington Post, George Conway, who has made his distaste for the president widely known, asserted that though Mueller cleared Trump on the issue of collusion and declined to recommend charges on obstruction of justice, the special counsel’s findings are nevertheless “damning” and make a convincing case for impeachment.
While his wife on Thursday said that Mueller’s nearly two-year investigation was a “political proctocology exam and the president has been given a clean bill of health,” George Conway called Trump a “cancer on the presidency” that Congress must “excise … without delay.”
George Conway took issue with the defense of Trump’s allies that obstruction cannot occur without an underlying crime, reiterating a point made by Mueller that it's not a valid excuse in a court of law.
In comparison with Richard Nixon, who resigned as president rather than face impeachment for obstructing an investigation into his coverup of the Watergate burglary, what Trump is accused of doing was arguably worse, Conway wrote. And where Nixon had the assistance of his aides, Conway argued, Trump was a "one-man show" whose aides thwarted his attempts to curtail the investigation according to Mueller.
“The investigation that Trump tried to interfere with here, to protect his own personal interests, was in significant part an investigation of how a hostile foreign power interfered with our democracy. If that’s not putting personal interests above a presidential duty to the nation, nothing is,” he added.
He also rebutted Trump and his allies who have put forward the argument that in the case of obstruction, Trump had the authority to fire his investigators like FBI Director James Comey and even Mueller himself.
“The president may have the raw constitutional power to, say, squelch an investigation or to pardon a close associate. But if he does so not to serve the public interest, but to serve his own, he surely could be removed from office, even if he has not committed a criminal act,” Conway wrote. But, he added, by “these standards, the facts in Mueller’s report condemn Trump even more than the report’s refusal to clear him of a crime.”
Conway repeated his assertion that the moral bar of a president should be much higher than not being “provably a criminal.”
“The ultimate issue shouldn’t be — and isn’t — whether the president committed a criminal act,” he wrote.
But while Conway was clear in his call for Congress to impeach Trump, Democrats have continued to tread lightly on the issue. Democrats in the House have pledged to continue their bevy of investigations into Trump, with some arguing that Mueller’s findings on obstruction serve as a road map of sorts for them. Others have concluded Mueller intended to leave the question of obstruction up to Congress, but party leaders have notably stopped short of saying they’ll pursue impeachment.
Without a smoking gun in Mueller’s 448-page report, it will be nearly impossible to reach a widespread bipartisan consensus on the issue, a prerequisite that top Democrats have laid out multiple times. Still, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday signaled some sort of action, writing to her caucus that "Congress will not be silent."
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler said Friday that he will subpoena the Justice Department for an unredacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, as well as the underlying grand jury evidence and testimony, “in the next few hours.”
Nadler (D-N.Y.) told “Good Morning America" anchor George Stephanopoulos that it is imperative his committee see the full report, including its underlying information, to make “informed decisions” about whether or not to pursue impeachment against President Donald Trump, though he said “we’re not there now.”
The congressman’s announcement that he plans to issue a subpoena for the unredacted report comes less than 24 hours after a redacted version of Mueller’s findings were made public. Although the special counsel declined to bring charges on the issues of obstruction of justice or collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, the probe's findings painted a damning picture of the president's harried efforts to hinder Mueller's investigation.
Nadler is one of a select group of congressional leaders who will be allowed to view a less-redacted version of the report, though that version will not include grand jury evidence.
While the president and his allies have insisted Mueller’s report exonerates the president, Democrats have raged that Attorney General William Barr painted a far rosier picture for the president than what is laid out by the special counsel. They have accused the attorney general of acting as a de facto defense attorney for the president, first with a four-page summary of the Mueller report release last month and again on Thursday with his press conference ahead of the report's public release.
Democrats have also taken issue with Barr’s conclusion that the president did not obstruct justice, arguing that Mueller's report indicates that the issue should be taken up by Congress.
"Because Barr misled the country, we have to hear from Barr, which we will on May 2. We have to hear from Mueller and ask him a lot of questions," Nadler said Friday. "We have to hold hearings and hear from other people both on the question of obstruction of justice, whereas I said the special prosecutor invited Congress to look into that, not the attorney general. We have to look into all that. We need the entire report, unredacted, and the underlying documents in order to make informed decisions."
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
President Trump went on a tear Friday morning against special counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report, calling it a hoax and referencing some of it as "total bull—t."
"Statements are made about me by certain people in the Crazy Mueller Report, in itself written by 18 Angry Democrat Trump Haters, which ...
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - The general manager of a northern Nebraska tomato plant is accused of knowingly using a staffing company that supplied workers who were living in the country illegally.
The Lincoln Journal Star reports that Rick Karnes and his company, O'Neill Ventures, have been charged with conspiracy to ...
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said Friday he expects to issue a subpoena within a few hours for special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian election meddling and President Donald Trump.
The New York Democrat told ABC's "Good Morning America" that he is preparing a subpoena not ...
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday her remarks about former FBI Director James B. Comey being disliked were a "slip of the tongue" after the Mueller report said her claim was "not founded on anything."
"I acknowledged that I had a slip of the tongue when I ...
MOSCOW (AP) — The Kremlin says that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s 400-page report has not offered any credible evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The redacted report presented on Thursday said that there was no collusion between the Donald Trump campaign and Russian officials but it did document Russian efforts to meddle in the presidential vote.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday that there is “no evidence substantiated by any facts” that Russia interfered in the election and said Moscow rejects the accusations.
Peskov pointed out that President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly rejected the accusations of interference “because there was none.” and said that the report proved that.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) - Ukraine's presidential election on Sunday will pit image against experience, with polls suggesting TV comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy heading for an overwhelming victory against President Petro Poroshenko.
Poroshenko has held the office for nearly five years - while Zelenskiy has played the role on television for more ...
“I feel more unsafe here than I ever did in New York,” Jorge Vargas says softly, wearing a backwards Brooklyn Nets hat. He shifts back and forth, alone on his childhood bed in Santa Lucía, Puebla, in central Mexico. The remote home, where he lives with his mother, rests on a perch overlooking sunburnt hills that skirt near-empty streets. “Since I was deported, I hardly leave my room,” he says. “All of my old friends are now involved in gangs and drugs, so I stay home.”
Vargas’ walls are littered with posters of his favorite sports teams and superheroes from when he was younger. Now 28, he lived in New York from age 15 to 27. Just when he was on the verge of qualifying for DACA, having passed the biometrics screening, and just after his wife had given birth to their son, he was arrested by ICE in April 2017 on his way to work and was deported within a month. The name of his newborn son, Joandri, whom he hasn’t seen in almost two years, is tattooed on his arm.
Last year, we spent 10 days traversing thousands of miles across the state of Puebla, Mexico, and in later months across New York’s five boroughs in a door-to-door search for stories like Jorge’s. We wanted to put names and faces to the story of deportation—a story that is so often told only through statistics. Numbers alone can’t capture what it’s like to spend years or decades building a life, finding work, starting a family—only to be torn away and made to return to the violent and impoverished place you fled. We focused on the connection between New York, President Donald Trump’s hometown and an icon of prosperity and opportunity, and Jorge’s home state of Puebla, Mexico.
An estimated 1 million undocumented Poblanos live in the United States—one of the largest communities of undocumented Mexican immigrants in the country. Roughly half of those million Poblanos are in New York, where areas like Corona, Queens, have earned the nickname Puebla York. Puebla is the only Mexican state that has a New York office devoted to immigrants, and every year, the Puebla government sponsors reunions of Poblano families, who are allowed to visit their undocumented relatives in the United States on temporary visas for three weeks.
Those who leave Puebla escape the dire poverty of a state where most families earn an average of US $70 a month. More than 60 percent of Puebla’s 6 million people live below the poverty line; many Poblanos resign to labor under the control of cartels in order to stay above it. Meanwhile, an undocumented Mexican construction worker in New York can earn more in a day than he would make in a month in Puebla. Most Poblanos in the United States send much of their earnings back to family below the border. Puebla City, the state capital, received the second highest amount in remittances, after Tijuana, of any city in Mexico in 2018.
Deportations from the United States are on the rise. ICE reported 265,085 removals in 2018, the highest number since 2014. In 2018, the greater New York metropolitan area (including Newark, New Jersey) deported more immigrants than any other city in the country—more than 36,000, of which roughly 4,000 were Mexican. “[T]he overall increase [of deportations both nationally and in New York] was driven primarily by arrests of individuals with no criminal convictions,” according to a report from New York City’s comptroller office, which also said, “When looking only at deportations of immigrants with no criminal convictions, New York City experienced the highest increase in enforcement in the nation.” In the first three months of this year alone, more than 1,500 Poblanos were deported from the United States.
“ICE does not target individuals on the basis of race, gender or ethnicity,” an ICE spokesperson told us in response to questions about this project. “Our nation welcomes immigrants and has a generous legal immigration system.” Regarding detention and deportation, ICE says it “adheres to rigorous national standards and maximizes access to counsel and visitation, promotes recreation, improves conditions of confinement and ensures quality medical care.” The accounts of the people we spoke to and photographed, however, did not corroborate those statements. Jorge described arriving at his mother’s door in the same work clothes he was wearing the day he was arrested. He had fresh wounds on his wrists and ankles from the shackles ICE eventually removed at the border. “I was treated aggressively by racist guards,” he says. “Police disguised as gang members intimidated me into signing my own deportation papers. I was deported without a court hearing.” (Records confirm that Jorge was removed from the country the day before his appointed court date. ICE would not address the specific allegation of intimidation, though denies any mistreatment.)
The deported Poblanos we met said they arrived home exhausted, ashamed and optionless, outcasts in a country they no longer know—where homicide, femicide, domestic violence and sexual abuse are all at record highs, and less than 10 percent of these crimes are reported. With slim economic opportunity, Puebla is a breeding ground for those who seek the American dream—and a cemetery for the dreams of those who return. These are some of their stories.
Leonor Rodriguez, 54, at her home in Chilchotla, a small village in Puebla scattered with cinder-block homes built with remittances from the United States. She stands in the room left behind by her three daughters. Rodriguez says were initially deported after trying to cross the border near Nuevo Laredo in early 2018. They stayed at a detention center in Texas before returning 15 days later to their parents in Chilchotla. “I was happy to have them back home, but they were determined to try again,” says Rodriguez.
Her daughters successfully re-crossed the border one month later. The three women now share a small apartment in New York with other family members. All of them work to send money back to Mexico, where their own children stayed behind with Leonor. “I don’t know how to read. We’re poor. My children send us $150 a month to help us survive. I give thanks to God that my children are working there.” Rodriguez, like several others we talked to, also insists that she prays for Trump: “He does not like us, but we know he is human, too.”
Children play baseball on an empty street in Chilchotla, surrounded by half-empty homes. José Meditón Colula, 63, says that about 20 years ago, a wave of thousands of Chilchotla’s residents left for the border, and many have continued to do so since, thinning the town’s population dramatically. At bottom left, Abel, Guillermo, Diego and Rodrigo—who declined to give their last names out of fear of retaliation from the U.S. and Mexican governments and cartels—say they were recently apprehended at the border and deported back to Puebla under expedited removal orders—no judge, no court, no attorney. Despite their unsuccessful migration, they will need to work for years to pay off the cartels that helped them cross. At bottom right, Jose—who also declined to be identified fully for the same reason—broke his leg in several parts shortly before reaching the border. “I’ll never try again,” he says.
Juan Carlos Martínez, 45, flips through a scrapbook of memories of his life in New York. He crossed the border in 1997 and settled in Corona, Queens. He was there the morning of September 11, 2001 and served as a volunteer at ground zero during the aftermath. “I was proud to be part of New York. I loved it there,” he says. In 2004, he moved to Phoenix, where he worked as a coyote shuffling Poblanos across the border, and in 2007, he says, he was arrested, detained for three months and deported.
“In many ways, I am still readapting to Mexico,” he says. “It’s not easy. New York was my youth. It was my home. I still talk about it all the time. I worked at a restaurant there and made money. Here, I drive a cab and hardly get by.” At bottom, Martínez and his family eat at a roadside taco stand near their hometown of Libres, Puebla.
Lazaro Cortes, left, and Erick Garzon, right, both arrived in New York from Puebla when they were 18, and both started working as dishwashers. “New York eats you up,” says Cortes, now 33, who takes the train every day from Queens to his job at a restaurant in Manhattan. “All restaurants in Manhattan pay Poblanos the minimum wage or less. I cook steaks in minutes that cost more than my entire day’s salary. We’re exploited, but we cannot complain because we’re undocumented,” he says, adding, “I don’t have a life. Everything is work. I stand in the kitchen all day, every day. I have no health insurance, no vacation. Like all of us, if I were deported, I’d return to Mexico sick and spent.”
Garzon, now 37, lives in Astoria, Queens, and works at an upscale French bistro in Tribeca. Like Cortes, his family still lives in Puebla. When his mother passed away two years ago, he says he couldn’t go to the funeral for fear of not being able to return to New York. “I lost my mind,” he says, but his fellow undocumented coworkers tried to cheer him up. “There’s brotherhood in Manhattan’s kitchens. We support each other. If we don’t, who will?”
Young deportees in Xaltipanapa, Puebla, top, struggle to make a living and often resort to or fall victim to organized crime. If those who are deported wish to work jobs unaffiliated with cartels, they will make an average of $4 a day, and they will struggle to eat. At bottom, Eloina, the mother of a deportee from New York, who also declined to give her full name, prays at her home altar in Puebla. “Trump is removing people from their families and sending them into dangerous situations. I would tell him to stop it,” she says.
At top left, Juan Carlos Hernandez, 44, walks with his mother in San Matías Tlalancaleca, Puebla. “The system in Mexico blocks deportees out. You don’t know where to go, what to do. When deported, you become nothing. You are nothing. … The United States cut my wings,” he says as he remembers the life he once had and all that he's lost, now thousands of miles away. Hernandez arrived in New York in 1985 at age 12 and spent 23 years there working a variety of jobs. “I felt like I was a part of New York. I grew up there,” he says. “Like most Mexicans in New York, I paid taxes with a fake social security number for years.” Hernandez says he had no criminal record when he was arrested in 2008 by ICE officials at an immigration checkpoint as he exited the subway station at 136th and Broadway on his way home from work. He left behind his siblings and nephews in East Harlem. At top right, Hernandez holds his deportation papers. He kept them along with the MetroCard he used the day he was deported. “It’s been 10 years, and I have not yet readapted to Mexico. My mind plays tricks with me—sometimes I wake up and think I am still in New York, until I realize I am not.”
At bottom, a family facing deportation enters the New Sanctuary Coalition in Manhattan to receive legal help from pro bono lawyers. A recent study estimated that only 20 percent of Mexicans in the United States receive legal counsel in the deportation process.
Maria Montenegro crossed the border with her husband in 1997. They settled in Brooklyn, where they had two daughters. “My husband would not allow me to work there,” she says, “so after three years I returned to Mexico with my daughters to have my own life. He stayed behind.” When her husband was deported in August 2017, Montenegro, now 42 and running a small catering business in San Félix Rijo, Puebla, says she had not seen him for nine years. “As far as I was concerned, we were separated. His only responsibility was to send money to take care of our daughters. Since he returned, he’s become an abusive man. I hardly know him anymore. He came back very violent, as if I was responsible for his deportation. The wives of deported husbands are the ones who suffer the most in Mexico. Nobody thinks about us.”
According to Mexico’s National Commission on Human Rights, 70 percent of Mexican women have suffered violence. Migrant women are the most vulnerable, particularly those crossing the border and those who are deported. According to official government data, there were almost 1,500 cases of sexual violence against women, more than 6,000 cases of domestic violence and 30 femicides in Puebla in 2018.
After seven years in New York, Rosa Ortiz, now 50, says she was deported in 2008. She was arrested unexpectedly at dawn one morning while taking out the trash. “I didn’t do anything,” she says. “Mexicans are the hardest workers in America, yet we are the first to be targeted.” Ortiz, left, returned to a desolate job market in Chilchotla, where she has opened a small convenience store that operates with no electricity. “People here are ashamed to say they were deported. If you say you were deported, your neighbors think you’re a criminal. I never talk about it with anyone. Only God knows what happened to me.”
At right, Alejandro Reyes, 58, at his home in San Jerónimo Coyula, Puebla, holds the last set of clothes he wore on American soil. “I no longer recognize this place. I have to readjust completely,” he says. After 20 years in the New York area, Reyes says he was apprehended by ICE officials the morning of July 29, 2017, on his way to work. “Less than five minutes after leaving the house, I was handcuffed and placed in the back of a car,” he recalls. “I asked one of the officers what was happening, and she told me, ‘You’re already deported.’ I still don’t know why.” Reyes spent six months in a New Jersey detention center. His family hired an attorney, but he decided to sign his own deportation papers. “I could not stand being in detention any longer.” Reyes’ wife soon returned to Coyula to join him, but he left behind eight children and 17 U.S.-born grandchildren. More than 4 million minors live with at least one undocumented parent in the United States, and separation of family members through deportation can be a traumatic experience for children.
This is a self-funded project produced by DAWNING, an independent, nonpartisan and nonideological investigative journalism organization.
The team: Raul Roman and Rafe H. Andrews (project directors); Nick Parisse (executive editor); Joey Rosa (creative director); Charles Allegar (research manager); Eliud Romero (logistics manager, Mexico); Jake Heyka (assistant editor); Emily Schaub and Sean Norris (research assistants); and Akshatvishal Chaturvedi, Malcolm C. Murray, Irais Fernandez, Charles Allegar, Emily Schaub, Sean Norris, Nick Parisse, Rafe H. Andrews and Raul Roman (photography, interviews and transcripts).
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
Democrat Pete Buttigieg is planning a series of 11 fundraisers over three days in California next month, as the rising presidential candidate looks to seize on interest from eager donors to power his campaign.
Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., will appear at two events in San Diego on May 8, three in Los Angeles the next day, and six in the San Francisco Bay Area the day after that, according to a schedule obtained by POLITICO.
The fundraisers range from more casual gatherings — a “happy hour grassroots fundraiser” in Los Angeles and a “coffee and chat with Mayor Pete Buttigieg” in Palo Alto, with guests pledging $100 to $1,000 — to a meeting of Buttigieg’s “national investment circle” in San Francisco on May 10. Donors at that level also gathered with Buttigieg in South Bend the weekend that he launched his presidential campaign, according to the schedule.
The fundraising swing sends Buttigieg into Sen. Kamala Harris’ California territory just days after Harris, a 2020 rival, is scheduled to headline a fundraiser for her campaign in Chicago, not far from Buttigieg’s hometown. The Buttigieg campaign has placed a handful of staffers in Chicago and mined the city’s deep Democratic donor base for early support.
The geographic overlap goes both ways. Susie Tompkins Buell, a top Democratic donor based in California, was an early backer of Harris but recently sent out invitations for a fundraiser benefiting Buttigieg as well.
Buttigieg also held three fundraisers in New York City this week, with one sold-out invitation telling viewers that the campaign will be announcing return visits “in the coming weeks.” Buttigieg will then raise money in Chicago early next week before holding two events in Minnesota in the first two days of May.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
KRYVYI RIH, Ukraine (AP) - Residents of this grim industrial city in eastern Ukraine say they are exhausted by a daily battle for survival amid low wages and soaring bills. Many of them believe a native son - a comedian with no political experience - is just the person to ...
In the summer of 2016, not long after WikiLeaks began releasing damaging material hacked by the Russian government from the servers of the Democratic National Committee, candidate Donald Trump was traveling to an airport with campaign aide Rick Gates. Trump got off a phone call and told Gates more material would be coming.
As Trump predicted, more material did come, damaging his rival Hillary Clinton and possibly helping him win the White House. Then came more than two years of the new president’s efforts to pressure law enforcement officials, back-channel to witnesses and deter inquiries into his murky relationship with Russia.
Trump has never hidden his hostility toward what he’s styled a “witch hunt” carried out by partisan and venal prosecutors. But many of the president’s efforts to fight back were made public for the first time on Thursday, and all of them appear to have been aimed at allaying Russia-related press scrutiny and federal investigations.
The following narrative account is based on the roughly 140 pages of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report that detail evidence of 10 episodes of possible obstruction of justice by the president. Ultimately, Mueller opted not to determine whether Trump actually obstructed justice, citing Justice Department rules that shield the occupant of the Oval Office from criminal charges. But he pieced together a damning portrayal of a frustrated and often furious president determined to stop or at least stymie his inquisitors.
Over and over, Trump pressed underlings to pass messages to those who might damage him and to exert influence over investigations, often without success. At one point, in July 2017, Trump gave instructions to his former campaign manager, a private citizen running a lobbying firm, for firing his attorney general. Those instructions were ignored.
Trump — who has been absolved of obstruction by his newly appointed attorney general, William Barr— had greater success in getting his lieutenants to mislead the press, but only up to a point.
In sum, the report depicts a president who, if he did not meet the legal bar for obstructing justice over years of combatting Russia-related inquiries, largely has the obstinance of his own advisers to thank for it.
First, Trump sought to deter inquiries by denying any ties to Moscow.
In late July of 2016, around the time of Trump’s conversation with Gates, the candidate held a press conference, encouraging Russia to release Clinton’s emails and repeatedly claiming, “I have nothing to do with Russia.”
Following the event, Trump’s personal attorney and all-around fixer, Michael Cohen, reminded his boss that he had just spent many months attempting to land a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. As set out in Mueller’s report, Trump responded that no deal had been finalized, so there was no reason to disclose it publicly. “Why mention it if it is not a deal?” Trump said
Three months later, in October, WikiLeaks released emails hacked from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.
The dump of Podesta’s emails followed just hours after news outlets reported a years-old tape of Trump making derogatory comments about women. And it came as U.S. intelligence agencies issued an extraordinary Oct. 7 statement blaming Russia for the hacks of the DNC.
In November, Trump won the presidency in a stunning election upset, ensuring that his handling of Russia-related matters would remain under a microscope.
Following the election, Barack Obama’s administration levied sanctions against Russia for its election interference, and at the end of December, Trump adviser Michael Flynn reached out to the Russian ambassador to encourage him not to retaliate for those sanctions.
In early January, FBI Director James Comey briefed Trump on unverified allegations that his team had conspired with Russian agents to swing the election and that the Kremlin possessed compromising video of the president-elect cavorting with prostitutes in Moscow.
Days before Trump’s inauguration, news leaked of Flynn’s calls with the Russian ambassador, and Flynn, the incoming national security adviser, instructed his deputy, K.T. McFarland, to deny the story to the Washington Post, which she did, even though she knew her denial was false.
No sooner was Trump inaugurated than questions about Russia began to consume his nascent administration.
Less than a week after he took office, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates trekked to the White House to inform White House Counsel Don McGahn that Flynn’s public denials of any sanctions talk with Kislyak were untrue and that the FBI had interviewed Flynn about the matter.
The next day, Trump summoned Comey to a private dinner at the White House and told him, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” Comey pledged his “honest loyalty” to the president.
Then, in mid-February, as the FBI investigated whether Flynn had lied to its agents, Trump fired his national security advisor.
The next day, Valentine’s Day, Trump ate lunch with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at the White House.
“Now that we fired Flynn, the Russia thing is over,” Trump declared, prompting laughter from the former U.S. attorney. Christie told the president that Russia would still be hanging over him on Valentine’s Day 2018, and that Flynn was going to remain a problem, “like gum on the bottom of your shoe.”
At the lunch, Trump repeatedly implored Christie to reach out to Comey and tell the FBI director that Trump really likes him. “Tell him he’s part of the team,” Trump said. Christie ignored the request.
Later that day, following a larger meeting in the Oval Office, Trump insisted on speaking alone with Comey. “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump told his FBI director. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
Comey did not agree to the request.
A week after Flynn’s firing, White House aides Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon conveyed to McFarland that the president wanted her to resign, but they hinted she might have an ambassadorship in Singapore waiting for her afterwards. The next day, Trump instructed Priebus to go back to McFarland. Before she left the White House, Trump wanted McFarland to put in writing that he had never instructed Flynn to call the Russian ambassador about sanctions. McFarland, who did not know whether that was true, balked.
Concerns arose that the request appeared to be a quid pro quo for the ambassadorship, and the matter was dropped. But Trump soon had another request: The president wanted Priebus, his chief of staff, to tell Flynn — now fired and facing an FBI investigation — that the president still cared about him. Priebus called the erstwhile national security adviser to check in. Trump would also go on to ask McFarland to pass along to Flynn that Trump still had tender feelings for him, though it is not clear whether she complied.
Flynn was not Trump’s only problem. The FBI had already begun investigating Russia’s election interference and its possible links to Trump’s campaign.
In early March, it emerged that Jeff Sessions had omitted his own mid-campaign meeting with the Russian ambassador during his confirmation hearings to become Trump’s attorney general. News of the omission raised the prospect that Sessions would have to recuse himself from the Russia investigations.
This set off an avalanche of phone calls. At Trump’s urging, White House counsel Don McGahn called Sessions, the attorney general’s aides and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, hoping to prevent a recusal. Other White House aides called Sessions to dissuade him. Sessions, advised by Justice Department lawyers that he had little choice under department rules, did it anyway.
The next day, an angry Trump summoned McGahn to the office. “I don’t have a lawyer,” Trump complained. The president wished aloud that the late Roy Cohn — a pitbull attorney who had worked for Sen. Joe McCarthy, several mobsters and Trump — was still around to represent him.
That weekend, at Mar-a-Lago, Trump made his first of several failed attempts to get Sessions to “un-recuse” himself — this time in a one-on-one exchange with the attorney general himself. For the next year-and-half, Trump would fume publicly and privately about Sessions’ recusal, demand and reject his resignation, before finally discarding him.
In the meantime, Trump turned his attention to another goal: Getting national security officials to clear his name, by announcing publicly he was innocent, or at least not under investigation.
On more than one occasion, as intelligence officials prepared to deliver the president his daily briefing, Trump wished aloud that some statement could be given to the press declaring there had been no collusion.
In late March, Trump called Admiral Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, and asked him to publicly dispute news reports about Trump’s Russian entanglements. The call was the weirdest thing Rogers’ deputy, Richard Ledgett, had witnessed in his decades of intelligence work.
The president also made his wishes clear in conversations with Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, and with Comey. “I have been very loyal to you, very loyal, we had that thing, you know,” Trump reminded Comey in April, an apparent reference to their dinner table talk of loyalty. Comey never made any public statements clearing Trump.
By the first weekend in May, Trump had decided to fire Comey. Holed up at his Bedminster Golf Club in New Jersey, he and adviser Stephen Miller drafted a letter doing just that. The following Monday morning, in the Oval Office, Trump informed other aides of the decision, which was final.
The next day, Trump received a letter from Sessions and a memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein outlining their own cases for firing Comey. The White House promptly announced Comey’s firing, falsely claiming the decision was made on the basis of advice from the Justice Department.
That evening, then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer delivered an impromptu press briefing on the White House grounds. Standing in the darkness between two hedges, insisting that he not be filmed, Spicer reiterated the false claim that the White House was not behind the firing. Spicer’s deputy, Sarah Sanders, would similarly attribute the firing decision to Rosenstein the next day.
Also the next day, Kislyak and Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, paid a visit to Trump in the Oval Office, where the new president assured them, “I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
The remarks quickly leaked to the press, but when communications adviser Hope Hicks informed Trump that they had set off a firestorm, Trump was unfazed. “He is crazy,” Trump shrugged.
A day after that, Trump contradicted his administration’s line on the Comey firing on national television, telling NBC’s Lester Holt that the decision was his and that he was thinking about the Russia investigation when he made it.
A week later, on May 17, Sessions stepped out of an Oval Office meeting with Trump to take an urgent call from Rosenstein: The deputy attorney general had just appointed a special counsel to take over the investigation of Russian election interference and possible Trump campaign collusion.
Sessions returned to the Oval Office to deliver the news to Trump. “Oh my God. This is terrible,” Trump fumed, as he slumped in his chair. “This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked.”
“How could you let this happen?” He asked Sessions, adding, “You were supposed to protect me.”
Trump told Sessions he should resign, and Sessions agreed to do it. Hicks had not seen Trump this irate since the day the video emerged of him bragging about grabbing women’s genitals in the home stretch of the presidential campaign — the same day the Podesta emails first leaked.
Sessions returned the next day to hand over a short resignation letter. Trump pocketed the letter, but left Sessions’ job status an open question. The day after that, Trump flew off for a week-long trip to the Middle East and Europe. In the middle of the trip, aboard Air Force One, Trump pulled the letter out of his pocket and asked aides how to handle it. But during the same trip, when Priebus — concerned about the legal implications of the president indefinitely holding onto such a letter — asked after the letter, Trump told his chief of staff he had left it behind in the East Wing of the White House.
Back in Washington, Trump temporarily put aside thoughts of firing Sessions and turned his attention instead to getting rid of Mueller. The president began raising spurious claims that Mueller had conflicts of interest — such as a request Mueller once made for a refund of membership fees from a golf club Trump owned in Virginia — but his aides kept knocking them down.
On a Tuesday in mid-June, Trump’s personal lawyer raised the supposed conflicts with Mueller’s office directly. The next day, the Washington Post reported that Mueller was investigating Trump for obstruction of justice.
That weekend, Trump called McGahn from Camp David and instructed him to have Mueller fired. Rather than comply, McGahn began telling White House aides that he was preparing to resign. Trump seemed to drop the issue.
Meanwhile, by late June, the pressure on Trump was growing.
Around that time, the president’s inner circle became concerned that reporters were looking into an undisclosed meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and several Russians at Trump Tower in June 2016, as Trump prepared to accept the Republican nomination.
Emails existed showing that the intermediary who set up the meetings — a British publicist — had promised the Russians were offering dirt on Clinton.
Priebus, his chief of staff, had first heard about the issue from Fox News host Sean Hannity, an indication that Trump’s team did not have a tight lid on information about the meeting.
But Trump, believing those emails would never see the light of day, pushed his team to offer a misleading account of the meeting, saying that it was a forum to discuss adoption policy. Trump Jr. soon released the emails, which undercut his initial public statements about the meeting.
As Trump continued his efforts to contain the investigations, the president turned his attention back to his attorney general. Also in June, he summoned Corey Lewandowski, his former campaign manager, and told him to deliver a message to Sessions: Rather than investigate what happened in the 2016 election, the Justice Department should only investigate Russian interference in future elections.
On July 19, Trump again summoned Lewandowski — who had set up a lobbying firm after the election — and the operative assured his former boss that he would soon pass the message to Sessions. Then Trump announced he had another message for Sessions.
As Lewandowski scrambled to jot down Trump’s words, the president dictated the contents of a speech he wanted Sessions to deliver:
“I know that I recused myself from certain things having to do with specific areas. But our POTUS ... is being treated very unfairly. He shouldn't have a Special Prosecutor/Counsel b/c he hasn't done anything wrong. I was on the campaign w/ him for nine months, there were no Russians involved with him. I know it for a fact b/c I was there. He didn't do anything wrong except he ran the greatest campaign in American history. … Now a group of people want to subvert the Constitution of the United States. I am going to meet with the Special Prosecutor to explain this is very unfair and let the Special Prosecutor move forward with investigating election meddling for future elections so that nothing can happen in future elections.”
Trump told Lewandowski that if Sessions did not meet with him, Lewandowski was to fire Sessions.
Not wanting to deliver any message over the phone or at the Justice Department, Lewandowski asked Sessions to meet him at his office. But Sessions cancelled. Meanwhile, Lewandowski traveled out of town, storing his notes in a personal safe.
Along the way, Lewandowski also asked Rick Dearborn, a former Sessions aide then working at the White House, to communicate with the attorney general on his behalf. Dearborn at some point told Lewandowski he fulfilled the request, though in fact he had not.
Trump was running out of patience. On July 22, a Saturday, he told Priebus to secure Sessions’ resignation. Priebus told Trump he would do so, even though he did not intend to follow through. Later in the day Priebus convinced Trump to hold off on a firing so that news of it would not dominate the Sunday shows the next morning.
Trump by this point had made a habit of lashing out at Sessions publicly, and for the rest of the year, Sessions carried a resignation letter in his pocket every time he visited the White House, just in case. Trump continued to muse privately about replacing Sessions. At one point that fall, he asked Sessions to investigate Clinton.
In Late January of 2018, The New York Times and the Washington Post reported on Trump’s attempt the year before to have McGahn fire Mueller.
Irritated by the reports — which McGahn refused to publicly dispute — Trump told Staff Secretary Rob Porter that the White House counsel was a “lying bastard.” He instructed Porter to have McGahn draw up a written statement asserting Trump never told him to fire Mueller, suggesting he would fire McGahn if he refused.
But when Porter passed the message to McGahn, the White House Counsel did refuse.
The next day Trump summoned McGahn to the Oval Office, where the pair argued about the semantics of Trump’s request the previous June and about whether McGahn would seek a correction. Trump, McGahn believed, wanted to determine whether he could bend McGahn to accepting Trump’s version of events.
Then Trump began to question McGahn indignantly. “What about these notes?” he asked. “Why do you take notes? Lawyers don’t take notes. I never had a lawyer who took notes.” The White House counsel assured Trump it was normal for a lawyer to take notes.
“I’ve had a lot of great lawyers, like Roy Cohn,” Trump responded. “He did not take notes.”
As he sought to stymie and divert investigators, Trump also had potential witnesses to worry about.
The night before Thanksgiving 2017, a lawyer for Trump left a voicemail for Flynn’s lawyer. If, he said, “there's information that implicates the President, then we've got a national security issue, . . . so, you know, . . . we need some kind of heads up. Um, just for the sake of protecting all our interests if we can.”
The problem of Flynn paled in comparison to the problem of Cohen, who had been enmeshed in Trump’s messy business and personal affairs for years.
Last April, FBI agents raided Cohen’s office and a hotel room the lawyer had been living in.
Soon after, Trump called Cohen, telling him to “hang in there" and "stay strong.” Messages poured in from mutual acquaintances, assuring Cohen, “The boss loves you.”
But Cohen decided to cooperate with investigators. He went on to tell them that he had pursued a Trump Tower deal in Moscow well into the primaries, that the Trump Organization hoped to close the deal as late as the transition, and that he had conferred directly with the Russian government about it. Cohen had gone so far as to tell his boss at one point that he wished the Trump Organization could get assistants as competent as the one from the Kremlin he spoke to about the deal.
When Cohen flipped, Trump quickly changed his tune, calling him a criminal and a “rat.” In contrast, he continues to praise Paul Manafort, holding out the prospect of a pardon for his imprisoned campaign chairman, whom prosecutors say has failed to abide by a cooperation agreement.
In November, the day after the midterms, Trump finally fired Sessions. Later that month, Trump submitted written responses to questions from Mueller that did not fully address the special counsel’s questions about Trump Tower Moscow. Trump’s team refused to provide follow-up answers that addressed the missing details.
As of Thursday, Trump remained in office and unindicted. He greeted the release of Mueller’s report as a final vindication. “No collusion,” Trump repeated once more. “No obstruction.”
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
WASHINGTON (AP) - It's now up to Congress to decide what to do with special counsel Robert Mueller's findings about President Donald Trump.
While the special counsel declined to prosecute Trump on obstruction of justice, he did not exonerate him, all but leaving the question to Congress. Mueller's report provides ...
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