U.S. Politics

FBI and 5 other agencies investigating possible covert payouts to Trump from Kremlin

Donald Trump speaks to Fox News (screen grab)

Donald Trump speaks to Fox News (screen grab)


January 18, 2017

Peter Stone and Greg Gordon
McClatchy Washington Bureau
Posted with permission from Tribune Content Agency

WASHINGTON — The FBI and five other law enforcement and intelligence agencies have collaborated for months in an investigation into Russian attempts to influence the November election, including whether money from the Kremlin covertly aided President-elect Donald Trump, two people familiar with the matter said.

The agencies involved in the inquiry are the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Justice Department, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and representatives of the director of national intelligence, the sources said.

Investigators are examining how money may have moved from the Kremlin to covertly help Trump win, the two sources said. One of the allegations involves whether a system for routinely paying thousands of Russian-American pensioners may have been used to pay some email hackers in the United States or to supply money to intermediaries who would then pay the hackers, the two sources said.

The informal, inter-agency working group began to explore possible Russian interference last spring, long before the FBI received information from a former British spy hired to develop politically damaging and unverified research about Trump, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the inquiry.

On Jan. 6, the director of national intelligence released a declassified report that concluded Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered an influence campaign to “undermine faith in the U.S. democratic process,” damage Hillary Clinton’s election prospects and bolster Trump’s. The campaign included the hacking of top Democrats’ emails and fake news distributed by Russian sources.

The president-elect, who will be inaugurated Friday, has said he believes Russia was involved with the hacking, and he has called allegations that he or his associates were involved a “political witch hunt” and a “complete and total fabrication.”

Trump has yet to say whether FBI Director James Comey will be retained. The rest of Trump’s newly appointed intelligence and law enforcement chiefs will inherit the investigation, whose outcome could create national and international fallout.

Trump’s presidential transition team did not respond to a request for comment about the inquiry.

A key mission of the six-agency group has been to examine who financed the email hacks of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. The London-based transparency group WikiLeaks released the emails last summer and in October.

The working group is scrutinizing the activities of a few Americans who were affiliated with Trump’s campaign or his business empire and of multiple individuals from Russia and other former Soviet nations who had similar connections, the sources said.

U.S. intelligence agencies not only have been unanimous in blaming Russia for the hacking of Democrats’ computers but also have concluded that the leaking and dissemination of thousands of emails of top Democrats, some of which caused headaches for the Clinton campaign, were done to help Trump win.

Trump and Republican members of Congress have said they believe Russia meddled in the U.S. election but that those actions didn’t change the outcome. However, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, a former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that she believes that Russia’s tactics did alter the election result.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has opened its own investigation into Russia’s involvement in the campaign. That panel will have subpoena power.

FBI Director Comey refused at a recent Senate hearing to comment on whether the bureau was investigating Russia’s hacking campaign for possible criminal prosecutions. Spokespeople for the FBI, the Justice Department and the national intelligence director declined to comment.

The BBC reported last week that the joint inquiry was launched when the CIA learned last spring, through a Baltic ally, of a recording indicating the Russian government was planning to funnel funds aimed at influencing the U.S. election.

Another source of information was the former longtime British intelligence agent, Christopher Steele, who was hired to gather opposition research about Trump for a Republican client and later a Democrat. Early last summer, Steele became alarmed about information he was receiving from a network of Russian sources describing a web of Trump’s business relationships with wealthy Russians and alleged political ties to the Kremlin, according to two people who know him. These sources also declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Steele’s reports also alleged that Russian consulates in New York, Washington and Miami were used to deliver “tens of thousands of dollars” to Kremlin-hired operatives using fictitious names as if they were legitimate Russian-American pensioners. That “ruse” was designed to give Russia “plausible deniability,” Steele’s reports suggested. However, Russia does not operate a consulate in Miami.

Steele, who had worked previously with the FBI and was well-regarded, fed the bureau information in July and September suggesting collusion between Trump associates and Moscow in the hacking of Democratic computers, they said. Eventually, he met in Italy with an FBI official to share more information alleging that a top Trump campaign official had known about the hacking as early as last June, the sources said. About a month after the election, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona gave FBI Director Comey a copy of a 35-page compilation of Steele’s reports.

BuzzFeed posted the 35 pages of allegations online, acknowledging the report had obvious errors and had not been corroborated. Several news organizations, including McClatchy, had the document earlier but had resisted publishing any of the allegations because of the lack of verification.

Trump and Putin have branded Steele’s dossier as “fake news.” On Jan. 11, at his only news conference as president-elect, Trump dismissed it as “nonsense” and “crap.” On Tuesday, Putin accused soon-to-depart Obama administration officials of trying to undermine Trump’s “legitimacy,” suggesting that the White House had released Steele’s dossier. The Russian leader said those who had prepared the dossier were “worse than prostitutes.”

Steele’s information has been treated as unverified intelligence by the working group because most of it came from purported Kremlin leaks and virtually all of it is extremely difficult to corroborate, the people familiar with the investigation said.

The BBC reported that the FBI had obtained a warrant on Oct. 15 from the highly secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allowing investigators access to bank records and other documents about potential payments and money transfers related to Russia. One of McClatchy’s sources confirmed the report.

Susan Hennessey, a former attorney for the National Security Agency who is now a fellow at the Brookings Institution, said she had no knowledge that a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant had been issued. However, she stressed that such warrants are issued only if investigators can demonstrate “probable cause” that a crime has been committed and the information in Steele’s dossier couldn’t have met that test.

“If, in fact, law enforcement has obtained a FISA warrant, that is an indication that additional evidence exists outside of the dossier,” she said.

One episode that Steele’s reports described from multiple sources referred to a late-summer meeting in Prague between Russian government representatives and Michael Cohen, a lawyer for the Trump Organization, the president-elect’s vast business operation. But the FBI has been unable to establish that Cohen was in Prague during that period, the two sources familiar with the working group said.

Cohen has denied ever traveling to the Czech Republic, although he told The Wall Street Journal that he did so in 2001.

For months, Trump has voiced positive sentiments toward Putin. In early January, he tweeted that “only ‘stupid’ people, or fools” would think it’s bad to have good relations with Russia.

“When I am President, Russia will respect us far more than they do now and both countries will, perhaps, work together to solve some of the many great and pressing problems and issues of the WORLD!” he tweeted last week.

During the campaign in July, he displayed ignorance that Russian-backed separatists had invaded Crimea in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and he called on Russia to hack away to uncover thousands of emails that Clinton had never made public after using a private server while secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.

At the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last July, Trump’s campaign associates successfully changed the Republican Party’s platform to weaken a provision advocating more military support for the Ukrainian government in its fight to defend itself against the Russian-backed incursion in Crimea.



U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: January 18, 2017

Mark Wilson/Getty Images


1. Obama commutes Chelsea Manning’s sentence
President Obama on Tuesday commuted the sentence of former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who was convicted of leaking classified military documents and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks. Manning’s initial release date was 2045, but now she will be released in May 2017 after nearly seven years in jail. Manning’s 35 year sentence was the longest in U.S. history for a leak. Many, including NSA leaker Edward Snowden, have urged Obama to commute Manning, who has twice tried to commit suicide and gone on a hunger strike to fight for gender reassignment surgery. Manning’s commutation came on a day when Obama commuted the sentences of 209 people.

Source: The New York Times, American Civil Liberties Union

2. Senators split in confirmation hearing for education pick DeVos
President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Education, Betsy DeVos, faced a bumpy confirmation hearing on Tuesday, with Republican senators praising her as a much-needed reformer while Democrats suggested that she was unqualified for the job. DeVos, a Michigan billionaire, has lobbied for expanding charter schools and providing taxpayer-funded vouchers for private and religious schools, but she has never worked with public schools. She sidestepped several issues important to Democrats, such as whether guns should be allowed in schools, and called Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) call for free college “interesting.”

Source: The New York Times

3. Report: 18 million would lose insurance if ObamaCare repealed but not replaced
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office issued a report Tuesdayestimating that at least 18 million people would lose health insurance in the first year if Republicans repeal ObamaCare without replacing it. The number without health insurance coverage would rise to 32 million in a decade, and premiums would double. Republicans are rushing to make good on a promise that people won’t lose coverage. President-elect Donald Trump said over the weekend that he was completing a plan to provide “insurance for everybody.” Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the outgoing secretary for health and human services, said that so far “we really haven’t seen a plan” to replace provisions of the Affordable Care Act that Republicans want to dismantle.

Source: The Washington Post

4. Nigerian jet targeting Boko Haram hits refugee camp
A Nigerian air force jet attempting to bomb Boko Haram militants mistakenly struck a refugee camp on Tuesday, killing as many as 100 people. Aid workers, including six Red Cross employees, were among the dead. Doctors Without Borders put the death toll at about 50, with another 120 people injured. The humanitarian group called the strike “shocking and unacceptable,” saying “the safety of civilians must be respected,” and appealing to the international community to help evacuate victims by road and air.

Source: BBC News, CNN

5. Putin says Obama administration trying to undermine Trump’s legitimacy
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday made his first direct denial of reports that Russian intelligence had compromising information on President-elect Donald Trump, accusing the Obama administration of fabricating the story to “undermine the legitimacy” of Trump’s presidency. Putin said the people disseminating the report were “worse than prostitutes.” He also said that it was hard to believe the opposition research by a former British intelligence agent that Trump had a lurid encounter with prostitutes during a 2013 Moscow trip because as former owner of the Miss Universe pageant, he has socialized with “the most beautiful women in the world.” Trump has strongly denied the allegations, calling them “phony stuff.”

Source: The Washington Post

6. Fort Lauderdale airport shooting suspect claims ISIS link
Esteban Santiago, who is accused of killing five people at the Fort Lauderdale airport, claimed he carried out the attack for the Islamic State, an FBI agent said Tuesday at Santiago’s bond hearing. Federal authorities in Alaska have said Santiago told them before the attack that the CIA was controlling his mind, and he was hearing voices. After his arrest, he told investigators that he had communicated with ISIS terrorists in “jihadi chat rooms” before flying to Fort Lauderdale and opening fire on travelers with a gun he took from his checked bag. FBI agents are still looking for evidence in his electronic devices to confirm his claims.

Source: CNN, Sun Sentinel

7. ObamaCare popularity up as repeal looms
ObamaCare is more popular than ever as Republicans start the process of repealing it, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday. President-elect Donald Trump, who takes the oath of office Friday, has promised to repeal the law and replace it potentially within the “same hour.” The poll, however, found 45 percent of Americans now say the Affordable Care Act is “a good idea,” the highest approval level since the poll first asked the question in April 2009. Forty-one percent of Americans say the health care law is “a bad idea.” Twenty-six percent of Americans said they had a “great deal” or “quite a bit of confidence” that the GOP would find a suitable replacement, while 50 percent said they had “very little” or no confidence.

Source: NBC News

8. Obama heads into final news conference with approval rating up
President Obama will hold his final news conference on Wednesday, two days before he leaves office, the White House said. Obama is wrapping up his eight-year presidency with his approval rating at 60 percent, according to a new CNN/ORC poll. That is his highest mark since 2009, putting him near the top in the list of outgoing presidents. He’s outranked only by Bill Clinton, who had a 66 percent approval rating in January 2001, and Ronald Reagan, who left office in January 1989 with a 64 percent rating.

Source: CNN

9. Rome metro evacuated after earthquakes
Italian authorities evacuated Rome’s metro system and some schools on Wednesday after three earthquakes struck the center of the country. The first temblor had a magnitude of 5.3, and it was centered about four miles from Amatrice, a town that was devastated by several powerful quakes last year. It was followed within an hour by a more powerful 5.7-magnitude quake and another with a magnitude of 5.3. Nearly 300 people were killed in central Italy in August when a strong earthquake and several aftershocks destroyed much of Amatrice’s center.

Source: The Associated Press, CNN

10. Ex-President George H.W. Bush hospitalized for ‘shortness of breath’
Former President George H.W. Bush has been hospitalized after experiencing “shortness of breath,” his office confirmed early Wednesday. Bush aides said the 92-year-old 41st president went in as a precaution and was responding to treatment. “He’s fine and he’s doing really well,” Bush chief of staff Jean Becker said. Local media reported that Bush was expected to leave Houston Methodist Hospital in a few days.

Source: Houston Chronicle, NBC News

U.S. Politics

The more coffee you drink, the longer you’ll live

A woman drinks coffee as she uses her laptop (Shutterstock.com)

A woman drinks coffee as she uses her laptop (Shutterstock.com)


Posted with permission from Medical Daily

Most of us rely on a cup of Joe in the morning to give us an energy boost. With more than half of Americans drinking coffee every day, many wonder if the popular beverage is actually good for them. New research from Stanford University says “yes,” and finds caffeine can fight age-related chronic inflammation, which may boost our longevity.

“That something many people drink — and actually like to drink — might have a direct benefit came as a surprise to us,” said Mark Davis, senior author of the study, and a professor of microbiology and immunology and the director of the Stanford Institute for Immunity, Transplantation and Infection, in a statement.

Read: Drinking Coffee May Halt Multiple Sclerosis

Davis and his colleagues have shown a correlation between caffeine consumption and longevity.

They found an inflammatory mechanism present in certain older adults, but not in others. When it was highly activated, people had high blood pressure, and stiff arteries. Lab experiments confirmed caffeine blocks this inflammatory process, meaning the drug has a protective effect against advanced aging in older adults.

“It’s also well-known that caffeine intake is associated with longevity,” said David Furman, lead author of the study, and a consulting associate professor at the Stanford Institute for Immunity, Transplantation and Infection. “Many studies have shown this association. We’ve found a possible reason for why this may be so.”

The study, published in Nature Medicine, observed healthy participants ages 20 to 30, and another group older than 60 annually via surveys, blood draws, and reviews of their medical history. The researchers compared blood drawn from older versus young participants to see which genes tended to be more highly activated in older people. This allowed them to zero in on two clusters of genes whose activity was associated with the production of a potent circulating inflammatory protein called IL-1-beta. It was noted the genes within each cluster worked in coordination with one another.

Within the older adults, researchers separated them into two groups: those with high activation in one of both gene clusters; and those with low activation. Nine out of 12 adults in the “high” group had high blood pressure, compared to only one of 11 people in the “low” group. Those in the high group were more likely to have stiff arteries. The high group had higher levels of IL-1-beta, and higher levels of nucleic-acid metabolites, which are molecules that serve as building blocks for our genes, and circulate in the blood, triggering an inflammatory response.

The low activation group drank more caffeinated beverages, which led the researchers to delve deeper into its protective effect against inflammation. The researchers incubated immune system cells with the nucleic-acid metabolites that were dominant in blood from the high group, and found the metabolites boosted activity in one of the inflammatory gene clusters. This led the immune cells to release more IL-1-beta. When this was injected into mice, the substances triggered widespread inflammation, and high blood pressure. IL-1-beta tends to be elevated in people with cardiovascular disease.

Read: Drinking Coffee Lowers Liver Cancer Risk In People Who Drink 3 Alcoholic Beverages A Day

It’s not clear why some people have high activation of inflammatory gene clusters, while others don’t. The researchers suspect it’s partly genetic. For example, those in the low group were eight times as likely as those in the high group to report having one relative who had lived to age 90 or older.

A similar 2015 study found drinking coffee may lower inflammation, and even reduce diabetes risk, which lessens the risk of heart disease. Researchers noted habitual coffee drinkers — more than 1.5 cups per day — were about half as likely to develop diabetes compared to non-coffee drinkers, even after accounting for smoking, high blood pressure, family history of diabetes and intake of other caffeinated beverages. Higher coffee consumption was associated with lower amyloid levels, an inflammatory marker in the blood.

These studies highlight the effect of coffee consumption on various inflammatory markers. So, a cup of coffee (or a few) a day, may keep inflammation at bay.

Source: Furman D, Chang J, Lartigue L et al. Expression of specific inflammasome gene modules stratifies older individuals into two extreme clinical and immunological states. Nature Medicine. 2017.

Lizette Borreli

See Also:

6 Science-Backed Benefits Of Coffee

How The World’s Most Popular Drug Can Affect Your Health

U.S. Politics

Trump blasts polls showing him to be least popular incoming president in modern history


“The same people who did the phony election polls, and were so wrong, are now doing approval rating polls. They are rigged just like before,” Donald Trump tweeted. | Getty


Polls showing Donald Trump with a historically low approval rating for an incoming president-elect are not to be trusted, Trump himself wrote on Twitter Tuesday morning.

After all, he wrote, they’re the same polls that suggested for months he would lose last year’s presidential election.

“The same people who did the phony election polls, and were so wrong, are now doing approval rating polls. They are rigged just like before,” Trump wrote on Twitter Tuesday morning.

The post comes on the same morning that two polls, one from CNN and another conducted jointly by ABC News and The Washington Post, showed Trump to be the least popular incoming president in modern history. Trump’s approval rating in the CNN poll released Tuesday sat at just 40 percent, 44 points below the 84 percent that President Barack Obama took office with in 2009.

Just 40 percent of those surveyed by The Washington Post and ABC News said they held a favorable opinion of Trump, by far the lowest of any incoming president dating back at least to President Jimmy Carter’s 1977 inauguration. President Obama entered the White House in 2009 with a 79 percent favorable rating.

Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), a vice chairman of the Trump transition team’s executive committee, said Tuesday that the president-elect’s regular friction with the press has taken a toll on his poll numbers, but that his popularity is likely to rebound.

“What’s actually happening here is the public fight that Mr. Trump is having with CNN and other media groups is taking some skin off his poll numbers and it’s gone down,” Duffy said on CNN’s “New Day.”

U.S. Politics

Teachers union chief says Betsy DeVos as Trump’s education pick “is a trainwreck waiting to happen”

Teachers union chief says Betsy DeVos as Trump's education pick

Image Credit: Alex Wong/gettyimages


To hear Lily Eskelsen Garcia — president of the National Education Association — tell it, the American education system stands at a crossroads. President-elect Donald Trump has proposed a vision that would ruin public schools, Garcia said, instead of investing in the schools where the National Education Association’s 3 million members work.

Shortly before Betsy DeVos began her testimony in front of the U.S. Senate at her confirmation hearing, Garcia said in an interview that Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Education is unqualified and has the wrong vision for the nation’s schools.

“I don’t think you will find one human being who could actually point to something who could say, ‘Because she did this, it really improved those traditional, neighborhood public schools,” Garcia said. “What you’re seeing here is a trainwreck waiting to happen.”

Garcia blasted DeVos’ decades-long devotion to “school choice,” the belief that giving parents and children alternatives to public education will produce better educational results. DeVos applied this method in Michigan, where she spent part of her multibillion-dollar fortune to influence state education policy.

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – DECEMBER 9: (L to R) President-elect Donald Trump looks on as Betsy DeVos, his nominee for Secretary of Education, speaks at the DeltaPlex Arena, December 9, 2016 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. President-elect Donald Trump is continuing his victory tour across the country | (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

U.S. Politics

It’s Assange’s Move

Trump’s Approval Ratings Hit Historic Low

Donald Trump doesn’t take office as President of the United States until Friday, but his approval ratings have already hit a historic low for incoming American presidents, according to new polls. He’s the least popular incoming president in at least four decades

Vladimir Putin Defends Donald Trump After Russia Dossier

Russian President Putin accused the outgoing U.S. administration of trying to undermine President-elect Trump by spreading fake allegations. Putin described a dossier on Trump as part of efforts to “undermine the legitimacy of the president-elect”

U.S. Politics

Trump Wants To Flood White House Press Briefings With Sycophants And Propagandists


Donald Trump has a message for the White House press corps: The press briefing room the journalists have used since the 1970s belongs to him, and if he wants to take it away, he can.

On Saturday, Esquire reported that the incoming Trump administration has discussed evicting the press from the briefing room and holding the daily briefings with the press secretary in a space outside of the White House. “They are the opposition party,” a senior official told the magazine. “I want ’em out of the building. We are taking back the press room.”

But something is happening here that is more insidious than Trump and his administration lashing out at perceived enemies. According to CNN’s Brian Stelter, the administration is interested in potentially “stacking press conferences with conservative columnists and staffers from pro-Trump outlets.”

“The current briefing room only has 49 seats,” Trump press secretary Sean Spicer told Stelter, “so we have looked at rooms within the White House to conduct briefings that have additional capacity to accommodate members of media including talk radio, bloggers and others.”

I’m generally skeptical of the current structure of White House press briefings; while it’s important for a top White House aide to be answerable to the public on a daily basis, the fact that the briefings are televised live seems to encourage everyone involved to grandstand and limits the amount of actual news created by the practice. As former press secretaries have noted, this practice created a “theater of the absurd,” with journalists and staff alike subject to perverse incentives that prioritize optics over substance.

But retaining the daily, televised briefings while opening them up to a panoply of Trump sycophants will make them much, much worse, taking time away from real journalists and giving it to pro-Trump propagandists.

Urging the incoming Trump administration to adopt a similar plan in November, Newt Gingrich hinted at the effort’s real purpose: undermining the traditional press. “They should rethink from the ground up the whole concept of the White House press corps, come up with a totally new grass-roots model, and not allow the traditional media to dominate and define White House press coverage,” he told Sean Hannity

In other words, in order to limit the number of potentially fraught questions from professional journalists, the Trump administration will open the doors to hacks and charlatans.

Jeffrey Lord, one of CNN’s resident Trump supporters, previewed how this could work last night. He told Anderson Cooper, “I think a lot of members of the press are perceived as thinking, ‘This is ours.’ What happens, for instance, if Sean Spicer comes out one day and says not only is [Trump] going to Twitter, but we’re giving the first six seats in here to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, et cetera, et cetera. And then we’re giving the rest, the next five, to various bloggers, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.”


The White House press corps has and should remain welcoming to journalists of all political stripes. But White House press briefings will change dramatically if a vastly increased pool allows Spicer the opportunity to avoid damaging news revelations by directing questions to loyal outlets like Breitbart.com, Infowars, Right Side Broadcasting Network, One America News Network, Ingraham’s LifeZette, or the National Enquirer.

We saw how this could work in practice at Trump’s press conference last week. Trump had rarely publicly interacted with the press since his election, so there were a wide variety of pressing issues worthy of reporters’ attention. But the president-elect was able to soak up some of the precious question time by pivoting to softball questions from Breitbart and OANN.

Trump’s press conference behavior mirrored his general practice of using his platform to lift up outlets devoted to his success; for instance, over the past week, he has used his Twitter feed to promote LifeZette and OANNand to attack NBC News and CNN.

Overseas precedents demonstrate how this method, taken to the extreme, can be used to discredit the media and damage their ability to provide oversight. Alexey Kovalev, a Russian journalist who has covered Vladimir Putin’s annual press conferences, noted in the wake of Trump’s press conference last week that the Russian dictator has been able to defang the media by alternating questions between “people from publications that exist for no other reason than heaping fawning praise on him and attacking his enemies” and “token critic[s].”

As Gingrich’s November comments suggest, the floated plan to alter White House press briefings is based in a general denial of the media’s historical responsibility to inform the American public. We should expect Trump’s administration to do everything it can to do to hinder journalists’ efforts and reduce their credibility. He and his team treat the press as an enemy to be defeated and destroyed.

“You don’t have to think of The New York Times or CNN or any of these people as news organizations,” Gingrich explained last week. “They’re mostly propaganda organizations. And they’re going to be after Trump every single day of his presidency.”

Sean Hannity took this line of argument to its logical extreme in the wake of the election, stating that until the traditional press admit that they were “colluding” with the Clinton campaign (this is laughable), “they should not have the privilege, they should not have the responsibility of covering the president on behalf of you, the American people.”

Trump’s potential plans for the White House press briefings should be seen as a part of that strategy of delegitimizing journalists. It is a tangible step he can take to damage the press corps. The White House Correspondents Association has spoken out against the proposed move, but the group can’t stop the move if the administration really wants to go through with it.

The potential bright side is that journalists may respond to the Trump administration’s declaration of open war against the press by finding new ways to critically cover the new president without being so reliant on the access they have traditionally received from the White House. If they don’t take that opportunity, though, they’ll be following the rules of a game that no longer exists.

U.S. Politics

CBO Predicts 18 Million Uninsured, Higher Premiums In First Year After Obamacare Repeal And Delay

Chip somoDevilla via Getty Images


And that’s just the short-term effects.

The Congressional Budget Office just issued a report on the likely effects of a Republican effort to repeal Obamacare immediately but keep some elements of the coverage expansion in place for two years.

The numbers are staggering and suggest the GOP will find it difficult to keep its promise of an “orderly transition,” unless they deviate significantly from a prototype repeal bill they passed last year.

Within the first year, the CBO predicts, 18 million people would lose insurance. In addition, premiums for people buying coverage on their own would increase, on average, by 20 to 25 percent relative to what they would be if the Affordable Care Act remained in place.

And that’s just the short-term effects that a “repeal-and-delay” strategy would have. Once Obamacare’s tax credits and Medicaid expansion expired fully, the CBO says, millions more could lose insurance and premiums would rise yet again.

Ultimately, the CBO concludes, 32 million more people would be uninsured and premiums would be twice as high ― again, relative to what they would be if Obamacare stayed on the books.

It’s a worst-case scenario that assumes Republicans can’t stabilize insurance markets during the transition. The CBO’s estimate also doesn’t consider the possibility that Republicans would replace President Barack Obama’s health care law with something else.

Republican leaders reacted to the report by emphasizing that possibility.

“This projection is meaningless, as it takes into account no measures to replace the law nor actions that the incoming administration will take to revitalize the individual market that has been decimated by Obamacare,” AshLee Strong, spokesperson for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), said on Tuesday.

Replacing Obamacare wouldn’t be so easy to do, however. The GOP has not settled on an alternative to Obamacare even though it’s been promising one for nearly seven years, and it remains deeply divided over fundamental questions about the government’s role in health care.

At the very least, any scheme that could get through the Republican Congress is likely to cover far fewer people or provide far less financial protection for people with insurance, given the GOP’s desire to cut federal spending on health care dramatically.

Projecting the effects of changes in health care law is hardly a science, and like all CBO reports, this one carries a significant degree of uncertainty. It also includes several key assumptions.

The prediction of quick, massive insurance losses assumes that repeal immediately eliminates the penalty for not carrying insurance ― that is, the dreaded individual mandate ― while leaving in place nearly every other element of the coverage expansion. In other words, insurers would still be subject to requirements that they sell to anybody, regardless of pre-existing conditions, and offer only policies that cover a broad swath of benefits.

These conditions would lead to severe “adverse selection” problems, as the people who expected to be healthy would be more inclined not to buy insurance ― or, at least, wait until they got sick first. Insurers would also exit markets, in large numbers as opposed to the sporadic exits so far, as they figured the market was in decline. Those that remained, the CBO believes, would raise their premiums.

In addition, the CBO expects, fewer people would sign up for employer coverage and fewer would enroll in Medicaid without the mandate in place.

Another key assumption the CBO made is that, after the transition period, the funding for tax credits and subsidies would go away, but those same regulations would remain.

In other words, insurers would still be subject to the rules on pre-existing conditions and benefits ― only now people would be even less likely to buy coverage when they were healthy, because in addition to no mandate there’d be no financial assistance for insurance premiums. And the regulations themselves would be keeping premiums high, since they require insurers to pay for expensive medical services that people with serious health problems need.

The CBO didn’t draw these assumptions out of thin air. It based them on a bill that Republicans passed, and President Obama vetoed, last year. That bill would have repealed the individual mandate immediately. Many Republicans have indicated they want to do the same thing now, because they find the requirement so burdensome and offensive.

As for leaving the insurance regulations in place, that’s a function of parliamentary procedure. Republicans have only 52 seats in the Senate ― not enough to overcome a Democratic filibuster. The only way to repeal Obamacare is to do so through the special budget “reconciliation” procedure, which is impossible to filibuster but, by rule, can only involve measures related to the budget.

While the rules are subject to interpretation by the Senate’s parliamentarian, it’s likely that Republicans would be able to use the process to eliminate only Obamacare’s funding and spending, and not its regulations.

The CBO’s estimates closely mirror a report that the nonpartisan Urban Institute published last month. “What [the CBO] is finding is very consistent with what our modeling showed,” said Linda Blumberg, an Urban Institute senior fellow and co-author of that report.

This article originally stated that, as a result of repeal-and-delay, the COB estimates that premiums would eventually increase by 50 percent. But that’s only in the first year. By 2026, the CBO predicts, premiums would double.

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